Tag Archives: Hillary Clinton

Mitch the Duplicitous

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky tried to appease everyone — including all factions in the Republican Party — with his vote to acquit former president Donald Trump and subsequent delivery of a scathing indictment of Trump’s actions before and during the insurrection of January 6, 2021. My guess is he only managed to earn the well-deserved scorn of all.  

McConnell improperly hung his vote to acquit Trump of the House-passed impeachment article on the technicality that the Senate lacked jurisdiction under the Constitution to try an official no longer in office. McConnell’s vote was improper because the Senate already had voted that the trial was constitutional. As lead House manager Jamie Raskin, a Democrat from Maryland, told the senators in his summation: “The jurisdictional constitutional issue is gone. Whether you were persuaded by the president’s constitutional analysis yesterday or not, the Senate voted to reject it. And so, the Senate is now properly exercising its jurisdiction. And sitting as a court of impeachment, conducting a trial on the facts. We are having a trial on the facts.” 

On the facts, McConnell agreed the former president was guilty. In a speech on the Senate floor shortly after the trial concluded, McConnell said Trump “is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events” of January 6.  Using words that could have been uttered by the House managers, McConnell said, “Former president Trump’s actions preceding the riot were a disgraceful dereliction of duty…. The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president.” He further said the insurrectionists were fed a “growing crescendo of false statements, conspiracy theories, and reckless hyperbole” by Trump claiming the election had been stolen. “The leader of the free world,” McConnell charged, “cannot spend weeks thundering that shadowy forces are stealing our country and then feign surprise when people believe him and do reckless things.”

But, if removal and disqualification from office was not a remedy available to the Senate under the Constitution, McConnell claimed, that did not mean Trump could escape all punishment. “President Trump,” the Kentucky Republican said, “is still liable for everything he did while he was in office” and could be prosecuted under the criminal justice system and pursued through civil litigation.  

McConnell is correct, and perhaps the Justice Department under the still-unconfirmed Merrick Garland may investigate Trump with an eye toward possible prosecution. But, regardless of Trump’s guilt, prosecution in federal courts of a former president is dangerous, and Garland should proceed carefully. Those who worry a Senate trial of a former president — where the only penalty available would be disqualification and the convicted official would not serve a day in jail — may set a dangerous precedent should be doubly worried about criminal proceedings against that official. Jailing predecessors and political opponents is the modus operandi of authoritarian regimes, which is why the Trump crowd shouts of “lock her up” in reference to Hillary Clinton were so scary. (Pursuing legal action against Trump in state and local courts is another matter.)

The minority leader’s vote to acquit on jurisdictional grounds has elements of the theater of the absurd about it. Trump was impeached by the House on January 13 for his role in the January 6 insurrection. The former president’s trial could have begun on January 14, only the then-majority leader, yes, the one and only Senator Mitch McConnell, refused to summon the Senate back into session. As Speaker Nancy Pelosi pointed out, the timing issue “was not the reason that [McConnell] voted the way he did; it was the excuse that he used.” The hypocrisy of McConnell claiming the Senate lacked jurisdiction on January 21 to try a former official when that very senator could have begun the trial of January 14 is breathtaking — even for a politician.

McConnell’s blistering attack on Trump reeks of even more hypocrisy. McConnell sat quietly for four years through all of Trump’s aberrant behavior because the senator made a Faustian bargain that tolerating Trump was worth tax cuts and stacking the federal judiciary with conservatives. McConnell never condemned Trump, and his silence — and that of the bulk of the Republican Party — only encouraged Trump further. McConnell’s coddling of Trump for the senator’s narrow political goals set the pattern for the rest of the Republican Party from which it is now difficult for the GOP to break free. McConnell also refused to recognize Joe Biden’s electoral victory until mid-December of last year, six weeks after the votes were cast. On the Senate floor, McConnell gave Trump space to pursue his absurd claims of electoral fraud, saying Trump was “100% within his rights to look into allegations of irregularities” in the election. True, but the minority leader could have given the nation his opinion on whether there were any electoral “irregularities.”

The brilliant Black writer James Baldwin once wrote, “A civilization is not destroyed by wicked people; it is not necessary that people be wicked but only that they be spineless.” The jury is out on the wickedness of McConnell and the rest of the Republicans who voted to acquit, but their spinelessness has been on display for years. They subserviently follow a man who has no knowledge of or devotion to the Constitution. They believe he is their ticket to future electoral success, though the possibility of Trump and his sycophants winning new voters in battleground states after the January 6 insurrection is unlikely.

Nihilism triumphed in the decision to acquit Trump. The Republican Party may not have convicted Trump, but it convicted itself of blatant disregard for public safety. And, Mitch McConnell and his colleagues only increased the likelihood of future threats against our Constitution and electoral processes. True, 57 senators voted to convict, and that number included seven Republicans. So, in one sense, the trial was a success because a bipartisan majority agreed on Trump’s guilt. But, Trump and his supporters will take the outcome as a victory, as an exoneration of his actions. As Ted Lieu, a California Democrat and one of the House managers, said, “I’m not afraid of Donald Trump running again in four years; I’m afraid he’s going to run again and lose because he can do this again.” 

Or, to put it another way, an unpunished failed coup becomes a training exercise.

Posted February 16, 2021

Trump and the Myth of Defeat

Myths play an important role for humans by explaining the unknown and the inexplicable.

Many, if not all, societies have a foundation or creation myth. The subject of most of these is cosmogony (the origin of the cosmos), especially important before the development of modern science and its explorations of the universe and the origins of life. In parts of ancient Mesopotamia, the epic Enuma Elish, or The Seven Tablets of Creation, explained the progression from initial anarchy to creation of a stable government. The Sumerian/Babylonian poem The Epic of Gilgamesh explored the meaning of life. The biblical book of Genesis has two origin myths, the six days of creation and the fashioning of Adam from dust. 

The ancient Romans had two creation myths: The well-known story of the twins Romulus and Remus, who were suckled by the she-wolf and eventually founded Rome, and the story told by Vergil in his great epic, The Aeneid, in which Aeneas and his fellow Trojans flee Troy after its sacking by the Greeks and eventually make their way to Italy to build the city of Rome. America has several foundation myths, from the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock to the struggle against the British Empire in the Revolutionary War, culminating in the creation of the Republic in Philadelphia in 1787. All of these American myths are based in fact, but they have developed an heroic glow in the years since that obscures the messier historic reality.

Sometimes, though, myths are rooted in a complex web of lies that give a false description of history. These myths help societies come to grips with perceived failures and defeats, but sometimes they also prescribe a dangerous future path. One such example is the “stab-in-the-back” explanation for Germany’s defeat in World War I. According to this conspiratorial theory, the German Army was not defeated in the field, but was stabbed in the back by weak politicians at home and left-wing revolutionary violence in Berlin and elsewhere in the German Empire. Adolf Hitler, and other anti-Semites, added Jews to the mix of those who betrayed Germany. The combination of Jews as the catalyst for the “stab-in-the back” with Jews as both the promulgators of revolution and the engine of international capitalism (whoever said conspiracy theories were governed by logic?) ineluctably led to the Holocaust. 

The “stab-in-the-back” myth helped Germans understand their defeat in the so-called Great War, and it became an aspect in the rise of Nazism. In the United States today, Republicans are giving voice to a dangerous myth to explain the defeat of President Donald Trump. No one knows how this myth will play out, but it explains for millions of Americans what they cannot fathom otherwise: The failure of Trump to win reelection.

Like the German “stab-in-the-back” myth, the claim that Trump lost to Joe Biden because the election was “rigged” has no basis in fact. Trump laid the groundwork for this explanation months before the first votes even were cast, with his constant drumbeat of claims that mail-in ballots were rife with fraud. Trump conditioned his supporters to expect the worst in the election, providing them with a ready-made reason for a predicted and predictable outcome.

Now, Trump refuses to concede, claiming he won the election while spreading disinformation that few on his side ever bother to check. He recently tweeted, “In Detroit, there are FAR MORE VOTES THAN PEOPLE.” That sentence is palpably false: Detroit has just over 500,000 registered voters, 250,000 of whom voted on Election Day. The city of Detroit has 667,000 residents. Anyone with a computer or a smartphone can discover these facts easily (as I did), but I suspect most Trumpistas will not bother and simply will accept and regurgitate Trump’s deliberate lies.

I do not know what Trump’s goal is spreading such easily debunked lies, except that lying is what he does. I am not sure Trump has any concrete plans past the next temper tantrum. But, he is engaging in a dangerous gambit that undermines American democracy. He and his allies are convincing the president’s most enthusiastic supporters that Biden is not lawfully president-elect, while keeping alive the possibility Trump will run again in 2024.

A recent poll shows that 52 percent of Republicans believe Trump “rightfully won” the election. According to another poll, 70 percent of Republicans do not believe the 2020 election was free and fair. More than 73-million Americans voted for Trump, so a potentially susceptible, enormous population exists for the growth of a myth to explain Trump’s defeat as potent as the myth that led to Nazi Germany.

At the very least, the shameful questioning of the electoral process will undermine Biden’s presidency. Biden won an election that was not even close, either in the popular vote or the Electoral College. But, his prize is tarnished, perhaps forever. Trump and his sycophants are raising the specter that the former vice president is an “illegitimate” president, just as their racist “birther” conspiracy suggested Barack Obama was ineligible to serve as president.

This is corrosive to democracy, for the hallmark of the success of the American experiment in republican government is the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to the next. The process begins with the defeated candidate’s concession. Nominees for the presidency, up to now, have been gracious winners and losers. Hillary Clinton conceded the 2016 election less than a day after the polls closed. Obama called Trump before sunrise to congratulate him and invite him to the White House for a consultation. Al Gore conceded the contested 2000 election — which was close and which he might have won had not the Supreme Court intervened — just after the court issued its ruling. 

Trump is an old man; we have little information about his health. He may or may not have set his sights on 2024, but one thing is clear: His attack on the electoral process is an attack on American democracy. In weakening faith in electoral integrity, Trump is giving birth to a destructive myth that millions of Americans likely will accept as the explanation for his defeat. Even if Trump does not run again, another right-wing nationalist — a Tucker Carlson, say — could seize on the myth to launch a potent campaign for the presidency. 

Such is the power of myth. Just ask the Germans.

Posted November 20, 2020

What Next?

The good news: As of this writing, Joe Biden is poised to win the presidency. The bad news: It was a squeaker.

The depressing truth is that nearly half of the electorate voted to reelect a lying, bullying, ignorant, unqualified, and authoritarian president. I can almost understand the 2016 outcome. Hillary Clinton was a disliked public figure around whom swirled the whiff of scandal. Much of it was manufactured or grossly magnified, but it was there, making it easy for millions to take a chance on the huckster from New York. But, Biden is a likable guy, perhaps the most likable serious presidential contender in recent memory, and Trump nearly won.

What does that say about us? It was possible to excuse Clinton’s loss four years ago on the grounds that she was a bad candidate and Trump was an unknown. Now Trump is a known, and Biden is, well, “nice guy” Joe from Scranton. And, Trump almost won. Plus, many of his sycophants in the Senate cruised to reelection.

Do not get me wrong. A Biden victory, no matter how narrow, is assuredly better than a Trump victory. A second Trump term likely would have meant the end of democracy in America. Trump may be lazy, ignorant, and incompetent, but if he had been granted four more years in the White House, he would have been unfettered by the U.S. Constitution and any annoying laws and institutions. There would have been no limits on his enriching himself, his family, and his cohorts at the expense of the public. His dictatorial tendencies would have been unchecked, and America would have slid into authoritarianism. 

America bit the bullet, and, happily with Joe Biden at the helm, there will be a free and fair election in 2024. But, the intervening four years will not be pretty. Washington is likely set for a continuation of gridlock with Senator No, otherwise known as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in control of a narrow Republican majority in the Senate. Good luck passing any progressive legislation!

Worse yet, Trump maintains a loyal base of followers, and I will be greatly surprised if he slinks quietly away. No, expect a noisy and disruptive Trump carping on the sidelines, provoking his followers with baseless conspiratorial claims and frequent lies. Despite all the scandals, the impeachment, and a pandemic that has killed more than 230,000 Americans, the incumbent received five-million more votes in 2020 than four years ago and that statistic alone probably will embolden him. Trump often has spoken of starting his own television network to compete with Fox News, with which he has become disenchanted despite its slavish approval of nearly everything he says and does. With more than 80-million followers on Twitter, Trump has a huge audience. That kind public access could make Trump a potential kingmaker within the Republican Party in the future. 

Democracy has survived, but our constitutional system has taken some serious blows and likely will be under attack in coming years. Trump’s assaults on the security of mail-in voting and his legal actions to shut down the counting in states where the results are close has further eroded the trust of his millions of followers in the electoral system. Trump’s actions in the coming days and weeks will only further weaken belief in politics as usual.

Many of Trump’s followers — and those Republicans who hope to gain their support in the future — likely will draw damaging and erroneous conclusions from the closeness of the results. If a racist bully with authoritarian tendencies came within a whisker of winning reelection, might not some Republicans conclude that a bit more racism (perhaps less overt) and a more competent “strong man” would be the ticket to victory in the future? And, given Trump’s disdain for the workings of democracy, might not the next Trumpian politician show even more contempt for what millions of Republicans already believe is a rigged system?

Trump primed the pump for the next authoritarian to appeal to the racism that marks so much of American history and continues to influence its politics and policies. Racism combined with demographic change and a sense of cultural loss apparently trumps the economic interests of millions of voters. The tendency of Trump voters to vote against their own economic needs played out clearly in Miami, where Cuban-Americans sank Biden’s hopes in Florida. Cuban-Americans bought the rightwing’s argument that Biden is a socialist in disguise, so they voted for the candidate whose administration is in court trying to void the Affordable Care Act. The top five ZIP codes for enrollment in the Obamacare marketplace are all in Miami.

Scenarios like that play out throughout Trumpland, from the hollows of West Virginia to the impoverished rural South to the decaying mill towns of the Rust Belt. The volatile mix of cultural resentment, racism, and fear of loss (not to mention the experience of real loss) is ripe for exploitation by the next authoritarian leader. Trump showed the way; a more dedicated authoritarian, one with a coherent message, a bit of discipline, and a knack for organizing may follow in the coming years.

For now, America has survived. Joe Biden will have a tough time, caught between McConnell’s obstruction in the Senate and Trump’s appeals to his millions of supporters via tweet and perhaps his television network. Americans may tire of the gridlock and give Biden a Congress full of progressives in the 2022 midterm elections. Or, perhaps, Americans will grow weary of the endless political inaction and turn to a demagogue who promises to get things done.

After all, Mussolini made the trains run on time!

Posted November 6, 2020

A House Divided

A house divided against itself cannot stand. — Abraham Lincoln, Springfield Illinois, June 16, 1858

Abraham Lincoln was right; a house divided could not stand. But, it took a fratricidal Civil War to resolve the problem Lincoln posed in the next sentence: “I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free [italics in original]. 

Americans are perhaps more divided now than at any time since the years leading to the Civil War. These current divisions were not entirely caused by the divisive presidency of Donald Trump. The breakup of the political parties — especially the Republican Party — as coalitions of diverse groups has led to the parties — again, especially, the Republican Party — becoming tribes of like-minded individuals who no longer speak the same language as members of the other tribe.

This tribalization of politics has resulted in a breakdown of functioning government. Congress hardly legislates any longer. This is especially true of the Senate, which, under the leadership of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, has become an institution that exists merely to confirm appointees to the federal judiciary. Most other legislation, especially when passed by the Democratic-controlled House, languishes on McConnell’s desk. The cycle reinforces itself: As the tribalization of politics has led to a government that no longer works to insure the public good, the public becomes more and more convinced that government is not an agency for change. Cynicism and distrust thus become the norms.

Throw the match of Trumpian race-baiting, lying, and destruction of traditional rules of political behavior into this volatile mix and the result is an election in which Trump’s supporters are convinced that the only way the president can lose is if the other side cheats. Trump has convinced his supporters that mail-in ballots — cast by a huge number of Americans during the pandemic — are fraudulent and that the only electoral count that matters is the one delivered on the evening of November 3. Of course, that is nonsense, but if the election is close when the polls close and Democratic numbers increase in the days after as the mail-in and early vote is tallied, it is not fanciful to imagine that Trump’s supporters will feel cheated.

What will they do? Are we poised for a second Civil War? Already, Trump backers are threatening public peace. Trump supporters tried to intimidate early voters in September in Fairfax, Virginia. This weekend, a caravan of Trump backers endangered public safety by surrounding a Joe Biden campaign bus on a Texas highway; Trump tweeted, “In my opinion, these patriots did nothing wrong.” Also this weekend, vehicles brandishing Trump banners snarled traffic on the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey and shut down traffic on the Governor Mario Cuomo Bridge spanning the Hudson River in New York. These are relatively trivial escapades, but Trump’s calls for poll watchers “to watch very carefully” has the potential to intimidate voters and affect the election results. And, no one knows what may happen if tens of thousands of Trump voters are convinced his defeat — which seems likely — came because of Democratic cheating.

So, a likely Biden win is not enough. The former vice president needs to run up the score, win by a landslide, to forestall Trumpian shenanigans and the vitriol and potential violence of his followers. It is not enough for Biden to win back the Rust Belt states Hillary Clinton lost four years ago. The Democratic challenger needs to pick off a large number of Trump states from 2016 to gain a convincing victory with 350 to 400 votes in the Electoral College.

A big Biden victory — and Democratic control of both houses of Congress — is necessary if America is to reclaim its soul, its sense of purpose. Trump has so poisoned the political dialogue that even the simplest measures to control the pandemic — wearing a mask, maintaining social distance — have become signs of the tribe to which each American belongs. Trump’s mockery of mask-wearing means that our advanced and wealthy nation leads the world in deaths from COVID-19.

The willingness of Trump’s followers to adopt his disdain for these simple tools to control the pandemic is a symptom of their devotion to what can only be labelled as his cult of personality. Trumpistas flock to his rallies — without masks and standing or sitting shoulder to shoulder — even though a study estimates that 30,000 people have contracted the virus — and 700 people have died — after attending these events. Trump’s evident disdain for the safety of his supporters does not seem to deter them in their support.

It is hard to fathom this level… of what? Devotion? Blind loyalty? Lack of serious thought? But, then again, the level of support for Trump has remained constant through his thousands of lies and all his transgressions. Voters in 2016 knew he mocked a disabled reporter and heard the “Access Hollywood” tape, but Trump still won. Trump has praised White supremacists, given the nod to numerous conspiracy theories, used the White House as a backdrop for his campaign, engaged in countless ethical violations, and lied thousands of times without losing his base. I know that it is fashionable to quote Trump supporters who claim they vote for him despite his crudeness and transgressions because he appoints conservative justices, but I suspect many Trumpistas support him because he flouts the rules. 

With Biden poised to win, Trump appears to be planning one last gasp of rule-breaking. Jonathan Swan of Axios reports, as has long been suspected, that Trump plans to declare victory if he appears to be ahead on Election Night and then go to court to forestall the counting of legally cast ballots in the following days. It is a desperate ploy — perfunctorily denied by Trump — that has no legal standing, but Trump’s loyal followers will believe him when he claims he won.

What will happen next in our divided house? Will the house, as Lincoln said, “become all one thing or all the other?” The answer may depend on the size of Biden’s victory.

Posted November 3, 2020

“They Like Me Very Much”

I don’t know much about the movement [QAnon], other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate, but I don’t know much about the movement. — President Donald Trump, August 19, 2020

Our transactional president: If a group or individual likes him, that is all that matters. It is of no concern to Trump what its beliefs might be, how kooky it is, or whether it presents a danger to the nation. The only lens that matters for him is, “They like me very much.” Narcissism, after all, is the one constant in the Trump firmament. 

“I don’t know much about the movement,” Trump says. Think about that! Not only is he willing to accept the support of a fringe group about which he claims to know little, but he then goes on praise it: “I’ve heard these are people that love our country.” One would think the president of the United States would do a little homework and learn that QAnon is a viral conspiracy theory that attracts people who believe the president is battling a Satanic, criminal band of sex traffickers and pedophiles, which includes Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and George Soros. But, of course, doing homework, even a little, is anathema to this president. When told by a reporter about QAnon’s central premise, the president replied: “If I can help save the world from problems, I am willing to do it. I’m willing to put myself out there.” Good to know, Mr. President, good to know!

Trump consumes hours of television news daily, where QAnon has been discussed, so it is hard to credit his ignorance. Not that anyone should doubt Trump’s ignorance, but, in this case, he probably knows more than he is telling us. As Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti-Defamation League told The New York Times: “Condemning this group should not be difficult. It’s downright dangerous when a leader not only refuses to do so, but also wonders whether what they are doing is ‘a good thing.’”

Believers in QAnon have been charged with violent crimes, including one follower accused of murdering a mafia boss in New York and another arrested this past April for threatening to kill Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. The FBI warns that QAnon poses a potential domestic terrorist threat. No, Mr. President, ignorance is no defense.

Trump has praised Marjorie Taylor Greene, a QAnon supporter who won the Republican primary in a Georgia congressional district. She is poised to become the first QAnon believer to gain a seat in Congress since her district is overwhelmingly Republican. Trump praised Greene as a “future Republican star… [who] is strong on everything and never gives up – a real WINNER!” 

Greene is not the only ultra-rightwing loony to earn Trump’s accolades. “Great going Laura,” Trump tweeted after Laura Loomer won a Republican congressional primary in Trump’s Florida district. Trump added that Loomer has “a great chance against a Pelosi puppet!” Fortunately, in this case, Trump truly is ignorant as Loomer is contesting a heavily Democratic district in which her Islamophobia will not play well. Loomer has called Muslims “savages,” declared Islam “a cancer on society,” and demanded ”a non-Islamic form of Uber and Lyft because I never want to support another immigrant driver.”  Loomer has been banned by Lyft and Uber, as well as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms. 

As I have said, no one should ever doubt Trump’s ignorance, but, at the same time, no one should doubt his affinity for conspiracy theories (see “birtherism”) and wackadoodle racist candidates. Still, it is mystifying why Trump or anyone in his orbit believes appealing to the fringiest of the fringes in American politics is an effective campaign strategy. But, apparently, Republicans, judging by the lineup at next week’s convention, are doubling down on winning a narrow slice of the American body politic. Among the speakers: the St. Louis couple who gained notoriety by brandishing guns at Black Lives Matter protestors and the high school student maligned for his confrontation with a Native American man.

These are not speakers likely to broaden the president’s appeal beyond his 35 percent or so of loyal followers. The Republican National Convention, no doubt, will offer a stark contrast to this week’s Democratic National Convention, whose themes were the big tent and, most importantly, diversity, welcoming speakers of all backgrounds, creeds, races, ethnicities, and sexual orientations. (QAnon devotees need not apply.) Biden reached out to all wings of the Democratic Party to insure that progressives like Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spoke at the convention and support the ticket this November. The Democrats also featured Republicans such as former Ohio Governor John Kasich, former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, businesswoman Meg Whitman, and former New York Representative Susan Molinari, all of whom testified to the existential threat to our nation posed by President Trump. 

The Republican virtual shindig will be the opposite: No one who ever criticized the president will be speaking and Republican exclusivity will contrast with this week’s Democratic inclusivity. Trump and his number of dwindling supporters will continue to reach out to only those who, “Like me very much.” Fortunately, for the nation, the rest of us do not like him very much, at all. 

Posted August 21, 2020

Our Murderous Tyrant

The United States has a murderous tyrant at the helm. President Donald Trump’s bungled handling of the coronavirus has resulted in the murder of tens of thousands of Americans. Even had a competent person been sitting in the Oval Office — say, for example, Hillary Clinton — the contagion would have affected many and killed some. We will never know how many lives could have been saved, but we can be confident thousands would be alive now who succumbed to COVID-19 in the absence of a vigorous federal response. And, we can be confident that tens of thousands will die needlessly in coming months. Trump’s ignorance, narcissism, and anti-science know-nothingism is the reason the United States — with just over four percent of the world’s population — has more than a quarter of the total global cases and more than a fifth of the deaths.

It is not only the death of citizens for which Trump is responsible. He is also murdering American democracy. His persistent attacks on the election promise chaos later in the year. Before a single vote is cast, Trump is claiming the election is rigged. He is telling his supporters that mail-in voting is corrupt when all the evidence suggests it is a perfectly safe way to vote, especially in the midst of a pandemic. Trump is insuring that his predictions bear fruit by placing a lackey at the head of the postal service who is doing everything to slow down mail delivery to insure that ballots arrive late and, therefore, will not be tabulated. Politico reports Trump is considering issuing executive orders directing the postal service not to deliver certain ballots and preventing local officials from counting them after Election Day. All his actions may result in his refusal to leave the White House if the election is close.

The sanctity of elections and the public perception that the results may be trusted are the cornerstones of democracy. So is the observance of constitutional norms. It is commonplace to say that the United States is a nation of laws, not men and women. No more! Trump has trampled the constitution for nearly four years, the latest example being his dubiously legal Executive Order and memoranda issued Saturday, allegedly to ease the suffering caused by his mishandling of the pandemic and the resulting economic collapse, which he has done little to ease.

The executive actions would have made any putative dictator proud. Not only are they illegal and unconstitutional, but they are all hat and no cattle, a lot of action amounting to nothing, except the further destruction of democracy. They are press releases geared to convincing voters that Trump is taking action without his actually doing anything. Saturday, at the signing at his New Jersey golfing facility, Trump mischaracterized the legal status of the orders, calling them “bills.” As any reasonably knowledgeable person knows, Congress writes and passes “bills,” not the Chief Executive. So, labeling his orders as “bills” was either an attempt to bamboozle the public into thinking his actions had the force of congressional action or another example of a president who does not know how the United States government works. With Trump, you never know which it is. He is both devious and ignorant.

Trump’s order on evictions does not ban them but instructs government officials to study whether the current economic downturn warrants a moratorium. The official study is likely to take at least until the first Tuesday in November. The same kind of flimflam is evident in the action Trump took on payroll taxes, which fund Social Security and Medicare. His action allows employees to defer until January 2021 the payment of the tax, meaning employees who elect to take the delay will have to make a lump sum payment at the start of the next year. It is unclear whether employers, who collect the tax on behalf of the government, actually will stop deducting the amount from paychecks. 

Nor is it an action warranted by the current state of the economy. Payroll tax cuts are a tool to stimulate spending when workers are afraid to make purchases during a recession. But, that is not the current problem. A vast number of workers have lost their jobs. A payroll tax cut does not help them. Nor is it likely to stimulate spending among those who have jobs since so many businesses are closed due to COVID-19. But, Trump took the action because it looks like a tax cut — who does not like a tax cut? — and he has long opposed the payroll tax. Trump said he would look into making the deferral permanent, if he is reelected. Doing that, of course, will only serve to choke Social Security and Medicare of money, something Republicans have long favored.

To no one’s surprise, Trump blamed Democrats for congressional inaction on a new relief package, saying the night before he signed the Executive Order and memoranda, “…Democrats continue to hold this critical relief hostage.” That, of course, is a baldfaced lie. House Democrats passed a massive stimulus bill in May, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sat on it for months. Trump’s move does place Democrats in a tough spot. Any attempt to challenge his action could make Democrats appear to want to impede relief for suffering Americans. Speaker Nancy Pelosi recognized this dilemma when she said, “My constitutional advisers tell me they’re [the Executive Orders] absurdly unconstitutional… [but] right now the focus, the priority, has to be on… meeting the needs of the American people.” 

McConnell dallied before taking up a coronavirus relief package because Senate Republicans are in disarray. Most Republicans are opposed ideologically to massive stimulus spending. But, in the middle of an election in which a number of Senate Republicans are in jeopardy, the appeal to do something is palpable. Senators who face the voters this fall in states suffering from the pandemic and economic downturn are pushing for bolder action, while those not up for reelection are freer to indulge their ideological prejudices. 

A package far bolder and more substantive than Trump’s hokum may still get through the Senate if scared Republicans ally with Democrats to pass one. If not, Trump’s orders stand. They are sure to be challenged in the courts, but that takes months. In the meantime, the president has seized the initiative and done what any authoritarian figure would do: Take unilateral action to suggest action. In reality, it is another Trumpian attack on the Constitution, which Trump is, slowly but surely, undermining, just as he has undermined the health of the American people. He is a murderous tyrant, responsible for the deaths of thousands and the strangulation of democracy.

Vote on November 3 as if democracy and your life depend on it, because they do!

Posted August 11, 2020

Biden Goes Left — Sort of

Vice President Joe Biden is running a canny race. Yes, he is taking a little too long to choose his vice presidential running mate, but, in the end, getting it right trumps doing it quickly, and no one will remember that he missed self-imposed deadlines. In all other respects, Biden has been adept. He is respecting the dangers of coronavirus, which allows him to limit his public appearances. Aside from avoiding the pitfalls of verbal gaffes, for which Biden is notorious, fewer campaign appearances by Biden permit President Donald Trump to hog the limelight. And, when it comes to gaffes, Trump is much more prone than Biden.

Trump has found Biden an elusive target. The president has tried to pin various derogatory labels on Biden — “Sleepy Joe” being the most notorious — but none has stuck. Among the reasons may be public weariness at Trump’s insults, Biden’s under-the-radar campaign, and the latter’s success at avoiding specific policy proposals that Republicans find easy to attack. 

All this has allowed Biden to appear more centrist and moderate than his current policy proposals. True, Biden has been a moderate Democrat throughout his long political life, and he is hardly the candidate Democratic progressives wanted. But, during the current campaign, Biden has managed to move to the left and to promise change on the order of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal without causing a damaging political backlash.

There is much evidence today that the nation is moving to the left politically. Still, Americans traditionally vote for candidates closer to the ideological center. When compared to Trump’s erratic behavior and often extreme positions, Biden’s perceived moderation is comforting. Also, Biden has a reputation as a pragmatist who gets things done, a valuable perception given Trump’s inability and unwillingness to tackle effectively the pandemic and economic collapse. Finally, Biden appears moderate to voters when compared to Hillary Clinton, Trump’s 2016 opponent. While Clinton was hardly a wild-eyed radical, Americans generally find male candidates less threatening. Sexist misconceptions led many to view Clinton as a more extreme choice than Trump, an advantage not available to the incumbent this time around. (Sexism probably convinced many that Clinton’s email fiasco was more serious than Trump’s myriad ethical and moral lapses.)

Despite adopting, on issue after issue, progressive policies, Biden has convinced voters he is a moderate, up to a point. On most issues, Biden has moved to the left, closer to the policies of his primary challengers such as Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and to the left of the former vice president’s positions during the primaries. For example, on criminal justice reform, a critical matter following the brutal police murder of George Floyd, Biden has proposed abolishing mandatory minimum sentences. He also favors creating a national roster of police officers who abuse their authority. These are all polices far to the left of the 2016 Democratic platform.  But, to Trump’s chagrin — as demonstrated in his July 19 interview with Chris Wallace of Fox NewsBiden is against defunding the police.

On college education, Biden now favors free college for students from families earning less than $125,000, but he does not support making college free for everyone — a position endorsed by Sanders during the primaries. Biden has called for tripling federal assistance to schools that educate children from poverty-stricken homes, and he is more skeptical of standardized testing and charter schools than the Obama administration, of which he was part. 

Other issues fit the same pattern. On healthcare, Biden backs a more generous public option — including making many prescription drugs available without co-pays — than he did during the primaries, and he wants to permit Americans to enroll in Medicare at the age of 60. But, he shies way from Sanders’ Medicare-for-All, a position to which the Democratic Party is moving but which does not poll well. However, government-supported health insurance is becoming more popular, even in Red States, as shown by this week’s vote by Missouri voters to expand access to Medicaid. 

Biden supports many of the vigorous proposals of the Green New Deal and his unity task force on climate change is chaired by the proposal’s co-author, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. Biden calls for making all new buildings carbon neutral by the end of this decade and ending the use of fossil fuels to create electricity by 2035. But, his website does not include the words “Green New Deal.”

Finally on immigration, Biden would admit more refugees, and, unlike President Barack Obama, Biden supports a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Crucially, Biden does not link this proposal to tougher border enforcement. But, at the same time, Biden has not endorsed abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement and decriminalizing illegal border crossings. Those two policies were floated by some of the candidates during the Democratic primaries, but polls show most Americans are skeptical.  

It is a shrewd move by Biden to move to the left — close to the policies of the Democratic Party’s most progressive bloc — without antagonizing centrist voters. Biden has achieved this by leaning on his reputation as a moderate, by contrasting himself to the extremism of his opponent, and by stopping just short of the more progressive parts of the left’s agenda. Biden is, to be sure, less progressive than Sanders and Warren, but, according to Waleed Shahid, the communications director for Justice Democrats, a group that has backed left-wing challenges to incumbent congressional Democrats, Biden’s platform is “the most progressive… of any Democratic nominee in the modern history of the party.”

Posted August 7, 2020

 

Nightmare in November

The bedrock of American democracy is the peaceful transfer of power. When George Washington left office after two terms as president, he established the principle that American political leaders willingly cede power to legally elected successors. And, when Thomas Jefferson peacefully succeeded John Adams in 1801, America demonstrated that, in a republic power, can pass from leaders with one set of political ideas to successors with a different set.

This system has worked well enough for more than two centuries — until, perhaps, now, as many Americans worry that, if President Donald Trump loses the election, he may not abide by tradition and constitutional norms and leave the White House on January 20, 2021. These are not the perfervid fears of committed anti-Trumpers. The fears are based on substantive concerns fed by the remarks of the president himself. Recently, Chris Wallace of Fox News asked Trump if he would recognize the results of the 2020 election. “I’m not going to just say yes, and I didn’t last time, either,” Trump responded. In the final debate of 2016 with Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton, Trump said he would consider his options and “keep you in suspense.”

That 2016 nightmare of Trump contesting the results was averted by a worse nightmare: Trump won. But, even in victory, Trump was full of sour grapes, complaining that he lost the popular vote because millions of people voted illegally. He provided no evidence of that accusation because there is none. Even his commission appointed to investigate the election could not find evidence of fraud. Still, if the president was a sore winner, it is reasonable to presume he will be an even worse loser.

Nothing is certain in politics, but it is reasonable to fear Trump rejecting the electoral results. He may try — has already tried — to queer the results by inviting foreign intervention in the 2020 presidential election. He may try to cheat in other ways, and he has been laying the groundwork for challenging the results by his repeated and unfounded charges that mail-in voting — necessary in the time of a pandemic — is rife with fraud. He may simply refuse to recognize the results. What would happen next in that scenario is by no means certain, but what is almost certain is that he will challenge the results if they are close.

Into this thicket of what might happen steps legal scholar Lawrence Douglas in a slim and well-timed book, Will He Go?: Trump and the Looming Election Meltdown in 2020. There are many possible scenarios in which Trump might challenge the electoral results. Douglas considers three such possibilities, catastrophes he calls them, all based on historical precedents. Here, I concentrate on the third of Douglas’s scenarios because it strikes me as the most possible, given the pandemic and Trump’s continuing attacks on mail-in voting.

This scenario replays some of the drama of 2016 because it hinges on the 46 electoral votes of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, all of which Trump narrowly carried four years ago. The votes of these three states gave Trump the presidency, but his margin of victory in each was very slim. A shift of a few thousand votes in each would swing these critical battleground states away from Trump. 

On election night 2020, Douglas assumes Democratic challenger Joe Biden has won the popular vote, this time by an even larger margin than Clinton’s four years ago. Late at night, Fox News projects Trump the winner. The returns of the same-day vote appear to give Trump Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, but by an even narrower margin than in 2016. Some observers urge caution on calling the race because of a large number of absentee ballots yet to be counted. As the count from those ballots is tabulated in the coming days, Trump’s lead over Biden narrows in the critical three states. Trump takes to his favorite forum, Twitter, tweeting in Douglas’s imagined scenario: “In the interest of FAIRNESS, ELECTION must be CALLED NOW! We must STOP the CORRUPT Democrats in PA, MI & WI from STEALING our VICTORY with THOUSANDS of FAKE VOTES!!!”

Trump’s claims of fraud are as fraudulent after the election as before, but his continuous drumbeat of tweets and statements challenging the legitimacy of the returns emboldens his supporters in Congress and the disputed states, all of which have Republican-controlled legislatures and Democratic governors. The legislatures in all three states vote to accept the election day count — excluding absentee ballots — while the governors certify that Biden has won based on the tabulation of all the votes. The states send two sets of returns to Congress, muddling the count in the Electoral College. The machinations, as Douglas hypothesizes, are complex, but the end result is clear and unprecedented: The nation finds it itself at noon on January 20 without an elected president. Instead, two persons claim the office: Trump and Speaker Nancy Pelosi according to the constitutional stipulation that in the absence of a duly elected president, the speaker steps into the void. 

Far-fetched? Not really, given the numbers of expected mail-in votes this year and the unpreparedness of many states to tabulate them in a timely fashion. The possibility of three states submitting two sets of returns showing different electors casting ballots has happened before. In 1876, the votes of the states of Florida, South Carolina, and Louisiana were disputed, with both Rutherford Hayes, the Republican nominee, and Democratic challenger Samuel Tilden claiming victory. The disputed electoral votes (one in Oregon was also up for grabs) would determine the outcome. To resolve the deadlock, a compromise was reached whereby Hayes was awarded the contested electoral votes in return for a Republican promise to remove federal troops from all Southern states, effectively ending Reconstruction. The Compromise of 1877 prevented a possible return to armed civil conflict at the price of second-class citizenship for recently freed African Americans. 

The nation avoided a catastrophe in 1876 because Tilden put a peaceful transfer of power ahead of his personal interest in the presidency. Similarly, in 2000, Al Gore acknowledged the Supreme Court’s decision to halt the Florida recount and give the presidency to Republican George W. Bush. Gore had grounds to keep on fighting, but he chose not do so. Anyone who thinks Trump would act selflessly like Tilden or Gore either has been drinking the Kool-Aid or has not been paying attention.

Posted July 28, 2020

 

 

Optical Delusions

I should have anticipated the optics…. [P]art of the job is also the theater of it. President Barack Obama, September 7, 2014, on NBC’s “Meet the Press”

“The optics” in question was President Barack Obama’s decision to play golf on Martha’s Vineyard just minutes after hanging up a telephone call with the devastated parents of James Foley, an American journalist beheaded by ISIS. Obama vowed “relentless” pursuit of Islamic radicals, but his seeming ability to express rage one minute and play golf the next appeared callous at best. All the more callous, given British Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision to cancel his vacation because of hints that Foley’s killer came from Britain. 

Obama’s demonstrable insensitivity in 2014 comes to mind when viewing pictures of President Donald Trump hitting the links twice this Memorial Day weekend as the death total in the United States from COVID-19 approaches 100,000. In between rounds, Trump insulted perceived enemies and promoted a baseless conspiracy theory. All this while millions of Americans remained hunkered down, trying to cope with the rising death toll and the economic devastation caused by the pandemic.

No one begrudges presidential recreation. Being president is a hard job, though Trump is doing his best to make the presidency appear effortless. He seemingly expends little effort at significant portions of the job, such as taking advice from experts, listening to intelligence briefings (he apparently does not read the intelligence briefings, according to reporting), consoling the nation when appropriate, inspiring it at other moments, expressing empathy when others suffer, and leading by example. (His refusal to wear a mask to protect others from the spread of the contagion demonstrates his unwillingness to do what the government he heads decrees as appropriate behavior.) And, his prodigious capacity for imbibing cable TV news is well documented.

Even a president who seemingly expends little energy on the job is entitled to golf, though Trump’s frequent forays — 266 rounds since becoming president — make a mockery of his previous criticisms of Obama’s golf playing. Trump tweeted 27 times between 2011 and 2016 about Obama playing golf. Trump promised on the campaign trail in 2016, “I’m going to be working for you. I’m not going to have time to go golfing, believe me. Believe me. Believe me, folks.” One of those 27 tweets, by the way, criticized Obama for golfing during the Ebola outbreak in 2014 when there were two confirmed cases of the deadly disease in the United States.

Many presidents have played golf. The number of presidential duffers totals 17 since William McKinley hit the first tee shot in 1897. Only Teddy Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover Harry Truman, and Jimmy Carter were non-golfing presidents in the following 123 years. Franklin Roosevelt also did not play while president because of polio, but he reputedly was an accomplished golfer as a young man. Woodrow Wilson holds the presidential golfing record. He played more than 1200 rounds from 1913 to 1919 (a massive stroke suffered in October 1919 incapacitated Wilson). It was Dwight Eisenhower who made golf the presidential sport, with a boost in later years from Bill Clinton.

Trump’s Sunday morning golf outing precluded his attending church, though he previously had called for worshippers to return this weekend. Trump is not a noted churchgoer, and his sudden interest in matters of faith may be related to his unexpected precipitous slide in poll numbers among religious conservatives. An April survey by the Public Religion Research Institute shows a double-digit decline in Trump’s favorability among white evangelicals (-11 percent), white Catholics (-12 percent), and white mainline Protestants (-18 percent) from the previous month. Evangelical voters are a key part of Trump’s base, and such dramatic slippage threatens the president’s reelection prospects. Given that, it is surprising he did not forego the greens for a pew. Though I suspect, he does not want the job. He just does not like to lose.

Trump’s other main weekend activity involved tweeting, for which he always finds time. I may be wrong, but I sense the president is tweeting more and with more vitriol and nastiness as his poll numbers decline. If so, that does not bode well for the remaining months before Election Day as the number of deaths likely increases and the economy continues to suffer.

In any event, in a series of weekend tweets, Trump mocked former Georgia gubernatorial candidate and frequently mentioned potential Joe Biden running mate Stacey Abrams’ weight (fat shamming is never good, but coming from a clinically obese man?), ridiculed Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s appearance, and called former Democratic presidential rival Hillary Clinton a “skank.” He referred once again to a long-debunked conspiracy theory that Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman and frequent Trump critic as a TV host, may have murdered a woman. He also tweeted about the alleged dangers of mail-in voting.

Ignored by Trump: The dead in American wars who are honored on Memorial Day and the nearly 100,000 who have died so far from COVID-19. That was left for others to note, including The New York Times, with its dramatic Sunday front page listing one percent of those who have died from the contagion.

Trump did take part in several Memorial Day commemorations, including laying a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery. It is a presidential tradition, and a part of the job no president would dare shun.

The optics of presidential behavior to which Obama referred six years ago includes acting presidential. For Trump, acting presidential means satisfying the rage of his base, at whom his Tweets and his shattering of the norms of presidential behavior are aimed. Trump knows his base does not care whether he golfs nor notes the hypocrisy of his golfing in the midst of a pandemic after condemning Obama for golfing when two people died of Ebola. And, the base certainly does not find much wrong with his tweets, or if they do, they just do not care. So a president who believes he is president of only a part of the nation will continue to act unpresidential. Who would expect anything different from a man unfit to be president?

Posted November 26, 2020

Democracy Threatened

I’m not sure I can commit one way or the other, but right now, that’s the plan. — Jared Kushner, in response to a question from Time magazine on whether the presidential election will be held on November 3, as legally required. 

Good to know that the first son-in-law favors holding the election, though his opinion is irrelevant in this instance, as is the president’s. Still, Kushner’s rather cavalier response feeds into a fear many have that the Trump administration will try either to postpone the election or delegitimize the results if the president loses.

But, you say, that does not happen in America; we always hold elections on time and as scheduled. After all, the United States conducted elections during the Civil War, when rebel armies were in easy marching distance of Washington. Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden voiced concern President Donald Trump may try to interfere with the election: “Mark my words, I think he is going to try to kick back the election somehow — come up with some rationale why it can’t be held.” Even if Trump had the authority to claim the pandemic makes holding an election difficult, it would be a heavy lift even for the logic-impaired president to argue the economy should be opened but the election cancelled.

When it comes to Trump, it is not much of an argument to say he cannot legally do something. Still, monkeying with the legally mandated date would be difficult, even for such a known lawbreaker as Trump (see Ukraine scandal), so the greater fears are Trump might question the legitimacy of the returns or not accept the results if he loses. Remember, Trump was an ungracious winner in 2016, claiming up to five-million people voted illegally. That was, of course, an untrue charge that even his hand-picked commission on electoral fraud could not prove (because it is a lie). A president who claims an election he won was rigged is a president who would not hesitate to make bolder assertions about an election he loses. And, who can say what might happen if some of Trump’s well-armed followers believe his claims of a stolen election?

The above scenario represents a potential assault on democracy. Right now, the Trump administration is engaging in two clear attacks on American democracy. One is the absurd cry of “Obamagate.” Of course, Trump cannot define former President Barack Obama’s crime because there is no crime. Anyone with a bit of political savvy can identify Trump’s tactic. The president needs a diversion because he knows it will be impossible to run on his record of more cases and deaths attributed to COVID-19 than in any other country and Depression-era unemployment numbers. So, Trump needs to rev up the base with red meat about his predecessor, whose only crime was being president while black. (As an aside, Trump’s perceived need to rev up the base six months before the election indicates he knows how precarious his chances are of being reelected. At this late date, the base should be solid.)

While assertions of Obama’s alleged crimes are ridiculous, such claims represent a danger to the American body politic and are an extension of the despicable Trumpian chant of “lock her up” in reference to Hillary Clinton. Right-wing hero Michael Flynn led those chants at the 2016 Republican National Convention, and the call continued to be heard at Trump rallies long after Clinton disappeared into private life. Prosecuting political opponents is a characteristic of banana republics. It has never been acceptable in America to threaten to jail the opposition. Until now, that is. What is next? Executions? Marching electoral losers to the town square to face a firing squad?

Then, there is Trump’s evisceration of the inspector general corps. The president has fired four inspectors general since his impeachment, the latest coming late last Friday night when Trump removed the State’s Department’s inspector general on the recommendation of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The nation’s top diplomat reportedly was upset that Steve Linick was probing Pompeo’s use of a State Department employee to handle personal business for Pompeo and his wife. That is petty corruption; more serious is the allegation by Represent Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat, who says Linick was investigating what Engel calls “Trump’s phony declaration of an emergency so he could send weapons to Saudi Arabia.”

Linick also may have run afoul of Trump and his lackeys because the inspector general played a minor role in the impeachment proceedings, turning over documents provided by Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, to lawmakers. Whatever the reason for Linick’s dismissal, Democrats are calling for an investigation of the disturbing purge by the Trump administration of government watchdogs. Linick is the fourth inspector general to be removed this spring. As if to underscore the nefariousness of the purge, the removals always seem to come late on a Friday night. It is an old political trick to do something illegal, unpopular, or politically damaging late on Friday because that is the beginning of a slow news cycle. 

Trump either does not understand the role of inspectors general or wants to hide his illegal actions, or both.  “….This whole Whistleblower racket needs to be looked at very closely,” he tweeted Monday. In a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi explaining his decision to fire Linick, Trump argued, “It is vital that I have the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as Inspectors General. That is no longer the case with regard to this Inspector General.” Actually no, Mr . President. It is vital that the public has “the fullest confidence” in inspectors general. Technically political appointees, inspectors general serve as watchdogs conducting oversight of federal agencies, and, as such, their independence has long been protected. Trump has undermined that independence, as can be intuited from the appointment of a close ally of Vice President Mike Pence as Linick’s replacement. Democracy does, indeed, die in darkness.

Trump wants only lackeys in his administration. In addiction to Linick playing a minor role in impeachment, he was criticized within the department for failing to investigate the firing of Marie Yovanovitch, the American ambassador to Ukraine, who refused to participate in the Trump scheme to involve Ukraine in the coming presidential election. But, in Donald Trump’s America, where democracy is threatened, even the slightest hint of independence must be punished.

When elections are jeopardized, opponents threatened with jail, and watchdogs silenced, democracy is in danger. Every American should be worried about the threats to democracy posed by Donald Trump.

Posted May 19, 2020