First, the good news. Vaccines to combat the pandemic are on the way. They are successful and people seem to be taking the shots. Let us all celebrate these holidays in our own way. Merry Christmas! Happy Chanukah! Enjoy Kwanza! Happy Festivus! And stay safe.
Unfortunately, the real world raises its ugly head in the form of a bin full of cartoon characters that are trying to destroy our country. In any other context it would be known as treason or sedition. Last night the worst president ever and impeached one-term president put out another of his rambling screeds about the election in a video once again shot at the White House at taxpayers’ expense. He also pardoned or commuted the sentences of 20 of his bedfellows including convicted war criminals that killed fourteen innocent Iraqi civilians and includes rotten politicians and businessmen that scammed the public for lots of money. You know, his kind of people. He also threatened to veto the stimulus relief and government funding bills (it isn’t clear that he understands that they were wrapped together and that there are different provisions in each).
Before I could post this piece, in a fit of pique because of some relatively minor provisions, Mr. Trump vetoed the massive defense spending bill. The bill originally passed with bicameral and bipartisan support sufficient to override his veto. However, the bill must pass before the new Congress forms on 3 January 2021 or they will have to start over.
All of that is more work than he has done in weeks if not months. He has given up on the pandemic entirely. Not one word from the president as we pass 320,000 Americans dead. His only nod in that direction in weeks was to warn journalists away from giving any credit for the vaccine or its distribution to the incoming administration.
So what to make of all that? Should we worry or just shake it off and hold our breath until President-elect Joe Biden takes office?
Let’s address them in reverse order. By declaring the Covid-19 relief package a “disgrace” he did a terrific political favor for the Democrats. They have been pushing for increased payments to suffering Americans since May. When Mr. Trump declared he would accept nothing less than $2,000 for each recipient, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi jumped right in and offered an amendment to the just passed bill to add that in. Since Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell really only allowed the bill to go to the floor to help his Senators in Georgia claim that they were looking out for the state’s citizens, he finds himself in a dilemma. He and many of his party did not want any kind of individual payments. The current $600 payment was a fig leaf meant to sound good but of little use to most Americans in financial distress. Now his party must decide for the first time in memory whether to support the president or vote against the increased payment and unmask the fact that his party really does not want to help the economy at all. They can look more hypocritical than usual, put it on record that they really don’t want to help the economy, bring down the wrath of Trump on their heads or use some legislative legerdemain to avoid the whole thing. Perhaps all of the above. To me, Mr. Trump has no real interest in any of these bills be they Covid relief or funding the military. He is angry and wants to upset the apple cart and make some kind of point to Congressional Republicans that they must be loyal to him and support his efforts to overturn the election, or he will make life very hard for them.
Mr. Trump continues to break all of the norms. Whenever we think that we have hit rock bottom, he shows us that there is no bottom. This is true of many of his actions, but it was demonstrated clearly with his latest round of pardons. The list of twenty includes three jailed Congressmen, Medicare scammers and others with connections to Mr. Trump or his influential friends. A few were convicted on drug charges that resulted in excessive sentences. Two pleaded guilty following the Mueller investigation and reflect Mr. Trump’s efforts to undo everything connected with that inquiry. The most troubling pardons were for the four military contractors working for the now defunct Blackwater security company who killed seventeen people in the Nusoor Square traffic circle in Baghdad. During their trial, they were convicted of killing fourteen of them including women and children and wounding many more. The first to open fire was sentenced to life in prison. This follows a pattern for letting convicted war criminals out of prison when they are politically connected or a Fox News personality takes an interest in the story. In this case, Pete Hegseth, a favorite of Mr. Trump on Fox News, advocated for them. Blackwater was founded by Erik Prince, another Trump advocate, and he is the brother of Betsy DeVos the current Secretary of Education.
As we see the way Mr. Trump’s mind works, and following reports that he plans to award a blanket pardon to himself and his family, one wonders how far this could go. Is it possible for a president to order the killing of a political rival and then pardon the killer and himself? This was something I would never ever have thought about in the past, but we now know that Mr. Trump will use any loophole or power at his disposal to benefit himself. The next Congress should take a hard look at this unfettered Constitutional power to see if it can be codified in a way that allows for some form of oversight for preventing its abuse.
We are now in Never Never Land with the outrageous lies surrounding the election results. Multiple news sources report that Mr. Trump is shutting out even his most fervent and loyal advisers and instead listening only to a bunch of crackpots that are pushing all kinds of theories as to how to over turn the election that Mr. Trump lost in a fair and open way. Perhaps the most despicable of all of these crackpot advisers is Michael Flynn, the former Army Lieutenant General and National Security Adviser who confessed twice to lying to the FBI about his dealings with Russia. He is advocating the imposition of martial law and having the Army re-run the election in the swing states that Mr. Trump lost. By all accounts Mr. Flynn (I cannot in good conscience call him “general” anymore) was an outstanding military officer and leader. He served in Afghanistan and Iraq. I am bewildered as to what happened to him but now he is a certified nut job. He should also remember that retired military officers (they are still being paid by the government as opposed to veterans who did not serve a full career) are subject to recall to active duty at any time and are thus still prosecutable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). He should look up Article 94 pertaining to mutiny and sedition.
Worse still are the 126 Members of Congress that sought to join a case before the Supreme Court in an attempt to over turn the election in four states that went for Mr. Biden. The Court threw out the case hours after the briefing was completed. (Interestingly in this Through the Looking Glass world, several of those petitioning the court were from the states that they wanted overturned. Does that mean, by their own argument, that they should not be seated when the new Congress forms in January?) None-the-less, they are persisting. There is now a plan to protest each of the Electoral College slates from six swing states when the results are to be certified by Congress on 6 January 2021. The House has enough members pledged to mount the challenge (it only takes one), but while several Senators have toyed with the idea, none have yet to come out and say that they will do it. The closest Senator to do so is the Senator-elect from Alabama. Tommy Tuberville, the former football coach, thinks it is a viable idea. Of course Mr. Tuberville also thinks the three branches of government are “you know, the House, the Senate, and the Executive.” (Maybe we should have our elected officials take the naturalized citizen civics test.) Again, they only need one and via Twitter (where else) Mr. Trump seems to think he will be the guy.
There are a number of scenarios that could play out once the slates are challenged. One includes Vice President Pence as President of the Senate substituting the “alternative” Electors put forward in several states in place of the official certified slates of Electors. As much as Mr. Pence does whatever his boss wants him to, with little to no thought as to how ethical it may be, it is a stretch for him to even consider doing such a thing and in the end, it would not work anyway. Mr. Biden will be certified has having won the election.
The point is that there are elected officials of the United States that are actively trying to over turn an election and install Donald J. Trump as dictator, Dear Leader, autocrat, whatever it is that they think he will be for them. This is a direct and threatening assault on our democracy. We need to hold these people accountable. Many news organizations have published the names of the House Members that supported over turning the election. We need to throw the bums out at the first opportunity. By the way, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy forfeited his right to ever be the Speaker of the House regardless of any turnover of the House to Republicans because of his active role in trying to overthrow the duly elected future 46th President of the United States.
In fact, I hope that the attempt to overrule the American people does go to a vote. I want it on record for all to see and for history to note, who those elected officials are that think that loyalty to one man is more important than upholding their oath to support and defend the Constitution.
More worrisome for me than these Congressional shameful shenanigans is that Mr. Trump is becoming increasingly desperate and unhinged. Serious consideration should be given to invoking the 25th Amendment. I am serious and this is a serious issue. Mr. Trump is not a well man. Surrounded by others that have seemingly lost their grip on reality, all kinds of bad things can happen. So far our democracy has survived this very severe stress test. We have identified weak areas and laws that need to be strengthened, but we came closer to losing our democracy than I think most people recognize. It was not a sure thing. Thank goodness we had state and local officials willing to stand up to the bully in the White House. We may not have those same good people in the future. Now is the time to strengthen our democracy against future wannabe despots.
In the meantime we have about four more weeks to go. Despite all the public hand wringing, I think that a year from now Mr. Trump will be fully in the rear view mirror and fading into history. I do not see him as a force in the future. Meantime, we need to get through this transition period. I am not sanguine about this period. Mr. Trump and his cultists can still cause a lot of mischief before he leaves. We need to keep our guard up and our focus on the future.
I for one am looking forward to the new year.
On 27 February 1933 the German Reichstag (parliament) building burned down. The cause of the fire is still not definitively known, but the Nazis are suspected of setting it. They then were able to exploit the situation by claiming that the Communists were behind it as the beginning of an uprising to overthrow the government. They convinced President Paul von Hindenburg to allow the Nazis under Chancellor Adolf Hitler to issue an emergency decree the following day. Popularly known as the Reichstag Fire Decree it allowed the suspension of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to assemble, and allowed for the arrest of political opponents, the dissolving of political organizations, the ability to overrule state and local laws and the power to overthrow state and local governments, among other rights previously enjoyed in Germany. The following month the Reichstag passed the Enabling Act of 1933 effectively making Adolf Hitler a dictator.
Thankfully, we are not in such dire straits here in the United States. But we are inching ever closer to a total collapse of our democracy. As I mentioned in my last posting, the Texas Attorney General brought a suit to the Supreme Court asking the court to throw out the entirety of the ballots cast in Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia and Pennsylvania. Oddly, it seems that the only election problems in the country are in swing states that Mr. Trump lost. The desired effect would be that Donald J. Trump then becomes president for another term. (And I will say more than one if this gambit succeeds.) Legal experts far and wide declared such a lawsuit a total travesty and predicted that the Supreme Court will not take the case.
I hope that the experts are correct, but even if they are, very un-American developments indicate further trouble ahead.
In the past few days, seventeen other states joined the suit supporting the Texas claim. Six others are in the process of joining. As of this writing, 106 of the 196 “Republican” members of the House have signed on to officially support the suit in court. This includes the Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Trumpist – CA). Senator Ted Cruz (Trumpist – TX) volunteered to argue the case before the Court.
Think about that for a minute. Nearly half of the state Attorneys General in the United States are actively working to overturn a fair and free election and disenfranchise millions of our fellow citizens. Roughly 25% of all the members of the House and 55% of them in one of the two major parties think it wise, prudent, and legal to ignore their oath to the Constitution and instead pledge their allegiance to one man — a cult leader that wants to undo our democracy by claiming without evidence that the election was stolen from him. They explain away the lack of evidence, and the fact that “Rudy’s Travelling Circus” already lost more than 50 court cases trying to undo the election, by saying — and I wish I was kidding — that the fraud and deception was so masterful that they (whoever they are that perpetrated this heinous crime but the words “liberal socialists” comes up a lot) did not leave a single clue as to their nefarious deeds.
On Wednesday Mr. Trump himself dropped all pretense of what he was doing and moved on from claiming a fraudulent election to just plain saying that it needs to be overturned. He started the morning by Tweet saying simply “OVERTURN.”
It is just too scary. Anyone that wonders how otherwise educated populations can watch democracy get stolen and replaced by an autocrat need not wonder anymore.
So what happens when the Supreme Court throws out the suit? Your guess is as good as mine, but clearly no one in his party seems to be bothered by anything that Mr. Trump does no matter how harebrained, incredible, or illegal it may be. Mr. Trump only can take away one thing from this debacle. He can get away with anything and the majority of his party in leadership roles will support him or look the other way. He was more prophetic than we knew four years ago when Mr. Trump said that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it.
The essence of our democracy is that we fight hard for our principles and policies, but that when the election is over, we put away our differences long enough for a peaceful transition of power. We honor the results of elections. For the first time in our history since at least the election of 1860, that is not happening. There is now a stark division in our country. There are those that believe in the power of democracy (Democrats, many independents, and the remaining real Republicans) and those that believe that if the election does not turn out in your favor, you change the result through any means necessary (Trump cultists). This is how democracy ends.
I remain steadfast in my belief that Joseph Biden will be sworn in as president on 20 January 2021. However, I shudder at the damage that may be done to our country in the remaining six weeks before then. How can our government govern after January if a significant number of those in Congress refuse to recognize the legitimate transfer of power? How far will they take it? Will the Trumpists refuse to consent to Mr. Biden’s cabinet choices? Will they freeze all legislation to undermine the economy to make life as difficult as possible for the Biden Administration? The list could go on and on.
Our way of government ultimately rests on trust. Trust in our elections and their results are the foundation of our way of choosing officials and for them to govern. That trust is being deliberately threatened to suit the whims of one man. This is some bad stuff.
My reference to the Reichstag Fire is not me setting my hair on fire or yelling that the sky is falling. Not yet anyway. It does, however, have some frightening parallels to what is happening now and stands as a stark reminder that dictators and ruthless regimes don’t just show up out of nowhere. They grow from misconceptions, ruthless propaganda, and a population that goes along or chooses not to get involved.
Someone out there has a box of matches and is willing to use them. We must not let those that swore an oath to protect and defend our country give up our Constitutional rights in the name of one delusional wannabe dictator.
What is it with the former Republican Party? Even as I write, they continue their assault on the foundation of our republic. Likely, this will cause permanent long-term damage to our country. Tens of millions of people in the United States think, thanks to the rantings of Donald J. Trump and the continued efforts of national Republicans, that last month’s election was riddled with fraudulent practices and was rigged in favor of President-elect Joe Biden. To what end is this lie continuing even as the Electoral College is preparing to cast the majority of their votes for Mr. Biden on Monday 14 December?
Mr. Trump is nearly out of legal moves to dispute the election and is moving on to illegal attempts to change the outcome of the election. In every sense of the word, he is attempting a coup. Within the past week he twice telephoned the Pennsylvania Speaker of the House to pressure him into calling a special session of the legislature to replace the duly elected Electors with a slate pledged to Mr. Trump. This is the third state that he directly and personally meddled with trying to get them to change the results or overturn them outright. (The other two are Michigan and Georgia.) Last night a leading Trumpist Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina went on Fox News to berate the Republican Governor of Georgia to “not sit on your a**” and to call a special session of the legislature to challenge Mr. Biden’s victory in the state.
To date, state officials, Democrats and Republicans, are holding the line, upholding the law, and refusing to cave to Mr. Trump’s demands. However, pressure is mounting on Congressional Republicans to challenge the Electoral College results when they are certified on 6 January 2021. Two Republican Congressmen say that they will challenge the results. Under the 12th Amendment and the 1887 law known as the Electoral Count Act, the word “certifies” is not well defined. It takes only one Representative and one Senator to object to certifying a particular electoral slate. The objection must be in writing and signed by each. The House and Senate then decides separately on how to resolve the issue via a vote. (Normally they confer and often use a Joint Committee to resolve any issues.) The last time a slate was challenged was in 2005 when there was an objection to Ohio’s electoral slate. The issue was debated and quickly resolved.
More foolishness came today when the Republicans on the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies refused to vote in favor of saying that the inauguration was for Mr. Biden and his running mate Ms. Harris. They argued that the process was still playing out and yet to be officially resolved. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a law suit today with the U.S. Supreme Court against Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin claiming that those states “used the Covid-19 pandemic to justify ignoring federal and state election laws.” Over the weekend the Washington Post released the results of their survey of all 249 Republicans in the House and Senate asking if they accepted that Mr. Biden won the election. Only 27 said that they did. Two claimed that Mr. Trump won. The other 220 said that it was too early to say or refused to answer the question.
And on and on. What in the good name of democracy is going on? Why aren’t more people upset by this direct assault on our most fundamental right as American citizens? What inspires national Republicans to stay in this cult of personality and with unwavering loyalty bring down our democracy in the process?
I have heard a variety of explanations. They fear him, still, even as a loser. That he will run for president again in 2024 and they want to be on his good side. That if they don’t support him they will be “primaryed” by someone Mr. Trump supports. That they are letting him work through the various stages of grief until he realizes that he is a loser. There are lots of driveling excuses floating around. None of them make any sense any longer. Even if they did make sense once, c’mon man, it’s over! Let’s follow the norms and traditions that make this country great.
Reflecting on why we are in this situation it occurred to me that possibly, maybe probably, none of those answers trotted out by the pundits are accurate. There may be elements of truth in them, but that is not the main motivator of their abhorrent actions.
The real reason is that the true believers like what he is doing.
Some may be cynical in that they believe their own political self-preservation depends on Mr. Trump remaining in power. Others may have the same autocratic tendencies that Mr. Trump daily exhibits. Some may just believe that Democrats in government, all of them — every one — are so inherently evil that they have to do everything, and that means everything, in their power to stop them from taking over the government. Any end is better than that.
With that epiphany, it is not that the Republicans are afraid of Mr. Trump and have lost their spine. They are not. They want him to succeed. Think of that. One of the two major parties in our democracy would rather see an election overturned by unethical and un-American methods rather than give up power. Autocracy? They are down with that. For four years I have tried to figure out why they go along with absolutely every crazy thing this president does, even if it goes directly against everything they said they stood for in the past. The explanation was actually quite simple. They like it, they like the power they have, and they don’t want to give it up.
If they have learned anything from Mr. Trump, they have learned that if you have the power you can do anything. There really are no laws or Constitutional limits to what you can do if you are just nervy enough to do it. Who can stop the president? It turns out that if you just ignore subpoenas, hearings and inquiries nothing happens. Impeached? Who cares if you have a Senate that wants to keep you in power no matter what. Pack the Supreme Court? Sure. You need a little luck through resignations or deaths but if you are in charge you can set any rules that you want. Hand out pardons to your political cronies and dirty tricksters? No problem, no one can stop you. Staying in power is paramount. Once in power, you are in control. Of everything.
Here is where it gets scary.
The national Republican Party is selling the same bill of goods to their supporters that Mr. Trump is selling. There are millions of people in the country that are convinced that Mr. Trump will be sworn in as president on 20 January 2021. Convinced. As the Wisconsin conservative pundit Charlie Sykes said recently, the realization that Mr. Trump is no longer the president will be such a shock to their beliefs and world view that their actions will be totally unpredictable. We already had armed protesters over the weekend show up at the home of the Michigan Secretary of State in a pure move of intimidation. When the true believers realize that they have been lied to, they are not going to take it out on Mr. Trump. They will default to the Trumpian explanation that their votes were stolen, the election rigged and that democracy is dead. There are both short and long-term dangers in that explanation and the fact that millions of people will believe it.
Add to that sweet mixture the many white nationalist groups that have long had a goal to start another American Civil War. This could be their pretext to take to the streets. There is a clear and present danger from domestic enemies willing to foment violence. That would give openings for our foreign enemies to take advantage of the situation. It is a dangerous time. It is not a game that those Republicans supporting Mr. Trump’s lies are playing. They are playing with fire. I am very concerned that real people will be injured or killed as Mr. Trump continues to incite violence in barely disguised rhetoric as he continues to live in fantasyland.
Is such a scenario inevitable? I think not. The rule of law and the Constitution can still prevail. My concern is that Mr. Trump is becoming increasingly desperate and cares not a whit about democracy or the country’s well-being. Therefore, it is well past time for Senate and House Republican leaders to state the obvious. Make clear and unambiguous statements that the system worked, it was tested in the courts, the law was upheld, and the results of the election are undisputed. Unless they do that, Mr. Trump and millions of Americans will think that they were robbed.
On Wednesday, 2,798 Americans died from Covid-19, a record at that time, which is more people than died on 11 September 2001 at the World Trade Center. On that same day, Mr. Donald J. Trump gave what he said “may be the most important speech I’ve ever made.” He did not mention anything about the pandemic. Indeed, since the election he has been mostly silent about the ongoing death toll, record rate of hospitalizations, and rampant spread of the virus except to admonish journalists not to give President-elect Biden any credit for the impending distribution of a vaccine. Only Mr. Trump should get credit.
What was so important in the speech that he gave on Wednesday? He delivered a 46 minute Facebook video (none of the news channels would carry it), produced with taxpayer money, at the White House, standing behind the seal of the President of the United States that asserted lie, after lie, after lie about the November presidential election. As always, Mr. Trump failed to provide any evidence for his outrageous claims. His was a tired reiteration of the same claims that have failed in courts across the land because there is no evidence of election fraud. Even Mr. Trump’s personal Attorney General William Barr publicly declared that there was no evidence of fraud or any other issues that would change the result of the election. And yet, he persisted. The number of lies are too many to recount here, but they focused on his view that the election was stolen from him and that it was “statistically impossible” for him to lose the election.
As always, his speech was a national embarrassment. Unpatriotic. Un-American. A direct assault on the core values of the United States. Ignorant of the Constitution. And generally despicable.
Here’s the problem. What is he going to do about it? What impact is it going to have on millions of Americans who believe him? What does it mean when he agrees with a Tweet from his disgraced, but pardoned, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn where Mr. Flynn agrees with calls to “declare martial law,” “suspend the Constitution,” and use the United States military to carry out a “national revote”? (Sedition anyone?) What does it mean when lawmakers, Republican and Democrat, report getting more calls than they ever have received complaining about the integrity of the election?
It means we as a nation are in big trouble. Mr. Trump and his co-conspirators are doing more damage to our country than we can fully comprehend. It will take years to undo the damage and restore confidence in our voting process.
This goes way beyond letting “Trump be Trump” or pursuing recounts on close outcomes or any other “normal” efforts following an election. Simply put, Mr. Trump refuses to accept that he is a loser and will do anything, and I am afraid that I mean anything, to consolidate his power and remain in office. Many pundits predict that his whole effort to delegitimize the election will collapse after 14 December when the Electoral College officially votes. I am not convinced that we can rest easy until President-elect Biden is sworn in on 20 January as the 46th President of the United States.
Death threats have been lodged against all manner of citizens working on the election ranging from governors and state Secretaries of State down to volunteers at the polling places and counting centers. Regular citizens that took an oath and, regardless of political affiliation, have carried out those duties to the best of their ability. It is sickening to me that the president will not do the same. He also will do nothing to tone down his rhetoric and instead encourages people to move ever closer to taking the law into their own hands and installing him as a dictator. As I write those words I never thought that it could be a realistic scenario in our great country. Now my faith in my fellow Americans is shaken to the point that I cannot say with certainty that such a thing could never happen here.
I maintain only disgust and revulsion for the antics of national Republican leaders that prove daily that there is no longer a real Republican Party, only a cult of personality loyal to Donald J. Trump. Not one Republican leader in the House or Senate has yet to forcefully condemn the president’s inflammatory statements or actions. Most spread the lies themselves out of loyalty to him. No one stands up to him. The list is endless but it begins with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) and continues throughout the party and is epitomized by the Trumpist Senator from Wisconsin Ron Johnson who said, following Attorney General Barr’s statement that there was no widespread fraud during the election, that he needed “proof” of the absence of proof of fraud. (Wait. What?!) That is how far our national institutions have fallen under the governance of the worst president ever.
It is this lack of fortitude, patriotism, leadership, and a belief in the Constitution that scares me the most. Mr. Trump would still attempt to use the power of the federal government for his own benefit, but if a united Republican Party stood for their own avowed principles, then in the end he would be powerless. They refuse to do so. I suppose I should not be surprised after four long years of watching them and their submissive, obsequious deferrals to his every whim, but I am still shocked at the length they will go to keep him “happy” even as he overturns everything in his path and then sets it on fire.
Our three equal branches of government are only equal if they each assert their duties as delineated in the Constitution and configured by the Founding Fathers. So far, the courts have stood up to Mr. Trump’s cockamamy efforts to overturn the election (although why they are still allowing cases to come forward without evidence is beyond me) but the Trumpists in the House and Senate steadfastly refuse to do so.
I have no idea how this will end. Tomorrow Mr. Trump goes into a tinder box of emotions in Georgia. It will likely not be pretty. I cannot imagine Mr. Trump cooling those passions. It isn’t in him to do so. The only question will be how many matches he throws into the pyre and what actions people take as a result.
Meanwhile, we cannot forget that over 100,000 Americans are hospitalized and medical authorities fear that the spike that will follow Thanksgiving has yet to show itself. We expect to have 300,000 dead from the virus by mid-December. Unemployment and other pandemic related benefits for millions of Americans end on 26 December. We are in a national crisis and there is no leadership.
America will have a very big hole to get out of in the coming year on many levels. Let’s all start with the first rule of holes: “When you’re in one, stop digging.”