The Assault on Democracy

Donald J. Trump is conducting a disturbing and dangerous assault on the very foundation of our democratic republic. Such an assault began well before the election and continues unabated weeks after Election Day. How or when it stops we may not know until 20 January when Joseph R. Biden Jr. is sworn in as the 46th President of the United States. Mr. Trump told us what he was going to do and, for once, was true to his word. He is undertaking the most blatant exercise of raw power to overturn a presidential election in our history.

As alarming as Mr. Trump’s efforts to undo an election that he lost by nearly 6 million votes may be, more alarming is the fact that the majority of Republican Senators support his efforts, some by actively engaging in attempted voter disenfranchisement — I’m looking at you Lindsey Graham — and others by their continued silence while Mr. Trump and his cronies blatantly attempt to overturn a fair and fraud free election. The Republican Party is dead and now they have put the last nail in the coffin.

That Mr. Trump lost is a great thing for our country. As his actions continue to show, should he have won, and absent a Senate that is willing to confront him, he would have run roughshod over every Constitutional boundary that has protected our country for over two hundred years. As it is, his current actions are those of a despot. The very foundation of our country is under assault by this president as he tries to convince us that he “won in a landslide.” And national level Republican politicians are letting him try.

Thankfully, there are still elected officials, Republican and Democrat, at state and local levels that have a firm grasp on reality and retain the backbone to do their job faithfully, fully and in keeping with the oath that they took to uphold the laws and Constitution of the United States, regardless of pressure from the President of the United States.

None-the-less we now know how fragile our democracy really is. Mr. Trump and his co-conspirators are incompetent. They cannot pull it off. But, they have put forth a roadmap that a more competent administration could follow in the future to steal an election. It is imperative that the Congress work to close the loopholes in our election process to preclude any future attempts to overturn a fair election.

The effort hit an all time high of danger and of farce yesterday during a press conference headed by a sweating, hair dye dripping, Rudy Giuliani at the Republican National Committee Headquarters. After every legal attempt to halt vote counting or to throw out votes was dismissed in court for lack of evidence (currently, the Trump campaign is zero for thirty) they resorted to wild claims invoking everything from Venezuela to Cuba to a mysterious national conspiracy to change votes electronically from Mr. Trump to Mr. Biden. None of the claims were supported by any facts whatsoever. Mr. Giuliani stated that he could not share the evidence because it was classified, but that it would be produced at a later time.

Furthermore, the Trump campaign’s efforts are racist, pure and simple. The challenges and conspiracy theories apparently are only relevant to certain cities such as Detroit, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Atlanta and Las Vegas. In each case they are focused on precincts and counties that are predominately Black or Latino. This is a blatant attempt to disenfranchise minority voters.

Remember that Mr. Trump earlier this week “terminated” Christopher Krebs — his own appointee — who was responsible for the country’s cyber security and for overseeing the integrity of the voting process. He was fired for doing the unthinkable. He told the truth. After Election Day Mr. Krebs declared “the November 3rd election was the most secure in American history. There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes or was in any way compromised.” He did his job. In this administration that is grounds for being fired. Additionally, his deputy was forced to resign and as is his habit, Mr. Trump had a more “loyal” appointee assigned to the job.

In a Tweet, Mr. Krebs called Mr. Giuliani’s performance yesterday “the most dangerous 1 hr 45 minutes of television in American history. And possibly the craziest.” He is right. What Mr. Trump is attempting through his surrogate Mr. Giuliani is un-American and a grave threat to our democracy.

Today Mr. Trump is inviting members of the Republican controlled Michigan legislature to the White House in an attempt to get them to interfere in the Electoral College process. This seems to be the new strategy. Since they have failed at the ballot box, in the courts, and everywhere else, they think that they can mess with the Electoral College, or delay its vote, or something (I’m not sure they know) in order to throw the election into the Congress where they think that they can win. They lost the popular vote by 6 million votes. They lost the Electoral College count by 74 votes. They are trying to overturn the will of the people with unfounded, unproven, and ridiculous claims as if we do have an autocrat in charge of our government.

This course of events goes beyond letting “Trump be Trump” or giving him time to assimilate the fact that he is a loser or any other psychological double talk that Republicans are putting forth about his behavior. This is simply a case of an autocrat trying to steal an election by claiming that no, really, the other guy stole it.

Unfortunately, the longer this goes on the number of people that believe his unfounded claims will grow. What happens then is impossible to predict, but I fear that the nut cases in our great land will feel that they somehow have to rectify the situation and force the country to accept that Mr. Trump really won.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump sits whining in the White House, only leaving to play golf, while the Covid-19 pandemic grows into a massive crisis. The situation now is the greatest threat to our well-being since it began in February. The number of deaths is fourth on the list of our country’s greatest losses of life behind the Civil War, the Second World War and the 1918 flu pandemic. On the current trajectory it could move up the list to be the second worst in our history. Nothing from Mr. Trump except to claim that he is responsible for the vaccine that will soon be in production. No effort to put forth economic relief for the millions struggling to make ends meet. No effort to keep the government from shutting down on 11 December because there is no bill to provide the money to keep it functioning. Crises everywhere and Mr. Trump is putting all of his energy into convincing people that he really won the election and therefore will overturn the certified results.

From the vast majority of the members of the Republican Senate? Crickets.

We are in danger. Serious danger. Our enemies foreign and domestic see that we are in turmoil. They see that our democracy is fragile and not functioning as it should. They see that we have a distracted, weak president that is only interested in taking money from his supporters and amassing power. The next 60 days will be fraught with ever greater threats as we fail to address that which is staring us in the face and we see an increasingly unhinged president willing to do anything to stay in office.

I am out of the prediction business. I will only say that it would not surprise me that Mr. Trump never concedes, never allows a transition, and does everything in his power to turn over a domestic and international situation that will undermine any policies Mr. Biden hoped to address during his presidency. For at least his first year, Mr. Biden simply will be too busy putting out the fires that Mr. Trump set on his way out.

The only thing that I am sure of is that Mr. Biden will be sworn in at noon on 20 January 2021 and that millions of people will believe that he stole the election away from Mr. Trump.

Thank God Trump only had one term.


Get Over It!

To my relief we will not have four more years of Donald J. Trump. I am not sure that our collective interests could have endured that. Joseph R. Biden Jr. will be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States on 20 January, 2021 at noon following an historic victory in last week’s election. When all of the votes are counted, President-elect Biden is expected to have over five million more votes than the sitting president. Not since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 has a candidate beaten a sitting president by that large of a margin. Projections indicate that Mr. Biden will end up with 306 electoral votes, the same as Mr. Trump in 2016, who failed by three million votes to garner a popular vote win. By every measure, Mr. Biden is the clear winner in this election for president.

For now I will leave it to the historians to parse out the significance of this election. To me, it reinforces that we need to make serious changes to our election process. I am now convinced that the Electoral College must go. We need to learn to use absentee and mail-in voting effectively. We need all of the states to count those early ballots before Election Day so that results are posted in a timely fashion. We need to make Election Day a holiday. While it was inspiring to see that people would wait in line for as long as six or seven hours to vote in parts of our country, the question remains — why should they have to do so in the greatest democracy on earth?

I will leave it to the political analysts to dissect how Mr. Trump, now widely considered as our worst president ever, got more votes in this election than in 2016. In my view it was his apparently successful tactic to make the current pandemic a false choice between stopping its spread and reopening the economy. Coupled with his successful propaganda that Mr. Biden would only be a pawn in the hands of the — dare we say it? — socialists that will really run the country in his place, his campaign appears to be more effective than it should have been. Looking back over the last four years, I will never understand how so many people thought that he did a good job and that we wanted four more years of a budding autocrat in charge.

My primary concern is the ongoing shenanigans of the president and his enablers in the United States Senate and elsewhere. That Mr. Trump continues his refrain from the past year, that the only way he could lose was if the election was rigged, does not surprise me. His logic is his own. I will win. They say I lost. I could only lose if it was rigged. Therefore, it was rigged. I would expect nothing else from the man-baby currently occupying the Oval Office. I just want to yell get over it and get out!

I am most appalled at the attack on our democracy being perpetrated by the majority of Republican Senators. They are echoing and spreading Mr. Trump’s lies about a rigged election and consistently push the idea of voter fraud. This is extremely dangerous. It puts the legitimacy of our entire process in jeopardy. The Republicans keep trying to push law suits in the courts without evidence. As we used to say, they have gone “0 fer.” (All of them were dismissed as of this writing for lack of evidence.) Note that they only challenge the presidential results, even as they accept the results of the races that they won that were on the same ballots. So far, it appears that Americans accept the results of the voting, with 79% agreeing that Mr. Biden won and only 3% saying that Mr. Trump won. (The rest say that they don’t know or are waiting for more results.)

Given that the population as a whole accepts the results, why would senior Republicans deliberately and with malice of forethought push such wild tales that only undermine our election system? Why would they risk a nut case or a group of nut cases taking some sort of violent action to “solve” the problem themselves? I have three possibilities.

The easiest, silliest, and most popular theory is that everyone around Mr. Trump knows that he lost but that they must assuage his ego, lessen the blow, and come up with a story that allows him to believe that he is not a loser. If the election were stolen from him, then he did not lose. If this is true, then we should all be extremely happy that he is no longer president because such behavior is infantile. It also shows that senior Republicans have no integrity if they believe that such behavior, and such a dangerous story, is okay. They are willing to let the entire nation convulse to sooth the ego of one man. Shameful.

A second possibility is that they need the base to remain energized so that they can raise money and turn out the vote in Georgia. Two Senate seats will be decided there in January following a run-off between the top two vote-getters. The control of the Senate remains in the balance. If the Republicans win even one seat, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell remains in place. If the Democrats win both seats, the split in the Senate will be 50-50 and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris breaks any ties, thus making Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) the Majority Leader.

A corollary of this theory is that because Mr. Trump did so much better than expected, he will continue to dominate the Republican Party and become a “king maker” for those with ambitions to run for president, or any other office, over the next four years. They need to keep him on their side and since personal loyalty to the Supreme Leader is the only thing that Mr. Trump cares about, they need to keep kowtowing to him. Mr. Trump is also using the claim of a corrupt election to raise money. For himself. Mr. Trump activated a “defense fund” web site that solicits donations to fight on and stop the “fraudulent” election in court. However, when one drills down into the fine print, the vast majority of the funds are going to Mr. Trump’s new political action committee (PAC) “Save America.” One thing you can be sure of with our current Commander-in-Chief, he never misses an opportunity to make a buck off of his supporters.

The third possibility, which I hesitate to bring up since it is so outlandish, is that Mr. Trump and at least some of his cohorts actually believe that the election was stolen. Or, at least they honestly think that they can play the game out to keep themselves in power by any means necessary. That scenario is absolutely unfathomable. And yet, for years we have thought that surely Mr. Trump would not go “that far,” and then he crashes right on through any barriers to keep him on track. One lesson that he and his enablers have learned is that they can ignore the law with impunity because in the end, no one can do anything to stop them. He was impeached. So what? Congressional hearings? Ignore them. Department of Justice investigations? William Barr won’t allow it. And on, and on.

In the aftermath of the election he is systematically cleaning out all of his government appointees deemed insufficiently loyal and replacing them with his most fierce acolytes. In agency after agency this is ongoing. The headline grabber is in the Department of Defense where the Secretary of Defense was arbitrarily “terminated” via Tweet without warning to any official in the Pentagon. Yesterday, other high civilian officials in the department were also summarily fired and replaced by die-hard Trump loyalists. Why? Good question. It could be retribution for not doing Mr. Trump’s bidding. It could be a loyalty reward to his new appointees so that those folks can put it on their resume for the future. It could be because there is a bigger plan that the removed officials would not have allowed.

So far, all of those removed were civilians. I will be truly alarmed if Mr. Trump removes the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs (reportedly Mr. Trump is unhappy with him) or other senior military officers. Anyone that stands in Mr. Trump’s way gets removed. To what end? In addition, when asked about a transition yesterday, Secretary of State Pompeo replied that he was ready to transition to four more years of Mr. Trump. A not funny joke from someone who should know better? (He is a West Point graduate. What happened to “Duty. Honor. Country.”?) Or a hint?

I am not a conspiracy theorist by nature. I am not one now. All I know is that nothing Mr. Trump does is surprising, even as at the same time it can be shocking. Additionally, his administration refuses to cooperate with the incoming administration for a smooth transition. Perhaps Mr. Trump and his minions think this is some kind of payback, but it is also dangerous. Transition teams are not just courtesies or traditions. They need to get to work in order for the government to function smoothly. Any delay much past the end of this week will have an impact on our national security. One finding of the 9/11 Commission is that the delay in calling the Bush-Gore election, and thus a far shorter transition for President Bush and his team, was a contributing factor to failing to protect against the terrorist attack. They were still getting up to speed on a number of issues and still putting people and policies in place.

This is the United States of America. By deliberately creating chaos and delaying a smooth transition of the government, Mr. Trump and his allies are undermining our national security. With a bevy of mostly unqualified “actings” in key positions throughout the government for the next ten weeks, bad actors are calibrating their options to take advantage of the situation or to further undermine our world standing. By deliberately lying about the election, Mr. Trump and his supporters allow domestic terror groups to see an opportunity to take advantage of the chaos.

All involved took an oath of office to the Constitution, not to one person. It is time that they do a gut check and reorient their thinking towards what is best for the country rather than for themselves. Unfortunately, that may be one of Mr. Trump’s legacies. It isn’t about country, it’s about me, me, me.

I still remain optimistic for our country. We can get through this. I just do not understand how some of our officials can ignore their oath and their sworn duty.


The Democrat’s Dilemma

The country is one week away from an election that likely will come down to the wire. If (when?) the Democrats win the White House and Senate and maintain their majority in the House, there will be several key issues that need immediate intention and others that may fundamentally change our system of government.

Of immediate concern is the ongoing pandemic. The Trump Administration threw in the towel and surrendered to the inevitable spread of Covid-19. Indeed, the administration surrendered back in March when the president refused to take responsibility for any actions to mitigate the spread of the disease. With his super-spreader events held daily all around the country, we are wasting our time expecting him to do anything positive to reduce the death toll that is expected to approach 400,000 dead Americans by Inauguration Day. In my view, win or lose, Mr. Trump will do nothing in the coming months to change the course of the disease.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) adjourned the Senate yesterday without addressing the economic impact of the pandemic. Several relief bills, starting last May, passed the House but Mr. McConnell refused to take them up in the Senate. Likely, he failed to do his job for two reasons. First, there was widespread disagreement within his caucus as to whether or not to spend more money. Mr. McConnell did not want to put any of his Senators in a politically precarious position by forcing them to vote one way or another on helping the average working person in the United States. Second, Mr. McConnell probably sees the writing on the wall that Mr. Trump will not be re-elected. Senator McConnell will do all in his power to make life miserable for a President Biden, including trying to keep the economy struggling so that Mr. Biden cannot take credit for succeeding where the current ruling party failed.

The pandemic will be the first and most important issue for a Biden Administration to address. Economic relief will be the first order of business for a Democratic Congress. Those plans are ready for implementation as soon as the new president and Congress are sworn in. Only time will tell if they are effective, but it seems that any attempt to improve the situation is better than none. We cannot sit around and wait for a vaccine or for effective therapies to help patients in the hospital. Those are important, but don’t yet exist. The real issue is what can be done now to stop the spread of the disease. We already know that masks, social distancing and good hygiene go a long way. For some misguided reason, those successful strategies have become politicized by Mr. Trump. It will take time, and a coordinated effort to overcome that mind set and to restore what has been lost over the last seven months.

Longer term, a Democratic administration and Congress have fundamental issues to address as to how government works. Legislation to institutionalize norms that have been respected in the past but ignored over the last few years are necessary. Trust in the character of the president is a charming relic of the past that we now know is too dangerous. Put it into law.

In addition, there are three dilemmas that Democrats will face. These are whether to:

  • Investigate and prosecute any crimes committed by the president and/or members of his administration.
  • End the filibuster in the Senate.
  • Change the number of Justices on the Supreme Court.

Revenge and retribution will be on many minds come January. That feeling will not only color the views of politicians in Washington but also those of many of the citizens that voted them into office. The current administration and their enablers in the Senate ran roughshod over all of the norms and courtesies that traditionally applied in the government and especially in the Senate. Look no further than the court packing that occurred with the refusal to take up President Obama’s nominee to the Court eight months before an election, and the subsequent rush job to put Mr. Trump’s nominee on the Court eight days before Election Day after nearly 60 million Americans had already voted.

Constitutionally, the Republicans were well within their power to do both of those deeds, no matter how much it reeks of hypocrisy. It was legal. However, one of my guiding principles has been that just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should. In my view, that idea should apply to the Democrats as well.

With that in mind, let’s look at the three dilemmas facing a Democratic government.

Investigate and Prosecute. What to do about Mr. Donald J. Trump who has abused just about every principle in the book and enriched himself and his family throughout his term? My nuanced answer is “it depends.” There is a precedent. Following President Nixon’s resignation, President Ford pardoned him of all crimes. The argument was that the country had already been through very rough times so do not protract it. Move on and start over. As President Ford said “our long national nightmare is over.”

I am not sure that we can do that with Mr. Trump. No president can be prosecuted for bad policy, the voters take care of that. However, if evidence comes to light that Mr. Trump was knowingly aiding and abetting a foreign adversary, for example, then an investigation and possible prosecution are very necessary. We now know that no counter-intelligence or national security investigation was ever conducted to look into Mr. Trump’s activities. The Mueller Investigation did not touch on those issues. The impeachment process did not look into that either.

We have also learned that federal and New York state District Attorneys are looking into Mr. Trump’s finances and possible crimes (like racketeering) prior to his entering office — and maybe while in office.

I say to let the chips fall where they may. If Mr. Biden is president he should have absolutely no involvement in any investigation or prosecution of Mr. Trump or his associates. Let the District Attorneys finish their investigations and decide whether or not to prosecute. This will be difficult to do as many in this country will readily assume that such action is merely one more thing on the list of “persecutions” Mr. Trump has “endured.” I think that in the current era it is necessary to show that no one is above the law if they knowingly commit crimes. Even if Mr. Trump is pardoned (there are multiple scenarios that might apply to make that happen) it would only apply to federal laws. State laws fall under a different jurisdiction and can only be pardoned by the respective governors. Just follow the money. If it leads to Mr. Trump, his children, any of his associates or Trump, Inc. just play it straight as the justice system would pursue any other citizen. If there is nothing there, then so be it.

End the Filibuster. The Senate was designed to be different than the House of Representatives. Until just over one hundred years ago with the passage of the 17th Amendment, Senators were not directly elected by the people. They were separate from the rabble that elects the House (also why we have an Electoral College) and therefore would be more deliberate, thoughtful and statesmanlike. One of the great Senate rules that helped to promote that atmosphere and to provide an opportunity for compromise is the filibuster. While one Senator could theoretically hold up the works, in practice it often resulted in compromises in order to get the two-thirds (later changed to 60) votes required to move legislation and Senate confirmed nominees.

There are now calls to end the filibuster. Such calls are nothing new, especially when one party or the other feels shut out or stymied in moving their projects forward. Then Minority Leader McConnell used the filibuster to stop the confirmation of federal judges under President Obama, leading then Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to go “nuclear” and change the Senate rules to require only a simple majority to confirm federal judges. Anticipating President Trump’s Supreme Court nominees, now Majority Leader McConnell knew that his narrow majority would not likely be able to get Supreme Court nominees confirmed following his dirty trick blocking Merrick Garland from the Court, so he changed the rules to only require a simple majority for confirmation of Supreme Court Justices. Both actions were huge mistakes.

Without the filibuster, the Senate becomes a small House of Representatives. The majority can ram through any legislation they want on a simple majority. The Senate is already way too partisan, ending the filibuster will only make it more so. There will be no need to compromise on anything.

The Democrats know that Mr. McConnell will do anything in his power to move his agenda. They run the risk of him, or another Republican Majority Leader, doing away with the filibuster in the future. It is a risk they should take. There can be little to no progress in regaining civility in government and consequently in the country if all of the rules go out the window and only pure partisan politics is in play. The Senate will cease to be the body it was envisioned to be if the rules change to favor only one party.

Change the Number of Justices. Likewise, I think the same way about the Supreme Court. The number of Justices is determined by law, not by the Constitution and can be changed. It can reasonably be argued that the Republicans already packed the federal justice system. When in the majority they blocked nearly every nominee of President Obama to every federal court. They stopped the nomination of Judge Garland. It could be reasonably argued that two of the three seats filled by Mr. Trump were stolen seats. Regardless, I think it a mistake to add three or more (as has been suggested) Justices to create a more “balanced” judiciary. Follow the current rules and make them work. The Democrats got outmaneuvered by Mr. McConnell. He plays hard ball and will use every trick in the book to get what he wants. Use the rules to get to where the country needs to be, but do not change them for partisan reasons.

The political partisan vibe needs to change. Mr. Trump has been many things including the worst president ever. He also exacerbated the divisions in our country for his own egomaniacal and profit making reasons. Let’s change that atmosphere. Besides, if the Republicans refuse to go along and restore a measure of compromise, then you can change the rules.

There is of course another remedy. That is through legislation. Pass laws to institutionalize the norms of government that we expect. Pass laws that provide health care that can pass review by the courts, for example, should the Affordable Care Act be overturned. Pass a law explicitly institutionalizing same sex marriage. And so forth. Use the existing rules through legislation to overcome any interpretation made by nine citizens.

I look forward to the new era that will dawn at noon on 20 January 2021. We all need to work together to move out from under the pandemic — to me a symbol of all that is wrong with the current administration. When we defeat the virus through national cooperation and neighbor helping neighbor, let’s keep that spirit and apply it to our political discourse.


A Clear And Present Danger

“When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.”

— Maya Angelou

Following Tuesday’s national embarrassment, a disgusting display of attempted bullying, there is a lot to think about.  Probably, Donald J. Trump acted the role of the out of control drunk at the end of the bar because he knew he could not win a debate.  He does not have control of the facts, has barely put together a complete sentence in his entire term, and knows that former Vice President Joe Biden has plenty of experience in such a format.  Mr. Trump was probably not concerned about criticism for telling more lies — he has already accumulated over 20,000 documented lies since his inauguration — but he was concerned about losing.  The answer was to blow it all up, burn the place down, and attempt to look “strong” in an attempt to make Mr. Biden look weak.  He failed in every respect and in the process broke the rules of democracy and decorum and deprived the American public of the chance to assess both candidates, their policies, and their fitness for the job.

With all of the outrageous statements and shenanigans, two stand out above all and should alert every one of us to the clear and present danger to our country that exists in the persona of Mr. Trump.  We need to look no further than his two statements near the end of the debate.  When given the opportunity to clearly and forcefully condemn the antics, tactics and goals of white supremacists, he demurred.  (“The Proud Boys: stand back and stand by.”)  Indeed by all accounts by those that follow such things, the white supremacist groups took his answer as a call to arms.  (Several incorporated the words into their new logos and one leader tweeted out “Standing by sir!”)  Even on Wednesday as Mr. Trump claimed he did not know, then or now (really? c’mon man!), who the Proud Boys were, he still passed up the opportunity to publicly condemn white supremacists.

The second issue was his continued declarations that if he lost the election it was only because it was rigged against him.  In other words, he will accept no other result than his own victory and explicitly said that he didn’t know if he would allow for a peaceful transition of power should he lose.  Tuesday night he said that he is “urging his supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully.”  If Mr. Trump sees “thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can’t go along with that.”  When asked about what he meant by that he said “it means you have a fraudulent election.” When asked specifically if he would warn his supporters against “civil unrest” and tell them to keep calm if the vote counting goes on longer than Election Day, he refused.

So let’s put this all together and then see what he, and unfortunately Attorney General William Barr have been saying over the last few weeks.

First, on Tuesday night Mr. Trump gave a green light to white supremacists and other supporters to use violence if the election goes for Mr. Biden.  Additionally, he told his supporters to engage in voter intimidation by going to polling places to keep people from voting or to claim voter fraud if they are not allowed into the polls (in most states poll watchers have to be certified and there are rules about their behavior).

Please do not say that Mr. Trump did not really mean what he said or that his words are being overly exaggerated.  He knew exactly what he was doing.  More importantly, the folks on the receiving end of his message know what he meant and will act on it, regardless of what “he meant to say.” He encourages vigilantes and is a major league fearmonger. There are people that believe him.  So get real.  The threat to a fair and open election is staring us in the face.

As I have written in this space before, autocrats tell you exactly what they are going to try and do before they do it.  Mr. Trump is no exception.

Here is the playbook as I see it.

Mr. Trump’s goal is to make things look so bad that he can claim, as he already has, that he alone can fix it.  As the pandemic continues to spread, the economy is ready to take another hit (today alone 35,000 airline employees are set to be laid off), schools are mostly still remote, demonstrations continue across the land, and golly, no one can even rely on the Postal Service anymore.  All of this and more creates a sense of crisis.

In a crisis, people want action.  By demonstrating that he is not afraid to break the rules — be it holding a political convention on the White House lawn or not abiding by debate rules — he is attempting to demonstrate that he is willing to do anything.  Anything.  Rules, norms, laws do not apply in a crisis and he is not afraid to throw all of them out the window to achieve “results.”  Without a bit of shame as to the illogical nature of his argument, he now tends to claim that things are so bad now (remember, he has been the president for the last four years and precipitated many of these crises himself), he needs a second term to restore order.  He argues that Democrats are the real problem and that they want anarchy.  “Law and Order” is required to bring back the America you love (read: white male Christian dominated society).  Contempt for the law is part of the message. It is necessary to get things done.  Straight textbook Autocracy 101.

He knows he is losing, so now he needs to bring it all home by suppressing the vote for Mr. Biden, and claiming that the election was a fraud.

In recent weeks he has railed against any and all mail-in ballots as being rigged.  He continually claims that all vote counting must stop on Election Night.  The Attorney General went on CNN and claimed that foreign entities were going to counterfeit absentee ballots and other cheaters were going to pay people for their votes, buy up blocks of blank ballots and fill in Mr. Biden’s name.  Indeed he even implied that postal workers might do that.

And on and on.  The point?  They are trying to lay the ground work for a legal challenge to the election results when Mr. Trump loses.  I suspect that they will have people try to forge ballots and pay for ballots and send in lots of crudely duplicated ballots in order to prove their point.  They are telling us what they are going to do.  Add to that some nut cases or groups of nut cases (I’m looking at you white supremacists) that hear that a county election office threw out some ballots (does not have to actually happen, just put it out over social media and they will come) and they storm the building to confiscate the “illegal” ballots.

The number of scenarios are vast.  We already know that Mr. Trump and Mr. Barr have no bottom for shameful and immoral behavior.  The only goal is to retain power.  Mr. Trump cannot stand the thought of losing — especially since he may end up going to jail in the not too distant future.  Mr. Barr is on some bizarre crusade to shape American society in the way that he thinks it should function and Mr. Trump is his blunt instrument to achieve his ends.

All of it sets up the conditions for a legal (yes legal) attempt to steal the election.  I am not a Constitutional law expert and I am not an attorney.  My understanding is it can work as follows:

  • Claim that the results in certain swing states (enough to give Mr. Trump a win) are suspect because of all the “illegal” ballots that were submitted by mail and because of improprieties at voting places.  Remember that Mr. Trump and Mr. Barr have already encouraged voters in North Carolina and Pennsylvania to vote twice.  Those two men know that is illegal, but if enough people try it, it really gums up the works and they can also claim that legitimate voters were turned away at the polls.
  • Go to the courts to invalidate the election results in enough precincts to change the state’s electoral outcome.  If that doesn’t work, go to state legislatures and claim that the Electors voted into the Electoral College from that state were illegitimately determined.  Under the law, state legislatures determine the Electors and certify their validity to the Congress.  Many states have laws that the legislature must certify Electors as voted on by the people, but not all.  Additionally, the laws are often vague and some experts believe that the courts could decide in favor of legislatures over those voted on by the people.  Reports from Pennsylvania already reveal that members of the Trump Campaign have talked to the leaders of the the Republican controlled legislature to do just that.
  • If the courts do not rule as to which slates of Electors are the legitimate ones, or the states decide to send the competing slates to the Congress, the Electors seated in the College are determined by a vote in the Congress.  The House and the Senate both vote.  Although new Representatives and Senators will be seated by then, Vice President Pence will still be the tie breaker in the Senate.
  • Should the House and the Senate vote to seat different slates of Electors, then the vote goes back to the House, but with different rules.  In this vote, each state votes as a block.  One state, one vote.  Thus South Dakota has as much power to decide the president as does New York.  Even though the Democrats have a large majority in the House, when decided on a state by state basis, currently 26 have Republican majorities (or only one Representative from that state) and 22 have Democrats.  The other two are split.
  • Meanwhile a parallel effort will go in in the courts.  If it makes it to the Supreme Court the result could go either way.  However, Mr. Trump specifically mentions Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett as the ninth justice he “needs” in order to “win” in the Court.  In her pre-hearing submission to the Senate answering a host of questions, she indicated that she would not recuse herself from any 2020 election cases that may come to the court.

Many people compare all of this to the 2000 election and the “hanging chads” in Florida.  Historically, it is closer to the election of 1876 where Democrat Samuel Tilden won the popular vote and came up one Electoral College vote shy of winning that over Republican Rutherford Hayes.  The electoral slates of three Southern states were in dispute and the decision came to the Congress.  After deliberation and the formation of a bipartisan commission comprised of Representatives and Senators, and the departure of the lone tie-breaking independent on the commission, replaced by a Republican, the disputed Electoral College votes were awarded to Mr. Hayes to give him a one vote Electoral College win.  In exchange for giving up their candidate, the Democrats secured the end of Reconstruction in the South.  It was a shameful and dirty chapter in the history of our country.

I am concerned that we may face another Constitutional crisis in this election.  Barring an overwhelming landslide in favor of Mr. Biden, I think that we may be in for a long final three months of the year full of unrest and probable violence.

Mr. Trump makes it abundantly clear that he has no qualms about ignoring the Constitution and bringing the full weight of the Federal Government to preserve his power.  One pundit likened it to the old saying that “if I’m going down I’m taking all of you with me.”  In his Attorney General he has an accomplice that will help him bend the law if not outright ignore it in the name of allegedly preserving the safety and security of our city streets.

Meanwhile we have a Republican Senate that has lost its backbone, its allegiance to the Constitution and its voice.  The president might Tweet about me!

We must all vote.  We must all be vigilant.  We must all be vociferous in our opposition to such a blatant attack on our Constitution.

I take solace in the fact that there are still good upstanding Americans in our midst.  For the scenario to unfold as I’ve sketched it here, an awful lot of people would have to go along with what is clearly a power grab by a budding autocrat and his cronies.  I have faith that enough people along the way will stand up to the bully and refuse to compromise or cooperate.

God Bless America.

 


The Coming War Over the Supreme Court

Last Friday we learned of the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  Please take a moment to think of her and her family.  She was a great American and a great American success story, coming from humble roots in middle class Brooklyn New York to rise to the Supreme Court.  Along the way she was a true trail blazer and a forceful voice for human rights.  She will be missed.

Her death opens a seat on the Supreme Court and offers Mr. Donald J. Trump the chance to put a third Justice on the Court.  Elections do have consequences.  The question then becomes, when do the consequences of an election kick in?  In 2016 following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, Senate Republicans kept an open seat on the Court for roughly a year claiming that no new Justices should be nominated or voted on until after the election of a new president.  President Barack Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland did not even get a hearing, much less an up or down vote.

The real player in the drama then and now is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Tr – KY).  As much as Mr. Trump has pushed and pulled and ignored the norms surrounding the office of the president, Mr. McConnell has done the most to undermine the legitimacy of the Senate and the norms that used to guide our selection of judges to federal courts and to the Supreme Court.  Along with unilaterally changing the required number of votes to approve a Supreme Court Justice from 60 — which normally meant that whichever party was in power would have to have some votes from the other party in order to confirm a nominee, thus allowing for more moderate judges to make it on to the court — it now only requires 51 votes which gives each party a chance to approve radical judges aligned with their party’s interests.

Indeed, Mr. McConnell has been so focused on getting judges on to the federal courts that very, very little else has been addressed over the last two years in the Senate.  Mr. McConnell put his pursuit of judges over the lives of the now 200,000 Americans dead from Covid-19.  He will not address any of the pandemic relief bills so desperately needed to fight the virus and to restore our economic well being.  So much for claiming to be pro-life.

Much has been and will be written about the sheer utter hypocrisy of Republicans surrounding the nomination and confirmation of a new Justice during an election year.  In 2016 it was a full ten months before the election.  This year it is only about six weeks before the election.  In fact, some states already have early voting underway.  You will see lots and lots of video clips of one Republican Senator after another twisting themselves into more knots than a pretzel trying to explain why it was different then than it is now.  Sad.  Additionally, please remember that there is no such thing as the “Biden Rule” or “Thurmond Rule” or even a “McConnell Rule.”  That is a lot of smoke to hide what is actually going on.  There is only the law.

The bottom line?  There is no shame in Trumpland.  They will do whatever they want and without regard to the lies, hypocrisy and sheer awfulness of it.  It won’t change so I won’t waste time arguing it or bemoaning it.  To quote the president’s remarks about the deaths of so many of our fellow citizens, “It is what it is.”

There is no shame.  It is just pure power politics.  In effect, they will steal a Supreme Court seat for the second time.

What action can those that still have a sense of duty do to stop it?  Procedurally, not much.  The Constitution is vague about this issue.  Article III, Section I of the Constitution says merely that:

“The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.”

Significantly, there is no indication of how many Justices there shall be or exactly what their role should be.  Starting with the Judiciary Act of 1789, Congress shapes the size and authority of the Court.  Of the three branches of our government, the Supreme Court is probably the one that most resembles its origins and relies heavily on custom and tradition in the process of taking care of business.  Chief Justice John Marshall, appointed to the court by President John Adams, is credited with shaping the court into the form and substance we know today.  The number of Justices on the court varied over time until 1869 when the number became nine and remains so today.

All of this is background as to what means are available to Democrats, and perhaps a few Republicans, to delay the confirmation until after the election and leave the choice to the winners in the White House and the Senate.

Since it now takes only 51 votes to over-ride any legislative maneuvering and to confirm a nominee, the opposition to a hasty process can only come from political pressure.  It is an election year and several Republican Senators are up for re-election and find themselves in very tight races.  This issue could have a significant impact on who is elected or re-elected.  If their constituents forcefully voice their opposition to proceeding without regard to the election, some sitting Senators may find it difficult to support Mr. McConnell’s plan.

So far two Republican Senators have indicated that they do not support moving ahead with the process until after the election.  Is it possible more might join them?  Possible, but not a sure thing.  Tremendous pressure will be applied to every Republican Senator to stay in line.  In that regard, when the vote is taken will be critical.

By all accounts, the only thing that Senator McConnell values more than changing the face of the judiciary is retaining his power and prestige as majority leader.  He will use everything in his power to keep power.  It is conceivable that to protect vulnerable Senators that could be harmed by having to vote for a Trump appointee prior to the election, he will hold hearings before the election to gauge the political winds and hold off on the actual vote until after the election.  Those that are re-elected are safe, those that are not have nothing to lose.  The question then becomes a matter of conscience as to how individuals may vote, a commodity that unfortunately seems to be in short supply in the current political arena.

It would be a real insult to our democratic ideals if the Republicans lose the White House and their majority in the Senate but go ahead and confirm a Trump appointee.

There are many scenarios that could play out.  I have no idea what will happen.  The Republicans have a three seat majority.  If three Republicans vote against a nominee, the Vice President would be the tie breaker.  The Democrats would need to convince at least four Republicans to vote against a nominee, something that will be difficult to do should the nominee be a truly qualified jurist.

It seems that for the Democrats to stop the appointment of another conservative Justice, thus giving them a 6-3 advantage on the Court, they need to play hardball.

During the last four years the institutions of our government have been abused, even debased, in the pursuit of power by Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell.  To play the same game, some advocate for the Democrats to say that should the process ignore the election results that they will expand the Court to include more Justices.  The law designating the number of Justices can be changed by a majority vote.

Personally, I think this is wrong.  It would never stop as eventually one party loses the majority and the other looks to regain the upper hand.  Our system of government has been under assault for four years, messing with the Supreme Court would be the beginning of the end of any restrictions on changing the rules to suit one party and undermining everything we used to hold as important to our fundamental system of government.

It may also backfire in that some voters may vote against the Democrats if they threaten to expand the Court.

There are some twists and turns that could influence the outcome.  Two Senate institutionalists are retiring this year.  Senators Lamar Alexander (TN) and Pat Roberts (KS), with no debt to pay to Mr. McConnell, or to Mr. Trump, may put the traditions and unwritten norms of the Senate and the judiciary above party politics.  Should Senators Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Susan Collins (ME) stick to their avowed decision to oppose a nominee that would be the four votes needed to stop this move.

Another wild card vote comes from Arizona where Senator Martha McSally is currently behind her Democrat opponent former astronaut Mark Kelly.  Since Senator McSally is an interim appointee (she fills the seat that belonged to John McCain), if Mr. Kelly wins the election he would be seated by the end of November bringing down the Republican advantage in the Senate.

Numerous possibilities will be floated in the coming weeks.  There are no arguments to be made or scenarios to play out should Mr. Trump get re-elected and Mr. McConnell retain his majority in the Senate.  There would be nothing that could, or should, stop Mr. Trump from seating his third appointee.  Mr. Trump will campaign on this issue and try to make it a referendum that he thinks will help him win.  Of course he wants the campaign to be about anything that distracts from his horrifying dereliction of duty mismanaging the pandemic and the loss of over 200,000 of our fellow citizens.

However the next few weeks unfold, two things are certain.  Our nation lost a truly historic presence in the Supreme Court and an already wild and improbable election cycle where anything can happen just got even wilder and more unpredictable.


He Lied and People Died

“This is deadly stuff.”

Donald J. Trump on 7 February 2020 to journalist Bob Woodward

In the course of writing his book Rage, Bob Woodward talked directly with the president eighteen times and recorded those conversations with Mr. Trump’s permission and knowledge.  The tapes and available excerpts from the book clearly show that Mr. Trump knew from the beginning that the coronavirus was deadly and yet he continually took no action and played down the threat through much of January, February and March.  In important ways he still ignores the severity of the crisis.

Mr. Trump clearly is not responsible for the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, but his belated and inconsistent response cost tens of thousands of Americans their lives.

The timeline of Mr. Trump’s private statements to Mr. Woodward, matched up with his public statements about the state of the pandemic, demonstrates his callous disregard for American lives and his deliberate deception to prevent coherent actions in the early days of the crisis.

For example, Mr. Trump was briefed by his National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien that “this will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency.  This is going to be the roughest thing you face.”  His Deputy added that this was going to be at least as bad as the 1918 flu pandemic that killed 50 million people worldwide.

The briefing was given to him on 28 January 2020.  On 7 February he told Mr. Woodward,

“You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed.  And that’s a very tricky one.  That’s a very delicate one.  It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flu.  This is deadly stuff.”

Meanwhile on 26 February he compared the coronavirus to the flu and talked about how much worse the flu was in our country.  He downplayed the threat and again compared it favorably to the flu on 9 March.

On 19 March he told Mr. Woodward,

“Now it’s turning out it’s just not old people, Bob.  Just today and yesterday some startling facts came out.  It’s not just old — it’s plenty of young people.”

On 24 March, 6 May and 5 August he downplayed the threat to young people and focused primarily on the threat to senior citizens.  In fact, during an interview in August he said,

“If you look at children, children are almost — and I would almost say definitely — but almost immune from this disease.  They don’t have a problem.  They just don’t have a problem.”

There is more, but you get the idea.  I suppose it should not be surprising that a president that lied over 20,000 times while in office continually lies about the pandemic.  But the brazen, uncaring, callous way he treated our society is breathtaking.  In the excerpts of the tapes that I have heard, I am struck most of all by the nonchalance and indifference in his voice.  He truly does not care.

His avowed reason for lying to all of us (he calls it “downplaying” the impact) is that he did not want the public to “panic.”  That would be hilarious if the results were not so horrifying.  This from a president that creates fear and campaigns on panic be it “MS-13 caravans” flooding the border, or “destroying the suburbs” or a hundred other things he has injected into our lives.

The only panic he was trying to prevent was a panic in the markets on Wall Street.  He tied his reelection to the economy and he was afraid that if he told the truth, if they took the required precautions early, that there would be an economic impact.  He thought he could ride it out and therefore took no action.

Put this in perspective.  According to a Columbia University study, if social distancing efforts had been put in place even just one week earlier (8 March instead of 15 March) 36,000 lives in the U.S. would have been saved and there would have been 700,000 fewer infections.

That is still a month after Mr. Trump told Mr. Woodward that “this is deadly stuff.”

Remember, since he was briefed in January about how the coronavirus spreads, Mr. Trump conducted campaign rallies, belittled people that wore masks, pushed for restaurants and bars to open, recommended injecting bleach into bodies, pushed hydroxychloroquine and generally brushed off all of the known precautions to stop its spread.

Based on his words and actions in pushing to reopen the economy, millions of Americans forswore masks and social distancing, gathered in bars, partied hearty, and otherwise facilitated the spread of the disease and the consequences we still feel over seven months after Mr. Trump knew the dangers inherent in this new disease.

Every American, Trump supporter or not, should be outraged.  It is not hyperbole to say that his actions and inactions, with full knowledge of the threat, resulted in the loss of life.

Just as bad, his staff and advisers had the same information and said nothing.  Shame on them all.  They are just as guilty.

Mr. Trump failed in his primary duty as president.  The president first and foremost must put the health, safety and security of all of us above all else.  He still refuses to do so.  His enablers continue to lie for him, cover up for him, and allow him to put himself above all.  He insults us by saying he was just trying to be a “cheerleader” for our country.  His enablers say he was just doing what any good leader does by projecting a calm demeanor.  They even dare to compare him to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Hogwash.

Their words and actions are despicable.  Tell that to the families and friends of the nearly 200,000 dead Americans.

He lied and people died.

 


Losers And Suckers

If you have not yet heard about the article in The Atlantic by Jeffrey Goldberg then you may think that this piece is about someone or something else other than the United States military.  Unfortunately, the title comes from the mouth of Mr. Donald J. Trump and he was referring to our military, especially to those killed, wounded or missing in action.  In accordance with the over 20,000 documented lies that the president has uttered since taking office, no one is surprised that Mr. Trump denied saying anything like that and trotted out a series of sycophants and Trump associates to deny that he ever said it.

Believe what you want, but I’ll go with The Atlantic and the corroboration of the essence of the article as confirmed by the Washington Post, New York Times, Associated Press, and Fox News.  It also fits a long pattern of actions on his part that indicate his prime interest in the military is the trappings of office and banana republic style parades and displays of military equipment.  For example, in 2018 his personal attorney Michael Cohen testified that Mr. Trump told him that he would never have gone to Vietnam.  “You think I’m stupid?  I wasn’t going to Vietnam.”

To me, it is easy to believe.  It fits a pattern of behavior and conduct in office that fully supports his belief that nothing, absolutely nothing, is worth doing unless there is some personal monetary or other reward involved.  He simply cannot comprehend that anybody would put their lives at risk for a concept such as democracy or the Constitution.  His world view is that everyone is out to get whatever they can, and to get it they will lie, cheat or steal.  If you do not do that then you are a loser or a sucker.  You are there to be had.

Apparently in his world view, no one gets rich in the military so to join makes you either stupid — literally, you couldn’t do anything else — or a sucker.  He is reported to have said to aides after a briefing by the then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Joe Dunford; “That guy is smart.  Why did he join the military?”

This latest revelation of the superficiality of everything associated with Mr. Trump is not surprising.  A quick look at some of his greatest hits shows that his language about the military is nothing new.  I still find it depressing.  Apparently he is not just totally transactional, but also ill-informed and basically ignorant about anything that does not involve his personal interests.

  • In 1997 Mr. Trump said during the Howard Stern Show that his “personal Vietnam” was avoiding Sexually Transmitted Diseases.  “I feel like a great and very brave soldier.”
  • Starting in 1999 he continually attacked Senator John McCain and called him a loser.  Mr. Trump denies this but his own Tweet from 18 July 2015 says exactly that.  The then Chief of Staff at the Department of Homeland Security Mr. Miles Taylor attested to the fact that Mr. Trump did not want to take any honorific actions following the Senator’s death.  Indeed, Mr. Trump was outraged that action was taken.
  • Following the 2016 Democratic Convention he relentlessly attacked Khizr and Ghazala Khan after they spoke about the sacrifice of their son Army Captain Khan who was killed in action in 2004.
  • In a botched condolence call in 2017 to the widow of Army Sergeant La David Johnson she said that Mr. Trump could not remember her husband’s name (he told her he read it after stumbling over it) and said to her “He knew what he signed up for.”  When she expressed her pain over the call, Mr. Trump spent the next eight days attacking her via his Twitter account.
  • In 2017 during a meeting in the Pentagon with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other senior administration officials, he angrily told them they were all “losers.”  “I wouldn’t go to war with you people.  You’re a bunch of dopes and babies.”
  • In 2019 he interfered in the military justice system by overturning the war crimes convictions of a Navy SEAL and an Army Special Forces officer and another Army officer about to go on trial for war crimes.  Special interests used the medium of Fox News to get him to intervene.  He thought it was good for him to do so because it would be popular.  He said, “We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill.”  Such statements show that he has no clue about the military, its honor, or its code of conduct.
  • Against the advice of his senior military and civilian advisers Mr. Trump precipitously withdrew U.S. support to the Kurds in Syria leading to a near massacre as Turkish forces poured across the border.  He left a staunch ally in the lurch in order to impress the thugish leader of Turkey.
  • This summer Mr. Trump threatened to deploy U.S. combat troops against American citizens.  The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley had to make two separate public statements affirming the military is not in the business of acting against our own citizens and that the non-partisan nature of the military precludes support for any candidate for public office.
  • In July of this year Mr. Trump announced that the U.S. would withdraw about a third of our deployed forces in Europe to support NATO.  This is a move that certainly delights Russian president Vladimir Putin.  His stated reason for doing so was “We don’t want to be the suckers anymore.  We’re reducing the force because they’re not paying their bills.  It’s that simple.”  (Not surprisingly, his statement on bill paying is not accurate and shows his ignorance of how NATO defense spending works.  But hey, remember the 20,000 lies.)
  • It is well known in and out of government through published reports that Russian agents in Afghanistan put bounties on the heads of U.S. military personnel.  Taliban fighters would be paid for each American killed.  This is perhaps the greatest sign the Mr. Trump cares not one iota for American military personnel as he makes countless excuses for inaction.  Claiming ignorance, to this day he has not confronted the Russians over this outrage.  Preventing the needless loss of life for the troops and doing all in his power to keep them safe is the greatest responsibility of the Commander-in-Chief and he refuses to take action.

There are many more examples of his callous disregard for the American military.  He seems to think that all he has to do is mouth a few words at some rally and he’s done.

Do I believe that Mr. Trump is capable of calling our dead and wounded losers and suckers?  You bet I do.  His track record is abysmal.  To paraphrase another president, Mr. Trump does not ask what he can do for the country, he asks what the country can do for him.


R.I.P. Republican Party

Over the last four years the Republican Party as a whole, but especially in Congress, lost its way.  They abandoned everything that they used to believe in in order to assuage the Tweeter-in-Chief.  As a result, the party has been on life support most of that time.  We can now call the time of death as Sunday 23 August, 2020.

The Republican Party is now officially a wholly owned subsidiary of Trump Family, Inc.

Lest you think I am exaggerating, on the eve of the Republican National Convention, the party announced that for the first time in its history, they would have no platform.  In a one page declaration of “whereases” assailing the media and affirming their enthusiasm for Mr. Trump, they concluded by saying,

Resolved, That the Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda;

Resolved, That the 2020 Republican National Convention will adjourn without adopting a new platform until the 2024 Republican National Convention.”

I guess it boils down to “I’ll have what he’s having.”  More succinctly, the Republicans now publicly declare that they stand for nothing.  There is no official vision, plan, policy, or goal that they will try to achieve over the next four years.  Whatever the president says at the moment, is, I suppose, what they will do, even if tomorrow they need to reverse course when he changes his mind after seeing something on Fox News.  The Republicans will just wait around for a kingly pronouncement.

Unfortunately, Mr. Trump does not have a vision or plan for the future either.  In interview after interview on Fox News and other friendly venues, interviewers have tossed him softball questions as to what to expect over a possible second term.  So far, zilch, nada, zip, nothing.  His replies only have been rambling statements about past grievances, pet peeves, or “acing” a cognitive ability test.

I find it sad, and a bad omen for our country.  I believe firmly in the two party system as part of the checks and balances that keep our country on a relatively middle of the road path to the future.

Arguably, many past platforms may have been exercises in producing wish lists by those that write them.  More positively, they provide a blueprint, plan, policies and aspirational goals that the respective parties want to accomplish should they carry the election.  Now, according to their own document, there is nothing that the Republicans want to achieve other than whatever Mr. Donald J. Trump and his family declare in the moment that they should do.

The Republican Party is dead.  The Cult of Trump is alive and well.

The Republican National Convention is now nothing short of a coronation for Mr. Trump.  Indeed, Mr. Trump has repeatedly declared that the upcoming election would be “rigged.”  Yesterday, to kick off his convention, he declared that “the only way they can take this election away from us is if this is a rigged election.”  Think about that.  His party has given him carte blanche to do whatever he wants, and he publicly declares, repeatedly, that the only election result he will accept is if he wins.

That is a combination that should concern us all, especially given Mr. Trump’s increasingly lawless actions.

I do not wish to insult the intelligence or motives of those that support Mr. Trump.  It is a long American tradition to distrust the government, the media, and experts about anything and everything.  Mr. Trump is nothing else if not a salesman.  He knows how to tap into that resentment.  No matter the facts, or the eloquence of the argument, no one is going to sway the die-hard Trump supporter that they should stop supporting him.  Listening to the language showered upon him in the first day of the Republican Convention shows he has attained a Messianic following.  It is truly a cult of personality.  His support rests upon cultural and emotional issues, not a coherent vision for the future.  That is not going to change no matter how outrageous his behavior becomes over the coming months.  His followers are going to “stick it to the man” no matter what.

The establishment Republican Party that may have moderated his behavior ceased to exist.  They will not do their Constitutional duty.  I blame the Republican members of Congress and their obvious cowardice in the face of actions by a president that they would have wholeheartedly condemned in any other modern president Republican or Democrat.  Perhaps future historians will be able to figure out why there has been such a wide-spread display of cowardice on their part.  I cannot explain it.

It is now up to the voters to decide.  We need to weed out the merely outrageous aspects of Mr. Trump’s behavior that distract us nearly every wearying day.  Instead it is time to focus on those actions of his, as aided and abetted by a cowering Senate, that threaten our future as a Republic.

We cannot be intimidated or cowed.  Too much depends on it.  Please vote, no matter what.

 

 


Stealing The Election In Plain Sight

The President of the United States wants to take away your vote.  He tells us this now almost daily.  Four years ago he told us that he actually won the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election.  On 27 November 2016 he claimed that “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”  He had no proof of that then and he still has no proof.  It did not happen.  Of course, for a president that has told over 20,000 documented lies, we should not be surprised that he lied about this.

He continues to make this claim, and now that the 2020 election is approaching, he continues to assert that it will be “rigged,” “fraudulent,” “corrupt” and a host of other unsubstantiated claims that may put the integrity of the election into question in some people’s minds.  In a July 2020 interview with Fox News host Mike Wallace, the president (of the United States!) would not commit to accepting the results of the election if he lost.

Remember, even though he is a known liar, the president, just like Saddam Hussein did, tells us what he is actually trying to do.  He is up front about it.  In my opinion, he tells us what he is going to do — in this case, try to steal the election — because he knows no one will stop him.  Appeals to honor, ethics or the law have no impact on him.  Repeat after me: “He just doesn’t care.”

The key feature of his intended interference in the upcoming election is his knowledge that he is likely to lose.  He created an Electoral College victory in 2016 by the slimmest of margins (roughly 75,000 votes spread out over three states) and is unlikely to get more votes in 2020.  Low turnout and protest votes against Secretary Hillary Clinton allowed him to sneak by.  He knows that.  The conditions in 2020 are totally different and the voter turnout will be very large — a fact not in his favor.  What to do?  Suppress the vote, claim fraud, and fight with every available tool in his dirty tricks bag to keep votes from being counted.

Is this my usual hyperbolic ranting about the Worst. President. Ever?  No.  The president told us what he is going to do.  Right up front.  In July he was complaining that the results of the election would not be available for “days, months or even years later.”  He also said, wait for it, that the election results could be tied up in court for years.  Aha!  What is Mr. Trump’s favorite weapon?  The courts.  He sues everybody about everything.  All the time.  Rest assured that if he loses the election there will be a prolonged legal effort to invalidate ballots or even the results in key states that he loses.

More forthright still, the president has taken to attacking the validity of the process surrounding voting by mail.  He claims absentee ballots are okay (he and his family vote that way) but mail-in ballots are not. (Yes, I know that they are the same thing.) Again, there is no evidence of any nefarious activity.  Here is really what he means, as he put in a May 2020 Tweet (in all caps):   “MAIL IN VOTING WILL LEAD TO MASSIVE FRAUD AND ABUSE.  IT WILL ALSO LEAD TO THE END OF OUR GREAT REPUBLICAN PARTY. WE CAN NEVER LET THIS TRAGEDY BEFALL OUR NATION.”  (It isn’t clear to me whether the tragedy is the end of the Republican Party or mail-in voting.)

In other words, the higher the turnout, by making it easier for people to vote during a pandemic, the less chance he has of winning.

What is he doing about it?  Trying to destroy the United States Postal Service.  As usual, he is upfront about it.  I will relate the details of his scheme, but perhaps all you need to know is what he is continually saying, and to also think about the ramifications of what he is saying.  Mr. Trump is blocking funding to the USPS to purposely keep the system from being able to handle the increased mail.  Specifically, he is blocking 25 billion dollars for the post office and 3.5 billion to help states with the mailed ballots.  This was supposed to be part of the Coronavirus aid package.  His opposition is a major impediment to continuing the aid which ran out at the end of July. He explicitly tied them together in an interview on the Fox Business Network.  But I’ll let him tell you how he is trying to disrupt a smooth election.

“Now they need that money to make the post office work, so it can take all of those millions and millions of ballots.  Now, if we don’t make a deal, it means they won’t get the money.  That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting, they just can’t have it.”

In May, the president installed a crony of his as Postmaster General.  Since then over 30 seasoned leaders in the postal system have been reassigned, lay-offs have begun, there is a freeze on hiring and new required procedures have created great backlogs of undelivered mail.  Think that will have an impact on mail-in (or absentee, if you prefer) voting?  In addition, the new Postmaster General has decided that ballot information and ballots themselves will be treated as the class of mail with which they are marked.  Traditionally, the states mail in bulk using third class rates with the knowledge that the postal system will move those pieces as if they were first class mail.  So, if the states and the voters want to make sure that the ballots get out and back in on time, they have to spend millions of dollars more than before —  states that are already seriously cash poor as they have worked to fight the pandemic.

All of this hurts everyday Americans.  Millions receive needed prescriptions by mail.  Others receive checks by mail.  Business transactions are hurt.  And on and on.  All because the president is afraid of the voting results if Americans can vote without fear of catching a disease that has already killed over 165,000 of our fellow citizens.

Here is why it matters.  First, 34 states currently have “no excuse” absentee ballots.  That means you do not have to be out of the state to vote absentee.  Other states have pending legislation to implement similar procedures.  As more states move in that direction, the devil is in the details.  States count absentee ballots if they are post marked on or before (some require at least a day before) Election Day.  Thirty-two states require that the ballots reach election officials no later than, or the day before, Election Day.  The other eighteen states have deadlines ranging from the day after to three days after to ten days after the election.(Some states have legislation pending that may increase or decrease the numbers with these requirements.)

Do you see a pattern here?  Now you know why the president will provide no money for the postal system and why he placed a crony in charge of the system who is making changes that significantly slow down the process.  Time matters.

So let’s sum it up.  Mr. Trump is sabotaging the postal system to disenfranchise voters.  It is probable that with the mailed ballots that make it in, the count will not be over on election night.  It might be election week.  Pretend that Mr. Trump is leading on Election Day in some key states that have large amounts of mail-in ballots.  Over the following days, Mr. Biden overtakes Mr. Trump as the counts finish up.  Mr. Trump calls it a fraudulent election and takes steps to overturn the results.  He goes to court in every state that he claims he should have won.  Chaos ensues.  The mind can conjure all types of scenarios as to what he does in those circumstances.  Possible nightmare scenarios.

Fret not, however, as all reputable scholars and Constitutional experts from all political views agree that the Constitution is clear that the president’s term ends at noon on 20 January 2021.  Period.

If there is in fact no resolution to the election by then (inconceivable to me) then the third in line behind the former president and vice-president is the Speaker of the House.

President Nancy Pelosi.


Groundhog Day

For quite some time now, life seems like an episode in the Bill Murray movie “Groundhog Day.”  Day after day after day we hear the same things.  If you watch the news regularly at some point during the day, an expert clinician, a physician or a nurse in an overwhelmed hospital, an established epidemiologist or other recognized health care expert will come on to be asked how to stop the spread of Covid-19.  Given that we have passed 4.5 million cases and 155,000 American deaths since 1 March, it is an important question.  The response, day after day, is to wear a face covering, social distance, wash one’s hands and don’t hang out in large crowds especially inside.  Not hard.  Every day there is also someone who recovers after a severe bout of Covid and says “I thought it was a hoax.”  Or, “I’m young and I didn’t think it would really be that bad.  But it was.  The worst feeling in my entire life.”  Sadly, we often hear the loved one of a person dead from Covid say something similar.

I can only think that we are a country of morons or losers or both.  How hard is it?  We know what to do.  Why don’t we do it?

Today’s news is that the virus is spreading into every corner of the United States.  It is only a matter of time and it is going to be bad.  Real bad.  In just the last week alone there were 453,659 new cases in the United States and the rate of hospitalizations grows everyday.  Over the last six days we averaged 1,233 deaths a day.  At that rate we will have approximately 37,000 more Americans dead by the end of August.  Remember when people thought that estimates of a 100,000 deaths total from this pandemic was considered to be too high and a lot of hyperbole to scare people?  At the current rate we will be at or over 200,000 dead around Labor Day.  Time to celebrate the beginning of fall!

Increasing numbers of experts (you know, real ones like scientists and doctors not the ones that say to inject bleach into your lungs) believe that we need to start over from the beginning.  Reset the stage.  Shutdown uniformly across the United States for 4-6 weeks — an actual shutdown, not a “if you want to” shutdown — to stop the spread and to be able to have a significant drop in cases so that “testing, tracing, isolation” actually has a chance to change the equation.

But no, I’m bored. I don’t want to do this anymore.  I think I’ll hang out with all my friends for a little pandemic party.  Haven’t seen you for awhile.  Here’s a hug for you and a hug for you and a little Covid for you, and hey buddy, here’s a little Covid for you too.  And then be surprised when people get sick.

It turns out that we cannot merely wish it away or ignore it.  It is not business as usual.

On top of the pandemic, but because of it, our economy is in the proverbial toilet.  For the quarter ending 30 June, the U.S. saw the worst decline for a single quarter since at least 1875 — perhaps in the history of the U.S.  Way to go guys!  We even beat the Great Depression of the 1930’s.

Don’t worry, though.  The Senate is on top of it.  The House passed a bill back in the middle of May to extend unemployment benefits, protect people from being evicted because they can’t pay their rent and other assistance for those that have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.  Called the Heroes Act (H.R.6800), it passed and was sent to the Senate on 20 May.  And sat. And sat. And as of 31 July, all the worker benefits passed by Congress to help the economy during the pandemic expired.  But rest assured, someday the Senate will act to help those in need.  Maybe.  They don’t want people to get too comfortable with this easy lifestyle.

One of the main concerns of those critical of the Heroes Act is that it continues the $600 weekly supplement to existing state unemployment insurance.  The argument is that it is too much because people can make more money by staying home rather than by going to work, which is why some businesses are struggling to reopen.  Let’s take a closer look.

Yes, the money is in addition to state unemployment, but most states pay roughly 35 to 40% of one’s salary up to a limit that varies by state.  However, when you do the math, $600 breaks down to $15/hour for a 40 hour work week.  As a national average, babysitters make $20.30 an hour for two kids. Not exactly the stuff of aspiring millionaires.

Such thinking also avoids the difficult issues.  Perhaps people staying home and not exposing themselves or their families during a pandemic is a good thing.  It helps to stop the spread of the virus.  Additionally, the “too generous” argument ignores other issues such as those workers are staying home because they may not have access to child care during the pandemic or because with schools closed, they need to stay home and help give their kids an education.  Perhaps they rely on public transportation which has been halted or is experiencing severe service cuts due to the pandemic.  Maybe it’s all of those and more.  And of course it presumes that their place of business reopened and is willing to hire them back.

With the economy already in the dumpster how is it going to recover if people don’t have any money to spend?  Have you seen the food lines around the country? (In the 30’s they were called bread lines but now you can stay in your car and also get a healthier selection of food!  Isn’t progress amazing?)  In the greatest country on earth?  Yep.  A bunch of freeloaders according to some.

Perhaps you could just follow Ivanka Trump’s new initiative for out of work Americans to “Find Something New.”  In her position as a Senior Adviser to the President she is advocating that roughly 15 million unemployed Americans go back to school, or develop IT skills or use on-line learning or sign on to learn a new skill as an apprentice (no she was not referring to her role on a TV show).  Mostly, her initiative is just a web site with links to a lot of other web sites with information that has been out in the public for months or years.

As my favorite saying goes, “Nothing is impossible for the person who doesn’t have to do it.”

As I predicted back in April, in this country it’s every person for themselves.  There is no political will to institute the steps needed to get the pandemic under control.  Without that active effort, the economy cannot recover.  All those bars and other super spreader events will eventually close again when a large amount of their patrons and employees are sick or dead.  But, hey!  It was great while it lasted.

Dire measures are needed.  It will hurt, it won’t be fun, it isn’t what we want but unless you want one of your friends or family to get sick and possibly die, suck it up.