Looney Tunes

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.


Lighting The Match At The Reichstag

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.


The Continuing Assault on Democracy

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.


Digging A Hole We May Never Get Out Of

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.”


Don The Con

Mr. Donald J. Trump continues to press the lie that he won the presidential election. Only the massive fraud, he says, perpetrated across the country by Democrats and Republicans keeps the country from realizing that he won. In the process, he is succeeding only in cementing his place in history as the worst president ever. Since the election, Mr. Trump played golf more times than he addressed the nation even as hospitals across the country are filling up, record numbers of people are hospitalized daily, and the toll from the pandemic approaches 270,000 dead Americans.

Thank goodness he will serve only one term.

In the process, he is running the biggest scam of his life. Millions of dollars in donations to his “legal defense fund” continue to pour in as he continues to whine about how the election was stolen from him. That money is largely going into Mr. Trump’s pocket. While sending countless texts and emails to his followers asking them to support his “Official Legal Defense Fund,” the fine print of those messages says that there is really a 60-40 split of money contributed. 60% goes to Mr. Trump’s “Save America” political action committee (PAC) and 40% goes to the Republican National Committee (RNC). Only after a donor contributes $8,000 or more does any of the money go to the legal defense fund. The longer he keeps up the charade that he is fighting to make every vote count, the more money he rakes in. His PAC is basically a slush fund that Mr. Trump can use legally in just about any way that he wants. So while what he is doing may be legal, once again he is lying to his supporters, feeding a narrative that our democracy is a sham, and keeping only his personal interests in mind.

This should come as no surprise from a man that told over 22,000 documented lies since entering office, ran a fake university that required him to pay $25 million to settle a law suit, and a “charity” that was little more than an account for him to use on personal expenses and cost him $2 million to settle in yet another law suit. In the latter case, the Trump Foundation was required to permanently close down and Mr. Trump and his children are restricted under the New York courts as to how they can be involved in any other charitable foundation. This is the same man that is named as “Individual 1” — an unindicted co-conspirator — in violation of election laws by paying off two women to keep quiet about their affairs. He even wrote several of the checks in the Oval Office.

He never stopped scamming us his entire time in office.

Meanwhile an article in yesterday’s Washington Post outlines the truly distressing behavior of a loser that cannot accept the fact that he was beaten, and beaten badly, in a free and fair election. According to the article, he truly believed that he would win the election and was truly confounded as to how he could lose to the man he called the worst presidential candidate in history. Since then, he has turned over the efforts to invalidate the election to Mr. Rudy Giuliani who fills his head full of stories, lies, fantasies and bizarre conspiracy theories. Apparently, Mr. Trump believes Mr. Giuliani’s phantasmagorical concoctions based in other worldly delusions. One begins to become concerned about Mr. Trump’s mental health as he continues down this path. Especially since he is still the president until 20 January.

Scammer or crackpot? Which is the real Mr. Trump? It is possible to be both. The danger is that while he plays out this delusional dream he is doing real damage to the foundation of our republic. He seems determined to burn down the place as he leaves. Just as his guiding light over the last four years was to overturn and destroy everything that President Barak Obama did, he seems equally determined to undermine the President-elect by placing roadblocks, political cronies, and poor policies in every nook and cranny of the government. Sadly, he is receiving aid, comfort, and cover by his Senate Republican enablers. Most have yet to acknowledge that Mr. Joseph Biden is the President-elect, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. There is already speculation among them that maybe they will not confirm any of Mr. Biden’s Cabinet nominees. Talk about taking a sledge hammer to democracy.

As the pandemic rages and continues to grow and the American economy lies in shambles as a result, neither the president nor the Senate is taking any action in any form to alleviate the situation. There is help on the horizon in the form of promising vaccines. Unfortunately, the logistics behind the distribution of those vaccines is extremely difficult and thus costly. As they have with every other aspect of the pandemic, the Trump Administration plans to leave it up to the individual states as to how and when to distribute the vaccine. To date, the states have received no funding to do so, even as many states are cutting public services and scrounging for every dollar to keep up with their existing requirements.

Shame on all of them. Their behavior is un-American.

Repeat after me. They. Don’t. Care. They just don’t. The situation was dire before the election. Now that Mr. Trump lost, there is no incentive whatsoever for him or the Senate to take action in the coming months. If they don’t personally benefit from doing their job, they just don’t do it. They don’t care.

Don the Con runs his scam, plays golf, whines, and does nothing. He has abdicated any responsibility to do any part of his job. Let’s just hope that nothing else endangers our democracy over the next two months.


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.