Johnson, Voting Rights

GOP Channels Southern Democrats in the 1960’s…

On a Monday night 56 years ago next month, Lyndon Johnson ambled his way on to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives to play the role, as one of his biographers has written, of “one shrewd heartland politician finishing what another had started.” 

“The galleries were jammed with whites and blacks, some in street clothes fresh from demonstrations and others in business attire,” historian Randall Woods wrote of the scene. The president’s wife and a daughter were in the crowd, so was FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. But the entire Mississippi delegation was boycotting the speech. Those unreconstructed segregationists Democrats, still embracing the grievance of a lost cause, knew what was coming. 

Lyndon Johnson speaks to Congress, March 15, 1965

“At times history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man’s unending search for freedom,” Johnson said in his low, familiar Texas drawl. “So it was at Lexington and Concord. So it was a century ago at Appomattox. So it was last week in Selma, Alabama.”

The week before – forever etched in American memory as “Bloody Sunday”- voting rights advocates had been routed and brutalized in Selma, Alabama. The next day’s coverage on the front page of the New York Times ran under the headline: “Alabama police use gas and clubs to rout Negros.” A four-column photo showed Alabama state troopers beating a young marcher – future Georgia congressman John Lewis – leaving his skull fractured and blood on his white shirt and tan raincoat. 

The ugly, un-American state terrorism at the Edmund Pettus Bridge – the bridge still carries the name of a Confederate general and Alabama leader of the Klan – was a hinge moment in political history, and LBJ seized the moment. He would push a Voting Rights Act (VRA) to finally make real the promise of that earlier heartland politician, Abraham Lincoln, martyred in his pledge to guarantee equal rights for all Americans.

Alabama state troopers assault John Lewis during a voting rights march in 1965

“The real hero of this struggle is the American Negro,” Johnson told the country and the Congress in 1965. “His actions and protests, his courage to risk safety and even to risk his life, have awakened the conscience of this Nation. His demonstrations have been designed to call attention to injustice, designed to provoke change, designed to stir reform.

“He has called upon us to make good the promise of America. And who among us can say that we would have made the same progress were it not for his persistent bravery, and his faith in American democracy.” 

Writing recently in The Atlantic, journalist Vann R. Newkirk II correctly asserted that passage of the VRA “finally delivered on the stated ideals of the country,” but now in state after state across the country that ideal “hangs by a thread.” 

From Georgia to Arizona, Montana to Idaho, Republican dominated state legislatures are attempting to do what southern segregationist Democrats did in earlier days: make it more difficult, if not impossible for some Americans to vote. It is no accident that this wave of new era vote suppression and denial comes on the heels of a record vote in a presidential election where a Democrat won the White House over a man who over and over perpetuated a big lie about elections being stolen, dead people voting and ballots being manufactured. 

By repeating time and again that some Americans are “skeptical about the integrity of our elections” Republicans, including the former president, have manufactured a malicious assault on American democracy. It quite simply amounts to the biggest lie ever told about American politics. 

Minnesota’s secretary of state Steve Simon described recently what is happening: “Some folks bring these proposals forward and say, ‘Well, we just need to address confidence in our election systems,’ when it’s some of those very same people, or at least their allies and enablers, [who] have denigrated our election system by either telling lies or at least leveraging or relying on other people’s lies to justify some of these policies.” 

This tactic is the voting rights equivalent of the fellow who murdered his parents and then insisting on leniency because he’s an orphan. 

The Republican floor leader of the Idaho House of Representatives, a guy so cynical that he blasted federal efforts to provide financial assistance to businesses whacked by the impacts of the pandemic and then ended up taking the aid himself, is a champion of the “many people are saying” logic of voter suppression. 

“There are a lot of people in this country looking at what happened in other states — some of those states had ballot harvesting — that feel like they were victimized by the outcome of this last national election,” Mike Moyle said recently as he pushed a bill to restrict your ability to pick up and drop off your elderly grandparent’s absentee ballot.

In the face of precisely no evidence of abuse, Moyle said the quiet part out loud while pushing an earlier even more restrictive bill. “You know what? Voting shouldn’t be easy,” Moyle said. Other legislators are seeking to ruin the ability of voters to take action using the time-test initiative method. 

The gentleman from Idaho won’t appreciate the reference, or likely understand it, but he’s a latter-day version of Mississippi segregationist James Eastland who resisted the Voting Rights Act by claiming his state had a right to disqualify certain voters and, after all, some communists must certainly be mixed up in this push to get more people to vote. 

Mississippi segregationist James O. Eastland

In the 56 years since Johnson framed the basic right to vote as a “battle for equality” rooted in “a deep-seated belief in the democratic process,” the two political parties have traded places on voting rights. Democrats, believing that making it easier to vote and easier for more people to vote, have embraced policies like motor voter registration, mail voting and same day registration. Republicans, looking fearfully at what high turnout portends for their long-term electoral success, now broadly reject inclusive policies and endorse conspiracy theories about stolen elections. In 2013, a conservative majority on the Supreme Court gutted a key enforcement provision of the landmark 1965 law, and the GOP resists efforts to address stronger enforcement. 

In politics the truth is often hiding in plain sight. Georgia voters, including record turnout among African Americans, elected two Democratic senators in January, one, the state’s first black U.S. senator, the other, the first Jewish senator in the state’s history. More people voting is good for democracy. Attempting to keep more people from voting is good for Republicans. 

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

Some items you may find of interest…

Rush Limbaugh Was Trapped in the ’80s: It’s his fault that our politics were, too.

Conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh takes a break and smokes a cigar during his radio show. (Photo by mark peterson/Corbis via Getty Images)

Michael J. Socolow has an insightful piece on the recently departed talk radio personality and his impact on American politics.  

“Limbaugh’s influence on U.S. politics from the Reagan era to the Trump presidency was enormous. To discuss him primarily as a media figure (many credit him with saving the AM radio band when FM radio listening became dominant) is to overlook his more general impact on American political culture. He did not innovate radio programming, nor did he leave an easily replicable formula for a successful show. Like Arthur Godfrey and Walter Winchell before him, there was only one Rush Limbaugh. And like those two earlier giants in U.S. radio, Limbaugh’s style and massive audiences will no doubt disappear along with him. For better or for worse, there won’t be another one like him.” 

Read the entire article:


The Filibuster That Saved the Electoral College

A central character in my new book on four 1980 U.S. Senate races is Indiana Senator Birch Bayh. He was an enormously important political figure and it’s almost lost to history that he came remarkably close in 1968 to doing away with the Electoral College.

“Mr. Bayh had been pushing for a popular vote since 1966, shortly after the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts had ended the Jim Crow era and pulled America closer than it had ever been to a truly representative democracy. Electing the president directly was the next logical step in that progression.”

Read how a Senate filibuster killed the effort. Bayh called it the biggest disappointment of his political life.


One night in Cancun: Ted Cruz’s disastrous decision to go on vacation during Texas storm crisis

Cruz fled disastrous winter weather and ran into another kind of storm

In this delightfully snarky take down of the oleaginous Texas senator the Washington Post’s Ashely Parker strikes a blow for freedom.

“Usually, it takes at least one full day in Cancún to do something embarrassing you’ll never live down.

“But for Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), it took just 10 hours — from when his United plane touched down at Cancún International Airport at 7:52 p.m. Wednesday to when he booked a return flight back to Houston around 6 a.m. Thursday — for the state’s junior senator to apparently realize he had made a horrible mistake.”

The most hated man in the Senate expands his reach.

Read about it here:


Thanks for following along.

And please check out my author website for regular updates about events and talks related to my new book Tuesday Night Massacre: Four Senate Elections and the Radicalization of the Republican Party.

Impeachment, Trump, U.S. Senate

What Are They Afraid Of…

The irascible, irreverent Perry Swisher – once an editor at the Lewiston, Idaho paper that publishes my regular column – was a 20th Century Renaissance Man: legislator (he served as both a Republican and Democrat), an independent candidate for governor, a writer, activist, deflater of egos and caustic truth teller, particularly about frauds, phonies and attorneys. 

One Idaho governor threatened the judicial council with a Swisher appointment to the Supreme Court – Perry wasn’t a lawyer – if the council didn’t start recommending better candidates for the court. Another governor put Swisher on the Public Utilities Commission and he proceeded for several years to scare the crap out of Idaho Power Company. 

Swisher once quipped that the Founders had made one fundamental mistake: they turned over an entire branch of government to lawyers. One can only imagine what the old curmudgeon would have made of the “trial” of America’s first insurrectionist president; where at least 18 of the Senate Republicans jurors who voted to acquit Donald Trump – including the two timid sheep from Idaho – are card carrying members of the bar. 

Senators being sworn in for the second Trump impeachment trial

Of course, none of these Perry Mason’s actually attempted to defend Trump’s behavior leading up to and including January 6, 2021 when a crazed mob of the then-president’s followers stormed the U.S. Capitol, killed a police officer, precipitated the deaths of two others and injured dozens more. 

This brainwashed gang of cranks, misfits, losers, white supremacists and MAGA true believers were, as Wyoming Republican Liz Cheney succinctly put it, summoned by Trump, assembled by the president who then “lit the flame” of the attack. There has never been such a blatant frontal assault on our democracy.

Everything that followed, Cheney said, “was his doing. None of this would have happened without the President. The President could have immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence. He did not.” 

That’s it. That was sum of the indictment that 43 Senate Republicans would not, could not defend, but were craven enough to dismiss on specious process grounds. 

The “trial was unconstitutional,” Harvard Law grad Mike Crapo said. “The House’s impeachment proceeding blatantly violated established guarantees of due process.” 

Jim Risch soiled the reputation of the University of Idaho’s law school where he surely learned more than he is now able to admit. “The United States Senate has no jurisdiction over a private citizen,” the former law and order prosecutor intoned incorrectly, “and thus impeachment was and is impossible.” 

Both men conveniently ignored that the Senate has, in fact, conducted trials of impeached officials who are out office and that the Senate in which they sit actually voted on the constitutionality question and a majority of senators deemed the proceedings proper. They weren’t defending the Constitution, they were engaging in jury nullification

The Trump “base” of the GOP, and those like the coward caucus in the Senate who refuse to confront it, are, in the words of media analyst Margaret Sullivan, “so disconnected from reality that when reality manages to intrude – in the form of undeniable facts, timelines, videos and presidential tweets – there’s nothing to do but deny it as outrageous and either look for an escape hatch or go on the attack.” 

Attorneys for former President Donald Trump William J. Brennan, left, and Michael van der Veen fist bump each other on the Senate subway after former President Doanld Trump was acquitted during the impeachment trial in the Senate on Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

And it’s not as though these senatorial profiles in gutlessness don’t know any better. Arkansas’s Tom Cotton, Texan Ted Cruz and the insurrectionist from Missouri Josh Hawley are, like Crapo, Harvard men, recipients of the best, most exclusive legal education America can offer. Cruz clerked for a chief justice of the Supreme Court. Utah’s Mike Lee was an assistant U.S. attorney and clerked for federal judges before jumping through the escape hatch rather than act to uphold an oath of office. 

Constitutional law scholar John E. Finn of Wesleyan University is just one of dozens of experts who utterly reject the rationalization of unconstitutionality that allowed Trump to skate. Instead Finn calls what Crapo, Risch and 41 other Senate Republicans did “constitutional rot,” a condition “in which we appear to be formally governed by constitutional rules and the rule of law, but the reality is quite different. When rot sets in, public officials and the public routinely ignore or subvert those rules while sanctimoniously professing fidelity to them.” 

The historian T.J. Stiles, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for biography, knows his American scoundrels. He says of our current one: “Donald Trump is precisely the sort of person for whom the Framers wrote the impeachment provision into the Constitution.” Unfortunately, while Madison and Hamilton and the rest did envision the need to disqualify a despot their imagination failed them when it comes to someone as ethically vacuous as a Cruz or a Crapo. 

This is the point at which history reminds his constituents that Crapo – Juris Doctorate cum laud, Harvard Law School in 1977 – has the rare distinction of voting to both impeach and then convict Bill Clinton for lying about consensual sex. Yet rather than confront the guy who summoned the mob, incited it, lit the flame and then watched the fire burn, Crapo employed the solemn sanctimony of the partisan escape hatch to acquit a man he must know in his heart of hearts is guilty as sin. 

The debasement of basic decency, truth and accountability are now widely accepted as a fundamental condition for good standing in a political party that once plausibly, but no longer, claimed Lincoln as its founding father. 

“The Republicans who voted to acquit Trump acted with selfishness, cynicism and even malice,” says the conservative scholar Tom Nichols. “They have smeared their betrayal of the Constitution all over their careers the same way the January insurrectionists smeared excrement on the walls of the Congress itself. At least human waste can be washed away. What the Republicans did on Feb. 13, 2021, will never be expunged from the history of the United States.”

History will remember, however, the few Republicans – Washington’s Jamie Herrera Beutler is one – who stood against the lies, rejected fears of mob censure and refused to quake at the prospect of facing the dreaded primary challenge. 

“I’m not afraid of losing my job,” Herrera Beutler said after voting to impeach Trump, “but I am afraid that my country will fail. I’m afraid that patriots of this country have died in vain. I’m afraid that my children won’t grow up in a free country. I’m afraid injustice will prevail.” 

What are Crapo and Risch and the Senate’s 41 other cowards afraid of? They should be frightened of the verdict rendered by the French philosopher Voltaire: “Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do.”

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

Some other items worth your time…

Pure, liquid hope:  What the vaccine means to me as a GP

Gavin Francis is a general practice physician in inner city Edinburgh, Scotland and he writes about the challenges for The Guardian.

“Before the pandemic, about a third of my consultations were about mental health; now it’s between half and two thirds, and the list of patients I check in with weekly or fortnightly about their mood is lengthening. People are unable, for now, to share those aspects of our humanity that help us, and come most naturally – touch, speech, sharing space. I hope the vaccine programme will prove an effective antidote to the sense of hopelessness that, for the past few months, has been spreading and deepening among many of my patients.”

The big costs of a pandemic. Read the whole thing


Embedded within a mass delusion: The challenge of reporting on QAnon

Angela Fu writes for the Poynter Institute about the challenges for journalist trying to cover the center of the conspiracy theory universe – QAnon.   

The Q symbol outside the Capitol on January 6

“The conspiracy theory originated in 2017 when someone calling themselves Q posted a Trump quote about the ‘calm before the storm’ on 4chan, a notorious online message board. Since then, QAnon has rapidly evolved as new followers join and more niche theories develop. Followers have taken their beliefs into the real world, sometimes in violent ways. Most recently, some QAnon believers took part in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

“A growing number of journalists are tracking QAnon, reporting on everything from the way social media algorithms help spread conspiracy theories to the people who lose loved ones to the movement. With each story, they debate whether their reporting will contribute helpful information or simply amplify the movement. Their goal is to make readers — lawmakers, tech companies, the general public — understand the gravity of the problems QAnon poses.”

Full story here


“I Don’t Trust the People Above Me”: Riot Squad Cops Open Up About Disastrous Response to Capitol Insurrection

A stunning piece of journalism from ProPublica on the insurrection on January 6, 2021 and the cops who fought off the mob: 

“One officer in the middle of the scrum, a combat veteran, thought the rioters were so vicious, so relentless, that they seemed fueled by methamphetamine. To his left, he watched a chunk of steel strike a fellow officer above the eye, setting off a geyser of blood. A pepper ball tore through the air over his shoulder and exploded against the jaw of a man in front of him. The round, filled with chemical irritant, ripped the rioter’s face open. His teeth were now visible through a hole in his cheek. Blood poured out, puddling on the pavement surrounding the building. But the man kept coming.

“The combat veteran was hit with bear spray eight times. His experience overseas ‘was nothing like this,’ he said. ‘Nothing at all.’”

A true first draft of history.


Thanks for reading…

Andrus, Salmon, Simpson

Run of the River…

Thirty years ago last month then-Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus stood at the front of a crowded hotel ballroom in Boise to warn the Northwest’s industrial and energy interests that the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was coming for them, and that the demise of the region’s salmon populations would eventually force them to change. 

“We have to tell the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) and the Corps of Engineers that they’ve had a microchip in their head on how to run the river,” Andrus said at his “Salmon Summit” in 1991. “That should be removed and replaced with a new chip, in which you say, ‘You will maintain this river for the fish, as well as power generation.”’ 

Until his death in 2017, Idaho long-time governor and former secretary of the Interior Cecil D. Andrus, was the region’s foremost political champion of salmon

Later that year, the first endangered species salmon listing was handed down setting off three decades of litigation and involving massive – and largely ineffective – spending on fish and wildlife. And yet the iconic fish struggled on. 

Andrus, rarely a pessimist, eventually came to believe the region’s only salmon strategy was simply to stall until the last of the fish were gone leaving nothing left to fight over. 

Nevertheless, the region’s Native American tribes and fish advocates fought for salmon, often winning repeat victories in court and slowly bending public opinion against the traditions and influence of BPA, the often-clueless Corps, the inattention of administrations of both parties and deeply invested special interests ranging from irrigators to port commissioners.

Now, in what must be one of the great political ironies of our age, this long, litigious battle over fish, power and river operations finds a most unlikely champion, a former dentist from eastern Idaho, a conservative Republican politician more at home on a golf course than in a drift boat. 

This week, Mike Simpson, the one-time Trump loathing congressman from Blackfoot who discovered Trumpian religion just in time to avoid any challenge to his 22-years in the House, rolled out a plan for the region’s grandest social engineering project since Franklin Roosevelt envisioned a Grand Coulee Dam in the 1930’s that would turn the Northwest’s “darkness to dawn.”

And like the very transactional Roosevelt – Montana Senator Burton K. Wheeler said FDR rewarded the region’s senators with a dam in exchange for political support – Simpson’s audacious, $33.5 billion plan is all about the lubricating influence of a billion here and billion there. There is money and projects in his plan to compensate every affected interest when, as Simpson envisions, the four fish killing dams on the lower Snake River in eastern Washington are breeched in the next decade. 

Mike Simpson, a conservative eastern Idaho Republican, is championing a big plan to save northwest salmon

Economic development cash and energy research. Waterfront restoration for port towns. More rail options. Money for water quality enhancements. Big checks for irrigators and tourism. And a truly massive enhancement for tribal interests in management of fishery resources. 

Pat Ford, who has fought the good fight for Northwest salmon for as long as there has been a fight, told me this week what Simpson “is a true believer in restoring the fish.” And then marveling at the reality, Ford stated the obvious: “The most committed politician in the region to restoring salmon stocks is a conservative Idaho Republican.”

While Simpson richly deserves the accolades he’s received from many quarters – particularly tribes and conservation interests – for reshuffling the cards around fish and power, it’s impossible to escape the sense that the region’s deeply embedded special interests – and their often rabid grassroots supporters – are willingly going to do anything other than what they have been doing since Andrus’s speech, which is nothing to help the fish. 

The harsh political reality for salmon and for the Idaho congressman is that this fight, like all our political fights, is less about solving seemingly intractable problems than prevailing over “the other side.” Truth be told those four lower Snake River dams, condemned almost from their inception as expensive dinosaurs that would eventually destroy the fishery, are more important for what they represent than what they offer. 

Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River in eastern Washington would be one of four dams breached under Simpson’s plan

In reality the dams are political symbols, concrete proxies in the continuing western mythology that real men exist to remake rivers, tame Mother Nature and vanquish environmentalists. After spending years insisting dammed rivers can co-exist with migrating fish why admit it was always a lie? 

Even as Simpson’s plan offers the promise of billions in goodies and the end of endless litigation, the grassroots forces who have defended the dams with religious vigor, while hating those who advocate for the fish, will find a “come, let us reason together” argument no more attractive than brackish slack water.  

Eastern Washington congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rogers is the epitome of how this mythology works. She immediately blasted fellow Republican Simpson’s plan with a line that had the precision of a fearful focus group. “These dams are the beating heart of Eastern Washington,” McMorris Rogers said, knowing just how to connect the culture of concrete with the grievance of 21st Century conservative politics.

Will southeastern Washington Republican Jamie Herrera Beutler, one of the few House members to buck her party on impeachment and under fire for it, really pick another fight with her conservative base by getting on board with Simpson? What prevents the calculating, do nothing Jim Risch, who has done it before, from kneecap Simpson’s plans by quietly stoking the ready opposition? 

Simpson’s calculation is that he has, at best, a two-year window of opportunity to sell his idea. 

With Joe Biden in the White House wanting a historic infrastructure bill, and with Oregon Senator Ron Wyden sitting atop the Finance Committee, Simpson might – might – have an opening. Don’t count on it. When Wyden outlined his own priorities recently salmon wasn’t on the list.

If American politics were more like 1980 when Henry Jackson and Frank Church and Mark Hatfield attempted the region’s last grand design to head off the end of salmon – the Northwest Power Act – Simpson’s billions of dollars in carrots without a stick might have a chance, and the fish might have a future. But today there is no Scoop Jackson, and no Mark Hatfield and region’s once proud bipartisan altruism is long out of fashion. 

The Idaho congressman has taken this intriguing kickoff to his own 20-yard line. He’ll need the kind of regional offense not seen in decades to cover the next 80 yards to the end zone. The clock is running, and it benefits the same old group that wants to do nothing. 

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

A few suggestions for additional reading this weekend…

The Secret History of the Shadow Campaign That Saved the 2020 Election

Time magazine journalist Molly Ball with a sobering look at just how close the United States came to failing at democracy. 

“This is the inside story of the conspiracy to save the 2020 election, based on access to the group’s inner workings, never-before-seen documents and interviews with dozens of those involved from across the political spectrum. It is the story of an unprecedented, creative and determined campaign whose success also reveals how close the nation came to disaster. ‘Every attempt to interfere with the proper outcome of the election was defeated,’ says Ian Bassin, co-founder of Protect Democracy, a nonpartisan rule-of-law advocacy group. ‘But it’s massively important for the country to understand that it didn’t happen accidentally. The system didn’t work magically. Democracy is not self-executing.’”

Sobering. Hope you’re paying attention. Link to the full article.


I Talked to the Cassandra of the Internet Age

A fascinating New York Times piece by Charlie Warzel about the scientist who predicted what the Internet would do to society and to each of us.

Big surprise: the Internet has changed us

“The big tech platform debates about online censorship and content moderation? Those are ultimately debates about amplification and attention. Same with the crisis of disinformation. It’s impossible to understand the rise of Donald Trump and the MAGA wing of the far right or, really, modern American politics without understanding attention hijacking and how it is used to wield power. Even the recent GameStop stock rally and the Reddit social media fallout share this theme, illustrating a universal truth about the attention economy: Those who can collectively commandeer enough attention can accumulate a staggering amount of power quickly. And it’s never been easier to do than it is right now.”

Fascinating. And frightening. Read the whole thing


The Lousy Tippers of the Trump Administration

The writer, a restaurant worker in D.C., dishes on the habits of the former administration. 

“The restaurant adapted to the Trump era. We introduced a $45 three-course early bird special, which I recall was still too pricey for Wilbur Ross, though the unusual influx of right-wing tourists who visited appreciated it. Betsy DeVos became a regular, and unlike the others she was a paragon of superficial graciousness, even if she didn’t tip quite enough to compensate for two or three tables that would ask to move if she was seated near them.”

Moe Tkacik writes of the Trumpers, “they were exhausting, impossible, stingy, and cruel, just like at their day jobs.”

Here’s the link.


Bathroom Reading

And this delightful essay from Rose Henrie about, well, “talking to a man about a horse.”

“It is remarkable to think that each of us spends roughly three years of our life going to the toilet. And that’s not to mention the reading, watching, and maybe for some — though it’s still an etiquette grey area — talking on the phone. Potty training is a child’s first step to becoming a functioning member of society. Along with learning to communicate, this is phase one of proto-personhood: say please and thank you, and try not to wee on the floor. For those of us who are fortunate, this is the start of a lifelong lack of thinking about using the loo. It is something we take for granted. An accessible, clean space is often available, whether it’s in the home or out and about. When nature calls, we know exactly how to answer and can do so, for the most part, comfortably.” 

You can read it while doing “your business.” 


Thanks for reading. Be careful out there.

Biden, Montana, Politics

Memo to Joe: Go West…

When Joe Biden says he will govern as a president who represents all Americans, even those who did not vote for him, I take him at his word. But I also know millions of fellow Americans don’t. 

Biden’s words about wanting to be a uniter, a president who seeks and finds common ground, are surely welcome after some many months of purposeful division. But without genuine action – and by that, I mean more than policies, executive orders or even legislation – Biden’s words will ring hollow for many Americans. Many don’t believe he’s sincere because, well, we live in a deeply cynical and polarized age

Joe Biden’s message of unity would benefit from some one-on-one engagement with people who don’t believe he really means it

So, as a Democrat in the rural west, I offer some tough love to the new president and to his staff, a group like the staff at every White House who will all too soon become victims of inside the beltway thinking that will almost certainly short circuit the new president’s efforts at unity. Three suggestions.

Get out of the bubble. A still raging pandemic makes it difficult to travel and engage with real Americans, but Biden and the White House must find a way. Despite the pandemic, political pros like senators Ron Wyden of Oregon and Jon Tester of Montana have been holding virtual town hall meetings in their states. Until he can travel, Biden should be pushing hard against a presidency that is defined exclusively on inside the beltway terms. 

If I could command the White House communication shop, I’d have Biden and vice president Kamala Harris doing weekly sessions with real people, Republicans, Democrats, independents, young and old in every region of the country. The desire to control such presidential interactions causes careful staffers to fret over a real person posing an uncomfortable question that might induce a gaffe. The hell with such thinking. Biden is at his best in small group, one-on-one situations. He’s an experienced retail politician. Empathy is his long suit. Take the shackles off and let the president mix it up with real folks, particularly including those who didn’t vote for him. 

Listen and learn. The desire to avoid risk is a huge limitation on political action and political persuasion. Every politician is expected to have a crisp, detailed and often meaningless answer to every conceivable question. But real life is more than a 12-point plan and begins, as Woody Allen famously said, with showing up, and beginning to connect. 

In pre-COVID days, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden held a all-comers town hall in every county every year. Now he’s doing them virtually

Biden and his handlers can make a virtue out of merely showing up and listening. They don’t have to have a detailed position paper on every issue. Oregon’s Wyden is particularly good at this kind of listening. He starts his town halls with a sentence or two about some big issue in the news and then listens to questions and concerns from his constituents. Often, he has a good answer, but nearly as often he will turn to a staffer and say, “we need to do some more work on this and get back to this guy.” 

The key is to listen, and of course to get back. 

Imagine if the president of this apparently hopelessly divided country would show up in a small town in the rural south or central Iowa or Bonner County, Idaho and told local county commissioners, school board members, business owners, farmers and retirees: “I want to hear what’s on your mind. I want to hear your solutions to our biggest challenges.” I think jaded Washington hands would be stunned by the power of a disarming sentence like: “I really want to know what you are worried about.”

Would Biden get some seriously awkward questions? You bet. Would it make for great television? Absolutely. Forget the big, boasting, fact-free rallies that have passed for presidential leadership for the last four years. Let’s have real Americans talk directly to the new president. There is a fair chance the country would get smarter. And Biden would begin to prove that he listens and cares, even cares about and listens to those who didn’t vote for him. 

Come West. It’s become a tired cliché, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true that broad swaths of the nation are “flyover country,” precincts seldom visited by a national politician. It’s also a truism that Democrats have suffered a deep and persistent decline in most of flyover country in large part because too many on the political left don’t care – or act like they don’t care – about the West. 

You can date much of this to the widespread and not inaccurate view that Bill Clinton (and then Barack Obama) didn’t know the West and didn’t try to learn about what they didn’t know. Donald Trump appealed to many in the West despite the fact that he hadn’t a clue about why forest fires continue to rage or that public lands are where westerners hunt, fish and recreate. Showing up and listening to the very real practical concerns in flyover country would be the beginning of understanding and the foundation on which trust might be built. 

Tester, the last significant Democrat standing in Montana, also still operates a family farm on the Hi Line, and he put a fine point on all this in his recent book Grounded.

Montana Senator Jon Tester has advice for fellow Democrats

Rural westerners, Tester writes, have “given up on whatever ‘normal’ is in politics, because that normal has failed them. The status quo ain’t working, and we ought to be listening – truly listening – to what rural America has to say about it.” 

So, twice a month Biden and his staff should pick a spot in rural America and go and listen. A good place to start would be an old railroad town 30 miles from Tester’s farm. The last president to visit Havre, Montana, the county seat of Hill County, was Harry Truman in 1952. Trump won the county with 54% of the vote last year. Tester won the same county with 58% in 2018.  

Imagine a town hall in Havre. No speeches and no malarky, as Biden might say, just real folks and real issues and real listening. The power of showing up and listening just might be the first concrete step to disarmament in our uncivil war. 

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

My weekly curation of worthy reads from here and there…

Henry Aaron

The great Aaron has always been my favorite player of the great game. He was the quintessential “all tool” player. He could hit for power and average. Run the bases. He could play defense and had a great arm. His recent death hit all baseball fans hard.

Hall of Fame in every respect

And Henry Aaron was a genuinely decent man who played brilliantly and quietly through a lot of adversity and made a tremendous contribution on and off the field.

“Aaron’s consistency is unparalleled in baseball history, and perhaps in all of North American team sports. He qualified for the batting title in each of his first 19 seasons, hit at least 24 home runs 19 seasons in a row, and scored at least 100 runs 13 times in a row. He hit .300 in 14 seasons, and he posted at least 6.0 bWAR every year from 1955 to 1969, a 15-year streak that nobody had matched before or has since.”

Great piece by Michael Baumann.


Forcing out the Fringe

Republicans struggled this week with two extremely difficult issues: what to do with a conspiracy theory believing freshman House member and what to do with a GOP leader who voted to impeach Donald Trump.

Historian Matthew Dallek provides some context for the first issue by reviewing how the GOP once distanced itself from the John Birch Society, a conspiracy theory embracing group of ultra-right loons that came to prominence in the 1950’s…and now is, sort of, back.

“By stigmatizing, punishing and outvoting the forces that wanted to burn it all down in the 1950s and 1960s, Americans ostracized them; the United States put a lid on the toxic stew of bigotry, conspiratorial thinking and White Christian identity politics, and defended democratic values like truth, equality and racial justice. It was a whole-of-society strategy, more effective than anything unfolding today. Clearly, it didn’t keep those forces at bay forever. But in the right circumstances, it could work again.”

Worth your time.


The Second Shot Proves the Vaccine is Working

Katherine Wu in The Atlantic.

“Dose No. 2 is more likely to pack a punch—in large part because the effects of the second shot build iteratively on the first. My husband, who’s a neurologist at Yale New Haven Hospital, is one of many who had a worse experience with his second shot than his first.”

Get ready…and get the vaccine when you can.


All the best…and thanks for reading.

Foley, Gingrich, Idaho Politics, U.S. Senate

The Unbearable Lightness of Mediocrity…

Thomas S. Foley, the former Democratic congressman and one-time speaker of the House from Spokane, often said that if he didn’t take at least one vote every year or so that was unpopular with his generally conservative constituents he figured he probably wasn’t doing his job.

“The most important thing,” Foley said, about votes taken and the positions espoused in politics, “is when you consider them at election time you’re able to say with some satisfaction that you can still vote for yourself.”

Making a tough vote, Foley said, merely meant you needed to try and explain yourself to voters who might disagree. Level with them. Tell them the truth.

Spokane’s Tom Foley, likely the first and last speaker of the House from eastern Washington

When Foley lost re-election in 1994 in the Republican wave that made Newt Gingrich speaker of the House, as much as any event in the last 25 years a catalyst for the pollution of American politics, he was philosophical. “It’s not a disgrace to lose,” Foley said, “it’s part of the process.”  

Eastern Washington voters finally decided Foley’s work on behalf of farmers and free trade and his position atop the House was less important that his opponent’s characterization that the erudite, Jesuit-educated lawyer was “a liberal” who had grown too big for his Spokane britches. 

I’ve been thinking about Foley’s rule – a vote every once in a while that cuts against the grain of what most voters think they believe – because such votes have never been scarcer than they are right now. Fifty Republican members of the United States Senate, including the two passionately obtuse backbenchers from Idaho, will confront such a vote in the next few days. Most of them, and certainly Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, are going to take the gentle path of least resistance

They’ll vote to acquit Donald Trump on charges that he incited the insurrectionist mob attack on Congress on January 6, even though both senators were targets of and witnesses to the attack. They’ll twist themselves once again into a position of pro-Trump denial, a helix of political contortion more dexterous than you’d normally think possible for two guys aged 69 and 77. 

Both senators voted this week to not even proceed with a Senate trial of Trump on grounds, not supported by most legal experts by the way, that it is somehow unconstitutional to consider punishing a former president for conduct that was clearly designed to disrupt the work of Congress and ended with the Capitol damaged, scores injured and five dead. 

House impeachment managers cross the Capitol, the scene of a Trump-inspired riot three weeks ago, to deliver to the Senate the charges against the former president

Other Republicans – the slippery Marco Rubio for one – have said a Trump trial is “stupid” since it would further divide the country, a division that Trump, of course, set out to accomplish. The illogic is numbing since Rubio’s rationale, as the conservative columnist Charlie Sykes noted, “insists that holding Trump accountable is more polarizing than Trump’s actual behavior.”

This GOP line of resistance will almost certainly prevail, and Trump will survive impeachment for a second time even as by the hour evidence grows that Trump summoned the mob, used his campaign funds to organize it and then set them off to sack the Capitol. Even the chants of “hang Mike Pence” aren’t enough to convince a Crapo or a Risch that the person they fear most should be held to account for the most serious assault on our government ever incited by an American president. 

Crapo, who must be the least known and most minimally accomplished senior member of the Senate of his generation, worries that should he suddenly discover a backbone the same kind of mob Trump incited earlier this month will come for him during his re-election next year. Crapo voted to both impeach and then remove Bill Clinton for lying about a consensual sex act, but now the oath he swore to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution” doesn’t extend to sanctioning presidentially inspired insurrection. 

Even Kentucky’s senior political weathervane, Mitch McConnell, who a week ago was saying “the mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people,” voted at first opportunity to let Trump skate. 

In the more than three weeks since the mob came after Congress, neither of Idaho’s senators has uttered a syllable of concern about Trump’s election lies or his incendiary rhetoric on the day the Capitol was stormed. Not one word. No statement. No interview. No tweet. Nothing. 

Each did praise Capitol police officers who risked lives to protect them so they could live to exonerate the guilty. They gladly celebrated the hundreds of Idaho National Guard troops dispatched to Washington to ensure “the peaceful transfer of power,” but neither Crapo or Risch bothered to connect the presence of the troops or the attacks on the cops to the president who cause it to happen. 

Jim Risch has praised National Guard members from his state deployed to Washington but hasn’t said a word about why they had to deploy

The see no evil twins of Idaho’s Senate delegation watched quietly while the arsonist Donald Trump laid the fire, said nothing while he spread the gasoline and went silent when the blaze ignited. Then, as if by magic, they watched the criminal responsible slink off to Palm Beach while celebrating the fire fighters standing around in the cold outside the Capitol.  

The belief that a true conservative party, one not dominated by Proud Boys, white supremacists, QAnon conspiracists and guys perpetually decked out in animal skins and Hawaiian shirts, would ever reckon with the disaster that is Trump is as dead as Ronald Reagan. What’s left is a bunch of cowering non-entities like Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, complicit in supporting a level of criminal conduct that will forever be at the center of their mediocre careers. 

At the end of the day, you have to wonder what these guys are afraid of? Are these comfortable, secure Republicans afraid that Trump will sic the racist mob on them? Are they betting that the country is ready to move on from a president they lock step condoned even as he tried to steal an election and when that failed tried to prevent Congress from certifying the real winner? Are they simply betting on national amnesia about the first attack on the Capitol since 1814? 

Crapo and Risch will never make the kind of tough vote a Tom Foley envisioned as being more important than sacrificing your integrity in order to win an election. But then again, it’s not possible to sacrifice something you’ve never had. 

—-0—–

Additional Reading:

Some other reading for your consideration…

The Education of Josh Hawley

A terrific, enlightening and ultimately frightening Politico profile of the controversial senator from Missouri: “The subversive senator’s college peers and professors don’t recognize the affable intellectual they once knew. But they do recognize his ambition.” 

Josh Hawley of Missouri, a leader of the GOP sedition caucus

The profile features comments from people who knew Hawley well from his days at Stanford, including the Pulitzer Prize winning historian David Kennedy

“I absolutely could not have predicted that the bright, idealistic, clear-thinking young student that I knew would follow this path,” says Kennedy. “What Hawley and company were doing was kind of the gentlemanly version of the pointless disruption that happened when the mob invaded the Capitol.”

Read the whole thing to better understand a guy emerging as a key figure in the Republican Party.


The Constitution According To Birch Bayh

A central character in my new book on how the election of 1980 helps explain our current politics is a remarkable United States senator from Indiana.

Birch Bayh is responsible for more of the Constitution than anyone not of the founding generation. 

Senators Ted Kennedy and Birch Bayh

Author of two amendments, including one much in the news at the end of the Trump presidency, Bayh came near passing a third as Susan Salaz recounted recently in Indianapolis Monthly magazine

“Even more relevant than the 25th Amendment’s ‘nuclear option’ for presidential removal was the next goal to which Bayh turned his attention — abolishing the Electoral College. By 1969, the senator gained strong support in the Senate, and even from President Nixon. In 1970, ratification of the amendment that would establish a national popular vote seemed within reach.”

Worth your time:


The Guy Who Made the Bernie Mitten Photo 

You’ve seen the photo that inspired a million memes so you should know the photographer’s name – Brendan Smialowski.

An mage of our times

“It’s hard to say why something becomes a meme — there’s no logic to it,” Smialowski said. “When you look at them in hindsight they sort of make sense.”

Here’s the link:


Thanks for reading. Be safe out there.

2020 Election, Biden, Politics

Obligations of Citizenship…

Given the last four years, it’s difficult to remember that there have been times when there was genuine joy in American politics. And humor. And grace. Even accomplishment.

The real American story has always been one of re-invention and an attempt, as the great Preamble says, to form “a more perfect Union” where justice will be established, domestic tranquility ensured, the common defense provided for, the general welfare promoted, and the blessings of liberty granted to ourselves and those who follow us. 

The last four years have strained to the breaking point those always aspirational goals. Strained, but not yet broken. It remains for each of us – really each and every one of us – to bind up the nation’s wounds, recommit to the essential American ideals and acknowledge that we really are all in this together. 

Joe Biden takes the oath of office

As the new American president said this week, “without unity, there is no peace, only bitterness and fury. No progress, only exhausting outrage. No nation, only a state of chaos. This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge, and unity is the path forward.” 

In the spirit of work to do and wounds to heal, let me suggest three essential objectives for myself and for others who are willing to do the work. 

Commit to civic engagement and responsibility. I live in a very rural part of the American West, a place distant enough from a city to require individual effort to both sustain yourself and your place. Following a disastrous winter storm in 2007 – winds reached 147 miles per hour – electric power and telephone service was out for days on end. Property damage was in the millions and most people were woefully unprepared for the aftermath.

Human nature might have taken over and the seen the locals revert to form and not learn from the experience, but that didn’t happen. A committed group of local volunteers were determined to make sure the area was prepared when the next disaster struck. Powered exclusively by volunteers and with minimal governmental support an emergency volunteer corps was created, plans were made, a communication network built, supplies were stockpiled. Today nearly a dozen individual neighborhoods have their own emergency preparedness organization in place. Our neighbors recently donated several thousand dollars to acquire and store supplies, and since not everyone takes this kind of preparation seriously, we’ve made provisions to be prepared for them, too. 

It’s a small example of what it means to commit to civic engagement and responsibility and what individuals can do when they do it together. No one told these volunteers to organize. The government didn’t mandate it. Good people wanted to do a good thing because, well, they’re good people. It’s the very essence of citizenship. 

Commit to character in public life. “When the gap between ideal and real becomes too wide,” the historian Barbara Tuchman wrote, “the system breaks down.” 

When the history of our times is eventually written, I suspect a very big chapter will grapple with how we chose to largely dismiss character as an essential ideal in public life. One definition of character is “moral or ethical quality,” the idea that public people behave in honorable, honest, compassionate ways. 

We don’t need to tolerate serial lying from the mouths of public officials. And accepting fables when the lies comfortably reinforce our own beliefs is nothing more than lazy self-delusion. “In a time of deceit,” George Orwell observed, “telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

Resist the temptation to dismiss all words from all public officials as untrustworthy. It’s a myth. Sure, all politicians shade and shape with language, but truth – and character – are the essentials in a society that hopes to govern itself and not descend to angry mob rule. Character really does count. Don’t tolerate people in public life that you wouldn’t welcome at your dinner table. Hold on to the reality that character counts and hold those who hold power accountable for their character.

Commit to living outside your bubble. It’s been suggested that we are living in a “post-truth era” where, as the writer Paul Valadier says, too many in positions of power and responsibility display a “shameful, cavalier attitude toward the facts and a contempt for the public.” 

Many Trump supporters cling to the fiction that the presidential election was stolen. It wasn’t

A post-truth era, should it persist, sounds the death knell for democracy. It’s a citizen’s responsibility to have more than opinions. There is also a requirement to seek and use real and honest information. As Jon Meacham, the biographer of Thomas Jefferson, wrote of the architect of so much of the American experience, “the pursuit of knowledge…coexists with the pursuit of pleasure.”

The denigration of journalists and long-established and credible news organizations is a companion tactic that amplifies the fact challenged “post-truth era.” Real journalists working to report real news, hold powerful people to account and expose corruption are guardians of democracy, not enemies of the people

Here’s a test for all of us struggling to find good information in this time of disinformation. The next time you visit a website or read someone’s Facebook post ask yourself a simple question: prove it. Show me your source, not just your opinion. 

One test I apply is to look for transparency. Every credible newspaper or news website – and you don’t have to agree or like everything in any publication – will offer a high degree of transparency. You can find out who owns the publication. The editors will be identified, and their contact information will be obvious. The best online sites acknowledge mistakes and make clear what they stand for. If this level of transparency isn’t obvious there is a reason for that. Think about why it doesn’t exist. 

We except a lot – too much most of the time – from our leaders. Jefferson was brilliant and flawed. Franklin Roosevelt put American citizens in relocation camps, but also led the coalition that defeated fascist tyranny. Lyndon Johnson signed a civil rights act and engineered the tragedy of Vietnam. “Presidents and vice presidents are not wizards,” Tom Nichols wrote this week. “They cannot rewind history. They cannot single-handedly make us better people.” That’s our job, each and every one of us. 

“Will we rise to the occasion, is the question,” Joe Biden said this week. “Will we master this rare and difficult hour? Will we meet our obligations and pass along a new and better world to our children?” Whatever you think of our new president and his abilities or deficiencies, he alone won’t make the country what it should be. We each have a piece of the American obligation. Let’s go back to being serious about it. 

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

A few items worth a look…

Goodbye to Donald J. Trump, the man who wanted to be Conrad Hilton but turned out to be Paris Hilton

Kevin D. Williamson pens a final, brutal kiss off to the former president in what was once considered “the Bible” of American conservatism – The National Review.

Here he goes:

“Donald Trump is, in fact, the first president since Herbert Hoover to lead his party to losing the presidency, the House, and the Senate all in a single term. Along with being the first president to be impeached twice and the first game-show host elected to the office, that’s Trump’s claim to the history books. Well, that and 400,000 dead Americans and the failed coup d’état business.”

It gets better. Link here.


After The Sacred Landslide

David Roth has been known primarily for his writing on sports, but he’s also given voice to trying to define the Trump Era in cultural and social ways. His latest:

“One of the most important things to know about Trump is that he never has a plan. He barely has an itinerary. He simply moves from one flubby gilded hustle to the next, dedicating each moment to whatever feels good or whatever he thinks looks strongest. What mess he leaves behind is by definition not his problem, and he’s always already somewhere else by the time the stain sets. Trump is used to having other people do what he says, because he is richer and more powerful than them; that people have almost always done just that has made him soft and weak and strange, but also it has seldom led to him being seriously inconvenienced. He’ll call that a win.”

Read the entire piece.


From Russia With Love

We may never know the full story of the curious case of Putin and Trump, but my instincts tell me that we will eventually have most of the details of what certainly was not “the Russian hoax.”

Orange and Bad

Luke Harding in The Guardian:

“Russia would have preferred it if Trump had won the election. Despite Joe Biden’s clearcut victory, though, the Russian leader has much to celebrate. Over four polarising years Trump accomplished many of the KGB’s longstanding goals. These included estranging the US from its western allies and Nato; deepening domestic strife; and waging a Putin-style disinformation campaign against the 2020 result.”

Link to the story here.


Paula Hawkins on Patricia Highsmith

I’m a long time fan of Patricia Highsmith and particularly her book Strangers on a Train (and the motion picture of the same name.)

Novelist Paula Hawkins has a great essay on the, well, quirky author.

“Highsmith—who had an unhappy childhood, who suffered, as an adult, from depression, anorexia and alcoholism, who was deeply misanthropic—was not as a writer particularly interested in happiness. Contentment, she suspected, was often a sign of stupidity; well-balanced people must be, at best, mediocre. Nor was she interested in the simplicity of popular morality, but was fascinated by the idea that all of us carried within us the capacity for good and ill, that identity was not fixed, but shifting, that a sort of dualism existed in all of us.”

Here’s the full piece:


A Brief History of Peanut Butter

Come on you know you want to know about this…

“Though the United States lags behind China and India in peanut harvest, Americans still eat far more of the spread than the people in any other country: It’s a gooey taste of nostalgia, for childhood and for American history. ‘What’s more sacred than peanut butter?’ Iowa Senator Tom Harkin asked in 2009, after a salmonella outbreak was traced back to tainted jars. By 2020, when Skippy and Jif released their latest peanut butter innovation—squeezable tubes—nearly 90 percent of American households reported consuming peanut butter.”

Get the full spread here.


Stay safe. Thanks for reading.

2020 Election, GOP, Idaho Politics

It Was a Deadly Stunt…

When it comes to outstanding members of Congress Idaho’s sprawling 1st District isn’t known for them. Over the last half century, the district has frequently been represented by a collection of non-entities, clowns and down right embarrassments. The sanity of an occasional member like Jim McClure or Larry LaRocco hardly makes up for the cranks, mountebanks and conspiracists like Helen Chenoweth, Bill Sali and Raul Labrador. 

Chenoweth, who long ago flirted with the kind of malevolent criminal militia-types who attacked Congress last week, was an early adherent to the nutty fiction that “the deep state” employed black helicopters “filled with United Nations-sponsored storm troopers eager to swoop into the broken-down ranches of the rural West and impose international law.” 

Sali argued that there was a direct link between abortion and breast cancer and Labrador, as ambitious as slimy Texas Senator Ted Cruz but without the charm, held firmly when he lied that “nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care.”

Yet, even considering this gallery of forgettables, has any Idaho member of Congress ever so completely debased themselves in the service of political ambition and crackpot conspiracy theories as the 1st District’s current piece of furniture, Representative Russ Fulcher?

For a virtually unknown backbencher, January 6, 2021 began with heady stuff for Fulcher, who one suspects most of his 434 colleagues couldn’t pick out of a lineup. Up early and primed for sedition, Fulcher was booked, in the language of the Beltway, for “a hit” on Fox News where he was introduced as a participant in “the final challenge to the 2020 election.” 

The Fox interviewer announced that aw shucks Russ would explain his objections “to the Electoral College result.” And so, he did. 

Idaho Congressman Russ Fulcher’s January 6 Twitter feed

How will this go down, Fulcher was asked? Well, “there will be at least four states – Arizona, Pennsylvania, Georgia,” and then no kidding he couldn’t remember the fourth state, “that will be challenged.” 

“This is going to be a monumental day in American history,” Fulcher said, “make no mistake about it, especially if the trend continues in the state of Georgia you will see the stakes go monumentally higher.” It’s hard to tell what Fulcher meant by that, which is not surprising considering the source. Was it a reference to the two U.S. Senate seats that by the time of his interview were slipping away from Republicans to give Democrats control of the Senate? Or was he suggesting – or lying – as the president he has slavishly served has repeatedly lied, that Georgia’s presidential election results were somehow tainted. 

Those results weren’t tainted in any way, just for the record, a fact confirmed again for the umpteenth time this week by a newly installed U.S. attorney in Georgia. The previous guy in that job left abruptly when Donald Trump determined that he wasn’t working hard enough to steal the election. But back to Fulcher’s monumental day and his Fox interview.  

Why did you decide to challenge the election result, the gentleman from Idaho was asked? 

“Because,” Fulcher responded, “the fact that there were multiple states, the ones that get cued up today and challenged today simply broke their own laws.” He went on to spin a word salad of alleged election law violations devoid of a single specific example of law breaking before ending with the assurance that somehow the mere allegation of impropriety “in and of itself pulls into question the results of those elections.” 

Then the coup d’ grace: “There are tens of millions of people who want to see some action on this, and they are absolutely convinced there is election fraud.” Or put another way, despite Trumpist legal failure in dozens of vacuous lawsuits, despite the gross and now deadly lying about a stolen election, despite the statements of a bipartisan collection of state election officials, the attorney general of the United States and the Supreme Court that there is absolutely nothing to “see some action on,” Fulcher embraced warmly the biggest lie ever told in presidential politics

Shortly after his Fox hit, Fulcher posted, with obvious satisfaction, a photo of himself on Twitter with the line: “Formal objections filed.” He was effectively documenting his own sedition. By midafternoon, after Fulcher had joined with 146 other House Republicans in an attempt to throw out presidential votes in Arizona, he was lamenting “the violence seen today.” 

A few hours before a pro-Trump mob marched on the Capitol in an assault on Congress, Fulcher was repeating lies about a fraudulent election

But, of course, it was not merely violence, but deadly insurrection aimed squarely at the Congress where Fulcher serves, propagated in an effort to prevent the constitutionally required certification of state electoral votes. Not then and not since has Fulcher offered even a hint that the violence that claimed a half dozen lives, trashed the Capitol and saw thugs insisting that they would “hang Mike Pence” was incited by lies, including his own. He has, of course, offered no condemnation of Trump’s incendiary speech minutes before the assault on Congress. 

In subsequent interviews, including with Bill Spence of the Lewiston Tribune, Fulcher insisted he was just trying to get to the facts about the election and not overturn the result. But that’s another lie. You can’t say, as Fulcher has, that states need to run their own elections and report their own Electoral College results and at the same time lie about Congress having a role in policing what states do. 

So, what was Fulcher’s end game in this fiasco? Had the objections he lodged been sustained – he also rejected Pennsylvania’s vote and did so after the Capitol mayhem had claimed lives  – a Joe Biden victory would still not have been voided. If Fulcher supported an extra-constitutional “commission” to investigate the election as Cruz sought, he never said so. So, what he was really doing was a political performance, just a stunt

A stunt that magnified a gross lie. A stunt demanding something be done to get the “facts” that have never once been disputed by state election officials or any court. A stunt to gin up the rightwing militia types, the Q-Anon conspiracists, the Fox News addicted groupies, the fact free Trump base. A stunt that spawned insurrection, got people killed and shook the very foundation of democracy. 

Fulcher’s “monumental day in American history” should mark the end of his short, hideously incoherent and disgraced career in Congress.

It takes real effort to be the most disreputable person to have ever served the 1st District of Idaho, but Fulcher clearly owns that distinction. 

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

Some other stories I found of interest this week…

The Duchy That Roared

Luxembourg doesn’t get a lot of press, but the tiny country sandwiched among Germany, France and Belgium did make headlines this week. The Atlantic’s Anne Applebaum talked to Luxembourg’s foreign minister about his critique of the U.S. president.

“Lucky are the foreign ministers of very small, very consensus-driven countries, for those who play their cards right sometimes get to hold office for many years. One of the luckiest card players out there is Jean Asselborn, the amusing polyglot who has been the foreign minister of Luxembourg since 2004. Although his country is tiny (population 613,000), the longevity of Luxembourg’s top diplomat gives him the confidence to say what he thinks—even if it is, well, undiplomatic. Last week, following the insurrection in Washington, D.C., Asselborn did exactly that: ‘Trump is a criminal,’ he told RTL, his country’s leading broadcaster. ‘A political pyromaniac who should be sent to criminal court. He’s a person who was elected democratically but who isn’t interested in democracy in the slightest.'”

Read the entire piece:


Ted Lasso

The premise is, well, ridiculous. A small-time U.S. football coach from Kansas, the very epitome of a hayseed, is hired to manage a big time Premier League soccer club in the U.K. When a friend suggest I watch it I was reluctant, but boy am I glad I found the series on Apple+

Ted Lasso is really good

“No one expects Ted’s kindness and persistence to have a ripple effect on just about every person in the orbit of the team. In 10 deeply satisfying, funny and smartly crafted episodes, Ted Lasso avoids the most predictable jock stories, sketches a dozen indelible character portraits, and earnestly delves into the lives of people who begin to believe in each other, even as they start to make halting progress toward making amends for their cluelessness, cruel actions and mistakes.”

Go for the escapist good time and stay for the sweet messages. A good review in Vanity Fair.


Mickey Edwards Leaves the GOP

The crisis of the modern Republican Party is well stated by the former congressman from Oklahoma.

“I have been a Republican for 62 years. I have been a Goldwater conservative, a Reagan conservative, and a W conservative.

“And I have now left the Republican party. A party that has been at the center of my entire adult life. A party that defined me to others and to myself. It has become the opposite of what it was. It has become a cult idolizing a ruler, a trasher of institutions of democracy driven by falsehoods and hatreds.”

Worth your time:


See you soon. Thanks for reading.

2020 Election, GOP, Trump

The Death of the GOP

It was always predictable – even inevitable – that it would end this way: defeat, disgrace, disgust and decay. After all, the whole enormous con was built on only one thing, an absolute mountain of bull excrement

It was predictable – even inevitable – that the fetid smell would spawn a disease that would finally stain everyone close to its source, while everyone inhaling the vapors would be left sickened and stunned.

Lying, and not merely the garden variety truth shading that has always been a feature of politics, will be the lasting take away of the last four years. That so many people, the once principled, the merely ambitious, as well as the graspers of conspiracy and the enablers of fraud, would accept it – even revel in it – will remain a mystery as the Grand Old Party splits along seams that can no longer be reconciled.

A pro-Trump rioter with a Confederate flag in the U.S. Capitol on January 6

Built on lies and ended with lies. Where the Republican Party finds itself in January of 2021 recalls nothing more clearly than Horace Greeley’s mournful lament of the last and fatal victory of the dissolving Whig Party in 1848 when an unprincipled, incompetent political outsider – Zachery Taylor – fueled that party’s destruction. Trump Republicans, like the ancient Whigs, were, in Greeley’s phrase “at once triumphant and undone.”

Each of the provable lies, the evidence of deadly incompetence and the profound corruption of the cult king must be reckoned with even as the leader’s end game – recorded on tape attempting an electoral coup by threatening fellow Republican elected officials – will leave a putrid stain on our body politic for a long, long time to come. 

That so many elected officials would willingly embrace the absurdity that a presidential election was stolen; embrace that fiction against absolutely all evidence, in opposition to five dozen unsuccessful court challenges and in the stark face of common sense, is the maximal proof of the intellectual and moral rot that has hollowed out the modern Republican Party. 

The repercussions and recriminations will be vicious and ongoing. Such it is when a coup fails. And the harshest rebukes will come from conservatives mourning the death of character and ideals in which they once found salvation and hope. 

Missouri GOP Senator Josh Hawley, a leader in attempting to reverse the outcome of the presidential election

“No one who has participated in this poisonous buffoonery should ever hold office again,” says the conservative columnist Kevin Williamson in the National Review. “There was a time when there was a plausible if sometimes self-serving rationale for working for the Trump administration — that the president is a clueless poseur surrounded by crackpots and frauds, and that he desperately needs good counsel from responsible adults. But the Trump administration is not currently under the guiding influence of any such responsible adults — and there simply is no defending what it is up to. This cannot be excused or explained away.”

As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said of one of the most odious bootlickers, Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson: “He has violated his oath of office and in doing so, Johnson has forfeited his right to represent the people of Wisconsin.” Close to half of Congressional Republicans fit the same description. 

When the president of the United States told his Washington rally audience on Wednesday: “your leadership has led you down the tubes” he spoke for him rare truth. His sycophantic vice president, whatever reputation Mike Pence once had is now as repulsive as a wad of gum stuck to the bottom of a shoe, will be the fall guy for the enormous lie. And everyone eventually touched by this rot will forever be diminished. 

More in sorrow than anger, Utah Senator Mitt Romney told journalist McKay Coppins this week, 

“A huge portion of the American public has been misled by the president about the outcome of the election.” Romney, who will forever be remembered for having the courage to acknowledge that the president should be impeached for attempting to force a foreign leader to interfere in an American election, is the rare conservative officeholder speaking truth about the scams. “The president was right that there was an effort to corrupt the election,” Romney said, “but it was not by Joe Biden. It was by President Trump.”

Pick your outrage of the last four years: the inexplicable embrace of Putin, the scandalous pardons of murderers and crooks, often only to serve the cult king, the stoking of racial and anti-immigrant hatred, refugee children separated from their parents, claims that a deadly disease that has claimed 360,000 American lives was “a hoax,” a stolen election. 

It has all been a lie, a con, an unprincipled embrace of authoritarianism unprecedented in our history. To ignore this, to tolerate it, to act in its service is the most fundamental debasement of democracy. 

What should have ended – ended before all this carnage came – with a videotaped confession that this cult leader was so depraved as to not only abuse women, but boast about it, ended in deprave insurrection in the halls of the U.S. Capitol, a monumental outrage incited by a lying poseur unfit for jury duty let alone the Oval Office.

This dark and demented man, as writer Neal Gabler observed recently, “has stripped away the vestiges of morality, enthroned self-interest — particularly his own — over common good, inverted our values, and ripped the needle off the moral compass, leaving us aimless at best, cruel at worst. It is important to emphasize that our democracy has never been protected by constitutional guardrails, which are altogether too fragile. It has always been protected by something stronger: our moral underpinnings.”

Capitol Police using flash devices to push back the Trump mob

And now Republicans have demolished their moral underpinnings in service to what, a man who promised his fevered followers “so much winning,” but who in fact has presided over a party putting forth such a stream of craziness that Republicans lost the House, the Senate, the presidency and its soul on his watch. 

“The Republicans are not debating big ideas: economic policy, national security, the role of government,” journalist David Corn wrote this week. “The debate is whether to join Trump’s clownish but dangerous attempt at a political coup. There is nothing noble here. Do you accept Trump’s democracy-defying cult of personality or not? For Trump and his followers, this is now what makes a Republican.”

This is the death of reason. The demise of responsibility. And one suspects there is no turning back from this level of madness. Once you embrace sedition, as so many Republicans did this week, what is the end game? 

How appropriate, since Republicans have floated all the way down to the bottom with their mad leader, that loudspeakers at the “Overturn the Election” rally on the Ellipse in our capitol earlier this week were playing the theme from the motion picture Titanic.

Then they stormed your government and he said he loved them.

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

A few other things I found of interest this week…


Now It Can Be Told: How Neil Sheehan Got the Pentagon Papers

One of the great journalists of the Vietnam era, Neil Sheehan of the New York Times, died this week, having left the “how did that happen” question unanswered regarding his biggest story – the publication in 1971 of the Pentagon Papers. Sheehan told the story to another reporter in 2015 on condition that it not be published until after his death.

Neil Sheehan’s historic scoop

“Recounting the steps that led to his breaking the story, Mr. Sheehan told of aliases scribbled into the guest registers of Massachusetts motels; copy-shop machines crashing under the burden of an all-night, purloined-document load; photocopied pages stashed in a bus-station locker; bundles belted into a seat on a flight from Boston; and telltale initials incinerated in a diplomat’s barbecue set.

“He also revealed that he had defied the explicit instructions of his confidential source, whom others later identified as Daniel Ellsberg, a former Defense Department analyst who had been a contributor to the secret history while working for the Rand Corporation.”

Fascinating. Read the whole thing.


John le Carré

A great piece by John Leen in The Washington Post Magazine.

“He may be better known to you as John le Carré. John the Square. A French pseudonym he chose when he was writing his first spy novels in the late 1950s, when he was still unknown and still a spy himself. The name stuck. He told me that story himself. Then he told me he had told so many stories about the name that he was not exactly sure which one was right anymore. But he was always just David to me. I never called him John.”

Read the story here.


Is There a Republican Party?

Photo from The New Yorker in 1935

One of the New Yorker’s vintage pieces from 1935. It’s pretty good.

“The humorist Frank Sullivan was a master of sly, whimsical sketches that punctured the armor of the smug and sanctimonious. A member of the Algonquin Round Table, he served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army before turning his attention to reporting. His eventual shift toward humor was almost incidental, inspired by a remark by the editor of the New York World after an unfortunate reporting assignment: ‘You’re too emotional for the news columns, Sullivan!'”

Worth your time


The Reason Button Down Shirts Have Loops in the Back

OK, not a burning issue, but you know you have wondered. From Mental Floss.

“The apparel industry has presented a number of intriguing mysteries over the years. We’ve previously covered why clothes shrink in the wash, deciphered the laundry care tags on clothes, and figured out why shorts cost as much as pants. But one enduring puzzle persists: What’s with that weird loop on the back of button-down shirts?”

Here’s the answer.


Quite a week. Thanks for reading. Stay well.

Uncategorized

OK, I Blew It…

Dave Broder, the late, great Washington Post reporter and columnist, was quite possibly the last nearly uniformly respected political journalist in America. Born in Illinois, Broder brought a middle western non-ideological sensibility to his reporting and commentary. Before his death in 2011, Broder was regularly named as the “most trusted,” the “fairest,” the hardest working scribbler in Washington. 

Late is his long career, Broder was insightful – he was insightful about many things – as to the problems facing our politics and those who cover our politics. Trust was the problem he concluded. 

Dave Broder, the Washington Post journalist and icon

“But this is now just sort of endemic,” Broder said in an interview in 1996. “I mean, if you are in politics, you are, by virtue of that fact, a subject of distrust. And if you are part of the press, they also figure that you’re playing some angle of your own. Or that you’re in bed with that sort of closed group–the insiders. And this is a country that is very suspicious of insiders.” 

In his own low-key way, Dave Broder tried every December to address the trust gap. He published a column on the things he got wrong during the previous year. I’m no Dave Broder, but his example is a good one for anyone who pops off about politics and tries to make sense of politicians. 

So here goes: some of what I got wrong in 2020. 

Most mistakes I make, and I certainly make my share, are in the category of hope triumphing over experience. A lifetime of participating in politics and therefore thinking that experience makes you infallible is the ultimate hubris. My hubris was on full display when I suggested – more than once in 2020 – that American voters would broadly reject the politics of division and discord exemplified over the last four years by the man about to leave the White House. 

Donald Trump was broadly rejected – a decisive loss in the Electoral College and crushing margin of the popular vote – but Republicans generally did very well in the November election. Far from repudiation the GOP came darn close to winning control of the House of Representatives, an outcome I could not bring myself to envision before November 3. 

The GOP may still hang on to Senate control pending two runoff elections in Georgia. The “blue wave” that might have swept Democrats into a Senate majority seemed plausible to me until it wasn’t. I didn’t see Montana voters rejecting a popular governor running for the Senate against a Republican non-entity. I genuinely thought strong Democratic women in places like Iowa and Maine had a good chance. They didn’t. I was simply wrong about the breadth and depth of any rejection of Trump’s GOP.

I badly miscalculated the impact of the Republican campaign against “socialism” and “defunding the police.” Americans, I should have known, always reject socialism even as they embrace Medicare, Social Security, government built and operated hydroelectric dams and every sort of agricultural and tax subsidy. Socialism, as the arm waving Bernie Sanders has helped prove all over again, is the third rail of American politics. Most Americans couldn’t define the term, but they know socialism is bad.

The Defund the Police narrative was a big, big loser for Democrats

And the left-wing sloganeering about defunding police was simply political malpractice by too many so called progressives who handed conservatives a huge and winning issue. The issue of redirecting law enforcement funding to substance abuse interventions and better community policing got hijacked by stupid, arrogant use of inflammatory language. I thought Democrats would be smart enough to reject the stupidity of a national message that dissed cops. I flat out underestimated the impact. I’m now convinced the issue nearly cost Democrats the House of Representatives. 

I genuinely thought more Republicans beyond Mitt Romney, particularly after the election, would come to speak truth about what has happened to their party under Trump, how he has debased the very idea of truth and now continues a charade about a stolen election. I thought Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson, for example, who in his pre-Trump life was often a model of civility and bipartisanship, would do what he did in 2016 and pledge to carry out his Constitutional responsibilities and work cooperatively with a new president elect. I was wrong. 

Simpson not only hasn’t done that, but he joined a ridiculous lawsuit seeking to overturn the presidential election. I was wrong in thinking politicians like Simpson would actually welcome a breaking of the Trump fever. 

History will judge the administration of the last four years harshly for its incompetence, corruption and efforts to undermine democracy, but I genuinely thought even the most bungling administration in modern American history would figure out a plan to roll out a coronavirus vaccine. I mean, it’s complicated, but you have at your disposal the world’s best military. Many of the best scientists. The logistics and shipping capabilities of Amazon and FedEx. The administration promised that 20 million Americans would be vaccinated by now. They were wrong and I was wrong in thinking even this crowd couldn’t screw this up

Back in October I wrote: “A fundamental principle of democracy is that people in power act in ways that preserve and protect the integrity of the institutions entrusted to their care. Having the power to act sometimes demand not acting. In our lifetimes there has never been a better moment to pause, consider and practice restrain.” 

The moment was a Supreme Court vacancy being filled days before a presidential election. I thought, wrongly as it turned out, that the precedent Republicans established in 2016 when they refused for months to consider Barack Obama’s nominee would hold. I thought that GOP senators who had vowed to never fill a court seat in an election year would honor that commitment, or at least be shamed into doing so. I was wrong. 

In order to understand the level of Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s cynicism you have to recalibrate your own cynicism. I thought it possible, before proven wrong, that he might have a moment of pause. I was wrong. 

I’ll leave 2020 with another thought about Dave Broder and the long sweep of American politics. In 1971 – wow, nearly 50 years ago – Broder wrote a little book entitled The Party’s Over in which he worried about the state of the country. “It is going to cost us time and energy and thought, diverted from our private concerns,” Broder wrote, “to make government workable and politics responsible again in America.” 

He was appealing for precisely the cure our diseased system needed then – and needs now. I hope I don’t have to admit next year that he – and we – were wrong. 

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

Some stories from around the Internet that you may have missed…

A New Southern Manifesto

Nicolaus Mills, a professor of American literature at Sarah Lawrence College and author of Winning the Peace: The Marshall Plan and America’s Coming of Age as a Superpower, has an interesting piece in The Dispatch.

He links GOP allegations of voter fraud to efforts in the 1950’s – mostly from Democrats – to keep African Americans from voting.

“The targets of the Southern Manifesto were the nation’s black public school children, isolated in segregated schools. The unnamed targets of the Texas lawsuit and most other election suits filed by Trump supporters are mostly black voters in urban areas.  

“What is more, just as the signers of the Southern Manifesto couched their language in neutral terms, saying separate but equal allowed for ‘amicable relations between the white and Negro races,’ the Trump supporters have followed a similar pattern. Rather than directly speak of race, they talk of “voter fraud.'”

The full piece is here.


Where Did America Go Wrong?

Celebrations in New York after Joe Biden’s victory

The German magazine Der Spiegel asks that question.

“America knows it is sick. It is showing all the symptoms. There are doubts about the legitimacy of elections, and confidence in political institutions has crumbled. The media have abandoned or lost their role as impartial observers. The country’s predominantly white police force continues to deploy misguided violence against a disillusioned and outraged Black population. There are armed militias on the streets and it’s become almost impossible to voice an opinion without getting overwhelmed by hateful comments on social media. To top it all off is a president who refuses to concede defeat, a society that has been battered by a pandemic that can only be contained by way of solidarity.”

Harsh, but fair. Read it here.


The State of America

Three more year end political pieces worth your time.

Bruce Gyory is a Democratic political strategist and an adjunct professor of political science at SUNY-Albany. He has a great piece in The Bulwark with a deep dive into the data about how Joe Biden won.

One of my favorite political journalist McKay Coppins in The Atlantic on the media and Biden. The White House spent four years vilifying journalists. What comes next? Read it here:

And a well-deserved piece in The Times about Boston College historian Heather Cox Richardson, a breakout star with her daily newsletter putting by-the-facts daily reporting in the context of American history. If you don’t get her newsletter, you should sign up. Here a link.

The World That Made Lincoln

Ol’ Abe

“No one,” writes historian Allen C. Guelzo, “has been a better chronicler of 19th-century American culture than David Reynolds, a Distinguished Professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.”

Guelzo reviews Reynold’s sprawling new Lincoln bio in The Washington Monthly.

“His 1008-page re-imagining begins with the bluntness of the title – Abe – since no one, once Lincoln had achieved adulthood, ever dared to address him as ‘Abe.’ To his closest friends, he was always Lincoln; even to his wife, he was Mr. Lincoln. His correspondence was invariably signed A. Lincoln, as though he found even Abraham overly familiar. Only on his most important state papers did he write out his name in full. But to the country at large, he was indeed Abe – Uncle Abe, Old Abe, Honest Abe, Abe Lincoln of Illinois. Good god you goin to shake with me Uncle Abe, was the cry of an astonished soldier to whom Lincoln stuck out his hand at a review. ‘Hey! Uncle Abe are you joking yet,’ was the satirical title of a political song in 1864.”

Well, I know what I should have asked Santa to deliver for Christmas. Read the review.


Thanks friends. It’s been quite a year. I really appreciate you following along. To a better 2021. Stay safe.

Christmas

Season of Hope…

After spending the first 40 years of his life in the wind-swept northwestern corner of Nebraska, my dad developed a few good lines about what winter was like in those parts. 

He joked that an out of state visitor once asked, “What do you people do around here in the summertime?” Dad’s response: “Well, last year it came on a Sunday and we had a picnic and a ballgame.” One of his favorite lines became a favorite of mine: “You get used to the change of seasons – ten months of winter and two months of damn poor sledding.” 

Northwest Nebraska in winter.

In her writings about the rough sandhill country along the upper Niobrara River, my dad’s home ground, Nebraska native Mari Sandoz equated winter with the end of things, that time “when dry snow fell like dandruff from a gray sky.” The long, dark days and nights before the green shoots of spring break ground led Sandoz’s homesteading father to drink too much and tolerate too little. Mari titled the last chapter of her memoir of her father – “winter.” 

It is a damn good thing winter arrives in near proximity to Christmas. Without the opportunity to experience the season of hope and reflect on the prospects for a better future, facing the bleakest months might just make all of us as grumpy as old Mr. Potter was before George Bailey helped straighten him out. 

What is there to say of the end of this awful, deadly, confounding year? How about good riddance? 

When it comes to 2020, I’m reminded of the famous speech by the British politician Leo Amery in 1940. Amery delivered his remarks in an entirely different context, but the sentiment is spot on: “Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go.” 

The tired cynic in me has had enough of the crazy conspiracy politics of division of these interminable twelve months. My optimistic, hopeful self longs for reason, calm, caring and competence. My emphasis is on hope. 

As the Reverend Henry Brougham – played by the elegant David Niven – reminds us every Christmas at the end of the wonderful 1947 film “The Bishop’s Wife,” we have this season of hope, after all, because “It’s his birthday we are celebrating.” And, as Henry says in his Christmas eve sermon, “Let us ask ourselves what he would wish for most … and then let each put in his share. Loving kindness, warm hearts and the stretched-out hand of tolerance. All the shining gifts that make peace on earth.” 

David Niven and Cary Grant in “The Bishop’s Wife”

The American fabric is badly frayed as the awful 2020 comes to close. The fabric is in urgent need of repair. All the shining gifts are within our power to bestow. If any of us thinks the stitching up of our national fabric will happen without diligent work by each and every one of us, we’d be wrong. 

All things, it is said, are political, but the best of things – the hopes for the future we each hold dear – are surely about more than politics. And it all begins with hope: “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.” 

There are certain things to wish for Peter Wehner wrote recently. “Honor, decency, courage, beauty, and truth. Tenderness, human empathy, and a sense of duty. A good society. And a commitment to human dignity. We need to teach others—in our individual relationships, in our classrooms and communities, in our book clubs and Bible studies, and in innumerable other settings—why those things are worthy of their attention, their loyalty, their love.” 

Such things are also worthy of hope, our “expectation and desire” that a new year cannot provide the luxury of forgetting the awful year passing away but can renew our purpose and restore our faith that the future can be better than what we have had to endure. The heartbreak and despair of 2020 cannot and should not disappear, but with just enough determination we can make the new year a better year than the one we gladly leave behind. 

“The year 2020 gave the world perspective,” Len DiSesa wrote in his letter to the editor of the New York Times this week. “We took so much for granted before the pandemic entered our lives: dining out whenever we wanted to; dropping in to see friends; hugging our relatives; traveling at will. It is part of the human condition to not appreciate something until it is taken away . . . We have all been stung by this disease, and many have suffered much more than others. But when it is eventually eradicated from the planet I hope we all remember how truly awful 2020 was, and acknowledge the perspective it gave us to appreciate what 2021 can bring.”

Indeed. 

After the awfulness of 2020, America needs to unplug and restart, focusing on what really matters – our kids, grandkids, parents, grandparents, our friends, community, the basic decency and fairness that exists in your service club, at your local library, in the nurse who lives down the block and the kid who shovels snow. 

“It has always seemed strange to me,” John Steinbeck wrote in his enduring classic Cannery Row. “The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding, and feeling are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism, and self-interest are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.” 

So, the heck with selfish meanness. Enough with self-interest that divides. Let us celebrate the better things we can hope for in a new year, and accept the wisdom of Winston Churchill who said at Christmas 1941 – the end of another awful year – that Americans and their British cousins should embrace “the peace of the spirit in each cottage home and in every generous heart.”

Suspend the hum bugs. Winter is really just a prelude to spring. Look ahead to the picnic and the ball game. This season of hope is the dawn of better days. Extend the out-stretched hand of tolerance and seek the healing balm of hopefulness.

And, yes, God bless us, everyone. 

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

Some additional reading suggestions you may find of interest…

Notre Dame 

“Notre-Dame embodies France’s noble, tragic history, from St Louis trudging on bare feet, holding aloft the crown of thorns, to Napoleon’s vainglorious coronation and General de Gaulle dodging sniper fire to praise God for the liberation of Paris.

“When fire ravaged her on April 15th, 2019, the world, too, discovered how much it loved Notre-Dame. French officials were amazed by the sympathy and money that poured in. ‘She is not Notre-Dame de Paris but Notre-Dame of the World,’ says Olivier Latry, the cathedral’s organist.”

Notre-Dame of the World

A great story from The Irish Times.


Science and the Humanities

Long time readers know that I have a passion for “the humanities,” the academic disciplines that encompass history, literature, language, philosophy – in other words the study and understanding of the human condition. 

I really enjoyed this piece, in part, because I learned that the celebrated Dr. Anthony Fauci studied not only science, but the humanities. 

“Although perhaps only recently a household name, Fauci is no Tony-come-lately. Over the past four decades he’s played prominent roles as a scientist, physician, administrator and spokesman. You know what he’s been up to over the past several months. But what of his previous nearly 80 years? And what made him the figure he has become?” 

Read the whole thing from The Conversation


Trump’s Pardons Make the Unimaginable Real

President Donald Trump issued more pardons yesterday. What next?

Tim Naftali write in The Atlantic:

“Will Trump be the first to test the constitutionality of a self-pardon, just as he has tested the limits of so many other constraints on presidential power? Precedent has never mattered to him. He has reportedly been asking aides about the possibility of a self-pardon since 2017. Unlike Nixon, he can’t even hope for a pardon from his immediate successor. But neither can he count on the Supreme Court to uphold a self-pardon; in summarily dismissing Trump’s effort to overturn the election, the justices reminded him that a president should not count on the support of his appointees.”

Who knows what a president without principles, shame or boundaries will do? We’re about to find out.

Read the full story and you’ll be ready if the outrage comes. I’m betting it will.


Be safe and I send to you and yours the best for the Christmas season and a better 2021.

Thanks as always for reading.