2020 Election, Pandemic

Denial…

In 2017, Tom Nichols, a professor of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, published a book that anticipated our current state of affairs. Nichols’s book, The Death of Expertise: The Campaign against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters, made an overarching point: with so much information literally at our fingertips everyone can be an expert on everything. Or at least play at being an expert on Facebook. 

One example Nichols cited was a Washington Post poll that found after the 2014 Russian invasion of Ukraine “only one in six Americans could identify Ukraine on a map; the median response was off by about 1,800 miles.” Yet, this lack of basic knowledge hardly kept Americans from their sure-fire opinions about what action the country should take. 

“In fact,” Nichols wrote, “the respondents favored intervention in direct proportion to their ignorance. Put another way, the people who thought Ukraine was located in Latin America or Australia were the most enthusiastic about using military force there.” 

Turns out our certainty frequently has an inverse relation to our intelligence. Why? Why do so many Americans disdain expertise? 

“Americans have reached a point where ignorance, especially of anything related to public policy, is an actual virtue,” Nichols wrote. “To reject the advice of experts is to assert autonomy, a way for Americans to insulate their increasingly fragile egos from ever being told they’re wrong about anything. It is a new Declaration of Independence: No longer do we hold these truths to be self-evident, we hold all truths to be self-evident, even the ones that aren’t true. All things are knowable and every opinion on any subject is as good as any other.”

The country’s disastrous, fragmented and deadly response to the global coronavirus pandemic is deeply rooted in the America aversion to expertise. Unfortunately for the first time in modern history we have a “fragile ego” in the White House who has made being ignorant about virtually everything a governing principle. 

“Across the rest of the developed world, COVID-19 has been ebbing,” David Frum wrote this week in The Atlantic. “As a result, borders are reopening and economies are reviving. Here in the U.S., however, Americans are suffering a new disease peak worse than the worst of April.” As a result, the European Union this week barred almost all travelers from the United States because we have failed to control the virus, and we have failed because millions of us have rejected fundamental common sense. 

Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott largely ignored the virus and now scrambles to control it

Back in February the president and his Fox News echo chamber were calling the virus “a hoax” that was completely under control. It wasn’t and people who have spent a lifetime studying such things knew it wasn’t. Yet, governors in Arizona, Florida and twenty other places embraced Trumpian logic about the virus, waited too long and then acted inadequately. 

From June 15 to the end of the month Arizona’s totals went from about 1,000 cases per day to nearly 5,000 per day. Idaho’s cases seem on a similar trajectory. Little wonder Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, worried this week that the country could soon be headed for 100,000 new cases per day. “I am very concerned,” he said. And for good reason. Death numbers, a lagging indicator compared to cases, will almost certainly begin rising in coming days. 

Meanwhile, every disease expert in the world is recommending the wearing of face masks as a fundamental necessity in slowing the spread. Yet, Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul – hard to believe he is actually a doctor – mused out loud at a hearing where Fauci testified, “We shouldn’t presume that a group of experts somehow knows what’s best for everyone.” 

Delegates to the Idaho Republican convention fumed last week about Governor Brad Little’s contact tracing efforts, an effective and proven method of isolating the virus and containing its spread that has been widely implemented in countries that have brought the pandemic under control. 

One “expert,” Heather Rogers, a convention delegate from Lewiston, was quoted by reporter Nathan Brown as saying, “What Governor Little did was frankly, in my opinion, completely unconstitutional.” The key words here are “in my opinion.” 

Donald Trump is scheduled to be at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota’s Black Hills Friday for a big fireworks display that defies common sense on at least two fronts. Fireworks displays at the national monument were long ago suspended due to concerns about forest fires and a big crowd of people will create a mountain sized petri dish of virus spread. 

South Dakota governor Kristi Noem welcomes the chaos. “We told those folks that have concerns that they can stay home,” she told NBC, “but those who want to come and join us, we’ll be giving out free face masks, if they choose to wear one. But we will not be social distancing.” 

One of the toughest tasks in politics is to muster the courage to tell your followers that they are wrong. But so many Republicans have lived for so long in the land of science denial, in the universe of expertise bashing, that when confronted with a genuine crisis that can’t be flim flamed away they’re left with little but their own nonsense. 

But at this moment, as David Frum writes, “reality will not be blustered away. Tens of thousands are dead, and millions are out of work, all because Trump could not and would not do the job of disease control” – a task that requires deferring to science, accepting facts and behaving responsibly about things like wearing a mask. The task also involves leading the skeptical. 

From denying climate change and abandoning the international effort to rescue an imperiled planet to embracing the claim that the virus would somehow magically “go away,” the president and a sizeable percentage of the American population have, as Tom Nichols says, chosen to be ill-informed.

They are left with only their anger and their demands because they have abdicated “their own important role in the process: namely, to stay informed and politically literate enough to choose representatives who can act on their behalf.” 

Meanwhile, the cases continue to grow. 

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Additional Reading:

1932 = 2020

University of Washington historian James N. Gregory looks at the striking parallels between this presidential election year and the year Franklin Roosevelt won the White House. 

“An election looms. An unpopular president wrestles with historic unemployment rates. Demonstrations erupt in hundreds of locations. The president deploys Army units to suppress peaceful protests in the nation’s capital. And most of all he worries about an affable Democratic candidate who is running against him without saying much about a platform or plans.

Welcome to 1932.”


State of the Race 

Veteran journalist and political watcher Stuart Rothenberg assess whether Joe Biden’s lead in a variety of polls is likely to last.

Stu says: “The burden is now on Trump to change the trajectory of the race, probably by demonizing Biden, who is well known after decades in politics and widely regarded as a decent and empathetic man. The president must pray he can once again squeeze out an Electoral College victory while losing the popular vote by a larger margin than in 2016.” Read his analysis.


Trump’s phone calls alarm U.S. officials

Carl Bernstein of Woodward-Bernstein Watergate fame had a big story this week about the president’s telephone habits with other world leaders, including Vladimir Putin and Recep Erdogan, the Turkish president. I’m betting some of Bernstein’s sources were Trump’s departed national security advisors. He says:

“Erdogan became so adept at knowing when to reach the President directly that some White House aides became convinced that Turkey’s security services in Washington were using Trump’s schedule and whereabouts to provide Erdogan with information about when the President would be available for a call.

“On some occasions Erdogan reached him on the golf course and Trump would delay play while the two spoke at length.” 

Donald Trump and his Turkish strongman pal Erdogan

Whoo. Read the whole thing.


Seattle and the Pandemic 

Knute Berger writes from Seattle about the once booming city’s future. “Downtown is still hollowed out with a ghost-of-itself ambience: The Alaska-bound cruise ships won’t be docking in Elliot Bay this year, nor will the conventioneers fill the bars and restaurants, erasing billions from the local economy. In June, downtown hotel revenues were down over 94% with a midmonth occupancy rate of 13%. COVID-19 is still impacting people’s willingness to travel.”

The Emerald City is looking pretty tarnished.


Finally…Ann, as in Richards

Years ago when Ann Richards was governor of Texas I had a few opportunities to see her in action, including at the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta. She was a force of nature and the new PBS one-woman show on Great Performances with the great Holland Taylor captures her perfectly.

Highly recommended.

Thanks for reading…be well.

2020 Election, Foreign Policy, Trump

Our National Humiliation…

During a week when coronavirus deaths in the United States topped 120,000 and the president of the United States admitted he was trying to slow testing for the virus – more testing means more cases, after all – it might be difficult to fully process that we are also living through a unprecedented time of upheaval in American foreign policy. 

Whether you love him or hate him, Donald Trump has remade American standing in the world with consequences hard measure, but with impact long lasting. Trump’s upheaval has led to dangerous decline.

“Donald Trump has taken America out of key multilateral agreements, crossed swords with allies and pulled the U.S. from a leading role in geopolitical hot spots,” Bloomberg noted this week in an article about how Russian president Vladimir Putin was celebrating the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II with a big parade in Moscow. Since Trump’s election in 2016, Putin has expanding his influence, while angling to stay in office much longer. 

The great American decline: Trump at the G-7 summit in 2019

The Trump led retreat from world leadership has, Bloomberg reported, “opened the way for Putin to build influence in Russia’s western flank, the Middle East and Africa, and to tighten an alliance with China. The planes flying in formation … over Moscow are a reminder that others will be eager to fill the gap if the U.S. withdraws further.”

One can deny the existence of Russian election help to Trump in 2016, but it’s impossible to deny the success of Putin’s repositioning at the expense of the United States and out closest, post-World War II European allies. 

Putin is certainly the largest beneficiary of Trump’s reported decision to remove nearly a third of U.S. troops based in Germany, a key NATO ally, a decision the BBC reported that was meet with widespread dismay in Europe, in part because there was no consultation or even warning. Many German officials believe the decision was prompted when chancellor Angela Merkel cancelled her visit to the U.S. because of the pandemic. In other words, the decision had less to do with a coherent national policy than the president’s personal pique. 

The administration’s Asia policy is in tatters with North and South Korea relations on a hair trigger. Trump tariffs on Chinese imports have cost American consumers (and farmers) billions and left the president begging Chinese president Xi Jinping, according to fired national security advisor John Bolton account, to help him win re-election by buying more U.S. goods. 

Bolton’s hefty book, its publication resisted to the very end by Trump, actually matters to our understanding of the feckless, chaotic Trump foreign policy. As conservative columnist Steve Hays argues only the most cultish Trump defender could dismiss a first-hand account “written by a longtime Republican and stalwart conservative—whose mustachioed face has appeared on Fox News more often than just about anyone other than the anchors.”

Pals: Donald and Vladimir

The power of Bolton’s book rests, Hays says, “less in attention-grabbing disclosure than in the relentless, almost mundane stupidity and recklessness of it all.” 

Or as David Ignatius, a long-time observer of American foreign policy, notes: “Among the most startling disclosures in [Bolton’s book] is his account of President Trump’s dealings with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Turkey story — featuring the American president assuring Erdogan he would ‘take care of things’ in an ongoing federal criminal investigation — may be the clearest, most continuous narrative of misconduct by Trump that has yet surfaced.”

Ignatius says, “It’s a tale that connects some of Trump’s closest advisers: former national security adviser Michael Flynn, personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, and senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.” 

Former John McCain advisor Steve Schmidt says of all this that Trump, “has brought this country in three short years to a place of weakness that is simply unimaginable if you were pondering where we are today from the day where Barack Obama left office. And there were a lot of us on that day who were deeply skeptical and very worried about what a Trump presidency would be. But this is a moment of unparalleled national humiliation, of weakness.”

Trump is not alone, of course, in creating our unparalleled national humiliation. He had plenty of help, most notably in the foreign policy field from the junior senator from Idaho James E. Risch, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. Enabling Trump, encouraging his worst instincts and behavior and assisting his destruction of American standing have been the raison d’être of Risch’s otherwise vacuous Senate career. 

When Trump’s first secretary of state Rex Tillerson was fired sometime after calling the president “a moron,” Risch said nothing, made no inquiry, expressed no concern. The same pattern unfolded when retired Marine general James Mattis quit in dispute with Trump over Syrian policy. When Bolton was fired Risch let it pass. He’s said nothing about Bolton’s disclosures. Following the Trump playbook, Risch regularly bashes China, but like the president has no policy ideas to deal with the Chinese military and economic threat. 

Risch has not pursued the case of brutally murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi but has effectively stonewalled efforts to hold the Saudi crown prince to account for the crime. When the State Department’s inspector general was fired recently for reportedly investigating why the administration sidestepped Congress to sell more arms to the corrupt kingdom, Risch said nothing and then helped the secretary of state evade an appearance before this committee.  

Murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi

Risch has gone down the line with Trump is dismissing Russian malevolence, while ignoring the clear effort by the president to coerce the Ukrainian president into a phony investigation of Joe Biden. And when six Republican members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee recently complained to Trump that his draw down of U.S. troops in Germany would “place U.S. national security at risk,” helping only Putin, Risch was silent.

“We live with the idea that the U.S. has an ability to rebound that is almost unlimited,” Michael Duclos, a top European foreign policy official, told The Atlantic’s Tom McTague recently. “For the first time, I’m starting to have some doubts.” For good reason.

As Jim Risch mounts a low-key campaign for re-election, he’s counting that his weakness, his failure to use his position to stem American decline, won’t matter in the deluge of division and misdirection that will increasingly mark all Republican campaigns. Faced with an opponent who so far has been unable – or unwilling – to highlight the senator’s servile deference to Trump’s plundering of America’s standing, Risch will likely continue a 50-yearlong political career distinguished only by its overwhelming partisanship.

History will not be so forgiving. 

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Additional Reading:

Bolton and the GOP

Michael Cohen writes in the Boston Globe: “I have little doubt that most every member of the GOP caucus, as well as Trump’s Cabinet, knows that Bolton’s account is spot-on, but the price for being a card-carrying member of the modern Republican Party is to regularly refuse to see what is in front of one’s nose. All of this makes the Bolton story more than your garden variety tale of grifters grifting. It’s the perfect parable for Trump’s malevolent presidency and the cabal of corrupted enablers too weak, too greedy, and too feckless to stop it.”

The Painful Reckoning 

Many stories this week about the faltering Trump campaign – I know it’s just June – and many, including this piece by Tim Miller, see the campaign’s recent Tulsa rally as a metaphor. Or as Vice President Mike Pence said – they’re going to make America great again, again.

The underwhelming Tulsa rally

Here’s Miller: “Donald Trump doesn’t know how to manage a global pandemic. He doesn’t understand how said crisis intersects with our economic decline or what to do about it. He is fundamentally incapable of being a uniter or a salve for a country that is raw with pain over police violence and racial tensions. And he doesn’t know what to do about the fact that Joe Biden is schlonging him in the polls.” Read the whole thing.

EU Considers U.S. Travel Ban

As the European Union considers keeping American’s out because of the uncontrolled spread of the virus, novelist Francine Prose asks how did we become a pariah nation?

“Unlike the US states that rushed to reopen too soon, that so clearly prioritized economic recovery over human life, the EU countries are saying they’d rather take the financial hit than see more of their citizens die.”

Gore Vidal

I’ve been reading a collection of essays by the late novelist Gore Vidal who, say what you will about his politics (or whatever), was a truly brilliant writer. Here’s a link to his still controversial post 9-11 essay – “The End of Liberty” – that was commissioned for Vanity Fair, but rejected.

Gore Vidal

And if you want to recall what Vidal was like on television you might find this amazing appearance on Dick Cavett’s show in 1971 interesting – or appalling. Cavett’s other guests were Norman Mailer and Janet Flanner, the great New Yorker writer.

Mailer refused to shake hands with Vidal and, well, it kind of went downhill from there. Watch it here.

And thanks for reading.

Civil War, Military History

Rename the Bases…

On November 30, 1864 the Civil War in what was considered the western theater effectively ended. After the bloody battle at Franklin, Tennessee, Confederate General John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee literally ceased to exist as a fighting force. 

Bell, a Kentuckian and West Point graduate, wrecked his rebel army by smashing it against the breastworks of the army of the United States against which he was in rebellion. The frontal assaults ordered by Hood, who was by all accounts himself a very brave man, severely wounded in earlier battles, left the field strewn with southern dead. 

John Bell Hood, the rebel whose name adorns Fort Hood, Texas

“Never in any single-day battle during the entire war had that many Confederates soldiers been slain,” the historian and novelist Winston Groom has written of the Battle of Franklin. “In fact, Hood’s losses were double those of George Pickett’s famed charge at the height of the Gettysburg campaign. To add to the misery quotient, on no single-day battlefield of the war had so many generals been killed.” 

And yet this is the soldier – a traitor to his nation, a brave but thoroughly reckless man when it came to the lives of his soldiers – that our country celebrates by putting his name on the largest military base in the country for training armored units of the U.S. Army

By general agreement among Civil War historians Confederate General Braxton Bragg, a North Carolinian, was among the very worst generals on either side. As historian Peter Cozzens has written, “Even Bragg’s staunchest supporters admonished him for his quick temper, general irritability, and tendency to wound innocent men with barbs thrown during his frequent fits of anger.” In short Bragg was a disaster as a military leader, not to mention a traitor to his country. 

Braxton Bragg, a candidate for most hated man on either side of the Civil War

Yet this man was honored in 1918 when his name was attached to what is now Fort Bragg, North Carolina, home of the Army’s XVIII Airborne Corps of which the legendary 82nd Airborne Division is a part. 

Fort Benning in Georgia is named for Henry Lewis Benning, a mediocre Civil War general, but a world class racist even by the standards of his time. As the New York Times noted recently, “Benning warned…that the abolition of slavery would one day lead to the horror of ‘black governors, black legislatures, black juries, black everything.’”

Fort Polk in Louisiana is named for a West Point graduate, Leonidas Polk, who resigned his commission to become an Episcopal priest. His political connections, particularly his friendship with Confederate president Jefferson Davis, led to a general’s commission during the Civil War. Deficient as a battlefield commander, Polk also made an awful priest. He made it his task to use religion to justify owning his slaves. Polk’s military service is perhaps best remembered for his bitter quarrels with Bragg. The two hated each other and richly deserved each other. 

All total ten different U.S. Army bases are named for Confederates who not only took up arms against their country thereby violating their Constitutional oath as officers, but who also fought to preserve slavery.

The American Civil War, at least until the Trump presidency, was our great national tragedy, but the losers of the conflict succeeded in remarkable ways in writing the narrative of the tragedy. The United Daughters of the Confederacy helped perpetuated the myth of The Lost Cause, the fiction that the Confederate cause was noble and its leaders chivalrous, by erecting in the early 20th Century most of the statutes and monuments that lately have been coming down

The Robert E. Lee monument in Richmond, Virginia is scheduled to be removed

Georgia born Margaret Mitchell cemented The Lost Cause myth in American culture with the publication of Gone With the Wind in 1936. The book remains an all-time best seller, but neither it nor the movie with its sanitized portrayal of a fight to preserve slavery, are history. Mitchell, as the novelist Pat Conroy wrote, “was a partisan of the first rank and there never has been a defense of the plantation South so implacable in its cold righteousness or its resolute belief that the wrong side had surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse.”

The myth making, including the Confederate monuments and the misnamed military bases, has never been more under attack than it is right now. And it’s about time. As historian Gary Gallagher, one of the great exposers of the myths of the Civil War, often notes, the terrible conflict wasn’t about some abstract notion of state’s rights or preserving a “southern way of life.” Our Civil War was fundamentally about the “peculiar institution” of human slavery. “One of the things that scared Confederates the most,” Gallagher says, “was that defeat would mean the loss of slavery and thus their control of black people.”

Vivien Leigh’s 1939 portrayl of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind helped cement the myth of The Lost Cause.
(Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

The president of the United States, of course, doesn’t read history and understands it not at all. So, he declares “Our history as the Greatest Nation in the World will not be tampered with. Respect our Military!,” and thereby rejects the removal of names of treasonous racists from ten U.S. military bases. But Donald Trump and all who cling to the gauzy legends are choosing not to reflect the reality of American history, but to revere the myths of it. 

“We cannot be afraid of our truth,” then New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu said in 2015 when he declared that his city’s legacy of reverence for the traitor class that sought to destroy the United States was over. It has never been more important to confront our truth

And while we’re at it how about Fort Gavin to replace Fort Bragg in honor of General James Gavin who jumped with his 82nd Airborne into Normandy in 1944 and later became a critic of American policy in Southeast Asia. Gavin’s wartime decorations included the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Cross and the Purple Heart. A true American hero. There are many others vastly more deserving than Hood or Benning or Polk. 

Michelle Alexander, who wrote a searching book about civil rights and our history called The New Jim Crow, says “It’s not enough to learn the broad outlines of this history. Only by pausing long enough to study the cycles of oppression and resistance does it become clear that simply being a good person or not wishing black people any harm is not sufficient.”

A start at greater sufficiency at this moment of reckoning over history and racism would be white folks acknowledging that the symbols of oppression and the names of those that oppressed should not be glorified. 

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Additional Reading:

We Never Learn

UC Berkeley law professor Frank Partnoy writes in the current issue of The Atlantic about something most of us have probably never heard of – the CLO, or collateralized loan obligation. His article is entitled “The Looming Bank Collapse” and paints the worst of worse case scenarios about the financial sector that Partnoy says could make the 2008 banking crisis look like a walk in the park. 

“The financial sector isn’t like other sectors. If it fails, fundamental aspects of modern life could fail with it. We could lose the ability to get loans to buy a house or a car, or to pay for college. Without reliable credit, many Americans might struggle to pay for their daily needs. This is why, in 2008, then–Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson went so far as to get down on one knee to beg Nancy Pelosi for her help sparing the system. He understood the alternative.”

You should read the whole thing and then discuss whether to put some cash under the mattress. 

Bolton Settles Scores

The New York Times ran a brutal review of The Room Where It Happened, the new tome by former national security advisor John Bolton.

There are a lot of great lines, including reviewer Jennifer Szalai description of Bolton as a “lavishly bewhiskered figure whose wonkishness and warmongering can make him seem like an unlikely hybrid of Ned Flanders and Yosemite Sam.” Spoiler: She didn’t like the book.

I think we always knew this wasn’t going to work out…

And Susan Glasser in The New Yorker has a good piece here about the book and the author. She writes: “Bolton mocks, disparages, or clashes with Steven Mnuchin, Nikki Haley, Rex Tillerson, James Mattis, Mike Pompeo, and others, all within the book’s first hundred pages. By the end of the nearly five-hundred-page book, Bolton also criticizes Mick Mulvaney, Jared Kushner, the entire White House economic team, many of his foreign counterparts, and, although he shares their misgivings about Trump, the House Democrats who impeached the President.”

See, now you don’t have to read the book.

Biden’s VP

I have no idea who Joe Biden is going to pick as his running mate and Jonathan V. Last admits to the same, but he received some amazing insight from a guy who is a professional gambler. Believe me it’s worth reading, even if you aren’t a political junkie.

Here’s the link

Thanks for reading. And stay safe.

2020 Election, Civil Rights, Romney, Trump

Romney Alone…

Three moments involving three older white guys serve to highlight the incredible events that have placed racism, inequality and the essential soullessness of Donald Trump’s Republican Party in the middle of American life. 

The first moment occurred in Buffalo, New York a few days ago when a 75-year-old man, Martin Gugino, was violently knocked to the ground by local police officers during a peaceful protest against racism. Gugino’s head banged off the sidewalk and he immediately began bleeding. He was eventually transported to a hospital and spent several days in serious condition in intensive care. The video of the incident is difficult to watch, not least because one of the officers seemed to move to help Gugino but was prevented from doing so by a colleague as several other officers walked pass the elderly man as he lay motionless, blood around his head. 

In Buffalo, New York 75-year-old peace activist Martin Gugino was pushed by police, fell and was hospitalized

The second event occurred last weekend on the streets of Washington, D.C. when the most prominent political member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints marched in a Black Lives Matter protest. Mitt Romney, the Republican senator from Utah, wearing a face mask with shirt sleeves rolled up, was asked by a reporter why had joined the protests that have spread to all 50 states. “We need to stand up and say that black lives matter,” Romney responded. Romney’s march was clearly motivated by his father, Michigan governor George Romney’s strong support for civil rights in the 1960s. 

The third event was the reaction to the first two. Reasonable, decent people – even many who opposed Romney’s presidential campaign in 2012 – praised his physical and verbal statement that was nothing less than an expression of solidarity with millions across the country who have been appalled by American racism and the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Yet, virtually all the praise came from civil rights activists and Democrats. Romney’s fellow Republicans were silent. Except for one. 

“Tremendous sincerity, what a guy,” Donald Trump tweeted while cranking his caustic meter to hate speed. “Hard to believe,” the president said of Romney, “with this kind of political talent, his numbers would ‘tank’ so badly in Utah!” As with most of what the demented demagogue in the White House says his tweet was all projection and lies. 

Romney’s “numbers” are actually substantially better in Utah than Trump’s, even accounting for his controversial, albeit historically correct vote to remove Trump from office earlier this year. An early June poll in Utah pegged Romney’s favorable rating at 56, his unfavorable at 42. By contrast Utah’s other senator, Republican Mike Lee, stood at 46 favorable, 47 unfavorable. 

Another Utah poll earlier this year found that 54% of the state’s voters, among the most conservative in the county, would “probably or definitely not vote to re-elect the president in 2020.” The same number of voters say they approve of Romney standing up to Trump. A late May poll had Trump up by only 3% on prospective Democratic nominee Joe Biden. 

It is worth recalling that Mitt Romney once stood atop the Republican Party and the Idaho GOP loved him. Romney received 64% of the Idaho vote in 2012 and the state’s GOP leadership salivated at the thought of him in the White House. Jim Risch campaigned for Romney in Iowa and Colorado. Raul Labrador traveled with Romney’s Spanish speaking son to events in Hispanic communities in Colorado and Nevada. Butch Otter also stumped for Romney in Nevada and lavished praise on the GOP nominee, presenting him with a Boise State football. That was then. Trump is now and not a word utters from these morally bankrupt flunkies who have so debased themselves that they dare not speak no matter how ugly the deprivations of their leader.

Yet the true depth of the depravity of the wholly owned Trump Republican Party goes even lower than the president accusing Mitt Romney of insincerity for calling out racism. The current low point of Trump wickedness came when the president peddled the ludicrous conspiracy theory that 75-year-old Martin Gugino was some kind of antifa radical trying to set up the cops who might well have killed him. 

Gugino is actually a retired guy, a devoted Catholic, a peace activist who is well-known in his community for his quiet work on behalf of social justice, including repeatedly driving several hours in order to help prepare and serve meals at a facility whose mission is “follow(ing) Jesus in seeking justice for the poor.” A friend said of Gugino what can never be said of the president of the United States: “I have never heard him use a vile or angry word against anybody.” 

Romney condemned Trump’s slander. Few other Republicans did.

[Idaho Senator James Risch was asked about the incident after this column went to press. He bobbed and weaved his way through a remarkably mendacious interview with Fox News host Neil Cavuto, never coming close to condemning Trump’s disgusting slander and astoundingly ended up giving the comment credence.]

Still, there is a glimmer of sunshine amid the toxic clouds of lying, hatefulness, incompetence and political perversion that has overcome most elected Republicans in the age of Trump. Some conservatives are turning against the absurdity of it all. 

The stunts and gimmicks of the Republican reality television show have grown tired and worn and Trump’s ugliness is about all that remains. In those Utah polls cited earlier, LDS women are leading the turn. By a substantial percentage they approve of Romney’s brand of conservatism and reject Trump’s. Perhaps these moms and grandmothers realize, as Romney clearly does, that a fraud has been perpetrated on the country and they are sick of the hate and exhausted by the moral corruption. 

Trump defenders, including those in high office in Idaho, have shown they will accept policies and pronouncements, incompetence and idiocy and once would have been unthinkable to them had it come from a Democrat. In various ways back in 2016 they all labeled candidate Trump unfit. Back then you could almost hear them say: “how could we go from Mitt to this clown?”

But now like Rich Lowry, the editor of the old Bill Buckley journal National Review, a magazine that once devoted an entire issue to Trump’s unfitness, they have embraced their compromised morality. 

“There is no doubt that Trump’s periodic blustery assertions of having total authority are gross, would freak out Republicans if a Democrat made them, and deserve to be condemned,” Lowry wrote this week. But then Lowry immediately dismissed it all as a silly side show, saying “The president loves strength and is drawn to theatrical demonstrations of his own power.”

Four years ago Lowry’s magazine saw something else. “Donald Trump is a menace to American conservatism who would take the work of generations and trample it underfoot in behalf of a populism as heedless and crude as the Donald himself.” Mitt Romney flirted briefly with the corrupt bargain that is Donald Trump. He had guts enough to reject the bargain. Were that Idaho’s boneless wonders more like him. 

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Additional Readings:

Trump’s March to Church for a Photo Op

A remarkable act of journalism by the Washington Post that I suspect will be a reference for years to come. “Drawing on footage captured from dozens of cameras, as well as police radio communications and other records, the Washington Post reconstructed the events of this latest remarkable hour of Trump’s presidency, including of the roles of the agencies involved and the tactics and weaponry they used.” Remarkable. Watch

A lasting image – the president and his Bible

Experts Have Knew the Pandemic Was Coming

A fantastic long read about how the world’s experts in such things knew a pandemic was coming and have known for a long time. But, too many in positions to really prepare didn’t. Here is one nugget that hints at what needs to be done before the next one comes:

“A universal influenza vaccine would require a monumental scientific effort, on the scale of the billion-dollar annual investment that has gone into fighting HIV/AIDS. The price tag would be enormous, but since another population-devouring flu pandemic will surely visit itself on the globe at some point, the expense would be justified many times over. Such a vaccine would be the greatest public health triumph since the eradication of smallpox.” Read it here.

The Editorial Page Flap at The Times

I don’t always agree with media critic Jay Rosen, but I always read his work. In this piece he pulls apart the recent story that forced the resignation of the editorial page editor of the New York Times. Rosen writes:

“The Trump presidency is demagogic and mostly fact-free. What if there is no way to defend the government without practicing bigotry or demagoguery— or just making stuff up? This is the kind of question editors at the New York Times have tried to avoid. They want to declare it impossible. And by trying to avoid it, by declaring it impossible, James Bennet lost his way, then lost his job.” Read the whole thing.

More Civic Education, Please

Danielle Allen is a brilliant Harvard scholar and political theorist who is a regular contributor to the Washington Post. She recently wrote a piece for Foreign Affairs that I couldn’t agree more with. She calls for a renewed commitment to civic education: 

“In the United States today, the art of governance is, at best, on life support. Paradoxically, Trump has delivered the best civics lesson in generations. Thanks to his impeachment trial, Americans have had to think about the proper bounds of executive power, the checks offered by the legislative and judicial branches, and precepts of the Constitution. Thanks to his failure to govern through this crisis, many have learned for the first time just how the United States’ federal system is supposed to work.”

The link is here.

Thanks for reading. Be well.

2020 Election, History

History Informs Us…

History, if we study it, is a teacher. It informs us and provides valuable perspective on the challenges of our times.  Consider…

“To one foreign reporter he explained the secret of his success: ‘keep your heart a desert;’ because loyalties and friendships had to give way to the one important objective: power…there is no right or wrong in politics, only force.” – Historian Denis Mack Smith on Mussolini in 1923

. . . . .

“President Hoover, blamed by the Bonus Army commander for the bloodshed here yesterday, called out the United States Army troops to end ‘rioting and defiance of civil authority.’” – Brooklyn Times Union, July 29, 1932, reporting on the president’s decision to use troops under the command of General Douglas MacArthur to rout thousands of out of work World War I veterans who were protesting in Washington to force payment of the bonus they were promised for service in the Great War. 

Brooklyn Times Union – July 29, 1932

. . . . .

“What Hoover should have done was to meet with the leaders of the Bonus Army…Hoover should have sent out coffee and sandwiches and asked a delegation in. Instead he let…MacArthur do his thing…[he] has just prevented Hoover’s re-election.” – Franklin Roosevelt reacting to the rout of military veterans in 1932.

Douglas MacArthur commanding troops in the streets of Washington, D.C. in 1932

. . . . .

“At the venerable Heidelberg University, a philosophy student named Hannah Arendt was working on a doctoral dissertation…when news came of the [Reichstag] fire…years later she told an interviewer that the fire ‘was an immediate shock for me.’ From that moment, she said, she felt ‘responsible. That is, I was no longer of the opinion that one can simply be a bystander.” – Historian Benjamin Carter Hett on the burning of the German Reichstag in 1933, the event that allowed new chancellor Adolf Hitler to consolidate power under the Nazi Party.

. . . . .

“No people ever recognize their dictator in advance. When our dictator turns up, you can depend on it that he will be one of the boys . . . and he will stand for everything traditionally American.” – Columnist Dorothy Thompson in the 1930s warning that fascism could come to America.  

. . . . .

“[Marshall] Petain almost immediately issued a number of constitutional acts which in effect gave him absolute power, and adjourned Parliament until further notice. The Vichy regime was born.” – Historian Julian Jackson on how Vichy collaborators in 1940 discarded French democracy to make common cause with the country’s Nazi occupiers

Vichy collaborator Petain meets with Hitler

. . . . .

“Every new totalitarian step is clothed in some righteous-sounding slogan. This, indeed, is not the Japan that we have known and loved.” – Joseph Grew, U.S. ambassador to Japan, in a letter to President Franklin Roosevelt in 1940. 

. . . . .

“There is little hope for us until we become tough-minded enough to break loose from the shackles of prejudice, half-truths, and downright ignorance.” Nobel Prize acceptance speech of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1964.

. . . . .

“My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He wrote: ‘In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.’ What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black.” – Robert F. Kennedy speaking extemporaneously in Indianapolis on the night Dr. King was assassinated in 1968.

Robert F. Kennedy tells an Indianapolis crowd about the death of Dr. King in 1968

. . . . .

“This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.” – Donald J. Trump Inaugural Address, January 20, 2017.

. . . . .

“In the history of the Republic, no President has ever ordered the complete defiance of an impeachment inquiry or sought to obstruct and impede so comprehensively the ability of the House of Representatives to investigate ‘high Crimes and Misdemeanors.’ This abuse of office served to cover up the President’s own repeated misconduct and to seize and control the power of impeachment—and thus to nullify a vital constitutional safeguard vested solely in the House of Representatives.” – Article II, Obstruction of Justice, in the impeachment of President Trump.

. . . . .

“In interviews and posts on social media in recent days, current and former U.S. intelligence officials have expressed dismay at the similarity between events at home and the signs of decline or democratic regression they were trained to detect in other nations. ‘I’ve seen this kind of violence,’ said Gail Helt, a former CIA analyst responsible for tracking developments in China and Southeast Asia. ‘This is what autocrats do. This is what happens in countries before a collapse. It really does unnerve me.’” – Washington Post reporting on the alarm of U.S. intelligent analysts. 

Outside the White House – 2020

. . . . .

“President Donald Trump faced withering criticism in the hours after spurring a violent incursion against apparently peaceful protesters for the purposes of staging a political photo opportunity — provoking rebukes Tuesday from local and state executives, congressional lawmakers, faith leaders and even foreign governments over the extraordinary show of force amid converging national crises.” – Politico reporting on the use of military forces against civilian demonstrators outside the White House

. . . . .

“In life’s unforgiving arithmetic, we are the sum of our choices. Congressional Republicans have made theirs for more than 1,200 days. We cannot know all the measures necessary to restore the nation’s domestic health and international standing, but we know the first step: Senate Republicans must be routed, as condign punishment for their Vichyite collaboration, leaving the Republican remnant to wonder: Was it sensible to sacrifice dignity, such as it ever was, and to shed principles, if convictions so easily jettisoned could be dignified as principles, for . . . what? Praying people should pray, and all others should hope: May I never crave anything as much as these people crave membership in the world’s most risible deliberative body.” – Conservative columnist George Will, June 1, 2020.

The photo op of our times

. . . . .

“In due course, historians will write the story of our era and draw lessons from it, just as we write the history of the 1930s, or of the 1940s…They will see, more clearly than we can, the path that led the U.S. into a historic loss of international influence, into economic catastrophe, into political chaos of a kind we haven’t experienced since the years leading up to the Civil War. Then maybe [Lindsey] Graham—along with Pence, Pompeo, McConnell, and a whole host of lesser figures—will understand what he has enabled.” – Anne Appelbaum, a Russian-born historian of totalitarianism, writing in The Atlantic.

. . . . .

Consider.

History, if we study it, is a teacher. It informs us and provides valuable perspective on the challenges of our times.  

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Additional Reading:

Trump and the American Idiocracy

Richard North Patterson writes in The Bulwark: “Perceiving the infinity of all they can never know, true geniuses are disinclined to overstate their gifts. By contrast, Trump is a classic exemplar of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, named for two psychologists who demonstrated that the less knowledgeable and competent you are, the more you believe in your own superlative abilities. Such benighted folks, wrote Dunning and Kruger, not only ‘reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the . . . ability to realize it.’” Read the entire article.

A Report From Occupied Territory

James Baldwin’s remarkable article from The Nation in July 1966 reads like it might have been written this week.

James Baldwin

Baldwin wrote: “Now, what I have said about Harlem is true of Chicago, Detroit, Washington, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and San Francisco—is true of every Northern city with a large Negro population. And the police are simply the hired enemies of this population. They are present to keep the Negro in his place and to protect white business interests, and they have no other function. They are, moreover—even in a country which makes the very grave error of equating ignorance with simplicity—quite stunningly ignorant; and, since they know that they are hated, they are always afraid. One cannot possibly arrive at a more surefire formula for cruelty.” Read it here.

The Marshmallow Test Donald Trump Is Failing

Anne Kim writes in Washington Monthly that the rush to “return to normal” from the COVID-19 pandemic could backfire spectacularly, which is to say very badly. “The next few months will pose a crucial test of our national resolve and set the country’s trajectory for years to come. Americans need a leader who is honest about the difficulties that lie ahead, undaunted by the scale of the task, and willing to do take on the arduous job of navigating the nation’s recovery. In other words, they need the exact opposite of Trump.” Here is the link.

The Exact Moment Plot Against America Takes A Nose Dive

My friend Dr. Richard Drake, the Lucile Speer Research Professor in Politics and History at the University of Montana, authored an entertaining takedown of the HBO mini-series based on the Philip Roth novel. Richard writes: “As television, The Plot Against America benefits from some powerful acting performances and a dazzling exhibition of period automobiles, décor, and fashion, but it confirms the general rule of not going to the movies for history.” Read the piece in The American Conservative. (By the way, D. Drake is the author most recently of Charles Austin Beard: The Return of the Master Historian of American Imperialism.)

And…Wallace Stegner: Writer

Wallace Stegner

New York Times film critic A.O. Scott had a great piece recently about Stegner.  Scott says, “Stegner was critical of the individualistic ethos of the West in all its manifestations: romantic, entrepreneurial and countercultural. Sometimes that makes him sound like a left-wing critic of capitalism, sometimes like the deepest kind of conservative. His commitments to ecology, family and community against the forces of modern economic development leave him jarringly and thrillingly resistant to the ideological pigeonholing that has become our dominant form of cultural analysis.” Read the whole thing.

Thanks for following. Take care.

2020 Election, Trump, Uncategorized

Fantasy Land…

The essential objective of the Republican Party for the next five months is to rewrite the history of the last three and a half years. The strategy is to throw up so much flak that distorts or revises reality that by election day enough voters are so thoroughly confused or so supremely disgusted that they won’t vote, concluding American democracy is just not worth the bother. 

The GOP strategy is driven from top by a cult figure who, as conservative columnist Max Boot wrote recently, doubles as the “unhinged conspiracy-monger in the White House.”

Americans have for a long time, and very strangely, been susceptible to conspiracy theories. But now the old, standard wacky notions – the moon landing was faked, extraterrestrials landed in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947, Elvis is still alive – have given way to conspiracy theory as politics.  

If it’s in the local paper it must be true – right?

“Classically, conspiracy theories are propagated by people on the margins – they’re almost a weapon of the powerless, for holding the powerful to account,” says Russell Muirhead, a political scientist at Dartmouth College who has studied this American fixation with the nutty. “But right now the new stuff is coming directly from the powerful, which is really quite extraordinary.”

Donald Trump’s obsession with conspiracies provides both insight into his lack of character, as well his re-election strategy. Given his criminally botched response to a deadly pandemic that left 100,000 American dead in barely two months, while tanking the economy, perhaps for years, the Conspirator-in-Chief can hardly run on his record. He must shift attention to keep his most committed supporters both entertained and distracted from reality. 

Trump’s one-time chief strategist, Steve Bannon, who also once headed Breitbart News, a website cesspool of half-baked nonsense and rightwing propaganda, perfectly described the GOP strategy in 2018. “The Democrats don’t matter,” Bannon told the writer Michael Lewis. “The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.”

And that is precisely what Trump has been doing while his willing enablers, including the timid souls Idaho voters dispatch to represent them in Washington, D.C., stand by mute amid the fetid garbage. 

Trump, of course, rode to real political prominence peddling the fake news that Barack Obama was not an American citizen. Many of his supporters bought the “birther” nonsense, and some still do. They also bought that Mexico would pay for his wall and that China would pay for his tariffs. Initially they bought his claim that the COVID-19 virus was “a hoax,” but clearly some conspiracy theories get overtaken by events. 

Barack Obama’s birth certificate – from Hawaii

Now Trump is asking them to buy the hoax that voting by mail will lead to vast corruption of the electoral process, a convenient claim for a guy who lost the popular vote by 2.8 million votes in 2016 and will need a spectacularly outrageous conspiracy theory to justify his loss in November. 

The man the Internet whit Dave Pell calls “the Cloroxymoron” has, of course, had to manufacture new conspiracies as the old ones run out of steam. There is “Obamagate,” a conspiracy so deep and impenetrable that the White House press secretary declined to respond to a question about just what it was. Then came the spectacularly obscene charge emitting from the presidential Twitter feed that former Republican congressman and cable TV host Joe Scarborough may have murdered a young female staff member in 2001.

That odious one drew a poignant response from the woman’s husband who correctly accused the Republican president of having taken “something that does not belong to him — the memory of my dead wife — and perverted it for perceived political gain.” 

In debunking the Scarborough nonsense, the Washington Post’s Craig Pittman might have been talking about the gutless lack of decency on the part of Idahoans like Rep. Mike Simpson and Sen. Mike Crapo, Republicans who know Scarborough because they served in Congress with him when he represented Florida. 

 “Trump’s tweets offer a reminder of the remarkable nature of the Trump era — that a sitting president can traffic in incendiary and false allegations while the political world around him remains largely silent, accustomed to Trump’s modern-day definition of presidential behavior,” Pittman wrote. “As with many such eruptions from the White House, there will probably be little if any consequence beyond, in this case, the collateral suffering of a private family in Florida.”

At this point let’s note that a recent Yahoo/YouGov poll reported that “44 percent of Republicans believe that Bill Gates is plotting to use a mass COVID-19 vaccination campaign as a pretext to implant microchips in billions of people and monitor their movements.” Yahoo News felt compelled to note that is “a widely debunked conspiracy theory with no basis in fact.” 

That kind of statistic does, however, help explain why once sensible, fair minded guys like Crapo and Simpson now behave as they do in our Age of Trump. They have become paralyzed with the fear that the most fever swampish in the GOP base will turn on them. 

It’s a reasonable fear. After all Oregon Republicans just nominated a U.S. Senate candidate who is a believer in the wacky QAnon conspiracy theories that promote Trump as a world savior, while Idaho Republicans like Janice McGeachin and Heather Scott have become the party’s modern day “Know Nothings.” 

A conspiracy so immense…

Some of the president’s most loyal followers – and most fervent conspiratorialists – have taken to calling Trump the “God Emperor,” but this emperor’s clothes are missing even if the two Mikes and so many others ignore the reality. Their essential cowardice exposes the profound ethical and moral rot in the modern GOP under Trump. It will follow them all their days. 

“We are living through the most dangerous challenge to the free government of the United States that anyone alive has encountered,” David Frum wrote in his 2018 book Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic. Frum, the former George W. Bush speechwriter, has basically given up on the silent majority of GOP officeholders who have aided and abetted the intellectual destruction of their party. 

“What happens next is up to you,” Frum writes, knowing that once principled conservatives like Simpson and Crapo, unable or unwilling to exercise leadership at a time of peril, will do nothing, while cowering in a corner literally and figuratively clutching their seats.

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Additional reading:

Trump: The Manly Man 

Conservative commentator Tom Nichols writes in The Atlantic that the president is the least manly man to ever occupy the Oval Office, and the mostly white men who support him make up a cult-like following that has an image of Donald Trump divorced from reality. Nichols writes: “Perhaps Howard Stern, of all people, said it best: ‘The oddity in all of this is the people Trump despises most, love him the most. The people who are voting for Trump for the most part … He’d be disgusted by them.’ The tragedy is that they are not disgusted by him in return.”

The Manly Man?

Masha Gessen on Rising Authoritarianism

I try to read everything the historian and essayist Masha Gessen writes, both for her insights into the rise of authoritarianism in the world, but also because she brings an immigrant’s perspective to our current moment. Gessen was born in Russia and wrote an excellent book explaining Vladimir Putin. She spoke recently with Interview magazine.

INTERVIEW: What is the worst-case scenario for the future? 

GESSEN: A renewal and reinforcement of all kinds of borders—national, state, regional, whatever. We try to go back to exactly the way things were, and this means that the poor get poorer and the wealth gap grows. Two areas that are perhaps most in need of awakening and reinvention—healthcare and education—become worse versions of their already terrible selves. We learn nothing except that no one will help you.

Read the entire interview

New York Without Newspapers in 1945

For 17 days in the summer of 1945 newspaper deliverymen went on strike. “All told, 14 major papers were left without their usual means of distribution. According to an estimate in the New York Times, some 13 million customers in the city and surrounding area were deprived of their daily newspaper.”

This is a cool story about a time when most Americans got all their news in a paper.

The Man in the Red Coat

And finally…I’ve been reading a slightly strange, yet deeply interesting book by Julian Barnes about some truly fascinating characters of what we now call “the Belle Epoque.”

The Princess of Monaco said Dr. Pozzi was “disgustingly handsome”

“Barnes’s title comes from a magnificent full-length 1881 portrait of [Dr. Samuel] Pozzi by John Singer Sargent, which didn’t re-emerge into public view until 1990; Barnes tells us that viewing it was the original inspiration for this book. Sargent himself mentioned it in a letter to Henry James in London to introduce a visit from ‘Dr. S. Pozzi, the man in the red gown (not always), a very brilliant creature.'”

Highly recommended for the profiles of Oscar Wilde, Sarah Bernhardt and a cast of other “beautiful” people.

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Thanks for reading. If you are inclined share or recommend this post to a friend. Stay safe.

2020 Election, Foreign Policy, Trump

America’s Retreat…

The United States, the acknowledged world leader in the post-World War II era, is in retreat and decline. Among America’s closest international friends the deterioration of our country’s standing is simply astounding. In a recent survey of our once closest European allies only 28% of the residents of the United Kingdom said the U.S. would act responsibly in the world. In France, 3% – you read that correctly – think the U.S. is best positioned to confront global challenges. 

That this disastrous retreat has taken place under a Republican administration and with a GOP-controlled Senate is a stark reminder of how far Donald Trump’s Republican Party has retreated from the place Ronald Reagan once proclaimed the “shining city on a hill.” 

A portion of Ronald Reagan’s farewell speech in January 1989 as printed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The number two Senate Republican, John Thune of South Dakota, actually said the quiet part out loud this week, admitting that Trump not only owns the GOP soul, but apparently more importantly has also squeezed the last ounce of independence from his frightened lackeys. “I just think that everybody realizes that our fortunes sort of rise or fall together,” Thune said as he placed a priority on re-election at the expense of absolutely everything else. 

As capable as the president has been of destroying U.S. credibility and puncturing the myth of American exceptionalism, he didn’t get us here all by himself. He had a lot of help from this feckless, rudderless, incompetent collection of Republican senators and members of Congress. And no one wears the feckless label more notably than Idaho’s Jim Risch, who, in title only, sits atop the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

A comprehensive listing of Trumpian ineptitude in the foreign policy arena, combined with the willful rejection of critical allies and international institutions, would fill a library shelf, so consider just the most recent examples of America trashing itself with Republican approval. 

Anyone with a sense of how political leadership works would have known that a crisis like a global pandemic would lay bare Trump’s unfitness. “Trump’s handling of the pandemic at home and abroad has exposed more painfully than anything since he took office the meaning of America First,” says William Burns, a 33-year career foreign policy professional who now heads the Carnegie Endowment. “America is first in the world in deaths, first in the world in infections and we stand out as an emblem of global incompetence. The damage to America’s influence and reputation will be very hard to undo.”

Risch was Tweeting on January 24, “Today I was briefed by leading global health experts about the outbreak of a novel coronavirus in China. We learned that the risk of transmission within the U.S. is low at present. I will continue to work closely with U.S. officials to ensure Americans are protected.” But what has he actually done? 

Well, he’s embraced the White House blame China message, while totally ignoring the epicenter of the crisis – the White House. Even that begs the question of just what is Risch’s China strategy? Trump’s only approach, beyond unbroken fidelity to China’s dictatorial leader, involves tariffs that have crippled trade, while forcing U.S. taxpayers to bail out American farmers.

And what of the World Health Organization (WHO)? If the WHO needs reform, is the best strategy to eliminate U.S. funding in the middle of the pandemic? Again, the Idaho senator has no strategy and nothing to say. 

Meanwhile, under cover of COVID-19 confusion, Trump has fired the inspector general at the State Department, Steve Linick, an issue that had the Foreign Relations Committee a real chairman, would be front and center on the committee’s agenda. Risch has said nothing and will do nothing even in the face of published reports that the firing is linked to a number of questionable actions, including an investigation of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s decision to circumvent Congress and make a controversial $8 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia. (I asked Risch’s office for a comment on the IG firing and received no response.) 

Trump’s cashiering of Linick marks the fourth such dismissal in three months and is an obvious effort to eliminate any visage of independent oversight of Trump and his administration’s conduct. The only Republican to immediately express concern about this blatant authoritarianism was Utah’s Mitt Romney who called Trump’s action “a threat to accountable democracy and a fissure in the constitutional balance of power.” Risch, meanwhile, is silent. 

Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

It is telling that in his year and a half as Foreign Relations chairman, Pompeo has not once appeared before Risch’s committee to answer questions about China, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, North Korea, deteriorating relations with NATO countries, or anything. With dereliction of his Senate duties – never more on display than the recent IG firing – Risch is abetting Trump’s efforts, as Aaron Blake wrote recently in the Washington Post, to “undermine independent oversight of his administration.” 

For good measure this week, Risch, acting as ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee, voted to advance the nomination of Texas congressman John Ratcliffe to be director of national intelligence. Ratcliffe is a dedicated Trump toady widely described as the least qualified person ever nominated for such a position. Ratcliffe, with Risch’s help, will complete the politicization of the nation’s intelligence agencies.  

To be sure hypocrisy is part of this story, as well. Risch never tempered his criticism when a Democrat occupied the White House and his partisan disdain was regularly on display during the Obama Administration. “This is a foreign policy that is in shambles,” Risch said in 2012. “In the Middle East, it is a foreign policy of apology, it is a foreign policy of appeasement, it is a foreign policy of dithering and looking the other way. This cannot go on.” Yet, when it comes to Trump, Risch doesn’t critique, analyze or even discuss, he accepts – everything. 

Who benefits from Risch’s behavior and Trump’s foreign policy incoherence and incompetence? China, of course, (and Putin’s Russia) whose aim is to diminish American influence and weaken historic alliances, while discrediting democracy.

Michael Fullilove, a decidedly pro-American scholar who heads the Lowy Institute, Australia’s largest think tank, described it succinctly: “We increasingly feel caught between a reckless China and a feckless America that no longer seems to care about its allies.”

Meanwhile, Jim Risch is on track to be remembered as the worst chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in the post-war period. He has certainly earned the distinction. 

—–0—–

Additional reading:

Can these awful times make us better? 

I really admire the work of Rebecca Solnit who writes eloquently and profoundly about many things. In her recent piece for The Guardian she reflects on all the small, but incredibly important acts of kindness by ordinary people right now. She says: “I sometimes think that capitalism is a catastrophe constantly being mitigated and cleaned up by mutual aid and kinship networks, by the generosity of religious and secular organizations, by the toil of human-rights lawyers and climate groups, and by the kindness of strangers. Imagine if these forces, this spirit, weren’t just the cleanup crew, but were the ones setting the agenda.” 

What it’s like to be a Democrat in Montana?

With no official sanction, I like to think of myself as an honorary Montanan. I’ve never lived there, but I feel about the state like John Steinbeck who wrote in Travels with Charley: “I am in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection, but with Montana it is love, and it’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it.” Yup. From the fishing to the political history to Glacier Park, I love the place. Now, read this from a real Montanan, Sarah Vowell, who gets the state pretty well. 

What it was like to have lunch with Noel Coward?

Dorothy Parker was a great wit and a great writer. Among her many quotable quotes: “That woman speaks eighteen languages and can’t say ‘no’ in any of them.” Parker was also a charter member of the Algonquin Roundtable and they surely had a good time. 

The Algonquin Roundtable…

And finally, was Donald Trump a good baseball player? 

“I was supposed to be a pro baseball player,” Donald Trump wrote in 2004. “At the New York Military Academy, I was captain of the baseball team. I worked hard like everyone else, but I had good talent.” Er, well, turns out like so much else he says that isn’t really true. 

Thanks for reading…

Economy, Idaho Politics, Pandemic, Trump

The Next Wave

“The Republican states are in strong shape,” Donald Trump said last month. “I don’t know — is that luck or is that talent?” 

The president made that comment when he was asked if state governments need a financial transfusion in order to staunch the flow of budgetary red ink in the wake of the double whammy of a pandemic and a massive economic decline. Republicans in Washington seem dead set against help for the states, apparently in part because Trump and his congressional boot polishers – read Mitch McConnell – don’t want to help Democratic states. McConnell has also suddenly discovered that the nation’s debt has exploded while a Republican has been in the White House. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

Here’s the reality. Every state – every state – is going to be staggered to its knees by the double whammy. While Idaho Governor Brad Little has received generally good marks for competently relying on sound public health advice to manage the COVID-19 impact, the governor will find that his is merely transitioning from one hourly crisis to another. 

“Right now, state governments are facing several types of fiscal challenges,” Boise State University political scientist Jaclyn Kettler told me this week. She studies state governments and how they manage budgets. Budget cuts, as Idaho has already announced, including at minimum a 5% reduction in education funding, are a given, but Kettler says the vast uncertainty about how deep the economic downturn will be complicates the state’s response. 

“This is a challenging time when many citizens need more services or support from their state and local governments,” Kettler said, “which will make decision-making potentially quite difficult for state leaders on what to cut.” But knowing Idaho’s legislature, cutting will the first and last option. Expect 5% reductions to be more like 15% by Labor Day. 

Idaho’s revenue pipeline has already been plugged. April revenue declined by $470 million, a 60% reduction in what state economists had predicted before the virus came calling. Some of that downturn may be attributed to delayed tax payments since the income tax filing deadline has been pushed back, but it’s a safe bet that revenue will be significantly off – perhaps wildly off – for months if not longer. 

The happy talk emanating from the White House about the economic recovery being V-shaped – a steep downturn followed by a sharp rebound – is delusional

“The second quarter hole is so deep that it’s going to take several quarters to get back,” Robert Dye, the chief economist at Comerica Bank, told CNBC, “and that’s going to have an impact on state and local government budgets because that has a direct correlation to tax receipts. The economy is not going to get back to that level for two years or three years, and tax receipts are going to be weak for quite some time.”

The fiscal orthodoxy that has long governed Idaho’s approach to state spending, namely that tax cuts are always the answer to every problem and reducing spending, even if it means that teachers and state employees get laid off, is going to collide with a grim truth. If Idaho’s response to the worst economy since the Great Depression is to cut and then cut some more the state’s eventual economic recovery will take longer and be even more painful. 

“Large state budget shortfalls could prolong a recession by prompting a cascade of layoffs that ripple across the economy, Emily Cochrane noted recently in the New York Times. She was quoting economists who have said that in April alone, “state and local governments laid off one million people, a number that could continue to climb without additional assistance.” 

Idaho’s higher education system continues to be a key to a strong, more sustainable state economy, but higher education is certain to again be on the legislative chopping block. College and university presidents are trying out furloughs and other cost reduction strategies, but as Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News noted recently the cuts currently anticipated may need to be “much deeper if enrollment plunges in the fall.”

Idaho’s Republican Governor Brad Little in transition from a public health crisis to a budget crisis

So far, Idaho’s Trumpish congressional delegation has been silent about any federal help for Brad Little’s next wave of crisis, a particularly stunning silence when you consider that every one of the state’s federal officials once served in a legislature that must by law balance the budget. These Republicans seem content to follow McConnell’s advice that Republicans “tap the breaks” on additional aid, even as the Senate majority leader’s notion of letting states go bankrupt crashed like a lead Zeppelin. 

McConnell has tried to score political debating points by saying he has no interest in bailing out public pension plans in blue states, but with his home of state of Kentucky facing huge budget shortfalls much like Idaho’s you have to wonder how long this GOP’s fiscal nihilism will remain politically viable. And in Idaho the issue isn’t propping up the state pension fund but simply preventing state government from taking the state economy farther into the ditch. 

So far Little, with minimal help from fellow Republicans and second guessed by lots of stupidity from his own lieutenant governor, has navigated the public health crisis with a sure hand. He’ll need a more united and more creative party to manage the next crisis, a party willing to think big and beyond the orthodox. 

“The scope and speed of this downturn are without modern precedent, significantly worse than any recession since World War II,” Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell said this week, as he bluntly called for more, not less government intervention to prop up the economy. 

For Powell, who has spent most of his career as a deficit hawk, the warnings are chilling. In the worst case, and case that appears all too likely, the country – and Idaho – faces what the Fed chairman called “an extended period of low productivity growth and stagnant incomes … Additional fiscal support could be costly but worth it if it helps avoid long-term economic damage and leaves us with a stronger recovery.” 

The soulful 19th century Stephen Foster tune – a ballad for our times just as it was prior to the Civil War – holds out hope that “hard times come again no more,” but the worst hard time is hardly behind us. In fact, it may just be beginning. 

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Additional Reading:

  • China’s Growing Ability to Challenge: Washington Post columnist David Ignatius reviews a new book Christian Brose, a former staffer to the Senate Armed Services Committee and a once top aide to the late Senator John McCain, who writes that China is now able to match – and even exceed – U.S. military capability. “The Pentagon wants to confront the Chinese challenge,” Ignatius writes, “but it insists on keeping the same vulnerable, wildly expensive platforms at the center of the United States’ military power. And Congress demands adherence to this status quo. When then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and then-Navy Secretary Richard Spencer tried to retire an aircraft carrier in 2019, Congress refused. Expensive fighter jets have a lobby, too. As Brose notes: ‘There is a reason why parts of the F-35 are built in every state in America. . . . It is political expediency.’”
  • Putin’s Goal: Now, to scare you completely – this from Franklin Foer in The Atlantic. “The Russians have learned much about American weaknesses, and how to exploit them… Even as to disinformation, the best-known and perhaps most overrated of their tactics, they have innovated, finding new ways to manipulate Americans and to poison the nation’s politics. Russia’s interference in 2016 might be remembered as the experimental prelude that foreshadowed the attack of 2020.” Oh, great…
  • Obamagate: Richard Wolff in The Guardian dissects what Donald Trump is doing by manufacturing a storyline about “Obamagate,” his latest conspiracy theory. “Trump has many good reasons to sail away to the land of smears. They’re called the polls, and they are – for the sociopath sitting in the White House – even worse reading than the pandemic death tolls or the latest unemployment claims. Trump is losing to Joe Biden by three points in Florida in the most recent Fox News poll, where he was supposed to have a lock on his re-election from his Mar-a-Lago mothership.”
  • Thanks for reading…be well.
2020 Election, GOP, Trump

Never Trump and the Fight for the GOP Soul…

In the wee hours of last Monday morning the president of the United States picked up his iPhone and rage tweeted four times at the conservative leaders of a new Never Trump group that calls itself “The Lincoln Project.” 

Trump was fuming about a powerful new ad – “Mourning in America” – a takeoff on one of the most famous and effective television spots in presidential history, Ronald Reagan’s 1984 ad “Morning in America.” Rather than Reagan’s claim that he brought to the country a new dawn, the Lincoln Project ad says Donald Trump has made the country “weaker, sicker and poorer.” 

“Americans are asking,” the devastating ad concludes, “if we have another four years like this will there even be an America?” 

Trump ranted that the ad and the group behind it were “a disgrace to Honest Abe” and he slashed at the husband of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, calling George Conway, a prominent Never Trump conservative, “a deranged loser.”

For good measure Trump slipped in a slur – Moonface – directed at Conway, whose mother was of Filipino descent. Trump also slashed at long-time Republican operatives John Weaver and Rick Wilson, as “all LOSERS.” 

Weaver, a former John McCain guy and adviser to former Ohio governor John Kasich, seemed to revel in the attention Trump brought to the Never Trumpers.

The president’s rage might be understood as another example of his absolute insistence that every Republican bow before him and accept his incompetence and character shortcomings as the Idaho congressional delegation regularly does. But, on another level the incident and the vicious open break with a GOP president by a cadre of conservatives who have been unwilling to accept how Trump has remade – and deeply damaged – the Republican brand illustrates a real and lasting problem for the once Grand Old Party. 

An important new book – Never Trump: The Revolt of the Conservative Elites – co-authored by Idaho native Robert P. Saldin, a professor of political science at the University of Montana, explores the conservative push back against Trump that dates back to the 2016 Republican primaries. The book, published by Oxford University Press, will be out soon and is based on extensive interviews with a range of conservatives who oppose Trump. Saldin’s co-author is Steven Teles, a political scientist at Johns Hopkins. 

I asked Saldin this week if there were historical parallels to the push back against the president. The answer, of course, is yes, including modern intraparty objections to Barry Goldwater by Republicans in 1964 and Democratic opposition to George McGovern in 1972. But Never Trump still seems unprecedented. 

“In the context of these historical parallels,” Saldin told me, “the depth and breadth of the 2016 GOP opposition was remarkable. While objections on policy and ideological grounds were certainly important, it was—and is—Trump’s character that constitutes the central objection of Never Trumpers.” 

So how to explain a party where most elected officials claim to honor the legacy of Lincoln and celebrate the probity of Reagan, while embracing a characterless character like Donald Trump?

“Among the political pros, for instance,” Saldin told me, “what initially was a massive contingent of Never Trumpers declined rapidly once he became the apparent nominee. These professionals are uniquely beholden to staying in the party’s good graces. That’s how they pay their mortgage. And they don’t have the other kind of options that are available to other partisan networks. They don’t get to go back to the university or think tank jobs. So the ones who stuck it out as Never Trumpers tended to be the celebrity consultants who’d already made a ton of money, had side gigs, and had the freedom to do whatever they wanted. Obviously, there are always exceptions, and there certainly are in the Never Trump landscape. But the professional dynamics and constraints go a long way toward explaining the degree of flexibility people had.” 

This understanding goes some distance to help explain the situational ethics of Republicans like Idaho’s Mike Crapo and Mike Simpson, both of whom effectively disowned Trump in 2016 when he lewdly confessed on videotape to sexual abuse. But gradually and eventually totally they embraced Trump as the leader of a conservative movement that now rejects a vast array of the tenets that once represented core conservative values, from free trade to intellectual honesty, from American leadership of NATO to a rejection of activist judges. 

Crapo and Simpson and so many others accepted the character of a leader who many of the party’s political professionals knew would destroy the values that made them Republicans. They got flexible as the price of survival in a party they can hardly recognize any more. 

If Trump were to lose in November – a big if, but with his abandonment of leadership against the pandemic and with unemployment headed toward Great Depression levels, not a bad bet today – Saldin believes the Never Trump movement could become an important faction in a Republican Party that will struggle to define itself in a post-Trump world. 

“To be sure, it would be a minority faction,” he says. “But that faction could be pretty competitive in places the dominant faction isn’t competitive. Such a faction could find a following among the educated middle-class, business, and upwardly mobile segments of ethnic minority groups. It would likely embrace free trade, constitutionalism, pluralism, law and order, and be pro-market. There’d be stark differences with the Trump-style populists when it comes to issues like trade and immigration.” 

If such a thing were to happen it might well mark the resurrection of the GOP as a serious governing party, as opposed to a soap box for Trump’s personality cult and his grievances, and those of his angriest followers, over issues of race and hatred of “elites.” It might also be the salvation of American politics where a new center dominated by moderates willing to compromise on issues like climate change and rebuilding the middle class. It’s a big hope, but it might be all we have. 

“In bluer parts of the country where the Democrats’ Left wing is strongest—and where Trumpy populists are a non-starter—such Republicans could find a sweet spot,” Saldin argues. “In fact, we already see examples of something like this in the form of these popular Republican governors in Massachusetts (Charlie Baker) and Maryland (Larry Hogan).”

If the Never Trumpers have done nothing else, they remind us of something we should never forget about politics and political leaders: character matters. 

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Additional reading:

  • A long and detailed investigative piece in The Guardian recounts the story of Donald Trump’s involvement in the 1990s in modeling competitions involving teenage girls, including allegations that many of those behind the contests, including model agency heavyweight John Casablancas, a Trump pal, sexually preyed on the girls. “No such allegations have been leveled against Trump, who at the time was dating Marla Maples, the woman who in 1993 became his second wife. But his close involvement in the contest raises questions for the president. Did he know that Casablancas and others were sleeping with contestants? Why would a man in his 40s, whose main business was real-estate development, want to host a beauty contest for teenage girls?” Read the whole thing.
  • I have long admired Robin Wright’s reporting on foreign policy and other things. She writes in The New Yorker: “The pandemic has dangerously deepened divisions across America—a nation already riven in recent years by race, class, religion, and trash-talking politics. The concept of ‘one nation indivisible’ seems ever more elusive, even unattainable, in these anxious days of deadly pathogens, soaring joblessness, and food shortages.” Worth your time.
  • Great story from downtown Hamilton, Montana, the epicenter of the fight to find a cure for COVID-19. Great column by Charlie Warzel in the New York Times.
  • Finally, May 8 marks the 80th anniversary of VE Day in 1945 when World War II in Europe ended. Churchill buffs will recall that the great British prime minister, a definite Francophile, nevertheless had an often stressed relationship with the bigger than life Free French leader Charles De Gaulle. Newly released Cabinet documents from 1945 reveal at Winston feared “Le Grand Charles” might jump the gun on announcing the German surrender. He didn’t, but this story is a great look inside the history.
  • Thanks for reading. Stay safe.
2020 Election, Pandemic, Trump

The Worst Failure. Period.

The rank incompetence of Donald Trump’s response to the global pandemic will be studied for generations, analyzed and assessed as one of the great governmental failures in modern times

Trump’s mishandling of the public health crisis that led in turn to an economic crisis has few parallels but has been compared to George W. Bush’s inept initial reaction to Hurricane Katina in August 2005. Yet, as bad as that governmental failure was – and as damaging as it was to Bush’s presidency and legacy – and while 1,800 Americans died Bush eventually got a gruff, no nonsense Gulf War vet in charge and the situation slowly got straightened out. It was a catastrophe for sure, but pales compared to the current moment.

Trump is dwarfed by Lincoln in more ways than one

Katina, with all its governmental failure, led to reforms in the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and highlighted an essential fact that has largely been ignored by Trump during the current crisis – one capable person must be in charge. 

Analogies have also been drawn to Soviet Russia in the spring of 1941 when Stalin’s generals were imploring him, and Britain was warning him, that Hitler was about to invade the Soviet Union. All the signs were visible in plain sight, but Stalin – very Trump like – refused to believe the warnings, believed they could be wished away. By December Hitler’s legions were in the Moscow suburbs and ultimately millions of Russians died in a brutal and bloody war that lasted four long years. Much of the devastation could have been avoided, as with our current disaster. 

The litany of governmental failure here is long and detailed and even if the president refuses responsibility the buck stops with the boaster-in-chief, including: the gutting of pandemic preparation efforts, the initial failure to recognize the danger of the spreading virus, the denial and minimizing of the threat, the ignoring of explicit warnings, the halting response, the failure to put one capable person in charge, the relentless effort to blame anyone else and the trust Trump placed not in experts, but his inexperienced son-in-law and talk show ideologues.

From the very first moment Trump treated the worst public health crisis since 1918 as a public relations problem that threatened his re-election prospects rather than threatening the health and well-being of millions of his constituents. 

Trump at Mar a Lago in early March when he was downplaying the pandemic. He dined with the Brazilian president who later contracted the virus

“They’re trying to scare everybody,” Trump said after a round of golf and a dinner party celebration at Mar A Lago. That was in February as he still refused to acknowledge or understand the pandemic that as of Monday had claimed nearly 70,000 American lives and crashed the economy. 

They – meaning the hated Democrats and Never Trumpers – wanted to “cancel the meetings, close the schools — you know, destroy the country,” Trump told his guests that weekend. “And that’s OK, as long as we can win the election.”

On Sunday, sitting in the shadow of Lincoln during a made for TV event, Trump complained that he – not hundreds of thousands of sick Americans – was the true victim of the pandemic. “They always said … nobody got treated worse than Lincoln,” Trump said while pointing toward the massive statue of our greatest president. “I believe I am treated worse. You know, I believe we’ve done more than any president in the history of our country in the first three years, three-and-a-half years. I really believe that.”

Yet, as bad as all this is, and it is very, very bad, and despite the wholesale effort underway – the largest propaganda effort in modern American history – to re-write the history of the last two months, this does not represent Trump’s greatest failure. The president, without character or basic decency, has failed on an even grander scale and it is this failure that stands to diminish the country for years and years to come. 

At a time when the vast majority of Americans long for moral leadership, inspiration in this hour of trial and someone able to articulate the shared decency that connects this wildly disconnected country, Trump offers – nothing.

Well, that’s not precisely correct. He offers all he has – division, discord, hatred, bigotry and a shocking lack of empathy, and then says “I don’t take responsibility at all” for his actions or unwillingness to lead a nation in crisis. Trump is a soulless, damaged man at the moment the nation needs a healer and a unifier

When former president George W. Bush, no stranger to controversy, recently offered words of hope, encouragement and a genuine sense that we really are all in this together, Trump demeaned Bush’s message. 

“In the final analysis, we are not partisan combatants,” Bush said in a three-minute video message to the nation, “We are human beings, equally vulnerable and equally wonderful in the sight of God.,” Bush said. “We rise or fall together, and we are determined to rise.” 

Trump’s response to this eloquent plea for national unity: he called out Bush for failing to support him during his impeachment. The president’s mean tweet was prompted, of course, by the nitwits who populate that cable TV sh#*hole known as Fox News, but such pettiness came from the president of the United States. 

When armed protesters descended on the Michigan state capitol to object to state at home orders, Trump didn’t push back – he, after all, issued the national guidelines – but instead attacked Governor Gretchen Whitmer. He later called the protesters “very good people.” 

There are countless other examples of his constant motivation to drive a wedge, rather than heal a wound. Trump has the title, but has none of the morals, character or instinct to handle the job. 

In times of national trial, Americans naturally look to the president for compassion, honesty and a call to action. Bush provided as much in the wake of attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Ronald Reagan did it when the space shuttle exploded. John Kennedy called Americans to serve their country and when the Bay of Pigs fiasco landed squarely on his desk Kennedy did not dodge and deny but declared himself “the responsible officer of the government.” 

The buck doesn’t stop at Mar a Lago

In 1933 Franklin Roosevelt reminded a population frightened and demoralized by the Great Depression that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” and FDR went regularly to the radio to provide comfort and counsel to a hurting nation. He made us all Americans with a shared purpose. 

As the nation teetered toward our tragic and bloody Civil War in 1861, Abraham Lincoln invoked the immortal words that sought to summon both sides of the conflict to a better place, a shared place.

“We are not enemies, but friends,” Lincoln said. “We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Perhaps the greatest example of crisis leadership, combining moral clarity, brutal honesty and hopeful inspiration was the work of Winston Churchill in the darkest days of 1940 when the United Kingdom stood alone against European fascism. 

Winston Churchill’s powerful, honest speeches and moral leadership in 1940 prepared British citizens for the great trials that were to come, but also offered hope amid the despair

“I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this Government,” Churchill said upon becoming prime minister almost exactly 80 years ago. “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. This is our policy. You ask, what is our aim?

“I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory, there is no survival.”

Imagine the current occupant of the White House summoning such honesty and moral clarity. Of course, you can’t. And it’s not because he needs better speech writers. He’s just not capable. We need a Churchill; we have a Trump. 

Please, God give Americans the strength to endure our ordeal of a most grievous kind. But we must recognize we will have to do it without a leader at the top. The president has failed at the central task of any president, and his unwillingness and inability to unite, encourage and rally the country is both an American tragedy and colossal challenge – to us. 

Will Americans emerge from our ordeal better, stronger, more united and more decent to, as Churchill said, “move forward to broad sunlit uplands” or will “sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age?” 

We have suffered a monumental, historic leadership failure. The president, and for the most part his political allies, are missing in action. 

Now it is up to individual Americans to pick up the pieces. Without a leader, it’s up to us – individuals, communities, businesses, non-profits, all of us. In none of our lifetimes have we faced a more serious responsibility.

Don’t kid yourself. The future of the country depends on our response. 

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Additional reading:

  • “No one ever stepped up to take responsibility for Allison Krause, William Schroeder, Jeffrey Miller and Sandra Scheuer, the four dead in Ohio,” Steve Duin writes in The Oregonian, remembering the 50th anniversary of the tragedy at Kent State. (By the way, Steve, a wonderful writer and storyteller, is always worth reading.)
  • “The story of Trump’s rise is often told as a hostile takeover. In truth, it is something closer to a joint venture, in which members of America’s élite accepted the terms of Trumpism as the price of power,” writes Evan Osnos in a great piece in The New Yorker.
  • I don’t know if former Republican-turned-Libertarian Justin Amash will be a spoiler in the presidential election, but it is possible. He could take votes from both Trump and Biden and he hails from a critical swing state – Michigan. Amash and his wild gamble profiled in this piece by Tim Alberta.
  • Writer Kristin Wong says it’s important to remain optimistic even in a time of great trial. “Optimism is simply being hopeful about the future, even when the present feels wholly negative.” Read the whole thing.
  • Thanks for reading. Stay safe.