2020 Election, Politics

Our Existential Moment…

A terrifying thing about democracy facing existential crisis is that it’s entirely possible – perhaps even natural – to miss the flashing red warning lights.

We have arrived at such a moment. 

There are many and varied reasons for the American decline into tribalism, nationalism, embrace of conspiracy and profound distrust of public institutions. The important thing is that it has happened. 

A non-profit called “More in Common” has released a new report that should send shivers down the spine of every American. The organization is dedicated to battling political polarization, but it’s pushing a huge rock up a very steep hill as it attempts to make progress. 

Polls show that on many big issues from health care to climate Americans are in remarkable alignment, but our partisanship drives massive division

“Every democracy,” the group said in its report, “depends on a threshold level of trust among its citizens and in its key institutions of government, business, and civil society. Currently however, the United States falls short of that ideal.” According to the group’s research “less than one in four Americans believe the federal government, American corporations, and national media to be honest. This distrust is not limited to institutions either: fewer than two in five Americans feel ‘most people can be trusted.’” 

So, we not only distrust government, business and the media, we distrust one another. The center is not holding and the evidence, if you care to see it, is all about.

As this is written it seems almost certain that the U.S. Senate will refuse to undertake a bipartisan investigation of the deadly attack on the Congress on January 6. A proposal to form a 9-11-type commission to investigate the insurrection was approved on a bipartisan basis in the House of Representatives after a senior member of the Republican Party negotiated the details with his Democratic counterpart. This is normal. What is not normal is blocking the investigation for purely partisan reasons, which is happening in the Senate. 

The legislation that passed the House with 35 Republican votes is modeled on the commission that examined the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The leaders of that commission, Republican Tom Kean and Democrat Lee Hamilton, support of the proposal that seems destined to die in the Senate.

“The January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol was one of the darkest days in the history of our country. Americans deserve an objective and an accurate account of what happened,” Kean and Hamilton said. 

A supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump carries a Confederate flag through the U.S. Capitol rotunda in Washington on Jan 6. SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

Senate GOP Mitch McConnell’s stand in opposition has the moral equivalence of saying December 7, 1941 was no big deal, or that the politically motivated break in at the Watergate complex in 1972 was merely “a third-rate burglary.” Congress, of course, conducted extensive investigations of both events, not to mention that congressional Republicans investigated the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi for months. Why wouldn’t we want to get at the instigators of those who chanted “hang Mike Pence” on that horrible day? 

The Senate vote to investigate Watergate was 77-0.

Failure to act today in light of January 6th is simply incitement to more political violence. 

Meanwhile the steady drumbeat of conspiracy mongering about a stolen election continues unabated. Conservative legislators in Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and a dozen other states are restricting voting rights. As Myrna Perez, the director of the Brennan Center’s Voting Right program says, “Rather than competing for voters, they are trying to fence some voters out and make it harder for them to vote.” 

This is a breakdown of democracy. 

In a number of states, including Idaho and Montana, lawmakers are recklessly flaunting the rule of law in pushing flagrantly unconstitutional legislation and then squandering taxpayer money trying to defend their indefensible work in front of judges who are increasingly criticized for following the law. 

This is trashing the rule of law. 

A year after a white police officer murdered George Floyd, a black man, in Minneapolis many state legislators want to prohibit teaching about racism. There were twelve mass shootings last weekend in the United States, and another earlier this week

This is a country in crisis yet is unwilling to deal with that crisis. 

Columnist Stuart Rothenberg correctly says that those of us who thought the fever of blind partisanship, insane fakery and grievance politics would end after a decisive presidential election were flat out wrong. In fact, Rothenberg says, things have gotten worse. “Instead of laying the ground for a more thoughtful, less partisan discussion of the challenges facing this country, the past six months have raised additional questions about our country’s future and the rule of law.” 

This is a flashing red-light moment for everyone who loves the idea of America democracy, and an especially fraught moment for people not in politics but still in positions of influence. 

Businesses, for example, need to shut off the flow of campaign cash to every single politician in both parties who won’t abide by the normal and long-established rules of political behavior. If they are spinning fantasies to keep or gain power or won’t accept election results, cut them off.

Journalism, real journalism, in all its forms is under assault, many times from bad faith actors, but also from those who want to make a quick buck trafficking in anger and grievance. Not surprisingly, reporters and editors struggle to navigate a world where a former president still has most of his supporters believing the biggest lie ever told in American politics. The one thing journalists must do in this fact-free word is to go to work every day determined to protect democracy and speak truth to power, especially to those who repeat lies that only divide.

Still, even as we are plagued with profoundly inadequate political leadership from the Potomac to Portland, we need the principled leaders we have to recognize and then address a nation at war with itself. This is a moment to double down on respect for the rule of law, protect democratic institutions and embrace civility.  

“Nothing is free, not even disillusionment,” Robert Stone wrote in an essay more than 35 years ago that he entitled “Does America Still Exist?” “God doesn’t manifest himself in history; men do,” Stone said, as he argued for Americans to live up to its ideals or admit that if we fail to do so we will have betrayed “the noblest vision of civil order and probity that this imperfect world, and the cautious optimism of Western man, will ever be capable of producing.” 

It is our existential moment. Which way do we turn? 

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Additional Reading:

A couple of other things worth your time…

Remembering Pat Moynihan

A great Joe Klein piece in The New York Times about the public intellectual turned U.S. senator.

Pat Moynihan in 1971

“Twenty-five years later, we live in a world that was Moynihan’s nightmare: Postmodern tribes — with their own fake ‘facts’ — have gone virtual; affinity groups are organized by cable news networks and social media platforms. Cynicism about government’s ability to do anything useful abounds. It remains to be seen if Joe Biden’s postindustrial version of the New Deal — which Moynihan would have voted for enthusiastically, as it reduces inequality with a minimum of social engineering — will heal the wounds. He would, I suspect, be busily foraging for statistics to prove that tax increases have little or no impact on economic growth. Both George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton proved that (and even Ronald Reagan raised taxes when few were looking).”

Great piece…read it here:


The Unreconstructed Radical

Amid all the rightwing nonsense about “critical race theory” denying the need for examination of America’s racist roots, and the continuing reality of racism, it is good to explore history many of us don’t know.

In fact, that may be the point. So, a new biography of Thaddeus Stevens, a radical if ever there was one.

“Arguing for the disfranchisement of traitors after the Civil War, Stevens counseled a policy of no mercy. Defeating the Confederacy, he knew, meant yanking out root and branch the economic system of slavery and the racial bigotry underlying it. He warned that the failure to fully address the causes of a rebellion against democracy would sooner or later lead to its recurrence. Levine’s study of the neglected, much maligned Stevens offers an opportunity to reflect on what this country might have been—and the merest glimmer of hope for what it might still be.”

Another very good read.


Thanks for reading. Be involved. Stay engaged. All the best.

2020 Election, Biden, Politics

Obligations of Citizenship…

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

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

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

Joe Biden takes the oath of office

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Additional Reading:

A few items worth a look…

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

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

Here he goes:

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

It gets better. Link here.


After The Sacred Landslide

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

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

Read the entire piece.


From Russia With Love

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

Orange and Bad

Luke Harding in The Guardian:

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

Link to the story here.


Paula Hawkins on Patricia Highsmith

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

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

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

Here’s the full piece:


A Brief History of Peanut Butter

Come on you know you want to know about this…

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

Get the full spread here.


Stay safe. Thanks for reading.

2020 Election, GOP, Idaho Politics

It Was a Deadly Stunt…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Idaho Congressman Russ Fulcher’s January 6 Twitter feed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Additional Reading:

Some other stories I found of interest this week…

The Duchy That Roared

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

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

Read the entire piece:


Ted Lasso

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

Ted Lasso is really good

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

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


Mickey Edwards Leaves the GOP

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

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

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

Worth your time:


See you soon. Thanks for reading.

2020 Election, GOP, Trump

The Death of the GOP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Capitol Police using flash devices to push back the Trump mob

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

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

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

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

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

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Additional Reading:

A few other things I found of interest this week…


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

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

Neil Sheehan’s historic scoop

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

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

Fascinating. Read the whole thing.


John le Carré

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

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

Read the story here.


Is There a Republican Party?

Photo from The New Yorker in 1935

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

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

Worth your time


The Reason Button Down Shirts Have Loops in the Back

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

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

Here’s the answer.


Quite a week. Thanks for reading. Stay well.

2020 Election, GOP

It May Not Work, But It’s Still a Coup…

A month and a half before the country voted in the November election, Barton Gellman wrote a long piece in The Atlantic predicting with uncanny precision what has happened over the last month. 

“Let us not hedge about one thing,” Gellman wrote. “Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward.” By “Interregnum” Gellman means the period we are in right now, the fragile space between when one candidate for president loses – in this case Trump – and the winner takes office.

We still have 40 days and 40 nights to go. And it’s a chapter right out of the new book Strongmen, a book I highly recommend.

In her book – Strongmen – historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat contends that Donald Trump displays the classic characteristics of authoritarians and dictators like Mussolini and Turkey’s Erdogan

There was a fair amount to scoffing at Gellman’s prediction that a defeated Trump would never concede and might actually attempt to further corrupt American democracy by sowing widespread doubt about the election outcome, or that he would actively try to get fellow Republicans to help him steal an election he lost. 

The esteemed journalist Walter Shapiro, a legendary political observer, was one who mostly dismissed concerns about the seriousness of Trump’s post-election nonsense. Shapiro quoted Sam Feist, CNN’s Washington bureau chief, as basically saying: don’t worry, the election outcome will be obvious when one candidate reaches the required 270 electoral votes. 

Even if Trump prematurely declares his own victory, which is precisely what he did in the early hours of November 4, Feist told Shapiro, “We will all note that the facts do not support this declaration…” 

But in the Trump Era, to most Republicans, facts don’t matter. Losing more than 50 desperate and often comically inept election legal challenges doesn’t matter. Having the Supreme Court dismiss a challenge to Pennsylvania votes with a one-sentence kiss off that must be the most obvious “bugger off” delivered by a court in presidential history doesn’t matter. 

The loathsome Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz was actually ready to argue the case before the high court before the nine justices, three appointed by Trump, effectively told the president to go pound sand. 

(Now Texas has rounded up 16 other states and more than 100 Republican members of Congress in another appeal to the Supreme Court that most every respected court observer believes is a ridiculous and futile effort to throw out millions of votes in four states Biden won.)

Trump lost the election – it really was not close, either in the popular vote or the Electoral College margin – but he has still salted democracy’s soil with the conspiracy theory that it was all a rigged, stolen election. This is and continues to be an unprecedented assault on free elections and a peaceful transition of power. And virtually every Republican office holder, including the backbone free enemies of democracy who represent Idaho and eastern Washington, have helped him do it. 

The Turkish-born academic Zeynep Tufekci, who has experienced perverted or stolen elections in her home county, understands what is happening: “The U.S. president is trying to steal the election, and, crucially, his party either tacitly approves or is pretending not to see it. This is a particularly dangerous combination, and makes it much more than just typical Trumpian bluster or norm shattering.” 

As Tufekci says, “Act like this is your first coup, if you want to be sure that it’s also your last.”

There is another aspect, equally frightening and anti-democratic, playing out across the country as Trump plots his next lie on Twitter. The political unrest he stokes to further his claim to hanging on to the White House has come, or is coming, to a courthouse or a statehouse near you. 

The Republican majority leader of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, pressured by Trump to do something, anything to reverse his loss there, said she had no choice but to acquiesce to the president’s pressure. “If I would say to you, ‘I don’t want to do it,’” Kim Ward said about signing a letter demanding her state’s congressional delegation work to overturn Biden’s win, “I’d get my house bombed tonight.”

Armed thugs shouting obscenities into bullhorns surrounded the home of Michigan’s secretary of state Jocelyn Benson last weekend, demanding that she “stop the steal,” even after the state certified its results confirming a Biden win in Michigan by 154,000 votes. 

Benson said she supports peaceful protest, but that “there is a line crossed when gatherings are done with the primary purpose of intimidation of public officials who are carrying out the oath of office they solemnly took as elected officials.” 

Similar efforts to intimidate local and state election officials have taken place in Arizona, Nevada, Georgia and Wisconsin. And the trickle-down effects of Trump’s effort to further destabilize the political process are felt even in a very Trump friendly place like Idaho. The local health district that serves four counties in southwestern Idaho, meeting to discuss steps to counter the raging pandemic, had to end its discussion when armed protesters showed up at the homes of three board members. The area is overwhelmed by the virus with hospital administrators warning that they will be forced to ration care by Christmas. 

The very Trumpy “anti-mask” protesters, clearly influenced by the president’s politicization of pandemic mitigation measures, were deemed a threat to public safety by Boise police. Ada County Commissioner Diana Lachiondo was forced to leave the health board meeting in tears in order to rush home and check on her 12-year old son. 

Protesters, some of them armed, forced cancellation of a health district meeting in Boise, Idaho. Some protesters showed up at board members homes.

The Associated Press reported that the protesters were organized “at least in part, by a loose multi-state group called People’s Rights. The group was created by Ammon Bundy,” the same dangerous clown who was arrested earlier this year during a violent incident at the Idaho state capitol. 

Almost simultaneously the human rights memorial in downtown Boise – a place that honors both Anne Frank and the late northern Idaho human rights activist Bill Wassmuth – was vandalized when some imbecile placed swastikas on the memorial, one claiming Nazis “are everywhere.”   

To his credit, Idaho Governor Brad Little immediately condemned the intimidation aimed at health district board members, but he remains – as do other Republican leaders – maddingly indifferent to the broader assault on democracy underway. The governor, the congressional delegation and legislative leaders have bully pulpits, but they never muster the guts to speak from them. 

Fearing his fellow conservatives, Little purposely created the environment where local, part-time health officials have had to become the frontline in the virus fight. And he acted this week as if his plans to cut taxes during the next legislative session was an adequate response to the radical rightwing anarchy that now increasingly dominates the state’s politics, and surely will continue to do so in the future. 

By refusing to confront attacks on democracy at the highest level, Republicans now contend with attacks at every level, and the attacks come from their own supporters that they refuse to confront. Republicans have sown this wind; we all will now surely reap the whirlwind. 

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

A few other items worth your time this week…

How Biden Should Investigate Trump

James Fallows in The Atlantic

“As he prepares to occupy the White House, President-elect Joe Biden faces a decision rare in American history: what to do about the man who has just left office, whose personal corruption, disdain for the Constitution, and destructive mismanagement of the federal government are without precedent.”

Fallows has a few ideas.


How Trump Changed America 

Clare Malone is a fine writer and her recent piece is very fine, indeed.

“I have no doubt that the effects of Trump’s presidency will ripple through American life for years, if not decades. Trump didn’t create partisanship or the idea that racism is a decent electoral strategy, but he elevated both. He revealed fundamental weaknesses in the way Americans consume politics, and he seemed to make everyone in America care about it. It is difficult to imagine that history will look favorably on Donald John Trump after he leaves office on January 20, but I feel certain that history won’t be able to stop looking.’

From the website FiveThirtyEight:

Maradona: The God of Argentina

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO – JUNE 29: Diego Maradona of Argentina holds the World Cup trophy after defeating West Germany 3-2 during the 1986 FIFA World Cup Final match at the Azteca Stadium on June 29, 1986 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Archivo El Grafico/Getty Images)

It may not be possible to understand fully how deeply baked into Argentine cultural is the great game – and how the game was personified by the great Maradona – without a visit to Buenos Aires.

I was fortunate to visit a few years ago and came away with a better understanding of just how big soccer is in Argentina.

Diego Maradona’s recent death brought back those memories. This piece from The Ringer – even if you are not a soccer fan – is very good.

“There are geniuses in this world whose fate is not to be recognized at once, whose talents need time before they can be fully appreciated. This was not the case with Diego Maradona. By the time he was 9 years old, there was no mistaking what he was. If you saw him play, you knew. He was puny and odd-looking, a spindly shantytown kid, not yet the plug of compacted muscle he became. He wasn’t fast. He couldn’t jump. But the way he moved with the ball, the control he had with his left foot, left people gasping. Hardened soccer pros, narrow-eyed pragmatists who’d worked with enough youth talent to be cynical about the whole business of early promise, had to sit down and tell themselves to breathe. He’d go barreling at full speed into a swarm of bigger, faster boys, his chin tucked down and his little chest upthrust, and when they’d recovered their balance and turned around, the ball would be in the net.”

Read the whole thing.


Thanks for reading…be safe.

2020 Election, McCarthy, Trump

GOP Fails Its McCarthy Moment…

Sixty-six years ago this week – December 2, 1954 – the United States Senate voted to censure Wisconsin Republican Joseph McCarthy. The vote was 67 in favor, 22 opposed. The very public rebuke effectively marked the end of McCarthy’s lie-infused assault on American democracy. 

During his four-year run, the burly bully from Appleton dominated headlines and ruined careers with his reckless and unproven allegations that Communists had infiltrated the federal government. As his reign of political terror advanced toward censure by his own colleagues, McCarthy became ever more brazen, even attacking the patriotism of members of the United States Army

Joseph McCarthy with Roy Cohn, his counsel, who later became Donald Trump’s lawyer

McCarthy’s followers condemned Dwight Eisenhower, the celebrated supreme allied commander of European victory in World War II, as “a communist.” McCarthy used a Senate speech to attack General George Marshall, one of the great heroes of 20th Century America, for being soft on communism. Marshall’s biographer says McCarthy’s speech was so hysterically over the top, so obviously full of innuendo and bad faith, that few senators remained in their seats to listen to the tirade, but few also condemned it. 

When the roll was called in the Senate on McCarthy’s censure in 1954, Idaho’s two Republican senators – Henry Dworshak and Herman Welker – refused to condemn McCarthy, indeed they defended him, made excuses, embraced his delusions. According to contemporary accounts, Welker prowled the Senate floor during the censure vote muttering threats to those attempting to hold McCarthy to account. Dworshak, handpicked by McCarthy, served on the committee that investigated McCarthy’s wild accusations against the Army but made little contribution. One McCarthy biographer said the Wisconsin senator effectively silenced the “timid” Dworshak and publicly insulted him by wishing he had selected someone else. 

The events surrounding McCarthy during that long-ago December seem both a distance echo of American history and as fresh as today’s front page. As the conservative commentator Jonah Goldberg wrote recently, “McCarthy liked to insist he had evidence of communists in the government, but he couldn’t show you the names right now. The number of communist infiltrators on his secret list changed from speech to speech.” 

In this December we are experiencing a new kind of McCarthyism updated for the Trump Era. 

“Listening to President Donald Trump’s legal team claim over and over again that they have voluminous evidence that the election was stolen,” Goldberg says, “it occurred to me that we’re in a kind of repeat McCarthy era. Only this time, to borrow from that old-school communist Karl Marx, history is repeating itself not as tragedy but as farce.” 

McCarthy was condemned by the Senate 66 years ago this week

It took four long years for the Senate – and many Republicans – to admit that McCarthy’s protean tactics and political treachery were a genuine threat to the stability of American citizens and institutions, everything from the legal system to the Senate itself. McCarthy intimidated and bullied anyone who questioned him. His weapon was not fact, but intimidation; intimidation meaning if you had the backbone to challenge him McCarthy would summon down the wrath of his supporters on those who stepped out of line. 

A handful – Maine’s Republican Senator Margaret Chase Smith most notably – had the courage to confront McCarthy, but most held their tongues while his power grew, and his outrages expanded. “The fifties were like that,” historian Ellen Schrecker wrote in her study of the era, “less a world of fear than of silence.” 

Nearly a month on from the presidential election that will turn Donald Trump out of the White House, a firehose of lies about voter fraud and rigged elections tumble from the presidential Twitter feed to be amplified by his minions on cable television and across the Internet. The lies have been refuted repeatedly by a bipartisan collection of state election officials, Trump’s own attorney general and the cyber security expert the president fired for truthfully saying the recent election was the most secure in American history. 

In a true McCarthyesque through the looking glass turn, William Barr, the Trump appointed attorney general who has defended the president at every turn, is now dismissed as a traitor and agent of “the deep state” for saying there is no evidence of fraud that would change the election outcome. 

A Republican election official in Georgia, one of many needing police protection now for doing his job in a state where Trump continues to lie about a rigged election, demanded this week that Trump end the deceit, saying “Someone’s gonna get shot. Someone’s gonna get killed…and it’s not right. It’s not right.” The official, Gabriel Sterling, put a fine point on what is happening with his fellow Republicans. “This is elections,” Sterling said, his voice quivering with indignation. “This is the backbone of democracy, and all of you who have not said a damn word are complicit in this. It’s too much.”

Gabriel Sterling, the Republican election official in Georgia, who has condemned Donald Trump’s attacks on election integrity

Yet, all of this – the lying, conspiracy theories, attacks on an election that wasn’t really all that close, the full-on assault on democracy – has engendered a world of silence from most elected Republicans. They are ending the Trump presidency as they began – with eclairs for backbones. And no Republican senators better exemplify this chicken-hearted response than the two from Idaho who now fill the seats once held by McCarthy’s enablers. 

Jim Risch is proving to be a worthy heir to Henry Dworshak. While Dworshak is remembered in Idaho, to the extent that he is remembered, for a big dam on the Clearwater River, the history books (briefly) note him only as a dead ender for Joe McCarthy. Risch has gone all the way up and now all the way down with Trump.

Mike Crapo, twenty years in the Senate, has little more to show for that tenure than Herman Welker, the angry senator and credulous McCarthy defender whose seat he now occupies. 

A month on from the November election, neither man has uttered a word of condemnation, concern or care about Trump’s blatant attack on democracy even as the conservative National Review points out, “Almost nothing that the Trump team has alleged has withstood the slightest scrutiny.”

Crapo and Risch seem to care less, again to quote National Review, that “Flawed and dishonest assertions like this pollute the public discourse and mislead good people who make the mistake of believing things said by the president of the United States.”

Like Idaho’s Welker and Dworshak from an earlier day, Crapo and Risch will be remembered to history, not as they might hope, but rather because they are complicit in the worst attack on American democracy in the history of the presidency.

It’s just not right. 

——0——

Additional Reading:

Iowa is What Happens When the Government Does Nothing

From The Atlantic

“To visit Iowa right now is to travel back in time to the early days of the coronavirus pandemic in places such as New York City and Lombardy and Seattle, when the horror was fresh and the sirens never stopped. Sick people are filling up ICUs across the state. Health-care workers like Klein are being pushed to their physical and emotional limits. On the TV in my parents’ house in Burlington, hospital CEOs are begging Iowans to hunker down and please, for the love of God, wear a mask. This sense of new urgency is strange, though, because the pandemic isn’t in its early days. The virus has been raging for eight months in this country; Iowa just hasn’t been acting like it.”

Read the full piece.


Obituary of Marvin J. Farr

This death notice in a Kansas funeral home went viral with the Kansas City Star newspaper wrote about it. Read it and you’ll see why.

“Dr. Marvin James Farr, 81, of Scott City, Kan., passed away Dec. 1, 2020, in isolation at Park Lane Nursing Home. He was preceded in death by more than 260,000 Americans infected with covid-19. He died in a room not his own, being cared for by people dressed in confusing and frightening ways. He died with covid-19, and his final days were harder, scarier and lonelier than necessary. He was not surrounded by friends and family.”

Here is the obit


And Speaking of Obits

Ding Kuen Tam, also known as Danny Wong, a legendary restaurant owner in Butte

The Montana Standard in Butte, Montana had a wonderful tribute this week to one of the city’s iconic figures, Ding Kuen Tam, owner of reportedly the oldest continuously operated and family-owned Chinese restaurant in the country, the Pekin Noddle Parlor.

One of Mr. Tam’s best customers was a guy named Evil Knievel.

“Knievel was ‘Bobby’ to Wong.   

“Whenever Knievel pulled his Maserati into the Pekin alleyway, Wong would give him a box full of food and a bottle of Jack Daniels, whether he drank it or not.

“Danny, I’m gonna jump Caesars Palace,” Knievel would say.

“Bobby, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Wong would answer.

“I’m gonna jump the Snake River,” Knievel would say.

“Bobby, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Wong would answer again.

“Such was their bond. Knievel even gave Wong his last car, a Lincoln Mark VIII.”

What a story.


Thanks for reading…take care.

.

2020 Election, Biden, Trump

Give Thanks…

A strange air of normality returned to American politics last Saturday in Wilmington, Delaware: Joe Biden went to Mass

The “protective pool” of reporters whose job it is to shadow the president-elect wherever he goes complained that Biden’s staff hadn’t given them an adequate heads up as to the late Saturday afternoon movements of the next president of the United States. An Associated Press reporter actually complained on Twitter that the whole business was “unacceptable,” since the American people have a right to know about all activities of the president-elect. 

On the one hand, I agree. On the other hand, given the chaos of Donald Trump’s refusal to accept defeat not to mention his four shambolic and corrupting years, how quaint that reporters were complaining that they didn’t have adequate notice that Joe Biden was, wait for it – going to Saturday Mass.

Biden will be, of course, only the second Catholic president and it should be obvious to even the most casual observer of his political and personal life that his faith is very much at the center of who he is. 

“I’m as much a cultural Catholic as I am a theological Catholic,” Biden wrote in his 2007 memoir. “My idea of self, of family, of community, of the wider world comes straight from my religion. It’s not so much the Bible, the beatitudes, the Ten Commandments, the sacraments, or the prayers I learned. It’s the culture.”

In that same book Biden wrote, as many Catholics will recognize, about the cultural traditions of the church. “My attendance was not optional,” Biden said of his childhood as an Irish-Catholic kid. “The entire Finnegan clan (Biden’s mother’s family) rode over to Saint Paul’s Catholic Church together, and the church felt like an extension of home.” 

As an adult convert to the faith, I had none of Biden’s childhood immersion in the ways of the Catholic Church, but like him – and like many fellow Catholics I suspect – I was drawn to the church’s message of social justice. 

In an article in The Christian Post just before the election Biden wrote: “My Catholic faith drilled into me a core truth – that every person on earth is equal in rights and dignity, because we are all beloved children of God. We are all created ‘imago Dei’ – beautifully, uniquely, in the image of God, with inherent worth. It is the same creed that is at the core of our American experiment and written into our founding documents – that we are all created equal and endowed by our creator with inalienable rights.”

Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden bows his head in prayer during a visit to Bethel AME Church in Wilmington, Del., Monday, June 1, 2020. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Donald Trump won election in 2016, in part, on the strength of his support from Catholic voters and evangelical Christians. He failed to win re-election in 2020, in part, because significant numbers of those voters rejected him. Trump still won large majorities among evangelicals, but where Hillary Clinton won 14 percent of Michigan evangelicals in 2016, Biden won 29 percent of those voters this year. Biden tripled Clinton’s share of the white evangelical vote in Georgia. One could argue that these voters elected him president. 

Perhaps, just perhaps, some of these voters realized they were taken in by a thrice married reality television performer who promised to protect religious freedom but ended up trashing basic Christian values: vilifying Muslims, separating refugee children from their parents and not knowing Corinthians from Colonel Sanders. Maybe some of them realized walking the faith is a lot different than talking it.  

When Jimmy Carter, a born-again Southern Baptist who still teaches Sunday school and builds houses for people who need them, was elected president in 1976, the enjoyed wide support from evangelicals. Those same voters, some heavily influenced by a New Right social agenda articulated by a very conservative Catholic like Paul Weyrich and an extremely conservative Baptist like the Reverend Jerry Falwell, abandoned Carter for Ronald Reagan in 1980. In many ways, this evangelical pivot was opportunistic. Carter’s faith didn’t change, but conservative politics did after 1980 and many Christians went along for the ride. 

In one famous incident, Falwell, whose son Jerry, Jr., a major Trump supporter, was recently forced to step down from heading the college his father founded amid allegations of, as one publication noted, “sexual games and self-dealing,” fabricated an elaborate story about Carter in 1980. 

The senior Falwell, eager to buttress his position with the emerging New Right, “lied,” as Carter confided to his diary, about a private meeting that never happened between the two men in the Oval Office. Falwell told supporters that Carter told him he supported a homosexual agenda and was committed to having homosexuals on his White House staff. “I’ve never had a private meeting with him,” Carter said, “he’s never been in the Oval Office, and I’ve never had any conversation.” It was a calculated lie for purely political purposes. 

Immediately after the 1980 election, then-Idaho Senator Frank Church confronted Falwell about the widespread claim in that year’s Senate election – Church lost to Republican Steve Symms – that the four-term, pro-life Democrat was “a baby killer.” Falwell denied – lied through his teeth more correctly – that his group and those affiliated with it had used such language. But anyone in Idaho at the time remembers the church parking lots leafleted with the vile smear. Religion and what passed for Christian values increasingly became just an ugly extension of politics. 

Falwell, Sr. with Ronald Reagan

Few Americans, even Trump supporters, can honestly deny that the current president profoundly coarsened our politics over the last four years; slinging insults, aggressively pitting one faction against another, appealing not to better angels, but to worst instincts. Joe Biden, his life defined by the personal loss he has suffered – the early death of his wife, a daughter and a son – and by his Catholic faith, offers America a reset. 

“If we look to politics to find reasons to be offended, we’ll never come up empty-handed,” says Michael Wear, an evangelical who worked on faith-based initiatives in the Obama Administration. “But this is not only an unproductive way to think about politics, but a destructive one. People of faith should be at the very center of making our politics about the common good, about service. I hope we take that opportunity.” 

Or put another way, you don’t have to embrace all of Joe Biden’s policies, but you may want to give his “equal in rights and dignity” approach a chance. It is, after all, the season of thanksgiving. Be thankful for a renewed commitment to decency. 

I’m again able to grab a bit of optimism about the near-term American future, and I’m hoping even my fellow citizens who don’t like the outcome of the presidential election will think about the upside of a Mass going, cultural Catholic who easily quotes Ecclesiastes and carries his late son’s Rosary in his pocket moving into the White House in a few weeks. 

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

Some additional Thanksgiving week reading…

‘Loser’: How a Lifelong Fear Bookended Trump’s Presidency

Dan Barry has an excellent piece on how the loser hates to be a loser.

“… the citizens have cast their ballots, baseless lawsuits alleging electoral fraud have been dismissed and states have certified the vote. Still, the loser of the 2020 presidential election continues to see crowds that the rest of the country does not.

“It ends as it began.”

Definitely worth your time.


Doughnuts or Donuts? Krispy Kreme or Dunkin’? All of the Above?

A deep dive – or is it a deep dunk – into doughnuts (or donuts).

“Doughnuts’ rise continued through the 1930s. In 1934, the same year Clark Gable started dunkin’ up a storm on the silver screen, they were named the ‘Hit Food of the Century of Progress’ at the World’s Fair in Chicago. Even more monumentally, that year 19-year-old Vernon Rudolph opened the very first Krispy Kreme Doughnut Company store in Nashville, Tennessee, with his uncle Ishmael, who’d purchased a yeast doughnut recipe from a New Orleans chef with the whimsical name of Joe LeBeau.”

Make mine maple. Read the whole thing here.


Anthony Hopkins: “I wanted to be famous. I wanted to be rich”

Anthony Hopkins

Kyle Buchanan profiles the great actor Anthony Hopkins in The Irish Times and includes some gems. 

“A chance encounter with actor Richard Burton, who had also grown up near Port Talbot and somehow became the toast of Hollywood, would help prod Hopkins toward performance. A gifted mimic, Hopkins saw plenty in Burton’s trajectory that he was desperate to emulate.

“I wanted to be famous. I wanted to be rich,” Hopkins says. “I wanted to be successful, to make up for what I thought was an empty past. And I became all of those things.”

Great actor, excellent profile.


Hope your Thanksgiving was all it could be in these crazy times. Thanks for reading. Be well.

2020 Election, Andrus, Cenarrusa

The Fraud Charge is the Fraud…

On November 4, 1986, Cecil D. Andrus won a third term as Idaho’s governor. It turned out to be one of the closest gubernatorial elections in the state’s history with the outcome in doubt far into the morning after election day. Andrus eventually won by 3,635 votes; more than 387,000 votes were cast. His victory margin was less than one percent. 

How the South Idaho Press reported the 1986 election

When Andrus went to a Boise hotel around 10 o’clock election night to speak to supporters – I remember it well, I was the campaign press secretary – the race was an absolute dead heat. In fact, just as we walked into the packed ballroom one local television station updated its vote count and as the numbers flashed on the screen it showed then-Republican Lt. Governor David H. Leroy and Andrus with exactly the same number of votes. 

Andrus made his way to the podium, thanked his supporters, said the counting would continue and advised them to go home and go to bed, which is exactly what he did. 

I stayed up and went back to the campaign office. By 2:00 am we knew Andrus had a narrow lead with a handful of precincts in far flung locations – Sandpoint, Salmon, Aberdeen, Weiser – not yet reporting numbers. I rousted a state senator out of bed in Power County and asked him to check on the status of uncounted ballots there. He called back a few minutes later saying they were safely locked up in the courthouse, counted but just not yet reported. A similar check in other locations produced similar reports. 

If someone had wanted to mess with those ballots they could have tried, but they would have had to enlist dozens of local election officials in the conspiracy, a degree of fraud and undemocratic behavior that in my 40-plus years’ experience is unthinkable, indeed impossible. Additionally, the long-time Republican secretary of state at the time, Pete Cenarrusa, a guy who could be a tough partisan, ran an absolutely squeaky clean, scrupulously non-partisan election operation. His deputy, Ben Ysursa, who later succeeded Cenarrusa, was simply the fairest election administrator I’ve ever dealt with. 

Now, in the wake of a decisive presidential election victory by President-elect Joe Biden, the sad sack loser in the White House is hunkered down in denial, advancing hourly conspiracy theories about widespread voter fraud. The allegations are absolutely absurd as everyone from the lawyers who handled the contested Florida election in 2000 to countless Republican election officials in key states have attested. 

What is nearly as absurd as the president’s fraud charge is that a vast majority of Republican office holders remain unwilling to defend the thousands of local election officials and volunteers who, in the words of the now sacked election cyber security head, ran the most secure American election in history. These Republicans seem willing to accept the lies of a well-documented liar over the reality of thousands of dedicated election officials who have nothing to gain by doing their jobs except ensuring the continuation of American democracy. 

Millions of Donald Trump’s brainwashed followers who apparently believe his election fraud nonsense are living in the fantasy land a life-long con man has created. Imagine for a moment what it would take to rig a national election in a half dozen states. Hundreds, if not thousands of local election officials would have to be in on the scam. Most of these people – Republicans, Democrats and independents – have devoted careers to the proposition that election security is essential to American democracy. You’d have to convince them to do the most dishonest thing they could imagine in a free society: rig the vote. 

The logistics of rigging an election on a nationwide scale would require exquisite timing, all conducted in absolute secrecy. Stealing the election would mean coopting Republican secretaries of state in states Biden won, Nevada and Georgia for example. The top election officials in both states have aggressively dismissed Trump’s fiction. And if you’re going to steal the White House why not steal the Senate, too and hang on to all those House seats Democrats lost? Conspiracy theories don’t need to make sense they just have to further a grievance. 

The Attorney for the President, Rudy Giuliani, speaks at a news conference in the parking lot of a landscaping company on November 7, 2020 in Philadelphia. (Photo by Bryan R. Smith / AFP)

Meanwhile, Trump’s legal challenges have crumbled, while his unprincipled lackeys – read Rudy Giuliani – have beclowned themselves in front of judges and election officials from Philadelphia to Carson City. 

And speaking of election fraud, Giuliani, who until two weeks ago, was peddling a mendacious conspiracy theory about the president-elect’s son, was admonished by one incredulous Pennsylvania judge who said, “At bottom, you’re asking this court to invalidate some 6.8 million votes thereby disenfranchising every single voter in the commonwealth.” The judge refused.

The election wasn’t stolen. Donald Trump lost it – decisively. Yet, the totally specious Trump allegations have planted the notion among his most fevered followers, those apparently with an election security diploma from Facebook University, that the entire election system is as corrupt as he is. To say that believing his nonsense is corrosive to the very essence of democracy is an understatement. 

Those Republican elected officials who have allowed two weeks to pass while tolerating Trump’s efforts to further erode standards of democratic behavior are not merely indulging a weak, pathetic con man they are now part of the active fraud he’s peddling. 

—–

Back to that hard fought 1986 Idaho governor’s race. Andrus, an astute reader of election returns, claimed victory at 10:00 am the morning after the voting. A short time later Dave Leroy gracefully conceded. I can only imagine that it hurt losing an election that effectively marked the end of a career that at the time looked to be long and promising. “There must be a time when the vote is final,” Leroy said at the time, “and we should go forward with the people’s business.” 

November 6, 1986 – Twin Falls Times-News

As the Associated Press noted, the narrow margin in the Idaho governor’s race 34 years ago could have “been grounds for a recount at state expense, but Leroy said he wouldn’t ask for one.” Allegations of voting irregularity were just that – allegations, and the defeated candidate said he wouldn’t pursue them.

Such attitudes are what mark honorable foes in politics. Sometimes your side wins. Sometimes the other side wins. Being willing to accept that fundamental reality separates democracy from where Donald Trump and too much of his increasingly corrupt Republican Party would gladly take us.

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Additional Reading:

Some stories I found interesting this week…

Rebecca Solnit: On Not Meeting Nazis Halfway

As I’ve said before, she is a brilliant thinker and writer. 

“Appeasement didn’t work in the 1930s and it won’t work now. That doesn’t mean that people have to be angry or hate back or hostile, but it does mean they have to stand on principle and defend what’s under attack. There are situations in which there is no common ground worth standing on, let alone hiking over to. If Nazis wanted to reach out and find common ground and understand us, they probably would not have had that tiki-torch parade full of white men bellowing “Jews will not replace us” and, also, they would not be Nazis. Being Nazis, white supremacists, misogynists, transphobes is all part of a project of refusing to understand as part of refusing to respect. It is a minority position but by granting it deference we give it, over and over, the power of a majority position.”

Read the entire piece.


All the president’s ‘Guys’

Ben Terris in The Washington Post has a funny – or disgusting – look at the oddballs, grifters, crooks and did I say oddballs that have surrounded Donald J. Trump.

Need I say it: this is not normal. 

“Anthony Scaramucci, the New York finance guy who lasted less than two weeks as a senior administration official before he was fired after being too candid about his machinations with a reporter, has embraced his Trump White House alumnus status, fashioning himself as a dial-a-quote for reporters looking for insight on the president’s behavior. Former ‘Apprentice’ contestant and White House adviser Omarosa Manigault-Newman, too, has gone the route of Trump apologist-turned-Trumpologist. Sean Spicer, a longtime Republican hand who launched his brief tenure as press secretary by yelling at journalists for accurately reporting on the modest crowd size at Trump’s inauguration, had a cameo at the 2017 Emmys and competed on ‘Dancing with the Stars’ doing salsa to the Spice Girls in a shirt that resembled a gigantic piece of neon kelp.”

Here is the link:


The Transition: Lyndon Johnson and the events in Dallas.

Lyndon Johnson biographer Robert Caro wrote this piece for The New Yorker some years ago. It’s a fascinating minute-by-minute account of when Johnson, amid unbelievable tragedy, became president.

The famous photo from Dallas, November 22, 1963, carefully framed by the new president

“She was still wearing the same suit, with the same bloodstains. Her eyes were ‘cast down,’ in Judge Hughes’s phrase. She had apparently tried to comb her hair, but it fell down across the left side of her face. On her face was a glazed look, and she appeared to be crying, although no tears could be seen. Johnson placed her on his left side. The Judge held out the missal. He put his left hand on it—the hand, mottled and veined, was so large that it all but covered the little book—and raised his right hand, as the Judge said, ‘I do solemnly swear . . .’

“Valenti, watching those hands, saw that they were ‘absolutely steady,’ and Lyndon Johnson’s voice was steady, too—low and firm—as he spoke the words he had been waiting to speak all his life. At the back of the room, crowded against a wall, Marie Fehmer wasn’t watching the ceremony, because she was reading the oath to make sure it was given correctly. 

“The oath was over. His hand came down. ‘Now let’s get airborne,’ Lyndon Johnson said.”

While we wait for the next Caro volume read this.


How ‘Moonlight Serenade’ Defined a Generation

In my earliest broadcasting days I hosted a radio show were I often played music from the Big Band Era. I love this song, Glenn Miller’s theme.

“Miller and his American Band of the Allied Expeditionary Forces had been making appearances in England since early July. Now military authorities wanted the orchestra to entertain troops on the Continent. Determined to fly ahead and finalize tour arrangements, Miller told his brother in a December 12 letter that ‘barring a nosedive into the Channel, I’ll be in Paris in a few days.’”

Read the entire piece from The Smithsonian Magazine.


Thanks for reading. Be safe.

2020 Election, GOP, Trump

No One Left to Lie To…

From The New York Times, October 26, 2020…

‘Two minutes and 28 seconds into a campaign rally on a recent Saturday night in Janesville, Wis., President Trump delivered his first lie.

“When you look at our numbers compared to what’s going on in Europe and other places,” Mr. Trump said about the coronavirus raging across the United States, “we’re doing well.”

‘The truth? America has more cases and deaths per capita than any major country in Europe but Spain and Belgium. The United States has just 4 percent of the world’s population but accounts for almost a quarter of the global deaths from Covid-19. On Oct. 17, the day of Mr. Trump’s rally in Janesville, cases were rising to record levels across much of the country.

“Over the course of the next 87 minutes, the president made another 130 false or inaccurate statements. Many were entirely made up. Others were casual misstatements of simple facts, some clearly intended to mislead. He lied about his own record and that of his opponent. He made wild exaggerations that violate even the pliable limits of standard political hyperbole.”


The lying has been going on for so long that it has become the central feature of the Republican brand. The lies used to be mainly about matters of policy, but since Joe Biden won the presidency by amassing both more electoral and popular votes than the current incumbent, the lies are assaulting the very essence of democracy

CNN fact check Daniel Dale says Donald Trump’s post-election speech where he lied about vote fraud and a stolen election was the single most untruth speech of his presidency

As long ago as 1981, Ronald Reagan was formulating an essential element of GOP fiction – that massive tax cuts pay for themselves. Forty years later this lie is so deeply embedded in Republican myth making that no GOP candidate dares turn back in the direction of the truth. Republicans, for example Senator Mike Crapo, a member of the committee that writes tax law says on his website: “Despite claims to the contrary, the reforms to our tax system (under Donald Trump) will address our growing debt and deficits thanks to how the policy affects jobs, wages and investments when estimating revenue.” It’s a lie a surely Crapo must know it is a lie. 

That statement, by the way, is displayed under a “U.S. National Debt” calculator on the senator’s website that shows the national debt approaching $27 trillion, at least a $6 trillion increase in the last four years. The lie has become conventional Republican wisdom and the vast array of facts disputing it are simply swept away.

Many Republicans have systematically denied the overwhelming scientific consensus about climate change, while applauding the Trump decision to exit the worldwide effort to address the obvious. The GOP lies smolder along with the forests of California and Oregon, but then again facts have a well-know liberal bias.   

“In some ways,” Republican pollster Whit Ayres says of GOP climate change denial, it has “become yet another of the long list of litmus test issues that determine whether or not you’re a good Republican.” Or put another way, ignoring evidence is essential to being a “good Republican.” 

Republican orthodoxy holds that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – Obamacare – was a stalking horse for “socialized medicine,” certain to usher in a vast left-wing conspiracy to make sure all American’s had access to health insurance. Yet, as legal scholars Christopher Robertson and Wendy Epstein pointed out recently the basics of the law originated with the conservative Heritage Society and “in an odd twist of history, it was Newt Gingrich, one of the most conservative speakers of the House, who laid out the blueprint for the Affordable Care Act as early as 1993. In an interview on ‘Meet the Press,’ Gingrich argued for individuals being ‘required to have health insurance’ as a matter of social responsibility.” 

Most Republicans know but ignore that a state level version of Obamacare was implemented in Massachusetts when Republican Mitt Romney was governor. So, the facts are pretty simple. The hated ACA, villainized at every turn by Republicans who have attempted dozens of times to repeal the law and went numerous times to the Supreme Court to overturn it, was birthed by conservatives. The lies about the law have been so pervasive that the facts about what was once a conservative Republican policy proposal have been shunted, like a rusting railway box car, on the GOP siding where the truth goes to die.

Over and over, year after year, Republican officeholders have lied to their followers about matters large and small. The lies from top to bottom about COVID-19 have been glaringly obvious and in plain sight. “The president has variously lied by his own admission,” Dr. James Hamblin wrote this week in The Atlantic, “denied the severity of the disease, and promised false cures, all as the death toll shot into the hundreds of thousands.” The toll over the next few weeks will be truly devastating. 

All this dishonesty has been at times remarkably successful in the pursuit of election victory, but the strategy has a genuine downside. Millions of Americans have bought into the dishonesty. The lies become essential to the Republican mindset. Even when the lying gets out of hand, as it has in the wake of the presidential election, GOP politicians – some of them do have a conscience – dare not speak truth to their own supporters. The nasty little secret is that many Republican politicians are flat out afraid of their most fervent followers. 

“Here you are,” journalist Matt Bai wrote this week of elected Republicans unwillingness to accept the results of the November 3 election, “anxiously waiting for Donald Trump and his royal family to accept reality, not wanting to say anything that might upset him or his followers, because somehow the thing you fear most in the world — more than any virus, or God, or even transgender bathrooms — is the prospect of losing primaries.” 

More than a week after the election, Donald Trump’s inept collection of campaign grifters, shysters and bottom feeders have not produced one scintilla of evidence to indicate the presidential election was anything but fairly administered by thousands of local election officials in all 50 states. The election results will put Joe Biden in the White House on January 20, 2021 with precisely the same level of Electoral College support as Trump won in 2016. 

These fictions about a stolen election exist for only two reasons: Trump’s fragile, narcissistic ego cannot stand the reality that he lost an election and Republican politicians care more about playing to the conspiracy theory wing of their party – which sadly is most of the party – than they do about maintaining essential public confidence in the outcome of a presidential election. 

As Todd Bice, a Nevada attorney and a Republican, wrote this week of allegations of vote fraud in his state: “Serious people know better and this is all part of the shtick of unserious people that have invaded and infected our politics. These insinuations about stealing an election are not made to protect the democratic process; they seek to undermine it and undermine your confidence in election outcomes.” 

And the Republican Secretary of State in Washington Kim Wyman says bluntly: “Our country right now is in a fragile place, and we don’t need the top elected official in the country undermining the integrity of our election system.”

Make no mistake: this preening and posturing about a stolen election and refusing to accept the verdict of democracy is un-American. We are witnessing the creation of a fabulist conspiracy theory in real time, new “birtherism.” If you’re not outraged by the lying from senior Republicans, including your own representatives, then just admit that you live in Donald Trump’s world of utter fantasy, an island of unreality were no truth matters and any lie, even one aimed at the heart of democracy, is acceptable. 

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Additional Reading:

A few articles I found of interest this week…

An Embarrassing Failure for Election Pollsters

“The 2020 election may represent another chapter in the controversies that have periodically surrounded election polls since George Gallup, Elmo Roper and Archibald Crossley initiated their sample surveys during the 1936 presidential campaign. The most dramatic polling failure in U.S. presidential elections came in 1948, when President Harry S. Truman defied the pollsters, the pundits and the press to win reelection over the heavily favored Republican nominee, Thomas E. Dewey.”

One of many, many stories about the polling failures of 2020.


The Trumper with a Thousand Faces

Unpacking and trying to understand the appeal of Donald J. Trump is a cottage industry producing a library of books, documentaries and vast punditry. 

A new book – The Securitarian Personality – argues that the core of Trump’s appeal is a desire on the part of his most faithful followers for “security.” 

“Fervent Trump supporters like that his language does not kowtow to outsiders such as minorities, gays, and the parade of identity groups,” John Hibbing writes. “If his unfiltered direct speech and tweets compromised insiders and lifted outsiders, his base would turn on him in an instant.” 

“In sum, it’s not Trump per se; it’s just what he seems to represent.” 

This piece is from the Los Angeles Review of Books and is worth your time


The Man Who Brought “The Queen’s Gambit” to Life

Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon in “The Queen’s Gambit”

I’ve become a huge fan of the Netflix series “The Queen’s Gambit,” a fascinating, stylish piece of television that centers on a young woman – Beth Harmon – who is a chess phenom. 

And this piece gives the backstory of the author of the book that produced the series. It’s fascinating, too. 

“The Netflix series based on [Walter] Tevis’s novel has made Beth Harmon into a bona fide pop culture icon, a confident and brilliant young savant with impeccable fashion sense, played by budding star Anya Taylor-Joy. It may seem surprising that a story about a young woman who plays chess could resonate with so many, given chess’s relative lack of popularity in the United States. But what’s even more incredible than the success of the television show is the fact that its source material was written at all. At the time of the book’s publication, Walter Tevis, despite having been a celebrated and successful writer in the early 1960s, had vanished from public life for 17 years.”

Read this and watch the series.


Thanks for reading. Be well.

2020 Election, Biden, Books

Joe and Jill…

From this morning’s Politico Playbook:

“Today marks the beginning of the post-Trump era in American politics. To the extent that he still has political currency, it dwindles every day as Jan. 20, 2021 draws closer. Members of his own party are already suggesting his time is up. His staff is looking for new jobs. Markets are looking up, and analysts say it’s because of the expected calm in U.S. politics. In the U.K., government officials are now saying the Trump era was not good for them, and they vow to forge a good relationship with Joe Biden.”

“Around the world and at home, Trump has been written off.”


Many political consultants, journalists, students of how campaigns win and lose – political junkies in other words – consider the late Richard Ben Cramer’s book What It Takes: The Way to the White House to be the very best single book about the meat grinder we put people through who aspire to the highest office in the land. 

Richard Ben Cramer published his classic in 1992

Cramer’s celebrated volume – I’ve written about it before – is a doorstop of a book, ringing in at 1,047 pages even without an index and footnotes. It’s a classic of what was once called “the new journalism,” the kind of reporting that gets to the granular detail of candidates and campaigns. The book still inspires writers of political history.

Cramer’s focus was on six men who ran for president in 1988: two Republicans, Bob Dole and George H.W. Bush and four Democrats, Richard Gephardt, Gary Hart, Michael Dukakis and, yes, Joe Biden. 

I took down my well-thumbed copy of What It Takes on Saturday night shortly after Biden made the speech he’s been hoping to make since at least 1988. I wanted to revisit Cramer’s insights into Biden, and particularly a concise little section of the book that deals with the Biden marriage. It seemed especially relevant given what Biden said in his “victory” speech about his wife Jill. 

 “Folks, as I said many times before, I’m Jill’s husband,” Biden said to the raucous crowd assembled in Wilmington, Delaware on November 7. “And I would not be here without the love and tireless support of Jill and my son Hunter and Ashley, my daughter, and all our grandchildren and their spouses and all our family. They’re my heart. Jill’s a mom, a military mom, an educator.

“And she has dedicated her life to education, but teaching isn’t just what she does. It’s who she is. For American educators, this is a great day for y’all. You’re gonna have one of your own in the White House. And Jill’s gonna make a great first lady. I’m so proud of her.”

Most everyone who has been paying attention knows that just before Christmas 1972 Biden’s first wife, Neilia, died in an automobile accident along with the couple’s daughter, Naomi. The two Biden sons were seriously injured but survived. Biden had just been elected to the United States Senate and, not surprisingly, the tragedy, as he would say years later, altered his world forever

Whatever your politics, I defy you to read the chapter in Richard Ben Cramer’s book – he titled it simply “Jill” – and not get a little misty. It starts on page 712 and ends on 714. The punctuation is unusual, signaling pauses and reflection, more like someone speaking than writing, which is perhaps why Cramer’s descriptions ring so true. 

Jill and Joe Biden

“It was a couple of years after Neilia died,” Cramer wrote, “before Joe ever got himself back. Not that he was a basket case. Thirty-two years old, a Senator, rising star in the Party…that was fine.” But, as Cramer put it, there was “a hole in his life.” 

People encouraged him to go out, meet other people, but Biden insisted on being a father first…and last. Being a politician was just his day job. 

“He tried to go out, tentatively…it was hard. In Washington, he felt…well he had to go home. In Delaware, it was almost too close. Everybody knew, or thought they knew. Not to mention, all those eager …well, Mrs. Johnson thought her daughter would make a perfect match for a Senator…”

Meeting Jill Jacobs – she was 24 years old teacher – was a serendipitous thing. Joe saw a photo of her – “she was blond, young, smiling…she was gorgeous.” Biden’s brother “knew someone who knew her” and got Joe her number. He called her. She broke a date to see him for dinner. Biden showed up in a suit, bought dinner and afterward escorted her to the door and they shook hands. 

“She hadn’t gone out with a guy in a suit for – probably since high school.” And Jill told her Mom: “My God, I think I finally met a gentleman.” 

After the second date, “he called and told her he didn’t think they should date anyone else…after two dates! Then he wanted to bring the boys. Then he wanted to take her out with the family, the brothers, Val [Biden’s sister], his folks…that’s where Jill held back. She didn’t want to get involved with the family, to feel she was under inspection. Only later she figured out: Joe didn’t want an inspection. It wasn’t any special trip for here to meet the family. The family was how ‘we Bidens’ lived.” 

Cramer’s description of Jill Biden: “She could talk with anyone. Not that she believed everyone. No, she believed what she believed. She had backbone. She was private – Joe liked that, her cool way of hiding the girl inside, and the old hurts…he could see that. She had that way of looking at you, to make sure you meant what she thought was so funny…and then that quick shy smile, half-doubting – she could sniff out bullshit. She’d tell him, too – especially when it was his bullshit – she’d tell him straight. Very soft of manner was Jill, but smart: she knew who she liked.” 

Cramer goes on: “She could do it…he could see it…and when that started, well, he could see things falling into place. If he could put that back together, if he knew they’d have their home, their family…then he could reach outward again. It wasn’t just the schedule – he could travel, he could speak. It was more like the center was in place…so he could lift his eyes. That’s how Joe talked about it – his words. 

“What Jill did…she was the one who let me dream again.”

——

A lot of ink will be spilled over the next weeks and months analyzing why Joe Biden won and Donald Trump lost the presidential election of 2020. Clearly, the president of the United States tried to employ the same fundamental strategy he used against his Republican opponents in 2016 and then against Hillary Clinton. 

It wasn’t subtle. He sought to demonize Joe Biden. But it didn’t work. And the election, as it should have been, became largely a referendum on Donald Trump’s chaotic, shambolic, demagogic four years in office. 

I think the demonizing strategy didn’t work because Joe Biden, even with his penchant for verbal gaffes, his occasional odd turn of phrase, his 47 years in public life, is fundamentally what you see: a very decent guy who loves his wife, adores his family and really cares about the country. Is he perfect? Of course not. We don’t get perfect in politics or anything for that matter, but we can choose character and experience. And we did. 

It’s odd to me, as the political scientist Larry Sabato says, that politics in the only place in our society where we disparage experience. If we ever have needed someone who displays fundamental competence, we need it now. If we ever need someone who can summon our better angels and who can comfortably quote scripture because he actually believes it, we need it now. 

Are there big challenges ahead? Of course. Biden will assume the most impossible job in the world saddled with the most difficult problems encountered by any American president since at least 1932. But, you know, America is a lucky place. We usually get what we deserve. 

The United States took a wild and dangerous four-year swing in an anti-democratic direction, embracing a man almost wholly lacking in character, self-reflection, decency and competence. We self-corrected. In the process we may well have gotten the one person who has a chance to lead us to better days. 

Jill Biden made the right call all those years ago. Millions of Americans affirmed her decision on November 3rd

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