2020 Election, Idaho Politics, Trump

They Knew…

They all knew. 

Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, Mike Simpson and Russ Fulcher. They all knew. 

They knew the Republican candidate for president in 2016 was a fraud, a con man, a grifter, a bully, unfit, a liar, incompetent, even dangerous. They knew it and said it at the time. Crapo said he couldn’t support the guy after the Access Hollywood tape became public. Now, he quietly and meekly stands by while the attacks continue on John McCain and Muslims, women and minorities. The politician who once celebrated the character of a Reagan or a Bush grovels before a gold-plated fabulist who refuses to condemn white supremacists

Idaho Republican Mike Crapo repudiated Trump as unfit, then he went all in

Risch supported Marco Rubio and then Ted Cruz and then finally the guy who paid $750 in federal income taxes in both of his first two years in the White House. Actually, to be precise, Risch really didn’t support him, but because the senator is a profoundly partisan hack first and an American second, he’s embraced the con man

A year ago, Simpson said the whole Trump universe was a “distraction” that he refused to pay attention to, at least he did until he needed an endorsement for this re-election and then he went all in with the Grifter-in-Chief. The once principled congressman from Idaho’s second district is now all quiet. He’s all in on tax avoidance and almost surely tax fraud. Rampant foreign interference in American democracy, trying to cripple the post office and lying about mail ballots, but, well, character and honesty are vastly overrated.

Fulcher, a guy who’s never had an original thought in his political life, is a special case. He’s not just a partisan hack, but worse. The rookie congressman, with precisely zero to show for two years in Congress, is a museum exhibit for why Idaho’s first district has elected so many overstuffed sofas to Congress in the last 60 years. You need to steal from the late Molly Ivins to describe Fulcher-level vacuousness: “If his I.Q. slips any lower, we’ll have to water him twice a day.”

Ted Cruz knew. And Lindsey Graham. And Rand Paul. And, yes, Mitt Romney knew. They all knew. They called him a “bigot,” “utterly immoral,” the “Kim Kardashian of politics,” a “narcissist at a level that I don’t think this country has ever seen.” 

Governor Brad Little knew. Yet, he stood by while the president’s conspiracy theories and rank incompetence undermined his own faltering response to a deadly pandemic. While Idaho children contracted the virus and the White House pressured the Centers for Disease Control to soft pedal the risks of reopening schools, the governor was tweeting his praise for a Supreme Court nominee. Little is a smart guy, a decent guy, a Vandal. He knew it was all a disaster. 

They knew, especially Risch who had the access to the intelligence briefings and the best White House pass, that his response to the pandemic was going to unnecessarily kill thousands of Americans. They knew that not invoking the Defense Production Act to speed protective gear and testing kits to hospitals and schools was a disaster. They knew and they said nothing. It’s worse than merely being stupid, when you know, its malicious and deadly. 

They knew 200,000 dead Americans and 460 dead Idahoans was an historic fail, a tragedy. They knew. 

Idaho Republican Jim Risch hams it up with Ivanka Trump at the winter Olympics

They all knew when his first secretary of state called him a “moron,” when his second National Security Advisor called him “an idiot” and when his first defense secretary said he had the understanding of “a fifth- or sixth-grader” that he was taking the country to a dark and dangerous place. They saw it. They knew.

Now comes the cold reality that we all knew. He’s never been a successful businessman. He inherited $400 million and is now $400 million in debt. His casinos failed, his university failed, his airline and steaks and vodka failed. The failure of his presidency, we all knew, would follow. And it has. 

Much has been made of the report that he paid only $750 dollars in taxes during each of his first two years in the White House, while the average American household pays that much every month. While that does explain his panicked efforts to prevent his voters from knowing the extent of the scam, that isn’t the real story. The real story is that he’s a fraud, a fraud who almost certainly has committed fraud

They know, even as they act like it’s no big deal, that his huge personal debt and his desperation are a true national security threat. There are no coincidences in politics, so it is little wonder that he praises Putin, flatters Erdogan and cozies up to every flim-flam despot in the world. They know he needs these thugs – their money, their encouragement, their playbook.  

They knew that surrounding the presidency with enabling sycophants and grifting family members was a huge mistake, but they liked the judges and the tax cuts that flowed to their own bottom lines. And besides they knew that they had lost “the base” to the basest, most self-centered, incapable and destructive charlatan since Mussolini strutted in Rome. They knew. 

They know they once believed in character and integrity and “the rule of law.” They were the party of the Gipper and Ike; they still invoke Lincoln as if the icon of their party would recognize the current bumbling brutality. They know it was all a lie. And they know they enabled and then embraced the chaos and the crazy

They also know that in politics there is always, always a reckoning. You can fool some of the people always, but the rest eventually catch on. The reckoning is coming. They know. 

They hope, as they stare into the dysfunction, decay and disease of the country under their watch, that it was all an aberration, a spasm of crassness and craziness when America went temporarily off the rails before self-correcting. They hope, because they don’t really know. 

They hope the memories are short and the forgiveness is plentiful because they knew it was all going to be a disaster from the first day. They hope they can hang on to their seats, and this being Idaho, they probably will, but they must know they own all the mistakes, the carelessness, the lying, the death and damage to democracy. They know and they know it will haunt them all their days. 

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Additional Reading:

Some articles from the last few days that I found of interest. You may, too.

I Lived Through Collapse. America Is Already There.

Indi Samarajiva is a writer who lives in Colombo, Sri Lanka and experienced first-hand the collapse of his country’s civil society. 

This is the most chilling thing I’ve read in a while. 

“Perhaps you’re waiting for some moment when the adrenaline kicks in and you’re fighting the virus or fascism all the time, but it’s not like that. Life is not a movie, and if it were, you’re certainly not the star. You’re just an extra. If something good or bad happens to you it’ll be random and no one will care. If you’re unlucky you’re a statistic. If you’re lucky, no one notices you at all.

“Collapse is just a series of ordinary days in between extraordinary bullshit, most of it happening to someone else. That’s all it is.”

The full piece:


The COVID-19 Pandemic Is Changing Our Dreams

But you knew that, right? I don’t always remember the dreams, but the ones that do follow me into the day have been doozies. 

Tore Nielsen is a professor of psychiatry at the Université de Montréal and director of the Dream and Nightmare Laboratory there. She writes in Scientific American:

“Although widespread changes in dreaming had been reported in the U.S. following extraordinary events such as the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, a surge of this magnitude had never been documented. This upwelling of dreams is the first to occur globally and the first to happen in the era of social media, which makes dreams readily accessible for immediate study. As a dream ‘event,’ the pandemic is unprecedented.”

You’re not dreaming unless you’re dreaming weird stuff. The full article.


The Ugliest, Most Contentious Presidential Election Ever

Before Bush v. Gore there was Hayes v. Tilden in 1876. 

Tilden won the popular vote, Hayes became president. It was 1876

“Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina were deemed too close to call, and with those states still in question, Tilden remained one electoral vote short of the 185 required by the Constitution to win election. With 165 electoral votes tallied for Hayes, all he needed to do was capture the combined 20 electoral votes from those three contested states, and he’d win the presidency. The ensuing crisis took months to unfold, beginning with threats of another civil war and ending with an informal, behind-the-scenes deal—the Compromise of 1877—that gave Hayes the presidency in exchange for the removal of federal troops from the South, effectively ending Reconstruction.

Gilbert King in Smithsonian magazine has the history of the most contentious presidential election – until now, perhaps. 

2020 Election, Andrus, GOP, Supreme Court

Old School Politics…

I worked for many years for a politician of the old school. Former Idaho governor and U.S. secretary of the Interior Cecil D. Andrus practiced what is now clearly an old-fashioned version of politics. 

Andrus could be, and often was, a tough partisan, yet as a Democrat who served more than 14 years as governor during four terms spread over three decades Andrus never once had a Democratic majority in the state legislature. He had to practice the art of the possible and that almost always involved give and take and compromise. It is an old school notion to believe that it’s not a political disaster when you have to settle for half a loaf. 

Andrus had political adversaries, but few enemies. He counted among his closest political friends an old golfing pal and frequent partisan adversary Phil Batt, the conversative Republican who followed Andrus into the governor’s office in 1995. A long-time Republican state senator from Boise, H. Dean Summers, was on Andrus’s speed dial. Back in the day when Democrats had greater numbers in the legislature, if never a majority, Summers often helped Andrus pass his priority legislation. They were friends who could also make a deal. 

In 1974, when Andrus was trying to get a controversial nominee confirmed to the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC), a project requiring a handful of Republicans votes, Summers convinced his friend the governor that another Boise Republican, Lyle Cobbs, might be persuaded to support the controversial Democratic candidate, but only if the conditions were right. The condition that became persuasive for Cobbs involved his enthusiastic backing of legislation to make then-Boise State College a university. 

South Idaho Press, February 5, 1974

As luck would have it, or perhaps it was a matter of exquisite timing, a bill to rename the college was sitting on the governor’s desk when the PUC nomination came to the floor of the state senate. During the debate, Andrus, on a signal from his friend Senator Summers, placed a call to Senator Cobbs’ desk and reminded the Republican that his important Boise State legislation was awaiting executive action. Andrus hardly needed to say he was watching how Cobbs voted on his PUC candidate. 

Later, after Bob Lenaghan took his seat on the PUC and while Andrus was signing the legislation to create Boise State University, Cobb jokingly asked: “You wouldn’t have vetoed this bill would you, governor?” Andrus smiled and said, “You’ll never know will you, Lyle?” 

Idaho Associated Press story from February 21, 1974

The two politicians had effectively made a bargain. Andrus got what he wanted; Cobbs got what he needed. They trusted each other. 

For a politician like Cece Andrus there was no higher compliment to be paid to a fellow pol than to say, “his word is good.” I heard him say it a thousand times. It was one of many reasons he got along so well with Phil Batt. They could trust each other to stay “hitched,” as Andrus would say. You make a commitment to do something you do it. You shake hands on a deal and then you never renege. You give your word and stick with it. Even if it becomes uncomfortable. 

I’ve thought a lot about this old school approach to politics as I’ve watched Senate Republicans this week literally twist themselves into partisan pretzels in order to go back on commitments they made in 2016 not to consider, let alone vote, on Barack Obama’s Supreme Court candidate in that election year. 

No matter how they try to spin it, from Lindsey Graham to Mike Crapo, from Lamar Alexander to Mike Lee they simply aren’t keeping their word. Every Senate Republican save two has now said the principle they staked out then when a Democrat was in the White House doesn’t apply when their party controls who gets nominated to the high court. All are being accused of hypocrisy, but that word hardly does justice to the lack of character that allows politicians to do one thing when they want to prevent something from happening and the exact opposite when that position become convenient in order to arrive at a desired outcome. 

Graham, the slippery South Carolinian, will become the poster boy for the current Republican double-dealing. He is actually on tape on at least two occasions saying that the pledge he made not to consider Obama’s appointee in 2016 would apply to a Republican in exactly the same circumstances. “You can use my words against me,” Graham said. And then he went back on his word. 

Crapo and Graham and so many others have done the same. You’d be right to wonder if you could ever again trust their word on anything. 

Some years ago, I wrote a remembrance of Montana Democrat Mike Mansfield, still the longest tenured majority leader in Senate history. I’d heard a story that Mansfield had once helped a freshman Republican, Ted Stevens of Alaska, as tough a partisan as ever prowled the Senate floor, get a fair shake on a piece of legislation. I wanted to confirm the story and arranged to speak to Stevens. 

Montana Senator Mike Mansfield, the longest-serving majority leader in Senate history

In a nutshell, Stevens had been promised by a senior Democrat that an amendment he wanted to offer to legislation particularly important to Alaska would be considered. But Stevens was busy in a committee meeting when the time came to offer his amendment and the courtesy of informing him was ignored. In short, a bond had been broken. 

Stevens, a man with a hair trigger temper, confronted the majority leader complaining – justifiably – that he’d been purposely snookered. As Stevens told me, Mansfield asked for a copy of the amendment the Alaskan had intended to offer, got recognized by the chair, interrupted the roll call and offered Stevens’ amendment as his own. It was adopted. Mike Mansfield, one of the most respected men to ever serve in the Senate, was not going to let a colleague down. The substance of the issue was entirely unimportant, but the principle that your word is your bond was absolutely sacrosanct. 

Ask yourself: Would you buy a used car from these guys whose word is so fungible? Would you trust a handshake deal with a Lindsey Graham or a Mike Crapo? When your word is worth so little your character is worth even less. 

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Additional Reading:

Some additional reading you may find of interest…

Thomas Mallon has a wonderful piece in the latest New Yorker, a look back at a presidential campaign exactly 100 years ago. The election took the country from Woodrow Wilson to Warren Harding. Voters were confronted with the political fatigue of the post-World War I period and a global pandemic and Wilson’s months of incapacity.

“When considered against the electoral circumstances that exchanged Wilson, a Democrat, for Harding, a Republican, some of the tumults of 2020 appear to be a centennial reiteration, or inversion, of the calamities and longings of the 1920 campaign. Then the country—recently riven by disease, inflamed with racial violence and anxious about immigration, torn between isolation and globalism—yearned for what the winning candidate somewhat malapropically promised would be a return to ‘normalcy.'”

It’s a very good read.


The Ginsburg Tag Team

Some months before she went on the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg delivered the commencement speech at the Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland and she shared the assignment with her attorney husband, Marty.

Ruth and Marty Ginsburg

Maxine Bernstein had a delightful piece recently in The Oregonian on how it went.

“Martin D. Ginsburg followed his wife. He shared how he started working as a tax lawyer at a New York law firm, then gave up the practice to teach tax law. He said he learned in both the practice of law and in teaching to use humor to help make messages stick, and he emphasized the importance of a lawyer’s professional responsibility.

“He shared how a senior litigation partner once called him into his office and shared a quote he lived his professional life by: ‘If someone goes to jail, be sure it’s the client.'”

Read the entire thing.


History According to Trump

I guess it’s a good thing we always fight over history, after all there is no one settled way of looking at events in the past. History is, or should be, based on verifiable facts, documents, first hand accounts and much more. It is not a political exercise unless partisan people try to make history partisan.

Pivot to the recent White House conference on American history. A distinguished historian, Ron Radosh – he taught at CUNY and has written extensively about American history – deconstructed the “conference.” It is a fascinating read.

“There are some important questions that deserve to be asked about the teaching of history and its contribution to creating a sense of citizenship, and the ways in which those two can be in tension with one another. But such questions went unasked at last week’s conference. The White House Conference on American History was anything but what the title of the forum announced. It was a publicity stunt, and the participants, including the two historians, were played by Donald Trump and his administration.”

The full piece from The Bulwark.


Burning Down the House

Speaking of good historians: Princeton historian Julian Zelizer has a new book that I’ve been reading, the story of how Newt Gingrich totally messed with Washington and the House of Representatives.

Jeff Shesol reviewed the book in the Washington Post.

“Gingrich had little interest in ethics, except as a cudgel. His own conduct, personal and political, was far from exemplary. But as Zelizer writes, he had ‘a central insight: the transformational changes of the Watergate era . . . could be used to fundamentally destabilize the entire political establishment.’ Post-Watergate reforms, designed to open up the closed doors of the Capitol and let the sunlight in, gave Gingrich an arsenal of weapons. Public hearings were an opportunity to drag reputations through the mud. Ethics investigations were a means to portray legislative dealmaking as a venal, vaguely criminal act. C-SPAN, a product of the reform movement, became a forum for character assassination, unfiltered, in prime time.”

The full review is here.

Thanks, as always, for reading. All the best.

2020 Election, Climate Change, Fire Policy, Pandemic, Trump

Disbelieving Ourselves to Death…

If you could choose just one moment from the last week to capture the utter unreality of our time – and our politics – you could do worse than looking at the highlights of a baseball game played last Monday in Seattle. 

The A’s and Mariners split a doubleheader, but the images that linger from the game have nothing to do with home runs or great defensive plays. The dystopian scene that persists is the reality that the game was played in an empty stadium where seats were filled with smiling cardboard cutouts not fans, with many players wearing face masks and wondering why the games had been played at all. 

The stadium was filled with smoke, not fans

“I think it was OK breathing, but we definitely noticed it,” Mariners centerfielder Kyle Lewis told reporters. “The sky was all foggy and smoky; it definitely wasn’t a normal situation, definitely a little weird.” True statement. 

The Seattle skyline – and every skyline from L.A. to Missoula – was obscured by a mile’s high worth of smoke. The air quality this week in four major western cities is among the worst in the world, all brought to the Seattle ballpark and your lungs by the catastrophic wildfires raging from southern California to the Canadian border, from the Oregon coast to Montana.

The West is burning. The pandemic is raging. The climate is cooking. And a sizable percentage of Americans are willingly suspending their disbelief about all of it, still enthralled with the smash mouth nonsense of the biggest science denier since Pope Urban VIII in the 17th Century decreed that Galileo was wrong and the Sun really does orbit the Earth. 

Pope Urban VIII, an earlier science denier

The suspension of disbelief, the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote in 1817, is a necessary element of fiction, or perhaps more pleasingly, poetry. It demands, Coleridge said, that we “transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.” 

You have to want to do this suspension of reality business since it really doesn’t come naturally. A reflective human reaction to things that just don’t seem true is to question what you hear or see. Not anymore. We have reached our “Duck Soup” moment and we are living the line delivered by Chico, one of the Marx Brothers in that 1933 movie: “Well, who ya gonna believe me or your own eyes?”

When told by the secretary of the California Natural Resources department, Wayne Crowfoot, that the record three million acres burned so far this year in that state required a response that goes beyond managing vegetation, the president of the United States blithely mumbled: “It’ll start getting cooler. You just watch.” 

Crowfoot pushed back gently on the science-denier-in-chief saying, “I wish science agreed with you.” But like the surly guy who has to win every argument at the neighborhood bar – back when the neighborhood bar was open – Donald Trump said, “I don’t think science knows actually.” 

Undoubtedly, his many supporters celebrated more of their “poetic faith” even though every eighth grader in the American West knows more about forests and fire than our president from Queens, the same guy who predicted repeatedly that the virus would “just go away.” 

To hear the president on the campaign trail, cheered on by nearly every one of the intellectually bankrupt elected officials in the Republican Party, the pandemic is over, the economy is roaring back and radical thugs are coming to a suburb near you. Reality that doesn’t depend on suspending disbelief would be, as James Fallows wrote this week in The Atlantic, that “Trump is running on a falsified vision of America, and hoping he can make enough people believe it to win.”

The Trump campaign flew into Nevada a few days ago to rally with hundreds of supporters packed shoulder to shoulder in a building in Henderson. The event took place in defiance of not only the state of Nevada’s prohibition against such large gatherings, but the clear guidance of Trump’s own science and medical experts. But, then again, they are all probably “elitists” from liberal colleges and universities. What do they know? 

The Nevada rally and subsequent campaign events in Arizona and elsewhere came at the same time as the release of Bob Woodward’s latest book, in many ways, like all Woodward books, a Washington insiders’ version of the presidency as a decades long exercise in suspended disbelief. There is, however, one thing different about this Woodward book. He’s got the tapes

Back in the spring when Trump was daily trying to happy talk his way through the pandemic he said on April 10: “The invisible enemy will soon be in full retreat.” Three days later he spoke by phone with Woodward who recorded the conversation with Trump’s full knowledge and confirmed that he had been lying to all of us for weeks. “This thing is a killer if it gets you,” Trump said on April 13, “if you’re the wrong person, you don’t have a chance.” Trump went on to call the virus that once was magically “just going to go away” a “plague.” 

Trump campaign rally in Nevada violated the state’s ban on large gathering and defied the president’s own science advisors

In an earlier interview with Woodward in February Trump called the virus “deadly stuff” that was “more deadly than your, you know, your — even your strenuous flus.”

At least two things are happening here. Trump was caught in real time lying about a pandemic that will soon have claimed 200,000 American lives, shutdown schools and businesses and devastated the economy in ways we can’t yet imagine. By his ignorance and malevolence, the president, and those most guilty of aiding his mission of chaos and death – read congressional Republicans – continues to wreak havoc on every single one of his constituents. It should go without saying that it didn’t have to happen, and it hasn’t happened in most of the rest of the world. You can look it up. 

Second, the president and his pathetically craven enablers are waging a massive propaganda campaign in an effort to win an election, relying on huge doses of magical thinking larded with suspended disbelief. 

So, sure, Trump’s doing a superb job. It’s going to get cooler and magically that smoke once it’s gone will never reappear. The “deadly stuff” is nothing to fret about. I mean, after all, who ya gonna believe: A guy who lies for a living or your own eyes?

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Additional Reading:

Some other stories I found interesting this week. Hope you enjoy.

A Nation Derailed

Like most of you, I haven’t been traveling much lately. But long-time readers probably know that I am a big fan of train travel. My last rail trip was almost a year ago now from Montreal to Halifax on an overnight sleeper train. I loved it. 

So, I found this piece by Lewis McCrary a fine primer on why the rest of the world has decent – or in some cases outstanding – rail service, while the U.S. limps along with our sadly underfunded Amtrak system. You can read the story as a metaphor of source for failed American leadership, or at least misplaced American priorities. 

“Since its beginnings 40 years ago, Amtrak has insisted that it can become a self-sustaining operation, largely based upon claims like those made in 1971: in high-traffic, high-density corridors like the Northeast, there is sufficient consumer demand that passenger rail can operate at a profit. There has always been some truth to this line of reasoning, but it ignores a question that is at the heart of interstate transportation policy, both for highways and railroads: who pays the enormous costs of building and maintaining infrastructure? Interstate highways were only made possible through large federal subsidies—handouts not unlike those that created the grand railway network in the late 19th century.” 

Read the whole piece


Joan Didion on Bob Woodward 

I confess I have never been a great fan of Bob Woodward’s thick tomes on Washington politics. Few can argue with his role – and Carl Bernstein’s – in exposing the crimes of Watergate, but his books have often been the product of absolutely conventional D.C. wisdom, frequently based on his access to key players who, if they play the access game skillfully, usually come off looking OK.

It’s also always bothered me that often Woodward’s books rely almost entirely on unnamed sources. Footnotes matter, after all. 

And almost always Woodward becomes, as he has recently, a big part of the story. Yes, I think he erred in not revealing a lot soon what Donald Trump was telling him about the virus.

Fear – the new Bob Woodward book

Still, the latest Woodward is a bit different. He has hours of tapes of Donald Trump. No anonymous source, but the source. Still, with all the hype over Rage, the latest Woodward tome, it strikes me there is less here than meets the eye. It is, as I point out above, no great scoop that Trump is a habitual liar.

The great Joan Didion was not a Woodward fan either and in 1996 she did a rather epic takedown of the Washington Post reporter/editor. It’s worth revisiting. 

“Mr. Woodward’s rather eerie aversion to engaging the ramifications of what people say to him has been generally understood as an admirable quality, at best a mandarin modesty, at worst a kind of executive big-picture focus, the entirely justifiable oversight of someone with a more important game to play . . . What seems most remarkable in this new Woodward book is exactly what seemed remarkable in the previous Woodward books, each of which was presented as the insiders’ inside story and each of which went on to become a number-one bestseller: these are books in which measurable cerebral activity is virtually absent.”

Here’s the link.


After the Gold Rush 

In September 1990 – thirty years ago – Vanity Fair magazine published a long piece by Marie Brennan on a New York developer and his then-Czech wife. 

Donald Trump and then-wife Ivana in 1990

The story was an early taste, actually a hearty gulp, of the man who now sits in the White House. Reading it today is a little like having a look three decades ago of what the future would look like in 2020. Brennan wrote:

“I thought about the ten years since I had first met Donald Trump,” Brennan wrote. “It is fashionable now to say that he was a symbol of the crassness of the 1980s, but Trump became more than a vulgarian. Like Michael Milken, Trump appeared to believe that his money gave him a freedom to set the rules. No one stopped him. His exaggerations and baloney were reported, and people laughed. His bankers showered him with money. City officials almost allowed him to set public policy by erecting his wall of concrete on the Hudson River. New York City, like the bankers from the Chase and Manny Hanny, allowed Trump to exist in a universe where all reality had vanished. ‘I met with a couple of reporters,’ Trump told me on the telephone, ‘and they totally saw what I was saying. They completely believed me. And then they went out and wrote vicious things about me, as I am sure you will, too.’ Long ago, Trump had counted me among his enemies in his world of ‘positives’ and ‘negatives.’ I felt that the next dozen people he spoke to would probably be subjected to a catalogue of my transgressions as imagined by Donald Trump.”

Read the whole thing if you have a strong stomach. 


The Nazi Menace

I just finished a fine new book by historian Benjamin Carter Hett, a scholar of modern Germany who teaches at CUNY. It’s called The Nazi Menace and focuses on the event immediately leading up to the outbreak of World War II in September 1939. It’s a fine book and I recommend it to anyone wanting a firmer understanding of these central events in 20th Century history.

Another historian I admire, Fredrik Logevall, reviewed the book for the New York Times.

“For the Western leaders and their populations, the second half of the 1930s represented, Hett argues, a ‘crisis of democracy.’ In the minds of influential observers like Churchill and the American columnist Walter Lippmann, it seemed an open question whether the major democracies could respond effectively to the threat from totalitarian states that were primed for war and had ready access to resources. Could Western leaders mobilize their competing interest groups and fickle constituents to support costly overseas commitments? What if these same constituents fell under the sway of fascism, with its racist and nationalist appeals?”

Read the review here.


Thanks, as always, for following along. Be safe and be well.

2020 Election, Lincoln, Politics

Is America Obsolete?

What if the American experiment has reached its sell by date?

What are the chances the 244-year run of “the last best hope on earth,” as Lincoln said, is not just in twilight, but already too far gone to save? 

Lincoln’s hope for the world depended on, he said, “plain, peaceful, generous, just” actions by Americans who profoundly disagreed about big issues but were still bound together by a common purpose – to be part of a country bigger and better than its differences.

The “last best hope on earth” or the end of the American story?

What if the United States of the 21st Century is not the place Lincoln thought it to be, but just too big, too diverse, too divided, its population too invested in tribal loyalties and hatred, too eager to condemn, too sure of its own righteousness and too certain of its disdain to survive? What if our 244 years of failing to really confront the original American sin of permitting, indeed encouraging, human bondage has finally visited a reckoning on us? 

What if the parallel crisis of race, pandemic, economic and climate upheaval is just too much for our inadequate leadership, our fractured social compact and our wildly differing views of reality to handle? 

What if surviving world wars, economic collapse, including a decade-long depression, a deadly pandemic a hundred years ago and the catastrophe of civil war in the 1860s was just part of a trial run for ultimate failure in the 21st Century? What if “the last best hope” isn’t? 

I confess that I have never before, even in the abstract, really considered that the end might come. The United States is, after all, as we used to tell ourselves, “the indispensable nation.” The “greatest country” on the planet. We had the biggest economy, the best health care, the most freedom. We are, or we told ourselves we were, “exceptional.” 

But now we see it was all a lie. We told ourselves stories about how great things are and we believed our own press releases. We said the American system – checks and balances, fair and free elections, holding people accountable, the “rule of law” – could be shaken from time-to-time, but would endure. The idea, we told ourselves, was that our very special Constitution would protect us from crooks and charlatans and despots. Congress would exercise its independence and hold a chief executive who got too big for the Constitution accountable. After all, Republicans told Republican Richard Nixon that the jig was up, and he had to go. The system worked. Back then. 

What is really in the American DNA?

Not to worry, we convinced ourselves, American ideals, perhaps never fully realized, like the “all men are created equal” language not really applying to all persons, would still, by hook or crook, prevail.

We got this covered we assured ourselves. A momentary blip in the body politic and before you know it, we’ll be back on the path to perfecting “a more perfect union.” But we aren’t on that path. Our current path is down a long, dark alley were division and discord seem to be the only truly exceptional things about the country. 

As Thomas Geoghegan recently put it perfectly: “we are at a moment like the one the country faced in 1932 – there is not just fear and uncertainty and a sense of being unmoored but also the doubt that our form of government is capable of coping. In a way it is even worse: unlike in 1932, the plot against America is already in full swing, and we as a people are even more uncertain of who we are.” 

A thing to remember about the United States is that it’s just an idea, and an idea built on a very flimsy foundation. It’s not the laws and the Constitution that ultimately matter, but rather that people – citizens and their leaders – will decide, even when it means acting against immediate self-interest, that they will still act in good faith. The idea is that respect for the norms of a democratic society will be observed and that decency will ultimately prevail, even if observing the norms and behaving decently mean that my side is going to lose some of the time. How obsolete that seems today

If America is not to pass away into something Lincoln would not recognize, that Franklin Roosevelt would find repugnant, that General and President Eisenhower would reject, we need to recapture a shared sense of national purpose

We can begin with a fundamental question. What do we really stand for? It’s not that we stand for any one president or any one political position, but what is really in the American DNA? 

The Catholic scholar Thomas Levergood takes me back to my own belief in my church’s social message, which is to search for and find “the common good.” Levergood recently defined the idea in an essay in the Jesuit journal America: “In a specific sense a common good refers to something that can only be shared in common and cannot be divided in pieces and be possessed by individuals or smaller groups. It is a common end achieved through common actions.”

Levergood continues: “It is in plain view that many of our fellow citizens are so frustrated with our political system that they have fallen for populist rhetoric to condemn all ‘politicians’ or government itself as evil. (Others are taking out their frustrations by tearing down statues.) This situation derives not from bad ideas or faults in the American people but rather from lacking the common good of a functioning political system.” 

We fix what ails America and avoid obsolescence by rededicating ourselves as citizens to creating a functioning political system that aims squarely at the common good, not what’s good for a Republican or a Democrat, a socialist or a libertarian, a conservative or a liberal, but an American. 

Deirdre Schifeling, who heads an organization dedicated to expanding voting rights, recently told The Guardian she believes this election marks a tipping point in America, a moment in which the country, having been jolted out of its complacency, will rebound. “Faith in our democracy is at an all-time low and that is very dangerous. Now the work begins on fixing it.”

Let’s hope she’s right. And let’s find our common purpose before it’s too late. 

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

A collection of pieces I found of interest this week and I hope you will, too.

130 degrees

The climate crisis came home to us in western Oregon this week. The worst and most deadly fires in recorded memory destroyed homes and businesses and brought death – not to mention vast layers of smoke – to often wet and green Oregon.

If you any longer think that climate change is a hoax, I have some air for you to breath on the north coast. And then read this piece by Bill McKibben in the New York Review of Books. Absolutely frightening.

Drought, high temps, wind and fuel load have made fires disastrous in Oregon

“Depending on the study, the risk of ‘very large fires’ in the western US rises between 100 and 600 percent; the risk of flooding in India rises twenty-fold. Right now the risk that the biggest grain-growing regions will have simultaneous crop failures due to drought is ‘virtually zero,’ but at four degrees ‘this probability rises to 86%.’ Vast ‘marine heatwaves’ will scour the oceans: “One study projects that in a four-degree world sea temperatures will be above the thermal tolerance threshold of 100% of species in many tropical marine ecoregions.” The extinctions on land and sea will certainly be the worst since the end of the Cretaceous, 65 million years ago, when an asteroid helped bring the age of the dinosaurs to an end.

Quite a legacy to live to the kids and grandkids. Read it all here.


The Truth is Paywalled, the Lies are Free

Nathan J. Robinson, writing in Current Affairs, has a really good and provocative piece on access to information. He notes that quality sources of information – the New York Times, Washington Post, New York Review, Times of London, Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, among others – have their content (for the most part) behind a “paywall,” while “BreitbartFox News, the Daily Wire, the Federalist, the Washington Examiner, InfoWars” are free!

You do get what you pay for (this site not withstanding).

Robinson is really arguing for a system of uniform, free access to all kinds of content that doesn’t screw over the producers of the content. Worth your time.


Joey Biden, He Could Really Talk

The late Richard Ben Cramer wrote what political junkies (like me) consider the best presidential campaign book – ever – called What it Takes.

It might just be the best political book ever. Cramer focused on the candidates who ran for president in 1988, including a guy named Joe Biden.

Trust me, it’s worth your time.

“Joe did not stutter all the time. At home, he almost never stuttered. With his friends, seldom. But when he moved to Delaware, there were no friends. There were new kids, a new school, and new nuns to make him stand up and read in class: that’s when it always hit—always always always. When he stood up in front of everybody else, and he wanted, so much, to be right, to be smooth, to be smart, to be normal, j-j-ju-ju-ju-ju-jus’th-th-th-th-then!

“Of course, they laughed. Why wouldn’t they laugh? He was new, he was small, he was … ridiculous … even to him. There was nothing wrong. That’s what the doctors said.

“So why couldn’t he talk right?” Read the excerpt here.


She laid waste to a “dozen-odd writers and artists

I really loved this piece in the London Review of Books, a book review really of works by and about Maeve Brennan, a long-time writer for The New Yorker. It was said Brennan “could stop traffic” and was the inspiration for Truman Capote’s character Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s

An iconic photo of the writer Maeve Brennan by Carl Bissinger

“At the New Yorker, with her ‘longshoreman’s mouth’ and ‘tongue that could clip a hedge’, she made her opinions known. Daphne du Maurier was ‘witless’, Jean Stafford her ‘bête noire’. Brennan immediately set her sights on grander things than the fashion notes and short reviews she’d been hired to write. In 1952, her first story appeared; two years later, she had a piece in ‘The Talk of the Town’, the section of the magazine over which [William] Shawn kept the tightest of reins. Brennan’s male colleagues, including [the cartoonist Charles] Addams, Joseph Mitchell and Brendan Gill (all of them her lovers at one time or another), joked that she had served her apprenticeship in hemlines. But it was the ability to spot the difference between ‘beige’ and ‘bone’ at fifty yards that made her a natural diarist. John Updike said her ‘Talk of the Town’ pieces ‘helped put New York back into the New Yorker’.”

Good stuff.

Thanks for reading. If you know someone who might be interested in these weekly posting please let me know or have them sign up at the website.

Stay safe. Be well.

2020 Election, Trump

Winning by Losing…

Donald Trump has finally settled on his re-election message. He tried a number of alternatives before settling on the 2020 rallying cry. He first tried to advance the fantasy that Joe Biden was some how corrupted by Ukraine. Then he suggested that Biden was senile. “Make America Great Again, Again” just doesn’t roll off the tongue, especially since the country is closing in on 175,000 COVID-19 deaths with 30 million Americans collecting unemployment benefits in July. 

None of that worked so Trump is going for an all-purpose slogan: “the only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged.” He actually says that and then repeats it. 

At least Trump is consistent. Nearly four years ago – October 17, 2016 to be precise – then candidate Trump tweeted: “Of course there is large scale voter fraud happening on and before election day. Why do Republican leaders deny what is going on? So naive!”

Then, of course, a funny thing happened that obviously not even Donald Trump was expecting. He won the election, drawing an inside straight and winning Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania by a combined 79,464 votes. “Large scale voter fraud” immediately became a mandate to oversee the most corrupt and incompetent presidential administration in American history. 

Now, trailing Democrat Biden in every poll and his incompetence in handling the deadly, economy killing, school closing, sports cancelling pandemic laid bare for everyone to see, Trump is back on message: the whole thing is rigged against me. 

It’s the message of a loser, but even more it is the death rattle of a profoundly damaged and damaging man who, if he has his way, will do his best to torch the single most important foundation of democracy: faith in an election. 

It is by now well documented that Trump suffers from “narcissistic personality disorder,” or even more seriously “malignant narcissism,” a condition described by Dr. John Gartner, a 28-year practicing psychologist at Johns Hopkins University Medical School, as  “a diagnosis [that is] far more toxic and dangerous than mere narcissism because it combines narcissism with three other severely pathological components: paranoia, sociopathy and sadism.” 

Or as journalist Jennifer Senor wrote recently: “The grandiosity of narcissistic personalities belies an extreme fragility, their egos as delicate as foam. They live in terror of being upstaged. They’re too thin skinned to be told they’re wrong.”

Trump will never be able – his world view and narcissism prevent it – from accepting defeat. He’s never wrong, never says he’s sorry, never admits a mistake, so how can he possibly lose? In his mind he can’t, so the election must be rigged. 

He began peddling the same line when polls showed him losing to Hillary Clinton in 2016 and now – Trump always repeats his previous tactics – he is salting the ground against a loss to Biden. 

Maybe Trump will succeed in drawing the same inside straight that allowed him to lose the popular vote in 2016 by three million ballots, but still win the Electoral College. But let’s assume for a moment that he doesn’t repeat the feat that even he didn’t think possible four years ago.

Donald Trump is not a strategic thinker. But rather he lives to fight another day by fighting today. He has no grand strategy beyond the November 3rd election. The only point is to survive and, of course, to deflect responsibility when, as it inevitably will, his jerry-built house of political cards is blown away. 

If the U.S. Postal Service – particularly critical in rural western states – is collateral damage in the Trump effort to delegitimize voting by mail so what? What’s wrong with a little slowdown in grandma getting her diabetes medication if the president can manufacture an excuse for “the election was rigged.” 

Delaware Democratic Senator Chris Coons was outside a postal service building in his state this week showing that mail sorting equipment has been dismantled

The American College of Physicians warned this week that, “There are already reports from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which fills 80 percent of its prescriptions by mail, that veterans have experienced significant delays in their mail-order prescription drugs. A delay in receiving a necessary prescription could be life-threatening.” 

Political campaigns typically try to devise strategies to increase voter participation, but Trump – and increasingly his Republican Party – aim to narrow the electorate, making it more difficult for African American voters in larger cities to vote, limiting polling places and blocking efforts to expand mail voting. The Trump campaign, for example, has sued three heavily Democratic counties in Iowa in an attempt to thwart greater absentee voting. 

Trump will continue to sow chaos and division for the next ten weeks. It’s the only approach he knows and elected Republicans, who long ago decided to ride this garbage truck of dysfunction all the way to the landfill, will raise not a peep of concern. 

Trump recently demoted, or more correctly fired, his campaign manager – another reprise from 2016 – and hired a guy who has never run a national campaign. When journalist Olivia Nuzzi went looking for evidence that the shake up had energized Trump efforts in must-win Pennsylvania she found none. Events advertised to recruit volunteers didn’t come off or people didn’t show up. 

Instead of mounting a campaign that might claw back the standing of a guy who close to 60% of the electorate disapproves, Trumpian advisors, Nuzzi wrote, “seem to think that if they got lucky the last time, and proved the conventional wisdom wrong, maybe they’ll just happen to get lucky again.”

But if they don’t get lucky again Trump has already created his post-November 3rd narrative. The whole election was a farce. The other side cheats. It’s a crime. It’s not legit. “The only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged.” 

And where will America stand then? Can any Trump partisan really imagine that Joe Biden would claim in losing an election that it was stolen from him? 

Can any American imagine that if Donald Trump loses in November that he won’t say the election was stolen from him? Heck, he’ll make the claim before the polls close in California.

—–o—–

Additional Reading:

Some items I found of interest that you may enjoy.

Trump and the GOP

Ruth Ben-Ghiat is a professor of history and Italian studies at New York University and a cultural scholar of fascist Italy. Her recent essay in the New York Review of Books – Co-opt & Corrupt: How Trump Bent and Broke the GOP – applies her study of how authoritarian regimes work to what has happened to the Republican Party under Donald Trump. 

And by the way, for a long time I personally resisted such comparisons as overblown or just too far out there. I no longer do. She writes:

“Trump also needed people who would lie for him and keep his secrets. Corruption is a process, as well as a set of practices. It involves gradual changes in ethical and behavioral norms that make actions that were once considered illegal or immoral seem acceptable—whether election fraud, lying to the public, treasonous conduct, or sexual assault. The discarding of accountability as an ideal of governance makes keeping the fundamental pact of personalist rule—staying silent about the leader’s incompetence and illegal actions—a lot easier.”

Read the entire piece.

——-

Prince Jared

The Atlantic’s Franklin Foer takes a look at Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner. What he finds is both fascinating and appalling.

And just to note: it is easy to forget how completely unusual it is that the son-in-law and daughter of an American president, neither with a lick of government experience, are top aides in the White House. As they say, it’s not normal.

The president and his go-to son-in-law

Kushner is effectively running the Trump re-election effort.

“Kushner may take pride in the plan he devised,” Foer writes, “but current poll numbers suggest he shouldn’t. He has demonstrated little ability to stand up to his surrogate father—who has, at the very least, frustrated Kushner’s plan for bolstering the incumbent’s share of the Black vote. And although Trump may enjoy the frictionless ability to do whatever he pleases, he has entrusted his political future to an overconfident young man who believes he has all the answers. In politics, as in governing, Trump is trapped by kinship, forced to live the reality predicted by the maxim about the perils of mixing business and family. And if the president loses in November, it won’t be himself he will blame.”

Here is the link.

——

The Great Bob Gibson 

The New Yorker recently resurrected a piece on the great St. Louis Cardinal pitcher Bob Gibson. The story by the fabulous Roger Angell – he turns 100 next month – is a classic bit of baseball writing from the master of the craft. The focus is Gibson’s historic performance in the first game of the 1968 World Series against the Tigers. 

“The players in the Detroit clubhouse after Gibson’s seventeen-strikeout game had none of the aggrieved, blustery manner of batters on a losing team who wish to suggest that only bad luck or their own bad play kept them from putting away a pitcher who has just beaten them. Denny McLain, the starting Tiger pitcher, who had won thirty-one games that summer but had lasted only five innings in the Series opener, said, ‘I was awed. I was awed,’ and Dick McAuliffe, the Detroit second baseman, said that he could think of no one he had ever faced with whom Gibson could be compared. ‘He doesn’t remind me of anybody,’ he said. ‘He’s all by himself.’”

A great story.

—–

The Times Volunteer Proofreader 

Some time ago the newspaper of record did away with its copy desk, a feature of virtually every newsroom until the downsizing of print publications turned into a flood of layoffs.

But the New York Times has been contending with a volunteer proofreader, a lawyer in the New York area who scrutinizes the paper daily and then uses his Twitter account – @nyttypos – to point out, often rather harshly, the mistakes in The Grey Lady.

“He’s obviously a smart, well-read, knowledgeable person,” says Jason Bailey, an editor on the national desk at the Times… “And he’s almost always right.” 

The story is terrific.


Thanks, as always, for following along here. Please share with anyone you think might find this of interest. Be well.

2020 Election, Politics

The Death of Shame…

Shame, that old political equalizer, had a good long run. But shame is dead, killed off by a political culture of anything goes, particularly if my side is doing it.

Shame died, as well, because we have embraced a culture of lying in public matters. There is no shame without truth.

The notion that certain acts, certain universally condemned behaviors, would so shame, so embarrass a public official, rocking and even ruining a career, is now such an old-fashioned concept as to be irrelevant. 

Just in the last couple of weeks, shame was knifed in a dozen different ways. One of my favorites was pointed out by the conservative writer Tim Miller who offered a succinct assessment of the “debate team” preparing Donald Trump for his one-on-one match ups with Joe Biden. 

Trump’s team consists of former governor Chris Christie; Jared Kushner, the presidential son-in-law; Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien and political advisor Jason Miller. “A motley crew,” as Miller correctly noted. “The first put the second guys dad in jail and made the 3rd guy the fall man for their joint corruption. The 4th guy was kept out of the White House over a hooker scandal.” 

Make America Shame Again. 

Or how about the president’s much ballyhooed “executive orders” that came in the wake of a breakdown in congressional efforts to extend unemployment benefits, forestall evictions and allocate more money to fighting COVID-19. The executive orders, which really were just memos to the file, Trump said, “will take care of, pretty much, this entire situation,” notwithstanding the president has no authority to do much of what he was claiming to do.  

The sheer audacity of the claim, false on its face and laughably shameful was endorsed by nearly every Republican, including Idaho congressman Mike Simpson. Simpson is a particularly troubling case in the annals of the demise of shame. 

He’s an appropriator in the House, one of the top members on the committee that actually determines how your tax dollars are spent, a guy who once jealously guarded his role in a co-equal branch of government. 

Simpson, rather than push back against what Nebraska Republican Ben Sasse immediately called “unconstitutional slop,” praised Trump on Twitter “for taking action to help those who need it most. People are struggling to make ends meet.” Simpson threw in a gratuitous swipe at Nancy Pelosi for good measure, accusing the speaker of the House of not coming “to the table seriously.” 

All politicians are given to the partisan excesses of mischaracterizing the opposition, but Simpson’s claim would warrant serious shaming if shaming of any kind were still in vogue. Simpson effectively praised Trump’s unworkable collection of memos, while slamming a Democrat who passed legislation weeks ago to address the very issues Simpson praised the president for failing to address. The Republican Senate, of course, has refused to take up the House passed legislation. 

Shame died a thousand ways. 

One-time Idaho senator Larry Craig was so shamed by his 2007 arrest in a men’s room in the Minneapolis airport for playing footsy with a guy who turned out to be a cop that Craig said he would resign his position, and then he didn’t. 

Bill Clinton shamed the presidency, but Clinton weaseled and waffled and refused to acknowledge the definition of shame. Richard Nixon disgraced the presidency, too, but had the good grace to actually resign amid his shame. Funny, Nixon is looking better and better. 

In Montana, the state Republican Party recently, blatantly and shamelessly, connived to circulate petitions to get Green Party candidates on the ballot for one crass reason: they hope Green Party candidates will siphon off votes from Democrats. A Montana judge ruled the caper illegal saying, “The actions of the Montana GOP and its agents demonstrate that its misrepresentations and failures to disclose in violation of Montana campaign finance law were intentionally designed to create an advantage for the Montana GOP at the expense of unwitting signers.”

The idea of being so completely and publicly shamed was once reason enough for such sleazy political hijinks to be avoided. But shame, sadly, is dead. Meanwhile, the Montana Republican Party is appealing. 

Trump supporting Republican operatives in Wisconsin have been helping Kanye West’s attempt to get on the ballot there as a presidential candidate. They apparently think the addled rapper will draw Black voters from Joe Biden. The cynicism of such a move is trumped only by its blatant disregard of any level of honor or decency. When winning is all you care about the shame of being disreputable is merely an inconvenience. 

An Idaho state senator made national headlines this week when he advocated a measure to prohibit the state’s public health districts from closing schools. “Listening to experts to set policy is an elitist approach and I’m very fearful of an elitist approach,” Republican Steven Thayn said. “I’m also fearful that it leads to totalitarianism, especially when you say, ‘Well. We’re doing it for the public good.’”

Once such spectacular stupidity – Idaho Statesman opinion editor Scott Mcintosh called it “one of the dumbest yet most telling statements ever made by an Idaho politician” – would have led to calls for Thayn’s resignation, or he might have been shamed by the laughter associated with any mention of his name. But without shame such mental giants just roll on. 

Shame made a brief, but undoubtedly fleeting comeback, in the case of Jerry Falwell, Jr., the once and almost certain future president of Liberty University. Falwell, a huge Trump supporter among the white evangelicals who embrace the president, bounded into the news recently with his pants unzipped, holding a drink, with his arm around a woman not his wife. Falwell first tried to explain away conduct that had he been a student could have gotten him expelled from his own school. Falwell took an extended leave of absence. 

It wasn’t Falwell’s first flirtation with unseemliness. As the conservative writer David French pointed out: “It’s easy to get inoculated against outrageous public conduct in the age of Trump, but even by the new standards, Falwell’s public conduct was simply extraordinary for a Christian leader.” 

But don’t count Falwell out just yet. Shame is dead. It had a good run. 

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

Some other stories that you may find of interest…

The Unraveling of America

Anthropologist Wade Davis – he teaches at the Univeristy of British Columbia – assesses the end of the American era. From Rolling Stone:

“The American cult of the individual denies not just community but the very idea of society. No one owes anything to anyone. All must be prepared to fight for everything: education, shelter, food, medical care. What every prosperous and successful democracy deems to be fundamental rights — universal health care, equal access to quality public education, a social safety net for the weak, elderly, and infirmed — America dismisses as socialist indulgences, as if so many signs of weakness.” 

Insightful…and depressing. Read the whole piece.


The Long Hollowing Out of the American Middle Class

Almost a companion piece here from Jim Tankersley, a tax and economics reporter for the New York Times, who has a new book on what has happened to the middle class in America. Here’s an excerpt

“The brutality of the financial crisis and its aftermath has obscured, in retrospect, just how lousy the preceding decade was for American workers. Even before the crisis hit, the 2000s had produced the slowest job growth, in percentage terms, of any decade since the 1930s. From January 2000 through the eve of the crisis, in late 2007, the country shed a fifth of its manufacturing jobs—more than 3.5 million of them.

“North Carolina lost nearly a third of its factory jobs in that time. The recession made it worse: by the summer of 2013, there were almost 400,000 fewer North Carolinians working in factories than there had been two decades before. The share of the state’s workers who held manufacturing jobs had been cut in half.”

Read the full piece


The Biggest Trump Financial Mystery? Where He Came Up With the Cash for His Scottish Resorts.

Russ Choma writes in Mother Jones about one more Trump mystery:

“His large expenditures in Scotland were notable because they came during a rocky financial stretch for Trump. The year before purchasing the Aberdeenshire estate, he was ousted as CEO of his thrice-bankrupted casino business; in 2008, he defaulted on a large Deutsche Bank loan tied to a development in Chicago.

“Like other Trump wagers, his Scottish gamble has so far not worked out. Both resorts are bleeding millions annually.”

Outstanding reporting. Spoiler alert: Some in Scotland suspect money laundering.

Read the full piece.


The Night Manager

A break from pandemics and American politics for a little illegal Middle Eastern arms sales.

Just finished watching the TV adaptation of John le Carre’s novel The Night Manager. It’s really good.

Now streaming on Amazon.

Thanks for following along. Stay well.

2020 Election, FDR, Trump

A Teeny Bit of Socialism…

In the spring of 1935 President Franklin Roosevelt sent Frances Perkins, his impressive Labor Secretary and the first woman to ever serve in a cabinet position, to Capitol Hill to testify before a Senate committee on a legislative proposal that we now call Social Security. 

Some members of the Senate Finance Committee were skeptical of this new idea; a federal government program to tax nearly every citizen, hold those funds in trust and then pay out a benefit to citizens in their golden years. The Great Depression was still crippling the U.S. economy and older Americans, many living such as the living was, on a few dollars a month, or often on charity needed help. 

Labor Secretary Frances Perkins championed Social Security in 1935

One Social Security skeptic was a remarkable senator from Oklahoma by the name of Thomas P. Gore. Gore was a conservative Democrat (and the grandfather of the elegant, prolific author Gore Vidal). He was also blind having lost his eyesight before he was 20 years old, but that did not prevent Gore from serving 18 years in the Senate. 

The senator listened carefully to Secretary Perkins’s testimony and when it came his turn to ask questions Gore was ready. “Isn’t this socialism?” Senator Gore asked. Perkins, not surprisingly, denied there was anything socialist about Social Security. The senator wasn’t having it. “Isn’t this a teeny-weeny bit of socialism?” he said. 

Social Security is, of course, a “teeny-weeny bit of socialism,” and has been since Congress overwhelmingly approved it 85 years ago. We just don’t like to think of it as such in large part because unlike every other western democracy we have been conditioned by the knee jerk rhetoric of conservative politicians and commentators to hate socialism. 

Oklahoma Senator Thomas P. Gore

Americans hate their socialism in all its forms: Medicare, subsidized air, rail and highway transportation, federally owned and operated hydroelectric dams on the Snake and Columbia Rivers and subsidized grazing fees. Americans really hate the Postal Service. Co-op utilities, providing electricity to many in the rural northwest and served by a regional power agency owed by you – the Bonneville Power Administration – are surely out of favor. Americans dislike national parks and forests. We loath what one writer calls the “local socialized information repository known as a public library.” We really reject all of this socialism. 

Wait. No, we don’t. 

By huge numbers Americans support a significant level of government involvement in many sectors of the economy, we just hate that word – socialism.  

Republicans, with the help of the American Medical Association, began railing against “socialized medicine” since Harry Truman was in the White House. Even so, according to Kaiser Health News, four in ten Republicans and strong majorities of Democrats support a “public option” that would expand the federal government’s role in health care.

Still, labeling anyone to the left of Sean Hannity “a socialist” has been a staple of the Republican campaign playbook since, well, forever. With a floundering campaign and a horrible economy created by his tragically inept handling of the pandemic, Donald Trump – and Republicans writ large – have reverted to the mean. 

Speaking recently of Venezuela, Trump said Democrats want to visit on Americans the same level of economic chaos a succession of incompetent strongmen has visited on that South American nation. “Now Joe Biden and the radical left are trying to impose the same system — socialism plus — in America,” he said

It amounts to utter Trumpian rot like most everything else emanating from the Bombaster-in-Chief. Yet, with 51 million Americans having filed for unemployment benefits since March – you might argue even that benefit is a “teeny-weeny bit of socialism” – and with the country closing in on 160,000 dead from the virus, fulminating about a make believe socialist takeover of the country is something to campaign on, I guess. 

Pro-Trump conservatives howl about a “rising tide of radicalism from the left.” The Associated Press reports that GOP congressional candidates “often used words like ‘socialist,’ ‘radical’ or ‘leftist’ in their campaigns.” Idaho’s newly minted Republican Party chairman thinks the “socialist agenda” of the mayor of Boise is a rallying cry for the state’s GOP voters. 

Spoiler alert: there is no socialist agenda in Boise.

Like Franklin Roosevelt, who dedicated his first two terms as president to reforming the failing American capitalist system to prevent what he feared would be a slide toward anti-capitalism of the left and the right, the vast majority of Democrats are believers in a free enterprise system. They just seek ways to make the excesses of that system less injurious to millions of Americans. And, yes, Americans like Medicare and Social Security because those programs, instituted under Democratic presidents and with broad bipartisan support, really do work to make the country a better, safer, fairer place for millions. 

Which brings us to what the Brits call “a reverse ferret,” which has been on stunning display this week around a popular social media app called TikTok. The company behind the app, popular with young people and a female comedian who makes fun of the president, is owned by a Chinese company and has 100 million U.S. users. 

Donald Trump, that defender of capitalism, first threated to “shut TikTok down” for national security reasons before deciding that it might be OK if Microsoft bought the American part of the company, but only if the government gets paid as part of the deal.

There are no “obvious antitrust or other legal bases” for Trump’s demand, “in effect a payoff to the U.S. government,” Eswar Prassad, an economist at Cornell University told the AP. “The notion of a payment to the U.S. government sets a dangerous precedent of explicit entanglement between national security and economic considerations.”

Here’s where the “reverse ferret” jumps up. That slang term refers to a sudden, complete and inexplicable change of position on an issue. On Monday Trump was warning of radical libs taking over the country. By Wednesday he was threatening to insert the federal government in the middle of a corporate acquisition. Indeed, TikTok may be a real problem, but Trump’s solution is just bizarre. 

But if the Mt. Everest size of Trump’s contradiction strikes you as “a teeny-weeny bit of socialism,” don’t worry, his GOP enablers will remain silent about their leader’s abandonment of the free market knowing that soon enough they’ll all be back on message

The real radicals are running to “Make America Great Again – Again.” That con is even greater than a manufactured “socialist agenda,” but when hyperbole and fear are all you have, you need to try to scare some of the people all the time. 

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

How the Pandemic Defeated America

Ed Yong of The Atlantic has done some of the most impressive in-depth reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic. His cover story in the September issue of the magazine is a must read. He writes:

“Despite ample warning, the U.S. squandered every possible opportunity to control the coronavirus. And despite its considerable advantages—immense resources, biomedical might, scientific expertise—it floundered. While countries as different as South Korea, Thailand, Iceland, Slovakia, and Australia acted decisively to bend the curve of infections downward, the U.S. achieved merely a plateau in the spring, which changed to an appalling upward slope in the summer. ‘The U.S. fundamentally failed in ways that were worse than I ever could have imagined,’ Julia Marcus, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School, told me.”

How America Lost to the Pandemic

Link to the full story, a genuine first draft of history.


Inside a UK ICU

An insightful piece here from Sarah Whitehead in The Guardian on what it’s been like inside a critical care unit in a London hospital. 

“Because intensive care patients need to be closely monitored, ICUs have the highest nurse-to-patient ratio in a hospital – usually one to one. At the peak of the crisis, the number of patients increased and their average length of stay in the ICU became longer. At times, Montgomery’s department had only one ICU nurse to six patients. ‘Working as an ICU nurse is like flying a plane,’ he said. ‘It is highly skilled and they cannot take their eyes from the controls. They are very, very clever people.’”

Read the story.


Iraqi Kleptocracy 

Robert F. Worth wrote a deeply reported New York Times piece on corruption in Iraq for the New York Times magazine; the corruption a direct result of the tragic decision to invade the country during the George W. Bush Administration. It’s a case study of how an entire society goes off the rails. 

“The fraud was sometimes laughably obvious. In 2017, Iraq officially imported $1.66 billion worth of tomatoes from Iran — more than a thousand times the amount it imported in 2016. It also listed imports of $2.86 billion in watermelons from Iran, up from $16 million the year before. These amounts would be ludicrous even if Iraq didn’t grow large amounts of its own tomatoes and watermelons. Economists told me these official import numbers — still visible on the Iraqi planning ministry’s website — appear to be a poorly disguised cover for money laundering.” 

Read and contemplate the consequences of one of the greatest foreign policy blunders in American history.


The Enduring Chill of Flannery O’Connor

Flannery O’Connor – writer

Looking forward to watching a new American Masters episode on PBS about the writer Flannery O’Connor.

Matt Hanson has a preview: “Most of the drama is found in her complex inner life, which was haunted by the contradictions of her native South, the cackling humor of a born satirist, and a tough-minded believer’s faith in redemption.”


Thanks for reading…be well.

2020 Election, Education, Pandemic, Trump

Magical Thinking…

Yeah, the schools should be opened. Schools should be opened. Kids want to go to school. You’re losing a lot of lives by keeping things closed.” 

Donald Trump, July 13, 2020

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For decades Republicans have preached the gospel of “local control” of schools; the idea that the local school board – the homemakers, the local real estate guy, the small business owner – are the people who should have ultimate say about educating our kids. But like almost every other conviction of bedrock conservatism “local control” is no longer, to borrow a word from the Nixon era, operative. 

You know what else is inoperative: competence. Donald Trump and the collection of inept D-list flunkies that surround the president – Education Secretary Betsy DeVos comes to mind – have spent the last three weeks threatening governors, teachers, parents and common sense. Trump even said he’d withhold money from states refusing to open schools, a hollow threat he cannot possibly fulfil, but one in keeping with this administration’s mendacity. Significant amounts of federal education aide go to the poorest schools and to help children with particular learning needs. 

Trump wants the schools open, many others aren’t convinced

The bullying and demanding from Washington, D.C. isn’t based on any serious concern about how schools might operate in the midst of a still accelerating pandemic, but it is based on Trump’s need to manufacture the optics of “a return to normal” that is only happening between the ears of the “very stable genius.” 

As columnist Rex Huppke put it in the Chicago Tribune: “You brats are going to listen to me and to your president, Donald J. Trump, and you’re going to march your little rear ends off to school come fall. I don’t care if you have to wade through 5 feet of coronavirus to get there, you’re going!” 

Yet the people most affected – parents, teachers, school cafeteria staff, among others – seem impervious to this Trumpian logic. “I have yet to see any data where there are appreciable numbers of people who say, ‘Yes, I want my kids back in school,’” says Glen Bolger, a veteran Republican pollster, in an interview with the New York Times. “They want their kids back in school, but not right now. I think safety is taking priority over education.”

Or as Kristi Wilson, the superintendent of a small district in Arizona told the Washington Post: “Although the administration can apparently absorb the 150,000 COVID deaths without care or consequence, we do not have the luxury of even losing one.” 

It might have been wise to devote the last couple of months to strengthening distance learning and helping parents prepare for a school year without kids in school buildings. What we got instead is the persistent incompetence and quackery of the Trump Administration and the frightened conservative politicians who dare not offend the man who acts like he has all the answers but possesses none of them. 

While the president lamented Dr. Anthony Fauci’s high poll numbers compared to his – “but nobody likes me,” Trump whined, while wondering if it had something to do with his personality – he again touted hydroxychloroquine, the drug the FDA says has no proven effectiveness against the coronavirus. We won’t go into the quack doctor Trump citing who “made videos saying that doctors make medicine using DNA from aliens and that they’re trying to create a vaccine to make you immune from becoming religious.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci back in the old days when Donald Trump let him speak from the White House

Trump era magical thinking has positioned the United States, with only five percent of the world’s population, but with a quarter of all the world’s cases and vastly more deaths than any other country, as a case study of failure when it comes to controlling the virus. 

The squandering of precious time from late March to mid-May when organization of a national strategy to test, trace and isolate cases could have been done, but wasn’t will be this administration’s deadly legacy. The spreading of quack theories about unproven drugs and phony treatment, while making wearing a mask an ideological litmus test is the final proof of the abject failure of Republican efforts to lead and govern. 

U.S. leading the world in COVID-19 deaths and failed response

The GOP has given up on fighting the illness. It’s just too hard for them to handle, a position Idaho governor Brad Little summed up perfectly last week when he was asked if his state’s schools would reopen. “I think the answer is, it depends,” Little said. 

The governor or his counterparts in Florida or Texas or Arizona might have said: “You know, the answer for very much schools is no. We must recognize that the disease is out of control, spreading uncontrollably and we must redouble our efforts to fight it. One step is to end the magical thinking that suggest we should put teachers and children and the grandparents of school children at real risk by too quickly going back to in person schooling. We have more work to do before we can do that.”

Something like that would have been an honest and indeed helpful answer, allowing parents and teachers to plan and prepare, but instead of the functional equivalent of “we will fight on the beaches…we shall never surrender” to the virus we get “it depends.” 

“This collapse of a major political party as a moral governing force is unlike anything we have seen in modern American politics,” long-time Republican consultant Stuart Stevens wrote recently. He compared the collapse of the party, its abandonment of expertise and common sense and its embrace of a reality television star, to the demise of the Communist Party in the old Soviet Union. In short, what the party says it is bears no resemblance to what is actually is. 

The disconnect between what Republican leaders tell their constituents about issues like wearing a mask and opening school and the relentless, unbending reality of the pandemic is simply not sustainable. The terrible logic of the virus is going to win every time and the way the incompetents continue to handle it signals that we are on track to never put it behind us. 

Ask yourself this logical question: If, as a result of a still little understood disease that will almost certainly claim thousands more American lives between now and Labor Day, your local school board, your health district, your state board of education is reduced to meeting by Zoom to consider reopening the schools is it really such a great idea to reopen the schools?

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Additional Reading:

Nespresso…

Great deep dive in The Guardian on the coffee machine and the company behind it.

“Buying a machine grants you membership of the Nespresso Club, literally, and also membership of the Nespresso club, metaphorically – a global fellowship of people who care enough about their morning brew to spend 40 or 50p on 5 grams of it, but not enough to spend more than 30 seconds preparing it. In their homes, the distinctive hum, whirr and clunk of a machine in action has taken its place alongside the churn of a dishwasher.”

Read the whole thing, including a few surprises.


How to think about Jefferson… 

Thomas Jefferson, third president, eternally complicated…and controversial

Alan Taylor is a Pulitzer Prize winning historian who teaches at the University of Virginia, the university Thomas Jefferson created. In a recent essay he reflected on the contradictions of the author of the Declaration of Independence, a slave owner who declared all men are created equal. 

“As Hollywood has long known,” Taylor writes, “Americans prefer melodramas that sort people into the good and the evil. So, we treat Jefferson as an icon of our unresolved prejudices and inequalities, which trace to slavery. As that burden becomes conspicuous in our national understanding, partisans wish to cast Jefferson as either an antislavery hero or a proslavery villain. In fact, he was both and neither.”

Your history read today.


Nicholas Baker on FOIA…

Baker is a great writer and a dogged researcher. In his new book Baseless: My Search for Secrets in the Ruins of the Freedom of Information Act Baker tries to use the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to dig into some mysteries. He writes:

“Isn’t it against the law for government agencies to delay their responses to FOIA requests? Yes, it is: the mandated response time in the law is twenty days, not including Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, and if one agency must consult with another agency before releasing a given document, the consultation must happen ‘with all practicable speed.’ And yet there is no speed. There is, on the contrary, a deliberate Pleistocenian ponderousness.”

A fascinating story.


Thanks for reading. Stay well.

2020 Election, Trump

Corruption…

“Unprecedented, historic corruption,” says Utah Senator Mitt Romney, one of the last Republicans with a moral compass. Romney was objecting to “an American president commut[ing] the sentence of a person convicted by a jury of lying to shield that very president.”

It was just a week ago – a lifetime in American politics – that Donald Trump commuted the sentence of convicted felon Roger Stone, his long-time associate and the man who conspired with Wikileaks to release hacked emails intended to damage the Democratic presidential candidate in 2016. 

Considering the entirety of the craven, corrupt, contemptable 42-month Trump presidency, the Stone commutation is clearly the single most obvious – and despicable – Trumpian abuse of presidential power, at least that we know of. History is sure to record it as the most corrupt act by any president, Richard Nixon included

Stone commutation: Rank corruption

Curious thing: we knew all along that Trump would engage in this corruption in plain sight. He long ago signaled to Stone that if the self-proclaimed “dirty trickster” kept his mouth shut about what he knows, Trump would keep him out of jail. 

“But the predictable nature of Trump’s action should not obscure its rank corruption,” as Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes wrote at the Lawfare website. “In fact, the predictability makes the commutation all the more corrupt, the capstone of an all-but-open attempt on the president’s part to obstruct justice in a self-protective fashion over a protracted period of time. That may sound like hyperbole, but it’s actually not. Trump publicly encouraged Stone not to cooperate with Robert Mueller’s investigation, he publicly dangled clemency as a reward for silence, and he has now delivered. The act is predictable precisely because the corrupt action is so naked.”

Or as former federal prosecutor Joyce Vance White wrote in USA Today, putting a fine point on Trump’s corruption: “Roger Stone knows too much for Donald Trump to permit him to spend a single night in prison. Stone has always known that. The final piece of evidence Mueller didn’t have, but that the American people now possess — Trump provided it himself when he commuted Stone’s sentence.” 

Let’s recap, since it seems like a decade ago that special counsel Robert Mueller, a decorated Vietnam combat veteran and former FBI director, issued his report about Russian interference in the last presidential election. Beyond a shadow of a doubt Mueller established that Russian military intelligence officers hacked Hillary Clinton’s email, as well as others at the Democratic National Committee. (It was Watergate just without the five clumsy burglars who were caught in the act in 1972.) The Russian behavior was also confirmed by the nation’s intelligence agencies and congressional committees. 

Cover of the Mueller report

In turn Mueller gained indictments against 13 Russians and three different Russian organizations. But, of course, Vladimir Putin, protected at every turn by an American president, even when he’s placing bounties on our soldiers in Afghanistan, would never let his agents be extradited so Mueller needed Americans involved in the plot to reveal what they know. Stone refused to cooperate, then lied to Congress, while one-time Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, hoping for his own pardon, also kept quiet. Trump, too, refused to cooperate with Mueller beyond limited written answers that prominently featured phrases like “I don’t recall.” 

Numerous commentators, including George Will, about as far from a liberal as one can find, have equated this corrupt farce to the behavior of a mob boss and his underlings. Yet, a Tony Soprano or Michael Coreleone seem almost professional compared to Stone and Manafort, “dregs from the bottom of the Republican barrel” in the words of Will. 

But, a week on from the late Friday night when we learned about this “unprecedented, historic corruption,” Trump’s corrupted Republican Party is moving on, willing once again in silence to embrace ethical depravity merely to serve the amoral conman in the White House. 

Imagine the mental jujitsu necessary for a Republican like Texas senator John Cornyn, a former state attorney general, to look the other way at such corruption. Think about the kind of political Kool-Aid is a guy like Idaho’s Jim Risch is drinking – he never speaks, after all, without reminding us that he was once a prosecutor – in order to stomach the Stone fiasco? 

“There has never been a case of a president buying silence about his own misdeeds with executive clemency,” Tom Nichols, the Never Trump conservative told Politico. “Other presidents have made bad and even corrupt calls with pardons, but this is in a class by itself, which is why the Republicans are either staying quiet or trying to play the ‘whataboutism’ game.”

But the old Republican game of covering for Trump is growing tiresome and increasingly ineffective. Trumpian incompetence, with the country closing in on 140,000 COVID-19 deaths and the administration’s response reduced to trashing Dr. Anthony Fauci, isn’t going to get the economy back in operation or the kids back in school. 

Trumpian corruption – commuting Stone’s felony sentence for lying, while hounding out of the military Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman who risked his career for telling the truth – represents the perfect bookends for this collection of ethically devoid Republican political cowards. The stink extends from Maine to Idaho.

Roger Stone has been a political bottom feeder since he helped found the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC) in the 1970s, the group that stormed into Idaho in 1979 to smear the record and reputation of Senator Frank Church. Once a sleaze, always a sleaze. That’s Roger Stone. He’ll go to his just rewards branded a convicted felon who lied and schemed to protect the man who has burned down the Republican Party. He’ll be remembered as a crook just like the Republicans who countenance him and the man he’s protecting. 

In a few months’ time Republicans like Cornyn, Risch, Mike Crapo, and a hundred others, will be trying to convince us they hardly knew Donald Trump. They’ll hope their 42 months of silence will cover their complicit tracks. It won’t work. They’re dirty, too, just like their leader, their careers stunted and warped by their gutlessness in the face of all this corruption and incompetence. 

All that’s left is to ask them not just how could you live with such deceit and decay, but how can you live with yourself? 

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Additional Reading:

A View of the U.S. from Australia

A friend and regular reader sent me this piece from The Canberra Times, the paper is Australia’s capitol city. It’s a stark reminder of how we are now seen in much of the rest of the world.

“The underlying weakness in present US democracy is that partisanship has become so extreme that the nation is incapable of dealing with the major issues that face it. COVID-19 has illustrated that starkly, with every word and act predicated on party allegiance. Meanwhile, other problems like race, police violence, gun control, inequality, the health system, climate change and energy policy go unattended.” 

Read the whole thing


Notre Dame 

Notre Dame under restoration

French president Manuel Macron has backtracked on a proposal to give the historic restored cathedral in the heart of Paris a modern spire. As Architectural Digest reported: 

“‘The president of the republic has become convinced of the need to restore Notre-Dame de Paris in the most consistent manner possible to its last complete, coherent, and known state,’ the Elysée Palace said in a statement. In other words, the ‘redesign’ will look exactly the same as the original Gothic design, which is what many senior figures in French government were publicly pushing for.”

Well…good. Somethings really are perfect just as they are. Read the story


Truman and 1948 

This looks like a must read if you enjoy political history. A. J. Baime is the author of Dewey Defeats Truman: The 1948 Election and the Battle for America’s Soul.

“The Truman campaign began in earnest with a meeting on the night of July 22, at 8 pm, in the State Dining Room of the White House. Funneling in was a motley crew of Truman friends—hardly a big hitter among them. As the former secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes described this bunch: ‘The political figures who surround the President . . . could all be blown out by  one sure breath, as are candles on a birthday cake.’”

LitHub has an excerpt of the new book.

Thanks for reading. All the best.

2020 Election, Trump

George Wallace and Donald Trump…

Back in 1968, that awful year of assassinations, racial unrest, campus upheaval, war and political demagoguery – a year the writer Mark Kurlansky has said where “ideologies were seldom clear, and there was widespread agreement on very few things” – a diminutive racist from Alabama was at the height of his powers. 

George Corley Wallace was certainly not the first American politician to mobilize white grievance, but until the arrival on the scene of the current occupant of the Oval Office the Alabama governor did more than anyone else to perfect the politics of fear and division. 

George C. Wallace is shown in this Oct. 19, 1964 photo speaking in Glen Burnie, Md. at a rally supporting Republican presidential candidate Sen. Barry Goldwater. (AP Photo)

It was no accident the historian Dan T. Carter entitled his brilliant biography of Wallace The Politics of RageWallace, who ran for president four different times, was, Carter wrote, “the alchemist of a new social conservatism as he compounded racial fear…[and] cultural nostalgia.” 

When Wallace made his most aggressive presidential run in 1968 at the head of his short-lived American Independence Party, he won the electoral votes of five deep south states. Wallace’s campaign of fear and racial division prompted no less a political strategist than Richard Nixon to later admit that he carefully calibrated his own positions in order to head off Wallace’s appeal to white voters. It worked. 

Wallace’s appeal to white grievance helped birth the Republican “southern strategy” that has been at the heart of the party’s White House calculus ever since. Nixon won every state of the old Confederacy that Wallace failed to carry in 1968 with the exception of Texas, which he only narrowly lost to Hubert Humphrey. 

If Nixon’s long-ago appeal for “law and order” in service of “the silent majority” sounds familiar that’s because it is, updated now and applied to a cratering Trump re-election effort. But Trump is borrowing less from Nixon’s thinly veiled appeal to white grievance than he is appropriating the racist language of George Wallace

Nixon: Law and Order

Where Wallace said of civil rights and anti-war protesters “the people know the way to stop a riot is to hit someone on the head,” Trump tells police to “not be too nice” and demands that the nation’s governors “have to dominate or you’ll look like a bunch of jerks, you have to arrest and try people.” 

Wallace repeatedly made snarling attacks on street protesters who he claimed, “turned to rape and murder,” while Trump fumes about “Mexican rapists” and immigrants who “aren’t people,” but “animals.”

Trump’s re-election message can’t focus on the economy. It’s in shambles. His handling of the global pandemic, with the U.S. leading the world in death and disease, is a national tragedy and an international embarrassment. In three states – Florida, Arizona and South Carolina – new coronavirus cases are growing faster than in any country in the world. 

There has never been much of a Trump policy agenda and there is even less of one now. All he has is resentment and race. How else to explain the presidential attack on the only Black NASCAR driver or the defense of the Confederate flag and monuments that recall our deeply racist past.

“It’s not about who is the object of the derision or the vitriol,” Eddie Glaude, the chair of the Department of African American studies at Princeton University, told the Associated Press. “The actual issue is understanding the appeal to white resentment and white fear. It’s all rooted in this panic about the place of white people in this new America.”

As outrageous as Trump’s rhetoric has become you can bet it will get worse as the election slips toward an anti-Trump landslide. It is beyond Trump’s ability to give the country what it longs for: a common purpose. 

Imagine had Trump tried to unite the nation behind the shared mission of defeating the pandemic? But he can’t do it.  

“If he could change, he would,” says Cal Jillson, a presidential scholar at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. And even when, as Jillson says, the message of fear and racial animosity is “not helping him now. It’s just nonstop. It is habitual and incurable. He is who he is.”

And like ol’ George Wallace more than 50 years ago Trump always digs deeper even as the hole consumes him. In his authoritative history of the 1968 campaign, journalist Michael A. Cohen writes that “Wallace deliberately sought to ratchet up intense, racist emotions at his campaign events” where violence was not uncommon. Cohen quotes a Wallace aide as saying it was all calculated to be “purposely…inflammatory” in order to draw attention and demand press coverage. Cue Fox News. 

Still there are many signs that the old Trump reality show – fear and loathing on the campaign trial – just isn’t working. As Jonathan Lemire and Calvin Woodward of the Associated Press wrote after Trump’s hyperbolic Mt. Rushmore speech: “These are times of pain, mass death, fear and deprivation and the Trump show may be losing its allure, exposing the empty space once filled by the empathy and seriousness of presidents leading in a crisis.

“Bluster isn’t beating the virus; belligerence isn’t calming a restive nation.”

Trump has declared himself “the president of law and order…”

You can hear restive Republicans taking the first tentative steps to distance themselves from the coming disaster. There was panic in the air when five GOP senators announced this week they’ll stay away from the Republican convention in August, a move seen for what it is – distance from Trump. There will be more. 

Still, by ignoring Trump’s racism and division for so long in the interest of allowing their leader to remake their party into a petri dish where white grievance and cultural anger metastasize, Republicans, even those quietly bemoaning his tactics, will never succeed in cleaning this stain. Republicans, like the cowardly sheep who represent Idaho in Washington, D.C., bought the racist and now they own the racism. 

George Wallace, unlike Donald Trump, never made it all the way to the White House, but both men sadly prove an enduring point about our troubled country. The journalist Marshall Frady summed up the consequence – and danger – of such figures when he wrote in 1968: “As long as we are creatures hung halfway between the mud and the stars, figures like Wallace can be said to pose the great dark original threat.” 

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Additional Reading:

Sticking with Trump

Tim Miller is a #NeverTrump conservative, a former top adviser to Jeb Bush and a pretty fair writer on our current politics. His piece recently in Rolling Stone where he sampled Trump opinions from the GOP consulting class received a good deal of attention. It’s good. He writes: 

“These swamp creatures were never the biggest Trumpers in the first place — his initial campaign team was an assortment of d-listers and golf course grunts rather than traditional GOP ad men. So why, as Trump’s numbers plummet, are these establishment RINOs continuing to debase themselves to protect someone who is politically faltering and couldn’t care less about them?” 

The answers are both enlightening and sad.  You can read it here.

How a History Text Book Might Explain 2020 So Far

James West Davidson writes history text books. He says in a piece in The Atlantic:

“By now it seems clear that we are all living through a major turning point in history, one that will be studied for years to come. Future textbook authors will write entries on the year 2020, revise them, and revise them some more with each new edition. What follows is an attempt at—literally—a first draft of history: what I might write if I were wrapping up the last chapter of a high-school history textbook right now.”

Read it and you may be surprised, as I was, about how stunning the events of our time seem when they are compressed into a single, tight narrative.

Tom Hanks 

I don’t normal spend much time with celebrity profiles, but I’ll make an exception for Tom Hanks. 

Hadley Freeman has a charming Hanks profile in The Guardian. She writes: “It’s true that, since I last interviewed him, his demeanor has shifted slightly from the nice Jimmy Stewart ‘aw shucks’-ness he had going on, to something more akin to the beatific kindness of Fred Rogers, ‘a part people like you would say I was born to play,’ he says. ‘For A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, I ended up reading a lot of [Rogers] and he put ideas into words for me. There’s no reason not to greet the world with some kind of kindness.’”

Good observation. Read the entire profile

And finally…One of Ours 

Cather’s novel won the Pulitzer in 1923

Alex Ross writes in The New Yorker about Willa Cather’s enduring and under appreciated novel of war and loss. “When I revisited One of Ours in recent weeks,” he says, “I found it as haunting as anything I’ve read in this bewildering year. What seized my attention, not unexpectedly, was the section devoted to the flu pandemic of 1918.” 

I love Cather’s book. And am also a big fan of Ross’s book The Rest is Noise, which changed the way I think about music. It’s a classic.  

Thanks for following along here. All the best.