2020 Election, GOP, Trump

The Death of the GOP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Capitol Police using flash devices to push back the Trump mob

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

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

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

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

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

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Additional Reading:

A few other things I found of interest this week…


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

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

Neil Sheehan’s historic scoop

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

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

Fascinating. Read the whole thing.


John le Carré

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

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

Read the story here.


Is There a Republican Party?

Photo from The New Yorker in 1935

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

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

Worth your time


The Reason Button Down Shirts Have Loops in the Back

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

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

Here’s the answer.


Quite a week. Thanks for reading. Stay well.

2020 Election, McCarthy, Trump

GOP Fails Its McCarthy Moment…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McCarthy was condemned by the Senate 66 years ago this week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s just not right. 

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Additional Reading:

Iowa is What Happens When the Government Does Nothing

From The Atlantic

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

Read the full piece.


Obituary of Marvin J. Farr

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

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

Here is the obit


And Speaking of Obits

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

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

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

“Knievel was ‘Bobby’ to Wong.   

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a story.


Thanks for reading…take care.

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2020 Election, Biden, Trump

Give Thanks…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Falwell, Sr. with Ronald Reagan

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

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

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

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

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Additional Reading:

Some additional Thanksgiving week reading…

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

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

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

“It ends as it began.”

Definitely worth your time.


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

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

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

Make mine maple. Read the whole thing here.


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

Anthony Hopkins

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

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

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

Great actor, excellent profile.


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

2020 Election, GOP, Trump

No One Left to Lie To…

From The New York Times, October 26, 2020…

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Additional Reading:

A few articles I found of interest this week…

An Embarrassing Failure for Election Pollsters

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

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


The Trumper with a Thousand Faces

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Read this and watch the series.


Thanks for reading. Be well.

2020 Election, Trump

Women Will Save America…

If Donald Trump wins a second term next week – and for the record I don’t believe he will – it will mark as great a turning point in the American experiment as anything since the Civil War. 

The sense that the country can be governed by anything approaching a middle ground consensus will be gone. An economy that has barely hung together over the last few months will unravel, likely at stunning speed, as millions of Americans will face more than unemployment. They will lose homes and automobiles and food. It is indeed going to be a bleak winter. 

But there is at least huge one reason for optimism and it’s only fitting. One hundred years after women finally won the battle to vote they are going to save America. Really. 

The 19th Amendment to the Constitution was adopted in 1920. One hundred years later women voters will save the country.

A “gender gap” has existed between the two political parties for years. Donald Trump has made the gap the Grand Canyon of American politics. Women, make no mistake, are going to determine the next president. Moms and grandmothers don’t have a huge propensity to fail us and they won’t this time. 

Trump knows he’s in big trouble with women voters and goodness knows he should be. His weak plea in Wisconsin this week – “Suburban women, you’re going to love me. You better love me.” – is not the closing argument of a winner. Nor is his whiny begging recently in Pennsylvania. “Can I ask you to do me a favor, suburban women?” Trump said during a rally in Johnstown, earlier this month. “Will you please like me? Please.”

As Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei reported this week new “Gallup polling finds Trump remains above 50% with rural residents, white men and white adults without college degrees, but Trump has “dropped nine points just this year with suburbanites — falling with both men and women — to 35%”

Trump won that demographic in 2016. Trump’s rickety standing with this critical group has been driven by women. They just aren’t into him anymore. 

“In 2016, Donald Trump didn’t have a record. In 2020, now, he does,” said Susan Del Percio, a Republican strategist and adviser to the anti-Trump Lincoln Project. “That record is one that is really quite offensive, I think, to many Americans male and female, but especially women. And he leans into it.”

Donald Trump’s political difficulty with women voters has only increased since 2016

Pundits – including this one – too often over think politics. For many, maybe even most Americans, the presidential choice comes down to a pretty simple calculation: who do I want in my living room every night for the next four years? We’ve had four years of bluster, bombast, boasting and bungling. We’re ready – perhaps women most particularly – for something different. 

The Politico journalist Tim Alberta put a fine point on it recently when he wrote “if Trump loses, the biggest factor won’t be Covid-19 or the economic meltdown or the social unrest. It will be his unlikability.” 

All across America, Alberta wrote, “in conversations with voters about their choices this November, I’ve been hearing the same thing over and over again: ‘I don’t like Trump.’ (Sometimes there’s a slight variation: ‘I’m so tired of this guy,’ ‘I can’t handle another four years of this,’ etc. The remarkable thing? Many of these conversations never even turn to [Joe] Biden; in Phoenix, several people who had just voted for the Democratic nominee did not so much as mention his name in explaining their preference for president.” 

The conservative writer Kevin D. Williamson – he writes often for William F. Buckley’s old magazine The National Review – had a similar observation. Trump’s disreputable personal character, a glaring fixture of his very public being, but a feature largely ignored by his male supporters, is, Williamson says, finally catching up with him. The Twitter fights, the petty, mean name calling, the failure to assume any responsibility for his shortcomings or obvious mistakes has become disqualifying for many, many voters who once saw the guy as an agent of change. Instead he has become the spreader of division and disorder, not to mention a virus. 

“Trump’s low character is not only an abstract ethical concern,” Kevin Williamson writes, “but a public menace that has introduced elements of chaos and unpredictability in U.S. government activity ranging from national defense to managing the coronavirus epidemic. Trump’s character problems are practical concerns, not metaphysical ones.”

Trump went into the last two weeks of the presidential campaign with a crazy agenda. He’s been trying to convince Americans that what we are all living with daily, a pandemic that he has downplayed and mismanaged at every step, was going away. And he manufactured, and with the help of rightwing news organizations and social media, then transmitted a vast array of conspiracy theories about his opponent and the previous president of the United States. Trump has run not on a second term agenda – he has none – but on the same old litany of grievance, resentment, racism and fear that fueled his rise in the first place. 

Nothing so clearly illustrates this reality than the president of the United States going this week to his must win state of Wisconsin, a “state is in the midst of a full-on coronavirus crisis, setting new records for hospitalizations and sitting near the top of the list for per capita cases.” Against all logic he declared the virus contained. 

The White House actually issued a press release this week claiming that defeating the pandemic was one of Trump’s signature accomplishments, a transparently ridiculous claim, as the writer Robert Schlesinger says, on par with “the Vichy government listing defeat of Germany among its accomplishments.”

Donald Trump will win Idaho’s four electoral votes, but by a smaller margin than four years ago and the reason will be the votes of women, the same voters who have disserted him in the Philadelphia and Atlanta suburbs, in places like Maricopa County, Arizona and even in Omaha. Top of the ticket races in Idaho all favor the GOP, but the margins for Republicans are likely to be smaller than normal. Trump has no coattails and the stench of his presidency will infect the entire ticket. 

Trump drew an inside straight four years ago against arguably the most unlikable presidential candidate in modern history, a woman who still won the popular vote by three million. Women are going to save American democracy in a few days. They’re just not into this guy. They’ve had enough. And they’re right. 

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Additional Reading:

Some recent favorites you might enjoy…

Norman Ornstein on President Biden

Norm Ornstein, the long-time student of Congress, has long had a perch ats resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. Ornstein’s scholarly works on the legislative process have long been required reading for historians and policy makers who hope to understand Washington. 

Ornstein was an inspiration to me to undertake my study – forthcoming in February 2021 – of Senate races in 1980. And his book with Thomas E. Mann, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, helped put the lie to the false equivalency arguments that both political parties are equally responsible for the dysfunction and division of American politics.

He recently authored a thoughtful essay on the practical steps a President Joe Biden might take next year to, as Ornstein says, “show progress, to show that we can move ahead” is worth your time. 

“Here is the roadmap I would employ if I were advising the new president and his legislative leaders. It begins with a promise on Jan. 21 to have four major initiatives passed by the House and brought to the Senate floor within days or weeks—all key measures that are urgently needed, and are supported by a strong majority of Americans, in some cases as many as 90%.” 

Read the full piece.


The International Brigades 

I’ve long been fascinated by the causes and effects of the Spanish Civil War, a bloody, complicated and deeply tragic conflict, that raged from 1936 to 1939 and was, in many ways, a preview of the wider war to come in Europe.

Giles Tremlett, who writes about Spain for The Guardian, recently reported a fascinating piece about the contested legacy of the international brigades, the thousands of often-celebrated foreign fighters who fought on the Republican side during the war. Let’s just day that the legacy is complicated.

“History is neither neat nor clean, especially when it comes to past wars. The first casualty of war is said to be truth, but really it is nuance. War presents stark, binary choices. Kill or be killed. One side or the other. The truth is more complex than that, as the story of the International Brigades and their afterlife shows.”

Link to the full essay.


New Faces of 1946 

A terrific piece from the archives of Smithsonian Magazine by the great historian William E. Leuchtenburg. He writes about the post-World War II election of 1946 and the political and other dilemmas facing President Harry Truman. 

Harry Truman’s no good, awful year of 1946

“But the end of the war confronted Truman with a predicament bound to erode political capital. After more than 15 years of deprivation—the Great Depression was followed by wartime rationing—Americans, at last able to enjoy peacetime prosperity, chafed at finding so many things in short supply. At one point in 1946, during a flour shortage, Illinois saw block-long bread lines, reminiscent of the darkest days of the Depression. That same year, in Denver, women hijacked a bread delivery truck. And demand kept driving prices up. Too much money chased too few goods: too few Chevys, too few nylons, too few beefsteaks.”

Great history.


A Pioneering Appetite

Writing in The American Scholar Anne Matthews provides an insightful review of a new biography of James Beard, the Oregon native who truly became America’s first culinary celebrity. The author of The Man Who Ate Too Much is John Birdsall.

“Birdsall also restores Beard’s identity as a man of the Pacific Rim, raised by a gay mother and a Chinese cook in a town where the Yukon was still a real frontier. Like other restless, sexually complex modernist talents (Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Cather), Beard craved urbanity and needed decades in exile to see that his natal terroir—Chinook salmon, Olympia oysters, razor clams, marionberries, green fields in fog—held the key to his life and career. A 1954 auto tour of the West Coast, during which he bought so many samples that the car became “a mad ark of food,” finally focused Beard’s instinct for a true American cooking. Thirty-one years later, his ashes were scattered at the Oregon beach he loved in childhood.” 

Read the whole piece.


Thanks for reading. See you soon. Stay well.

2020 Election, Idaho, Pandemic, South Dakota, Trump

It’s Not Just Going Away…

Donald Trump and his Republican enablers are ending October the way they began late last winter when the pandemic came to the United States: with gaslighting, misdirection, blatant lying and the largest diversionary propaganda campaign in American political history. 

There are really only two words to describe what the president and his lapdogs have done: incompetence and evil. 

“People are tired of Covid,” Trump complained on a recent call with his campaign staff, while several reporters were listening. “I have the biggest rallies I’ve ever had. And we have Covid. People are saying: ‘Whatever. Just leave us alone.’ They’re tired of it.”

Donald Trump back in the day when he shared a podium with Dr. Anthony Fauci

“People are tired of hearing Fauci and these idiots,” Trump said, “all these idiots who got it wrong.”

Tell that to 223,000 Americans who are not here to listen to a deranged, heartless campaign’s closing argument delivered by the most disastrous president in American history. Or how about the more than 1,700 health care workers in the United States who have died during the pandemic because they cared for the sick. Are they “all these idiots who got it wrong?”

David Eggman, a registered nurse at a hospital in Wausau, Wisconsin, a region overrun with Covid-19 hospitalizations, has seen more than his share of death since March. He told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he has listened as COVID-19 patients breathed their last, alone without family at the bedside. Frequently they told him, “that they didn’t realize it was as bad as it was.” 

But the president did know. He told the journalist Bob Woodward in February that the virus was “deadly” and much more serious than the flu. “I wanted to always play it down,” he said a month later during another exchange recorded on tape. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”

After first refusing the reality, and then ultimately failing to deal with a deadly disease, Trump rushed to ignore accepted science and politicized the public health response. He has repeatedly mocked advice about masks, and despite his own near-death experience, has persisted in holding virus spreading – and truth killing – rallies in states where the disease is running wild. 

Trump said a week ago that we have “turned the corner” with the virus, a true statement if you understand that the “turn” is upward in daily cases, upward in hospitalizations and upward in the number of rural counties that by his own government’s assessment are trending overwhelmingly in the wrong direction

A website that reports on rural America said this week that “Covid-19 spread in rural America at a record-breaking pace again last week, adding 160 counties to the red-zone list and bringing the total number of rural Americans who have tested positive for the coronavirus to more than 1 million.” And researchers at the University of Idaho, just to cite one data point, now estimate one in every 30 people in eastern Idaho are infected with the virus. 

Staff at St. Luke’s Magic Valley hospital send a COVID-19 patient home earlier this year. Now the hospital is overrun with cases

That Trump would seek to downplay all this, lie about it and fail to heed the advice of scientists is no longer even news. He’s a textbook example of a pathological liar, likely unable to ascertain truth from fiction. He’s also clearly suffers from narcissistic personality disorder, leaving him unable to accept let alone empathize with millions of his fellow Americans who have died, been made sick or economically devastated by his unprecedented failure to lead an effective national response. 

What remains surprising, even after all these months, is that fellow Republicans have accepted his failures and made them their own. Two governors – South Dakota’s Kristi Noem and Idaho’s Brad Little – exemplify how thoroughly degraded Republican politics have become. With virus cases running out of control in both states, the governors act like this is all business as usual. 

South Dakota’s infection rate is four times the national average, but Noem, a rightwing darling, has been hawking t-shirts inscribed: “Less Covid, More Hunting.” Meanwhile, the governor has been all over the country campaigning for Trump, so often missing from the state in recent weeks that columnist Mike McFeely roasted her this week saying, “She’s followed the Trump playbook, and therefore the Republican playbook, line for line. With her T-shirt sales, Noem is even cashing in on the denial.” 

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem is hawking t-shirts rather than battling the virus

Meanwhile, the Republican speaker of the South Dakota House of Representatives, Steve Haugaard, has been in hospital emergency rooms twice this month battling the virus. “It’s been the most devastating stuff I’ve ever had in my life,” the 64-year-old Haugaard told the Associated Press. 

Little isn’t as brazen – or as stupid – but ultimately just as ineffective as his South Dakota counterpart. While hospital officials across Idaho were calling this week for more aggressive steps to slow the growth of cases, Little was preaching the gospel of personal responsibility, refusing even the most basic step of a statewide mandate to wear a damn mask. “This is about personal responsibility,” Little said, “something Idaho is all about.” 

Right. All that personal responsibility has seen a 46% increase in cases over the last two weeks, including so many cases at the major hospital in south central Idaho that the top doctor there said this week, “It gets back around to, how long can you sustain this? How long can you provide the high-quality health care we provide?”

If you’ve been waiting for the promised Trump October Surprise, it’s already here: the infection and death toll is rising rapidly, and winter will be awful. Donald Trump and his GOP sycophants with their widespread demonization of people of expertise like Dr. Anthony Fauci and with the ignorant rejection of basic public health measures have effectively adopted Stalin’s maxim: a single death is a tragedy; 221,000 deaths are a statistic. 

The election in ten days comes down to a stark choice for America: do we embrace science and common sense to lead us to solutions for the worst public health crisis in more than one hundred years or do we empower, as the writer Caroline Fraser put it recently, “a zealotry so extreme that is has become a death cult.” 

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Additional Reading:

Some other stories worth your time…

USC’s Linebackers: In 1989, USC Had a Depth Chart of a Dozen Linebackers. Five Have Died, Each Before Age 50

A stunning and profoundly disturbing story by Michael Rosenberg in Sports Illustrated about the 1989 Southern Cal football team and what has happened to several of the team’s linebackers. 

“The Trojans go 9-2-1 and then win the Rose Bowl that season, but football fools them. The linebackers think they are paying the game’s price in real time. Michael Williams takes a shot to the head tackling a running back in one game and he is slow to get up, but he stays on the field, even as his brain fogs up for the next few plays. Chesley collides with a teammate and feels the L.A. Coliseum spinning around him; he tries to stay in but falls to a knee and gets pulled. Ross, who says he would run through a brick wall for Rogge, breaks a hand and keeps playing. After several games he meets his parents outside the home locker room and can’t remember whether his team won or lost.”

Read the whole thing.


2 More Funny Feelings About 2020

Tim Alberta is Politico’s chief political correspondent – and author of a great book American Carnage about the Tea Party takeover of the GOP. He thinks we may be overthinking what the election is all about.

“Generations of pollsters and journalists have fixated on the question of which candidate voters would rather have a beer with—a window into how personality translates into political success. Here’s the thing: Americans have been having a beer with Trump for the past four years—every morning, every afternoon, every evening. He has made himself more accessible than any president in history, using the White House as a performance stage and Twitter as a real-time diary for all to read. Like the drunk at the bar, he won’t shut up.”

I like this piece because – of course – it corresponds with my own theory.

A good read.


Bruce – The Boss

Springsteen at 71

A great piece from The Irish Times

Bruce Springsteen is looking fit and well as the screen pops into life. Sitting in the same home studio in New Jersey where just about a year ago he recorded his 20th studio album, Letter to You, with his longtime musical comrades, the E-Street Band, he laughs a little sheepishly when our Zoom host, Scottish journalist Edith Bowman, wishes him a belated 71st birthday.

“I suppose celebrating birthdays is not high on his agenda, especially when Springsteen is here to tell us about an album and an arthouse documentary prompted by the death of an old friend.” 

Worth your time.


The Monopoly on Ice Cream Truck Music 

Whenever I hear the tinkling tones of an ice cream truck, I flash back to when the kids were young and that sound was exciting to them and annoying to me. Turns out I had no idea about the story behind the music. 

“In earlier decades, Nichols Electronics had several full-time employees, but the company has since shrunk down to just Mark and Beth.

“If a resource-rich corporation — say, General Electric — decided to jump into the ice cream truck music game, that corporation very well might succeed. But there’s a reason a larger entity hasn’t tried to dislodge Nichols Electronics as the reigning ice cream music kingpin.

“It’s a very difficult market, says Mark.” 

Michael Waters writes that a small family-owned company has a corner on 97% of the ice cream music market. 


Have a good week…the campaign is almost over. Be well.

2020 Election, Film, Russia, Trump

Cult of Personality…

In one of the many scenes of dark comedy in the 2017 film The Death of Stalin, the Soviet Union’s dictator is lying on the floor of his Kremlin dining room, obviously near death from a massive stroke. But the cringing sycophantic figures who discover their bosses’ lifeless body – Stalin’s henchmen and would be successors – are paralyzed with fear. 

Do they call doctors and if so which doctors? Do they try to save Stalin or let nature take its course? One of them will surely emerge as the new leader, but how best to position for that opportunity? 

From the 2017 film The Death of Stalin

“He’s feeling unwell, clearly,” says the actor playing Lavrenti Beria, the ruthless Soviet-era security chief who carried out Stalin’s purges until he, like so many others, faced his own show trial and death. Beria graced the cover of Time magazine in July 1953, by Christmas he had been executed.

“The problem, for all concerned, is the idea of a Stalin-free land,” film critic Anthony Lane wrote in a review of the film. “If they must jockey for his throne, which of them will be bold enough to start the fight, with their lord and master still breathing? What will happen if, by some miracle, he rallies and learns that certain underlings presumed to step into his unfillable shoes? Meanwhile, he needs the finest professional care, but regrettably most of the doctors in Moscow have been purged at Stalin’s command.”

The film, which was banned in Russia and several of the old Soviet states, is not a documentary, and some critics have pointed to its mistakes of history, but it is an effort to use a bleak comedy to showcase the perverse and ironic nature of the cult of personality that came to surround Josef Stalin. The fact that the most obvious truth – Stalin was very ill and might well die, which he eventually did – became unspeakable even for the powerful men who worked beside him inside the Kremlin. 

As the British historian Simon Sebag Montefiore wrote in his acclaimed biography of Stalin, at the time of his stroke and eventual death in 1953 the men closest to Stalin were obsessed with their own power and “the decision to do nothing suited everyone.” They waited for hours to summon doctors because, as Montefiore notes, “Stalin’s own doctor was being tortured merely for saying he should rest.” The slimy, vile characters around the dictator were “so accustomed to [Stalin’s] minute control that they could barely function on their own.” 

While Stalin lay gravely ill the Associated Press reported that the official medical communique from the Kremlin – Stalin was ill but getting the best possible care – was broadcast over and over, amid rumors that he was on the verge of “a remarkable recovery.” 

As Stalin lay dying in 1953

Another widely reported story noted how thoroughly the Russian people had been flooded with the image of the 5-foot 5-inch Stalin as a man of destiny, the “Great Genius Stalin.” During a radio broadcast, a Soviet commentator – presumably with a straight face – said, “There is not and never has been any other man in the world of so varied, so rich, so ubiquitous a genius…his forecasts make no mistakes. His instructions lead to the desired goal. His plans always come true.” 

The buildup of Stalin “has been so great the average Soviet worker and peasant might well ask who could possibly take his place.” That was the point. 

Truth was dead in the old Soviet Union long before Stalin was. The people around him couldn’t trust each other with the truth. The cult of personality, and the fear that perpetuated it, demanded adherence to the most fanciful lies and made a virtue of the most outrageous claims. It all eventually tumbled down amid vast death and destruction. 

One of Stalin’s most loyal lieutenants, Nikita Khrushchev, ultimately outed Stalin only three years after his death. The great man was a fraud, a murderous thug who purged his enemies and drove the country’s economy to ruin, Khrushchev said. Given his later role in the crisis over Berlin and Soviet missiles in Cuba, the reckoning with Stalin may well have been Khrushchev’s greatest gift to Russian history. The hardliners, after all, eventually drove him too from power, albeit to comfortable exile and not an early grave. 

“It was not by accident,” the historian Anne Applebaum wrote this week, that another dictator, Benito Mussolini, “juxtaposed himself against his country’s most famous city squares and most beautiful buildings—the Duomo in Milan, the Colosseum in Rome. He sought to identify himself, physically, with these beloved national symbols, and thus with the nation, and many people loved him for this. Nor were the heavily staged, entirely artificial elements of his performances a mistake. Sophisticated observers such as [the journalist William L.] Shirer sneered, but plenty of people understood that Mussolini was offering theater, putting on a show, acting out a part…That was what they had come to see him do.” 

From tragedy to farce

Historians will devote countless paragraphs to assessing the spectacle – the tragedy becoming farce – that befell American life over the last couple of weeks: the Marine One helicopter rides back and forth to the south lawn, the army of white coated doctors outside Walter Reed, the cryptic Stalin-like medical statements lacking all detail and advancing all myth, the slow drive in the closed SUV to allow the great genius to wave to his adoring fans, the Mussolini-like scene on the Truman balcony, the salute, the false assurance that all is well since a great man is in charge. 

Truth about powerful men – and the worst of the powerful have all been men – is an important thing, their medical records, their tax returns, their conflicts of interest actually do matter. Great men – and woman – can withstand scrutiny, the con men not so much. 

As Tim Miller, who once worked for Jeb Bush and the Republican National Committee, put it: “The show must go on. Where, exactly, the rest of us go from here, I cannot say. What feats Republican senators will be asked to perform alongside Trump to prove their commitment we cannot guess.”

Oh, I’m afraid we can guess. The past is prologue and American democracy is feeling unwell, clearly. 

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Additional Reading:

Some other reading worth your time…

He was a Crook – The Death of Nixon 

I’m not sure how I stumbled on this piece from 1994 by the wildman of new journalism Hunter S. Thompson. It was written for The Atlantic after Richard Nixon’s death. Thompson, let’s say, was not a fan. 

“If the right people had been in charge of Nixon’s funeral, his casket would have been launched into one of those open-sewage canals that empty into the ocean just south of Los Angeles. He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president. Nixon was so crooked that he needed servants to help him screw his pants on every morning. Even his funeral was illegal. He was queer in the deepest way. His body should have been burned in a trash bin.” 

It’s a classic of some sort. Read the whole thing.


Jill Lepore 

The historian Jill Lepore has a new book If Then – How One Data Company Invented the Future

Lepore did a Q and A with The Guardian

Q. Reading about the extraordinary history of the Simulmatics Corporation and its “People Machine”, it was instructive to see how the anxieties we have today about the more sinister aspects of computer technology were very present 60 years ago. Did that surprise you?


A. “If anything, I think in the 50s and 60s – because so few people had direct experience of computers – there was even more concern than there is now. Computers were associated with vast power. It was only with the arrival in the 1980s and 1990s of the personal computer we were sold the idea that the technology was participatory and liberal. I think we have returned, in a way, to the original fears, now we sense that these personal devices very much represent the power of vast corporations.” 

The full piece is here.


F. Scott Fitzgerald for Our Times

I really loved this piece by Ian Prasad Philbrick in The Times about the particular resonance of The Great Gatsby to our present moment.

“They were careless people,” Nick Carraway, the narrator, concludes about Tom and Daisy Buchanan, characters whose excesses ultimately destroy the lives of those around them. “They smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

It really is the Great American Novel. Here is a link to the piece.


The Lincoln Project

A remarkable development of the Trump Era and the current campaign has been the emergence and potentially the influence of a group of Never Trump conservatives who have created various platforms to take the fight to the president. The New Yorker profiled the most prominent group – The Lincoln Project. It’s a great piece for you political junkies. Paige Williams wrote it:

“In 1984, Ronald Reagan framed his reëlection campaign with the ad ‘Morning in America.’ The economy had recovered from a severe recession, and the spot offered dreamy imagery of prospering families. In early May, the Lincoln Project released a dystopian homage: ‘Mourning in America.’ A sonorous male voice-over recalled the narrator of the Reagan video, but the ad showed a grayscape of dilapidated houses, coronavirus patients, and unemployment lines. An American flag flew upside down. Kathleen Hall Jamieson, the author of ‘Packaging the Presidency‘ and the director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, at the University of Pennsylvania, told me that, if the point of the ad was to ‘remind older voters of the difference between what a Republican used to be and what this Republican is, you couldn’t do it more effectively than that.'”

Read the whole thing.

As always, thanks for reading. Stay in touch.

 

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. 

—–0—–

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, 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, 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.

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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.

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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.