Idaho Politics, Pandemic

A Pandemic and Political Failure…

During his successful 2018 campaign to become Idaho’s governor, Brad Little pulled off one of the great stealth attacks on a political rival in recent memory. You may remember the story that only became public after Little’s election. 

As a conservative who was still more moderate than his Republican primary opponents, Little needed to navigate the choppy waters of a party taken over by Donald Trump, and he found a way to do it. 

Little’s task: prevent then-Congressman Raul Labrador from securing Trump’s endorsement thereby signaling to the Trump loving base of the party that Labrador was the anointed one. Little – or at least his political operatives – settled on a very Trump-like strategy. They would disqualify Labrador in Trump’s eyes. They produced a mashup tape of Labrador’s not infrequent criticism of Trump and got the tape to the White House. Almost best of all they did so without leaving fingerprints. 

Labrador is heard on the tape belittling Trump in 2016 for being “a big whiner,” for not being a “gracious” loser and for threatening to sue anyone who crossed him, which Labrador called “just a ridiculous and a preposterous way to run a campaign.” Trump was reportedly ready to support Raul, but the tape nixed a Twitter endorsement and Trump ultimately stayed out of the Idaho race. Little won the primary and then easily dispatched Democrat Paulette Jordan in the general election. 

The Idaho Press’s Betsy Russell wrote about the incident and what it seemed to say about Little the politician. Russell quoted College of Idaho political scientist Jasper LiCalzi saying, “It shows that Little understands politics — he’s not some naive person.” Little’s campaign operatives, LiCalzi added, “didn’t just fall off the potato truck.”

So how to explain the governor’s unilateral political surrender in the battle against the worst pandemic in a hundred years? Why has Little allowed a collection of his biggest political adversaries, and I don’t mean Democrats, to define the terms of the debate around sensible, science-based public health measures

Idaho’s governor thinks he’s battling one enemy – COVID-19 – but he’s really in a fight with his most committed political enemies, as well.

There is an old rule in politics about picking your enemies carefully. Little needs to start naming his enemies. He’s fighting – not very effectively – COVID-19, but he is also at war with science deniers, militia backing armed thugs and people who want him to be a one-term governor. Why isn’t Little fighting back with all the tools of a tough politician who “didn’t just fall off the potato truck?”

For starters, why doesn’t Little take on the dangerous, clownish militia agitator Ammon Bundy? Bundy and his followers are apparently some of the people who have repeatedly disrupted Idaho health district and school board meetings and even shut down school events. They intimidate and threaten public officials outside their own homes. 

The Kansas City Star reported on Bundy and his multi-state network – “Ammon’s Army” – in October. This network, the paper said, “includes militia members, anti-maskers, conspiracy theorists, preppers and anti-vaccination activists. Its rapid growth has been boosted by the joining of Bundy’s far-right paramilitary supporters cultivated from armed standoffs over the years with a large base of new activists radicalized through protests over COVID-19 health directives.”

By refusing to name Bundy and his violence-threatening followers as real enemies of Idaho, Little is giving the radicals a pass. He should be defining them as the dangerous outliers they are, standing in the way of sensible public health measures. He should be asking: “Are you on Bundy’s side or are you on the side of an overworked, overwhelmed ICU nurse?” 

The same goes with the odious Wayne Hoffman, the mouthpiece of the increasingly radical Idaho Freedom Foundation, a group that has opposed Little at every turn on virtually every issue and is now stoking the ludicrous fiction that wearing a mask to protect yourself and your fellow citizens is somehow a violation of your Constitutional right to make someone else sick. 

“It’s become a familiar pattern,” the Idaho Falls Post Register said in a recent editorial. “Hoffman and those of his ilk spread lies about the pandemic. The protestors take up those falsehoods and lead campaigns of intimidation to hobble any effective response to the pandemic at the local level. And so they are deeply culpable for the wave of death that is bearing down on us.” 

Ignoring public health enemies isn’t the way to beat them

Yet, Little’s response to these self-important Neanderthals is so lame as to be laughable: “We’re marshaling all our forces. And yet, the enemy, this plague, continues to advance.” The governor actually said that during a news conference last week, while pleading ineffectively for “compliance” with public health measures that his real enemies attack hourly in every corner of the state. He’s not marshalling anything, he’s abdicating. 

By not naming, shaming and holding responsible the public health deniers who have crippled Idaho’s response to the virus, Little has discarded a major and valuable weapon in the fight. The “enemy” is indeed the virus, but the enemy is also a gang of deplorables hampering a more effective response. 

It’s not like any of these people – Bundy, Hoffman, Lt. Governor Janice McGeachin and any number of COVID denying legislators – are friends of Little. All of them, and add Labrador, who was photographed in the big indoor mall in Boise last weekend violating the city’s mask order, would knife Little in heartbeat. Heck, they are already doing so. 

Hoping to show Little that an overwhelming number of Idahoans support a governor willing to lead more aggressively on the pandemic, a new grassroots group – The Idaho 97% – organized, as one of the founders Emily Walton told me this week, “to let him know we need him to run Idaho.” Walton said, “there has been no public voice for the vast majority of Idahoans who want to see the government function.” Little should be leading this majority and calling out the clowns in the minority. 

“Brad Little, I think, comes across a little bit as, oh, he’s just a nice rancher, almost a naive guy, but he’s a tough politician, too,” LiCalzi, the College of Idaho political scientist, said of candidate Little in 2018. He noted that Little didn’t hesitate to attack his Democratic rival with negative TV ads, and he cut Labrador off at the knees. What’s happened to that political fire? 

“I think it’s clear,” LiCalzi said, “he’s not somebody who’s going to just let someone run over him.” But getting run over is exactly what has happened as Little has allowed his most committed political opponents to get away with a campaign of misinformation, intimidation and denial.

These should be the people defined as responsible for so much death and disease, but by his wimpy response to these knuckleheads Little has brought the blame on himself.

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Additional Reading:

A few additional stories you may find of interest…

MLB Is Finally Recognizing the Negro Leagues as the Major Leagues They Always Were

A big victory this week for Larry Lester, co-founder of the Negro League’s museum in Kansas City and a baseball historian, who has been a tireless advocate for Major League Baseball recognition of the Negro Leagues as part of the majors.  

“I’m turning cartwheels and excited about a lot of hard work that I’ve put in over the years to get the leagues recognized as a major entity on par with the American and National League,” Lester says. “I don’t know what to say other than, why did it take them so long?”

Read the entire story in The Ringer:


A closer look at Republicans who didn’t stick with Trump

Josh Kraushaar writes in National Journal:

“To anticipate the Republican Party’s political future, it’s useful to look at the categories of Republicans who have moved on from Trump, or at least stopped indulging the president’s political delusions.”

Good piece.


The Texas Wedding

I read a story like this one from Texas Monthly and wonder: are people really this stupid?

“Photographers’ experiences shooting weddings during the pandemic have run the gamut. Several photographers described couples who were cautious, respectful, and understanding. But many were not. ‘I would say about fifty percent of the weddings I’ve shot, there’s been no masks at all. It’s like we’re living in the pre-COVID parallel universe,’ one photographer told me. ‘I’ve been in hotel ballrooms inside and it’s been packed like sardines and everyone’s having a great time. No one’s wearing masks. I’m there as the photographer documenting the reception and there’s sweat flying, and it’s hot, and the music’s blaring and the fan’s on, and I’m just like, ‘Well, the odds are that one of every ten people here have COVID and don’t realize it.’”

Obviously, the answer is…yes.


Thanks for reading. Stay well and do your best to safely enjoy the Christmas season.

2020 Election, GOP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Additional Reading:

A few other items worth your time this week…

How Biden Should Investigate Trump

James Fallows in The Atlantic

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

Fallows has a few ideas.


How Trump Changed America 

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

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

From the website FiveThirtyEight:

Maradona: The God of Argentina

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

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

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

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

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

Read the whole thing.


Thanks for reading…be safe.

2020 Election, McCarthy, Trump

GOP Fails Its McCarthy Moment…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McCarthy was condemned by the Senate 66 years ago this week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s just not right. 

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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.

.

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, Andrus, Cenarrusa

The Fraud Charge is the Fraud…

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

How the South Idaho Press reported the 1986 election

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—–

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

November 6, 1986 – Twin Falls Times-News

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

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

—–0—– 

Additional Reading:

Some stories I found interesting this week…

Rebecca Solnit: On Not Meeting Nazis Halfway

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

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

Read the entire piece.


All the president’s ‘Guys’

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

Need I say it: this is not normal. 

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

Here is the link:


The Transition: Lyndon Johnson and the events in Dallas.

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

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

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

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

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

While we wait for the next Caro volume read this.


How ‘Moonlight Serenade’ Defined a Generation

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

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

Read the entire piece from The Smithsonian Magazine.


Thanks for reading. Be safe.

2020 Election, GOP, Trump

No One Left to Lie To…

From The New York Times, October 26, 2020…

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

A few articles I found of interest this week…

An Embarrassing Failure for Election Pollsters

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

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


The Trumper with a Thousand Faces

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Read this and watch the series.


Thanks for reading. Be well.

2020 Election, Biden, Books

Joe and Jill…

From this morning’s Politico Playbook:

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

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


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

Richard Ben Cramer published his classic in 1992

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jill and Joe Biden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

——

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—–0—–

2020 Election, Civil War, Lincoln

What Now…

I’ve always wondered what it must have been like to be alive in 1860 and experience the American election that created Abraham Lincoln, insured the secession of 11 southern states and spawned the deadliest war in the nation’s history. 

Lincoln won only 40% of the popular vote in that election – and almost no votes in southern states – and to many of his fellow countrymen the mere thought of his election was cause for panic and eventually dissolution. One side was trying, in the face of enormous odds, to preserve the Union. Another side was willing to risk civil war. 

Lincoln in the year of his election.

This week we all have a better sense of what it must have been like to be alive in 1860. The United States – I hope I’m wrong here – seems to be tottering at a dangerous place we’ve not seen in our lifetimes, or perhaps even in our great grandparents’ lifetimes. Maybe, in fact, not since Lincoln and 1860.

The election of 2020, the election we have been preparing to endure for four long years, may only prove one thing: America is even more divided than we imagined. 

I have to admit I am nostalgic for, if not an entirely better more gentle political time, at least a time with better political expectations, a time when there was still a middle in American politics, a time when we were not just divided tribes. One such time, ironically, was the tumultuous 1960’s, a decade dominated by fights over civil rights, including the murder of the leader of the civil rights movement. The 1960’s where in many ways an ugly time: presidential assassination, campus unrest, urban riots and a senseless war.

Yet, against all the odds, many of the nation’s best political leaders, Republicans and Democrats, were equal to the decade’s enormous challenges. The success of American politics in the 1960’s owes much to two partisan politicians who in style and substance could not have been more different. The story of Mike Mansfield of Montana and Everett Dirksen of Illinois, the Senate majority and minority leaders, may seem quaint, even unrecognizable in our divided America of 2020. But it is instructive. 

Mansfield was a New York-born orphan, packed off to Butte, Montana as a youngster to live with relatives. He hated it. Ran away from what passed for home and ended up doing the nastiest work in the copper mines of the richest hill on earth. Dirksen grew up on a farm outside of Pekin, a town in central Illinois. His Protestant parents were German immigrants. Mansfield’s immigrant roots were Irish-Catholic. Both men served in the Great War and both struggled to gain a higher education. Mansfield’s wife insisted he get a degree and he eventually earned a master’s and taught history. Dirksen sold books and magazines door-to-door to finance his law degree. 

Mike Mansfield and Everett Dirksen, the greatest bipartisan leadership team in United States Senate history

Dirksen was voluble. One reporter called him “the Wizard of Ooze.” The label stuck because it was true. Mansfield was laconic, given to one-word answers – “yup” and “nope.” It’s often said the most dangerous place in Washington, D.C. is the space between a politician and a television camera, but Mansfield, even at the height of his power as majority leader, a tenure that lasted for 16 years, shunned the spotlight. Imagine such a thing. 

The political and personal paths of these two remarkable Americans crossed in the United States Senate where they helped civilize our politics and make the place work. 

Among many enduring bipartisan accomplishments Mansfield and Dirksen led the Senate and their respective parties to pass of the historic Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, they passed Medicare and created the public broadcasting system. They worked with presidents of both parties. It’s how politics once worked. 

One story exemplifies how the copper miner from Montana cooperated with the magazine salesman from Illinois. In 1963, Democratic President John Kennedy had negotiated a limited nuclear test ban treaty with the Soviet Union. Kennedy saw the treaty, particularly after the Cuban missile crisis a year earlier, as a step back from an unthinkable nuclear Armageddon. Dirksen, a conservative Republican on foreign policy issues and a man deeply suspicious of the Communist regime in Moscow, was not entirely convinced a treaty was in the nation’s interest. Mansfield insisted he speak directly with Kennedy and the two leaders went to the White House to, well, make a deal. 

President John F. Kennedy pushes away his coffee cup as he meets at the White House with the Senate’s leaders, Mike Mansfield (D-Montana), left, and Everett Dirksen (R-Ill.), Sept. 9, 1963. The two were there to discuss ratification of the limited nuclear test ban treaty. Dirksen said after the meeting the president plans to issue a statement that “might dispel and resolve some of the apprehensions and misgivings” concerning the pact. At far left is Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. (AP Photo/William J. Smith)

During the ensuing conversation – we know it lasted 33 minutes because it was captured on a White House recording – Kennedy suggested that Dirksen put his reservations in writing, which he had already done. “I hope you don’t mind that this is a little presumptuous on my part,” Dirksen said, as he proceeded to read aloud a copy that he produced from his suit pocket. Dirksen’s draft became the letter Kennedy sent to the Senate. 

Dirksen then counseled the Democratic president on how to handle Senate opposition from his own party, while explaining that he could convince enough of his fellow Republicans to get the necessary two-thirds vote to ratify the treaty. 

It wasn’t known until years later when the recording of the meeting became public that the two partisan Senate leaders worked together to help the American president accomplish something that he likely could never have done without their unselfish, non-partisan assistance. The test ban treaty approved by the Senate in 1963 became the foundation of every subsequent nuclear weapons treaty. Kennedy considered it among his greatest, if not the greatest, domestic accomplishments. 

The basic decency and fair play of Dirksen, Mansfield and Kennedy that is on display in this little story, particularly given our current toxic partisanship, is nothing short of stunning. We struggle ahead as Americans. Yes, we really do have a shared stake in the future of a country that is not just about seeing that our side wins. If there are Dirksens and Mansfields among us, this is their moment. 

As Lincoln said in his Second Inaugural Address in March, 1865, while the Civil War still raged: “Both parties deprecated war; but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came.”

Come on America, we used to believe we were all in this together. Every one of us needs to figure out how we can be one country again. Either we revive the spirit of politicians like Dirksen and Mansfield or we are doomed. 

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Additional Reading:

A couple of stories you may find of interest…

Counties with worst virus surges overwhelmingly voted Trump

This is a remarkable example of taking an obvious story – the expanding coronavirus in the United States – and examining the why.

“An Associated Press analysis reveals that in 376 counties with the highest number of new cases per capita, the overwhelming majority — 93% of those counties — went for Trump, a rate above other less severely hit areas.

“Most were rural counties in Montana, the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa and Wisconsin — the kinds of areas that often have lower rates of adherence to social distancing, mask-wearing and other public health measures, and have been a focal point for much of the latest surge in cases.”

Read the entire story.


Helena Bonham Carter

I’ve been receiving – and reading – a daily email from the Irish Times since I fell in love the newspaper during a trip to Ireland some years ago. It never fails to give me something really interesting, including this feature on the actress who plays Princess Margaret in The Crown, starting again soon on Netflix.

Helena Bonham Carter in The Crown

“[Helena Bonham Carter] spent months on her research. She wasn’t interested in anything that made the princess sound like a cartoonish snob, but looked instead for nuances. ‘I’m not disputing that Margaret was rude, but often the reason people attack others is because they feel vulnerable,’ she says. To locate that vulnerability, she interviewed Margaret’s surviving friends, including her former lady-in-waiting, Anne Glenconner. ‘I’ve always been a swot. Honestly, you should see my Margaret file. Tim used to look at all my files and say, ‘You’re not an academic, you’re a flipping actor.’ But I have to suspend my own disbelief before I ask anyone else to suspend theirs. And it’s such an outrageous ask: I have to pretend to be Princess f**king Margaret?’ she says, her voice rising.”

A great feature about a wonderful actress.


Thanks for reading. Stay safe…and please do what you can to strengthen our democracy.

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.