Insurrection, Trump, Watergate

What Did They Know and When Did They Know It…

It was the summer of 1973.  Congress was struggling, amid tense and often angry partisanship, to understand who was really responsible for the break in a year earlier at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C.

The story – quickly dubbed Watergate – unfolded over a period of many months, with details large and small emerging in news reports and, we now know, by leaks from a top official at the FBI, among others. Watergate would emerge as an example of massive political corruption – one of the great scandals in American history.

In those days the United States Senate was led by a flinty Montanan, a former Butte copper miner who became a university history professor and eventually majority leader.

Mike Mansfield was a Senate “institutionalist,” meaning he literally dedicated his 24-year career to elevating the institution he led, and he was always protecting the Senate’s prerogatives and reputation.

When it became impossible to avoid questions of whether Watergate’s crimes reached the White House and were perhaps being covered up by officials in the government, Mansfield acted in the interest of the Senate and the nation.

He went to Republican leader Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania and proposed a select committee to investigate. Scott agreed. Then Mansfield made one of the most consequential decisions of his consequential career – he selected a drawling, elderly North Carolina constitutional lawyer by the name of Sam Ervin to chair the committee.

Ultimately, the Senate vote to create the committee was unanimous, but only after Republicans tried to get a committee divided equally among GOP members and Democrats – Democrats held a healthy majority in the Senate at the time. Florida Republican Edward Gurney – shades of current Republican congressional tactics – attempted unsuccessfully to broaden the investigation to include the 1964 and 1968 presidential campaigns. The focus would be Watergate.

February 8, 1973 – Billings Gazette

Ervin was no one’s idea of telegenic. His fleshy face sported big jowls and a double chin. His white hair was often untamed. His black horned rim glasses perched uneasily on a big nose. Ervin was a throwback, a conservative southern Democrat and dead-end segregationist suspicious of too much government and too much racial equality.

But Ervin also revered the Senate and the Constitution, particularly that concept that no one is above the law. Importantly for Mansfield, Ervin was in his last term. He wasn’t running for anything.

Mansfield surrounded ol’ Sam with what appeared to many at the time to be a lackluster group of Senate second-stringers, but they had been selected with purpose. None had national political ambitions that might get in the way of a serious investigation of serious crimes.

Ervin’s investigation became critical to unraveling Watergate and forcing a presidential resignation.

From left to right – Senators Baker and Irvin, Majority Council Sam Dash, Senator Herman E Talmadge of Georgia and Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii

Republicans, meanwhile, selected a handsome, articulate senator from Tennessee by name of Howard Baker to co-chair the Watergate committee. Baker was the son-in-law of the legendary Senate Republican leader, Everett Dirksen, who had operated in a highly cooperative, bipartisan way with Senate Democrats, especially Mansfield.

Still, it was widely expected that Baker would be a loyal defender of President Richard Nixon, whose role in Watergate was always at the center of the investigation. And for a long time Baker was a defender. And then he wasn’t.

On June 29, 1973, Baker asked a simple question of former White House counsel John Dean that came to define Baker’s Senate career. Dean had been fired by Nixon and was now cooperating with the Senate committee.

“My primary thesis is still,” Baker asked, “what did the president know, and when did he know it?”

Baker posed the question believing he was helping Nixon, who had repeatedly denied knowledge of the Watergate break in or any effort to cover it up. He was hoping the question would exonerate Nixon, or at least make the issue one of Nixon’s word against Dean’s.

But Baker did not yet know there were tapes – many tapes – of Nixon’s conversations with White House aides orchestrating the cover up, including trying to get the CIA involved.

All this history is worth remembering in light of the increasingly apparent role of the former president in stimulating many of his followers to attack the U.S. Capitol on January 6. No Watergate analogy is perfect, but Donald Trump clearly egged on the attackers, delayed responding to the chaos aimed at Congress and his own vice president, and is now attempting to use every avenue to prevent the fully story from coming out. It’s very Nixon-like.

Text messages released this week to former Trump chief of Staff Mark Meadows – a 21st Century variation of sorts on Nixon’s White House taping system – seem to show that the former president was very involved in events leading up to and including January 6.

Trump’s own son begged Meadows to get the president to do something to stop the attack. “He’s got to condemn this s@#t ASAP,” Don, Jr. messaged.

The turd polishers at Fox News even weighed in imploring action from Trump to stop the carnage. Meadows knows all this. He also knows what Trump said and did. It’s why his contempt of Congress is so important.

One text to Meadows really stands out: a House Republican messaged him, even before several states had finalized vote counting, that Republican legislatures in Georgia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania ought just ignore the voters and name their own slate of Trump electors.

This was an early example of the political weaponizing of the “big lie” that the election was stolen. January 6 was a follow on.

Here’s a way to think about updating Howard Baker’s classic question: not only what did Trump know and when, but what did your member of Congress know and when?

It’s clear some members of Congress were communicating with the organizers of the attack and with the White House. What did they know and when? We deserve to know. If there is nothing nefarious about the actions of members of Congress who swore an oath to preserve and protect the Constitution then so be it, but we need to know.

Most House Republicans, including every member from the West with the exception of Liz Cheney of Wyoming has tried to hamper the January 6th investigation, labeling it “partisan,” and voting to let Meadows and others get away with stiffing Congress. But all that is a smoke screen.

Congress has every right – indeed an obligation – to investigate such fundamental and dangerous abuses.

Congressional power to investigate and hold accountable the executive branch was established as long ago as 1792 and has continued through the Civil War, the sinking of the Titanic, war profiteering during World War II, Watergate and Benghazi.

By undermining the ongoing investigation of January 6, Republicans may be protecting themselves from the wrath of Donald Trump and his most fevered supporters, but they are putting partisanship ahead of American democracy. We need to know what all of them knew and when they knew it.

Meanwhile, it seems worth noting that a detailed Associated Press survey of every single claim of voter fraud in six contested states found fewer than 475 questionable votes out of millions cast. “The findings build on a mountain of other evidence,” the AP report said, “that the election wasn’t rigged, including verification of the results by Republican governors.”

Yet, the lies continue. Holding to account those involved on January 6 has truly become the urgent necessity of democracy.

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Additional Readings:

A few other suggestions that I think will be worth your time…

Nicholas Kristof Wants to Be a Governor. Why Won’t He Talk to National Media?

Actually, I think it’s pretty smart of the former New York Times columnist turned Oregon gubernatorial candidate not to spend any time worrying about national media. He should be talking to the Eugene Register-Guard and the Ontario Observer. Still, this piece does pose some important questions.

Nick Kristof: journalist turns politician

Garret Epps, writing in Washington Monthly, used Kristof’s book – Tightrope – as a takeoff point for his questions.

Tightrope is a terrific book, regardless of what one thinks of Kristof’s proposed policy responses, which include improved early childhood programs, universal high-school graduation, elimination of unwanted pregnancies, a monthly child allowance for families, programs to wipe out child homelessness, and a ‘baby bond’ given to each child at birth to generate wealth as kids grow up, and programs to guarantee a job for any American who wants one.”

Here a link to the full story with some historical context on whether journalists get very far in politics.

Spoiler: It’s rare, but Oregon has some history.


How a Kennedy Became an Anti-Vax Juggernaut

I confess I’ll never understand the anti-vax attitude. It boggles my mind. And there is this.

“Robert F. Kennedy Jr. strode onto the stage at a Southern California church, radiating Kennedy confidence and surveying the standing ovation crowd with his piercing blue Bobby Kennedy eyes. Then, he launched into an anti-vaccine rant. Democrats ‘drank the Kool-Aid,’ he told people assembled for a far right conference, branded as standing for ‘health and freedom.'”

Here’s the link:


When Radio Stations Stopped a Public Figure From Spreading Dangerous Lies

I have been listening to a terrific podcast called Radioactive. It’s produced by Tablet magazine and focuses on the rise and eventual demise of the 1930’s Catholic priest and radio personality Father Charles Coughlin.

The Royal Oak, Michigan radio priest who pioneered hate on the airwaves

Coughlin was a fascinating and dangerous character. Read this and then listen to the podcast.

“Coughlin’s Detroit ministry had grown up with radio, and, as his sermons grew more political, he began calling President Franklin D. Roosevelt a liar, a betrayer and a double-crosser. His fierce rhetoric fueled rallies and letter-writing campaigns for a dozen right-wing causes, from banking policy to opposing Russian communism. At the height of his popularity, an estimated 30 million Americans listened to his Sunday sermons.’

From Smithsonian magazine:


Bros., Lecce: We Eat at The Worst Michelin Starred Restaurant, Ever

Finally, the viral story of the week – or perhaps the year. An absolutely hilarious and bitter review of a Michelin star restaurant in Italy.

“We headed to the restaurant with high hopes – eight of us in total, led into a cement cell of a room, Drake pumping through invisible speakers. It was sweltering hot, and no other customers were present. The décor had the of chicness of an underground bunker where one would expect to be interrogated for the disappearance of an ambassador’s child.”

It gets better. Here is the review:

And here’s the Washington Post on how the review went bonkers viral.


As always…have a good weekend. Be safe. Get the booster.

Insurrection, Politics, Trump, Uncategorized

Our Constitutional Crisis…

Raising the federal debt limit so our government can pay the bills it has already rung up ought to be the political equivalent of an uncontested lay-up in basketball.

Senate Republicans, willing to force the U.S. economy to the brink of insolvency and crater the recovery from a deadly pandemic by filibustering the issue, are forcing Senate Democrats to save the game by effectively making a half-court desperation shot at the buzzer.

If what nihilistic Republicans are doing weren’t so economically irresponsible, indeed potentially catastrophic, it would be cause for a laughable case of hypocritical cynicism. After all, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, the guy orchestrating this bit of potentially fatal political theater, has voted 32 times for a debt ceiling increase during his time in Washington.

There ought to be a Mt. Rushmore for cynics like the Kentucky senator, but no block of granite exists large enough to feature all the worthy cynics. (Any monument would surely have to make room for Idaho Senator Mike Crapo, a world-class enabler of federal debt with repeated votes to cut taxes on corporations and the wealthiest Americans, and one who now refuses to pay the very bills he created.)

Yet, while this cliffhanger dominates the news, underscoring how broken our politics continues to be, an existential crisis of democracy is unfolding in real time. Tragically, this crisis remains out of sight and out of mind for most Americans. Our constitutional crisis is under the daily radar screen for two reasons: Republican officeholders are ignoring it and too many Americans have grown comfortable with the undemocratic, authoritarian, insurrectionist politics of the political right.

Let’s briefly review the path to constitutional crisis:

Months before the 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump began to raise doubts among his supporters that the election would be conducted fairly. Unlike any presidential candidate before, Trump said in so many words: if I lose, the election was rigged. He repeated this fable over and over – for months.

As election day drew closer, Trump ramped up the lies about election integrity, advancing bogus arguments about mail in ballots or dead people voting. On election night – trailing in key states – Trump declared victory and began turning up the heat on local election officials to find some way to turn the outcome in his favor. Trump’s pressure on election officials in Georgia is still the subject of criminal review.

Next, and in advance of state-level certification of the election, came the lies about vote counts from Pennsylvania to Arizona. Trump lawyers went to court in several states to try to stop certification, or to advance election fraud claims. In not one single case in a dozen states has any remotely creditable evidence been presented to a court supporting the former president’s case. Nothing has surfaced because there is nothing there.

Still, the lies, aided by the silence, or even worse actively abetted by Republican elected officials, took hold. Public opinion polling indicates a majority of Republicans have now bought the lies, which Trump repeated again this week.

The lies, beyond the clear damage to the legitimacy of American democracy, have had other real consequences. Election officials in numerous states have been on the receiving end of harassment and even death threats. A group of Republican crackpots in Arizona, egged on by their lying leader, convened, as the Arizona Republic reported, their “own group of fake electors who promptly voted to throw Arizona’s vote to Donald Trump? Turns out they weren’t engaged in meaningless wishful thinking or yet another wild PR stunt to play to the base. They were involved in an actual plan to stage a coup.”

We now know that Trump enlisted the help of a conservative lawyer from California to concoct a legal rationale for a coup. The theory held that then-vice president Mike Pence could, on his own motion, reject the Electoral College votes of several states that Trump lost.

The lawyer, John Eastman, meet with Trump at the White House on January 5, 2021, the day before Congress was scheduled to certify, as a purely procedural matter, the presidential election.

As a violent mob chanting “hangMike Pence” attacked the Capitol on January 6th, Pence, somewhat amazingly given his fealty to Trump, followed the Constitution.

We also know that General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, convened a meeting of his top staff in this period to remind them of the military’s duty to the Constitution. Milley also spoke with his Chinese counterpart to ensure him that the U.S. was not about to launch a war. There are other reports that Milley observed that Trump was unstable and capable of precipitating a “wag the dog” type incident to hold on to power.

The incident Trump and supporters planned for and encouraged happened, of course, on January 6th on the steps and inside the United States Capitol.





On January 6, then-president Donald Trump speaks to the crowd that later attacked the U.S. Capitol

If this weren’t recent American history staring us square in the face it would be a good plot line for a second rate made for TV movie, and perhaps that is why it’s easy for some to dismiss the lying, scheming and the threats. This kind of crazy, undemocratic action just doesn’t happen in our county. Right.

But dismissal of lies about election fraud, a coup plot and a deadly insurrection is a profoundly dangerous response to this web of treason. The worst is likely yet to come. By 2024, amateurish “Stop the Steal” stunts will be professionalized. Trump will run again. The election will be close. And the reaction – almost certainly chaos and crisis.

As Robert Kagan, no squishy liberal, wrote recently in the Washington Post: “As of this spring, Republicans have proposed or passed measures in at least 16 states that would shift certain election authorities from the purview of the governor, secretary of state or other executive-branch officers to the legislature. An Arizona bill flatly states that the legislature may ‘revoke the secretary of state’s issuance or certification of a presidential elector’s certificate of election’ by a simple majority vote. Some state legislatures seek to impose criminal penalties on local election officials alleged to have committed ‘technical infractions,’ including obstructing the view of poll watchers.”

As Kagan correctly notes, many, many Trump supporters see the web he has woven “as a patriotic defense of the nation,” and therefore “there is every reason to expect more such episodes.”

Europeans all too easily slipped the bonds of democracy less than one hundred years ago to follow charismatic, authoritarian leaders into fascism and dictatorship.

It’s often said: “But, it can’t happen here.” Are you sure about that?

Better yet, what are you doing about it?

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Additional Reading:

A few additional items that you may find of interest…

The foul-mouthed farmer sticking his neck out for Democrats’ agenda

From Politico, a great profile of Montana Senator Jon Tester. (Personal opinion: we could use some more like him.)

Montana Senator Jon Tester

“There’s no one in the Senate like Tester these days, both physically and politically. He’s a hulking presence as he ambles through the chamber’s marble halls, dispensing plainspoken wisdom and pushing what he calls ‘positive vibes.’ When he sips a bottle of beer, he cradles it in between his pinky finger and thumb — a necessary habit since he lost three fingers in a meat grinder as a child.”

If Democrats hope to ever build a working majority in Congress, and particularly in the Senate, they are going to have to embrace candidates like Jon Tester in rural western states.

Here’s a link to the full profile:


Vaccine Mandates are Working

This really shouldn’t be a huge surprise.

“Coronavirus vaccine mandates imposed by employers seem to be working so far, suggesting that most vaccine holdouts would rather get the shot than lose their job.”

Here’s the link:


The MAGA Trashiest Police Report in History

When you have been around politics and politicians long enough you develop a kind of radar about those individuals who are phony or incompetent or just creepy. Campaigns have a way of attracting some of the best and worst people. Trump’s campaigns were an exception. They seemed to have attracted only the worse, including Cory Lewandowski.

Tim Miller in The Bulwark dishes the goods about Lewandowski’s evening in Vegas with a woman from Idaho named, wait for it, Trashelle.

“My most sacred maxim for assessing what is happening in politics: “When in doubt it’s Veep, not House of Cards.

“But after I saw the full statement provided to authorities by Trashelle Odom, I realized that at long last we may have found the point at which this maxim breaks down.

“Because the Lewandowski Affair wasn’t a binary choice between Veep or House of Cards. It’s Veep and House of Cards. The singularity had been achieved.”

It’s a classic:


OK, enough fun for one day. Be careful out there. Thanks for reading.

Insurrection, Politics, Trump

The West’s Homegrown Threat…

America has some history with populist demagogues. 

A Catholic priest from Detroit became a major figure in the 1930’s by playing to fears about economic collapse. Charles Coughlin, a kind of Rush Limbaugh-like character, had a national radio following. Coughlin advocating monetizing silver as a panacea for the depression decimated economy. It was later revealed the priest was trading in the metal, using his secretary to conceal his purchases, but knowledge of that scam still didn’t derail him. He moved on to stoking anti-Semitism

Father Charles Coughlin: American Demagogue

In the same period, a fantastic character skyrocketed onto the national scene touting a plan to make “every man a king.” Huey Long appealed to the have nots by building highways, hospitals and schools in Louisiana, but he also presided over a virtual police state where, among other things, he required state employees to hand over a portion of every paycheck to his political operation. Huey would almost certainly have made a play for the White House had not an assassin shot and killed him in a hallway of the state capitol building in Baton Rouge. 

A more recent variety of domestic demagogue – Joe McCarthy, Pat Buchanan, a guy named Trump to name a few – came into being playing on old American tropes: fear of “others,” hatred of our government or the evil threats of vicious foreign elements bent on our destruction. Much of the American story has been built on need to defend the country against someone or something determined to undermine or demolish all that is good. 

Usually, the demagogue defines the threat as “endangering the American way of life,” a statement so broad and ill-defined as to satisfy the grievance of that segment of our society that is always upset about something. 

Until Donald Trump inspired an insurrectionist attack on the U.S Capitol six months ago, the American demagogues have sought, often in odious and fundamentally destructive ways, to achieve political power by winning elections. Or at least they attempted to crush their opponents in the marketplace of ideas. But Trump has brought a new reality to American life: the demagogue as commander of what can only be called an armed militia. 

This happened just six months ago…

A significant number of the Americans who assaulted their own seat of government on January 6 identify with certain militia movements – the Proud Boys, the Three Percenters, the Oath Keepers. The Guardian reported in March on leaked documents from some of these groups indicating that have attracted hundreds if not thousands of members who are current or former military or law enforcement personal, but the groups also “include men and women, of ages ranging from their 20s to their 70s, doing jobs from medical physics to dental hygiene and living in all parts of the country.” 

One Three Percenter patch says: “We’re everywhere.” Another proclaims: “Be polite. Be professional. But have a plan to kill everyone you meet.” As evidence of the January insurrection has made clear, these militia groups are heavily armed and certainly dangerous. Chants of “Hang Mike Pence” were not a statement of abstract political theory. 

Which bring us to the West latest home-grown demagogue: Idaho Republican gubernatorial candidate and anti-government militia crusader Ammon Bundy

It’s easy to dismiss Bundy with his big hat and attention attracting antics as a joke, a marginal figure much like the usual marginal figures who pay the filing fee and show up on a ballot somewhere in the West. I’ve been guilty of dismissing Bundy as someone few people should take seriously. I was wrong. He’s different. 

The Catholic priest in the 30’s or a Pat Buchanan, who proclaimed himself the head of the “pitchfork brigade” in the 1990’s, certainly had followers who could be and were stirred up at the drop of a microphone, but until recently American demagogues didn’t command armed militias. Now they do. 

In a Los Angeles Times profile of Bundy this week one sentence stands out: “Standing in his kitchen, Bundy recently used his smartphone to pull up the latest stats for People’s Rights — nearly 60,000 members organized in 29 states and Canada, all promising to protect their fellow members if called, he claimed. Bundy is quick to describe it as a linked network of ‘neighbors’ who make independent choices and are not under his direction.” 

The lie to that last claim is put to rest by a visit to Bundy’s YouTube channel where he certainly is directing those 60,000 folks. In other statements he has called his followers “neighborhood watch of steroids.” 

News accounts often describe Bundy as “a far right activist,” but that description falls short. He’s the most visible leader of a huge network of heavily armed, anti-government militia members

An American demagogue like Huey Long certainly called his followers to action, but the action was aimed at winning elections. We know what kind of action Bundy is capable of. He masterminded the armed takeover of a wildlife refuge in eastern Oregon, he defied federal agents in a grazing standoff in Nevada and he led a violent demonstration inside the Idaho capitol building. The $750 he was fined recently for failing to leave a legislative meeting room in Boise is less than a slap on the wrist and will almost certainly embolden Bundy and his followers for the next action. 

“We have the potential for multiple Malheurs in multiple states, in that at any moment they could bring hardened far-right activists, often heavily armed, into any one event,” Devin Burghart, executive director of the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, told the Los Angeles Times in February. 

Bundy’s play for political office in Idaho is a joke, at least in this sense. He doesn’t believe in his own government or the idea that a democratic society runs on rules and law. He flouts such conventions as easily as he summons a mob to intimidate a local elected official. His political campaign is a means to an end and the end is to menace real elected officials into silence and acceptance. 

Who knows what Ammon Bundy, a true believer secure in the sacredness of his own opinions, is ultimately capable of? He has certainly given us a preview of coming attractions. No elected official in the West – and particularly in Idaho – should be surprised when he ratchets up his pressure campaign, as he surely will.

And while some elected Republicans, the fringe of the fringe, have embraced and encouraged Bundy’s anti-government nonsense most others have sat quietly, apparently hoping he will just go away. But he’s not going away. He’s now injected himself into the very heart of their party. 

There is a stark choice here for most elected Republicans: risk alienating Bundy’s militia followers by pushing back on all that he stands for, or choose to support the rule of law and democracy. The recent Republican track record on that choice isn’t very encouraging. 

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Additional Reading:

Items I found interesting, important or fun….

White House fire meeting was a bunch of hot air

President Joe Biden summoned a group of western governors to the White House recently to talk about the latest terrible fire season in the region. He left the governors of Montana and Idaho out of the meeting. It was a dump call, whether intentional or caused by West Wing bungling. Here’s Darrell Erhlick in The Daily Montanan.

“It seems like someone in the White House would have gazed over the terra incognita on the map of the United States — that vast expanse between the two better-known coasts — and thought, ‘Hmm, there seem to be a lot things that could burn up there in northwestern land located between, say, North Dakota and Washington.’

“But if such a musing or consideration happened, we didn’t hear about it.”

Read the full piece here:


Reasserting Checks and Balances: The National Emergencies Act of 1976

A great – and mostly forgotten – piece of American political history.

Senators Mathias and Church in 1974

“The story of this obscure Senate committee begins with the Vietnam War. In 1968 Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon pledged to end the war if elected. In the spring of 1970, however, President Nixon secretly expanded the war into Cambodia—without congressional approval. Weeks later, Nixon announced the expansion of the war into Cambodia on national television. The administration’s actions infuriated many senators, especially Frank Church, a long-time Vietnam War critic.”

From the Office of the Senate Historian:


The 3 Simple Rules That Underscore the Danger of Delta

I confess to not understanding the reluctance by millions of people to get vaccinated against COVID-19. I keep wondering if they realize why hardly anyone of my generation contracted polio – because we got the vaccine!

In any event, I hope they will reconsider and in the meantime this from Pulitzer Prize winner Ed Yong in The Atlantic.

“Fifteen months after the novel coronavirus shut down much of the world, the pandemic is still raging. Few experts guessed that by this point, the world would have not one vaccine but many, with 3 billion doses already delivered. At the same time, the coronavirus has evolved into super-transmissible variants that spread more easily. The clash between these variables will define the coming months and seasons. Here, then, are three simple principles to understand how they interact. Each has caveats and nuances, but together, they can serve as a guide to our near-term future.”

The bottom line: vaccines work. Read the full piece:


When George Harrison vacationed in southern Illinois

A great story about a member of The Beatles before he was famous. Turns out George Harrison spent part of 1963 in the rural Midwest. Who knew?

Yes, that George Harrison

“Louise said George was in a band back in England, where he lived. So, later that day, Chris and Monty went to Skaggs Electric Supply Company, which sold records alongside light bulbs and extension cords, and asked the proprietor if he had anything by a band called the Beatles. The man shook his head. ‘Never heard of ’em,’ he said.”

Good story…read it here.


Many thanks for following along. Be well.

Impeachment, Trump, U.S. Senate

What Are They Afraid Of…

The irascible, irreverent Perry Swisher – once an editor at the Lewiston, Idaho paper that publishes my regular column – was a 20th Century Renaissance Man: legislator (he served as both a Republican and Democrat), an independent candidate for governor, a writer, activist, deflater of egos and caustic truth teller, particularly about frauds, phonies and attorneys. 

One Idaho governor threatened the judicial council with a Swisher appointment to the Supreme Court – Perry wasn’t a lawyer – if the council didn’t start recommending better candidates for the court. Another governor put Swisher on the Public Utilities Commission and he proceeded for several years to scare the crap out of Idaho Power Company. 

Swisher once quipped that the Founders had made one fundamental mistake: they turned over an entire branch of government to lawyers. One can only imagine what the old curmudgeon would have made of the “trial” of America’s first insurrectionist president; where at least 18 of the Senate Republicans jurors who voted to acquit Donald Trump – including the two timid sheep from Idaho – are card carrying members of the bar. 

Senators being sworn in for the second Trump impeachment trial

Of course, none of these Perry Mason’s actually attempted to defend Trump’s behavior leading up to and including January 6, 2021 when a crazed mob of the then-president’s followers stormed the U.S. Capitol, killed a police officer, precipitated the deaths of two others and injured dozens more. 

This brainwashed gang of cranks, misfits, losers, white supremacists and MAGA true believers were, as Wyoming Republican Liz Cheney succinctly put it, summoned by Trump, assembled by the president who then “lit the flame” of the attack. There has never been such a blatant frontal assault on our democracy.

Everything that followed, Cheney said, “was his doing. None of this would have happened without the President. The President could have immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence. He did not.” 

That’s it. That was sum of the indictment that 43 Senate Republicans would not, could not defend, but were craven enough to dismiss on specious process grounds. 

The “trial was unconstitutional,” Harvard Law grad Mike Crapo said. “The House’s impeachment proceeding blatantly violated established guarantees of due process.” 

Jim Risch soiled the reputation of the University of Idaho’s law school where he surely learned more than he is now able to admit. “The United States Senate has no jurisdiction over a private citizen,” the former law and order prosecutor intoned incorrectly, “and thus impeachment was and is impossible.” 

Both men conveniently ignored that the Senate has, in fact, conducted trials of impeached officials who are out office and that the Senate in which they sit actually voted on the constitutionality question and a majority of senators deemed the proceedings proper. They weren’t defending the Constitution, they were engaging in jury nullification

The Trump “base” of the GOP, and those like the coward caucus in the Senate who refuse to confront it, are, in the words of media analyst Margaret Sullivan, “so disconnected from reality that when reality manages to intrude – in the form of undeniable facts, timelines, videos and presidential tweets – there’s nothing to do but deny it as outrageous and either look for an escape hatch or go on the attack.” 

Attorneys for former President Donald Trump William J. Brennan, left, and Michael van der Veen fist bump each other on the Senate subway after former President Doanld Trump was acquitted during the impeachment trial in the Senate on Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

And it’s not as though these senatorial profiles in gutlessness don’t know any better. Arkansas’s Tom Cotton, Texan Ted Cruz and the insurrectionist from Missouri Josh Hawley are, like Crapo, Harvard men, recipients of the best, most exclusive legal education America can offer. Cruz clerked for a chief justice of the Supreme Court. Utah’s Mike Lee was an assistant U.S. attorney and clerked for federal judges before jumping through the escape hatch rather than act to uphold an oath of office. 

Constitutional law scholar John E. Finn of Wesleyan University is just one of dozens of experts who utterly reject the rationalization of unconstitutionality that allowed Trump to skate. Instead Finn calls what Crapo, Risch and 41 other Senate Republicans did “constitutional rot,” a condition “in which we appear to be formally governed by constitutional rules and the rule of law, but the reality is quite different. When rot sets in, public officials and the public routinely ignore or subvert those rules while sanctimoniously professing fidelity to them.” 

The historian T.J. Stiles, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for biography, knows his American scoundrels. He says of our current one: “Donald Trump is precisely the sort of person for whom the Framers wrote the impeachment provision into the Constitution.” Unfortunately, while Madison and Hamilton and the rest did envision the need to disqualify a despot their imagination failed them when it comes to someone as ethically vacuous as a Cruz or a Crapo. 

This is the point at which history reminds his constituents that Crapo – Juris Doctorate cum laud, Harvard Law School in 1977 – has the rare distinction of voting to both impeach and then convict Bill Clinton for lying about consensual sex. Yet rather than confront the guy who summoned the mob, incited it, lit the flame and then watched the fire burn, Crapo employed the solemn sanctimony of the partisan escape hatch to acquit a man he must know in his heart of hearts is guilty as sin. 

The debasement of basic decency, truth and accountability are now widely accepted as a fundamental condition for good standing in a political party that once plausibly, but no longer, claimed Lincoln as its founding father. 

“The Republicans who voted to acquit Trump acted with selfishness, cynicism and even malice,” says the conservative scholar Tom Nichols. “They have smeared their betrayal of the Constitution all over their careers the same way the January insurrectionists smeared excrement on the walls of the Congress itself. At least human waste can be washed away. What the Republicans did on Feb. 13, 2021, will never be expunged from the history of the United States.”

History will remember, however, the few Republicans – Washington’s Jamie Herrera Beutler is one – who stood against the lies, rejected fears of mob censure and refused to quake at the prospect of facing the dreaded primary challenge. 

“I’m not afraid of losing my job,” Herrera Beutler said after voting to impeach Trump, “but I am afraid that my country will fail. I’m afraid that patriots of this country have died in vain. I’m afraid that my children won’t grow up in a free country. I’m afraid injustice will prevail.” 

What are Crapo and Risch and the Senate’s 41 other cowards afraid of? They should be frightened of the verdict rendered by the French philosopher Voltaire: “Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do.”

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

Some other items worth your time…

Pure, liquid hope:  What the vaccine means to me as a GP

Gavin Francis is a general practice physician in inner city Edinburgh, Scotland and he writes about the challenges for The Guardian.

“Before the pandemic, about a third of my consultations were about mental health; now it’s between half and two thirds, and the list of patients I check in with weekly or fortnightly about their mood is lengthening. People are unable, for now, to share those aspects of our humanity that help us, and come most naturally – touch, speech, sharing space. I hope the vaccine programme will prove an effective antidote to the sense of hopelessness that, for the past few months, has been spreading and deepening among many of my patients.”

The big costs of a pandemic. Read the whole thing


Embedded within a mass delusion: The challenge of reporting on QAnon

Angela Fu writes for the Poynter Institute about the challenges for journalist trying to cover the center of the conspiracy theory universe – QAnon.   

The Q symbol outside the Capitol on January 6

“The conspiracy theory originated in 2017 when someone calling themselves Q posted a Trump quote about the ‘calm before the storm’ on 4chan, a notorious online message board. Since then, QAnon has rapidly evolved as new followers join and more niche theories develop. Followers have taken their beliefs into the real world, sometimes in violent ways. Most recently, some QAnon believers took part in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

“A growing number of journalists are tracking QAnon, reporting on everything from the way social media algorithms help spread conspiracy theories to the people who lose loved ones to the movement. With each story, they debate whether their reporting will contribute helpful information or simply amplify the movement. Their goal is to make readers — lawmakers, tech companies, the general public — understand the gravity of the problems QAnon poses.”

Full story here


“I Don’t Trust the People Above Me”: Riot Squad Cops Open Up About Disastrous Response to Capitol Insurrection

A stunning piece of journalism from ProPublica on the insurrection on January 6, 2021 and the cops who fought off the mob: 

“One officer in the middle of the scrum, a combat veteran, thought the rioters were so vicious, so relentless, that they seemed fueled by methamphetamine. To his left, he watched a chunk of steel strike a fellow officer above the eye, setting off a geyser of blood. A pepper ball tore through the air over his shoulder and exploded against the jaw of a man in front of him. The round, filled with chemical irritant, ripped the rioter’s face open. His teeth were now visible through a hole in his cheek. Blood poured out, puddling on the pavement surrounding the building. But the man kept coming.

“The combat veteran was hit with bear spray eight times. His experience overseas ‘was nothing like this,’ he said. ‘Nothing at all.’”

A true first draft of history.


Thanks for reading…

2020 Election, GOP, Trump

The Death of the GOP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Capitol Police using flash devices to push back the Trump mob

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

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

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

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

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

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

A few other things I found of interest this week…


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

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

Neil Sheehan’s historic scoop

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

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

Fascinating. Read the whole thing.


John le Carré

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

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

Read the story here.


Is There a Republican Party?

Photo from The New Yorker in 1935

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

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

Worth your time


The Reason Button Down Shirts Have Loops in the Back

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

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

Here’s the answer.


Quite a week. Thanks for reading. Stay well.

2020 Election, McCarthy, Trump

GOP Fails Its McCarthy Moment…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McCarthy was condemned by the Senate 66 years ago this week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s just not right. 

——0——

Additional Reading:

Iowa is What Happens When the Government Does Nothing

From The Atlantic

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

Read the full piece.


Obituary of Marvin J. Farr

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

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

Here is the obit


And Speaking of Obits

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

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

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

“Knievel was ‘Bobby’ to Wong.   

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a story.


Thanks for reading…take care.

.

2020 Election, Biden, Trump

Give Thanks…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Falwell, Sr. with Ronald Reagan

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

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

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

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

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

Some additional Thanksgiving week reading…

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

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

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

“It ends as it began.”

Definitely worth your time.


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

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

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

Make mine maple. Read the whole thing here.


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

Anthony Hopkins

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

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

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

Great actor, excellent profile.


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

2020 Election, GOP, Trump

No One Left to Lie To…

From The New York Times, October 26, 2020…

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Additional Reading:

A few articles I found of interest this week…

An Embarrassing Failure for Election Pollsters

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

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


The Trumper with a Thousand Faces

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Read this and watch the series.


Thanks for reading. Be well.

2020 Election, Trump

Women Will Save America…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Additional Reading:

Some recent favorites you might enjoy…

Norman Ornstein on President Biden

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

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

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

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

Read the full piece.


The International Brigades 

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

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

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

Link to the full essay.


New Faces of 1946 

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

Harry Truman’s no good, awful year of 1946

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

Great history.


A Pioneering Appetite

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

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

Read the whole piece.


Thanks for reading. See you soon. Stay well.

2020 Election, Idaho, Pandemic, South Dakota, Trump

It’s Not Just Going Away…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Additional Reading:

Some other stories worth your time…

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

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

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

Read the whole thing.


2 More Funny Feelings About 2020

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

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

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

A good read.


Bruce – The Boss

Springsteen at 71

A great piece from The Irish Times

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

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

Worth your time.


The Monopoly on Ice Cream Truck Music 

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

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

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

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

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


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