Saturday, January 23, 2021

INAUGURATION DAY...AND OUR BETTER ANGELS

 Every four years, the United States of America inaugurates a new presidency. It doesn’t matter if, as a result of free and fair elections, a president remains in office for two terms. The winner of the November election, no matter who he or she might be, incumbent or successful challenger, must be sworn in to a brand new term after four years have elapsed.

Until this year, many of us Americans took this ceremony for granted, giving no real thought to how unique a thing it is in the world. The words “peaceful transfer of power” have seemed almost as mundane to us as “have a nice day” or “thank you for your service.” Formalities that are expected and almost socially compulsory. But the fact that it has been happening like clockwork every four years ever since the first president of the United States, George Washington, rejected the idea of being an emperor and “presided” over the federal government for the two terms that he thought prudent and then retired after a peaceful transfer of power to John Adams, is nothing short of a miracle.  

Although he established an important precedent by serving two four-year terms and no more, Washington’s reasons for leaving were political and personal—including a major rift between Jeffersonian Republicans and Hamiltonian Federalists, which was his main reason for staying for a second term, so as to act as a peacemaker in his troubled cabinet. But it seemed clear to him after two terms that his remaining in office might only deepen the divisions. And so, he withdrew his candidacy for a third term and peacefully and graciously handed over the post to the next president.

A Federalist, Adams would only serve for one term before Thomas Jefferson was voted in to replace him. But even in these troubled early days of the new nation—which famously led to Jefferson’s first Vice-President Aaron Burr’s shooting and killing Hamilton in a duel—presidents were legitimately voted into office and certified by the Electoral College, and each and every transfer of power was prompt and peaceful, no matter what kind of bitter political rivalries might separate the candidates. It was, in fact, Jefferson, who had acrimoniously feuded with Washington and Hamilton, who encouraged Washington to stay for a second term and offered to quit the government as well if the first president didn’t remain in office. And it was Jefferson, too, who cemented the eight-year mandate precedent that Washington set by also leaving office after his second term and peacefully transferring power to the newly elected James Madison, who, along with Hamilton and John Jay, had collaborated in the writing of The Federalist Papers, which would greatly contribute to the ratification of the nation’s Constitution.

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams -
differences of opinion, not principle

It was thanks to the clear democratic vision of these first patriots— who, no matter how they might disagree on the issues, agreed on the importance of each voice being heard and each issue being debated in a climate of democratic order—that set the guidelines and code for the future. And with each new peaceful transfer of power, democracy, and so the nation, only grew stronger.

This “established order” and peaceful transfer of power that we have so taken for granted, have continued unabated throughout the two and a half centuries of US history. Even in the most troubled and divisive of times, indeed, even during the years before, during and after the Civil War. One president after the other has respected the will of the people and the rules of the Electoral College and peacefully ceded power to the next without incident, most with extraordinary grace and an almost ritual respect for the democratic process. A very few—John Adams, who bitterly opposed Jefferson’s Republicanism; his son, John Quincy Adams, the sixth president, who abhorred the seventh, Andrew Jackson; and  Andrew Johnson, a Southerner who opposed Reconstruction and hated the next president and Union hero, Ulysses S. Grant—snubbed their successors by refusing to attend their inaugurations. But all of them, to a man, respected the democratic process and quietly and peacefully left office when the people and the people’s representatives determined that their time was through.

This year’s Inauguration Day, celebrated last Wednesday, was anything but mundane. Never has an Inauguration Day been less taken for granted by a large segment of the population. Because, for the first time in history, the peaceful transfer of power came under serious and unequivocal threat. And so too did two and a half centuries of US stability and American democracy. For the first time, a president who lost a free, fair and democratic election sought to deny the results, fabricate a false narrative among a radical segment of his followers, and remain in power by inciting violence against another branch of government. In other words, for the first time, the United States has failed to have a peaceful transfer of power in keeping with our nation’s democratic norms.

Four years ago, few of us would ever have thought such a scenario was possible. It could never happen in the United States of America, many were convinced. That was the sort of thing that happened in unstable “third world” countries, not in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

But it did, and created the biggest threat to democracy and to the integrity of the nation since the Civil War ripped the country in two. That’s why, when a new president was sworn in last Wednesday at high noon, I, along with many other Americans, I’m sure, had a knot in my throat and tears in my eyes as I watched. It was the emotion of joy that welled up in me, despite all of my hard-earned cynicism about politics and politicians.

The tears and emotion weren’t, I realized, for the new president, no matter how much I wish him well and hope he’ll have enormous success. Rather, they were for democracy, tears of relief that it was still standing, though badly battered, and clearly not out of the woods yet. My joy was that our two and a half-century experiment in representative democracy had survived a very clear and present threat. We had, to a much greater extent than many of us cared to admit, dodged a bullet, stemmed an insurrection, overcome a rebellion against the majority will, a revolt that counted on the active assistance and authority or the passive acquiescence and silence of far too many internal players. People we Americans have voted into office, and who failed miserably to honor our trust that they would keep their vow to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

As I’ve been thinking about these things, I’ve been recalling the messages of Inauguration Days past. The sixteenth president’s, for instance. Emerging from a bitter war of brother against brother—a war with the unconscionable injustice of slavery at its core, a prolonged war from which, under Abraham Lincoln’s leadership, the Union emerged victorious—instead of taking the victory lap he so deserved, instead of warning the former Confederate States that they had best have learned a lesson, because if not they would be in for another whipping, the president chose his second inaugural address as an occasion to promote unity and forgiveness.

"With malice toward none..."

“With malice toward none, with charity for all,” he said, “with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

I spoke earlier of the bitter feuding between Federalists and Republicans in the times of the forefathers. And it was seldom any worse than between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. And yet, despite Adams’ inaugural snub, Jefferson’s inaugural speech was clearly democratic and conciliatory. “Every difference of opinion,” he said, “is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.”

Nothing to fear but fear itself
At another dire time in our history, Franklin D. Roosevelt admonished Americans in an inaugural address not to let their fate be guided by fear, another factor that has governed us for the difficult past four years. To Roosevelt’s mind, fear was of poor counsel in seeking to overcome the enormous challenges of the Depression. Solutions needed to be bold, sweeping and aimed at lifting the entire country out of crisis—advice our current politicians, who have been grudgingly doing as little as possible to tackle the current major crisis, would do well to heed. Accordingly, he said, “This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

Ask what you can do for your country
I am old enough to vividly recall another famous inaugural address. John F. Kennedy was an inspiration to many Americans on both sides of the political spectrum, but also generated rage among tribalists and white supremacists because of his reverence for the civil rights of all Americans. His message was one of pure patriotism and service. He basically told Americans of all walks of life to stop asking what was in it for them when it came to defending democracy and serving the advancement of the nation. Famously, he said, “Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.” More specifically, he advised, “... (M)y fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”

Nor did Abraham Lincoln sound the clarions of battle and division in his first inaugural address, right at the beginning of what was to be America’s most bloody and bitter war, and even as the Southern slave states were seceding from the Union. That speech was just as unifying and inspiring as his last, and even more poetically beautiful. In it, he said, "We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

As we approach the next four years, after the last four which were, unquestionably, some of the most divisive in our history, we would do well to re-read and recall the words of all of these great leaders. But we should particularly take to heart those of Lincoln, who is taken by many to have been the gold standard for selfless, patriotic presidents. We should remember his words and try to see past the divisive rhetoric and actions of the last four years, draw a line and start a new road on which we allow ourselves to be guided by “the better angels of our nature.”


Sunday, January 17, 2021

TRUMP’S LEGACY...OR THE NEAR DESTRUCTION OF DEMOCRACY

 

 In June of 2018, in an essay entitled The Family Separation Incident and What It Says about Trump https://yankeeatlarge.blogspot.com/2018/06/the-family-separation-incident-and-what.html, I wrote here: Nazi Germany didn't see fascism coming either. They just saw a firebrand leader (also with a bad haircut) who attacked the status quo and talked down to traditional politicians whom he eventually banned, to cheers and raised fists of his racist, nativist base. And before they knew it, decent Germans who were tacitly against persecution of non-Aryans ended up no longer having a voice, because it became okay to jail or eliminate them if they spoke out. Eventually, it even became legal to jail or eliminate them. So when you hear those who, like Attorney General Sessions, quote “the law” in carrying out heinous, inhuman acts, warning, they are the voice of the “legal but illegitimate” and the harbingers of de facto rule.” 

I added that, “I feel sorry for Americans who laugh off these warnings and say ‘It could never happen in America.’ Democracy only survives if it is defended, if people stand up and demand it, if, like the teen survivors of the Parkland mass shooting, they ‘call bullshit’ when they see it. The truth is, that it is happening, right under our noses. The United States is courting the policies of authoritarianism and the personality cults of fascist designs.”

I am sad to say that my perception of what has taken place over the past four years has not changed, except to grow worse with each passing day of the Trump administration. And although I was labeled “an alarmist” back then (which seems like a hundred years ago), and even “anti-American”, and was accompanied by only a handful of observers in denouncing the Trump administration for what it was—a would-be authoritarian regime that had usurped one of the country’s two main parties and was willing to go to any lengths to perpetuate itself in power—today the majority of Americans are finally waking up to the fact that something really grave has happened here.

I’m not saying, ‘I told you so,” but...I told you so.

Optimists will say that, in the end, there is reason for celebration: Democracy willed out. And on a very limited basis, I agree. But there can be little doubt that it has done so by the skin of its teeth and despite scores of traitors in the midst of the very Congress that is charged with the protection and exercise of democracy, elected representatives, a minority to be sure, but a far too large one, who know the truth but are willing to perpetuate a criminal and treasonous lie for their own selfish political ends, because they are morally and democratically bankrupt.

Certainly not the least of these—in fact, a ringleader in the Trump conspiracy to remain in power—is a politician from my own state, Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan, who has been one of the most aggressive supporters of Trumpian authoritarianism. I can only hope that my fellow Ohioans will be wise enough to vote him out in the next possible by-election if he hasn’t been censured and expelled from Congress as a seditionist by then. There are already petitions being circulated to seek the removal of Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri for their roles in perpetuating blatant lies about the 2020 election, which served as the main catalyst for this month’s insurrection at the Capitol Building in Washington DC. These petitions will include more than a dozen Trump-or-die members of the House as well. Hopefully, Jordan will be among them.  

I indeed have high hopes for the next four years, although I am sure they will be very difficult ones. How could they be otherwise, with Trump and his cronies having spent millions and millions of their supporters’ dollars on propaganda and apocryphal lawsuits in order to convince his followers that the election was stolen from them when everyone perpetrating and perpetuating that lie—except, perhaps, for Trump himself, who is, arguably, delusional—knew it to be untrue? The victims of that ruse weren’t Democrats, but Trump-Republicans, who fell for it hook, line and sinker, becoming the tool Trump sought to use to overthrow democracy and remain in power for another four years—at least.

So loyal is this core base to the Trump brand and to the Trump personality cult, that despite over sixty lawsuits thrown out of court for lack of merit or evidence and two Supreme Court presentations flatly rejected (by a High Court on which Trump himself had named three of the justices), and despite certification of the vote even—especially—by Republican state officials, the Electoral College and the United States Congress, they continue to take their authoritarian leader’s word above all. Perpetuation of that Big Lie (as the Nazis called lies told to the people in order to ensure their loyalty) is what earlier this month triggered an attempted coup in Congress and is still wreaking havoc across the fifty states.

This among all of the wrongs that Donald Trump has done to his nation, is the greatest wrong of all—having abused the loyalty of his base and imbued them with falsehoods that have prompted them to betray their country while feeling sure that they are doing just the opposite. They have been grifted, and they have been, and continue to be used.

Over the last several years, I have more than once written my observation that, under the Trump administration, the United States has been at its most divided since the Civil War. That too was seen by many, rather than as an honest warning from someone familiar with authoritarianism and how it works, as hyperbole and as intentionally incendiary. But since the tragic events of January 6th, many people, sadly enough, have been forced to come to the same conclusion. As I write this essay, Washington DC is on lockdown. Nearly twenty-five thousand troops have been deployed in the nation’s capital to prevent further attempts at insurrection.

That’s about ten times the number of US troops currently stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan and five times as many as are deployed in those two war zones combined. It is a staggeringly bigger military operation than the one mounted in Washington following the Nine-Eleven foreign terrorist attack in 2001 that targeted the former Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon in the capital that left over three thousand Americans dead. Back then it was only deemed necessary to activate six hundred troops to secure the city.

But this time the National Guard is not there to protect the country from foreign invaders. Its troops are there now, as Massachusetts Democrat Seth Moulten told an interviewer, to protect the country “from the president and his mob.” Moulten was one of the people hunkered down in the Capitol on January 6th, waiting hours for police and security agents to drive back the Trumpian invasion and make it safe for Congress to continue with the business of certifying the results of the November 3rd election. From the office where he was barricaded in for the duration, Representative Moulten told a telephone interviewer, “We’re going to be okay. We’re going to pull through this. But I’m not sure that our country, at least since the Civil War, has ever been in a more precarious position. And never has it been under more assault from within.”

Moulten is a member of the House Armed Services Committee who served as a Marine Corps Infantry Officer from 2001 to 2008, after graduating from Harvard and the John F. Kennedy School of Government. Asked to assess the current risk to democracy, he says that it is “a dangerous position for the country to be in” when members of Congress have been involved in a seditious plot to overturn an election by violent means. And it also worries him that, according to reports, about a dozen members of the Armed Forces appear to be involved in the anti-democratic movement backing Donald Trump’s authoritarian aspirations. While that may be few, he says, “the number should be zero.” Moulten described the scene this weekend in DC, ahead of the Inauguration next Wednesday, as looking “like the Green Zone in Baghdad”. He had expected it there in a war zone, but to see it in Washington was frightening and surreal.

This week images from Washington looked to me much like Buenos Aires did in March of 1976, when I was covering the military takeover there—a usually bustling downtown area locked down and deserted, with military trucks, armored personnel carriers and troops in fatigues on every corner, bridges into the city road-blocked, and with anyone going into or out of the area being subject to strict security measures. Seeing the same sort of military lockdown in the capital of my own country, once known as the seat of the greatest democracy on earth, is heart-wrenching, but a dose of reality about the age we are living in. At a time when much of the developing world has turned toward ever greater and more inclusive democracy, traditional Western democracies, and particularly the US, are struggling with the rise of a new strain of populist fascism.  

Dutch political scientist Cas Mudde, whose studies for the past three decades have focused on extremism and populism in the US and Europe, recently wrote in The Guardian, that he had never seen such movements more emboldened than they are today. “To be clear,” he writes, “this is not just about Donald Trump or the US.” He explains that just last year anti-vaccine protesters tried to storm the Reichstag in Germany and also faced weak police resistance. And he goes on to say that, since 2019, the Dutch Farmers Defense Force has been destroying government offices and threatening politicians in The Netherlands.

But he adds that, while Trump may not be the initiator of neo-fascist populist movements like these, “(he) has been a major catalyst of this process.”

“Obviously,” Mudde adds, “racism and racist dog-whistling have been key to the party since they launched their infamous ‘southern strategy’ in the 1970s, which brought white southerners to the Republican Party, but this goes far beyond that. The radicalization is not just ideological, it is anti-systemic.”

As for how we have arrived at this point, Mudde’s conclusion is the same as my own: “First and foremost, through a long process of cowardice, failures, and shortsighted opportunism of the mainstream right. Already in 2012, in the wake of the deadly terrorist attack on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, by a longtime prominent neo-Nazi, I wrote, ‘The extremist rhetoric that comes from so-called law-abiding patriots should be taken more seriously.’”

Mudde says that back then he had advised Republican leaders to “be more careful in choosing their company and insinuations”. What happened, however, was, he says, just the opposite: far-right ideas and people were mainstreamed rather than ostracized.

Experts like Mudde clearly see the phenomenon I mentioned earlier, and that I have been trying to hammer home since the 2016 election that brought Trump to power. Namely, the far right’s grifting of a disenfranchised segment of the white population by speaking to their worst fears—immigrants, greater empowerment of minorities, the disappearance of their traditional jobs as technology replaces people, the advancement of science over “beliefs” and ever greater adherence to freedom of conscience that has removed Christianity (and particularly evangelism) from its former pedestal—and telling them that right-wing populists “have their back”, that they are “the real people”, the formerly silent majority that have now been given a voice. The traveling partners for this neo-fascist movement to replace representative democracy with single-party authoritarianism have been the far-right “conservative” media, from right-wing talk radio to Fox News and from Breitbart to One America News and Newsmax, and a still highly influential religious right.     

Six months ago, I’m fairly sure that if, in the manner of Rod Serling introducing a new episode of The Twilight Zone, I would have written, “Imagine if you will,” that Donald Trump loses the election and, instead of leaving office quietly, decides to lead an insurrection as a means of remaining the president despite the will of the majority of the people of the United States, even many of my readers would have said that I was being argumentative and unrealistic, and that Trump might grumble and moan but that a smooth transition of power had always been guaranteed, throughout the history of the United States. Again, I apologize for being right and couldn’t be more saddened by the truth.

The original sin, however, is not just Donald Trump’s. It is the failure of politicians in general to create a democratic society that is ever more inclusive, that provides equal possibilities for an excellent education to everyone, that ensures that people don’t die because they can’t afford proper health care, that no one goes hungry or sleeps on the street in America, that the electoral system isn’t gerrymandered to repress the segments who most require representation in a patently unfair society, that Americans are safe to walk their streets and expect to be protected by law enforcement rather than victimized by it. 

A people that is proud of the democratic system that governs it and feels that it is a part of an all-inclusive project designed to improve its members’ standard of living to an ever-increasing degree isn’t a people that votes for a Donald Trump. If his shameful and undemocratic legacy is to be definitively buried as of next Wednesday, the rebuilding of democracy must start on Day One with reconstruction of a compassionate and socially all-inclusive democratic society.

 

Thursday, January 7, 2021

THANK YOU MR. PRESIDENT

You don’t hear it much anymore, but there is a saying that every cloud has a silver lining. I’ve been thinking that perhaps that’s true even of the shameful events that we have just witnessed in the United States, where, for the first time in history, a sitting president sought to use violence, sedition and insurrection as a means of rejecting a peaceful transfer of power after he lost an election.


After giving it a lot of thought and, as the Spanish expression goes, consulting the matter with my pillow, I have decided that small-d democrats owe Donald J. Trump a debt of gratitude, so let me just say thank you for a few things that he has done.



Thank you, Mr. President:

 - For demonstrating clearly from Day One that your sole “policy” was to destroy every achievement accomplished by the previous administration, while taking credit for the economic recovery that it had fostered after the worst crash since the Great Depression. And, once that was underway, for also showing a complete and utter lack of respect for every basic American tradition and institution.

- For making it clear from the outset that you bought into everything that diminishes an erstwhile democratic country’s leadership and greatness: xenophobia, isolationism, radical nationalism, racism, religious discrimination, inequality, disrespect for science and education, and scorn for the rule of law.

 - For showing a crystal clear lack of any and all empathy by means of demonstrative actions such as separating migrant and refuge-seeking parents from their children for the “crime” of daring to seek a better life in a nation once known as the melting pot of the world and as a country that once took pride in being a nation of immigrants. And, furthermore, by locking those children in cages, often deporting their parents without them, then losing track entirely of the family ties between one and the other so that many, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of those minors had to be placed in foster care, with a full five hundred forty-five of them being lost—yes, lost!—without a trace, as only had previously happened in some of the world’s worst dictatorships.

 - For never even pretending to be honest. Telling lies one on top of the other, by the hundreds, by the thousands, by the tens of thousands, lies so blatant and so provably false that they have actually been collected for posterity by fact-check nerds.

- For never making any attempt at disguising the fact that you didn’t believe in democracy or the rule of law. For praising some of the world’s worst dictators and considering them “strong” compared to democratic leaders whom you always sought to cast as “weak”.

 - For further underscoring your love of bad actors on the world stage, by not only praising and treating them with deference, but also by insulting and alienating practically all of our traditional allies, including the very closest ones, who have stood by us in the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance since World War II.

 - For providing proof positive of your contempt for urgent international efforts to keep the global environment from becoming uninhabitable in our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren’s lifetimes by pulling us out of the greatest climate accord ever developed and in the creation of which, the United States was instrumental. (See item one).

 -  For clearly expressing your disdain for world peace in general and in peacemaking in the Middle East in particular, by acting as if a nuclear treaty with Iran that was impeccably engineered, carefully negotiated, painstakingly debated and internationally orchestrated among numerous countries was just so much toilet paper stuck on your shoe, and scraping it off, leaving the rest of the world community to deal with the results. For empowering your friends in Saudi Arabia’s murderous dictatorial regime to foster the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in Yemen. For handing Syria over to Russia and its bloody puppet regime, whose leader, Bashar al-Assad, has slaughtered, jailed and tortured hundreds of thousands of his own people and created the world’s worst refugee crisis. Also for showing your true colors by first using courageous Kurdish fighters to help defeat the ISIS Islamic terror organization along the Syrian border and then abandoning them to their fate when your Turkish dictator friend  Recep Tayyip Erdogan attacked them ruthlessly in the void you left.

 - For blithely ignoring the COVID-19 crisis, seeking only to find “a silver bullet” vaccine before election campaign season began, but suppressing vital information, failing to provide timely distribution of medical equipment, ignoring the need for a national strategy to deal with the worst pandemic in a century, treating it only as an inconvenience for the success of your presidency and convincing your base that it was “fake news”, in the process rendering the US the worst-hit nation on earth, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of deaths that could have been avoided, and then downplaying the incredible achievement of two viable vaccines in just nine months—a world record—because they didn’t arrive in time to be useful to you in your run for a second term.

 - For warning us time and again that you would refuse to leave if you didn’t win a second term. That you would, in effect, cling to the power that you believed to be yours rather than that of the office entrusted to you. That you were willing to do whatever it took to remain—lie, cheat, steal, organize your own army of white supremacist fanatics. That even after a second term you might go for a third or even—like the Russian, Chinese and North Korean authoritarians you so admire—go for president for life.  (Bless our naïve hearts, we thought you were kidding)!

 - For trying to incite a populist coup by calling in your fanatics from all over the country and sicking them on the two houses of Congress that were in session to certify the election that you clearly and unequivocally lost by seven million popular votes and seventy-four electoral votes, thinking that you could halt the democratic process by force and that that would be enough for you to remain in power—that and a little help from a handful of autocrats in the Senate and a few dozen undemocratic interlopers in the House. For sparking, thus, the first invasion of the hallowed halls of Congress since the early eighteen hundreds when the British thought they could take back their lost colonies by terrorizing the American Legislature and adding a new Day of Infamy to the history of the United States of America.

 - For making clear your deep feelings for domestic terrorists springing from their mindless loyalty to you over their country—a senseless mob, who faced off with overwhelmed law-enforcement and held US representatives and senators hostage while ransacking the halls and offices of the Capitol Building, the most sacred and living symbol of American democracy—by telling them that you “loved them” and that they were “very special” to you. Just as you did during the Charlottesville riots, where you referred to them as “very fine people”.

 - In short, within your complete general lack of honesty, for never having been dishonest about who and what you were: a sociopath, a narcissist, a man who never has had an unselfish thought, a person with a twisted and broken inner child, an unprincipled, self-serving, undemocratic, un-American, autocratic, misogynistic, racist misanthrope who has given new and sad meaning to the idea that anyone can become the president of the United States.

Thank you for all of this, Mr. President, because perhaps the people of the United States, or at least the majority of us, have learned some valuable lessons springing from the Era of Trump:

 - That democracy cannot be taken for granted.   

- That while our institutions may be highly resilient, they are also vulnerable, and only as good as the people who exercise them.

 - That character matters in political candidates and the facts weigh more than “beliefs”.

 - That democracy and populist personality cults are opposites.

 - That no matter how the players and names may change the system must remain strong and inviolate.

 - That the office of the presidency can only be respected if the person exercising it respects it and is respectable.

 - That if the people we elect to office do not believe in America’s founding principles then we have misplaced our vote and our trust and they must be voted out of office or impeached for violating those sacred principles.

 - That appeasement breeds tyranny.

 - That checks and balances work as long as the people exercising them believe in them and enforce them.

 - That a military that is loyal to the Constitution and a Supreme Court that is firmly grounded in the rule of law are the last line of defense for democracy.

And, finally, that no matter how far-fetched a notion it may have seemed four years ago, the establishment of an authoritarian regime in the United States of America is only impossible if those whom we choose to lead us are unequivocally determined to protect us against it and to defend the Constitution in both letter and spirit.

 

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

AN ATTEMPTED COUP

 

This afternoon, I became aware that Donald Trump’s attempt to burn to the ground the democracy he couldn’t dominate had reached a new and ever more incendiary stage. Word was that there were nationwide protests around public buildings by irate die-hard Trump supporters. Even in my own small hometown in Ohio, folks were asking each other on-line what was going on, that “people carrying flags” were circling the county courthouse.

Inciting insurrection
Just after that, I became aware that there were “massive protests” at the Capitol Building in Washington DC. But as I speed-read numerous reports and watched live coverage, I quickly realized that the “protests” were much more than that. The Capitol was under siege. Rioters (not protesters) had clashed with undermanned federal police officers and had not only managed to enter the Capitol by had also made it to the doors of the two chambers and engaged in standoffs with law enforcement. The security of Congress, in other words, had been completely overrun and police had ended up with their backs to the doors of the Senate and House, trying desperately to keep Trumpsters from pushing through. At least one person, a woman, was shot and critically wounded during the standoff and at least six other people, including one police officer, had to be hospitalized.

Inside those chambers, voting to certify the Electoral College results had to be suspended as members of Congress and their staff were forced to shelter in place in the face of a major national security breach. Vice-President Mike Pence eventually ordered the Senate evacuated and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi requested National Guard assistance to clear the Capitol Complex. The entire complex had already been placed on lockdown.

Normally, the president of the United States would have taken national security measures under such grave circumstances and immediately reinforced security with more federal police, the Secret Service, the FBI and/or the National Guard. But in this case the presidency was conspicuous by its absence. Or better said, the occupant of the White House was no longer acting as the president of the United States, but as the leader of a domestic terror organization that had managed to breach national security in his name. That doesn’t mean, however, that he won’t eventually order full-scale security measures, and considering who and what he is—a public official in clear rebellion against the established order—this is further cause for concern about the security of the nation. Some constitutionalists fear that, after inciting insurrection and allowing it to get completely out of control, Trump could then invoke the Insurrection Act and, basically, take over Washington DC using active duty federal troops, and citing the national security breach that he himself has fostered.

Shots fired! Members of Congress shelter in place

Aghast at what he was watching, CNN’s star political anchor, Jake Tapper, correctly said that what we were witnessing was “unprecedented”, that nothing even close to this had happened since the Vietnam War protests, and that those had been peaceful. This was something else. This was, he said, “sedition.”

But he was wrong about that. This was quite clearly insurrection. That is, “a violent uprising against an authority or government.” Sedition had indeed taken place prior to this and was the catalyst that caused it, and the author of that sedition was Donald J. Trump. The insurrectionists had come directly to the Capitol from a Trump rally on the Ellipse, just south of the White House. There, the forty-fifth occupant of the White House addressed the raging hoards of his supporters calling on them to “fight for” him. He encouraged their rage by indicating that they were part of a popular crusade.   

“All of us here today do not want to see our election victory stolen by emboldened radical Democrats,” he harangued the crowd. “We will never give up. We will never concede. It will never happen. You don’t concede when there’s death involved. Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore.”

The so-called “Save America March” was organized entirely on the basis of Trump’s false claims that he won the election and on his lies regarding “mass voter fraud”, which have been definitively and repeatedly debunked and disproven in more than sixty court cases in favor of Biden. In his rabble-rousing speech, the president-in-rebellion told his hard-core base that elections in “Third World countries” were “more honest” than the one that he lost. “We will not let them silence your voices.” he said.

Seeking to bring populist pressure on the vice-president, whose ceremonial duty under the democratic system is to declare Joe Biden president-elect once congressional certification is completed, Trump told the crowd, “I hope Mike is gonna do the right thing. I hope so. I hope so, because if Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election.”

Secret Service members, guns drawn in Congress 

That is, of course, utter rubbish, as was his later assertion that “one of the top constitutional lawyers in our country” had informed him that the vice president has “the absolute right” to throw out the election results. Unless Trump considers Rudy “El Loco” Giuliani one of the country’s top constitutional lawyers, no attorney could seriously have told him that, since it is a bare-faced lie. As Mike Pence himself is reported to have told Trump, he has absolutely no legal authority to refuse congressional certification of the president-elect’s clear and proven win.

Trump also lashed out at Georgia Republicans after they lost both senatorial run-offs and, as a result, the Senate passed to Democratic control. The president-in-rebellion called that election process “a setup,” and slammed the current Republican administration in that state as “weak” and “pathetic”.

“We have to primary the hell out of the ones that don’t fight,” Trump raved. “If they do the wrong thing,”—i.e., throw the election—“we should never ever forget (what) they did.”

He also expressed his approval for how his backers had turned out at the airport in Washington to harass Senator Mitt Romney of Utah—sharp critic of the president’s anti-democratic machinations, and the   only member of the GOP who voted in favor of his impeachment conviction—when he flew in for the Electoral College certification vote. “I wonder if he enjoyed his flight in,” Trump scoffed to cheers from his fans.

As if all of his previous inflammatory rhetoric hadn’t been sufficient, it was the president himself who urged his by now enraged supporters—reportedly including elements of the Proud Boys and other violent ad hoc “militias”—to march from there to the Capitol, so as to “give our Republicans the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.”

Long Trump’s “partner in crime” in defying democracy during his last four years as Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell delivered a belatedly impassioned speech against Trump’s effort to overturn the election results, while Trump rioters clashed with law enforcement officers outside the Capitol, before they managed to breach the building’s security and storm inside.

If history is honest, what happened—indeed, what is happening—today and what has happened over the course of the two and a half months since the November presidential election, will be recalled for what it is. Not the whims of an unstable president. Not the ravings of a lunatic who was never fit to serve. Not even one man’s delusional efforts to legally overturn voting results because, narcissist that he was, he simply couldn’t understand how he could possibly have lost.

If honesty and objectivity reign, these incidents will be recorded and remembered as the seditious attempt by a sitting president of the United States to incite insurrection and to stage a populist coup d’état. An attempt that, no matter how unsuccessful it may ultimately be, is treasonous, and has succeeded in disrupting the business of government and in breaching national security in one of the most security-sensitive venues in the entire country.

 

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

THE DEVIL WENT DOWN TO GEORGIA...

 

                            The devil went down to Georgia
                            He was lookin' for a soul to steal
                            He was in a bind
                            'Cause he was way behind
                            And he was willin' to make a deal...

                                                        —Charlie Daniels—

For the clear majority of Americans—even including many who were traditionally Republicans—the New Year has been postponed until January 20th. Until then, it remains an extension of the most horrific year of Donald Trump’s four-year reign of terror. A year which may well go down in history as the one in which US democracy very nearly died.

If anyone had any doubt about that—there were those who said, back in November, “Let’s just give the president a few days to get used to the idea of losing.” (How’s that working out for you)?—Trump surely dispelled it over the New Year holiday weekend. That was when, just a little over a fortnight from when he is due to leave the White House for the last time in his term, he was on the phone to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger applying gangster-style pressure and threats to try and extort the Georgia Republican into fabricating fake results to overturn Joe Biden’s narrow win in the already thrice-counted and certified presidential election in that state.

Raffensperger wisely, and in self-defense, recorded that call and it was almost immediately leaked to the national press, sending shockwaves throughout both major political parties and the country at large. However, not even that—a clear attempt by the president to bitch-slap the Republican administration in Georgia into doing his (insane) will—could ruffle the feathers of the state’s incumbent senatorial candidate, David Perdue, who today is fighting for his political survival in a run-off vote. Trumper more than Republican and personality cultist rather than democrat to the end, Perdue was mostly just incensed and shocked that the contents of a private conversation between a Republican official and the president had been leaked to the public. But his stance was laughable and seemed to reflect his own very elastic ethical standards, because not outing Trump would have been tantamount to witnessing a crime and not reporting it.

That’s right. Once again the president has acted in a way that runs clearly and unequivocally counter to the rule of law. Under federal law, it is a felony to “intimidate, threaten, or coerce any person for exercising any powers or duties” defined for election officials (such as the secretaries of state in the fifty states). And renowned Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe has publicly named several other federal statutes that Trump’s call infringes. Says Tribe, “Awakened by the traumatic Trump experience to the more permanent frailties and limitations of our governing system, we should not waste this unique opportunity to simultaneously tackle a festering crisis of democracy itself.”

According to Georgia legal experts, meanwhile, the president’s call also violates state laws covering tampering with election results and coercing election officials, as well as the state’s legal norms on extortion. It’s highly improbable that anyone would take seriously any call to impeach a president who will be gone in two weeks, but were that not the case, intimidating a state attorney general to try to get him to throw national election results seems rather like slam-dunk grounds for impeachment and removal from office. And if the US were anything like normal right now—which, such are the deep divisions that currently reign—it clearly isn’t, Congress, the cabinet, and perhaps even the Supreme Court would very likely be looking at the president’s dodgy mental state and verging on implementing the Twenty-Fifth Amendment to force the president to step down before he does something irreparably insane in this final countdown to his leaving or being escorted out of the White House.  

The hour-long call between Trump and Raffensperger was hard to listen to. First, because of the sheer delusional quality of all of Trump’s accusations regarding the presidential election in Georgia in which he claimed to have won by “hundreds of thousands of votes” despite the fact that the results of that election in the state have been counted and recounted by machine and then recounted again by hand, in voting managed by a Republican and pro-Trump administration, which appears to have made certain pre-election day attempts at voter suppression to give Trump an edge, and even then, every time the count came back, Biden was the winner. Only outright, blatant cheating would have allowed Trump to win, and that was, indubitably, what he was seeking in this call.

It was also hard to hear because it was an abusive tirade in which, for an hour, Trump sought to brow-beat Raffensperger, attempting to wear him down and to get him to “find” (read: fabricate) nearly twelve thousand votes, which were what he would need to charge fraud and try to snatch the election out of Biden’s hands.

In the mind of someone as dishonest as Trump, it must seem unfathomable that he could lose in a “Republican state”, because in his world, if you have friends in high places, there’s nothing that can’t be fixed. But not everyone shares the president’s estrangement from truth, honesty, and the rule of law.

The dual run-off in Georgia today is obviously crucial to national governability over the next four years. President-elect Joe Biden will have a very distinct opportunity to make a significant difference if the Senate is majority Democrat than he will if it continues to be the suppress-and-bury catch-all that GOP Majority Leader Mitch “Stonewall” McConnell has made it over the past eight years in which hundreds of Democrat-sponsored bills have been unceremoniously killed before they ever reached the Senate floor. But it is also, no matter who wins the two races, a litmus test for democracy, in that the Georgia Republican administration has stood up to—and hopefully will continue to stand up to—a corrupt federal administration that has sought by every device imaginable to cheat the system and install an autocrat for a second term that he didn’t earn.

Tomorrow will be the ultimate test, when Congress meets to certify the final count of the Electoral College. This is normally ceremonial, a mere formality. But this time, undemocratic politicians, shamefully led by one-time Trump detractors now turned accomplices like Senator Ted Cruz of Texas or by diehard sycophants like Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, plan to object and call for an audit. In the end, none of the dozen main would-be coup leaders can actually believe that they will succeed in overturning the November election, so clearly, the only reason they are buying into Trump’s delusional ploy is to curry favor with him in hopes of tapping his base or of having him be their king-maker ally in future elections. No matter what their reasons, they are complicit in an attempt to subvert the election process and to undermine American democracy.

According to Professor Tribe, if Biden manages to have a majority in the Senate, he needs to move immediately to do something about this for the future.  “A norm is being broken,” says Tribe, “in which Congress does not ‘monkey’ with a presidential election absent ample evidence, which means that if Democrats control the Senate, they must consider amending the Electoral Count Act to prevent future such abuses.”

And an abuse is precisely what this, all of this, is. Democracy is hanging in the balance and there is no room for flexibility in seeking a remedy, lest it die in the darkness of the Trump era.

 

 

Saturday, January 2, 2021

LOEFFLER—HOW THE GOP’S GREAT WHITE HOPE MAY DO DEMOCRACY AN INADVERTENT FAVOR


As the Georgia run-off looms, there are a couple of things Georgians might want to remember about Kelly Loeffler. First, her racist dog whistles have gotten to the place where they are no longer such. They are now blatant, and coming through as loud and clear as the president's. After Rep. Ilhan Omar publicly expressed her backing for Loeffler's opponent, Raphael Warnock, the incumbent Georgia senator falsely claimed Omar had been seen “smiling and laughing while talking about al-Qaeda and 9/11”, and suggested that Congresswoman Omar should be removed from office because of her status as a Muslim and as a naturalized American born in Somalia.

The fact is that, whether Senator Loeffler likes it or not, Ilhan Omar is what the United States looks like—or at least, what it should look like, since conservatives are lately loath to talk about the great American “melting pot” of nations, races and religions that is the United States of America, and that was so often referred to, by politicians and journalists alike, when I was a boy growing up in the fifties and sixties. Ilhan is a former war refugee, who found security and freedom in America and is literally living the American Dream by running for and winning national office to represent her district in Minnesota. Omar is the first Somali-American, the first naturalized citizen from the African continent, and the first woman of color to represent Minnesota in Congress. She is also one of only two Muslim women the Legislature, a woman of non-Christian descent in a Christian-majority country that, nevertheless, champions—at least on paper—freedom of religion and separation of Church and State. She is, then, a textbook example of what the United States is supposed to be all about.

Rep. Ilhan Omar

Loeffler, meanwhile is the richest member of the Senate, bar none. The fifty-year-old senator has an estimated personal net worth of eight hundred million dollars, and commutes between her Atlanta home and Washington in a private jet that she reportedly bought for that specific purpose. Just before she was recently accused of insider trading for the sale of millions of dollars worth of stocks that stood to be hurt by the coronavirus pandemic, her net worth was reported to be “only” about half a billion.  

Questions of insider trading were raised because Loeffler sold off the vulnerable stock—some of which she owned jointly with her husband, billionaire Jeffrey Sprecher—the sixty-five-year-old founder and CEO of the Inter-Continental Exchange (ICE), a sixty-billion-dollar financial, and energy and commodities trading firm, and chairman of the New York Stock Exchange—the same day that she joined other senators at a classified briefing on the coronavirus outbreak. Th
e meeting took place before the seriousness of the pandemic was known to the public at large.

Kelly Loeffler

Although the Senate Ethics Committee looked into the matter and despite calls for an FBI probe, in a political world where Mitch McConnell reigns supreme, and with Trump hand-puppet William Barr then at the head of the Justice Department, officials found insufficient evidence of wrongdoing to take disciplinary measures or to bring federal charges against Loffler. This, despite the fact that the public release in March of federal disclosure documentation showed that Sprecher and Loeffler had also purchased stock in a company that stood to gain from shelter-in-place orders that governors and mayors eventually issued as a result of the pandemic of which Loeffler had prior and privileged knowledge.  Meanwhile, her husband’s company has seen a twenty-two percent rally over the course of the pandemic.

The other thing that’s interesting to recall is that Loeffler has only been a senator since just before the start of the pandemic, since she was not elected to office. Indeed, she was appointed by Georgia Governor Brian Kemp in December of 2019 to complete the term of Republican Senator Johnny Isakson, who resigned his office early because of failing health. She would later bite the hand of Kemp by joining Trump in accusing the governor and his Republican secretary of state of rigging the election against the incumbent president in Georgia. She continues to refuse publicly to accept the fact that Joe Biden in president-elect of the United States.

Jeffrey Sprecher
Since taking office a year ago, Loeffler has apparently spent no time whatsoever considering a stance on any issue under Senate consideration, merely mimicking whatever Trump’s current tweets have indicated his policy was. This is true to such an obvious extent that the president has praised her for having a “one hundred percent Trump” voting record throughout her single year in Congress.

In recent days, however, this loyalty to the mad king Trump caught her on her back foot, since she had followed the lead of Mitch McConnell and other leading GOP senators in voting to cut benefits to a COVID-strapped nation in half, compared with the first stimulus bill which had provided six hundred dollars a week in unemployment benefits plus a one-time twelve-hundred-dollar check to the worst-hit segments of the population. While Democrats wanted to extend the jobless benefits at six hundred a week and provide a stimulus check of at least twelve hundred, if not expanding it to two thousand, McConnell Republicans posited that many unemployed people would make more staying at home than working at that rate—the point here being that six hundred dollars for a forty hour work week implies a fifteen dollar an hour minimum wage and, let’s be honest, the business-beholden GOP didn’t want to give lower class non-union workers any big ideas. And, since they apparently live in a country-club bubble and have no idea (nor do they care) what’s happening even a block from the Capitol, let alone in lower-class America as a whole, they felt another twelve-hundred-dollar stimulus check was “excessive”. All of which Trump seemed to be on board with, as long as he could stick it to the Democrats.

But at the last minute, as a hollow bone thrown to his working-class base and as a means of kidney-punching Republicans, including McConnell, who had dared to admit (in the face of overwhelming evidence) that the president had lost the election, Trump suddenly, if only briefly, joined with Democrats in demanding a two-thousand-dollar stimulus check, vetoing the new stimulus bill that Loeffler had voted for in lockstep with the GOP leadership, thinking that in doing so, she was doing Trump’s bidding. Now, a couple of days away from the run-off that will define her political future, Trump has left her, with her feet dangling in the air, scurrying to explain why she voted to hack COVID crisis benefits to Georgians in half and is now seeking to disavow that vote, claiming, like Trump, to think the stimulus check should have been two thousand, when it’s too late to do anything about it, because the Senate leadership has spoken and Trump’s veto has been overturned.

If all of this means that both Loeffler and her fellow Georgia Republican David Perdue—who is spending the last days of his campaign in COVID quarantine—lose the run-off in Georgia, which it appears they well might, perhaps both Trump, with his mindless trash-talking about the Republican administration in that state, and Loeffler, by kowtowing to the president’s insane conspiracy theories instead of defending her own constituency, will have done an inadvertent service to democracy, by handing the Senate to the Democrats and forcing Mitch “Stonewall” McConnell to step down, after the most disgraceful administration in history.