Category Archives: Random Blogging

An Omen?

In Indiana, early voting started yesterday, and my husband and I got to the City-County Building at 8:00 a.m., when the polling place in the Clerk’s office was to open.

We didn’t stay to vote–because the line, at 8:03, already wound entirely around the block–and our blocks are long. (My husband, who just turned 88 and has a bad ankle, cannot stand for long, so we decided to take a folding chair and try again Friday.) There were several hundred people there, before the Clerk’s office even opened, determined to cast their ballots, and while impressions can be misleading, I’m pretty sure they weren’t Trump voters. It was beautiful.

Posts to Facebook showed the line replenishing through the day, and some people reported a three-hour wait to vote.

Granted, we live in a city, and in a world increasingly polarized into red and blue, cities of reasonable size are all deep blue. If there is similar turnout in the rural, deeply red parts of Indiana, we’re unlikely to turn the whole of our retrograde state blue–but that incredibly long line was immensely heartening.

I know that every election is touted as “most important.” But this time, it is clearly true. This election is about policy, of course–but at its center, it is a morality play. It will test whether our fellow Americans are prepared to recommit to the American ideals about equality that we’ve yet to achieve–or whether a majority of us will adamantly reject the goal of e pluribus unum–out of the many, one.

At its core, this election is about whether we will disavow or endorse bigotry.

The moral significance of this election is why I am really, really hoping that Trump survives COVID-19. As conservative columnist Bret Stephens wrote in yesterday’s New York Times,

We wish him well because if, God forbid, the president were to die this month, he would go down undefeated, a martyr to the tens of millions of Americans who’ve treated him as a savior. Trump’s death would guarantee a long life for Trumpism, with his children as its principal beneficiaries.

We wish him well because Trump’s opponents — Democrats and NeverTrumpers alike — need a clean political victory. If Trump survives but is forced to endure a difficult recovery, it could put the hideousness of last week’s debate behind him, mute the criticism of his performance and soften his image in the eyes of wavering voters. The longer he lingers, the better his chances may be, at least politically.

We wish him well because if illness keeps him sidelined and he winds up losing the election, he will surely blame the disease for the loss. This could well be untrue (see above), but it won’t stop his supporters from believing it. Again, Trump the man needs to live — and lose — because it’s the only way the Trump cult might die.

For me, by far the most depressing aspect of the last twelve years has been the need to come to terms with an ugly reality–the number of Americans who embrace white nationalism, who have “come out” and shown the rest of us who they really are.

Until Obama’s election, I naively thought that the percentage of the population that was racist and hateful was relatively small. I was stunned when the rocks they’d been hiding under lifted, and they crawled out, spewing venom; I was demoralized and disheartened by their enthusiastic agreement with Trump’s insistence that civility, empathy and human-kindness are evidence of weakness in the face of “political correctness.”

This election will tell us how plentiful these people really are. It will tell me if my longstanding belief in the essential goodness and common sense of most Americans was hopelessly naive, or justified.

I hope that line at the City-County Building was an omen.

A “Collective Psychotic Episode”

Tuesday’s post, published early by mistake. See you Wednesday morning.

I am (unhappily) persuaded that the thesis of an October 4th article for Salon is correct.

David Mascriotra’s opening line was “There is only one political party in the United States.” He went on to defend that observation

The first presidential debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump demonstrated with hideous clarity that the Democratic Party is currently running against not a conservative public policy agenda or a coherent philosophy of governance, but a collective psychotic episode, channeled through an authoritarian demagogue who is equally propelled and crippled by his own neuroses.Gore Vidal, one of America’s best chroniclers of empire, once provided instruction to a British interviewer expressing confusion over the radical hostility Republicans showed toward Barack Obama, and the former president’s inability to react with equal aggression: “Obama believes the Republican Party is a political party when in fact it’s a mindset, like Hitler Youth, based on hatred — religious hatred, racial hatred. When you foreigners hear the word ‘conservative’ you think of kindly old men hunting foxes. They’re not, they’re fascists.”

Mascriotra doesn’t fall into the all-too-frequent mistake of centering his criticism on Trump and his gang that can’t shoot straight. His analysis focuses on the real problem–the fact that the Republican Party has  undergone a radical transformation from a genuine political party into a cult–or, as the quoted paragraph graphically puts it, a “mindset.” And a pretty ugly mindset, at that.

This analysis rejects the (weak) excuse that Republican office-holders don’t stand up to Trump because they are afraid of what the author calls the “bloodlust” of the Trump cult. Although there is undoubtedly some of that, he argues that–at least at the federal level– they share Trump’s hatred of democracy, and he shares statements from several of the “usual subjects”– Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and others–to prove his point.

Republican officeholders and voters “are glad to see him waging war on a system designed to give representation and power to a diverse group of citizens.”

We all know what “diverse group of citizens” means: brown and black people, women, gays, Jews and Muslims. It always comes back to what is increasingly impossible to ignore– the almost total capture of the GOP by white supremacists. To rank and file Republicans, “Making America great again” means recommitting the country to the rule and social dominance of white male Christians. As Mascriotra says, “there is no other reasonable conclusion to draw from the fact that between 80 and 90 percent of Republicans approve of Trump’s performance in office.”

That conclusion –that the GOP is no longer a party, but a white supremacist cult– is also supported by the lack of anything resembling an agenda or a platform.

An American without health insurance, or who pays a high monthly premium for inadequate coverage, can expect nothing from the Republican Party. Working parents who cannot afford child care and have no disposable income after paying each month’s bills can expect nothing from the Republican Party. A young college graduate unable to qualify for a mortgage because he has tens of thousands of dollars in student debt can expect nothing from the Republican Party. Poor children suffering through hunger and struggling to learn basic skills in a dysfunctional school can expect nothing from the Republican Party.

Mascriotra quotes George Will for the proposition that the GOP has abandoned any former connection to a coherent, genuine conservatism. He concludes that Trump’s inability to debate Biden, evidenced by his descent into tantrum and invective, was largely because Republicans no longer have principles or programs to debate or defend.

Through their multi-decade commitment to shrinking government down so small that it can “drown in a bathtub,” to use the words of Grover Norquist, what was once a reasonably coherent pro-business conservative party has arrived at its logical endpoint — a fascist power grab under the guise of an incoherent personality cult.

The late Stanley Crouch warned Republicans of their trouble in the late 1990s, explaining to Charlie Rose that you “cannot assemble a group of lunatics” to follow you without eventually following them into lunacy.

Reminds me of the lyric from the song, “Bring in the clowns.”

Don’t bother–they’re here.

 

 

And Now, COVID…

Reactions to yesterday’s announcement that the President and First Lady have both tested positive for COVID-19 have been mixed, to put it mildly. A significant number–noting that the President rarely utters anything related to the truth–suggested it was another attempt at disinformation and/or distraction.

For those who accepted the accuracy of the announcement, most of what I have seen–especially on Facebook–invoked the concept of karma. To say that reactions aren’t overwhelmingly sympathetic might just be the understatement of the century. This is, after all, a President who has shown absolutely no concern for other people, including his own supporters. He has ignored and ridiculed advice offered by medical experts, including those in his own administration, and he has touted unproven and frequently ridiculous “cures” (ingesting bleach, anyone?). All of that is on top of the fact that he is one of the least likable people on the planet.

But quite apart from whatever our personal reactions may be,  the diagnosis raises some thorny legal and political questions, and the answers to those questions are unclear.

With a month to go until the election, Trump will quarantine for two weeks. He probably will not be able to attend the second debate–no loss there, considering the spectacle he made in the first–a consequence that will require the debate commission to decide whether to simply cancel the remaining two, or allow Biden to appear solo (unlikely).

We can already predict that Trump will attribute an election loss to his inability to hold rallies and otherwise campaign for the requisite two weeks.

Those consequences are predictable in the event that he suffers a relatively mild case of the virus. Far less predictable is what happens if this morbidly obese 74-year-old with an unhealthy diet who is known to ingest quantities of “uppers” becomes critically ill or even dies–and if so, when.

Pence has evidently tested negative thus far (“Mother” probably wouldn’t let him get too close to Hope Hicks, who presumably was the source). How sick would Trump have to get before Pence assumed the duties of the Presidency? If Trump were to become critically ill after the election but prior to January 21st, that would be one thing (and arguably not a bad thing–as vacuous and smarmy as Pence is, he’s less flat-out nuts than Trump).

The most chaotic and unpredictable set of events would be triggered by Trump’s death from COVID prior to Election Day. Would Pence automatically become the Republican nominee? Would Republican defectors be more comfortable returning to the fold if that were the case?

In a Presidency characterized by daily distractions, is this the mother of all diversions? Or does the diagnosis bring voters’ attention back to the President’s horrendous incompetence in containing the pandemic, and his obvious lack of concern for the over 200,000 Americans who have already died?

If Trump proves to have only a mild case, does he then use his own good fortune to further minimize the danger and dismiss expert advice?

I am not a praying person, and if I were, I doubt I’d find enough grace in my heart to pray for a psychopath who has done so much harm–a man with absolutely no redeeming human virtues.

I would, however, pray that his spitting and yelling during the “debate” didn’t infect Joe Biden. In fact–just in case I’m wrong and there is a personal God–I may go ahead and offer up that particular prayer. Call it covering my bases.

 

Biden: “The Guy Who Will End The Nightmare”

In the interests of full disclosure, I did not watch Tuesday’s debate between Biden and Trump–a decision grounded in my effort to protect what remains of my mental health. I simply cannot bear the sound of Trump’s voice.

I did, of course, read the reviews and descriptions of what sounded more like a food fight than anything else. If there was unanimity on anything, it was that the event was embarrassing and unedifying–at best–and a shit-show at worst.

Among the most thoughtful coverage I read was a “morning after” rumination by Josh Marshall, editor of Talking Points Memo. Marshall had previously described Biden’s campaign “theme” as one of relief and reassurance–he dubbed Biden “The guy who will end the nightmare,” and for those of us who have definitely experienced this presidency as a nightmare, and worried that we might not wake up, that’s a winner. But it was an observation–a comparison, really– in his “morning after” column that really resonated with me.

Beyond all the individual offenses, one of the underrated sub-themes of anti-Trumpism is exhaustion. One of the deepest traumas of living in the home of an abuser stems not from the outbursts of physical violence, verbal abuse or manipulation but the accumulated stress of ambient tension, uncertainty, the reflexive, unshakeable hyper-vigilance. It is exhausting in a profound way. Trump is exhausting – I suspect even for some who share his dark values. This was 90 minutes jam-packed with everything that makes Trump exhausting. Living with an abuser means being trapped in close quarters with the abuse, being unable to run. In a month voters get the chance to walk away.

This analogy hits home, because it is so perceptive, so “on the mark.”

Americans who follow government and politics have been exhausted by the daily offenses, the violence routinely being done to the Constitution, the rule of law, rational policymaking and elementary decency. We have lived with anxiety, fear and mounting anger for four long years. The assaults have been unremitting, and yes, we are tired. Spent. Exhausted. 

But we aren’t too exhausted to vote, and that’s why I’m cautiously optimistic that we are nearing the end of the nightmare.

Election Day may be messy, or in the best case scenario, repudiation of our abuser may be sufficiently overwhelming to nullify his efforts to disqualify the will of the voters. I can’t believe there are enough racists and know-nothings in America to keep him and his GOP enablers in office.

As Marshall noted about Trump’s display of ignorance and vitriol at the debate,

This is who Trump is. It is especially who he is under threat. His campaign is about nudging undecided voters into fears about general social disorder and frighteningly assertive black and brown people. He ended up embracing white nationalist militias and saying they were necessary to crush the left in the streets. He yelled what is supposed to be implicit.

The most important thing remains that Trump had to shift things in his favor and he failed. Since he’s already losing that’s a big loss. I suspect it was even worse for him. Maybe a turning point.

Joe Biden doesn’t excite voters the way Barack Obama did. He’s no orator, and he doesn’t pander to a rabid base, a la Trump. He is–as the leftist purists sneer–an old white guy. Part of “the system.”

He is also a thoroughly decent, competent and honorable public servant. He won’t abuse the office and he won’t abuse us.

He is a sane adult. That alone makes him immensely superior to Trump.

Once we’ve rested, once the nightmare is over, we can start the process of repairing the systems that enabled– facilitated !– the election of the most unfit person ever to hold the office. More on those systems and what it will take to fix them in coming days….

In Case The Racism Wasn’t Clear Enough…

There’s something to be said for clarity.

As the United States barrels toward an election that will determine whether we remain wedded to a set of unrealized but morally-appropriate ideals about equality, the focus of that election has steadily narrowed. November will be about one thing: White Nationalism and the continued privileging and social dominance of white male “Christians.”

Short of producing yard signs with swastikas, the Trump campaign has done everything it can to convey that message–and in Tuesday’s first “debate,” Trump’s refusal to disavow white nationalism made it explicit. (“Debate” is in quotes, because Trump’s rants and bullying prevented anything that could be considered a genuine debate.)

The GOP has disdained issuing a platform, making it clear that obedience to the party’s “Dear Leader” was the only plank that mattered. Then the campaign echoed Trump’s rant against the accurate teaching of American history–especially about slavery– and his insistence that teachers should engage in patriotic indoctrination rather than education.

More recently still, just in case there was a Neo-Nazi somewhere in rural America who missed the message (is there a backwoods area where Fox can’t penetrate?), he ordered an immediate cessation of diversity training in federal agencies, and followed that with a similar edict covering federal contractors. As Talking Points Memo reports:

President Donald Trump increased the scope of his assault against the government’s anti-racism workplace trainings on white privilege on Tuesday night with an executive order banning government contractors from holding the trainings.

In the order, Trump claimed that trainings that discuss the disproportionate amount of power afforded to white men “perpetuates racial stereotypes and division and can use subtle coercive pressure to ensure conformity of viewpoint.”

“Such activities also promote division and inefficiency when carried out by Federal contractors,” the order said.

The contractors thus “will not be permitted to inculcate such views in their employees,” according to the order.

Trump touted the ban on Twitter on Tuesday.

These sessions–common in corporate and business environments–are intended to improve communication and understanding among employees who bring different cultures and life experiences to the workplace. (Well done, they improve both employee morale and productivity–outcomes of absolutely no interest to Trump, since they don’t line his pockets or advance his egocentric agenda.)

It is unlikely that this most recent “edict” is legally enforceable. Absent corruption (which in this administration cannot be taken for granted) government contracts are awarded to companies that respond to RFPs–Requests for Proposals. Those RFPs set out the qualifications required by the contracting agency, and it’s a fair bet that none of the RFPs to which current contractors responded contained a provision that the contractor could not offer diversity training to its employees.

But enforceability and legality are beside the point here.

In much the same way that Trump’s issuance of meaningless “Executive Orders” aren’t legally effective, the bans on diversity training are a type of “performance art.” The Executive Orders are intended to convince his largely civically ignorant base that he is keeping his various promises–to build a wall, protect pre-existing conditions, forbid Muslims from entering the country, etc. The ban on anti-racist training and the attack on teaching accurate history are intended to reassure his largely racist base that he is with them.

It’s a very dangerous game.

Law enforcement agencies–including the FBI– have warned that alt-right organizations are actively trying to foment a race war. 

A report by the Brookings Institution explains a right-wing effort called “accelerationism.”

Accelerationism is the idea that white supremacists should try to increase civil disorder — accelerate it — in order to foster polarization that will tear apart the current political order. The System (usually capitalized), they believe, has only a finite number of collaborators and lackeys to prop it up. Accelerationists hope to set off a series of chain reactions, with violence fomenting violence, and in the ensuing cycle more and more people join the fray. When confronted with extremes, so the theory goes, those in the middle will be forced off the fence and go to the side of the white supremacists.

Obviously, not every Trump voter is a conscious part of that White Supremacy movement–but every Trump vote will support it.