Tag Archives: Biden

Day 2 –Republican Whining Begins

We should have seen it coming.

Washington Post reports that after two days of the Biden administration, with Day One largely devoted to the inauguration, Republicans are already whining about what they now claim is profligate Biden spending proposals in his initial stimulus package to help struggling families as well as states/localities trying to get schools started again, and more. https://wapo.st/39f295C The WAPO title, Turned off by Biden’s approach, GOP opposition to stimulus relief intensifies, tells the story even without reading the article. But I read it anyway.

The gist:

President Biden’s pitch for bipartisan unity to defeat the coronavirus and resurrect the economy is crashing into a partisan buzz saw on Capitol Hill, where Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on ground rules for running the Senate — let alone pass a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill.

Biden’s relief package is being declared dead on arrival by senior Senate Republicans, some of whom say there has been little, if any, outreach from the Biden team to get their support. Liberals are demanding the president abandon attempts to make a bipartisan deal altogether and instead ram the massive legislation through without GOP votes. And outside groups are turning up the pressure for Biden and the Democrats who control Congress to enact economic relief quickly, even if it means cutting Republicans out of the deal

Some Republicans, WAPO cites Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), are saying that some elements of Biden’s pandemic stimulus package were really their idea and, naturalment, they’re on board with those. But some were apparently insulted that President Biden had not personally reached out to them to beg for support “even though Biden pitched himself on the campaign trail as a bipartisan dealmaker.”

According to the WAPO story, it’s not just the bruised egos of Republicans who think the President, before having breakfast, owes each of them a personal call. What it actually is remains unclear, however, as, for example, Sen. Portman (R-Ohio) is quoted, doing the classic Republican two-step, to the effect that “it’s not about me but it’s all about me – I didn’t get a call.”

The English translation of all this Republican hand-wringing and hair-pulling is that the new president had the nerve to announce his $1.9 trillion plan without first asking the Republicans to approve it. And, presumably, if the Republicans disapproved, the President, being a champion of bipartisanship, should simply have yielded to the partisanship of the Republicans. How nice for the Republicans who, having lost the election, would still get final say on the Democratic agenda.

The issue as portrayed is not whether in substance the Biden proposal is the correct approach in its details to the massive mess that the Trump administration, with full Republican congressional support, created for the country. It’s whether Biden is acting in a genuinely bipartisan manner, which to Republicans means they get to define the plan.

Having forgotten their affection for Trump’s deficit-exploding tax cuts for the wealthy, the always oh-so-conservative anti-spending Republicans are bent out of shape over the dastardly possibility of increasing the national minimum wage to $15. In case you’re wondering, as I was, about the history of the minimum wage, it was raised a whopping 70 cents in July 2009 to the current $7.25 per hour. https://bit.ly/3sPSIl3 At that rate, a person working 40 hours of paid time per week makes $290 gross per week and $15,080 a year if no unpaid leave is taken. The 2020 “poverty guidelines” for the 48 contiguous states plus DC were:

Persons in Family/Household           Poverty Guideline

1                                                               $12, 760

2                                                               $17, 240

3                                                               $21,720

4                                                               $26,200

Biden’s proposal would yield annual gross income of $31,200 and, technically, move most minimum wage workers out of “poverty.” It would also, obviously, help many of people most seriously affected by the unemployment driven by the pandemic.

But – the Republicans say this is a “non-starter.” Why, after all, would Republicans want to help people most in need of help when they can help themselves instead?

The Democratic strategy, according to Jen Psaki, the White House Press Secretary, is to put Republicans in the position of identifying what they don’t want to pay for. That’s a good strategy, but the Republicans will be remorseless in saying “no” to provisions like an increase in the minimum wage, the first in more than 11 years. Republican logic, says that the minimum wage is not related to the pandemic. Kind of like saying the vaccine is not related to the pandemic either – you can take it, but you can also not take it. And if it’s not related, then under the reasoning of occasional Republican dissenter, Mitt Romney, the spending is not “absolutely necessary.”

Having witnessed Republican indifference to the suffering of caged children at the southern border and other crimes against humanity and multiple overt acts of criminality, including obstruction of justice and voter suppression, it was a bit disconcerting to see how sensitive Republicans have become. They are a virtual chorus of “Biden poisoned the well with an extreme proposal and our feelings are so hurt, we simply can’t cope with negotiating in good faith.” The horror, the horror.

The article notes that the legislation could be passed with just Democratic votes, but that individual senators could then try to force acceptance of their individual agendas.  That would, of course, be classic Democratic politics – get control and then shoot yourselves in the foot/head. Hopefully, that won’t happen this time. Opportunities like this only come along occasionally and the need is critical.

Everything is complicated by disagreements over how to manage the Senate’s business with a 50-50 split in party membership (the Republicans claiming their 50 percent is worth more than the Democrats’ 50 percent) and the handling of Trump’s second impeachment trial (Republicans claim that holding Trump accountable for his crimes will be “divisive.”) Everything depends on everything, and meanwhile the American people continue to suffer – COVID deaths continue to mount, lunatic right-wing white supremacists continue to claim that the election was stolen from Trump and threaten to resume attacks and unemployment claims continue at economy- and company/family-destroying rates.

Republicans don’t seem to care because, well, they’re Republicans and the economic suffering of Americans is simply not something of major importance to them. They had no hesitancy last year in dawdling for months over the last stimulus legislation, only finally agreeing at the very end of the year. We should have seen this coming.

My view, then, is that Biden tells the Republicans to put up or shut up – and do it now. No prolonged negotiations. It’s time to act. If Republicans can’t see the problem, proceed without them. Democrats who try to leverage the situation should be taken out to the woodshed and, well, you know. It’s time to end politics as usual. We didn’t run Trump out of town just to have all the good ideas pulled into Republican quicksand.

 

 

 

The Republican Unity Smokescreen

In an astonishing but not surprising exercise in false-equivalency and what-about-ism, Republican Gary Abernathy argues in WAPO, https://wapo.st/3oT6n8t, that the price of unity going forward is to pretend Donald Trump is really Mother Theresa in a suit and that nothing serious happened in Washington on January 6. President Biden, Abernathy argues, should let bygones be “boys will be boys.” In effect, Biden should validate the “concerns” of right-wing/conservative conspiracy-meisters and extend an olive branch.

Abernathy begins his sanctimony by objecting to Biden’s comparing the election-fraud lie campaign of Trump-Hawley-Cruz (the-list-goes-on), to Nazi propaganda techniques. Why? Because, Abernathy says, marketers exaggerate and Democrats lie too, and let’s not forget the violence “instigated by left-leaning agitators” (read that as, “those violent Black people and antifa”), so what’s the problem? If Biden wants to unify the country, he should just flip the Trump Charlottesville playbook and go with “bad people on both sides.” Abernathy says Biden should “acknowledge that there’s plenty of blame to go around for a nation more on edge than at any time since the 1960s.”

In short, Abernathy, likely speaking for most of the Republican establishment now, argues, in effect, that the Trump-directed assault on the Capitol that was intended to stop the Congress from completing the election process to confirm Joe Biden, and thereby retain the defeated Donald Trump as a dictator/president, was equivalent to the resistance to the Vietnam War in the 1960s. He grudgingly admits that the second Trump impeachment is “admittedly more justifiable than the first one” but in referring to it as a “melodrama,” Abernathy uses sleight of words to take away what he purports to concede. Most thinking adults are now aware that the government itself was lying to the people about Vietnam, from the beginning and throughout. Does Abernathy really want to equate the two situations: Trump and Vietnam?

The ultimate effect of Abernathy’s “reasoning” is that the burden falls to President Biden to extend an olive branch to the gang of insurrectionists and traitors who tried to topple the government in the service of a corrupt and incompetent grifter. In short, Abernathy seems to believe that the burden for the insurrection falls on the shoulders of those who did not engage in insurrection. Remarkable.

The real beef here is obscured by that opening line, but Abernathy soon reveals his real grievance: that, finally, after four years of helping spread Trump/Republican disinformation and outright lies about our government and our country, the social media platforms decided it was time, with a few weeks left, to suspend the president’s access to a free megaphone for amplifying his mendacity to the public and his attempts to overthrow the government.

Abernathy’s real gripe thus seems to be the decision to cut off Trump from his endless broadcast of falsehoods through serial tweeting:

In the current environment, conservatives are rightfully alarmed at the prospect of crucial digital platforms being pulled out from under them in response to the support they express for a particular politician or idea. The tech giants are private entities claiming to be following their guidelines, not government agencies violating the First Amendment, but a president can use his bully pulpit to influence their actions.

There are those who say that Trump abused social media to incite violence. Others read the same tweets and disagree. More disturbing than anything Trump could tweet, though, is the fact that the highest elected officeholder in the land could have his voice virtually silenced by the whims of a handful of unelected Silicon Valley bullies. [boldface added by me]

This part of the diatribe is so disingenuous, it’s laughable. Digital platforms were not pulled out from conservatives merely because they supported a particular politician or “idea.” Trump expressed very few “ideas” in his constant tweeting [when did he actually work at the job of being president?]. It was not even the constant lying that fact-checkers found, without refutation, set a world record in outright false messages.

Those were “concerns” and the subjects of many complaints, but the digital media folks stuck with Trump/Republicans despite all that lying. It was when Trump decided to send a mob of violent supporters to interfere with, and threaten the physical safety of, the Congress that the platforms finally said, “too much is too much.” This was no “whim.” To call it that is to minimize the most serious assault on American democracy since the Civil War threatened to literally break the country.

Silliest of all is the argument that Trump has actually been silenced. The media still hangs on his every word, though he’s not talking so much these days as he sulks and prepares for the political anonymity and legal adversities that await him beginning in a few days. That’s on him. He has plenty of supportive media (FOX, OAN, Breitbart and others) ready to repeat and amplify every false message he still wants to convey.

Maybe the reality is that Trump finally realizes that the game is over, and he can’t win. He has finally, after a lifetime of being the boss, been told “no, and no means no. You lost. It’s over.” We’ll see about that. The nation’s capital city and the capitals of all 50 states are on high alert for days to come to the threat of violence by Trump’s deranged supporters who still claim, with no factual support whatsoever, that the election was stolen.

Abernathy’s grievances against the tech platforms are so profound that he has undertaken to write parts of President Biden’s inaugural address for him. For example, he proposes Biden say,

What we should not fall prey to is the temptation to silence the voices of millions of peaceful and patriotic Americans by eliminating their preferred platforms because of a few bad actors. That’s not who we are as Americans.

But “who we are as Americans,” if it has any meaning now, is certainly not the thousands of people who, at the direction of the president, refused to accept reality and instead used violence to try to change the outcome of an election and thereby disenfranchise more than 81 milli0n voters who elected Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. The “few bad actors” excuse went down Trump’s golden toilet with the videos of the Capitol assault and the deaths of five people, including a police officer, at the hands of screaming traitors to American values, acting on lies promoted by the president and multiple Republican members of Congress.

The “few bad actors” is just another variant of “fine people on both sides” and it’s not good enough, not even close. The voices of “millions of peaceful and patriotic Americans,” who were not present or represented by the insurrectionists at the Capitol, have not been silenced. They have full access to Twitter, Facebook and the rest to make such conservative arguments as they wish. Indeed, many of them continue to spew hate and conspiracy nonsense to this day. It’s actually quite difficult to be censured by the platforms, but, as we learned, even they have limits. As for Trump, well, just too bad about him. He made his choice and, finally, there were consequences. And, of course, there are other platforms where he can continue to spew lies, crazy conspiracy theories and grievances against anything and everything he and they believe is oppressing them.

The truth that Abernathy and the politicians he continues to support refuse to accept is that the election was not stolen. Continuing to argue otherwise based on fantasies lacking any basis in reality is not an American value that the incoming president should be focusing on right now.

Biden understands that he must immediately try to overcome the triple threat/shambles left behind by the Trump administration and its enablers: the pandemic, the crushed economy and the collapsing climate on which our very survival depends. Abernathy doesn’t want to face the horrible truth that Donald Trump’s reign as president has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans, wrecked the economy and set back our attempts to combat climate catastrophe perhaps beyond repair. THOSE are the priorities, not the continued whining and grievance of Trump’s political base.

Abernathy’s preferred version of Biden’s address also would contain this:

Biden could further make conservative Americans sit up and take notice by speaking their language, saying, “In the United States, we don’t ‘cancel’ people because their opinions and ideas diverge from what many of us might prefer. We don’t exile people for criticizing or questioning their government or even our democratic processes — both of which can be constantly fortified by our willingness to consider the voices of all Americans, not just those with whom we agree.

That is wrong on virtually every level. Abernathy is laying claim to the idea that everything is equal: lies, insane conspiracies, calls for violence – all are entitled to equal credit with the truth and reality. That is simply wrong. We cannot and should not use the government to suppress the expression of non-violent ideas, but, to use a time-worn but valid analogy, one may not cry “fire” in a darkened theatre when there is no fire and you’re just afraid of the dark. The First Amendment does not protect such speech, nor should it. And it doesn’t matter a wit that your fear of the dark is genuine.

Private communication platforms are not obligated to give equal voice to boldfaced lies and fantasies which are not the same or equivalent to positions/arguments about political philosophy. QAnon is not entitled to equal space on Twitter or Facebook. In the end, conservatives can choose to believe whatever they want to believe, including rejecting science and scientific method as valid means of determining what is true, but they don’t have the right to control privately-owned space for the purpose of undermining truth as a concept and dis-establishing the government.

A final point: Abernathy’s call for Biden to “embrace Americans across the political spectrum” was addressed repeatedly during the campaign. Biden said many times he would be president for all people, not just those who voted for him. That pledge stands, as Mr. Abernathy surely knows, but it is incredibly disingenuous, in my opinion, to try to wedge into that commitment an acceptance of the right-wing orthodoxy that truth and falsity as just two equal versions of one thing. They are opposites, not equivalents, and Joe Biden knows it. Someday, maybe, Republicans will awaken from their dreamworld and accept that truth as well.

 

A Bright Spot in the Darkness

Much of what I write about here is dark and ominous. The past four years have brought the country low. We are on the verge, I believe, of beginning the long process of recovery, as I have indicated in earlier posts. But the darkness is tenacious. As we approach the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, on whom the hopes of the nation depend, the city of Washington is shrouded in massive defensive preparations – not against a foreign enemy, but against a segment of the American people who threaten to disrupt the inauguration to overturn the election.

As fate would have it, I am scheduled for some surgery in Bethesda, Maryland (a Washington suburb for those not familiar with the area) on February 19 and a follow-up exam in Rockville, MD on the 20th, Inauguration Day. Poor planning on my part, but I took what was available and could not predict that the capital city would be under siege by our own citizens.

Some days before, I had signed up for AlertDC, a messaging service about various disruptions one might want to know in traveling around the area. Last night (Friday at 8:22 pm) we received an alert including a message from the Virginia Department of Transportation about bridge closures, further raising our concerns  about our travel plans for my surgery. In the VDOT message were the standard “Contact” email addresses of people from VDOT and Virginia State Police.

Feeling increasingly concerned about the obstacles we might face making two roundtrips from downtown DC to the Maryland suburbs, I sent an email inquiry to all three. It was now 8:52 pm on Friday night. It would, I thought, be a miracle if we ever heard from anyone because they likely were being bombarded with messages and preoccupation with the brewing crisis across the area.

Eighteen minutes later, 9:10 on a Friday night, a reply email arrived with additional information about bridge closures and a specific suggestion to help reduce our risk of getting stuck. The message was from Ellen Kamilakis, Senior Public Affairs Officer at VDOT. Not a form message but a personal response with useful information that addressed my reason for reaching out. A  quick check of her LinkedIn revealed a multi-award-winning communicator. No wonder. I decided this person needs some additional recognition. Late on a Friday night, in an environment that must be fraught with pressure and uncertainty, Ms. Kamilakis took a moment to respond to a citizen with a problem.

As I noted in an earlier post, the next time someone makes a crack about “those government employees,” recall this message. Be thankful, as I am, that people like Ellen Kamilakis work for all of us.

Big Block of Cheese Day [Guest Post by Dina Ruden]

I walked to the White House today and when I got there, I wept.

After a hiatus of three years, I returned to DC and one of the first things I wanted to do was take a walk to my old stomping grounds. For 13 years, I worked a block and a half from the White House and often walked over at lunchtime or after work to admire the view of “The People’s House,” the ever-changing scene of school groups, selfie-taking tourists (both foreign and domestic), law enforcement officers mixed in with the “regular” protestors, daily fixtures with their signs and their lawn chairs. My version of Americana at its best.

In the time of Trump, everything has changed.

DC is a post-apocalyptic nightmare right now. As I walked the eight blocks from my apartment on Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House, I could hear my own footsteps on streets that were once packed with office workers and tourists. I walked for five minutes across downtown DC without seeing another human being. My heart was heavy as I approached the Executive Office Building and the Renwick Gallery and encountered fence after fence and signs warning me off.

Surely, there was a way to walk through Lafayette Square to the park! No, there was not. I walked up to H Street and had to walk all the way around to 16th Street and even then, behind all the fences and barricades, I could barely make out a portion of the White House. I read about this and saw it on TV, but nothing could prepare me for the emotional impact of seeing one of our nation’s most loved historical treasures being closed off from the American people.

An article in The Atlantic aptly describes the scene I encountered:

“The White House today is hidden behind a welter of barricades, anti-scale fencing, bollards, and Jersey barriers…Lafayette Square, the scene of one of Trump’s most vulgar assaults on core American values, is now impenetrable.”

Enterprising citizens have made their displeasure known posting signs along the fence. I found some comfort in arriving at Black Lives Matter Plaza, which brought me hope that the people will ultimately prevail.

There’s a running joke on the show West Wing about Andrew Jackson and Big Block of Cheese day. In the show, they say that Jackson brought the cheese to the White House and invited people who would not normally get the ear of the president to state their cases. According to historians, the 1,400-pound block of cheese was presented to Jackson by a dairy farmer from New York to promote the Empire State. Apparently, Jackson did not know what to do with such a large block of cheese so at the end of his term, he hosted a reception for 10,000 people and invited them to take the cheese. Following that event, the web site, Thought.com, reports:

“The new occupant of the White House, Martin Van Buren, banned the serving of food at White House receptions. Crumbs from Jackson’s mammoth cheese had fallen into the carpets and been trampled by the crowd. Van Buren’s time in the White House would be plagued by many problems, and it got off to a horrible start as the mansion smelled of cheese for months.”

My hope is that on Jan. 21, President Biden will order the barricades, fencing and bollards torn down and the “People’s House” will once again be restored to us. I only hope the stench left behind by the previous administration does not last for months.

 

 

 

 

To Pardon or Not to Pardon – That Is the Question


Just over a year ago, I posted a piece entitled Going Along to Get Along. https://bit.ly/2UCmkTi The central theme was the criminal conduct of the Trump administration for which, I naively argued, “The time has come for a reckoning.” The impeachment proceeding was imminent. While I acknowledged the likelihood that the Republicans would continue to support Trump no matter what crimes he committed, I predicted that,

Impeachment, rarely used because it is so serious, is about holding to account a lawless regime that threatens to undermine the democratic republic that was created by the Constitution. If the case is properly made, the majority of Americans will support the action.

In that small regard, I supposed I was right. Trump was massively defeated in the 2020 election by more than 5 million votes and by the same number of Electoral College votes that Trump won by in 2016.

Yet, here we are, two weeks after Election Day and Trump continues to claim that “I WON THE ELECTION!” His legal team, “led” by Rudy Giuliani [I am not making this up], has filed and lost multiple lawsuits across the country. But those suits are only in states Trump lost. Apparently, Trump’s legal team has no quarrel with the vote counting in states he won. Many of the law firms involved have withdrawn their representation. All of the lawsuits have either been dismissed outright or rendered meaningless by either the complete absence of supporting evidence or narrowed so that even if validated, the ultimate election outcome will not be affected.

Trump had previously threatened that he would not recognize the election result if he lost and, in this one respect, he has kept his word. This has brought to the forefront the question whether, once Joe Biden is inaugurated, he should pardon Trump’s commission of federal crimes. At the risk of giving away the plot too soon, I think not. No pardon. Not ever. Here’s why.

I will use as my guidepost in this argument a provocative think-piece published on Nov. 17 by Michael Conway, former counsel to the  U.S. House Judiciary Committee, entitled “Why Biden Should Pardon Trump – and We Democrats Should Want Him To.” https://nbcnews.to/3lB4NGN Mr. Conway was counsel for the House Judiciary Committee in the impeachment inquiry of President Nixon in 1974. He is a graduate of Yale Law School, a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and a retired partner of Foley & Lardner LLP in Chicago. His views are seriously presented and worthy of consideration.

The rationale offered by Mr. Conway is simply that a pardon for Trump’s multiple federal crimes is necessary if the nation is to heal from the four years of division, fear-mongering, racism, misogyny, hatred and other despicable qualities exemplified by the Trump administration and its enablers and supporters.

That is a heavy load for a pardon to carry, especially considering that, as Mr. Conway rightly recognizes, a presidential pardon would give Trump no legal protection from state crimes provable on the same facts. Conway’s argument also acknowledges that Trump is undeserving:

Trump would, of course, be one of the least deserving recipients of a federal pardon in history. His pardon could not be justified based on his innocence or his contrition because Trump is not contrite; to the contrary, he is currently endangering our democratic processes by relentlessly undermining the legitimacy of Biden’s election and thwarting a peaceful transition.

That said, the argument for a Biden pardon is based on several distinct ideas:

  • A pardon necessarily indicates an admission of guilt;
  • Exposure for prosecution under state law would continue;
  • State prosecutions would not be “laid at Biden’s doorstep;”
  • Biden can show he’s better than Trump by declining to do what Trump tried to do: use his administration to punish political adversaries [“lock her up!”]
  • American democracy would be undermined if we accept the prosecution of political opponents;
  • Declining to prosecute Trump will assuage some of the anger of Trump’s supporters who, however wrongly, believe he was cheated out of a second term;
  • Pardoning Trump will help “heal the nation” and prevent an “ongoing cycle of retribution” as political control inevitably cycles;
  • Precedent exists in President Ford’s pardon of Nixon;
  • Prosecuting Trump would enhance his martyr status among followers, add to partisanship and could “even lead to civil unrest.”

That is as strong an argument for a pardon as I can imagine. Here’s why I think it’s wrong.

  • The admission of guilt would be “by operation of law,” but Trump would continue to argue that he was unjustly punished in various ways, especially in light of (2) under which he would continue to be exposed to state prosecutions, especially in New York;
  • Avoiding the “onus” of prosecution for Biden is of low value in the scheme of things, considering the scale and gravity of Trump’s crimes; protecting the incoming president from responsibility for enforcing the law is not a good reason to pardon;
  • We already know to a certainty that “Biden is better than Trump” as a moral force and as an empathetic leader;
  • Avoiding further blows to democratic institutions is a serious point, but democracy has already been severely undermined by Trump’s conduct, as well as that of the Republicans who enabled him;
  • Protecting Trump from federal prosecution is unlikely to assuage the anger of his most ardent followers who, we have learned to our everlasting sorrow, are totally disconnected from normal emotional responses to truth/facts/reality; assuaging their “feelings” is a fool’s errand – it just won’t work;
  • True that there is precedent but for many the Nixon pardon remains, after all these years, a very sore spot indeed; there is little juice behind the precedent argument;
  • In sacrificing the “healing” opportunity, we likely do increase the risk of more partisanship and the possibility of “civil unrest,” but those risks will exist even in the face of a federal pardon if, for example, New York prosecutes Trump for state crimes;

Moreover, pardoning Trump does not achieve the intended goal of peace with the Trump family writ large. There is likely evidence, known or to be uncovered after January 20, that members of the immediate family are guilty of multiple crimes as well, including conspiracy, obstruction of justice, destruction of federal property/records, money laundering and others perhaps even worse. Trump and his followers are not going to take well to facing such charges even if the capo is pardoned.

Finally, pardoning Trump would send the signal that the more crimes you commit and the more outrageously you behave, the better your chance of a pardon. American democracy has been shaken to the core by the four years of Trump’s mal-administration. This outcome of a pardon would tell the next unprincipled demagogue that “anything goes,” because the worse you are, the greater the likelihood you’ll walk free and clear with the loot you have acquired.

I readily confess that some of my thinking about this is driven by the belief, reluctantly reached, that Trump’s acolytes among the general population (he received more than 73 million votes at last count) are not going to be satisfied regarding Trump’s treatment, regardless of the generosity accorded him, They may be forced “underground” again, where, we have learned, they subsisted and persisted all the time many of us thought we had entered the post-racial world heralded by the election (twice) of Barack Obama. But they won’t be “gone;” they won’t likely experience some profound awakening of empathy and generosity toward others; Whatever the “solution” for those people is, I am constrained to believe that a pardon of Donald Trump is simply not relevant to the factors that motivate them.

In the end, perhaps, it can be concluded that I am more a “law and order” person than Trump’s most ardent fans. I believe in the principle that a properly functioning society needs a “just system of justice” that includes the goal of deterring the highest forms of white color crime, the types of crimes committed most egregiously, and often in the open, by Trump and his family and friends. Accountability is essential to prevent demagogues from becoming the norm of our political life. One important lesson from the Trump ascendancy in American politics is that our frequently sneering disrespect for “banana republics” could very readily become an apt description of the United States if we do not insist on full accountability from our leaders.

The harshest lesson, I think, is that we are not really who we thought we were. American aspirations and reality do not mesh as we had believed. That does not mean, however, that we should reject our aspirations. On the contrary, and as Joe Biden’s election has reminded us, we can and must continue to aspire to a higher calling for our country. We have the choice to make: despair that we have fallen short or renew our commitment to making a better and more just society for all who live here. Pardoning Donald Trump will not help us do better.

This position does not mean that every last drop of retribution must be exacted. The pandemic must be the top priority. Restoration of relations with allies is also critical to our national security. And, obviously, I think, action to aggressively address climate change is essential to our survival as a functioning species. Trump and his family can stew in the uncertainty of their ultimate fate until it is appropriate to take up their crimes, a day that will come all the sooner if Trump continues his insistence that he will hold office against the will of the people, as expressed in the 2020 election. If he wants to be drug physically from the White House, that can be arranged, in which case the day of reckoning will come even sooner. That choice is, to a degree, his to make. His family should recognize that truth, at least, and urge him to stand down. Either way, he must go.

 

Joy in the Land

I will not search for words to memorialize this extraordinary day in the life of the country. Others with greater gifts have done and will do that quite well without my meager words.

Shortly after the word came down that the election had, at long last, been called in favor of Biden-Harris, my wife and I ventured out to Columbus Circle, a few blocks from our New York City apartment. We had seen TV coverage indicating people were gathering there in celebration. Little did we know that the gathering was to last most of the day and that thousands of New Yorkers were absolutely beside themselves with excitement that Donald Trump was, at long last, going to be gone. We took a few photos. Here are some of them:

One of the highlights was a group of singers, decked out in bright costumes and led by a man with “Songs in the key of F*You” on his shirt. They sang and danced a bit. By way of example only, the lyrics to the tune of Hello Dolly went like this:

Well, goodbye, Donny. No more lies, Donny.

We can’t wait to send you back where you belong!

It gets a little raw after that, so I’ll spare you the rest. Here they are:

After enjoying the jubilant scene for a while, we walked along Central Park South to 5th Avenue, thinking we would visit the Trump Tower. Many cars and even a bus went by with horns blaring and people leaning out the windows pumping fists in the air.

We discovered that the NYPD had blocked off access to the Trump Tower from blocks away. The streets were deserted.

We could find no reasonable path to our destination and stopped on West 56th for an outdoor lunch, then returned to Columbus Circle. There, we encountered the tail end of a spontaneous march along Central Park South. These photos capture that event.

The NYPD was obviously nervous as it had a huge presence in the immediate area, including a caravan of vehicles that included one of those ominous black vans with no windows (you may have seen video of protesters being pulled off the streets into such vehicles by “police” with no visible identification) though there was not the slightest hint of anger or distress in the crowd. It was a joyous, happy scene of exhilaration in every respect.

We continued to watch the unfolding scene for a while before returning home:

And so, with a final salute to the Trump International Hotel:

we returned to our apartment to await the much anticipated (only four years) speeches of Kamala Harris and Joe Biden. We were not disappointed. Their words were inspiring, as was the appearance of their families, normal and happy people committed to supporting a team that faces enormous obstacles to success but whose commitment to serving the American people cannot be questioned by anyone with a rational mind.

At long last, the beginning of the end of the catastrophic Trump presidency is at hand.

Why Americans Are Dying By the Thousands Under Trump’s Leadership

Here are a few excerpts from WAPO regarding the federal response to the pandemic as we head into Election Day. https://wapo.st/3oJDI69 They speak for themselves.

“President Trump’s repeated assertions the United States is “rounding the turn” on the novel coronavirus have increasingly alarmed the government’s top health experts, who say the country is heading into a long and potentially deadly winter with an unprepared government unwilling to make tough choices.”

“Anthony S. Fauci, the country’s leading infectious-disease expert, said: … “All the stars are aligned in the wrong place as you go into the fall and winter season, with people congregating at home indoors. You could not possibly be positioned more poorly.”

“Fauci … said the country could surpass 100,000 new coronavirus cases a day and predicted rising deaths in the coming weeks. He spoke as the nation set a new daily record Friday with more than 98,000 cases. As hospitalizations increase, deaths are also ticking up, with more than 1,000 reported Wednesday and Thursday, bringing the total to more than 230,000 since the start of the pandemic….”

“Trump has rallied in states and cities experiencing record surges in infections and hospitalizations in a last-ditch effort to convince voters he has successfully managed the pandemic. He has held maskless rallies with thousands of supporters, often in violation of local health mandates. Even as new infections climb in 42 states, Trump has downplayed the virus or mocked those who take it seriously.”

“… he baselessly said that U.S. doctors record more deaths from covid-19, the disease the coronavirus causes, than other nations because they get more money.”

“By contrast, former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala D. Harris have consistently worn masks in public, and have held socially distanced events.”

Fauci … described a disjointed response as cases surge. Several current and former senior administration officials said the White House is almost entirely focused on a vaccine, even though experts warn it is unlikely to be a silver bullet that ends the pandemic immediately since it will take months under the best of circumstances to inoculate tens of millions of people to achieve herd immunity.”

“Fauci said … he has not spoken to Trump since early October…. He also lamented that Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist and Trump’s favored pandemic adviser, who advocates letting the virus spread among young healthy people and reopening the country without restrictions, is the only medical adviser the president regularly meets with. “I have real problems with that guy,” Fauci said of Atlas. “He’s a smart guy who’s talking about things that I believe he doesn’t have any real insight or knowledge or experience in. He keeps talking about things that when you dissect it out and parse it out, it doesn’t make any sense.”

[Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, attacked Fauci for speaking his mind, accusing him of being a member of the Washington Swamp and repeating Trump’s talking points that the president “always put the well-being of the American people first.” Believe what you will.]

“Some White House advisers … complain [Fauci] is too focused on his personal reputation and is “not on the team,” said one senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment. The doctor has become loathed among many Trump supporters, and Fauci has told others that he has experienced a surge in harassment and threats.”

[See https://wapo.st/3kUAOJK for a list of the 184 times Trump has downplayed the pandemic threat, a reality he confessed to on tape in the Woodward interviews].

“Several senior administration officials and outside advisers described a White House overwhelmed by the pandemic, with a feeling of helplessness over the inability to curb its spread without also throttling the economy or damaging the president’s reelection chances.”

“… the campaign trail message that life is returning to normal underscores how little the president and White House have focused on the pandemic beyond pushing for development and approvals of vaccines and treatments. With the clearance of a vaccine unlikely until year’s end, that raises questions about what happens after Election Day, during what is projected to be the worst stretch yet of the pandemic. The Trump administration will be in charge of managing the pandemic until at least Jan. 20, no matter who wins.”

“Trump’s former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, Scott Gottlieb said, “If we don’t plan now, we’ll lose the opportunity to prioritize [school]opening what should be most important to us, just as we lost that chance in the fall because we didn’t plan appropriately this summer.”

“And one of the ways to say the outbreak is over is [to say] it’s really irrelevant because it doesn’t make any difference. All you need to do is prevent people from dying and protect people in places like the nursing homes,” Fauci said. “And because of that, Debbie [Birx] almost never ever sees the president anymore. The only medical person who sees the president on a regular basis is Scott Atlas. It’s certainly not Debbie Birx.”

“Fauci said that many people who catch the virus recover “virologically” but will have chronic health problems. “The idea of this false narrative that if you don’t die, everything is hunky dory is just not the case,” he said. “But to say, ‘Let people get infected, it doesn’t matter, just make sure people don’t die’ — to me as a person who’s been practicing medicine for 50 years, it doesn’t make any sense at all.”

“A similar assessment was offered by Tom Bossert, the former homeland security adviser in the Trump administration. “It sounds alluring,” Bossert said. “It sounds so seductive. It’s not possible. Math makes it irresponsible to even try and say it.”

Supreme Court Gives Back of Hand to Voter Protection

CNN reported last week that the Supreme Court, without opinion or explanation, granted a request by Alabama to prevent voters from dropping off their ballots by handing them to an election official at the curbside. https://cnn.it/3osEjJB The decision in an unsigned 5-3 order, to which Justices Sotomayor, Kagan and Breyer dissented, addressed a permissive ruling by a federal District Court judge permitting, but not requiring, willing Alabama counties to allow curbside voting, as they have done in prior elections in 2016 and 2018. The District Court judge’s opinion was upheld by the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta.

The District Court judge reached the following conclusions issued in conjunction with a lengthy set of Findings of Fact & Conclusions of Law:

1. As applied during the COVID-19 pandemic to voters who are particularly susceptible to COVID-19, the requirement under Ala. Code §§ 17-11-7, 17-11-9, and 17-11-10 that absentee ballot affidavits be witnessed and signed by a notary public or two adult witnesses violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

    1. As applied during the COVID-19 pandemic to voters who are particularly susceptible to COVID-19 complications because they are either age 65 or older or disabled or have underlying medical conditions that make them susceptible to COVID-19 complications, the requirement under Ala. Code §§ 17-9-30(b), (d), and 17-11-9 that absentee voters provide a copy of their photo identification with their absentee ballot applications violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
    1. As applied during the COVID-19 pandemic to voters who are particularly susceptible to COVID-19 complications, the curbside voting ban violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
    1. As applied during the COVID-19 pandemic to voters with disabilities who cannot safely obtain a copy of their photo ID, the requirement under Ala. Code §§ 17-9-30(b), (d), and 17-11-9 that absentee voters provide a copy of their photo identification with their absentee ballot applications violates the ADA.
    1. As applied during the COVID-19 pandemic to voters with disabilities, the curbside voting ban violates the ADA.
    1. As applied during the COVID-19 pandemic, the requirement under Ala. Code §§ 17-11-7, 17-11-9, and 17-11-10 that absentee ballot affidavits be witnessed and signed by a notary public or two adult witnesses violates the Voting Rights Act.”

For the highly determined, the court papers may be read at: https://bit.ly/3opiLgI

The Court of Appeals reversed all of the District Court’s conclusions except for the curbside voting issue.

In a classic Trump Republican fashion, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall argued that “Some level of risk is inherent in life and in voting.” Stated differently, if voting in person ends up killing you (there are no mask requirements in Alabama), well, that’s life. The Alabama Secretary of State had earlier expressed concern about the security of ballots because voters “wouldn’t be able to physically put their ballot into the machines that read the ballot since they’re held indoors.” Apparently, the Alabama Secretary of State does not trust the poll workers that the counties employ for the purpose of assisting voters.

Justice Sotomayor’s dissent said, in part, “We should not substitute the District Court’s reasonable, record-based findings of fact with our own intuitions about the risks of traditional in-person voting during this pandemic or the ability of willing local officials to implement adequate curbside voting procedures.”

The Supreme Court’s decision is remarkable insofar as it permits a state to disallow voting practices that, at least in a pandemic, could reduce vulnerable voters’ exposure to sometimes deadly health risks, especially for older and health-vulnerable voters. The ultimate rationale for the state’s inexplicable overturning of prior practice was the Republican Attorney General’s view, in effect, that “life’s a bitch and then you die, so who cares?”

In truth, the state position is a form of voter suppression directed at a segment of the population more-likely-than-not to vote Democratic. These types of decisions, especially unexplained, are particularly problematic when considered against the anti-democratic decision of the Supreme Court in the landmark Shelby County v. Holder, 570 U.S. 529 (2013) that gutted the pre-clearance requirements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Those provisions compelled certain states to seek prior approval of the Justice Department for any new election or voting laws, because of those states’ prior history of voter suppression.

Shelby County involved one of the worst examples of judicial legislating ever seen, as evidenced by Chief Justice John Roberts’ explanation of the decision:

A statute’s “current burdens” must be justified by “current needs,” and any “disparate geographic coverage” must be “sufficiently related to the problem that it targets.” The coverage formula met that test in 1965, but no longer does so.

Coverage today is based on decades-old data and eradicated practices. The formula captures States by reference to literacy tests and low voter registration and turnout in the 1960s and early 1970s. But such tests have been banned nationwide for over 40 years. And voter registration and turnout numbers in the covered States have risen dramatically in the years since. Racial disparity in those numbers was compelling evidence justifying the preclearance remedy and the coverage formula. There is no longer such a disparity.

As reported in The Atlantic, https://bit.ly/34uqn9C,

The results have been predictable. Voter-identification laws, which experts suggest will make voting harder especially for poor people, people of color, and elderly people, have advanced in several states, and some voting laws that make it easier to register and cast ballots have been destroyed. For many of the jurisdictions formerly under preclearance, voting became rapidly more difficult after the Shelby County decision, particularly for poor and elderly black people and Latinos.

Decisions like the Alabama curbside voting case are the predictable consequence of the Supreme Court’s conservative majority inserting its judgment, without explanation, where only the legislature should go. At the risk of repetition, the current decision affirms the elimination, for partisan political purposes, of a health-based practice that was permitted in two prior elections.

This is what we have to look forward too as the Republican majority of Trump enablers in the Senate affirms yet another right-wing judge to the high court this very day. I don’t know what the solution to the Supreme Court dilemma is, but Joe Biden’s thoughtful and measured approach seems the right way to move forward, provided his commission acts swiftly. The issue has been exhaustively analyzed by many constitutional scholars so we’re not going into new territory here. The composition of the Court has changed before and the nation survived. It’s less clear today that the Republican approach to governance is survivable by anything resembling a democratic republic. Time is therefore of the essence once the Democrats take control of the government in January.

Amtrak to Suspend Train Service to Respond to Republican Document Requests

Republican Troubleshooters Demand 190 Years’ Worth of Records

It’s natural, I suppose, for people who have not spent time on Capitol Hill to wonder what those highly privileged people do up there all day – you know, on behalf of the public that elected them and, presumably, also for those who thought someone else would be better. We have been given some insight into that question as regards Republican representatives by an October 20 records request to William J. Flynn, President and Chief Executive Officer of Amtrak, technically the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, sent by four Republican Congressmen from the Republican Office of the House Subcommittee on Rail, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials.

There is a subcommittee, often many of them, for every committee in Congress (this one is among six under the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, or T & I as it is affectionately known in Washington circles). I’m sure your mind is now trying to wrap itself around what the entire organization chart for the entire Congress must look like. Please stop right there lest you suffer lasting mental harm.

This particular Subcommittee has some pretty impressive sounding responsibilities [https://bit.ly/3knpaqr]:

  •  “jurisdiction over the economic and safety regulation of railroads and the agencies that administer those regulations.  Economic regulation is administered by the five-member Surface Transportation Board (STB).  This independent agency also has the authority to address national emergencies as they affect the nation’s rail transportation system.”
  • “The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is responsible for administering and overseeing railroad safety laws, railroad infrastructure and development programs, performing research and developing technology, and has federal oversight of Amtrak.”
  • “Amtrak [established in 1970] is the nation’s major provider of intercity passenger rail service….The Subcommittee continues to oversee efforts to increase efficiency and improve service in Amtrak’s operations.”
  • “The Subcommittee also has jurisdiction over the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which is responsible for providing regulations and safety oversight of pipelines and pipeline facilities, as well as overseeing the transportation of hazardous materials.”
  • “Railroad retirement benefits and unemployment systems, as well as rail labor relations also fall under the jurisdiction of this Subcommittee.”

That’s enough responsibility and overseeing, you would think, to be a full-time job for the Subcommittee members.  But two members out of 15 Republicans on the Subcommittee, found time to produce the aforesaid letter to Amtrak. Those four are Ranking Member Rick Crawford (R-AR), fellow Subcommittee-man Scott Perry (R-PA) plus T&I full Committee members, Bob Gibbs (R-OH), and Lloyd Smucker (R-PA). The others? Who knows? Politics, as we will see, is a peculiar affair. Truth is, of course, the letter was written by Subcommittee staff and approved up the chain of command. That’s just how things work.

The letter concerns [drum roll] Joe Biden’s use of Amtrak charter trains for his recent campaigning in Pennsylvania and Ohio. The Republicans, ever watchful for profligate spending, claimed not to know what Biden paid for the trains and, through their questions suggested that something was rotten on the railroad tracks. Had they bothered to look first, they would have discovered that  “in its disclosures to the Federal Election Commission, the Biden campaign reported spending $265,000 on the train charter. Amtrak says that the starting rate for a charter is $30,000, and that no discount was given.” https://wapo.st/2ThtQCf But who wants to investigate when the opportunity to allege political scandal by an opponent arises? Not Republicans. Notify the media!

The asserted reasons for the Republicans’ deep concerns about Biden’s train charters are that [footnotes omitted],

  • “the Biden campaign’s use of Amtrak’s charter train redirected Amtrak’s scarce resources during a time of record losses, employee layoffs, and service cuts during the COVID-19 pandemic.”  
    • The premise here is that Joe Biden, a private citizen, somehow commandeered Amtrak’s charter train against Amtrak’s wishes and did so at a particularly bad time. The bad time, of course, was the result of Donald Trump’s failure to act against the virus, but never mind that.
  • “We are concerned that the apparent use of a struggling, resource-deprived, publicly-run service for political gain does not serve the best interests of Amtrak or the American taxpayers at this time.”
    • Here the premise is that Biden hurt Amtrak by paying it for services rendered in exchange for “political gain.”
  • “we question whether the Biden campaign’s use of Amtrak caused delays of freight trains at a time when supplies are crucial.”
    • Here the Republican Congressmen show profound regard for the nation’s PPE supplies that it believes, for no apparent reason, may have been delayed by Biden’s charter train.

The implication is that Biden somehow purloined the Amtrak trains for “political gain” when Amtrak would have been better off doing something else with its trains, despite the fact of collapsed demand for travel demand due to Trump’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the Republican research,

According to Amtrak’s guidelines, charter trains are not a part of its “primary objective” of operating its “core train service safely, punctually, and efficiently.” Amtrak’s guidelines for operating charter trains include requirements that the use of Amtrak’s resources will not impact its regular operations, and that the train “must generate sufficient financial benefit for Amtrak to justify the Amtrak resources and assets.”

Moreover, the Republicans’ preliminary investigation revealed the following salacious information:

The Biden charter train included several Amtrak cars and made multiple stops for campaign events where guests were invited aboard the train. The Biden campaign distributed plastic identification cards to riders designed like actual Amtrak tickets. News reports suggested freight train interactions with the stopped charter train and the potential for delays at campaign stops.

The Republicans clearly believed they were on to a big one. “Abuse of train” is a matter to be taken very seriously, and Amtrak is committed to the policy that the truth must come out.

Now, I happen to have it on good authority that Amtrak is both short-staffed now (COVID-19 layoffs, you know) and struggling to get the trains to run on time (big surprise to past Amtrak users). So, I’m going to help out these Republicans who apparently don’t know how to conduct even a minimal investigation but who love to issue press releases. I’m going to suggest answers to the ten questions and offer them, hereby, to Amtrak and the Subcommittee free of charge. This will help enable Amtrak to answer the questions by November 2, as demanded (coincidentally, I’m sure, the day before the election), unless … well, let’s not spoil the surprise. See below and buckle up.

  1. The total cost to Amtrak, including in equipment, resources, and salaries, to operate the Biden campaign charter train.
    • Answer: “A fully-allocated cost analysis of a small set of charters would entail dozens, possibly hundreds, of hours of staff time. Since the Subcommittee has indicated its sensitivity to Amtrak’s resource use, we’re sure you won’t mind if we “hard pass” on this question,” but if you insist we address it, you may expect the answer around June 2021. We don’t mean to be disrespectful but note for the record and in our defense that many congressional subpoenas (you just sent a letter) have been flatly rejected out-of-hand by the administration. What’s good for the goose and all that…

2. The total cost paid to Amtrak for the Biden charter train     and whether the Biden campaign received any financial discount, reduced fares, special treatment, or special services for using Amtrak’s resources to campaign through Pennsylvania and Ohio.

    • Answer: This information was largely covered in the press already. You can find it here: https://wapo.st/3dPoYxv But, be advised, you’re not going to like the reporting on Republicans’ long-standing efforts to cut Amtrak’s budget and the historical data about other candidates who have used Amtrak trains in campaigns.

3. Whether the Biden campaign’s charter train delayed any Amtrak trains or disrupted any Amtrak services.

    • Answer: We’ll look into this when we can, but it’s doubtful. It’s often hard to identify exactly what “causes” a particular delay, but we will get back to you. Soon. Promise.

4. Whether the Biden campaign’s charter train received track preference over any freight trains or other trains.

    • Answer: That information is also difficult to identify since we normally don’t have to keep that data to run a railroad, but, as above, we’ll get back to you. Soon. Promise.

5. Whether riders on the Biden campaign charter train purchased tickets to board the train.

    • Answer: We think you should know the answer to this already. Biden chartered the train, so there would be no reason to sell tickets except possibly as a fund-raising activity, the conduct of which is not Amtrak’s business. Perhaps another federal agency or body of Congress can help you with this. We hope so because we take your need for information very seriously.

6. The number of Amtrak employees taken off their regular duties to staff the Biden campaign charter train, including any overtime hours worked.

    • Answer: We don’t understand the question. Working on charters are part of the “regular duties” of employees when charters are sold. Amtrak is in the passenger train business and charter trains are part of that business. Amtrak, as you know ,or have reason to know, was paid for the charters according to standard charges that cover all costs to the extent possible.

7. A copy of standard operating procedures or similar documents utilized by Amtrak and its employees in operating standard charter trains.

    • Answer: We believe you already possess this information since you cited our procedures in your letter. We respectfully decline to provide duplicate information. We’re sure you understand we are busy trying to run a railroad. If you don’t understand that, we can’t help you.

8. A copy of any documents, standard operating procedures, or guidelines Amtrak has for trains chartered for campaign and/or political events, particularly presidential campaigns.

    • Answer: We are initiating a company-wide search for these documents. Since the request was not time-limited, the hunt for historical versions of any current documents will likely take some time, so don’t expect anything before the election. We will get back to you. Soon. Promise.

9. A historical list of any time Amtrak trains have been previously chartered for campaign usage and the costs of those resources and costs paid by the individual candidate’s campaign.

    • Answer: Well, that’s a doozy, all right. We will certainly initiate a good faith search but estimate this will take the balance of 2020, 2021 and possibly 2022 since trains run by Amtrak and its predecessors for campaigns likely began in 1836 and have been used, according to reported sources, by at least Harrison, Carter, Ford, Bush (both) and Clinton. You did not specify whether you want the costs, whose estimates will necessarily be speculative, in current dollars or constant dollars. We await your clarification.

Meanwhile, be advised that good-faith compliance with the aforementioned requests will require Amtrak to suspend for the foreseeable future all passenger service in the Northeast United States until further notice, starting November 4, 2020. Have a nice day.

10.  A written response on how the Biden campaign charter train remained in compliance with Amtrak guidance and procedures on COVID-19.

    • Amtrak’s COVID-19 practices are set out on our website. You can find our website at www.amtrak.com. We assume the Subcommittee knows how to use a computer. Have a nice day

I believe my suggestions will do much to move this process along at the pace it deserves.

 

Trump – Who Is He?

NOTE: I apologize for the obvious formatting issues in this post. For reasons that defy understanding, WordPress unilaterally changed the editor for its posts, forcing workarounds that often simply don’t work. I have spent over an hour trying to fix these without success or useful help from WP. I will soon be moving to another platform that has figured out formatting. So …. onward:

For reasons perhaps too obvious to state,  I cannot bear to watch a Trump rally. It feels like … passing a bad car accident, somehow attracted to the horror while simultaneously trying not to see disturbing images that will linger far too long. Curiosity, however, is a powerful force. I have read many news stories, seen many film clips and watched comedians like Jordan Klepper interview attendees who seem lost in a cult-like euphoria about a man who, when you really think about it, has nothing in common with them and, based on overwhelming evidence, has no positive regard for them whatsoever. They are mere tools for his ultimate goal which seems to be maximization of personal glorification and wealth.

Faced with that conflict, I decided to do the next best thing – try to analyze Trump’s speech based on a couple of typical recent examples. Perhaps because they attracted much attention in the news, I chose his rallies in Nevada on February 21, 2020 and September 12, 2020. I also looked at his Fox Propaganda, oops, sorry, Fox News interview with Jeanine Pirro also on September 12, 2020 . For comparison, I also analyzed Joe Biden’s speech at Gettysburg on October 6, 2020. The transcripts were found at the Transcript Library at https://www.rev.com/blog/transcripts which is a rich source of transcripts of all manner of speeches, albeit in uncorrected form.

The framework for analysis was constructed to a large degree by reading Trump’s 2/20 Nevada speech. Based on what appeared to be repeated elements in his speech, I developed this set of words/phrases to compile:

 

Advocating Violence

Attacks Democrats

Attacks Press

Audience Praise

Blatant Lies

Domination – words expressing Trump’s power over                      others

Fear Mongering – references to border/immigrant                          invasions, riots, destruction of cities &                                              neighborhoods/suburbs

Invokes Patriotism

Racist Statements

Self-Praise

Some People Say/I Hear/Heard

Trump as Victim

Word Salad

The categories I chose as analytical tools are my own creation. Trump’s method of delivery appears to be largely stream-of-consciousness, a kind of rambling around certain repeated themes, interspersed with what I have labeled “Word Salad,” a phrase that refers to a sequence of often-partial thoughts with rapidly mixed subjects and seemingly random expressions. Sometimes one can discern what Trump is talking about, but at others the “stream” is incoherent and indecipherable.

Curiously, these episodes do not seem to bother the rally audience, suggesting that little of what Trump says is actually absorbed as discrete intellectual ideas by the listeners. They are there mostly, it seems, for the hate messages against Democrats and Hillary Clinton, still after four years. Trump’s rhythm, if it can be called that, seems entirely random, changing subjects frequently, sometimes multiple times within a minute of speech time. He often repeats phrases two or three times.

Here is an example of Trump’s Word Salad from 2/21/20:

But Jake Tapper put out some things, basically saying, I believe it, that’s the way I read it, that the new Russian thing that started yesterday, that Putin wants to be sure that Trump, which give me a break. Give me a break. But Jake Tapper said it ain’t so, and if he did say that because they were a little complex, they can turn them around, or when Zucker sees him and said, “Why did you put that? I want that deleted and I want you to do a different one.” But he did say that. So I respect that because it’s another hoax story.

To do the analysis, I attributed a descriptor every time there was a change of subject. There were many occasions when more than one descriptor applied to the same text, as, for example, when Trump Attacked Democrats with what can only be seen as Blatant Lies. He often changes focal ideas within a few sentences, sometimes returning to the previous theme but also sometimes, seemingly randomly, moving on to other subjects.

Trump’s soliloquys are typically quite long when not scripted or pre-arranged. His February speech was 1 hour and 46 minutes; in September, it was 1 hour and 34 minutes.

Here then are the results of this exercise applied to Trump’s Nevada speeches:

 

February 21, 2020 September 12, 2020
Attacks Democrats = 20 Attacks Democrats = 36
Attacks Press = 20 Attacks Press = 15
Audience praise = 2 Audience praise = 3
Blatant Lies = 10 Blatant Lies = 45
Domination = 2 Domination = 6
Fear Mongering = 11 Fear Mongering = 32
Invokes Patriotism = 6 Invokes Patriotism = 3
Self-praise = 46 Self-praise = 34
Some People Say/I Hear/Heard = 10 Some People Say/I Hear/Heard = 1
Trump as Victim = 3 Trump as Victim = 8
Word Salad = 28 Word Salad = 1

 

A number of things leap out from this. Democrats come in for multiple attacks from Trump, often associated with Blatant Lies. The attacks are no surprise as this is campaign season, but the lying is astounding. Trump has no regard whatsoever for the truth.

The press remained a favorite subject of assault by Trump. His attacks on Democrats were often focused on Hillary Clinton, an audience favorite still eliciting “lock her up” chants from the Trump faithful.

While Trump made no overtly racist statements in these two speeches, Fear Mongering was prominent among his themes, especially in September. Fear Mongering often referred to members of minority groups as invaders and desecrators of white neighborhoods or borders so that Fear Mongering could as well been divided into overt attempts to stoke fear of the “other” and outright racist remarks.

Finally, while the later speech was far more coherent (only 1 instance of Word Salad), Trump’s self-promotion was a constant. His speeches never wander very far from a boast about his being the first or only president history to achieve some objective. His rally audiences never seem to mind the absence of policy content. They are not there to hear about Trump’s policies except in the form of boasts about all he has accomplished. Those boasts are often Blatant Lies but the adoring Trumper masses don’t seem to care. His arrogance seems to appeal to them even though it is evident that he has no personal regard for them and no real understanding of the problems they face.

As a kind of standardizing test, Trump’s interview with Jeanine Pirro of Fox Propaganda was instructive. It seems clear that the entire interview was structured from the outset, as Pirro often had to steer Trump back to what were pre-arranged lines. In just under 16 minutes, this is what happened:

Advocating Violence = 1
Attacks Democrats = 8
Attacks Press = 1
Blatant Lies = 12
Domination = 4
Fear Mongering = 9
Invokes Patriotism = 1
Self-praise = 5
Trump as Victim = 1
Word Salad = 1

The same major patterns emerge: Lying, Fear Mongering, Attacking Democrats and, of course, Self-Praise.

For further comparison, I analyzed Joe Biden’s speech at Gettysburg, PA on October 6 using the same criteria. Only one of the categories came up: Invokes Patriotism. As a piece of political oratory, Biden’s address at Gettysburg, just 24 minutes long, was high-minded, venerating the site and those who fought there, as he dwelt on the ultimate meaning of it all for America. As one would expect, he relied on Lincoln’s own historic words from his famous visit to those hallowed grounds. Biden exhibited humility in the face of the staggering events that occurred on those fields and the immortal words of Lincoln about the sacrifices of the people who fought there.

Biden’s Gettysburg speech will probably not go down in history in the same way that Lincoln’s did. Context certainly matters. But Biden and Trump might as well be in different countries. Trump’s vision of America, based on the words he uses, is ugly, self-focused, arrogant and demeaning. Biden is the exact opposite, appealing, as Lincoln did, to the better angels of our nature. The contrast is compelling. Biden is about America and its values. Trump is about Trump.