Covid-19, Trump, election integrity, masks, schools, and everything

November 20, 2020

Covid is surging in virtually every state, worse than ever, a million U.S. infections a week, a quarter million dead and rising fast, hospitals overwhelmed — and national leadership is out to lunch. Not even trying, or pretending to, any more.

Remember the task force Mike Pence headed? Whatever became of that? And Trump has not met with disease experts in months. Real ones he’s shut out, elevating instead this crackpot Scott Atlas, with no epidemiology background, who’s helpfully advising Michiganders to “rise up” against their governor’s anti-covid measures.

Trump campaign e-mail blasts tout vaccine progress. While he actually sabotages the vaccine rollout by refusing cooperation with the incoming administration. Based on the absurd lie that Trump actually won the election. But claims about a big conspiracy to steal it from him, massive fraud, dead people voting, observers kept out, ballots mishandled, etc., are all simply made up nonsense, devoid of evidence, laughed out of court. Giuliani’s appearances there (billing the campaign $20,000 a day) shred his reputation’s last dregs.

Trump would have to somehow flip at least three states with five-digit Biden margins. That being impossible, now his grift is to get Republican-controlled state legislatures to brazenly override popular votes and appoint Trump electors regardless. Never done in our history. Talk about a conspiracy to steal the election! After all Trump’s past false accusations of a “coup” against him, thisis a real coup attempt.

Farcical though it might seem, this is no joke. “It is difficult to imagine a worse, more undemocratic action by a sitting American president,” said Republican Senator Mitt Romney. People around the world are shocked by such banana republic shenanigans. And even if he can’t overturn the election, Trump’s baseless fraud claims — 77% of Republicans polled believe this insanity — 86% in another poll — aim to destroy the next administration’s legitimacy and hence its ability to govern. Aided by continued Senate control by a morally bankrupt and intellectually deranged Republican party that, shamefully, nearly half of Americans still support.

By the way, did you know that, on top of everything, a mid-December government shutdown looms?

*   *   *

After eight months’ experience with covid, we actually know what’s needed. But we’re not doing it. Indeed, Trump continues to fight against doing it. Much of the U.S. is keeping restaurants, gyms, and other public venues largely open, but schools closed. Much of Europe does the opposite — with better results.

Because it’s indoor adult gatherings that most commonly spread the virus. That’s what Europeans are cracking down on. This does create much economic hardship, but reflects an understanding that we can’t get past all this and restore economies while covid continues running amok. This doesn’t seem to penetrate enough American skulls.

Arizona covid chart

We’ve done some locking down, but haphazardly, so incurring the pain without getting the benefits. The New York Times cites Arizona’s example, with a big June covid spike, prompting harsh restrictions. They worked splendidly, but then were eased in August, and infections shot back up. With that happening all over now, another round of restrictions is underway, but often again falling short of what experts say is needed. Many rules seem just weird. New York recently announced that venues can stay open til 10 PM, if they have a liquor license. Huh??

Masks and social distancing help tremendously. It isn’t rocket science. We know the virus spreads mainly via droplets in the air, coming out of noses and mouths and getting into other people’s noses and mouths. Your mask blocks droplets both going out and coming in. And because droplets tend not to travel far before falling to the ground, people keeping some distance apart also reduces ingestion.

Most Americans have acted accordingly, only 15-20% refusing. It’s those 15-20% responsible for causing most infections and deaths. With Trump’s insane encouragement. Literally insane, because for all his obsession with re-election, he destroyed his chances by encouraging anti-maskers, so covid predictably exploded in his face.

*   *   *

Meanwhile, research shows the one type of indoor gathering least risky is school, especially elementary school (with social distancing and other precautions). While, on the other hand, closing schools has long-range consequences far more dire than closing restaurants, bars, or gyms.

Millions of students are being switched to remote learning. But for too many, it’s more remoteness than learning. Indeed, what we learn in school is far more than reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic. A key part of educational development is socialization — how to negotiate relations with other people. (I missed some of that, being out of school a lot, and still feel handicapped by it.) But even for the more academic stuff, there’s much evidence that learning together with others in a classroom setting works better than solitary study. Particularly for reading and math, surrounding kids with letters and numbers. And one key thing a classroom provides is feedback — children “need people to see what they are doing, to cheer them on, to rally them to care and respond,” says literacy expert Lucy Calkins, quoted in a Times report.

What this means is that we’re raising a cohort of future adults who will never fully make up for lost classroom time, going through life less educated than would otherwise have been the case. A disaster when a solid educational grounding is more vital than ever for flourishing as a member of modern society. The cumulative hit to GDP, over decades, will be astronomical.

Affluent families, with parents who are themselves well-educated and capable, riding herd on their kids, with good home infrastructure and resources, can be expected to mitigate the damage somewhat. But less so as you descend the socio-economic ladder. Many poor kids lack basics of computer equipment and connectivity.

It’s long been a huge scandal of American society that whereas education might ideally be a great equalizer and engine of upward mobility, instead, for those who start out disadvantaged, our educational system actually worsens that. Affluent kids go to decent schools; underprivileged kids to lousy schools. Widening the inequality.

Covid-induced school closures widen it yet more. The whole remote learning thing is largely new, that educators weren’t trained for, and they’re scrambling to adapt. It shouldn’t surprise us that it’s going better in schools in affluent suburbs than in poverty-ridden inner cities. And here again, strong parental partnering helps a lot. But parents in less affluent homes — often single parents — have too many other problems of their own.

Just getting kids engaged with schoolwork at home is a challenge. A study by ParentsTogether, an advocacy group, found low-income parents ten times likelier than those with $100,000 incomes to report their children doing little or no remote learning. Indeed, The Times quoted an administrator in a high school full of low income and immigrant students saying many are just disappearing — quietly dropping out of school altogether. It’s no mystery that remote learning feels remote to them, in contrast with a classroom experience.

Yet in many places we’re closing schools but letting bars stay open. UNICEF says school closures are creating a “lost generation” of students while doing little to curtail the virus.

*   *   *

Two months to go with Trump. Throughout, I’ve kept on saying, “it will get worse.” It always has. And so it will still.

My mother’s 100th birthday

November 18, 2020

My mother, Lotte Robinson, turned 100 on November 16, and I went to California for the party.

Lotte Dreyfuss was born in Nurnberg, Germany. Her father had taken a bullet for his country in WWI. The family was affluent and Jewish. In 1937 they sent Lotte safely to school in England; she arrived in the United States as a refugee on May 14, 1938. The rest of the family followed, though a grandmother died in a concentration camp. Lotte went on to marry and raise two children in the quintessential American way. Hitler’s dead 75 years, but Lotte is still here.

Lives in her own home (able to afford full-time care). Still has her marbles. Short term memory shot, but no dementia, and still a very positive attitude, constantly repeating how lucky she is. Though she’s been everywhere and seen everything, she’s the farthest thing from jaded. Her favorite words have always been Gorgeous, Marvelous, and Unbelievable.

Being in California less than 24 hours made my return less complicated, under New York’s travel restrictions. In two days I had six flights, stopping in four different cities (Detroit twice). But I reminded myself that the entire peregrination took less time than just getting home from Somaliland last December.

Flying over the vast American expanse, seeing it through an airplane window, has always inspired emotion. This time more than ever. Returning from my mother’s 100th; returning home to my beloved wife. And my dark anxiety for my country having lifted; it’s been saved, with my own proud participation. The whole world looks brighter. We still face grave problems, but help is on the way. Looking out that airplane window, my heart was full.

Normal People

November 15, 2020

Sally Rooney’s novel Normal People is about people. No subject fascinates us more. It’s why storytelling arose. Helping us understand the people we live among.

The novel challenges readers to understand its two chief characters. Are they the “normal people” of the title? Not exactly. In fact they themselves are prone to questioning whether they’re “normal people,” like others of their acquaintance. But what is “normal?” Everybody is different in their own ways. These two are different — but different within normal parameters.

The book follows them over four years, in high school and college, in contemporary Ireland. Connell is a footballer, social, popular with his friends, without much in the way of issues. Normal enough it seems. Until his entanglement with Marianne, who is more of a “case.” Very smart and a quintessential loner, she observes the social jockeying among her classmates with anthropological bemusement, content to hold herself apart. For that, they in turn consider her something of a freak.

Connell’s mother works as a sometime cleaner in Marianne’s more affluent home. That link leads to sex. But Connell dares not acknowledge their relationship openly, to protect his social standing. For a prom-like event, he asks a different girl. Marianne is hurt to an unexpected degree, beclouding her connection with Connell.

Yet it continues as he intentionally follows her to college. There Marianne, freed of her high school baggage, soon molts into not quite a wild party girl, but something in that direction. Now suddenly attractive to males, she finds she likes it, and uses it. She has a boyfriend. Connell has a girlfriend. But meantime their bond with each other endures and deepens.

Are they actually in love, after all? Not a simple question. Sometimes it is one, in human affairs, but often it’s more complicated. The book puts these two people’s feelings under a microscope. It’s not enough to just report what they do and say. There are underlying reasons, sometimes multiple and even conflicting reasons. Such nuances the author exquisitely, sometimes Proustianly, explores.

And where does it all end up? Just when the pair seem to have given in to the fact of their being inextricably together, it ends not with a bang but a whimper. That seemed very fitting. Ambiguity is not banished. Life can be like that.

In reading such a book, one seeks to better understand other people, but also oneself. Unsurprisingly it made me ponder upon my own ancient history in relation to the characters. I could identify somewhat with Marianne, except that the social business she consciously disdained was in fact completely invisible to me. Reading something like this makes me think — was all this kind of stuff really going on, all around me, during my school years, and I had no clue?

It still seems a miracle to me that I eventually grew into a husband and father. A normal person. In some ways at least.

The Million Moron March, and political tribalism

November 13, 2020

There were fears of a violent insurrectionary “March on Washington” by gun nuts to keep Trump in office. Violence may yet occur. But what we’ll mainly see at tomorrow’s march is a sad sick freak show. (Hopefully way less than a million.)

Featuring “Proud Boys” and other white nationalists, the deranged Alex Jones and other conspiracist cuckoos, you get the picture. The worst of the worst, all marching for a loony lie — that Trump actually won the election. The march endorsed by his campaign, and Fox’s national joke Sean Hannity.

Its marquee is “Stop the Steal.” More accurately “Start the Steal,” because the real aim is to somehow steal the election Biden won fair and square, by a pretty strong margin at that.

Calling it stolen from Trump is not just a lie (backed by no substantive facts), it’s an extremely harmful lie, because it tears apart the nation’s fabric, by undermining trust and respect for its key institutions and democracy itself. Exactly what Putin and China want. And these people have the brass to wave the flag and call themselves “patriots.”

Trumpism has always been an edifice of lies. Starting with “birtherism” and building from there. Lie upon lie upon lie, making war on the concept of truth itself. So people won’t know anymore that there’s even such a thing as truth (the ultimate triumph of postmodernism).

Look, I get it that people have political opinions different from mine. That’s fine. But it’s unnerving to see how people’s political views can override what should be normal resistance to being manipulated by a blatantly self-interested fraudster. How blind can you make yourself?

It’s political tribalism carried to its farthest extreme. An ethos of us-against-them, with winning becoming all, no matter the cost. That’s bad enough. But now it’s even sustaining a fiction of winning despite actually losing.

The New York State Writers Institute hosted a talk by Yale Law Professor Amy (“Tiger Mother”) Chua, whose latest book concerns political tribalism.* She sees America as a “supergroup” nation. Nationalism is a kind of group identity. But what sets us apart is the degree to which subgroup identity also thrives. Referring to ethnicities, religions, cultural affinities, and of course politics. She contrasts this with other countries like France, for example, with nationalistic feeling, but limited opportunity for expression of subgroup identities. It’s the interplay between the broad nationalism and the strong subgroup factor that makes America distinctive, Chua argues.

It can be a great thing. My town has had an annual Greek festival, where Greek-Americans celebrate their heritage — with no insularity, but the wider community welcomed to participate; I’ve attended myself. Exemplifying our apt national motto, e pluribus unum. 

But such subgroup identity can be toxic, Chua says, when it infects politics. There’s nothing zero-sum about the Greek festival, but politics always entails winners and losers. Okay when it’s just your candidate losing. But when it’s your tribe, that’s something else.

And worse yet, for too many people, political tribalism has gotten entwined with another sort. Mainly white identity.

As Chua notes, this is a relatively new development. Indeed, white identity didn’t even seem to be a thing so long as whiteness was unassailably dominant as the cultural standard. There was nothing for whites to think about.

Exemplar of white racial superiority

But now there is, for some, seeing that white dominance eroding. “White supremacy” is a quite accurate term — it’s not just the idea of racial superiority, it’s also white cultural and political supremacy.

To be clear, it’s only a minority of whites feeling this way. But it’s a significant minority. And while not all Trump fans buy into it, it’s nevertheless at the heart of Trumpism.

For those people, it’s not just Trump losing. It’s whiteness. That’s what many are really marching about tomorrow.

Chua quoted Nietzsche, that mental illness is rare in individuals, but less so in groups. We sure see it in the Trump world’s willingness to disengage the normal human lie detector. That’s where political commitment transmutes into mental illness. Exemplified by the “Stop the Steal” movement.

But Chua concluded on a positive note, saying that what should be the core of American nationalist identity, holding all our subgroups together, are the values embodied in the Constitution. Thus a nation founded not on blood and soil, but on ideas and ideals.

* Here’s a link to view it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYtlHLlmBp0

Transition travesty: the expanding Republican alternate universe

November 11, 2020

After years of falsely saying Democrats “refused to accept” the 2016 election — actually, it was Trump refusing to accept losing the popular vote — we always knew he’d never accept a 2020 defeat.

Descending farther into its alternate universe, now one where Biden didn’t win the election, the administration is flouting legal requirements for cooperating with the transition. In 2000, even before the Supreme Court sealed Bush’s razor-thin victory, the Clinton administration was already working with Bush’s team on the transition.

But Secretary of State Pompeo yesterday promised “a smooth transition to a second Trump administration.” Challenged by a reporter’s question, he dismissed it as “ridiculous.” Attorney General Barr has announced there will be vote investigations — without citing any evidence warranting them. (The Justice Department official in charge of such matters resigned in protest.) Congressional Republicans are all-in on this disgraceful opera buffa, insisting the election is not over, it’s not up to the media to decide it, no results have yet been certified, it was a giant fraud, Trump should to pursue all legal remedies, and may actually have won.

Reality: the news media merely report vote numbers that state election authorities officially announce. “Certifying” them is a mere formality later. Reality: Biden was elected, by a clear and actually sizable margin. Growing as vote counting continues. Reality: no conceivable lawsuit or recount will reverse that. This is not like 2000 where the outcome hinged on a few hundred unclear ballots in a single state. Here tens of thousands of votes in each of several states would have to be flipped. The chances are zip, zero, zilch.Reality: Trump’s fraud bloviations are unencumbered by any facts. All his lawsuits have been laughed out of court so far. There’s nothing here that will ever get to the Supreme Court.

And if counts in states Biden carried are investigated, how about investigating those Trump won?

Reality: for all Trump’s all-in-caps bombast about CHAOS, FRAUD, and a STOLEN ELECTION, what’s truly remarkable is just how smoothly and fairly this election went. Despite the pandemic, despite all the intense partisan bitterness, and fears over violence, foreign hacking, disinformation, and other sorts of mischief. Election chicanery has historically been as American as apple pie; I wrote a book in which it featured prominently; yet in this election it was conspicuous for its absence. Really a great credit to our democracy and all the good dedicated public servants responsible. Reality: the big fraud is Trump’s assault upon our democracy.

Back in the actual universe, President-elect Biden is calmly showing a steady hand, getting to work on the transition, tackling the real challenges confronting the nation. Exemplifying why voters chose him over Trump bedlam.

Republicans bleat about patriotism. Their email blasts repeatedly call upon “patriots” to “protect” Trump’s “victory” and “the integrity of the election.” Calling Democrats “unhinged” and “insane.” This hysteria is the antithesis of patriotism. It makes America look like a banana republic. Transition non-cooperation harms national security. And it injures America when people are falsely told it’s somehow mired in corruption, destroying their allegiance to the country. Instead of helping us get past our divisions, it enflames them. (At least Trump hasn’t explicitly incited his gun nuts. Yet.)

So why are Republicans doing this? What can they gain? Well, money, for starters. The emails flooding in by the minute all ask for money. With the usual fake “1000% match.” Likely the money won’t even be used for the advertised purpose, defrauding donors.

Of course they’re also coddling Trump’s diseased psyche, that cannot process losing. But it’s more than that, and even more cynical. Convincing Republican voters the election was stolen fires up their sense of grievance and embitterment, stoking their future loyalty to the cause. Even while it disgraces that cause.

This was all actually predicted. Trump’s discouraging Republicans from voting by mail was a set-up to create the Election Night “red mirage” of his leading before mail ballots could be counted; then to falsely cry fraud when those (lawful) ballots, inevitably favoring Biden, appear “magically” and reverse Trump’s leads.

Rudy Giuliani thundered, “Are we stupid? Are we fools?” Well, if the shoe fits.

Reality: our system, thankfully, is working. The locomotive of normal processes for electing and installing a new president implacably barrels down the track. Trump’s lies cannot derail this reality train, at long last steaming toward him.

A new America

November 9, 2020

Some commentators are opining that, in retrospect, Biden was the only candidate who could have beaten Trump. Biden outpaced most other Democrats on the ballot, the presidential outcome was fairly close, and it wasn’t issues or policies that shaped it. Not even the covid catastrophe seems to have moved many votes, except insofar as it reflected the more elemental factors, a hunger for a return to decency and an end to chaos — central to Biden’s appeal. That’s why I’d supported him from the start, as the right candidate. A perfect joining of a man and a moment. Seems so clear now.

Many too have discussed how Trump sabotaged himself. But of course he’s never really had a clue about anything. Always acting on his gut — a gut unencumbered by any knowledge of reality. Pundits noted that his attempted character assassination of Biden never gained traction (outside his cult). I was chortling: Hey, you’re Donald Trump running against Joe Biden — and you want to make character the issue??

It’s remarkable how all the skepticism toward Biden, all the mocking and belittling, all the posited lack of enthusiasm for his candidacy, seems to have melted away, like snows in Spring. My November 4 blog post (the outcome already clear to me) ended by saying there should be dancing in the streets. I meant it figuratively. I was thrilled to see it happening literally, all across the country, Saturday afternoon. Already it felt like a new and different America.

Yet in many ways this election shows America the same as in the recent past — only more so. Remember when a Reagan could carry 49 states? That was a different America. You may dispute the judgment on Reagan, but at least that was a country that could come together in collective objective judgment, overcoming partisan biases. I needn’t reprise why such a judgment in 2020 ought to have been far more ineluctable than in 1984. Yet now objectivity and judgment are out the window, partisan tribalism trumping everything. Party is personal identity. At least for an awful lot of people — mainly, frankly, Republicans.

America thusly becoming two different and separate countries is exemplified by this startling fact: in a majority of counties Democrats won in 2016, their margin rose in 2020 — and in a majority of counties Republicans won in 2016, their margin rose in 2020.

Some of us foresaw demographics inexorably eroding Republican strength over time. This election belies that theory. The reality is more complicated; people don’t conform to stereotypes. Close partisan division may be entrenched for a long time.

Despite the mentioned obvious reasons for Biden’s victory, it was a case of nudging the needle just enough. Just as Trump did in 2016. A nation lurching from one governance extreme to another every four years, based on a mere handful of votes in a handful of states, seems crazy. Well, that’s the land we live in. And the close partisan division makes for much governmental paralysis no matter which side is temporarily on top.

Yet elections do matter. The last four years proved that. And had Trump won this time, it would now be a really different country, having crossed a Rubicon in an arguably irreversible direction. As an optimist, I truly feel my country has been saved. For now, at least.

My love for Trump supporters

November 7, 2020

We all have multiple allegiances. My central allegiance is to my species. Our great human project, since our dawn, has been to facilitate good rewarding lives, striving for fulfillment, surmounting the challenges of an uncaring cosmos.I’m part of that, thus inspiring a fundamental sense of affinity with everyone else. This is my love for people. Collectively and individually.

This fundamental truth overwhelms our differences, including particulars of what people think and believe. My entire life’s been lived among other people mostly holding profoundly different metaphysical ideas. Ones that, frankly, I might consider insane but for being so widely shared. Yet of course that doesn’t make me see them as bad people or enemies. We all struggle to understand our ineffable reality.

So too for Trump supporters, with beliefs repugnant to me. That doesn’t make them bad people either. Loving their families, supporting their friends, doing their jobs, fulfilling their responsibilities; all of us human beings just living our lives as best we can, taking part in the great human story. Trumpers too come under the umbrella of my love.

America has always been a wonderful place for humans living out that story. We have just been sorely tested; and as a people we passed with flying colors. But the country still now faces powerful challenges. One is how we can live together. We need for Trump supporters to join with us in the great work ahead.

Bye Bye Trump — good riddance

November 6, 2020

Last night at the White House podium he gave the vilest presidential speech in history. Eclipsing the mark set the previous morning.

He accused polling firms of having falsely reported pro-Biden results, supposedly to suppress Republican voting. So — pollsters deliberately conspired to destroy their own credibility! You can’t make this stuff up. Oh, wait — Trump can.

Note, only around 92% of the national vote has been counted, most of what remains are mail votes, which heavily favor Biden, so his final tally will get closer to what polls indicated.

It’s because so much voting was by mail that the count is taking so long.* Moreover, it was Republicans that fought to bar counting mail votes before election day. They did not somehow appear “magically,” there’s virtually zero evidence for that, or for any of Trump’s other incendiary fraud accusations. And mail votes heavily favor Biden because Trump urged his fans to vote in person. We knew all this was a cynical set-up to fraudulently cry fraud.

Trump said last night this concerns Democrat-run states. In fact they’re mostly Republican-run. Charges of observers kept out are likewise false. Elections everywhere are overseen by representatives of both parties. And if this whole thing was some huge Democrat steal, how come Republicans other than Trump did so well? Keeping the Senate and gaining in the House.

Recall that, stung by losing the 2016 popular vote, Trump also cried fraud, saying millions had voted illegally. He convened a commission to investigate. It disbanded, finding nothing.

Trump said this election disgraces America. What disgraces us is a president’s shocking lies. Russia and China are cackling. And the Republican party is disgraced by abetting it. Cruz and Graham going on Fox to back up Trump’s speech was despicable.

Republicans, to this day, continue to bray that Democrats refused to accept the 2016 election. Democrats bemoaned it, investigated Russian subversion, and opposed resulting policies, but did not deny Trump being lawful president. Unlike the “birther” denial of Obama’s legitimacy. And unlike 2020 now, refusing to accept Biden’s. This false claim that he’s won by fraud will poison our politics for years.

It’s an attack on America’s democracy and its institutions. We were already suffering degradation of trust throughout society. This worsens it. It’s Trump’s true atrocious legacy.

And his attack on democracy makes no rational sense, because it can’t succeed. But Trump is not rational. This isn’t even about his continuing in office. It’s convincing himself he’s not actually a loser, which would be existentially annihilating for him. This is the finale of the Trump psychodrama afflicting us for four ghastly years.

New U.S. covid cases this week smashed previous record levels. Our economy is in ruins and cannot be restored until covid is controlled. That’s the crisis Biden will face January 20. Worsened by this crisis of democratic trust and legitimacy selfishly exacerbated by Trump.

I want to say here some very nasty things about Americans who still support him, even love him. But I will refrain. This culture of recrimination must end.

* Though I’d warned of the “red mirage” of early counts favoring Trump, I fell victim myself. Went to bed at 3 AM election night unnerved by big Trump leads in key states. Got up at 7 and had a delicious rush; already clear to me that Biden had won.

I don’t understand the networks holding back from declaring it. They declared, for example, New York for Biden the minute the polls closed, with no votes counted, because they knew enough. For two days now Trump’s winning has been impossible.

Trump’s unhinged last-ditch attack on democracy

November 5, 2020

Trump’s always been one big living lie (shown by his psychologist niece’s book). That’s gone into overdrive. Maybe his diseased mind actually fantasizes he can escape the final comeuppance, closing in on him, by just lying enough.

Thus his despicable assault on democracy and voting, alleging massive “chaos,” “fraud,” “cheating,” that he really won and it’s being stolen. By “them,” the “corrupt radical socialist Democrat mobs.”

Except that in all key states Republicans control the legislatures and most election machinery. Are they in on the plot??

There is no “chaos.” At all. In fact this election went off remarkably smoothly — thanks in great part to so much early and mail voting (which Trump demonized). The counting is also going very smoothly, being monitored by representatives from both parties, with very few disputes over individual ballots. No sign of hacking, false ballots, or any other chicanery. Nor ballots nefariously burned or scuttled. All just outright lies. The counts will be extremely accurate, and Trump-instigated lawsuits and recounts will change nothing.

Trump says he won if you don’t count “illegal late votes.” What he’s talking about are entirely legal mail ballots, sent by the November 3 deadline. And far from Democrats trying to disenfranchise anyone, it’s Trump doing exactly that. Indeed he’s achieved it; his Postal Service failed to deliver thousands of votes that were mailed on time.

“STOP THE COUNT!” his tweet today shouts. Fine — stop right now (4 PM) and Biden has 270 electoral votes. What Trump actually means is to stop the count where he’s ahead but continue it in states where he’s behind. The disgrace knows no bounds.

As a past Republican donor, I get all their email blasts. Literally more than hourly. Full of lies, name-calling, and deranged hysteria. Always asking for money — even after Election Day — to squeeze a few more bucks from their suckers. With escalating promised matches (now 1000%). But never saying where the matching money supposedly comes from. Just another lie, a scam. What a bunch of grifters.

I don’t feel sorry for Trumpsuckers’ wallets. The real harm is to our nation. Many millions swallow this tsunami of lies about a rigged, stolen election, intensifying their grievance-filled societal disaffection. Facebook today is reportedly exploding with this stuff. A toxic spill poisoning the landscape.

President-elect Biden’s Wednesday speech exemplified why I supported him. Contrasting with Trump’s vile 2 AM speech, Biden judiciously refrained from declaring victory, though his win seemed clear. Instead he called for counting every vote. Again quite a contrast.

Importantly, he also repeated that while he ran as a Democrat, he will govern for all Americans —including those who voted against him — who he does not see as enemies. Another pointedly stark contrast with Trump.

Biden’s whole campaign has been like this. In fact a masterful effort, with laserlike focus on what had to be done, and on the issues that really matter, while avoiding Trumplike divisiveness. At every stage, Biden has been underestimated, belittled, mocked, and denigrated. How wrong that was.

All this highlights why a majority voted for him. Though it’s unnerving that 47+% of Americans actually thought re-electing Trump would be a good idea. How rotten must a president be to get a clear electoral repudiation? But given the mountain of powerful reasons to vote against Trump — and the reality that a majority in fact did — Trumpers still believing the contrary shows how far off the deep end they are.

Curing this national sickness will be a greater challenge for Biden than covid. But at least he understands this, and it’s hard to imagine a new president better equipped for it.

I continue to be a rational optimist. My optimism has just gotten a huge renewal. As has my country.

Deliverance — for now — barely

November 4, 2020

My 2008 Rational Optimism book saw a powerful trend of human progress. With America in its vanguard. But progress never runs in a straight line, and democracy in particular has since suffered notable setbacks. Then America itself went off the rails.

Re-raising our flag

I watched Trump go from triumph to triumph. I understood all too well the evil, and its global import. This election feels like the world finally put right. Reprising my elation three decades past when Communism fell.

But this is better. I’d grown up accepting Communism as a given, its fall unanticipated. And while that happened far away, this time it’s my own country. Still further, here I personally played a part.

Biden has won the needed 270 electoral votes. In states where he now leads narrowly, his margin can only grow.

Trump will try to stop the counting and to overturn the election. He will fail. And his place in history as a our worst-ever president will be further secured by his post-election behavior, starting with last night’s 2 AM “Victory Speech.” Who ever imagined a leading newscaster justifiably calling a presidential address “obscene?”

He can still do much other damage too, before January 20, trashing the place before leaving. Repair will be an enormous challenge for President-elect Biden.

My drawing dated 1960

Expectations will be huge, while handicapped by a still-Republican Senate. I am prepared for disappointment, as the normal condition. Of course, mere disappointment is nothing as against the Trumpian nightmare.

When he became president, I actually said to myself, “how many people will die?” Ultimately, the vast human suffering he caused is literally beyond comprehension. It’s also a sobering thought that but for the pandemic horror, Trump would have won re-election. As if those deaths were the terrible price for saving America.

That so many people still voted for Trump — in spite of everything —  is shocking. They’re in two basic categories.

One comprises the real cult devotees, hyped up on conspiracy theories and the other garbage spewed by Trump, Fox News, OANN, and disgraceful right-wing websites and talk radio, stuffing them full of talking points to defend the indefensible. Feeling sure that investigations will soon explosively expose vast crimes by Obama, Biden, and other Democrats. It’s hard to forgive these people who so perversely misuse the brains God gave them.

The other category is ordinary voters not so obsessed with politics. Believing Trump and Fox because they didn’t know better. Oblivious to how cynically they were manipulated. This shows a big part of America is still off the rails.

The word “anger” comes up a lot in discussing Trump voters. I think the word disaffection fits better. A lot of Americans have become alienated from their society. It’s actually strange that it isn’t non-whites, they believe in the American idea; it’s many whites losing that sense of connection to a larger civic enterprise. For all the flag-waving professions of patriotism, the America they love is not one embodying its core values — it’s not the country that actually exists today. Nobody with any true feel for its ideals, principles, and values could have so cavalierly voted for a man who so traduced them. This was civic nihilism.

Yet these are not “deplorable” people. The rational optimist in me still considers most people good. Trump voters made a mistake. Well, okay, two. Nobody’s perfect. Studies of people brainwashed by cults show most return to normal after the episode ends. Hard as it is for me, I forgive them. For the sake of repairing our badly damaged society, we must seek for ways to reconcile, and heal our divisions. In Lincoln’s words, with malice toward none, with charity for all. That’s why I’d supported Biden from the start.

Trump’s defeat helps lance the boil. The question is how many will realize they’ve been conned, versus believing the election a massive fraud. Fueling their already rich sense of grievance, further poisoning our political life, intensifying the deranged hatred for Biden and Democrats. So it may be an impossible challenge, but again, we must do everything we can to somehow enfold these people back into our common American enterprise.

Democrats should eschew the anti-democratic tactics of Republicans, and refrain from exerting power in ways that opponents will see as illegitimate, escalating partisan warfare. No “court packing,” for example. Such restraint is one of the things that sustained our system, and its lack among today’s Republicans is a huge problem. They have been pulling our democracy apart, from one end; Democrats must not be seen pulling from the other end.

Trump’s astounding degree of vileness, his literal insanity, was actually lucky for us. One could easily imagine a smoother more seductive version, without his psychological black holes, who’d have been much slicker at putting across his con. Like, trying to expand his base of support, even a little; and being serious about covid. It’s frightening that Trump, in spite of everything, might actually have won if he’d merely acted sane. But of course he isn’t, so he couldn’t.

Thus he leaves a clear playbook for a future demagogue. Like a virus evolving and adapting. We’ve managed to overcome this particular affliction, this time, barely. But it has weakened us. I’m not sure we have the civic antibodies to defeat the next one.

Trump shredded norms of civic decency that will be hard to restore. Biden behaving impeccably won’t erase what is now a precedent for atrocious conduct. We quickly became inured to it with Trump, enabling a future president to push the envelope even further (if that can be imagined).

The Trump years might be seen as aberrational, a discontinuity in our social fabric. But actually it’s been flying apart for some time. Technology changes our world faster than we can adapt (as Thomas Friedman has argued). Coronavirus aggravates a sense of insecurity that propels sociopolitical disaffection. All discombobulating American minds. Thus the next Trumplike demagogue will be plowing in fertile soil. (And not necessarily from the right. There’s plenty of craziness on the left too.)

But maybe, just maybe, we’ve now had peak crazy. Maybe this election will prove to be the turning of the tide, globally.

For most of human history, tomorrows looked much like yesterdays. Not so now. In another decade or two, 2020 may look as distant as the Stone Age. Perhaps rendering moot much of this essay. As Yogi Berra said, making predictions is hard, especially about the future.

But for now, we have stared into the abyss, and come out. Let us rejoice at our deliverance with dancing in the streets.