Archive for the ‘history’ Category

The disputed presidential election — of 1876

October 12, 2020

In college I wrote a paper on the disputed 1876 election — a unique case in our history. Which I never thought I’d see reprised.

President Grant, after two terms, did not run again. The Democratic nominee, Samuel Tilden (New York’s reformist governor) won a clear popular vote majority over the Republican Rutherford Hayes. But three southern states submitted different sets of electoral votes, certified by rival state officials. One Oregon electoral vote was also disputed. The southern story was largely a consequence of post-Civil War reconstruction, and electoral chaos, with ex-slaves voting and white efforts to suppress that. (Since most Blacks voted Republican, Hayes would probably have won a fair election.)

The Constitution says Congress counts the electoral votes, but the exact procedure, in case of disputes, was unclear. Needless to say, the situation created an uproar. Congress set up a 15-member “Electoral Commission,” to resolve it, designed to have seven members from each party, including two Democratic and two Republican Supreme Court justices who would choose the 15th member, presumably neutral. Long story short, it didn’t work out that way, and the Commission awarded all 20 disputed electoral votes to Hayes — giving him victory, 185-184.

Democrats felt cheated, and there were threats of not accepting Hayes as president. But as inauguration day loomed, the two parties made a deal. Hayes would become president, and in return, federal troops would be removed from the South. Effectively putting white Democrats back in power.

Tilden expressed satisfaction at having had the honor of being elected president while escaping the burdens of office.

In the 2000 election one state’s ballot counting (and hence who won the electoral vote) was contested. There was talk of rival electoral vote submissions like in 1876 (triggering Sec. 15), but before it got to that the Supreme Court resolved the matter. Some did call it a partisan decision, a stolen election. However, it’s impossible to know who “really” won; and had the Court decided the other way, that wouldn’t have given the election to Gore. Instead, the matter would have been thrown back to Florida and into further turmoil, with the path ahead very murky.

Immediately after the decision, Gore made an extremely gracious speech conceding the election without reservations. That helped to persuade his supporters to accept the outcome. And peace did reign in the land. But actually, nobody expected otherwise at the time, even though we did have serious partisan divisions.

In 2020 there is the specter of another 1876, with disputed electoral votes. An unusually high proportion of popular votes will be cast by mail; likely most for Biden. They will be counted after November 3, with a December 14 deadline for certifying presidential electors. The apparent Republican plan is to disrupt that count as much as possible, throwing up baseless fraud claims, so that in swing states with legislatures they control (thanks to gerrymandering), those legislatures can take over and simply appoint Trump presidential electors. The Constitution does not actually say electors must be chosen by popular vote.

But there is a safeguard against that plan. After the 1876 mess, a law (3 U.S. Code Sec.15) was enacted specifying how electoral votes are to be counted. Congress — the new one, in January — can reject electoral votes, if both chambers agree. The House will be Democratic. It’s increasingly likely the Senate will too. Though it’s conceivable that blocking the count of mail ballots could also prevent some Democratic Senators being seated.

Republicans will also employ litigation, aiming to somehow have the election ultimately decided — as in 2000 — by the Supreme Court, which they control. In the past I would not have used those words, strongly defending the Court’s nonpartisan integrity. And I might have trusted Chief Justice Roberts to do the right thing and avoid having the Court’s credibility destroyed by ratifying a blatant election theft. But I’ve just read Joan Biskupic’s Roberts biography, and now I’m not so sure. I fear Roberts is too limited a man to see the picture largely enough, and might rule on some narrow theory of not interfering with state election machinery (as though that’s steering clear of politics). Furthermore, the Court will soon have five other members (out of nine) apt to side with Republicans.

This whole nightmare may be avoided with a decisive Biden victory. But if Republicans can win by stealing just one or two states, they probably will try; if more is needed, it will likely be a bridge too far. Then Trumpsters can accuse me of crying wolf here. Fine. I’d love it if this wolf never arrives.

The country did peacefully accept the outcome in 1876; and in 2000. But it’s a very different nation today, with divisive political feelings far more intense. And impervious to reason, as evidenced by 40% still supporting Trump, in spite of everything. November’s turmoil will put American democracy to an unprecedented stress test. Can it survive this? Or will it finally become the sham democracy that cynics have long called it? With — as in many autocracies today — democratic theater without democratic reality?

No matter how big the vote against him, Trump will refuse to concede, will continue waging media war crying fraud, and millions will believe him, not peaceably accepting the outcome. Many have guns and are busting for the chance to prove their “patriotism.” We’ve just seen a foiled plot by domestic terrorists to kidnap Michigan’s governor and seize control of the state. This was not some joke, it might well have resulted in a very bloody rupture of our civic fabric. And there are surely more where those Michigan plotters came from. Trump, tacitly encouraging them, is playing with fire. After November 3, it may be more than tacit. Buckle your seat belts.

And what if Trump’s putsch succeeds? Will Democrats accept it? I will not. What will I do? I don’t know. I believe in not crossing bridges till you get to them. I still hope this is one I won’t have to cross.

Mychal Denzel Smith’s revolution: radical left magical thinking

September 25, 2020

I was shouting at the TV while watching with my wife The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah interview Mychal Denzel Smith (right), author of Stakes is High.

Smith saw little point in voting for Biden, deeming him just the same-old same-old, whose election would make no real difference. He feels America needs a thorough reinvention to right all its wrongs. While Noah suggested Biden would take us in the right direction, Smith was having none of it, saying Biden, once in office, would merely be a tool of the old establishment. Somewhat ironic given Trumpers painting Biden as a tool of radicals — like Smith himself!

Noah also tried to get Smith to acknowledge how bad, for America (and indeed Smith’s own agenda), another Trump term would be. Smith was having none of that either. Seemed to be saying, let the country be wrecked, then we can build our New Jerusalem on the ruins. Finally, Noah asked him what individuals can actually do. Smith’s wordy response didn’t answer that at all — infuriating my wife.

Afterward, we tried to make sense of this Mychal Denzel Smith. She thought maybe he was fine with Trump’s re-election, anticipating an assassination. I didn’t think so, unable to see that as advancing his radical aims. But then how does he imagine their achievement? Given that almost half the country is gaga Trumpist, while on the Democratic side even a moderately radical candidacy got whomped.

There’s something “radical chic” about people like Smith —thinking it cool — hence a kind of one-upmanship in radicalism — “mine more extreme than yours.” Like Smith thinks his politics is more serious. Yet can it be serious without some roadmap for getting there?

Smith seemed to be on a Yellow Brick Road of magical thinking. Simply ignoring that very few Americans actually want his revolution, with many horrified by it. How to win them over did not appear to be of interest to him. Thus he can’t, indeed, envision some sort of political campaign or action movement. Instead, it would have to be magic — America suddenly waking up and saying, en masse, “You’re right! Why didn’t we see it before?”

My wife poked around online and found that Smith, though unwilling to say so in the interview, does actually advocate violent revolution if needed. (Echoing Malcolm X’s “by any means necessary.”)

I said, so does he think they’ll have more guns than the other side?! If violence is to settle our political dispensation, it will be by right-wing gun nuts, not left-wing peaceniks.

Smith reflects a common cynical leftist view of America as irredeemable with racism and social injustice. Epitomized by Noam Chomsky, and by Howard Zinn’s book, A People’s History of the United States — chronicling two centuries of efforts to overcome injustices and achieve progress, yet with nary a word acknowledging that anything was achieved at all. As if America was born in sin because it did not, in 1787, immediately free the slaves, give women the vote, empower labor unions, and right all wrongs. And it’s no better today.

Zinn’s litany might have included gay marriage. Except that no one could even imagine it when he wrote in 1980. Really proving how little he understood this nation’s capacity for progress.

America was not birthed in perfect justice. But into a world where there wasn’t even any such thing as self-government. Our starting it came to serve as a guiding light for much of humankind. What we also created was the kind of society that could progress and improve and right wrongs. And so we have. We did end slavery, did extend voting to the propertyless and then women, did give labor unions rights, constructing a host of other economic rights and protections, did end child labor, establish minimum wages and build social safety nets, did act to curb racial discrimination and segregation and to integrate our society. And much more — yes, even gay marriage.

Are we perfect now? No, we are still a work in progress, continuing inch by inch down that long hard road, not chasing some mirage of overnight revolution. That’s my noble conception of America. Which people like Mychal Denzel Smith tragically refuse to embrace.

More tragically, as his own book title says, the stakes right now are high, with that vision of America threatened as never before. Trump has already battered it. With four more years, it will be destroyed.

You want a revolution, Mr. Smith? Trump will show you a revolution.

John Lewis and the “Beloved Community”

September 22, 2020

One of my book groups read John Lewis’s 1998 autobiography, Walking With the Wind. He’s long been a hero to me.

The subtitle is A Memoir of the Movement, referring to the 1960s civil rights crusade. Lewis was there from the start, when he was twenty, in 1960. From 1963 to his 1966 ouster he was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a frontline organization. Those few years were a very intense time for him.

I was reminded that in the same age bracket, I too was involved in an intense battle against an entrenched power structure — Albany’s Democratic political machine. And as with Lewis, it ended with a betrayal. My Republican party, which had been its spearhead, basically turned its back on that fight. At my last countywide party meeting, my speech was booed. But I never risked my life as Lewis did, repeatedly.

He never wavered from the basic principles that motivated him from the start. A Gandhian philosophy of nonviolence, which for Lewis was a deeply felt moral commitment. With an ideal of equality, all Americans joining together in what Lewis liked to call a “beloved community.”

Perhaps inevitably, such generosity of spirit ultimately could not stand against other impetuses. The degree of violence encountered made some SNCC members want to fight fire with fire. While Lewis’s “beloved community” idea came under assault from those more militantly seeking not integration but separation. Propelled by Malcolm X’s black nationalist radicalism — of which he actually repented before his assassination. Nevertheless, that new “black power” trope made the old SNCC stance seem too tame for some. Stokely Carmichael was in that camp, maneuvering to wrest the group’s chairmanship from Lewis.

In the climactic vote, amid all this dissension, Lewis actually defeated Carmichael by a wide margin. But that was reversed by what amounted to a late night coup, after most meeting attendees had gone to bed. Reading his account, I was surprised Lewis folded to this. But by then perhaps he was no longer up for fighting against what seemed unstoppable.

Two decades later, Lewis returned to prominence, winning a Georgia congressional seat, by defeating his old close friend and movement “golden boy” Julian Bond.

Lewis’s last chapter laments where the country had gotten to, as of the late 1990s when he wrote. His “beloved community” seemed farther away than ever. It felt oddly disturbing to read this in 2020, when the trends Lewis discussed have grown so much worse.

I have no truck with radicals advocating abrupt revolution. America’s great story, instead, has been gradual progress, through hard work, always climbing a steep hill of resistance. That was the story of John Lewis and the civil rights movement. It was a moral battle, and the nation as a whole did come together on the side of what was right and just.

But today it’s a very different country, as Lewis himself already wrote over twenty years ago. In some ways (notably, gay marriage), progress has continued, yet something is very broken. A 2011 book by Tom Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum was titled That Used To Be Us. Referring to how America used to tackle problems and challenges — which in many ways had stopped. And here again, since that was written, it’s gotten even worse.

American democracy was quintessentially a project of Enlightenment rationalism. That’s what is failing. Under sustained assault by almost half the country. We are now in another great moral battle, for truth against lies, hope against fear, love against hate. For right against wrong. But the nation will not come together on the side of right as it did for John Lewis’s 1960s movement. Our “beloved community” is breaking into two irreconcilable warring ones.

The Ginsburg seat: into the abyss

September 19, 2020

We were already at Armageddon. Pandemic and economic collapse, schools closed, racial turmoil, and our political tribalism climaxing with the most divisive and consequential election ever, likely headed for a fought-over result.

And now this. Armageddon squared. Buckle your seatbelts, it will be hellacious.

Weeks ago I wrote a blog post hypothesizing Justice Ginsburg’s death just after a Trump election defeat — and suggesting nonviolent resistance to stop his nominee’s confirmation. But now Republicans can’t be stopped from ramming it through.

The religious right has fought forty years for this, and won’t be deterred from grabbing what’s probably their last nick-of-time opportunity. A Supreme Court majority ending the right to abortion. Which only a narrow minority of Americans actually supports. Such a ruling, in this febrile political climate, would be insanely divisive, shredding the Court’s already frayed legitimacy, and indeed that of our entire civic edifice.

They don’t care, obsessed with this one issue. Willing to burn the house down to get their way on it.

Trump’s likeliest court nominee is Amy Coney Barrett, who seems to feel her religious beliefs supersede the constitution and rule of law. Putting such a person on the Supreme Court is also insane. But why not go for broke?

Only 27 years ago Justice Ginsburg was confirmed by a vote of 96 to 3. That was in a very different country. We’ve always had intense political battles, to be sure, but with all sides committed to bedrock democratic values. That meant accepting pluralism, recognizing opponents’ legitimacy. But Republicans have given up on that. Exploiting levers of power to illegitimately manipulate the system. Like trying to win elections by keeping as many citizens as possible from voting.

And seizing a Supreme Court majority to undo Roe v. Wade, likewise contravening the essence of democratic culture. Simply filling a vacancy might have been legitimate — except for their having previously stolen a seat by blocking Obama from filling it. Their dishonest pretext for that should apply equally to the present vacancy, but of course they’ll hypocritically compound the dishonesty by flouting their own precedent.

Pro-lifers rationalize all this as necessary to combat the supervening moral evil of abortion. But such ends-justify-means thinking is always morally fraught. While a rational analysis of the abortion issue makes it far from black-and-white. And ironically, a Guttmacher Institute study found no link between a state’s abortion restrictions and its abortion rate. A new factor here is increasing use of abortion pills, with no office visits. Probably making the anti-abortion crusade doomed anyway.

Meantime pro-lifers’ refusal to consider the consequences of their single-mindedness is itself profoundly immoral. Consequences like degrading our civic culture by putting a sociopath in the White House. Undermining America’s character as a democratic society founded on truth and reason. This has global impacts on human lives. Two hundred thousand of which — not embryos — have been lost so far in America’s Covid-19 disaster, most of them thanks to Trump being president.

Thanks to the so-called “pro-life” movement.

Rhapsody in Blue

September 17, 2020

I’m no music buff. But being human I enjoy music; mainly music inspiring positive emotion. Often supplying my own words to go with it.

I visit New York City for a yearly midtown event (pre-covid). And hurrying through the rumbustious streets of this city of cities, my inner ear always hears Rhapsody in Blue. Setting the experience to music.

What a pleasure to find in The Humanist magazine an article about Rhapsody by arts editor Daniel Thomas Moran. Discussing its 1924 composition by George Gershwin. But also its meaning. Moran beautifully expresses my own feelings evoked by this music.

It was a sound track for New York, but more, for all of America and what it represented. I can’t improve on Moran’s words:

“[I]t embodies all the hope and exuberance of America at its finest. It was the Jazz Age and the Industrial Age, and the time of an American artistic renaissance in culture and literature . . . .

“It was a time when all our best years seemed ahead of us, when the cauldron of culture and national identity and the embrace by all of that thing that we felt was American was at full boil, in full blossom.

“[W]hen we as a nation and a people seemed to be lifted skyward both literally and figuratively. We were strong and sure and passionate, inspiration was abundant, and we were willing to do the work and take all the risks.”

Yes, this is what I hear in the music. But notice that the foregoing is written in the past tense. That American spirit of Rhapsody in Blue did endure for several decades more — but then lost steam. And in the last few years has fallen off a cliff. Today the country’s psychic ethos is very different. No longer is Rhapsody the anthem of a vibrant American heart and soul. Instead we have the empty, truculent mockery of “Make America Great Again.”

Yet I will end with the words Moran did: “Even in the exuberant echoing vibrato of the opening notes, we can recognize the distant sounds of hope.”

Trump’s depravity explained by his psychologist niece

September 13, 2020

There’s been much psychoanalysis of Trump. Though his depravity seems obvious to any objective observer, supporters dismiss that as baseless partisan slander. Mary Trump cannot be so dismissed. A professional clinical PhD psychologist, she also has intimate first hand knowledge of Donald, her uncle, having been quite close to the family for most of her 55 years. So her book, Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man is absolutely authoritative.

If she were writing to “cash in,” or vent family grudges, she’d have done it years ago, she says. To avoid any such appearance, she refrained during 2016. Now, however, Mary says her speaking out is a matter of “literally life and death” for the country. (Two hundred thousand, at least, have died so far.)

The book is a family saga. There’s a whole genre of “parents from Hell” memoirs. Donald’s mother was missing in action, too fragile and needy to give her five kids any nurturing. But the main character was Donald’s father, Fred Trump, who made a fortune as a property baron. Fred enjoyed only two things in life: money and cruelty. Devoid of human sympathy, his children meant nothing to him except as tools for his ego.

His eldest son was Fred Junior, “Freddy,” Mary’s father. Initially Freddy was tagged as Fred’s successor to run the property empire. He did spend most of his life employed there. Yet Fred himself sabotaged Freddy in that role. His whole existence was a desperate struggle to earn his father’s approval, but he never could; Fred made sure of it. Her father, Mary writes, “withered and died beneath the cruelty and contempt of my grandfather.”

I kept saying to myself, “Freddy, tell your father ‘fuck you,’ walk away, and live your own life.” But Freddy couldn’t. Instead he stuck around and allowed himself to be destroyed. Driven into alcoholism and dying at 42.

Enter Donald, Fred’s younger son. Watching Freddy’s tragic struggle for their father’s respect, Donald went the opposite way. Instead of sucking up to his father and making himself look weak in consequence, Donald acted out as the bad boy and defied his parents at every turn. And not only was he not punished — not only did he escape Freddydom — he quickly found this did perversely gain his father’s approval. Fred saw Donald as his own alter ego. Just as “tough” and ruthless, just as sociopathic. So Donald became the new heir apparent, and soon had the run of the castle.

Some who experience abusive childhoods repeat the syndromes in their own adulthood. Others can overcome that legacy, and, through social interaction with normal people, rebalance their personas into healthier ones. Donald was certainly in the former category. Indeed, the pathologies he developed growing up in that toxic family intensified, to a grotesquely extreme degree.

As Mary writes, throughout his life, Donald “continued to get away with — and even be rewarded for — increasingly crass, irresponsible, and despicable behavior.” At the final capstone — his election as president — she felt “This can’t possibly be happening.” (Her emphasis.)

Mary agrees with the oft-heard diagnosis of malignant narcissism. But it’s much worse than that — she also sees antisocial personality disorder (i.e., sociopathy) — entailing “lack of empathy, a facility for lying, an indifference to right and wrong, abusive behavior, and a lack of interest in the rights of others.” Surely accurate about Donald.

She says that as Donald grew up, “he needed his father to believe he was a better and more confident son than Freddy was . . . he began to believe his own hype, even as he paradoxically suspected on a very deep level that nobody else did.” Thus his insatiable craving for affirmations of his wonderfulness. Which not even becoming president assuages. So he stages cabinet meetings and pandemic briefings, etc., that are really just sycophantic praise-orgies. Foreign leaders quickly learned to play him like a fiddle with flattery. Indeed, Mary says, for all his posturing as the savvy tough “art of the deal” guy, Donald is actually a thoroughly manipulable patsy. As seen endlessly in his presidential performance.

The irony is that his focus on sustaining an image of vast competence has always blocked him from being competent. Like it’s never occurred to him to earn praise by actually being praiseworthy.

But he does have one true talent— for putting across the scam that his whole life constitutes. Fooling people. As Mary shows chronicling his business history: repeatedly leaving others holding the bag when his business disasters have blown up. Trump may be the most successful failure ever.

He’s often reported as enraged — by what is always really insufficient ass-kissing. So huge is his sense of entitlement that he constantly feels he’s being “treated very unfairly,” a phrase that’s virtually a verbal tic. Mary assesses his predominant emotion as fear. Fear of being exposed, finally, as the fraud he, deep down, knows himself to be. Staving that off is his life mission. (This is why he won’t accept, in the most literal sense, election defeat.)

Mary writes that we’ve “been shielded until now from the worst effects of his pathologies by a stable economy and a lack of serious crises.” But the pandemic, the economic collapse, and deepening societal divides “have created a perfect storm of catastrophes that no one is less equipped than my uncle to manage. Doing so would require courage, strength of character, deference to experts, and the confidence to take responsibility and to course correct after admitting mistakes.” Instead, Trump’s toolkit is limited to “lying, spinning, and obfuscating” — now leaving him impotent.

So what to make of that recorded February 7 interview where Donald said he knew coronavirus was really bad, but was telling the nation the opposite to avoid panic? Some say his only concern is re-election, not lives at stake. Surely true, yet this was no way to gain votes. He could have ensured his re-election with swift and strong covid action. But no — actually, he couldn’t. Was incapable of that.

It was himself he didn’t want to panic. A national catastrophe did not fit with his ideation of personal glory, so he tried to will it away. After all, he’d skated through his whole life on lies. Saying Covid was under control and would magically disappear was just one more. Lying to himself as well as the public. Donald’s biggest sucker is Donald.

Talking heads often discuss his actions as if there’s calculation behind them. Mary Trump makes clear what’s always been obvious — Donald is incapable of real calculation, foresight, or strategy. He’s an unguided missile. True too of his February 7 interview. A considered strategy of avoiding panic? No. That trope came into his head just as the words came out of his mouth.

Mary’s book anatomizes Donald’s depravity, but the picture has long been clear to anyone with open eyes. But too many American eyes were closed in 2016, and far too many still are. While Trump voters are filled with factoids that defy reality,* and too uninterested in learning the real reality. A charitable view is that they just don’t care. Less charitably, they’re so irresponsible it’s insane. No set of political views or supposed values or feelings or resentments can justify it.

Trump is trying to exploit fear of violence in the streets. A poll shows many now fear it more than covid. My own sister shocked me by falling for this. As if Trump isn’t himself greatly responsible for the societal divisions behind these “riots.” And as if they’re harming the country more than the pandemic. What does truly threaten our future is putting it in the hands of this corrupt, incompetent, lying sociopath. Street violence won’t destroy our democracy. Trump will.

*The Economist’s latest issue quotes one who “especially liked Trump’s commitment to reducing the national debt,” and another saying, “He’s made — who is it, China or Japan? — pay our farmers billions of dollars. He got health care done, which the Democrats could never do.”

Political violence: thinking about the unthinkable

August 27, 2020

It’s December 13, 2020. Trump’s been crushingly defeated, Democrats have won the Senate — and Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died.

Just three weeks of lame duck Republican control remain. Mitch McConnell, who blocked Supreme Court nominee Garland, calling it wrong to fill a seat during a president’s last year, now plans to rush through a Ginsburg replacement.

What could stop them?

It would be so civically destabilizing, so blatantly illegitimate, that forceful action would be justified. I could see legions of people marching on Washington, possibly to occupy the Senate chamber and physically prevent a vote. Non-violent civil resistance. The regime’s response would probably be very violent.

Steven Pinker’s 2011 book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, sets forth in exhaustive factual detail how much human violence, in all its many forms, has declined in modern times. And all the many reasons accounting for that. Cynics and pessimists mocked Pinker, but couldn’t refute him. The decline in violence is one of the things that makes me a believer in progress and an optimist about humanity.

But while opposing violence I am not a pacifist. I’ve always believed an ideology of pacifism fails to confront the true moral choices life sometimes presents. That some things are worth fighting for.

While the Ginsburg scenario is hypothetical, Trump’s defeat is highly probable. And with it, a very real danger of political violence. Trump openly says he will reject the election as fraudulent if he loses; laying the groundwork, by impugning mail voting. Even though it’s long widely been used with great reliability and security. Trump would like to create chaos by delaying the Postal Service’s delivery of ballots, and to delegitimize the whole election. Giving America a big black eye; hardly short of treasonous.

Important: a study by The Economist estimates that 80% of mail ballots could be cast by Democrats. Thus on Election Night, before mail ballots are counted, Trump may seemingly be ahead. He will claim victory and then ferociously insist it’s being stolen by fraudulent mail ballots, whose count he will try to disrupt. He’s intent on retaining power by hook or crook. “Will of the people” be damned.

A poll showed 29% of Republicans would back Trump if he refuses to leave office claiming vote fraud. No matter how big the eventual landslide against him? Does that sound insane? But for anyone to still support Trump at this point — after his disastrous record on covid, economic devastation, divisive racism, mountain of lies and corruption, vicious cruelty, and so much else — including trying to sabotage the postal service and the election — isn’t that already a bit insane?  And given all those powerful reasons why so many people will vote against Trump, can Republicans actually delude themselves that only fraud could defeat him?*

A lie cannot be worth fighting for. Yet not only are Trump diehards crazy enough to swallow all his lies, some are indeed the kind of people crazy enough to fight for them. Many of them are gun nuts — besotted with a fantasy of “defending liberty” against “bad people,” with bullets. Convinced, against all reality, that their führer’s been cheated of re-election. Trump’s last stand could well be, for them, a now-or-never, do-or-die moment.

A particular worry is the frighteningly large “QAnon” conspiracist network. Which Trump praises, having retweeted QAnon content almost 200 times. The FBI considers QAnon a domestic terrorism threat, with its members already responsible for gun violence. In their insane mythology Trump is the god, supposedly battling against a vast “deep state” conspiracy of Satan worshippers, engaged in child sex trafficking and even baby eating. His election defeat, accompanied by his flagrant incitements, will send these already deranged people way over the edge. With a very different sort of March on Washington.

This is our coming Armageddon. Ever since the Civil War the idea of an American political settlement through violence would have seemed inconceivable. No longer. What would this do to our democratic way of life? A democratic culture is one in which issues are decided by debate, with acceptance of pluralism, respecting the legitimate role of people who are different and have divergent opinions. Even accepting political defeat. With rule of law — not guns.

That is something worth fighting for. If attacked by people with guns, it must be defended. One might expect law enforcement and the military to do so. I doubt the military would be party to any sort of coup. But the traitor-in-chief being commander-in-chief is a wild card. We’ve already had a foretaste with his deployment of goon squads in Portland. And Trump is the kind of person who, if he can’t get his way, will try to burn the place down.

How all this will finally play out could be very ugly, leaving deep lasting civic wounds. One might rationally suppose a Trump putsch attempt would shred his last remaining political support. But don’t bet on it; rationality is in short supply in that cult. One report on a Trump rally showed a woman saying she’d welcome him as a dictator.

It’s becoming clear that whatever happens, this is not going to be a normal election with an orderly peaceful transfer of power. We’ve had 232 years of them. One way or another, that sterling American record is about to end, thanks to Trump. It breaks my heart.

I pray we can get past this very dark and dangerous passage in our history, that the plague Trumpism represents will finally dissipate, and America will resume its far longer climb toward building a better society for all.

*The same poll showed Democrats would be reluctant to accept an election outcome they believe was produced by Russian subversion, or another Trump electoral college win despite losing the popular vote. Those views would at least be grounded in rationality. But they’re likely moot because Biden is so far ahead.

Belarus crisis

August 20, 2020

Belarus (once known as “White Russia;” capital Minsk) is a European former Soviet republic becoming independent with the USSR’s 1991 collapse. In 1994, Alexander Lukashenko was elected president. Has since ruled as a repressive dictator, with at least enough grudging popular support. But that has run out.

In the August 9 election, a chief opponent, a leading “vlogger,” was jailed to prevent his running. His wife, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, registered her substitute candidacy. Lukashenko dismissed her as a “poor little thing.” But her rallies attracted gigantic crowds.

Lukashenko won with 80% of the vote. Or so the regime announced. A more credible estimate, had the vote and count been fair, was 70% for Tikhanovskaya. She went to the electoral authority to complain. After hours of interrogation by the security forces, she made a hostage video (her husband still jailed, remember) conceding the election. Then they expelled her to Lithuania.

Massive protests erupted. Lukashenko’s goon squads responded with massive brutality. One might wonder why anyone would defend such a vile regime. But there are always guys who enjoy beating people up. And also people courageous enough to risk their lives.

Tikhanovskaya has returned. Lukashenko, defiant, refuses to give in and has ramped up the repression. Can he stick it out?

Some years ago I might have said no. In Egypt’s 2011 revolution, I predicted Mubarak’s fall — telling my daughter* “there is a tide in the affairs of men.” But what then seemed a democratic tide has since reversed. And Mubarak was not as vicious as Lukashenko.

Though I’d love to see Lukashenko get the Ceausescu treatment.

Next door to Belarus is Russia. Putin and Lukashenko have had a dicey relationship. But Putin of course hates revolutions against dictators.** Might his military help be invited? Or — might Putin send in troops uninvited, seizing an opportunity to declare Belarus in chaos and invading to “restore order.” But actually, of course, to annex Belarus. (His popularity bump from the 2014 Crimea grab having dissipated.)

This could thus become a very nasty explosive situation. So far, the U.S. has been sickeningly quiet about Belarus. What if Russia does invade? Trump might see this as his own opportunity, to posture as tough and forceful, for our own election. But that assumes sanity. And forgets Trump’s being in Putin’s pocket.

* Riveted by the Egyptian drama. This contributed to her winding up with a career in the Middle East.

** We’ve just learned that Putin’s chief critic, Alexei Navalny, is in intensive care, after what seems obviously another murder attempt. The list of murdered Putin opponents is very long.

Biden’s extraordinary nominating speech: less is more

August 19, 2020

I’m a lifelong political junkie. Watched every national convention over 56 years. A connoisseur of the speeches. Key, of course, is the presidential nominating speech. Normally delivered by a political heavyweight, a long oration of soaring rhetoric.

At the convention last night, the formal nominating process commenced with a video of Jacquelyn Brittany, a black security guard standing in uniform before the elevator she monitors. Telling how she often escorts bigshots to their important meetings, who never give her a thought. But not Joe Biden. He saw her as a person and made a human connection with her.

Okay, very nice. Nothing new there.

Then Jacquelyn spoke the words, “I nominate Joseph Biden . . . ”

Simple words. But I melted into my seat. Realizing this was the nominating speech. Surely the shortest, yet most extraordinary ever. Knowing instantly this was an iconic moment I’d think about, with goosebumps, for the rest of my life.

This is America. The new America. My America. The best America.

The America we’ve got to save this fall.

100 years of women voting

August 18, 2020

Today is the 100th anniversary of the constitutional amendment giving women the vote. That came just eleven weeks before the 1920 presidential election. In that short time, election systems all across the country had to gear up for a doubling of the vote. To get half the electorate registered to vote, for the first time. All without computers, the internet, and other modern technology.

Was there chaos, and cries of fraud? No. Nothing of the kind. Everything went perfectly fine. America made this huge adjustment with our traditional can-do spirit. A lot of men still opposed women voting. But nobody tried to stop them.

This November we will vote amid a pandemic, and unprecedented use of mail ballots. With a president determined to create chaos, lie about fraud, and keep as many people as possible from voting.

Are we at least as good a country as we were in 1920?