Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

As the virus goes viral

March 30, 2020

My first 3/9 post on coronavirus was mocked for underestimating it. That’s a misreading. But I was over-estimating the government’s response. Which could have greatly limited the damage, but failed to.

An in-depth 3/29 New York Times report* details how the Trump administration squandered the opportunity to identify hot spots by testing, and to confine the disease through targeted quarantines — avoiding what became a need for a nationwide lockdown with unfathomable human and economic costs. While other countries were already testing tens of thousands daily, we were still doing fewer than a hundred. We effectively lost an entire, critical month.

Trump’s claim that we’re testing more than any other nation is simply false. Even today, many Americans with symptoms cannot get tested. A Brooklyn ER doctor, in a radio interview Saturday, said her hospital was turning away hundreds daily. While many coming in for unrelated problems are actually testing positive for COVID-19. So it’s likely our count of known cases is just the tip of an iceberg.

The Times documents the leadership failure. The NSC’s pandemic response team, established under Obama, was disbanded under Trump. Bureaucracies acted like bureaucracies. As the crisis metastasized, the FDA was actually tightening restrictions on testing; we were using a test both slow and faulty; were slow to fix that; while refusing a better test on offer from the World Health Organization. (Trump disdains such international bodies.)

The Times report is sickening (no pun here), and makes a mockery of Trump’s daily self-congratulatory briefings. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” We now need megatons of cure because we didn’t test swiftly and widely. Even now, a massive crash testing program — which would cost a tiny fraction of the price tag for our economic shutdown — could pay off hugely in limiting the damage. We should test everybody. (At last we seem to have a test that’s cheap & quick.) Then quarantine those infected, and everybody else could resume normal life, knowing they’ll be safe.

We’re still doing nothing like that. The death toll is now projected to exceed 100,000. Trump tells us he’s a hero because it would have been 2 million if nothing at all had been done. But the whole story would have been very different with true, responsible, sensible leadership.

* * *

The Bible tells us those who have will get more, and for those who have not, even what they have will be taken away. (Biblical morality.) Coronavirus is taking from everyone; perhaps reducing inequality by shredding the investments of the rich; but the poorest are suffering most. They’re not the ones with jobs suitable for working from home. It’s mainly lower wage workers losing paychecks. The giant bail-out legislation indiscriminately spews cash, but won’t make whole those thrown out of work.

Our biggest inequality is in education. Born into a poor family in a poor neighborhood, your chances of surmounting are slim because your school likely stinks. Now even those schools are closed. Distance learning may help affluent kids in stable homes. Poor kids in dysfunctional ones, often without computers or even web access, will fall further behind.

* * *

Almost forgotten in the midst of this cataclysm is that we’re supposed to be conducting a national census right now. It isn’t postponed. The Trump administration was already trying to skew it for political advantage, by undercounting people in Democrat-leaning areas, to reduce their congressional representation and electoral votes. One way was to simply underfund the census, making it harder to count people on the margins. They tried to particularly target Hispanics by including a citizenship question to scare them off from participating. The Supreme Court slapped down this proposal, literally ruling it was based on lies.

Trump said the census should count only citizens. The (“phony”) Constitution actually says all persons must be counted. That includes even the undocumented. But despite the Court ruling, the “citizenship” gambit probably succeeded in scaring off a lot of them.

The virus surely makes a full accurate count even harder, with census workers confined to quarters and practicing social distancing.

* * *

Almost forgotten too is that we’re supposed to be conducting a national election. Many primaries are postponed. That might have been a mess had the Democratic race not already been effectively decided. Especially now, Bernie should end his candidacy and urge uniting behind Biden.

Some say Biden’s invisible. Actually he’s not silent, is acting very responsibly, and quite reasonably the media is currently giving little attention to the election. That’s fine. Our campaigns are too long anyway. Biden will be on the ballot in November. Is anybody still “undecided?”

Now, more than ever — now that Trump’s fecklessness has really and truly fucked this nation up — we need that vote.

* https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/28/us/testing-coronavirus-pandemic.html?campaign_id=9&emc=edit_nn_20200329&instance_id=17169&nl=morning-briefing&regi_id=60449143&segment_id=23230&te=1&user_id=0588054855cd59fb97458c82182d229e

The pandemic and the Trump cult

March 27, 2020

(Expanding on my Feb. 13 featured commentary in the Albany Times-Union)

America is the culmination of thousands of years of people grappling with how to make good lives in a good society. Striving to tame all the demons in human nature, so our better angels can flourish.

This humanistic triumph cannot be taken for granted. Those demons always threaten it — more than do viruses. Many are the societies that have succumbed. America has no God-given immunity from its own bad choices.

Coronavirus is putting us to the test. Calling forth our better angels and social solidarity. We do see it in health workers, heroically on the job, often denied protective gear, literally risking their lives. We all must sacrifice, to serve the common good; and stay mindful of our most disadvantaged, who will suffer the most. Americans are mostly good, public-spirited people, rising to the challenge. But unfortunately right now we have an administration whose ethos is not social solidarity — rather, stirring up divisions and mutual hatreds, and led by the most self-serving man on Earth. A bad choice we’d made.

His supporters are unnervingly oblivious to the seriousness of unleashing those demons of human nature. Like foolish children, playing with fire, heedless of the profound consequences. Blithely condoning the shredding of cultural norms and standards that took centuries to build up.

I knew we were in trouble when “grab them by the pussy” did not end a presidential candidacy. Suddenly, we’d become a different country.

We’ve always had racism, xenophobia, and other hatreds, but never so legitimized. We’ve always had dishonesty and lying. But never like this, a war against the very concept of truth. We’ve always had thirst for political power, but never such willingness to subvert democracy and rule-of-law for it. There’s always been corruption, viciousness, cruelty. But never like this, at the top, a collapse of civic decency. Taken all together, degrading every virtue America used to embody.

Virtues all the more sorely missed in today’s crisis. With Trump’s daily “briefings” of misinformation, press-bashing, and self-glorification, telling us mainly what a tremendous job he imagines he’s doing. Endlessly repeating the word “tremendous” may gull people who don’t know better. His claque will sneer I’m just venting my Trump hatred. Well, I had a very bad opinion of Governor Cuomo too — yet recognize Cuomo’s exemplary leadership in this crisis. The contrast against Trump’s asininity couldn’t be more stark. 

Any rational person can see the reality. Trump true believers’ refusal to, even in this extremis, is stunning. They’re devotees of a cult that blinds them. People are often suckers for venerating a god, a messianic figure. Here they’ve got a doozy. Evil always exerts a strange attraction. So, more pedestrianly, does strength, or an illusion of it. Thus the appeal of military strongmen. Vile behavior, and getting away with it, plays to that, a potent macho brew more bracing than what’s seen as weak tea on the other side. And dupes of this cult are also blinded by their own demons: immigrants, foreigners, other religions and ethnicities; the media and other “elites;” the whole Democratic party.* It’s a mess of pottage for which they’ve sold their souls to a real devil. No good can come from this depraved bargain.

Power never makes bad men better. Trump is a very bad man, and we keep giving him more power. Impeachment acquittal left him with almost unchecked power. He soon made clear he’s drunk with it. What would re-election do?

Polls show about half of Americans still approve of this monster. People who wrap themselves in a flag of patriotism but have lost all sense of the country’s meaning. Have lost their minds.

This is more than just politics. America can survive Coronavirus but not another Trump term.

*Who, unlike Republicans, have kept their heads in responsibly choosing a moderate, decent, honest, experienced presidential candidate, rejecting radical alternatives.

 

Only WE Can Fix It: Speech by Joe Biden

March 19, 2020

In the past I’ve written speeches for politicians, like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton — tongue-in-cheek speeches they’d never give. But now I’ve written one for Joe Biden that’s for real. It’s my channeling him, with words he could really say. (In fact, I’ve sent it along to Biden’s campaign manager.) Here it is:

 

Today we face an extraordinary crisis.

Four years ago a presidential candidate stood before us and painted a dark picture. “I alone can fix it,” he said.

He was wrong, in every way. Wrong in his fearmongering description of America then. Like calling crime out of control, when in fact it had been steadily falling for twenty years.

Secondly, he was wrong about his own capabilities. He couldn’t fix anything.

But most importantly, it’s wrong for any American leader to say “I alone can fix it.” That’s what a would-be dictator says. A would-be messiah. That’s not what we need; least of all a man with such delusions of grandeur. Our problems only WE can fix.  We Americans, working together. But we do need real leadership — to lead us in thusly joining together to tackle our challenges.

We sure don’t have that now. President Trump gives occasional lip service to unity while he cynically stokes and exploits our divisions. And that divisiveness is really our biggest problem, because it prevents dealing with all others. We can’t solve anything together in the midst of scorched-earth partisan war and mutual hatreds.

So here is my number one pledge to you, my fellow Americans: to do my utmost to work to heal our divisions. I have no naïve illusions about this, it’s an incredibly tough problem. Our partisan tribal bitterness is deeply entrenched. Feelings are intense. Many in each tribe think the other is not just wrong but evil, a threat to all that’s good and holy; and happy talk won’t solve this. But, my God, we have to find our way to rise above it.

One place to start, at least, is to turn down the volume. Restore civility and basic human decency. No more nasty nicknames and taunting tweets. And let me be clear about this: it’s obvious President Trump governs only for his “base” of supporters and cares not a fig for anyone else; but I intend to be president of all  of America. I never want to hear the word “base” again.

We must remember that we still actually have far more in common than what divides us. And the vast majority of Americans, including Republicans, of course are not evil, but are good honest people, sincere in wanting policies that serve our national interests and give us good lives. We just disagree on how to get there. Having a democracy means living alongside people not like you, accepting that their opinions differ, they have a right to those opinions, to argue for them in public debate, and sometimes even to win politically. That’s democracy.

It also means that very often, to reach solutions, we have to compromise with each other. I have a long history of being able to work together with people I disagreed very strongly with. I’ve actually been criticized for that. But it’s not abandoning principles, not being wimpy or surrendering; it’s how to get at least some of what you want, address problems, and move forward. President Lyndon Johnson liked to quote the Bible: “Come, let us reason together.”

Some years ago our postal service issued a stamp with a picture of a lamp saying, “America’s light fueled by truth and reason.” Those two do go hand-in-hand — reasoning together requires knowing what’s really true and what’s not.

This is especially a problem nowadays because of course we’re bombarded with falsehoods. And I am not  talking about the mainstream news media. President Trump once candidly told a reporter that he smears journalists and accuses them of “fake news” so that when bad stuff about him comes out it won’t be believed. Mainstream news media make tremendous efforts to report the truth, and correct the record when they make mistakes. Much unlike President Trump, who wages war on the very concept of truth and has never admitted a mistake in his life.

All this makes it impossible to reason together and deal realistically with our problems. A nationwide poll recently showed 60% of Americans do not trust President Trump about the coronavirus. He has no credibility about anything, and for good reason. Here we’re in one of the greatest crises we’ve ever faced, and if we can’t trust our president about it, I hardly need to spell out how damaging that is.

So here is my second basic pledge: truthfulness. I will always be honest with you.

Now frankly, I know I’ve been called a “gaffe machine.” Somebody once defined a gaffe as accidentally blurting the truth. But seriously, a national candidate has to do a lot of talking, and making zero mistakes is impossible. Like any human, I sometimes misremember things, and my mouth can run ahead of my brain. But I will never deliberately bend the facts or mislead you. If I make an error, I will correct it. If appropriate, I will apologize. In all humility, I’ve done it plenty of times.

So those are my two most basic promises: to do all I possibly can to heal our divisions, and to always be truthful. I realize the words “promises” and “politician” are viewed together with a certain cynicism. But the promises I’m talking about here are not political promises. They are personal. Personal commitments, from my heart, to you, my fellow citizens, about what kind of president, what kind of human being,  I’m striving to be.

America has experienced terrible division before. But even as the Civil War loomed, Abraham Lincoln — the great Republican president — in his First Inaugural Address, still tried to summon “the better angels of our nature.” He could not prevent the war, which killed 600,000 Americans. But even as that bloody war continued, nearing its conclusion, President Lincoln called upon us “to bind up the nation’s wounds,” “with malice toward none, with charity for all.”

Lincoln believed in America. He believed profoundly in the idea of America. The principles, the values, the ideals that this country represents. Government of the people, by the people, for the people. All created equal, with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. E Pluribus Unum — one nation out of many. Truth and reason. With malice toward none, with charity for all.

It is to unite us — to reunite us — in dedication to these principles, values and ideals that I seek to be your president. I humbly ask all Americans to join with me. I will need your help. I alone can’t fix it.

The sky is falling! The sky is falling! And the chickens come home to roost

March 13, 2020

 

The end of the world. Everything shut down, cancelled, locked down.

This is what we get when we elect a government of clowns. Trump’s response has been largely the usual: keep out foreigners. Tax cuts. Self-congratulation. Demonizing Democrats. And of course lies. He said everyone could get tested when that was blatantly false. He’s blamed Obama for disbanding our pandemic response team, when it was Trump himself who disbanded it.

He did give a scripted teleprompter speech. But written by the likes of Jared Kushner and Stephen Miller, so it was a misleading mush of misinformation that required swift correction. Thus, intended to reassure, it fueled the panic, financial markets collapsing the next day.

Nothing in Trump’s speech called upon Americans to join together, and to shoulder some sacrifices, in a national effort to confront this crisis. (He said about three such words today.)

My previous post on coronavirus was read by some as belittling the problem. No. I did discuss how humans often aren’t rational about threats and dangers, and questioned why we don’t go nuts like this every flu season which sickens 30+ million Americans and kills tens of thousands. Coronavirus could get that bad, or worse. But, so far at least, it has not. We should act strongly to prevent it.

Cancelling and closing down everything looks like the wrong response. In terms of bang-for-the-buck it seems very inefficient and wasteful, because the societal and economic cost is huge, while (again, so far) it appears only one person out of thousands is infected. We don’t handle seasonal flu this way, despite a far higher percentage of carriers among us.

The emphasis should instead be on targeting those likeliest to harbor the virus, by testing them, and quarantining people testing positive. Testing not only ones with symptoms but anyone having had contact with known carriers.* This means a massive crash program to manufacture and distribute test kits and organize a testing infrastructure. Yesterday.

The Trump administration started off way behind the curve on testing, and didn’t (appear to) finally get serious about it until the press conference just hours ago. (Even there Trump seemed to actually discourage people from getting tested.) It’s because we weren’t prepared to deploy that preferred testing method for containing the illness that forces resorting to the very second-best alternative of closing and cancelling myriad public events.

It’s said that when the tide goes out, you see who’s been swimming naked. We always knew there’d be some crisis showing up what Trump is.

Cocksure Trumpers have long sneered at Democrats’ chances of beating him, banging on about how the wonderful economy assures his re-election. I generally wouldn’t respond; what will be will be. Well, the economy is now shot.

This was before Coronavirus. Trump’s campaign fired its pollster

Yet at least one comment as late as Thursday still jeered at Biden. Such divorcement from reality seems greater than ever. America can’t be so deranged as to re-elect Trump now.

* One of whom is Trump. He dodges and resists being tested. What a terrible personal example.

Bernie: time to support Biden

March 11, 2020

In any human endeavor, rationality demands asking what purpose is served. It’s not always obvious.

What purpose is served now by Sanders continuing to campaign? After the latest primaries, his probability of nomination is approximately zero. No: make that precisely zero.

Thank goodness. His nomination could have ensured Trump’s re-election. That in fact is the main reason why most Democrats have voted against him. And so many doing so proves how wrong was the argument that he’d be the strongest nominee. Most Democrats recognized that Sanders is not what the nation most needs: not another upheaval, but a president of simple decency, honesty, responsibility, and sanity. That’s Biden.

Showcased by his speech last night. What a stark contrast with the blowhard asshole in the White House. I’m increasingly confident sanity will finally prevail.

Left wingers are always whining that “the system” unfairly screws them (a mirror-image to Trumpian grievance politics). They relentlessly claimed the media buried news about opposition to the Iraq war. It got relentless coverage, in my recollection. Likewise with Sanders, always the complaint he isn’t covered enough, equally bogus.

Now it’s “the establishment” and “Wall Street corporate billionaires” in some imagined conspiracy to thwart Bernie’s candidacy. When what’s really thwarting it is voters.

They aren’t being manipulated by some “establishment.” The surge to Biden is an entirely spontaneous one, with Democrats sizing up the field and deciding on their own. On Super Tuesday Biden won some states he didn’t even campaign in. It’s black voters especially who show the good sense to reject Bernie’s stridency and embrace instead an achievable vision of America at its best. Yes, after all the shit they’ve suffered, still it’s they who most believe in what America means, bless their hearts.

And in the end it may be said it was they who saved the country. They’re the ones with the greatest role in keeping the Democratic party from barreling down the kind of rabbit hole that’s swallowed up Republicans. This former conservative Republican feels very comfortable having left the deranged cult my party became, joining instead the one retaining its sanity.

To Sanders voters: you are passionate idealists. You wanted radical change. I didn’t agree with it, but I get it, and respect it. You did have a fair argument to make; you made it well; you didn’t persuade a majority. That’s democracy. Democracy means you have to accept it when the other side wins.

In 2016 we had a revolution by the populist right. Sandernistas wanted a revolution too. Van Jones, on CNN last night, said what we’re seeing is a revolution after all — a revolution by the middle.

Many Bernie Bros say they won’t vote for Biden. On a radio call-in, I heard one declare he’s looking forward to saying “I told you so” on November 4. How can you back Sanders but relish another Trump term? This is nuts. It’s why I say we need to restore sanity to our politics, to combat such toxic divisiveness.

Van Jones also said Bernie must now decide whether to be a uniter or divider. He should end his campaign and urge his supporters to unite behind Biden. Full-throated support for Biden will make Sanders a hero. Continuing an effort to tear Biden down can only serve to help Trump.

Trump’s Afghan surrender

March 6, 2020

The story begins 40 years ago with a Communist coup. The Soviets invaded to protect the new regime, while Muslims rose in revolt. We supported and armed them. (One recipient was Bin Laden. A lot of thanks we got.)

The Russians finally pulled out after Gorbachev acknowledged defeat in Afghanistan and in the Cold War more generally. The Afghan Communist government fell, but then civil war ensued among various Muslim forces. Eventually it was won by the Taliban, who imposed their extremist, repressive version of Islam. They gave sanctuary to Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda which perpetrated 9/11. Which prompted America to invade to take down the Taliban. Which we swiftly did. But we eased up before wiping them out. Big fumble by G. W. Bush.

However, under our aegis, Afghans finally got some democracy. They first elected President Karzai, kind of a disaster, but then Ashraf Ghani, far better. Meantime our military involvement against the resurgent Taliban waxed and waned. Obama called this the right war and ramped it up, but then ramped it down, foolishly signaling the Taliban need merely wait us out. Then Trump, for all his spite toward Obama, reprised Obama’s trajectory.

He sent Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-American former Ambassador, to negotiate with the Taliban for our extrication. The negotiations excluded the Afghan government, which the Taliban refuses to recognize. Nevertheless, we now have a “peace” deal. If you can call it that.

We started the negotiations laying out three conditions for a U.S. troop withdrawal: a cease-fire; Taliban recognition for the Ghani government; and forswearing aid to terrorism. That was already halfway a surrender. And as the talks progressed, amid ongoing Taliban atrocities, the first two conditions fell away.

The cease-fire has been watered down into a vague pledge of “violence reduction.” The Taliban still won’t recognize the Ghani government, even though the deal calls for a supposed next phase of talks between them. (Indeed, no Afghans apart from the Taliban have yet been involved; the government rejects the deal’s Taliban prisoner release.) And, finally, as for the no-terrorism pledge  — how much is that worth, once U.S. troops are gone? (Indeed, integrated with the Taliban is the Haqqani Network, which the U.S. designates as a terrorist organization.)

It’s clear this “agreement” is a fig leaf for our just bugging out of Afghanistan, flushing away two decades of costly commitment. Mainly so Trump can claim some accomplishment. As always with him, it’s bullshit. The great negotiator will brag that he got our troops home, as though it’s a victory, having gotten bupkis in return. This “great achievement” comes conveniently before the 2020 election — and also conveniently before the inevitable blow-up, with Afghanistan collapsing in violence, and the extremist Taliban likely winning in the end.

True, Afghanistan has long been a graveyard of other-country aspirations. A benighted country with a squalid history. A playground for cynicism. And yet, our involvement there, for all our undoubted missteps, has been a very good thing for the Afghan people.* For half of them especially — the female half. As far as women’s education, empowerment, and role in society is concerned, we helped pull Afghanistan into the Twentieth Century. Well, maybe just the start of that century, but at least an advance upon the Twelfth.

All of that will go down the drain when we pull out and the Taliban triumphs. Returning women to the Twelfth Century.

*My daughter, who has lived in Afghanistan and travels there frequently, reports, “A lot of Afghans — whom I’ve spoken with — actually are very thankful and give the US a lot of credit. They don’t want US forces to leave”

Super Tuesday and American democracy

March 4, 2020

As Super Tuesday loomed, I hoped for a triumph of sanity — but feared its last stand.

Thank you, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, tribunes of sanity who did the right thing. And to voters who took a cold hard look at Sanders — and decided “uh uh.” It seems the moral imbecility of his praising Castro hurt him. Virtually everywhere, he got fewer votes than in 2016. Biden won states he hadn’t even campaigned in. He is now the clear leader in popular votes and delegates. This broad-based victory will strengthen his momentum. Sanders will continue to torment Biden, but cannot be nominated.

So enough already with this foolishness of wanting on “outsider” who will “shake things up.” We got that last time. Now let’s please put things back together, with a president who actually knows what he’s doing, actually understands the world, and is actually a decent honest human being.

Voter hatred for “politicians” had long been intensifying. Yet who elected those people? The real problem is politicians heeding the uninformed whims of voters who can’t say how many branches the federal government has or in what century the Civil War occurred. Politicians will do what they must, to coddle voters. Democracy would work a lot better without voters mucking it up.

A recent Michael Gerson column laments that the outsider shake-up fetish serves to encourage “unpleasant, ill-mannered loudmouths.” Trump unquestionably represents a collapse of civic decency. Sanders is not much better. Supporters may say they don’t like the nastiness, but wave it off as not really important. Gerson disagrees. The phenomenon, he says, has “blossomed into a crisis of democratic values.”

Here’s why. Democracy is not just voting. It’s a culture, with pluralism — different kinds of people getting along together — of the essence. This means respecting the legitimacy of opposing interests and viewpoints, engaging in rational persuasion, compromising with them, even accepting their victories.

That does not describe America’s political culture lately.

Trumpers blast Democrats as supposedly never accepting the 2016 election. But Republicans overplay that election result as a universal trump card. Meaning everyone with different views about anything should just shut up and go away. And any effort toward presidential accountability somehow disrespects Trump’s voters. As if Republicans don’t disrespect the greater number who actually voted against him. This is not how a democratic culture works. Elections do have consequences — but not the ending of debate and suppression of opposition.

Gerson comments that a politician’s promise “to burn down the house is visceral and emotional. That does not make institutional arsonists more sincere or wise.” Putting it mildly. The sad truth is that voters who want the house burned down are ignorant of what it’s made of. They do not understand democratic culture, nor the role of the institutions that sustain it. And what terrible consequences will ensue from their conflagration.

Call in the firefighters. That’s what Biden’s campaign is really mainly about, and I feel confident he can defeat Trump.

American Nightmare — Sanders versus Trump

March 1, 2020

American Nightmare” is The Economist’s latest cover story. This is an authoritative, extremely serious, sober publication, not given to hysteria. But this editorial is strong stuff. I copy it below, with some editing by me, mainly for brevity:

Sometimes people wake from a bad dream only to discover that the nightmare goes on. This is the prospect facing America if Democrats nominate Sanders against Trump. An appalling choice with no good outcome.

Sanders is so convinced he is morally right, he has a dangerous tendency to put ends before means. And, where Trump has whipped up politics into a frenzy of loathing, Sanders’s election would feed the hatred.

He is not a cuddly Scandinavian social democrat who would let companies do their thing and then tax them to build a better world. Instead, he believes American capitalism is rapacious and needs to be radically weakened. He puts to shame Jeremy Corbyn [hard-left British Labour party leader who recently led his party to electoral disaster] proposing to confiscate not 10% but 20% of the equity of companies and hand it over to workers [actually, the government]. On trade, Sanders is at least as hostile to open markets as Trump is. He seeks to double government spending. With unemployment at a record low and wages in the bottom quarter growing by 4.6%, his call for a revolution in the economy is an epically poor prescription for what ails America.

Sanders displays the intolerance of a Righteous Man. He embraces perfectly reasonable causes like reducing poverty, universal health care and decarbonising the economy, and then insists on the most unreasonable extremes in the policies to achieve them. Like banning private health insurance (not even Britain, devoted to its National Health Service, goes that far). He wants to cut billionaires’ wealth in half over 15 years. A sensible ecologist would tax fracking; Sanders would ban it outright. Making college cost-free is a self-defeating way to alleviate poverty, because most of the subsidy would go to people who are, or will be, relatively wealthy. Banning nuclear energy would stand in the way of his goal to create a zero-carbon economy.

His ideological bent gives him a habit of indulging autocrats, like in Cuba and Nicaragua, so long as they claim to be “socialist.”

Last is the effect of a President Sanders on America’s political culture. The country’s political divisions helped make Trump’s candidacy possible. They are now enabling Sanders’s rise. Leftist activists find his revolution thrilling. They seem to have almost as much hatred for his Democratic opponents as for Republicans.

This speaks to Sanders’s political style. When asked how he would persuade Congress to eliminate private health insurance (which 60% of Americans oppose), Sanders replies that he would hold rallies in the states of recalcitrant senators until they relented. Traveling around the country holding rallies for a far-left program he could not get through Congress would widen America’s divisions. Political realities blocking his revolution would frustrate his supporters. On the right, an actual socialist in the White House would generate even greater fury.

The mainstream three-quarters of Democrats have begun to tell themselves that Sanders would not be so bad. Some say he would not be able to do many of the things he promises. This sounds worryingly familiar. Trump has shown that it is unwise to dismiss what a man seeking power says he wants to do with it.

If Sanders becomes the Democratic nominee, America will have to choose between a corrupt, divisive, right-wing populist, who scorns the rule of law and the constitution, and a sanctimonious, divisive, left-wing populist, who blames a cabal of billionaires and businesses for everything wrong with the world. All this when the country is as peaceful and prosperous as ever. It is hard to think of a worse choice. Wake up, America! 

Postscript (this is Frank writing): Sanders could not be nominated were Obama still alive. Everything he worked for faces destruction. His weighing in would have huge impact. Yet he is inert. One commentator discussing this stressed the word “caution.” Reminds me of Obama’s anemic foreign policy. There are times for caution and times for taking a stand. This time, right now, is the latter.

 

 

A Democrat drinks some Trump Kool-Aid

February 25, 2020

Karlyn Borysenko was a strong New Hampshire Democrat for 20 years. Considered Trump supporters all racist, “horrible (yes, even deplorable),” as is Trump himself. But now, writing on Medium.com,* she’s almost reversed that view, calling Democrats out of touch and headed for an ass-kicking.

It started with her knitting circle — encountering “roving gangs of online social justice warriors” who “started going after anyone in the knitting community who was not lockstep with their ideology.” A wave of viciousness, prompting her effort to escape her echo chamber and actually listen to Trump fans. She found they weren’t bad people, not racists or Nazis, and could justify their opinions using arguments — in contrast to the left’s “shouting and ranting.” She says it’s driving other Democrats to leave the party.

Wearing a red hat reading “Make Speech Free Again,” Borysenko noticed people on both right and left each saw it as aimed at the other side.

Then she attended Trump’s New Hampshire rally, and was struck by the positive energy there, marked by optimism and love of country, in contrast to a recent ill-attended Democratic event where people booed and shouted at those backing the “wrong” candidates, and were all doom and gloom and criticism of America.

Borysenko acknowledges that Trump lies. “But the strength of this rally wasn’t about the facts and figures. It was a group of people who felt like they had someone in their corner, who would fight for them . . . they believe he has their back.”

She concludes, “most people on both sides are good, decent human beings who want the best for the country and have dramatic disagreements on how to get there. But until we start seeing each other as human beings, there will be no bridging the divide.” Borysenko voted in the NH primary for Buttigieg and then changed her registration to independent.

* * *

I changed my own registration from Republican to Democrat in 2017. Because I actually couldn’t see my lifelong party through Borysenko’s rose-colored glasses.

Yes, there are honest disagreements about America’s direction. Yet honesty is not the hallmark of today’s Republicanism. At the top it’s disingenuous to the core. Epitomized by weaponizing phony concerns about election fraud to block many citizens from voting.

Borysenko is right that most in the rank-and-file are not bad people. But unfortunately they’ve been sucked into a cult of followership for someone very bad indeed. Seeing Trump as speaking for them, having their backs, would be quite understandable were there any reality to it. But it’s all a big con; everything about Trump and his presidency is bullshit. The only back he has is his own.

And as for the country’s direction — while we’ve always had policy disagreements, this is about America’s character. Respect for truth, facts, and reason — when that goes, everything else goes. Humankind has made great progress from a dog-eat-dog world. America had a huge role in the vanguard of that progress. But Trump is Mister Dog-Eat-Dog.

* * *

I enrolled Democrat to combat what, for years, I’ve excoriated the left for, that Borysenko writes about. The mindset of totalitarian intolerance. The insistence on ideological purity, with any deviation delegitimized, punished. Long seen on “liberal” campuses, it’s metastasizing in our wider political culture.

Some Sanders fans are mere starry-eyed idealists. But too many are hard left, latter-day Torquemadas, lusting for a new Inquisition to burn heretics. These are the hateful voices that so repel Borysenko. Supporters of Biden or Buttigieg aren’t like this.

But Borysenko is wrong in seeing the problem only on the left. Certainly there’s Republican intolerance for anyone not a total Trumpsucker. And meantime he’s not only whipped up a deranged hatred for Democrats, it’s mainly based on lies. I was no Hillary fan, but her demonization bore no relation to reality. At least Democrats’ hatred for Trump is grounded in what he actually does.

America today is in a profound crisis of its civic soul. It’s no hyperbole calling this our most important election at least since 1860. The Republican/Russian campaign will be a shitstorm of lies, disinformation, and ruthless dirty tactics. Yet facing this crisis, Democrats, in a fit of foolish self-indulgence, seem on track to put up an utterly ridiculous candidate.

Sandernistas fancy he’ll energize many new voters. Maybe so; but such polarizing extremist candidates energize even greater numbers to show up to vote against them. You say you want a revolution? Thomas Friedman wrote, I’ll show you a revolution: four more years of Trump. America will be irretrievably transformed.

What we absolutely don’t need is a November gotterdammerung between two opposing revolutions. Instead, a return to decency, honesty, sobriety, sanity. For two centuries we’ve progressed greatly in making life fairer and better for more and more people. We need not revolution but to resume that incremental humanistic evolution. Unfortunately, that’s not what Bernie is about.

I’m starting to wonder if, pragmatically, Bloomberg is the last hope. Can he buy the election? Gosh, it would be money well spent. Unlike Trump whose “charity” was (of course) a self-serving fraud, Bloomberg is a genuine philanthropist, with the public good truly at heart, and willing to use his money to promote that.

I’d rather have Bloomberg buy his way to the presidency than Trump lie his way to it.

*https://gen.medium.com/ive-been-a-democrat-for-20-years-here-s-what-i-experienced-at-trump-s-rally-in-new-hampshire-c69ddaaf6d07

Broken politics and rule-of-law augur U.S. decline

February 20, 2020

Trump boasts about the strong economy. What makes it strong? Certainly not his “policies,” like stupid trade wars, and curbing immigration, very harmful. But if the government pumps a trillion dollars a year into it, you’ll have a good economy. That’s the big story: huge budget deficits, mostly borrowed money. Mortgaging tomorrow to live high today.

America does still have a lot of genuine economic strengths. Our free-market capitalist system is a great machine for producing wealth and human welfare. But that, Steven Pearlstein recently wrote in the Washington Post, will be undermined by the political division paralyzing government, and Trump’s war on rule of law.

Back in antediluvian 2013, I reviewed a book by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum, That Used to Be Us. A can-do nation that could come together, tackle challenges, bite bullets, and do big things. If that seemed moribund in 2013, it’s a lot worse now.

The book talked about deteriorating infrastructure; shrinking investment in research and development; virtually ignoring climate change; a broken immigration system that shuts out legions of motivated brainy people we desperately need; an education system inadequate for the competitive high-tech globalized marketplace. Instead of all that, we spend resources on a military to re-fight WWII, farm subsidies, burgeoning pensions, overly expensive healthcare, and other “entitlements.”

And we’re not paying even for those, as already noted, going deeply in debt to finance them. Testing the limits on how much we can borrow. We’re OK as long as interest rates stay rock bottom and the market still has great confidence in America. If it decides our game is up, we’ll be like Wile E. Coyote in the old cartoons — running off a cliff till he realizes nothing holds him up. Then he drops like a stone.

But our supervening problem, Friedman and Mandelbaum said, is our political dysfunction, blocking action on all the rest. A partisan tribal war on every issue which, in a closely divided nation, neither side can really win. It’s gotten worse since.

Back to Pearlstein: he says what “really distinguishes a successful economy from a failing one” is “the quality of institutions — the laws, rules, norms and policies that create the framework in which any economy operates.” And broken politics are degrading the quality of U.S. institutions. Pearlstein cites the same familiar challenges as Friedman and Mandelbaum, saying a “working political system would . . . embrace the obvious compromises, building on what works and fixing what doesn’t.”

But instead, Americans “deny the problem, demonize those with whom we disagree and ostracize anyone who dares to compromise.”

And today’s great tragedy is Trump’s destruction of even those institutions that were still continuing to function. For all our political conflict, we still operated under strong rule of law, with a basic level of civic decency, and acted as the responsible global leader.

Rule of law is a truly great human achievement and a bulwark for a society working well. A key underpinning for a dynamic economy. People must be able to make investments knowing the law will be there for them. Recall Putin’s regime jailing a big oil entrepreneur to steal his company. Pearlstein writes, “perhaps the greatest threat to the U.S. economy is the deterioration in the rule of law that has become a hallmark of the Trump presidency.”

We see it lately in the cases of Roger Stone and Michael Flynn, convicted of serious crimes; then political interference trying to get them off the hook. While Trump critics are targeted. The Justice Department’s credibility is now in shreds.

Trump flouts such basic norms at every turn. No tax transparency. Exploiting the presidency for personal gain. Abusing tariffs to punish longtime allies who annoy him. Abusing pardons to reward supporters. Undermining institutions like the FBI with lying accusations. Firing diplomats and civil servants who thwart his illicit aims. Dismissing uncooperative judges as political hacks. Calling journalists who report the truth “enemies of the people,” any investigation of wrongdoing a “witch hunt,” and calling a liar anyone who unmasks his own lies. Breaking the law to hold up vital military aid to an ally to extort a bribe in the form of smearing a political opponent, trying to cover it up, lying about it, and trying to block Congress from investigating it.

And getting away with it all. That’s what acquittal by a feckless Senate majority, in the impeachment debacle, signifies. The death of accountability and rule-of-law. Our economy will not eternally be immune from the effects.

As Friedman and Mandelbaum wrote, America had crises before, which we overcame. Like the Civil War, and the Depression. Trump’s presidency is truly just such a crisis — a crisis of the very soul of this nation. Voting him out could be at least a start on repairing the damage. But if we can’t even see clearly enough to do that . . . .