Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The New New Year

It seemed like 2020 would never end. It was just one disaster after another until you just about had to laugh, if you still could. We'd ask, what else can go wrong? And then something even worse would happen. In a couple of days we will flip our calendars over, and in a few more weeks America can start a new year.

In the meantime, the President who brought us 2020 will try to see how much disruption and misery he can cause before he is booted out of the White House. Trump has given up on presiding. As the country spirals into 2020's despair he wanders the golf course, inattentive and apathetic.

A suicide bomber took out a few blocks of Nashville: not a peep out of the President. COVID-19 killing three thousand people a day, every day, and not a peep. He got a relief bill and didn't sign it until unemployment benefits ran out for millions of citizens. Vaccine has been prepared for administration and there is no plan, millions of doses sitting in refrigerators while people die. Renters losing their homes and freezing on the streets, police and rightwing gangs joining forces to bring violence to US cities, with the President promoting rebellion on the day that the election results are officially certified by Congress.

It's crazy.

Dana Milbank at The Post writes it up as a King Lear story. And I guess this is how it happens. It seems so majestic on the stage, but the reality does not seem tragic or larger-than-life; this is the story of a miserable little man who got in over his head and refused to take on the responsibility he said he deserved. It is the story of a greedy, petty person who found it easy to complain loudly, but when he talked his way into leadership it was too hard for him. You can't really rule by tantrum; an organization as big as the federal government has policies and procedures, and you have to work with those. I remember George W. Bush saying, "If this were a dictatorship it would be a heck of a lot easier... as long as I'm the dictator. Hehehe." And as much as I hate to agree with him, he was right. It would be easier for the President if he just had to issue orders and people would jump to carry them out, or off with their heads. Also it wouldn't work. The country is just too big to follow one not-very-smart, not-very-mature person's whims.

This year there will be a sort of amendment to the calendar. The year 2020 will officially end on December 31st, as usual. The occasion will be celebrated by people sitting in their homes, possibly drinking, until after midnight. There will be no parties. Times Square will be evacuated. Midnight kisses are for pod members only.

Then, this year we will have a sort of Leap New Year, nineteen days that will be set aside for people to huddle in their homes, holding their breath and hoping we get through them. We can expect those weeks, from January first through January nineteenth, to be Republican Days of Hell, filled with rightwing violence and surging deadly disease. Washington's lies will reach a crescendo as reality-denying politicians make a last-ditch effort try to destroy American democracy and our country's way of life, and fail.

January twentieth will be the New New Year's Day. We will have a modest and dignified inauguration and no bragging about whose crowds were bigger. The new President will put his hand on a Bible that he actually reads and believes in, and will swear to uphold the Constitution, which he has actually read and understands. I expect some rightwing hooligans will try to spoil the ceremony but it doesn't matter, the weight of American history carries a lot of momentum and despite anti-American attempts at disruption our country will emerge from this dystopian phase of history intact and ready to move forward. We have an economy to fix, a disease to subdue, racial injustice and rightwing police violence to tamp down, the climate needs immediate attention. People need to get back to work, kids need to get back to school, businesses need to open, as soon as the coronavirus is beaten, which will become a possibility in the New New Year.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Prediction: It Will Get Worse

Joe Biden is staying calm, appointing people, getting briefings, treating his ascension to the Presidency as a normal thing after a normal election. This is the forty-sixth time we have done this, transitioned from one President to another, and it has become a sort of matter of routine. The exiting President leaves a note in the desk, rides with the new guy to the inauguration, there are meetings between the incoming transition team and departing staff at many levels. It is complicated to replace the CEO and senior leadership every few years but it is a traditional and healthy part of American democracy and Biden is treating it as such.

Trump doesn't want to leave. It is not clear why. He does not show any interest in doing the job he was elected to do, but he does not want to leave, and so he is making this as painful and ugly as he possibly can. He is encouraging violence and disruption, hinting at civil war and a military coup, he is setting up the Executive Branch agencies so they will barely be able to function once Biden comes in. He is appointing people to ridiculous positions, stirring up conflict with other countries, trying to start purely political investigations, siphoning huge amounts of money out of the system.

He still has not admitted that he lost the election, and insists it was rigged. And here is the beautiful thing: he has every right, under Constitutional law, to challenge any election result that might have been fraudulent in some way. Trump can use the judiciary to challenge anything improper that might have happened in the 2020 election.

I have lost count, but he has gone to court now more than sixty times over this, including at least two appeals to the Supreme Court. He has had a good share of Republican judges and even judges that he himself appointed. They would love to help him out, you just know, they like him and would be happy if they could catch those libtards cheating in the elections, if they could prove that Trump actually won "BY A LOT," as he is saying. By and large, the judges are on his side. More than sixty times his lawyers have written up narratives and lists of evidence, names of witnesses and descriptions of what they witnessed, video of trucks in the night and people using flash drives and marking up blank ballots, and more than sixty times the court has been unconvinced. The witnesses are incoherent morons. The videos show ordinary ballot-counting processes. The complaints are trivial and unrelated to bias or "rigging" of the election. Still, any time the Republicans think they have found something they have the right to go to court, to follow the Constitutional procedures and demonstrate that our system of government is robust and serves to maintain justice and order. And so far it's working.

Plus, Trump's people get all the air-time they could ever hope for. "Access journalism" means that reporters and media outlets will let powerful people say anything they want without challenge or criticism, and Trump and his people have been in the media constantly, alleging improprieties. All they would have to do is hold up one piece of evidence, one photograph or recording or a piece of paper that shows a vote was changed or entered illegally. That's all they need, one piece of evidence to turn the American public to their side. If they can't convince the courts, they can at least try to convince us citizens. And they can't. They don't have anything that holds up, even in the eyes of Joe Blow sitting at home in front of his TV with Fido on his lap.

The inauguration is a month away. So let me make a prediction. I am going out on a limb here, so hear me out. Just based on my gut, on my finely honed political instincts, on my encyclopedic knowledge of history and inside-baseball political maneuvering, I am going to predict: it's going to get worse over the next month.

Trump has given up on the coronavirus pandemic. He will not even mention it, will not call a meeting, will not push to allocate funds to fight it. He is focused on one thing, and that is the election that he lost. It was an honest, fair election, even according to his own people that he sent out to find problems with it. In order to "win" he has to overthrow the system of democratic voting that we have had in place since 1789. He has to overthrow the American government and the American way of life. That might sound bad to you and me, but the Republican Party is soundly behind him, they do not recognize the validity of our electoral system, they will not acknowledge that Joe Biden has won.

It will get worse before January 20th. Trump is planning a "wild" demonstration in Washington DC on January 6th, the day when the Electoral College vote count is finalized and the results are certified by Congress. He is stirring up violence and talking about civil war. If there is to be a civil war now, the only issue is that the loser of the election does not want to admit he lost. It is nothing more than that, a rejection of the rule of law, a rejection of the Constitution, a rejection of the American way of life. Trump has gone off the deep end mentally and has surrounded himself with raving maniacs who are detached from reality. They don't want what the country wants, they don't want the heritage that has been handed down to them by history. It's going to get bad.

Monday, December 07, 2020

Enforce the Law: Lock Him Up

There isn't much of a chance that Trump's Supreme Court appointments will pay off and a crooked court will overturn the election, say by ruling that all mail-in ballots in all states are disqualified. We've learned not to say "they can't do that," but it is extremely unlikely. Even Trump's own judges that he appointed for lower courts have been ruling against him.

In the meantime of course Donald Trump is going to make everything as terrible as he can. He is gutting and reorganizing important departments, assigning terrible people to important positions, making enemies with powerful countries, hurrying up a bunch of executions oh and also adding new ways to kill people, new methods of execution, he has even made it easier to kill birds, of all things.

You remember the last time the Republicans had the White House, we got into some wars that were unjustified and extremely violent. We tortured people, we demolished entire cities -- the US committed war crimes on a grand scale, apparently in retaliation for the 9/11 terrorist attack, though that story falls apart pretty quickly. The joke at the time was that Dick Cheney is Satan, that was just the way we understood him, Satan himself in the White House conducting evil operations. Ha-ha.

And then when Obama came in, he did not prosecute anybody for any of it. He said some heartwarming stuff about looking forward instead of back, about building a better future and all that, and he let the Cheneys and Rumsfelds, the neocons who had engineered these terrible crimes, go back into society and write their books and lecture and advise Republicans. They still show up on TV pretty often, they made millions and lived in luxury instead of going to jail.

Now we have a President and administration who are criminals on every level. This administration is filled with narcissistic family members and gazillionaires who use the government as an arm of their business enterprises. Writing in the Washington Post last month, Barbara McQuade categorized the most salient of Trump's chargeable crimes into categories:

  • Obstruction of justice
  • Bribery
  • Conspiracy to defraud the United States
  • Campaign finance violations
  • Pre-presidency crimes - crimes that were committed or begun before he was President, and for which he cannot be charged while he is in office
  • Hatch Act violations

She notes that though his lies and inaction regarding the coronavirus pandemic resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths, the cause-and-effect is indirect and probably not anything you can charge him with. He was elected to do a job and he didn't do it, and people died, the economy went to hell, our country lost its place in the international markets, millions of lives were traumatized and destroyed, but there does not seem to be a way to make the responsible person legally accountable.

Trump's presidency is sometimes described as "norm-breaking," and that is true but it is also extensively law-breaking. So for instance sharing highly classified state secrets with foreign agents is not actually illegal, because he's the President and can do that. Having his golf buddies running the Department of Veterans Affairs is not normal but there is apparently no law against it. But the lawbreaking is being documented, and the crimes are being investigated. The New York Times has run several long, detailed reports of the Trump family's financial crimes, and the New York Attorney General is quoted as saying, "We are going to be fine because we are ready. We've already researched the law. I and other Attorney Generals, we are ready"

It is nice to "maintain the peace" and "keep things on an even keel," and all of that, and we are looking forward to a new period of stability. But this is a country of laws and there is nothing reassuring or healthy in letting someone break the law egregiously for four years and then let bygones be bygones. If you or I did one of the things Trump and his appointees have done over the past four years we would be in jail, that's just a fact. Take one bribe, boom. Obstruct justice just one time, boom. He is already talking about running in 2024 and if it isn't him it will be one of his criminal family members, if we tolerate them this time. Their behavior is not going to be better next time, they have only let us see what their intentions are.

The great fear is that somebody who has Trump's criminal mindset but is also competent gets elected. Luckily for us Trump lost nearly every court case from the Muslim ban to the Georgia recount. But what if somebody was smart enough to pull those things off? What if they were not represented by somebody inept like Giuliani? Guaranteed, if we let these guys get off it will be much worse next time.

Joe Biden does not show much of an appetite for prosecuting his predecessor. But this isn't about being nice, isn't about a "smooth transition" or settling down the turbulence we have been experiencing. It is simply about enforcing the laws that our country is based on. Trump has demonstrated, simultaneously, the strength and weakness of our system. I looks like we will limp though one more election campaign but we realize that the system is designed with the expectation of decency and dignity. We can't go back and delete the tweets but the Trump crime syndicate has gotten rich through violations of the law and should face the consequences for our nation's sake.