The Sunday Driver, S1,E10: Decency or Disruption?

A Good Sunday to you and yours. Having returned from the Sunshine State of Citrus and Corona, I am content to be with you as I tap away in my cozy recliner. Valkie is grooming the cats, low flames dance in the hearth, and the afternoon is filled with the doubtful promise of Lions football.

As short visits make for long friendships, I intend to make this a shorter drive; it could happen. Looking down at the gauges, we can reliably report a total of 9,417,856 Covid cases in the US, with 86,293 new cases as of yesterday, 236,160 total fatalities and 1,002 newly perished. In the beloved mitten where a suspension of gravity in Ann Arbor briefly distracted many yesterday, numbers are unrelenting; 178,180 total cases, 7,340 total fatalities, 3,792 new cases and 31 newly departed. This sets a grim record, so Happy Halloween indeed.

Our first point of interest will be 1980, where gas will run us $1.19 per gallon, and a far less abrasive POTUS was fighting for his political life.

Bigger, Brighter, Better?

The intro-page to my last high school yearbook reads: “The Eighties. A New Decade. A New Season. And Each One Promises to Be Bigger, Brighter, Better . . . .” Such youthful optimism is characteristic of all yearbooks, and they did get the “new” part right. As for the rest, how were they to know what manifest political and cultural changes were in the offing?

Like many, I accepted my diploma at the age of 17, with nary a clue what I was intending to do afterward. My choices through Dad’s eyes were college or military service, and college seemed safer all the way around; they were taking hostages in Iran at the time, so there was that. While most of my circle were off to the Big 10 rivals of U of M or MSU, Urich’s being frugal Germanic folk, I accepted a scholarship to Eastern Michigan, a former teachers’ college in a dingy town hidden in the shadows of showy Ann Arbor.

Having played drums in various bands for a few years, I was madly in love with rock ‘n roll, and fancied myself a future recording artist. Objectively, my final pre-college band, “Idle Worship,” was pretty awful and could not have been signed if our lives depended on it, but I dearly loved our fellowship and hangers-on, so about three weeks before moving to Ypsilanti, I told my Dad I was neither going to the navy, nor college, but pursuing the path the Norse gods had prepared for me. It did not go well.

So plus-or-minus Labor Day, I piled stereo, records, clothing and hefty bags of other worldly goods into my friend Peter’s ‘74 Mercury and we rode out to regional-college destiny with medium-to-low expectations. You see, 1980 is and was an odd cultural hybrid; you had your principal delineation of jocks, freaks and geeks, with everything in between. The same person might like Led Zeppelin, The Monkees, The Romantics, and The Police, especially if that same person was me. It truly was a strange crossroad and that brings us to Campaign 1980.

Since I was turning 18 a month or so before the election, and I was fond of history, I intended to vote, got myself registered to 312 Putnam Hall and immersed myself not in campaign coverage, but Western Civ., a survey course called “Reason and Revolution,” and the absence of peering authority. Loping around campus in pointy boots with “Houses of the Holy” playing in my pre-walkman head, I was just trying to get the hang of this college thingy, with its various features, academic, recreational and otherwise.

Out of myriad memories including climbing up and over Victorian buildings as well as beneath them in the steam tunnels, one indelible tech and cultural marker stands alone. At the front of the dining common was a lovely student with a southern accent and a headset. You would hand her your ID, and she would read the number on it, “50-88” into her mic. Across campus in the ROTC building was a huge wall with a catwalk and squares for every dorm student at school, and the guy on the other end of the wire would cross your square off so you couldn’t eat twice. It was like analog Strategic Air Command for terrible food.

Speaking of strategy, peaceful Pres. Jimmy Carter went into the final phases of the campaign leading Ronald Reagan by eight points. Reagan hawkishly called for huge defense spending, and supply-side economic policies. He was aided by Democratic dissatisfaction with Carter, the Iran hostage crisis, and a worsening economy. Carter survived a contested primary, counted on decency, and attacked Reagan as a dangerous right-wing extremist, warning that Reagan would cut Medicare and Social Security. All of these things were and are true.

After their sole debate, Carter fell to three points behind. On November 4th, me and some fellas did what college-types typically do after class, then ambled down to the lobby, where voting machines were set up instead of food lines. Once in the old-timey metal booth with fabric curtains, I did not want Reagan, as he was too hard, nor Carter, as he was too soft. And Anderson was just being too cute by half, so I wrote myself in for Holy Roman Emperor and my buddy for Minister of Education. We lost, as did Carter, who was absolutely shellacked.

So like the end of Animal House, the postscripts we now know are that I would leave school after two terms for a machine shop, then double back at Wayne State with a new major and a new son. That Reagan and Co. would go on to transform culture, capitalism and the nation’s fabric from the benevolent to predatory models. That Carter would become everyone’s favorite ex-POTUS. And that 1980 would stand as the only time in history when an older non-incumbent would beat a younger sitting President.

Probably until this Tuesday.

The Scary Science of Polling

Not just because it’s Halloween plus the Pandemic, most non-Trump folk have spent this election season with their pants scared off. We are all snake-bit from 2016, to the extent that even mentioning polling may summon demons, but mention we must.

Nate Silver’s (yeah, him) most recent headline reads “Trump Can Still Win, But The Polls Would Have To Be Off By Way More Than In 2016.” In that piece, Silver, who does run sims 40,000 times for each major race, identifies four zones of predictability in calling such things; the gray area, the normal polling-error zone, the zone of plausibility and the outer reaches. Silver chalks up Trump’s previous win to the second area, “a place we talked about in 2016, when we told you that Trump was only a normal-sized polling error away from beating Hillary Clinton. What did that mean? It meant that if polls were off by about the amount they’ve been off in past elections–by around 3 points, on average–and the error favored Trump, then he’d probably win the Electoral College. And that’s basically what happened, although the polling was worse in some states than others.”

On the cusp of 2020, Silver believes a Trump win is within the “zone of plausibility,” as in it’s not ridiculous, but even applying 2016 polling error averages to today, Silver concludes “Joe Biden would win. In fact, he’d win 335 electoral votes, including those in Florida, Georgia and Arizona. A lot of these wins would be close–he’d win by around 2 points in Arizona and Wisconsin, by and less than 1 point in Florida, Georgia and Pennsylvania, so he’d have to sweat a bit, but he’d win.” So he’s saying Biden’s chances are 90 percent, with Trump at 10, a narrow path at best.

Moving to RCP averages, which hew somewhat conservative, national polls have Biden up +7.2, with the Economist/YouGov showing Biden’s biggest national lead at +11 and Rasmussen putting him ahead +3. Stepping back, other than Rasmussen’s finding of Trump +1 in mid-September, you must look nearly nine months ago to February to find a Trump lead. This surely makes Trump’s claim of his true polling supremacy and/or a rigged defeat curious if not psychotic.

In those states called battlegrounds for a reason, RCP’s average has Biden up a tighter +3.4, with the biggest margin here in Michigan at +6.2 and the smallest in Florida at +.7. Two states to watch, which keep coming up and which we must all pray make quick work of their ballot counting are PA and FLA, as both are tipping-point states. Any significant delay in returns there could literally make our streets unsafe for days if not weeks in the plausible event Trump prematurely declares victory.

Before we pull away from Silver et al, we should take some heart in the fact that he puts Biden’s chances in the Keystone State at 85 percent, and the Dem’s chances of taking the Senate at 76 percent. Or in the lingo of both Silver and his colleague Dave Wasserman at the Cook Political Report: they’ve seen enough.

From their lips to God’s ears.

Decency or Disruption?

With just hours to go before the most consequential election since 1864, let’s try and provide a little help to the undecided. Biden remains steady-Eddy, promising a return to decency, dignity and the first tangible plan to manage the pandemic. For his part, Trump is conversely scatter-gunning grievances like Covid-spit-balls across the un-masked hustings of the Midwest. At various turns Trump has proclaimed: corrupt doctors are collecting Covid “bounties” by lying about death statistics; armed poll-watchers should set up on suspect polling places to prevent “bad things”; Trump supporters running the opponent’s campaign bus off the highway in Texas is funny; if he wins, the election’s clean, but if he loses, it was rigged and he’ll sue in all 50 states. Sounds reasonable, right?

Trump’s panicky closing act is all the more craven in light of a recent Stanford University study. Researchers isolated 18 Trump rallies held between June 20 and Sept. 22 and analyzed Covid-19 data the weeks following each event. Comparing the counties against non-rally counties, researchers demonstrated the events ultimately resulted in more than 30,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and likely led to more than 700 deaths, among attendees and non-attending household members. Tell us again please how this man cares about America and Americans?

If folks remain unconvinced about the value of MAGA 2.0, for the sake of verbal economy, we can go straight to some reliable GOP and national security quarters, where opinions should at least be considered. A recent open letter from 489 top names, including 22 retired four-star generals and admirals, five former defense secretaries and other notable leaders was blunt in its assessment. “The next president will inherit a nation — and a world — in turmoil,” the letter continued, “The current President has demonstrated he is not equal to the enormous responsibilities of his office; he cannot rise to meet challenges large or small. Thanks to his disdainful attitude and his failures, our allies no longer trust or respect us, and our enemies no longer fear us.” Not much wiggle room there.

Notoriously direct, arch-conservative George Will echoed such sentiments, recently stating “Mr. Trump has made himself toxic in what he calls our ‘beautiful suburbs.’ Forty-nine percent of the votes cast in 2016 came from suburbia . . . Joseph Stalin–like God, in the book of Genesis–looked upon his work and saw that it was good. Hence Stalin’s March 2, 1930, Pravda article ‘Dizzy With Success.’ Mr. Trump told Americans they would get tired of all the winning he had in store for them. They are indeed tired. Promises made, promises kept.”

And the final conservative scribe we will visit as we head for home is kindly David Brooks, who your average Trumper might derisively call “pencil-neck.” In lamenting the moral cave-in of Trumpism, Brooks stated “I had trouble adjusting to the new reality. I imagined the floor was just lowered. Even after he was elected, I predicted he’d be out in a year. He’d create some scandal or commit some crime and would be gone. He created more scandals than I expected … and he just kept going. One of the oft-repeated phrases about Trump during these years was: There is no bottom.”

Ultimately, for my humble part I see the largest difference between Trump and Biden, or Trump and any average, pre-MAGA American, as the element of unconditional decency. Most folks I know personally, myself included, do not base their daily treatment of others on what’s in it for them. We do not condition treating others with requisite human dignity as if it were part of some transaction, or serf-noble encounter, but we do show each other decency, humility and humanity because it’s the right thing to do.

And when Donald Trump lies, cheats and steals his way through an entire adult life and just last week leaves thousands of misguided supporters freezing out on an airport tarmac hours after he’s flown off in his warm and cozy jet, he’s telling you all you need to know. Decency, humility and humanity are for suckers. And losers. Not winners, like Donald John Trump, the greatest President* since Abraham Lincoln.

Just ask him.

Author: Bill Urich

A tail-end baby-boomer, Bill Urich was born in Cleveland to a grade school teacher and her Navy vet husband, and reared in Greater Detroit. Working his way through school primarily at night, Mr. Urich holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism, Phi Beta Kappa, and a Juris Doctorate from Wayne State University. In his legal career he has acted as an assistant state prosecutor, city attorney, special prosecutor, mediator, magistrate, private practitioner and mayor of Royal Oak, a large home-rule city in Michigan. Mr. Urich continues in private practice and municipal prosecution, is on faculty to DePaul University, pens regular contributions to political publications, and remains active in selected campaigns and causes related to labor, social and criminal justice. A father of three mostly-grown sons, he spends his precious free time on family, friends, the pursuit of happiness, beauty and truth, three rescue cats, and fronting the rock band Calcutta Rugs from behind the drum kit.