Good Monday Evening to all. As we slide into the short Thanksgiving week, in some respects we’ve been here before; our thoughts may turn slightly nostalgic as we contemplate the next two short business days, shopping lists and another Detroit Lion’s stunner.
And yet, we, as individuals, families, communities, states, and a nation, have never been here before. Ever. Unless you could combine and count the worst parts of 1860 with a Medieval plague that takes nearly 1.4 million souls across the globe, the road ahead is uncharted and horribly treacherous. Looking down at our own dash, here are the numbers. Internationally, there have been 59,076,121 total Covid-19 cases confirmed and 1,395,296 souls have perished. In the US, we show 12,589,088 total cases, 262,701 souls lost and 871 newly and dearly departed as of yesterday.
Here in the mitten, we have endured 302,705 cumulative cases, 11,511 daily confirmed cases, 8,543 perished souls and 101 newly departed.
Since gawking would be horrible here, let’s drive on. Paraphrasing Dan Aykroyd, there’s 32 days ‘till Christmas, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark out, and we’re wearing sunglasses. Hit it.
Just Plain Mean
Growing up, from earliest childhood, through adolescence, into young adulthood and beyond, my Mom and Dad were supportive, decent and loving until the very last. Siblings are different; sure my big brother visited some nasty hijinks on me, but it was done with love, I think.
There was the time when I was about 5 or 6 and he and Jimmy Bamberger from down the street tied me to a chair, gagged me with a (used) sock, and locked me in a dark closet. Eventually my Mom heard the chair scuffing across the floor and came to my rescue. And there was another occasion when he and my sister stuffed me in a detergent barrel, put the lid on and rolled me down the basement stairs. But these episodes happened at home, in some proximity to Mom, Dad and a sense of eventual comfort and safety nearby.
Out on the street, out in the world, it was a different story. Attending Echo Park Nursery School in about 1966, I was lucky enough at recess one day to have a date with a girl named Janie. There was a nice playground featuring a cement roadway for tricycle rides, and Janie climbed aboard the back of the trike and held my shoulders as we set off; the world was my oyster. Nearing a wooden bridge over the walk, we were hailed from above by a kid named Rusty; I looked up, and Rusty dumped a full bucket of sand through the slats and into my eyes. I just couldn’t understand such meanness.
Some time later in the Summer, Kenny Kevonian and I were walking “around the block,” which was kind of a big deal. While I always stuck to the closer block of Woodwind, Kenny wanted us to take Hedgewood. So as we’re rounding a corner we come upon a house under construction, with an enormous dirt-pile and a lazy dirt clod fight already underway. And atop said dirt pile was James Justin. Now dirt clods were legal, conventional weapons, but this rule of the kid-world did not stop James from suddenly going nuclear and gunning a hail of good-sized stones at us, one of which cut Kenny above the eye. I just couldn’t understand such meanness.
One Fall day around the same era, against my Mom’s wishes, I elected to wear a pair of very special royal blue corduroys for the day. Back on Hedgewood (I’m a slow learner sometimes) I encountered Scott Swanson, who promptly shoved me off my coveted chain-drive trike, and took off in a brazen act of grand-theft. Of course I chased after him, grabbed hold of the rear running-boards, and was dragged an ample distance before the thief relented. Riding home with bloody knees poking clean-through the huge holes in my pants, I did not have the cold comfort of knowing that eventually, Scott Swanson would die in prison (seriously). I just couldn’t understand such meanness.
And so it goes, throughout my life into adulthood and the legal profession, throughout all of our lives. We all experience that very moment of shock and revulsion, when you realize the person you’re trying to work with, or, ostensibly under court rules of fair play, against, turns out to be a raging, craven, conscience-less asshole. You wonder to yourself if they have a family? If they kiss their children with that same lying, malevolent mouth? If they have enough self-awareness to know they are doing corrosive damage to the reasonable, orderly and peaceable functioning of the universe? You just can’t understand such meanness.
Societally speaking, whilst there are gradations to everything, there are essentially sheep, sheepdogs and wolves. We are all fallible, and there are bad acts, but there are bad actors. Really bad. Or more simply, there are “normal” people, and there are mean, nasty, treacherous, despicable assholes. And I think you know where we’re headed.
MAGA-Frankenstein: A Monster Conspiracy to Seize Power
In March of 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower made an address to the Fourth Annual Republican Women’ s National Conference. In it, he emphatically stated “If a political party does not have its foundation in the determination to advance a cause that is right and that is moral, then it is not a political party; it is merely a conspiracy to seize power.” Speaking as he was, in the language of other great 20th century statesmen, I quote Ike not simply because he’s one of my favorites, but for context.
Context as in, 64 years after Ike’s remarks, RNC chair Ronna (formerly Romney) McDaniel and Michigan GOP chair Laura Cox were exhorting their state to toss out ballots, ignore Joe Biden’s 150,000 vote lead, and blow up the state’s election results in what was a race-driven “conspiracy to seize power.”
Let’s throw her in reverse and back up to November 7th, just around noon, when most everyone who lives, works and worships in “rational world” learned and accepted Joseph Robinette Biden would be the 46th President of the United States. Amid congratulatory calls from myriad world leaders, joyful pandemonium from millions, and the direct, if begrudging acquiescence of Fox News, it seemed as if the entire solar system let out an interplanetary sigh of relief. Yet perhaps that exhalation was a mite too soon for millions of the MAGA-faithful and their mean master of the universe, Donald John Trump.
Shaking off some temporary shock, Trump went golfing, then quickly commenced a tirade featuring hundreds of tweets, more multiple rounds of golf, and one or two official public appearances in the last 16 days, digging in his heels and refusing to concede in the face of the simplest math.
Most of the support for Trump’s “opposite world” landslide victory comes from absurd media corners of incredibility such as OAN, Newsmax and Brietbart, as well as the quiet, cowardly acquiescence of nearly the entire GOP Caucus. But the most precious and primordial bellicosity came from the man himself. Among my selected POTUS* tweets since America’s verdict: “Many more votes than needed. This was a LANDSLIDE!”; “900,000 Fraudulent Votes!”; “We have great support on the Election Hoax!”; “Nevada is turning out to be a cesspool of Fake Votes”; “The Media is just as corrupt as the Election itself!”
My absolute favorite out of all the blathering has to be this: “REPORT: DOMINION DELETED 2.7 MILLION TRUMP VOTES NATIONWIDE. DATA ANALYSIS FINDS 221,000 PENNSYLVANIA VOTES SWITCHED FROM PRESIDENT TRUMP TO BIDEN. 941,000 TRUMP VOTES DELETED. STATES USING DOMINION VOTING SYSTEMS SWITCHED 435,000 VOTES FROM TRUMP TO BIDEN.” Indeed, this opposite world would be dark comedy if it weren’t so sick, sad and dangerous to our functioning democracy and the people of rational world.
As recently reported in Reuters, “About half of Republicans polled by Reuters/Ipsos said Trump ‘rightfully won’ the election but had it stolen from him in systemic fraud favoring Biden . . . Just 29% of Republicans said Biden rightfully won. Other polls since the election have reported that an even higher proportion–up to 80%–of Republicans trust Trump’s baseless fraud narrative.”
And this danger turns deadly when folks like Sundown, Texas, Mayor Jonathan Strickland insist there’s “no way in hell” Biden won fairly. The only way he’ll believe it, he said, is if Trump himself says so. “Trump is the only one we’ve been able to trust for the last four years,” said Strickland, an oilfield production engineer. “As far as the civil war goes, I don’t think it’s off the table.”
For your humble scribe, who’s been observing politics closely for nearly a half-century, I can safely say that we’ve driven the car completely off the map. “This is dystopian,” said Prof. Paul Light, a veteran political scientist at NYU. “America could fracture.” Indeed, PA Federal District Judge Matthew Brann opined “This claim, like Frankenstein’s Monster, has been haphazardly stitched together from two distinct theories in an attempt to avoid controlling precedent.” He then unceremoniously dismissed Trump’s “elite strike force” complaint.
As tactics for seizing and keeping ever more power began morphing from such sophomoric legal maneuvers to unlawful and felonious interference, we have found that space between the gears of our constitutional republic that heretofore was occupied by an honor system which could not possibly contemplate the likes of Trump.
Speaking to this singularity, and the founders’ blind spot for it, Prof. Jeffrey Engel of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University, stated “They couldn’t fathom two things: a person who had become president who was so utterly lacking in classical virtue that they would deign or dare to put their own interests above the unity of the country.” He continued, “And the second thing is, I think they couldn’t fathom how any president who would so vividly display disdain for the unity of the country, and mock and undermine the legitimacy of American democracy . . . would not have already been impeached.”
Voices of GOP reason are straining to be heard by Trump to little effect. David Gergen, adviser to four previous presidents, including two Democrats and two Republicans, suggested Trump is trying to “kneecap” the Biden administration before it takes power, noting this is the first time a sitting American president has tried to overthrow an election result. Stalwart booster and bully Chris Christie, out on the Sunday talks, just observed “Elections have consequences, and we cannot continue to act as if something happened here that didn’t happen.” Republican senators including Pat Toomey (PA), Kevin Cramer (ND), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Susan Collins (ME), Ben Sasse (NE) and Mitt Romney (UT) all urged Trump to begin the transition to Biden’s presidency.
And the balance of the GOP? In a deafening confederacy of silence, they are lurking near the margins, cravenly waiting to see what happens to their king. And one of those margins was Michigan, where the State Board of Canvassers just certified results. Whistling past the graveyard, a MI Secretary of State spox had earlier said “We have no reason to doubt the canvassers will carry out their duty to certify. Every one of Michigan’s 83 counties have done so, Republican and Democrat clerks have confirmed there is no evidence of widespread irregularities . . . .” Turns out she was right.
The fate of the Republic was hanging in the balance due in no small measure to duplicity and dupes. State House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) seemed to coyly welcome a wipeout, stating “If there were to be a 2-2 split on the State Board of Canvassers, it would then go to the Michigan Supreme Court to determine what their response would be, what their order would be.” Meanwhile, in a rare show of bipartisanship, US Reps. Paul Mitchell (R-MI) and Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) had called on Trump & Co. to acknowledge the reality that Biden won Michigan by nearly 154,000 votes. “President Donald Trump should accept those facts and allow the rest of the country to move forward,” they wrote in a joint piece.
As the nation witnesses Trump bluntly force his meanness, vandalism and symbolic rape on the Republic, a brief ray of sun shone upon the pleasant peninsula.
When Hope and History Rhyme
At various turns seeming almost oblivious to the clamor below, Joe Biden has quickly risen ever higher in stature, dutifully assembling a competent government-in-waiting while remaining as patient as Job. The President-elect has named his picks for State (Antony Blinken), Treasury (Janet Yellen), National Security Adviser (Jake Sullivan), Homeland Security (Alejandro Mayorka), Director of National Intelligence (Avril Haines), and the UN (Linda Thomas-Greenfield). With the knowledge that the gatekeeper is often the most important man in the beltway next to the POTUS himself, long-time adviser Ron Klain has been named Chief of Staff. All of these selections carry integrity, intelligence, competence and credentials, four qualities starkly absent from most of the Trump era and its personnel.
Making good on his promise to be “a president for all Americans,” Biden held a call with equal handfuls of Democratic and GOP governors last Thursday, to discuss how the new administration could best help states fight the pandemic (wouldn’t that be something?). Taking questions on the Trump-fueled chaos and uncertainty, Biden spoke to the average American’s view of that very spectacle, stating “they’re witnessing incredible irresponsibility, an incredibly damaging message being sent to the rest of the world about how democracy functions.”
Far from behaving like the doddering fool or raging socialist Trumpers warned against, Biden has already won the confidence of the business community, emphatically stating “I am not going to shut down the economy, period. No national shutdown. No national shutdown.” And as to bipartisanship, he is raising some ire of the ultra-left, tacking to center, and stubbornly holding “I’m making a judgment based on many years of experience on how to get things done with the opposition. My judgment is that we’ll get further along by actually working with our Republican colleagues now . . . .”
During an address on the day of his victory, Biden quoted a favorite Irish bard, Seamus Heaney, who in turn borrowed from Sophocles’s play “Philoctetes.” The full text of the piece reads as follows:
Human beings suffer,
They torture one another,
They get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
Can fully right a wrong
Inflicted and endured.
History says, don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.
So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
From his lips to God’s ears.