Trumpism: The Politics of Paranoia

On November 19th, Rudy Giuliani and other members of the Trump legal team held an extended press conference to discuss their claims of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election. While this event will be remembered as the occasion where Giuliani’s hair dye dripped down the sides of his face, it was more notable for the bizarre claims made. We shouldn’t be surprised, because the press conference is consistent with the Republican “paranoid style” championed by Donald Trump.

Conspiracy Theories: For the last 70 years, there’s been a faction within the Republican Party that promotes conspiracy theories.  This began with the 1950 claim, by Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy, that Communists had infiltrated the State Department.  The assertions by the Trump legal team are part of this tradition.

Giuliani began his November 19th press conference with this claim: “There was a plan from a centralized place to execute these various acts of voter fraud…in a  number of states.”  Trump legal team member Sidney Powell elaborated: “What we are really dealing with here, and uncovering more by the day, is the massive influence of Communist money through Venezuela, Cuba, and likely China in the interference with our elections here in the United States.”  Powell described the mechanism for interference: “The Dominion voting systems, the Smartmatic technology software and the software that goes in other computerized voting systems here in as well, not just Dominion, were created in Venezuela at the direction of Hugo Chavez.”  She claimed the Dominion company has a relationship with George Soros, adding “There are ties of the Dominion leadership to the Clinton Foundation and to other known politicians in this country.”  Giuliani told reporters: “I would love to release all the information that I have… Except most of you wouldn’t cover it… The censorship that is going on in this country right now by big tech and by big media, is almost as dangerous as the election fraud that we’re revealing.”

This isn’t the only conspiracy that Republicans are concerned about.  On November 22nd, Republican Congressman Devin Nunes referred to former President Barack Obama as President-elect Joe Biden’s “overlord,” calling for a special counsel to take over the investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia probe. (https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8975595/Rep-Devin-Nunes-claims-Barack-Obama-Joe-Bidens-overlord.html )

Conspiracies swirl around Donald Trump.  At various times, Trump has tweeted conspiracy theories about the Coronavirus: it was a Chinese bio-weapon; the U.S. numbers are overstated — the pandemic is not as serious as health authorities say it is; etc.  He has also tweeted conspiracy theories about Barack Obama and Joe Biden: they illegally spied on his campaign; Biden is semi-senile and only appears normal because of his use of performance-enhancing drugs; etc.  Recently, Trump’s most venomous theory is that use of mail-in ballots leads to widespread voter fraud. (https://www.vox.com/recode/21546119/trump-conspiracy-theories-election-2020-coronavirus-voting-vote-by-mail )

Many Trump supporters subscribe to the QAnon conspiracy theory (https://www.nytimes.com/article/what-is-qanon.html .  According to the New York Times: “QAnon is the umbrella term for a sprawling set of internet conspiracy theories that allege, falsely, that the world is run by a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles who are plotting against Mr. Trump while operating a global child sex-trafficking ring.  QAnon followers believe that this clique includes top Democrats including Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and George Soros, as well as a number of entertainers and Hollywood celebrities…”  (Trump refuses to disavow this group.)

Trumpism: Some political observers have dismissed Trump as a performer, observing that he has no deep political beliefs; that he is guided by the maxim: “do whatever it takes to win.”  Another way to view Trump is as an “extreme” Republican; that he represents long-standing Republican tendencies taken to the extreme.  For example, “isolationism:” since before World War Ii, the Republican Party has been the “isolationist” Party; Trump has taken this tendency and promoted objectives such as the U.S. leaving NATO.  As another example, since passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and the political realignment, the Republican party has been the “White folks” Party.  Trump has played to this and been the most overtly racist President in modern times.

Most relevant to the present moment is the fact that, since 1950, the Republican Party has been the conspiracy Party; there has always been an element within the GOP that believed “socialist hordes are at the gates,” and promoted stories about “the Communist menace.”  Once again, Trump has taken this to an extreme.  Not by emphasizing Russian communists but rather by demonizing Chinese communists and fomenting a conspiracy theory linking communists/socialists, AntiFa, leaders of Black Lives Matter, and violence in American cities.

Donald Trump has championed paranoia.  He’s distributed paranoia through his public statements and the conservative media silo.

The Paranoid Style:  The Republican tendency to engage in conspiracy theories was analyzed in a classic 1964 political essay, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” (https://harpers.org/archive/1964/11/the-paranoid-style-in-american-politics/ ) written by historian Richard Hofstadter.  “There is a style of mind that is far from new and that is not necessarily right-wing. I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind.”  Hofstadter linked the paranoid style to Joseph McCarthy and Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater,  Hofstadter described three aspects:

First, there has been the now-familiar sustained conspiracy, running over more than a generation, and reaching its climax in Roosevelt’s New Deal, to undermine free capitalism, to bring the economy under the direction of the federal government, and to pave the way for socialism or communism…The second contention is that top government officialdom has been so infiltrated by Communists that American policy, at least since the days leading up to Pearl Harbor, has been dominated by men who were shrewdly and consistently selling out American national interests.  Finally, the country is infused with a network of Communist agents…so that the whole apparatus of education, religion, the press, and the mass media is engaged in a common effort to paralyze the resistance of loyal Americans.

Summary: Considering Hofstadter’s words, It’s easy to see Donald Trump’s 2020 political campaign as a manifestation of the Republican paranoid style: Trump claimed the United States was under attack by socialists (and Antifa), the Democratic Party had been infiltrated by these socialists, and socialists had subverted the mainstream media — with “fake news.”

From this perspective, the fact that more than 73 million Americans voted for Trump is not surprising.  They did not necessarily vote for the man, they voted in support of the notion that the United State is under attack and Republicans can save it.  In 2020, Republican voters were motivated by paranoia.

Election 2020: Lessons Learned

At this writing, Joe Biden leads Donald Trump by 5.9 million popular votes and 74 electoral college votes. Nonetheless, the election was closer than many Democrats expected. There are several important lessons to be learned.

 

1.Trump had a strategy. And it almost worked.

Since his inauguration, Trump has been historically unpopular.  According to the 538 website (https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/ ), during his presidency, Trump’s approval ratings never got to 50 percent; he typically ranged between 41 and 44 percent.

Many political observers felt that, given his lack of popularity, Trump could not be reelected unless he made a concerted attempt to reach outside his base.  Trump made no attempt to do this.  He made no effort to “reach across the aisle” — to attempt to work with Democrats.  He seemed to revel in disparaging Democratic leaders, such as Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.

But Trump did have a strategy.  Part one was to increase the size of his base.  Trump started his re-election campaign on January 21, 2017.   Over the course of the next 3+ years, Republicans registered and mobilized 3 million new voters.  In 2016, the vote breakdown by Party was 36 percent Democratic, 33 percent Republican, and 31 percent Independent.  In 2020, the breakdown by Party was 37 percent Democratic, 35 percent Republican, and 28 percent Independent.  Republicans increased their Party registration by two percentage points and increased their voting loyalty by 5 percent (88 percent voted for Trump in 2016 versus 93 percent in 2020.)

Part two of Trump’s strategy was to suppress the Democratic vote.  Since Trump never expected to win the popular vote  — in 2016, Trump lost the popular vote by 2.9 million votes — he focused his efforts on suppression in key swing states: Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.  Republicans unleashed their typical dirty tricks: savage voter purges, new “voter identification” requirements, changing polling places, etcetera.

At Trump’s direction, Republicans attacked voting by mail-in ballots as “fraud.”  A New York Times article by Jim Rutenberg and Nick Corassniti (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/15/us/politics/trump-voter-fraud-claims.html? ) details the years long effort to build this nefarious case: “From the start, the president saw mail-in ballots as a political threat that would appeal more to Democrats than to his followers. And so he and his allies sought to block moves to make absentee voting easier and to slow the content of mail-in ballots.  This allowed Mr. Trump to do two things: claim an early victory on election night and paint ballots that were counted later for his opponent as fraudulent.”

Part three of Trump’s strategy was to drive down Joe Biden’s favorability ratings.  Just as he had done with Hillary Clinton, Trump tried to paint Biden as dishonest — as illegally benefitting from Hunter Biden’s business activities.  When this didn’t work, Trump switched to attacking Biden as senile — too old to be running for President.  None of this worked — Biden’s favorability actually increased over the last few months before election day.  Nonetheless, in certain parts of the country, more general attacks on Democrats did resonate.  (For example, accusations that Dems wanted to “defund the police.”)

Part four of Trump’s strategy was to monopolize the Republican information silos: Fox News, Rush Limbaugh radio, and conservative social media pages.  This worked.  Voters who only listened to these silos acquired a warped perspective on Donald Trump; for example, they thought he had done a good job managing the the Coronavirus pandemic.

2.Trump increased his popular vote.  In 2016 Donald Trump got 62,985,106 votes.  At this writing, in 2020 Trump has 73,703,919. 

Trump overwhelmingly carried non-college-educated white voters (67 percent).  The New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/11/16/us/politics/election-turnout.html ) observed: “Statistically, whether or not American voters had college degrees was by far the most significant predictor of where the 2020 tide of additional turnout was highest, and who won it. This metric is a stand-in for socioeconomic status — closely following patterns of higher income. Thus it could also be an indicator of cultural security, comfort and enfranchisement. There was a stark schism in the white vote apparent along this fault line: Populist areas, highlighted by concentrations of white voters without a college degree, moved toward Mr. Trump. White areas with better-educated populations, whether cities, suburbs or college towns, moved decisively away.”

There’s a rabid Donald Trump voter, who supported him and the other Republicans on the 2020 ballot.  These voters  made a big difference in contested Senate and House races.  It remains to be seen whether these Trump devotees will show up when Donald Trump is not on the ballot.  They didn’t in 2018.  (In 2020, in four California swing congressional districts — CA 21, 25, 38, and 48 — the Democratic incumbent would have prevailed if Republicans had voted at 2016 levels; in 2020, Republicans significantly increased their vote and as a result recaptured two of these seats, with the other two undecided.)

3. Money isn’t everything.  Democrats were eager to take control of the Senate and poured millions of dollars into Senate races.  They didn’t have much to show for this.  For example, in Kentucky, Democratic challenger Amy McGrath raised $90 million versus Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell’s $51 million.  Nonetheless, McConnell won by 400k votes (57.8 percent to 38.2 percent).

The most glaring failure was in Maine where Dems were convinced they would replace Republican incumbent Susan Collins with Democrat Sara Gideon.  Gideon raised $69.5 million versus $24.2 million for Collins.  Nonetheless, Collins won by 72k votes (51.1 percent versus 42.2 percent.)  The New York Times did an analysis of this race (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/17/us/maine-susan-collins.html) and concluded: “[Maine] voters thought the reasons [for Collins victory] were clear: The Gideon campaign, they said, was too focused on national politics. It was too negative, they complained. And it cost too much money, too much of it from outside the state.”

What we can learn from this is that for any particular political contest it’s not sufficient to have more money.  Democrats can only be assured of a victory when they have a better organization.  Ultimately, that’s why Biden prevailed over Trump.  (and that’s why, in Arizona, Mark Kelly defeated Martha McSally.)

That’s a cautionary tale for the contested Georgia Senate races.  Democrats will win if they have the better organization — of course, this costs money.

Summary: Whether we may feel about Donald Trump, he is a force in contemporary politics.  Democrats should be very wary of rabid Trump voters.

Terror

The first time I met the blues
People, you know I was walkin’, I was walkin’ down through the woods

(Little Brother Montgomery, 1937)

Lethal
If you look directly at terror
it drills a hole in your soul.

Yes, I’ve watched my house burnin’ blues
Blues, you know you done me, you done me all the harm that you could
.”

Invasive
terror breaks into your space
gagging your senses.

The blues got after me
People, you know they ran me from tree to tree
.”

Chronic
terror stalks you
infecting your sleep.

Yes, you should-a heard me beg ya, blues
Ah, blues, don’t murder me
.”

Pernicious
terror abducts your identity
and devours your soul.

Buddy Guy 1960 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dwy7pmFkv9o )

2020 Election: Cleaning Up Loose Ends

We’ve had more than a week to consider the election results and several things jump out:

1.It was a big win: The Biden-Harris campaign brought out a huge vote.  538’s Nate Silver estimates: “Extrapolating out from current vote totals, I project Biden winning the popular vote by 4.3 percentage points and getting 81.8 million votes to President Trump’s 74.9 million, with a turnout of around 160 million.”  To put this in perspective, no previous candidate has ever garnered more than 70 million votes.  (Biden’s win was the largest popular vote margin since Barack Obama defeated John McCain in 2009.)

Biden flipped the 2016 results and garnered 306 electoral votes.  This included the key Democratic objective of carrying the mid-West “blue Wall” states (Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) along with Arizona and Georgia..

Trump joined the infamous “one-term” President club, alongside Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush.

2. Trump got a lot of votes: Biden brought out his voters.  But so did Trump.  In 2020, Trump got 12 million more votes than he did in 2016.  This turned the tide in several states.  For example, in 2016, Trump won Texas with 4.6 million votes; in 2020, Biden got 5.2 million Texas votes, but Trump prevailed because he increased his vote total to 5.8 million.

How did Trump increase his vote count?  Two explanations: First, in the last two weeks of the competition, Trump developed a compelling message.”Biden wants to shut down the economy, I want to open it up.” New York Times exit polls indicated that a significant percentage of Trump voters decided to vote for him in the last couple of weeks. The most important issue for Trump voters was the economy.  Exit polls indicated that Trump supporters strongly supported this position: “Rebuilding the economy now, even if it hurts efforts to contain the coronavirus.”  (Versus the position that Dems supported: “Containing the coronavirus now, even if it hurts the economy.’)

The second explanation: Republicans registered and mobilized 3 million new voters.  In 2016, the vote breakdown by Party was 36 percent Democratic, 33 percent Republican, and 31 percent Independent.  In 2020, the breakdown by Party was 37 percent Democratic, 35 percent Republican, and 28 percent Independent.  Republicans increased their voters by two percentage points and increased their voting loyalty by 5 percent (88 percent voted for Trump in 2016 versus 93 percent in 2020.)

The fact of 3 million newly registered Republican voters accounts for some of the election poll errors.  That is, the Trump voters who didn’t show up in the polls weren’t “shy” they were too new to show up in the polling data bases.  (In addition, pollsters probably underestimated the enthusiasm of Trump likely voters.)  In the New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/12/us/politics/election-polls-trump-biden.html?referringSource=articleShare ) David Leonhardt suggests another reason for the poll errors: “The most likely explanation remains an unwillingness among some Republican voters to answer surveys. This problem may have become more acute during Mr. Trump’s presidency, because he frequently told his supporters not to trust the media.”

3. The Coronavirus pandemic was a wedge issue.  Out here on the Left Coast, we thought that Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic would finish him off — lead to a ‘blue wave.”  It didn’t turn out that way; “Machiavelli Trump” managed to use the pandemic to further his objectives: first, he ignored the health issues and mounted a ferocious voter registration and get-out-the-vote effort.  (Democrats, sensibly, didn’t do this — for example, in most states, Dems didn’t go door-to-door as they usually do.) On election day, massive numbers of Trump supporters showed up, in person, at polling locations.  Democrats saved the day by virtual canvassing and generating 80 million votes, many of which were mail-in ballots.

The second way that Trump responded to the pandemic was to promote a false coronavirus narrative. During the last two weeks of the campaign, Trump’s core message was: “The Coronavirus pandemic is not serious enough to justify shutting down the economy.”  Of course, Trump had contracted COVID-19, been hospitalized, and recovered.  Trump flew around the U.S. with the message, “The Coronavirus is no big deal; see, I’ve recovered.”  (Trump’s implied message was that he was a real man, who confronted the Coronavirus without a mask; in contrast, Biden was a wimp.)

Trump’s closing theme held his base.  The most important issue for Trump voters was the economy (57 percent); in contrast, the most important issue for Biden voters was ‘Racial inequality” followed closely by “the coronavirus pandemic.”   Not surprisingly, Trump voters believed that Trump “would better handle the coronavirus pandemic” compared to Biden.

Most Trump voters believed the “U.S. efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic” were going “very well” or “somewhat well.”  (Biden voters believed the opposite.)  Most Trump voters reported that the pandemic had caused them “a moderate financial hardship” or “no financial hardship at all.”  (Again, Biden voters reported the opposite.)  Most Trump voters consider wearing a mask “a personal choice” rather than a “public health responsibility.”

Regarding the coronavirus pandemic: there’s a chasm between Trump voters and Biden supporters.  This will likely have lasting consequences.

Trump’s closing message — “The Coronavirus pandemic is not serious enough to justify shutting down the economy” — was criminally irresponsible.  Trump flew around the country and hosted “super spreader” events.  He mobilized his base at the price of their health and safety.  Trump’s actions yielded short term results — his base turned out — but, in the long term, this will hurt the economy and the nation.  We are adding 135,000 new Coronavirus cases per day and are on track to add 5 million new cases by the end of 2020.

Trump waged a “scorched earth” campaign.  He placed his own interests above those of the American people, but his supporters did not see this.

Bottom line: Considering the circumstances, the Biden-Harris campaign did a remarkable job getting their voters to turn out.  Donald Trump plumbed new depths of immorality.  It’s very sobering to consider that more than 70 million Americans voted for Trump.

Joe Biden has pledged to be President for all Americans, regardless of who they voted for.  Godspeed, Joe.

Celestial Serenade

Nubilous universe
brightened
by song.

Starry sky
supraliminal hum.

Redwood grove
rustle of branches.

Salmon Creek
susurration of water.

Oak logs
crackle.

Humans
harmonizing.

Babies
wailing.

Elders
creaking.

My love
croons.

2020 Presidential Election: What Happened?

The evening of November 3rd had a rocky start; it initially appeared that 2020 was to be a reprise of 2016 — that Donald Trump would, once again, defy the odds and steal the presidency.  Then the tide turned, Biden won Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.  By Friday we learned that Biden had probably won Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and Pennsylvania.  On Saturday, the Biden-Harris ticket prevailed.  But not by the margins Dems had hoped for.

The good news is that Democrats secured the presidency.  The bad news is that the election was much closer than expected and has emphasized that we are a deeply divided nation.  Here are preliminary answers to key questions:

1.Why was the race so close?  On November 2nd, presidential election polls showed Biden with a 5 to 9 percentage point advantage.  At the moment it appears that Biden will win by 3 to 4 points.  Many folks will blame pollsters.  I think there’s a simpler explanation: Trump finished strong and mobilized his base.

There were two presidential debates: September 29 and October 22.  At the first debate, Trump engaged in his very worst behavior and was widely panned — Biden’s poll average crept up to 10 percent.  At the second debate, Trump was more conventional and Biden’s advantage diminished.

More important, at the second debate, Trump established his closing theme: “Biden wants to shut down the economy, I want to open it up.”  Trump’s core message was: “The Coronavirus pandemic is not serious enough to justify shutting down the economy.”  Of course, Trump had contracted COVID-19, been hospitalized, and recovered.  In the final two weeks of the campaign, he flew around the U.S. with the message, “The Coronavirus is no big deal; see, I’ve recovered.”  (Trump’s implied message was that he was a real man, who confronted the Coronavirus without a mask; in contrast, Biden was a wimp.)

Trump’s closing theme held his base.  (New York Times exit polls indicated that a significant percentage of Trump voters decided to vote for him in the last couple of weeks.)  The most important issue for Trump voters was the economy.  Exit polls indicated that Trump supporters strongly supported this position: “Rebuilding the economy now, even if it hurts efforts to contain the coronavirus.”  (Versus the position that Dems supported: “Containing the coronavirus now, even if it hurts the economy.’)

Iowa is a good example of Trump rallying his base at the last minute.  Dems had assumed that Iowa was a tossup state and on October 22, the poll average showed Biden with a slight lead.  The situation changed.  An October 31st, Des Moines Register Poll (https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/politics/iowa-poll/2020/10/31/election-2020-iowa-poll-president-donald-trump-leads-joe-biden/6061937002/) showed that iowa had swung to Trump by 7 points  — Trump won Iowa by 8 points.  Iowa Trump voters were more concerned about the economy than they were the pandemic.

Trump’s closing message — “The Coronavirus pandemic is not serious enough to justify shutting down the economy” — was criminally irresponsible.  (No surprise.)  Trump flew around the country and hosted “super spreader” events.  He mobilized his base at the price of their health and safety.  Trump’s actions yielded short term results — his base turned out — but, in the long term, this will hurt Republicans.  And the nation: we are adding 101,000 new Coronavirus cases per day and are on track to add 5 million new cases by the end of 2020.

2. Collateral Damage: Because Biden did not trigger a wave election, the red-blue division remains. It appears that Dems did not retake the Senate.  The Senate seats Democrats won or retained were in the states that Biden won.  At this writing, Democrats have gained one seat, leaving the count at 48-48 — with two of the remaining seats leaning Republican and the other two (in Georgia) to be decided by Georgia special election on January 5th.

Democrats lost approximately 8 House seats but will still have the majority.  The Cook Report observed: “[House] Democrats suffered a catastrophic erosion in Hispanic support.  The races where Republicans most vastly outperformed everyone’s priors were heavily Hispanic districts that swung enormously to Trump. These include both GOP pickups in Miami (Carlos Gimenez in FL-26 and Maria Elvira Salazar in FL-27) as well as Republican Tony Gonzales’s hold of Rep. Will Hurd’s open TX-23. Amazingly, Republicans didn’t lose a single seat in Texas.”

However, a long Politico ( https://www.politico.com/news/2020/11/06/why-biden-lost-the-latino-vote-florida-texas-434735) article indicates that the Latino story is more complicated.  Dems lost Hispanic votes in some states and gained them in others.  (Biden carried 66 percent of the Latino vote; the same percentage Clinton carried.)

In 2020, Trump carried 57 percent of White voters. (55 percent of White women.)  In 2016, Trump carried 57 percent of White voters.  (52 percent of White women.)  However, in 2020 White voters were only 65 percent of the vote; in 2016 they were 71 percent of the vote.

Trump held White voters.  Biden won because he turned out the “non White” vote.

3. Recriminations: Biden ran a more disciplined campaign than Clinton did and, as a result, reestablished the Democratic “blue wall” in the midwest.  As a consequence, Biden won the popular vote and the electoral vote.  Biden got 10 million more votes than Clinton; he increased her popular vote differential by 3 percent.  (Clinton carried 89 percent of Democrats and lost Independents to Trump 42 percent to 46 percent; Biden carried 94 percent of Democrats and won Independents 54 percent to 40 percent.)

Nonetheless, there are Democrats grousing about the Biden campaign — because it did not produce a Blue wave.  There were suggestions that a different candidate or a different strategy would have produced the desired repudiation of Trump/Trumpism.  I don’t agree with this perspective.  The Democratic presidential competition was very competitive and complicated; Biden emerged from the scrum as the elected candidate.  (The oldest candidate.)  In Biden’s long life, he has overcome many, many obstacles.  Now he is the presumptive 46th President.

Biden is a good man.  An honest man.  A candidate whose stated objective is to heal the nation.  We’re fortunate to have him be the 46th President.

4. Summary: On January 20, 2021, Donald Trump will leave the White House.  That’s a big deal.

Over the past four years, Trump and his Republican stooges have done a huge amount of damage.  Democrats want to enact major legislation that repairs this damage; for example, an expansion of healthcare.  As another example, Democrats want to pass a $15 minimum wage and an equitable tax system.  And voting rights. And on and on.

We have much more work to do.  One step at a time.

America’s Hitler

Growing up on the Left Coast, I was taught about the rise of the Third Reich, World War II, and the Holocaust tragedy. I asked myself, “If the American version of Hitler appeared in the United States, what would I do?” Now I know.

I was surprised and horrified by Donald Trump’s 2016 election win. In retrospect, multiple factors contributed to this: Trump supporters were more enthusiastic than Clinton supporters; Trump took advantage of the weird U.S. electoral college system; Russia aided the Trump campaign; and former FBI director Comey’s October 28th letter about the Clinton emails moved undecided voters. Trump benefited from a “perfect storm” of political events.

I predicted Trump would be a bad President — because of his mercurial temperament and inability to think strategically. Nonetheless, I thought Republicans would “moderate” him; I believed that GOP officeholders would restrain Trump from exercising his worst impulses. Trump’s response to the August 11-12, 2017, Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally woke me up. I saw how deep Trump’s racism is and realized how much of a threat he is.  And, I understood that Washington Republicans weren’t going to stand in his way.

During the 2016 campaign I joked that Donald Trump was the Republican Party’s version of Adolf Hitler. After Charlottesville, I understood that what I had intended as jest was, in fact, the grim reality.

Donald Trump and Adolf Hitler have a lot in common.  (Not their size, Trump is 6’2″ and Hitler was 5’9″.)  Initially, neither was taken seriously; the Hitler and Trump rallies were mocked, as were Hitler and Trump’s oratory.  Nonetheless, they attracted passionate followings and, over time, developed a “cult” appeal.  Hitler and Trump have three things in common: 1. Both preached a deeply emotional brand of populism; they brought hope to the hopeless.  When Trump brags that only he can fix a broken government, millions of Americans believe him because they have lost faith in the traditional political system.  2. Both had an openly “racist” message: Hitler advertised his anti-semitism, while Trump pushed his anti-Muslim theme — later expanding this to people-of-color, in general.  3. Both Trump and Hitler had the support of powerful capitalistic oligarchs (For example, for Hitler the Krupps and for Trump the Kochs); Hitler painted himself as an alternative to communism, Trump paints himself as an alternative to socialism.

I believe on November 3rd Joe Biden will soundly defeat Donald Trump and be declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election.  Nonetheless,Trump’s defeat won’t signal that “Trumpism” is dead — anymore than the death of Adolf Hitler meant that anti-semitism had been vanquished.  The rise of Trump, and his iron grip on the Republican Party, is a sign of deep social problems in the United States.  In the years to come, the Biden-Harris team, and all of us who supported them, are going to have to come to grips with Trumpism.

Trump’s oligarchs aren’t going to disappear after the election: the Adelsons, Devos’s, Kochs, Mellons, Mercers, Warrens, etcetera, aren’t going to abandon politics.  They’ll try to retain their power.  They won’t have Donald as their sympathetic frontman but there will be plenty of other Republicans — Mitch McConnell — willing to take their money and promote their anti-democratic agenda.  For this reason, a high priority in the 2021 Democratic congressional agenda has to be passage of legislation weakening the impact of big money on the political process.

Trump’s racist supporters aren’t going to disappear after the election.  The militias aren’t going to disappear.  The white supremacists aren’t going to disappear.  Their hate-filled politics of revenge has been emboldened by Trump and the racists are likely to be angry when Trump loses an election they were promised he would win.  Biden-Harris supporters must push for a multi-faceted response to this dangerous problem: Actions to confront systemic racism.  Common-sense gun control.  Curbs on hate speech in social media.  Enforcement of existing state laws banning militias.  Etcetera.

Members of the Trump cult aren’t going to disappear.   They will continue to be resentful.  For many of them, Donald Trump is seen as their last, best hope of grabbing a piece of the American dream; they’d lost confidence in most American institutions — certainly in conventional politics.  If the Biden-Harris Administration acts on the social platform they ran on, this will ease some of the anxiety of the Trump cult: universal healthcare, expanded unemployment benefits, a massive federal jobs program, forgiveness of student-loan debt. expanded educational benefits, protection of the environment, etcetera.  One of the main challenges for Biden-Harris will be to get members of the Trump cult to believe in science.

After the election, for a period of several years, Democrats are going to control the White House and Congress.  Dems will have an opportunity to enact major legislation that will benefit working families — Democrat and Republican.  This will be a time-consuming process, but the Biden-Harris Administration has a real chance to win over a significant segment of the Trump cult.  Biden-Harris will have to work hard on a message of reconciliation — bringing the country together; moving beyond the politics of greed, hate, and resentment.

On November 3rd, Biden will win but America’s Hitler won’t disappear.  We’ll have to stay engaged.

 

The Final Debate: C’mon

The final 2020 presidential debate didn’t change the minds of Democrats and Republicans.  This was a debate targeted for the very few undecided voters  They saw a memorable conflict between “Mister Rogers” (Biden) and “Crazy Uncle Don” (Trump).

Over the past few months it’s become banal to describe Donald Trump as crazy but an operational definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over” and that’s what Trump has done.   Trump has stuck to the same dysfunctional strategy and his situation hasn’t improved. Since January Biden has been ahead of Trump in the 538 average of national polls; at first by around 5 percent, then, in the summer, by around 8 percent, and now by 10 percent.  Biden is winning and Trump seemingly doesn’t know what to do about it.

Trump’s dysfunction has 5 components:

1.Trump sole focus is on his base.  It’s been clear to every political observer that Trump can’t win the election unless he expands his base beyond 40 percent of the electorate.  Trump isn’t doing this and over the course of the year has lost several key constituencies that supported him in 2016: suburban housewives, older voters, white college graduates, and  self-identified “Independent” voters.

In last night’s debate, Trump did nothing to expand his base.  In this sense, he lost.  The after-debate CNN poll (https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/22/politics/cnn-poll-final-presidential-debate/index.html ) indicated that “53% of voters who watched the debate said that Biden won the matchup, while 39% said that [Trump] did.”  A related CNN poll of 11 undecided voters found that 9 thought Biden had won and 2 thought the debate was a tie.

2.Trump’s communication strategy has only three components: campaign rallies, appearances on Fox News, and tweets.  To repeat the obvious: with this communication strategy, Donald doesn’t reach voters outside his base.

In the debate, Trump used his “Fox News” persona, particularly in attacking Biden and his family — the unfounded allegation that Biden’s son, Beau, acted as a “bag man” for Joe.  If you weren’t a regular Fox News viewer, you found Trump’s allegations incomprehensible.

3. Trump’s 2020 campaign doesn’t have a coherent theme.  In 2016, he used “Make America Great Again.”  He’s been forced to reuse this but it doesn’t have the same punch.  (“Make America Great Again, Again” doesn’t work.)

In 2016, every Trump rally featured three chants: “Build the wall,” “Drain the swamp,” and “Lock her up.”  In 2020, Trump can’t use “Build the wall” because he has failed to build his much-touted wall.  Trump can’t use “Drain the swamp” because during his White House residency he has become king of the swamp.  And he can’t use “lock her up” because he is no longer running against Hillary Clinton — and he can’t convince the American public that Joe Biden needs to be locked up.

In the debate, Trump tried to use the “lock her up” tactic against Biden; it didn’t work.  Trump had no fall back strategy; he did not give viewers — outside his base — a reason to vote for him.

4. Trump blew his big chance.  In January, when warned about the possibility of a coronavirus pandemic, Trump dismissed this,  (“We have it totally under control.”)  A month later, he still didn’t take the pandemic seriously:  “This is like a flu…One day, it’s like a miracle,  it will disappear.”  For several critical months, Trump failed to show leadership; this fed the pandemic and led to the collapse of the economy.

The debate opened with a discussion of the Coronavirus pandemic.  Trump said, “We’re learning to live with it.”  Biden pounced: “He says that,,, we’re learning to live with it. People are learning to die with it… Learning to live with it? Come on. We’re dying with it, because he’s never said… it’s dangerous.”  “220,000 Americans dead. If you hear nothing else I say tonight, hear this. Anyone who’s responsible for not taking control… anyone who is responsible for that many deaths should not remain as President of the United States of America…. [Trump] still has no plan.”

5. Trump had a monetary advantage over Biden and then frittered it away. (https://apnews.com/article/election-2020-virus-outbreak-joe-biden-donald-trump-impeachments-8ac355b6ebd62b19d8a44fedcbf5b128 ) In the spring, Trump had a $200 million cash advantage over the Biden campaign.  Republicans lost that edge.  The Hill reports that entering October, the Biden campaign had a $100 million advantage over the Trump campaign.  (https://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/521998-biden-has-massive-cash-advantage-heading-into-election-day )

Summary: Two things jumped out of the debate.  The first was that, while Trump was better behaved, the split-screen — that showed both candidates at the same time — consistently showed Trump as disdainful and antagonistic.  Trump sneered but did not laugh.  Biden occasionally laughed at something — a perceived lie — that Trump said.  (This difference in affect was reflected in the CNN poll: “Favorable views of Biden before the debate stood at 55%, and they held steady at 56% in post-debate interviews. Likewise, Trump’s numbers held steady, with 42% saying they had a favorable view of the President in interviews conducted before Thursday’s debate and 41% saying the same afterward…. 60% of women said Biden won, 35% Trump.”

The second was that Trump unleashed an avalanche of falsehoods. (https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/22/politics/fact-check-final-presidential-election-debate/index.html )

Biden responded to these with incredulity: “c’mon.” (Come on)   In presidential debate history, Biden’s “c’mon” will be noted along side Ronald Reagan’s “There you go again.”  For example:”[Trump says] ‘Oh, don’t worry. [The pandemic] is all going to be over soon.’ Come on, there’s not another serious scientist in the world who thinks it’s going to be over soon.”  With regards to the solvency of Social Security and Medicare: “I mean, the idea that Donald Trump is lecturing me on Social Security and Medicare? Come on.” With regards to race relations: “Here is one of the most racist presidents we’ve had in modern history. He pours fuel on every single racist fire, every single one… Come on. This guy has a dog whistle about as big as a fog horn.”

The moderator, Kristen Welker, concluded with this question to Trump and Biden: “Imagine this is your Inauguration Day. What will you say in your address to Americans who did not vote for you?”  Trump responded: “Success is going to bring us together. We are on the road to success. But I’m cutting taxes and [Biden] wants to raise everybody’s taxes. And he wants to put new regulations on everything. He will kill it. If he gets in, you will have a depression, the likes of which you’ve never seen.”

Biden responded to Welker’s question: “I will say, ‘I’m the American president. I represent all of you whether you voted for me or against me. And I’m going to make sure that you’re represented. I’m going to give you hope… what is on the ballot here is the character of this country. Decency. Honor. Respect. Treating people with dignity. Making sure that everyone has an even chance.'”

Biden won the debate.

Philosophers’ Blues

Socrates
Invented the blues.
“Whoa Oh.
Sometimes I wonder

who I am
and whether
I know anything.”

Plato
sang Socrates’ songs
at the Lyceum.
“Hey, everybody
I’m here in my cave

watchin’ the shadows
with my favorite slave.”

Cicero
sang the blues
got a girlfriend.
Oh baby
I was nothin’
until I met you.

Tom Aquinas’
girlfriend left him.
Oh baby
my cave’s so lonely
without you.

Erasmus
left his girlfriend.
Oh baby
I think about you
but I don’t miss our cave.”

Rene Descartes
moved to the city
invented the urban blues.
Hey, everybody
I’m livin’ in a loft

diggin’ the shadows
my life’s so soft.”

Immanuel Kant
couldn’t get a girlfriend.
Oh baby
I’m all alone
you’re so far away.

Friedrich Nietzsche
pondered his celibacy.
Oh baby
I wonder who I am
without you.

William James
sang Socrates’ songs
in coffee houses.
“Whoa Oh.
Sometimes I wonder

who I am
and whether
I know anything.”

The State of the Race

Less than 19 days from election day, Democrats are running scared; they remember four years ago when most of them believed that Hillary Clinton would defeat Donald Trump.  (Clinton lost despite having 2.9 million (2.1%) more votes than Trump.)  Relax Dems; this time Trump is going down.

The Popular Vote:  According to the 538 website, Biden’s lead over Trump is 10.7 percentage points.  (https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/polls/president-general/national/)  After an extended period where his lead average 8 points, Biden surged after the September 29th presidential debate and the revelation Trump contracted COVID-19.

The latest Washington Post-ABC News Poll (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/poll-post-abc-presidential/2020/10/10/303b2230-0b1d-11eb-859b-f9c27abe638d_story.html ) shows Biden with a 12 point lead over Trump.  This poll is rated “A+” by the 538 website.

The Washington Post-ABC News Poll shines light on a number of important issues.  For example, there is the issue of Trump’s approval rating.  It’s consistently been a couple of points better than his polling numbers.  (https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/ )  This has led some observers to claim there are “shy” Trump voters, who will suddenly appear on November 3rd and propel Trump to victory.  The Post-ABC poll notes: “Trump’s overall approval rating among registered voters stands at 45 percent positive and 54 percent negative… Among those who approve of his job performance, 90 percent favor him for reelection.”  So, there are poll respondents who approve of Trump’s job performance but aren’t going to vote for him.  Who are they going to vote for?  Perhaps the Libertarian Party nominee Jo Jorgensen who receives 2 percent support in Post-ABC poll.

Therefore, the Post-ABC poll suggests that Trump’s voter support has a ceiling of around 42 percent.

While Trump’s best issue is the economy, this no longer gives him an edge over Biden.  According to the Post-ABC poll: “Trump and Biden are trusted about equally to handle the economy, while Biden has a 17-point advantage (55 percent to 38 percent) on dealing with the virus.” “Trump is judged harshly both for his handling of the pandemic and for failing to take what people regard as adequate protections to avoid contracting the virus.”

The Post-ABC poll indicates that basic demographics have shifted in favor of Biden: “Biden holds a 23-point advantage among female likely voters (59 percent to 36 percent), while Trump and Biden split men, 48 percent each. If those figures hold, both would represent a shift from 2016, when men backed Trump by 11 points and women favored Hillary Clinton by 13 points.”

“Trump leads by 26 points among White voters without four-year college degrees, which is smaller than his 36-point advantage in 2016… Biden holds a 31-point lead with White college graduates, which is much better than Clinton’s performance among this group.”

“Preferences among independent voters appear to have shifted considerably compared with 2016, with independent voters favoring Biden by 52 percent to 40 percent. By contrast, Trump beat Clinton among self-identified independent voters by four points.”

Electoral College:  The current Cook Report electoral projections shows Biden with 227 solid electoral votes.

Alaska: (3 electoral votes, Cook rates likely Republican).  Real Clear Politics indicates there’s not much polling in Alaska.  The Senate race (Gross vs Sullivan ) seems to be a tossup; as does the congressional race (Galvin versus Young).  Too close to call.

Arizona:  (11 electoral votes, Cook rates lean Democrat.)  Real Clear Politics shows Biden leading by 4 percent; Biden has been leading for several months.  (Trump has pulled his TV ads in Arizona (https://www.abc15.com/news/election-2020/president-trump-campaign-goes-dark-on-local-tv-but-for-how-long ).)

Prediction: Biden will win.  227+11=238 electoral votes.

Florida: (29 electoral votes, Cook rates tossup.)  Real Clear Politics shows Biden leading by 1.7 percent; race is too close to call.

Georgia: (16 electoral votes, Cook rates tossup.)  Real Clear Politics shows Biden leading by .4  percent; race is too close to call.

Michigan: (16 electoral votes, Cook rates lean Democrat.)  Real Clear Politics shows Biden leading by 7.2 percent; Biden has been leading for several months.  (Trump has pulled his TV ads in Michigan (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-09-14/trump-campaign-slashes-ad-spending-in-key-states-in-cash-crunch ).)

Prediction: Biden will win.  238+16=254.

North Carolina: (15 electoral votes, Cook rates tossup.)  Real Clear Politics shows Biden up by 2.7 percent.  race is too close to call.

Pennsylvania: (20 electoral votes, Cook rates lean Democrat.)  Real Clear Politics shows Biden up by 6.4 percent; Biden has been leading for several months.

Prediction: Biden will win. 254+20=274 (enough to win presidential election).

Texas: (38 electoral votes, Cook rates lean Republican.)  Real Clear Politics shows Trump up by 4.4 points; race is too close to call.

Wisconsin: (10 electoral votes, Cook rates lean Democrat.)  Real Clear Politics  shows Biden up by 6.3 points.

Prediction: Biden will win. 274+10=284.

Summary: Biden will easily win the popular vote — by more than 12 points.  He will also win the electoral college.

To Do List

October 10, 1420
Wake at sunrise
Breakfast: Acorn mash
Feed horses and dogs
Hunt for food
Gather canes and grasses for baskets
Dig latrine
Bathe in stream
Carry water to community garden
Wash clothes in stream (use soapwort)
Lunch: berries and dry Salmon
Clear brush from around encampment
Make arrowheads
Hunt for food
Meet with band to plan trip to trading center
Dinner: cooked game plus mushrooms and wild greens
Meet with shaman to pray for rain
Dance and play clapperstick
Shaman leads healing ceremony
Walk encampment perimeter with dogs
Burn sage in remembrance of ancestors
Say prayers
Sleep

October 10, 1820
Wake at sunrise
Breakfast: Oat meal
Feed horses, cows, and dogs
Collect food from garden
Gather wood
Repair outhouse
Carry water to house
Heat water for weekly bath
Use hot water to wash clothes (use lye plus animal fat)
Lunch: lettuce and tomato salad, bread
Clear brush from upper pasture
Sharpen tools
Milk cows
Meet with neighbors to plan trip to town
Dinner: cooked chicken plus garden vegetables, bread
Ride farm perimeter accompanied by dog
Play harmonica
Study Farmers’ Almanac to predict rain
Read “The Last of the Mohicans” (hardcover)
Study ancestors’ pictures
Read passage from Bible
Sleep

October 10, 2020
Wake at sunrise
Breakfast: Oat flakes
Feed dogs
Buy food at market
Read email
Flush toilet
Turn on hot water
Take shower
Wash clothes in washer (use laundry detergent)
Lunch: Lettuce and tomato salad, bread
Clear brush from access road
Load new version of operating system
Read email
Zoom meeting to plan fire-safety actions
Dinner: cooked chicken plus garden vegetables, bread
Walk ranch perimeter with dog
Play Jazz
Study Weather Channel to predict rain
Read “All the Light We cannot See” (Kindle)
Say prayer for family
Give thanks
Sleep

Harris-Pence: Keeping Score

After the dreadful initial 2020 presidential debate, there were some who called for the debates to cease. That would have been a mistake because the second debate, a vice-presidential tussle between Kamala Harris and Mike Pence, was productive. It resulted in a win for Senator Harris and further momentum for the Biden-Harris campaign.

Going into the debate, California Senator Kamala Harris had three objectives: 1. Introduce herself to the (many) voters who hadn’t seen her before; 2. State the case for Joe Biden as president; and 3. Point out the failings of the Trump-Pence regime.  Harris did this and accomplished a fourth equally important objective; she established that while remaining calm and personable, she can defend herself and her running mate.  Harris went into the debate the most popular of the four major candidates (Trump, Pence, Biden, and Harris) and emerged even more popular.

During the first presidential debate, Donald Trump interrupted Joe Biden 118 times. Trump’s abrasive strategy was to throw Biden off his game and cause him to have a “senior moment” that Trump could use in his TV ads.  Trump’s strategy didn’t work.  As a consequence, Trump came off as a bully and Biden as an adult struggling to participate in a normal presidential debate.

During this second debate, Mike Pence interrupted Kamala Harris 15 times.  (He also interrupted the female moderator, Susan Paige, several times and ignored her pleas to stop talking because he had run over his alottedtime.)  Senator Harris responded politely but firmly: ”  “Mr. Vice President, I am speaking.” “If you don’t mind letting me finish, we can have a conversation.”

Pence seemed intent on flustering Harris, cause her to lose her temper, and further the “nasty woman” trope.  Pence’s strategy didn’t work.  Senator Harris kept her cool throughout the debate.  As a result, an “instant” CNN poll (https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/07/politics/mike-pence-kamala-harris-vice-presidential-debate-poll/index.html ) found that most observers (59 percent) thought Harris had won the debate.  More important, she improved her favorability rating: “In pre-debate interviews, 56% said they had a positive view of Harris — that rose to 63% after the debate. For Pence, his favorability stood at 41% in both pre- and post-debate interviews.”  (At 63 percent favorability, Harris is far and away the most “popular” of the candidates.)

To be fair, Senator Harris’ performance was not perfect.  For example, she missed a golden opportunity to nail Pence-Trump on their lack of a plan to deal with pre-existing conditions — if the Supreme Court strikes down Obamacare on November 10th.

There are two ways to judge a political debate.  One is on technical points; that is, judging it strictly as a debate while ignoring the political context.  The other way to judge the debate by considering its political consequences.  I’m focusing on the latter.

Coming into the debate. Vice President Mike Pence had a monumental political challenge: His boss, Donald Trump, had lost the previous (presidential) debate and is trailing in the national polls by 10.2 percent.  (https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/polls/president-general/national/ )  In addition, the Trump-Pence campaign is running out of money (https://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/519766-trump-canceling-ads-in-ohio-and-iowa ) and Trump has been unable to campaign after contracting COVID-19.  The Trump-Pence campaign needed a big win in the VP debate, something that would change the overall campaign momentum.

Pence didn’t get a big win in the debate.  In terms of political consequences, he lost.  What most women will remember about the debate is that Mike Pence interrupted Kamala Harris multiple times and disrespected the female debate monitor.  (This comes at a time when the Trump campaign is losing female voters to Biden (https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/new-poll-suburban-women-will-not-vote-for-trump-301130148.html )).  Senator Harris held her own with Vice President Pence and came out of the debate looking presidential.  (And became more popular.)  She defended Joe Biden and avoided any major error.

Senator Harris had three big moments: First, at the beginning of the debate she attacked Trump-Pence on their handling of the pandemic.  “The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country. And here are the facts. 210,000 dead people in our country in just the last several months. Over 7 million people who have contracted this disease. One in five businesses closed… And here’s the thing, on January 28, the vice president and the president were informed about the nature of this pandemic. They were informed that it’s lethal in consequence, that it is airborne, that it will affect young people and that it would be contracted because it is airborne. And they knew what was happening, and they didn’t tell you…  The president said it was a hoax.”  Pence could not counter this.

Second, Senator Harris stated the obvious: the Trump Administration is trying to cancel Obamacare.  “Donald Trump… is in court right now trying to get rid of  trying to get rid of the Affordable Care Act, which means that you will lose protections, if you have pre-existing conditions…. If you have a pre-existing condition, heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer, they’re coming for you.  If you love someone who has a pre existing condition they’re coming for you. If you are under the age of 26 on your parents coverage, they’re coming for you.”

The moderator, Susan Page, gave Vice President Pence an opportunity to respond to this: “President Trump says that he’s going to protect people with pre-existing conditions, but he has not explained how he will do that. So, tell us, specifically – how will your administration protect Americans with pre-existing conditions and give access to affordable insurance if the Affordable Care Act is struck down.”  Pence never responded.

At the conclusion of the debate, the moderator read a letter from an eighth grade student: “If our leaders can’t get along, how are the citizens supposed to get along? Your examples could make all the difference to bring us together.”  Pence responded, “We’re going to work every day to have a government as good as our people.”  Harris had a much stronger answer:  “What propelled [Joe Biden] to run for president was to see that, over the course of the last four years, what [the student] described has been happening. Joe has a long standing reputation of working across the aisle and working in a bipartisan way. And that’s what he’s going to do as President. Joe Biden has a history of lifting people up and fighting for their dignity.”

Senator Kamala Harris won the vice-presidential debate, providing further momentum for the Biden-Harris campaign.