The Disinformation Party

Professor Michael Mann begins his important book, “The Climate War,” with this quote: “Doubt is our product, since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the minds of the general public.” Although the quotation originated with a sixties tobacco executive, it could be spoken today by the leaders of the Republican Party, as their primary product is disinformation.

In George Orwell’s classic, “1984,” the ruling Party controls the people by systematic propaganda; “brainwashing” that Orwell described as “doublethink:”

To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself—that was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed.

1984’s ruling Party, “big brother,” uses the “thought police” to control the populous through disinformation.  Professor Michael Mann observes that Republican oligarchs — the Koch brothers, the Mercer family, Rupert Murdoch, and others — control the GOP faithful through disinformation.  Donald Trump is their willing servant.

Since the advent of Trump, political observers have noted that Republicans — who once focused on “conservative” ideology — have moved away from traditional Republican ideas and, instead, embraced the cult of personality: “Trumpism.”  Because Trump is a media personality and a pathological liar, enclasping him made it easier for the GOP to become the Party of disinformation.

In 2021, Republicans don’t stand for political notions; instead, they oppose Democratic policy proposals, offering disingenuous substitutions.  Consider these critical national issues:

Climate Change: Professor Michael Mann’s thesis is that extreme weather events have ended full-on climate change denial; opposition has moved from “‘hard’ climate denial to ‘softer’ denial: downplaying, deflecting, dividing, delaying and despair-mongering.”  We can see this in the recent Republican stance: “Yes, but…”  As in, “Yes climate change is real, but what about jobs or China or …?”

In this vein, it should be noted that most of the Republican oligarchs that support Trump in climate-change diversion, also support his disinformation in other sectors.  (Mann notes that Russia and Saudi Arabia — the world’s largest petroleum exporters — supported Trump’s climate-change disinformation campaign.)

Coronavirus Pandemic: The Trump Administration’s response to COVID-19 was a truncated version of the historic Republican response to Climate Change.  First, they denied it; at one point Trump called the pandemic “a hoax,” just as years before he had called Climate Change “a hoax”.  Next, Republicans minimized the pandemic; early on Trump claimed that the coronavirus was a minor issue; “it will disappear in a few weeks.”  Then, Trump focussed on blaming China.  In terms of a public health response, Trump foisted this on the states.  (At one point, Trump used a classic anti-Climate-Change tactic, the false expert.  GOP oligarchs have employed Bjorn Lomborg to dispute the severity of climate change; Trump used Scott Atlas to dispute the severity of the coronavirus pandemic.)

January 6th Insurrection:  Few Republicans attempted to deny the January 6th Trump-orchestrated attack on the Capitol.  Many responded by downplaying it or by artful use of deflection; for example, many claimed the attack was orchestrated by Antifa or “left-wing provocateurs posing as Trump supporters.”  Another Republican deflection was the claim that the insurrection was “no worse than the Black Lives Matter ‘riots” during the summer.”  Of course, the ultimate deflection occurred during Trump’s second impeachment trial when many Republicans claimed Trump could not be convicted because he was no longer President at the time of the trial.

Economic Relief: President Biden has made his first order of legislative business the passage of “the American Rescue Plan:”  (1) Aid to individuals: $1400 direct payment; Increase in unemployment insurance.  (2) Aid to families: extending the eviction/foreclosure moratorium until September; increasing child-tax credit. (3) Aid to states and local governments.  (4) Aid to schools.  (5) Funds for COVID-19 testing and vaccination.

Few Republicans oppose the general notion of pandemic-related economic relief.  Once again, they engage in “soft” denial: downplaying, deflecting, dividing, delaying and despair-mongering.  For example, Republicans complain the bill has “too much pork” or only contains aid to Blue states.

Democrats versus Republicans on the issues: Whether on jobs and the economy, reopening schools, dealing with racial tensions, or the other major issues confronting the United States, the same political dynamic exists: Democrats offer proposals and Republicans offer disinformation.  For example, Democrats offer concrete proposals to promote a more equitable society and Republicans counter by asserting “there is no problem.”  What we are seeing are not two different takes on the same issues, but rather a serious proposal versus a soundbyte.

Response to the pandemic provides a perfect illustration of this dynamic: the Biden Administration has launched a concerted effort to thwart COVID-19.  The Republican response seems to be: “You can’t make me wear a mask.”

Solutions: At the heart of our current political impasse is the Republican disinformation machine; the reality that “doubt is [their] product.”   Of course, some of this disinformation has been diminished by voting Trump our of office.  (And will further diminish as we vote other Republicans out.)  Nonetheless, the fundamental nature of the Republican Party has changed — and is antithetical to democracy,

Long range there are two solutions: one is to severely penalize the purveyors of disinformation. such as Fox News.  The other is to restrict the influence of social media such as Facebook and Twitter.  Shut down the disinformation.

 

Legacy


I begin to dial your home
Only to recall
This number is no longer in service.

You’ve been gone seventeen years
Yet, just now
I felt your presence.

What would Dad make of this?
I asked the blue sky
And heard back
Harl would have been beneficently puzzled.

Such a warm smile.

You didn’t leave me money
or tchotchkes
Your legacy was character:
Treat people as you want to be treated
Tell the truth
Work hard, show up on time, pay attention, keep your commitments
(Above all) don’t give up
If it doesn’t work the first time, sleep on it, and try again in the morning
Don’t be afraid to change
A smile is more effective than a fist.

A fitting legacy
For a good man.

What Happens Next

A month into the Biden-Harris administration, we’ve reached an inflection point: the conclusion of Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial. While there were not enough Senate votes for conviction, public sentiment turned against Trump. The outcome has consequences for Biden-Harris, Trump, and the 2022 election.

The latest ABC News/Ipsos Poll (https://www.ipsos.com/en-us/abcnews-impeachment-poll ) indicated that 58 percent of respondents felt Trump should have been convicted at the trial (84 percent of Democrats, 65 percent of Independents, and 14 percent of Republicans.)  57 Senators voted for conviction, including 7 Republicans.  After the trial, Republican Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell said: “Former President Trump’s actions preceding the riot were a disgraceful dereliction of duty… There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day.  The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their President.  And their having that belief was a foreseeable consequence of the growing crescendo of false statements, conspiracy theories, and reckless hyperbole which the defeated President kept shouting into the largest megaphone on planet Earth.”

Going forward, what can we expect?

The Biden-Harris Administration wisely got out of the way of Trump’s impeachment proceedings.  They should continue to do this and get on with their “to do” list: dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic, stabilizing the economy, insuring that all Americans have the right to vote, protecting the environment, rebuilding U.S. infrastructure and on and on.

President Biden’s (implicit) attitude should be “the previous President screwed up everything and I’ve got to work full-time to right the good ship America.”  That is to say, the Biden-Harris Administration shouldn’t mount an additional effort to go after Trump.  Nonetheless, the Federal Attorney for the District of Columbia has mounted an effort to identify and charge leaders of the January 6th insurrection; if he — Michael Sherwin or his successor — finds sufficient evidence to charge Trump, then he should do this.

Donald Trump has lost momentum.  Trump lost the 2020 presidential election by 7 million votes (in the election, 37 percent of voters identified as Democrats, 36 percent as Republicans, and 26 percent as Independent; Biden got 94 percent of Democratic votes, 6 percent of Republican votes, and 54 percent of Independent votes.)  Since then, Trump hasn’t done anything positive to increase his base of support.  As he left office, Trump’s approval rating was at 29 percent (https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/01/20/how-we-know-the-drop-in-trumps-approval-rating-in-january-reflected-a-real-shift-in-public-opinion/ ).  A recent poll indicated that 26 percent of Republicans want Trump to get out of politics (https://www.newsweek.com/majority-americans-want-trump-completely-removed-politics-poll-finds-1569156).

Like a wounded bear, Trump has retreated to his cave — Mar-a-Lago.  A charismatic leader in hiding.

The 2022 election:  Most Republicans believe Trump will emerge from his Florida cave and be a factor in the 2022 midterm election.  Nonetheless, it’s unlikely Donald will ever again have the power he had when he occupied the White House.  Over time his influence will diminish.

1.Trump needs media attention.  At the moment, he doesn’t have it and is unlikely to get it soon.  From the moment Trump announced his presidential candidacy — June 16, 2015 — he got slavish media attention; that lasted for five and a half years.  In the White House, Trump had press briefings — stopping on November 3, 2020 — and daily Twitter bursts — stopping on January 8, 2021.  (It appears that Donald has been permanently banned from Twitter.)

Over the next few months, Trump’s lack of media attention will erode his base support.

2. Trump has no base outside the Republican Party.  (Where roughly 70 percent support him.)  The 2020 election proved a candidate cannot win a national race without garnishing support outside his Party.

Trump’s reduced base is a long-term impediment to his dream of regaining power.  And a problem for the Republican Party in general.

3. At the moment, Trump is the Republican “kingmaker.” For most political contests, Donald can determine who the Republican candidate will be.  If a 2022 GOP candidate is deemed to not be sufficiently “Trumpian,” Trump can decree that that candidate be primaried.  For example, Alaska Republican Senator Murkowski voted for Trump’s conviction on February 12th.  She’s running for reelection in 2022.  In the Alaska Republican primary, Trump will support someone to run against her.

Nonetheless, in most states, Trump’s kingmaker influence will have limited utility.  In a few overwhelmingly Republican state, such as Alabama, Trump’s anointed candidate will win the general election.  In the most competitive states, Trump’s imprimatur won’t be the determining factor.  For example, in 2022, Republican Senate seats are up in North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.  In these states Trump can determine who the Republican candidate will be, but that candidate will not be able to win unless they attract Independent votes.  “Trumpism,” alone, won’t help these candidates win.

4. Unless you are a Trump devotee, “Trumpism” is associated with failure.  Donald Trump is stained by his inability to deal with the Coronavirus pandemic and his traitorous leadership of the January 6th insurrection.  For the electorate, in general, being Trump’s anointed candidate is not a good thing.  That suggests that to the extent 2022 Republican candidates are Trump acolytes, the GOP is heading for defeat.

5. In 2022, being Trump’s anointed candidate won’t guarantee you a surge of GOP votes.  In 2020, Republicans got an unexpectedly large turnout — 74 million votes (the largest for a losing presidential candidate).  For this reason, Republicans expect to have a similar surge in 2022. That’s overly optimistic.  The surprising 2020 GOP turnout was due to Trump’s presence on the ballot.  He won’t be on the ballot in 2022 and many Trump loyalists won’t turn out.

Furthermore, in 2020 the traditional Democratic ground game was neutered because of the pandemic.  That won’t be the case in 2022.

6. Going forward, Trump will not be an effective leader of the Republican Party because he is too self absorbed.  Trump has only effectively campaigned for himself; he has no track record of directly helping other Republicans.  He wasn’t effective in 2018; Democrats regained control of the House of Representatives.  In 2020, Trump wasn’t effective in Georgia’s January 4th special Senate elections.

7. Trump doesn’t stand for anything.  “Make America great again” has morphed into “Make Donald Trump great again.”  In 2022, that’s not going to help most Republican candidates.

In 2016, Trump had a limited policy agenda: immigration (“build the wall”), clean up Washington (“drain the swamp”), and (amazingly) bring competence to the White House (“I’m a successful CEO”).  In 2021, Trump has no policy agenda; he has grievances: “the election was stolen;” “the deep state conspired against me;” “Mitch McConnell betrayed me,” etcetera.  Therefore, in 2022, when Trump supports a Republican candidate, he will support them on the basis of their support for Donald Trump not their positions on particular issues.  That’s not a winning combination.

Summary:  Donald Trump has been diminished.  Nonetheless, he continues to be a power within the Republican Party.  That’s a problem for Republicans, not for Democrats.

Books

There are many ways to spend our time
Some shop while others cook
A few engage in greed and crime
Or obsess on how they look
I prefer to read a book.

Of course, I could watch TV
Frequent my local pub
Or sail upon the salty sea
Seek refuge in a steaming tub
Ponder tactics in a chess club.

I prefer a weighty tome
To a night out with the boys
Hunker down at home
Rather than a bar with deafening noise
Exchanging boasts about toys.

For company I have Rimbaud
Tolstoy, Conrad, and Chaucer
Literature helps my brain to grow
Or escape on flying saucer
As do plays and lyrics by Loesser.

[“You have the cool clear
Eyes of a seeker of wisdom and truth
Yet, there’s that up-turned chin
And the grin
of impetuous youth”]

My favorite writer Conrad
Who penned “Heart of Darkness”
My intellectual comrade
A style of distinctive starkness
A crisp form far from artless.

Bradbury, Le Guin, and Heinlein,
Doyle, Connelly, and Christie,
Chills run down my spine,
Gut tightens, eyes go misty,
As the logic unravels and the plot turns twisty.

These days its science fiction
and vexing mystery
dystopia my new addiction
sometimes creative history
but not romantic hysteri(a).

I’ve read the classics
Tolstoy and Dickens, all sublime
And trash encased in plastic
Henry Miller comes to mind
Playboy once upon a time.

After 3000 reads
I avoid serial killers
Excess of gore and bleeds
violent thrillers
tomes with existential fillers.

My advice to new readers
Beginning your literary foray
Ignore best-selling leaders
Start with a Hemingway story
End with “the Dead,” Joyce’s glory.

Birthday Cinquain

I’ve reached 80 years
29220 days
A trail of joy not tears
Escaping from pandemic craze
Entering another phase.

It’s okay to be difficult
Got that from Marylu
Rise above the tumult
Plebian concepts eschew
Maintain an independent view.

Along the way, lessons learned
Some easy, some with pain
Bridges crossed, a couple burned
Memories etched into the brain
Staying sober, keeping sane.

First, try not to be too serious
Although that’s often hard
Second, remain curious
Look at life beyond your yard
(Sometimes) let down your guard.

Third, escape from your head
Set aside your inhibitions
Consider what it is you dread
Accept love without conditions
Befriend neighborhood musicians.

Fourth, make time for love
In all its vexing variety
Give your heart a little shove
Overcome your anxiety
Treasure notoriety.

Above all, take a risk
Open that foreboding door
Don’t regret what you’ve missed
Bring your instincts to the fore
Make contact with your core.

Evaluating Biden

On the one hand we know we can’t relax — the forces of crazy are still trying to disrupt U.S. democracy — but on the other hand it’s exhilarating to have a President who is not a constant irritation, who (every day) isn’t a danger to push the nuclear button and blow us all up. Joe Biden has done well so far, but he has a very difficult job. 6 months from now, what should we reasonably expect him to have accomplished?

1.Get on top of the Pandemic.  At this writing, more than 27 million Americans have contracted Covid-19 and 460 thousand have died.  The infection rate has declined to 130,000 per day.  About 8 percent of the U.S. population has been vaccinated — with a current vaccination rate above 1.25 million per day.

Biden has a clear target: “…fully vaccinate 300 million Americans by the end of the summer…” (The U.S. population is roughly 330 million.)  If we achieve this target, by the end of the summer — Labor Day — most Americans, who want to be vaccinated, will be vaccinated.  It’s unclear if we will have reached the threshold for “herd immunity.”

Biden’s Labor-Day target also includes getting kids back to school — after sanitizing the schools. In the most recent Monmouth Poll (https://www.monmouth.edu/polling-institute/reports/monmouthpoll_us_012721/), when asked about pressing national concerns, the top concern was “education and schools; 84 percent of respondents said that dealing with education and schools was “extremely important” or “very important.”

Biden’s Labor Day target also means reopening most of the businesses hardest hit by the pandemic; for example, restaurants.  Because some US regions will resist vaccination — just as they now resist wearing masks and social distancing — Americans won’t be able to travel everywhere.

2. Stabilize the economy. President Biden has made his first order of legislative business the passage of “the American Rescue Plan:”  (1) Aid to individuals: $1400 direct payment; Increase in unemployment insurance; increase in minimum wage to $15 per hour. (2) Aid to families: extending the eviction/foreclosure moratorium until September; increasing child-tax credit. (3) Aid to states and local governments.  (4) Aid to schools.  (5) Funds for COVID-19 testing and vaccination.

This is a big financial package constructed by the Biden team in order to jumpstart an economy that’s in the doldrums.  The US Bureau of Economic Analysis recently reported:  “[US] Real GDP decreased 3.5 percent in 2020 (from the 2019 annual level to the 2020 annual level)… The decrease in real GDP in 2020 reflected decreases in [consumer price index], exports, private inventory investment, nonresidential fixed investment, and state and local government.”  The unemployment rate is 6.7 percent and there are 10.7 million unemployed workers — there are also 7.3 million workers (technically) not in the workforce but wanting a job.  Assistance is needed in most sectors of the economy — except for the very wealthy.

I’m assuming that Biden’s “Rescue Plan” will pass Congress by the end of February.  The plan should bear fruit by Labor Day.

3. Punish the insurrectionists.  In the most recent Monmouth Poll (https://www.monmouth.edu/polling-institute/reports/monmouthpoll_us_012721/), 83 percent of respondents said that dealing with “domestic terrorism and hate groups” was “extremely important” or “very important” — one of the top three concerns.  In this context, the Biden Administration needs to ensure that those responsible for the January 6th insurrection are brought to justice.

An important step in this process is the (second) impeachment of Donald Trump.  The Department of Justice and FBI are investigating the other leaders of the insurrection.  (This process would be facilitated by the Senate confirmation of Merrick Garland as Attorney General.)

By summer, the insurrection leaders should be charged and , hopefully, the political climate will improve.

4. Expand healthcare. The most recent Monmouth Poll (https://www.monmouth.edu/polling-institute/reports/monmouthpoll_us_012721/), indicates that 81 percent of respondents described Healthcare as “extremely important” or “very important.”  Accordingly, it should be a top Biden priority to protect and expand the Affordable Care Act.  Perhaps by adding a public option, a government-run health insurance agency.

Democrats ability to do this will be dependent upon the nature of the newly agreed upon rules for governing the Senate — what happens to the filibuster.

5. Protecting the vote: The most recent Monmouth Poll (https://www.monmouth.edu/polling-institute/reports/monmouthpoll_us_012721/), indicates that 75 percent of respondents described protection of voting rights as “extremely important” or “very important.”  Accordingly, House Democrats have reintroduced their “For The People Act” (also known as “HR 1”)  which would expand voting rights, change campaign finance laws to reduce the influence of money in politics, limit gerrymandering, and create new ethics rules for federal officeholders.

Democrats ability to do this will be dependent upon the nature of the newly agreed upon rules for governing the Senate — what happens to the filibuster.

6. Strengthen the Democratic Party.  In 2009, in the afterglow of Barack Obama’s victory, many Democrats took a vacation from politics, with disastrous results.  In 2010, Republicans surged: capturing control of the House of Representatives and eroding Democratic control of the Senate.  (Republicans also strengthened their hold over State legislature, which permitted them to gerrymander at will.)  In 2022, Dems can’t afford a replay of what happened in 2010.

At this writing, the Senate has a 50-50 split and Democrats control the House by a narrow margin — 222 – 211 with 2 seats still contested.

In 2022, there are four Republican Senate seats that are up-for-grabs: North Carolina (Burr — retiring), Ohio (Portman — retiring), Pennsylvania (Toomey — retiring), and Wisconsin (Johnson).  Democrats have good chances in each of these races — if  they start planning now.  Dems also have a good chance of expanding their House majority.  Democrats need to start working on the 2022 midterm election.

Summary:  By this summer, President Biden, and congressional Democrats, have a good shot at passing significant legislation.  At the moment, Biden has the confidence of the American people.  Hopefully, this will continue.

Perseverance

Life’s become a grindstone
Crunching down each day
Suddenly we’re on our own
Seeking out the safest way
Death a heavy fine to pay.

What sustains us in this game?
Is it ennui or pluck?
When each day provides the same
Obstacles we have to duck
Fears we’re out of luck.

We’ve each learned lessons
Ways to survive the hours
Determined our essence
Come down from ivory towers
Beseeched the higher powers.

How long will this go on?
Do our leaders know?
Fear abides from dusk to dawn
Keeps our options low
Twelve long months marks our woe.

Take another precious breath
Touch gently sacred ground
Do a pirouette with death
Spin your self around
Make a joyful sound.

Republicans in the Biden Era

The Biden era begins with Democrats narrowly in control of Congress. Some actions can be taken without Republican support. Nonetheless, big change requires the votes of at least a few Republicans. How likely is this?

To answer this question, it’s necessary to dissect the current political environment.  In the 2020 presidential-election exit polls: 37 percent of respondents identified as Democrats, 36 percent identified as Republicans, and 26 percent as Independents.  (94 percent of Democrats voted for Biden and 94 percent of Republicans voted for Trump; 54 percent of Independents voted for Biden.)

In the presidential election, Trump had the support of 94 percent of Republicans.  Of the 158 million voters, 57 million were Republicans voting for Trump — 34 percent of all voters.

Since the election, and the January 6th insurrection, Trump’s support has eroded.  The latest Pew Research report (https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/01/20/how-we-know-the-drop-in-trumps-approval-rating-in-january-reflected-a-real-shift-in-public-opinion/ ) indicated that only 29 percent of respondents approved of Trump’s job performance.  Trump’s support among Republicans had deteriorated and only 60 percent approved of his performance, as he left office.  Based on this finding, let’s assume that, at the moment, only two-thirds of Republicans who voted for Trump, on November 3rd, would vote for him today — 38 million (roughly 25 percent of all voters).  That’s the hard-core Trump base.  This aligns with a recent Monmouth University Poll (https://www.monmouth.edu/polling-institute/reports/MonmouthPoll_US_012721/ ) that found: “Most Americans (71%) would rather see Republicans in Congress find ways to work together with Biden than to focus on keeping Biden in check (25%).”

In a recent Washington Post commentary (https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/nixon-trump-rebranding-rehabilitation/2021/01/22/603ecca4-5c29-11eb-b8bd-ee36b1cd18bf_story.html), legendary political observer, Elizabeth Drew, speculated on whether or not Donald Trump could “rehabilitate” himself as Richard Nixon did — after leaving the White House.  Drew summarized: “[Trump] lacks discipline, intellectual rigor and the doggedness Nixon used to pull himself up from the bottom. But Trump has one advantage Nixon didn’t … a large and fanatically devoted following.” (Emphasis added.)

It’s possible to allocate congressional Republicans into three groups –depending upon their devotion to Donald Trump.  The first group is the Trump cultists.  In the Senate, an example is Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville; in the House of Representatives, an example is California Congressman Devin Nunes.  The second group is the “transactionalists;” that is, Republicans who support Trump only when they see it to be their personal advantage.  In the Senate, an example is Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell; in the House, an example is House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy.  The third group is the “constitutionalists;” that is, Republicans who place following the Constitution over fealty to Trump.  In the Senate, an example is Utah Senator Mitt Romney; in the House, an example is Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger.

To understand the near-term prospects for congressional action, it’s necessary to factor in the fragmentation of the Republican Party.  (Theoretically there’s also a split in the Democratic Party between liberals and moderates; I’m ignoring this because, at the moment, Dems are reasonably unified.)

Trump’s Impeachment: On January 25th, The House (Democratic) impeachment managers delivered the paperwork for Trump’s second impeachment to the Senate.  The Senate trial begins on February 8th.  It would take 67 votes to convict Trump; assuming all 48 Democratic Senators and 2 Independents voted for conviction, 17 Republicans would have to vote for impeachment.  How likely is it that enough Republicans would vote to convict Trump?

A recent survey by the New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/01/25/us/politics/senate-impeachment-whip-count.html?referringSource=articleShare) indicated that 27 of the 50 Republican Senators indicated they would not vote for conviction.  Some of these are Trump cultists, for example, Senator Tuberville.  Others, like Missouri Senator Josh Hawley are transactionalists; they’re voting in what they perceive to be their self-interest.

It’s a tall order to expect 17 Republicans to vote to convict Trump.  Early indications are that only a handful will do this.  On January 26th, Republican Senator Rand Paul forced a trial vote, based upon the (erroneous) notion that Trump’s (second) impeachment trial was unconstitutional — since Trump is no longer in office.  45 Republican Senators went along with this.  The five that voted agains Rand Paul’s motion were a group we might call Republican constitutionalists: Collins (Maine), Murkowski (Alaska), Romney (Utah), Sasse (Nebraska), and Toomey (Pennsylvania).  (Note that the transactional Republicans are hiding behind the chimera that Trump’s impeachment is illegal.)

Biden Economic Relief Plan: In addition to impeachment, the other major February Senate vote will be on the Biden Economic Relief package — an omnibus bill that will provide assistance to individuals, businesses, and governments impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic.  Once again, we can expect that 48 Democratic Senators and 2 Independents will support this.  The questions is: how many Republican votes will it get?

I’m assuming there are ay least 10 Republican Trump cultists, who will oppose anything that Biden/Democrats propose.  That leaves 40 Republican senators who are somewhat open to Democratic initiatives.  I’m going to hazard a guess that there are 10 that will generally go along with their Democratic counterparts: Burr, Collins, Grassley, Lankford, Murkowski, Portman, Romney, Sasse, Scott, and Toomey.

Looking ahead:  In 2022, there are four Republican Senate seats that are up-for-grabs: North Carolina (Burr — retiring), Ohio (Portman — retiring), Pennsylvania (Toomey — retiring), and Wisconsin (Johnson).  If Trump remains a power in the Republican Party, then he will support Trump cultists to run in North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.  (In Wisconsin, Johnson is a transactionaist and ,therefore, will tred softly to retain Trump’s support.)

In the majority of contentious House races, Republicans will propose Trump cultists.   This means that some of the House seats that Republicans won in 2020, will likely flip to Democratic control.  For example, in California Republicans control 11 seats, districts 1, 4, 8, 21, 22, 23, 25, 39, 42, 48, and 50.  The Republican occupying CA 25 is Mike Garcia, a Trump cultist — who won by 333 votes; he should be vulnerable in 2022.  Three seats won by transactional Republicans (21, 39, and 48) were won by narrow margins.

Summary: At this stage, we can expect a handful of congressional Republicans to support the Biden agenda.  The remainder will stay loyal to Trump and oppose most everything Democrats propose.  Capitol Hill won’t be in gridlock but on the edge.

How long this situation goes on depends upon the duration of Trump’s hold on the Republican Party.  This will depend upon three things: First, Trump’s access to social media; at the moment he cannot use Twitter and Facebook and, therefore, has no convenient daily way to communicate with his followers.  Second, Trump’s support from Republican donors; Trump will need money to continue to be the major GOP power — at the moment he isn’t getting support from big donors.  Third, exogenous factors such as the status of Trump lawsuits and the state of Trump business affairs; at the moment, Trump looks to be on shaky financial ground but time will tell.

We’re all sick of talking about Trump but, for the near future, we’re going to have to pay attention to him.  His “illness” has infected the Republican Party.

Epiphany


1961
John Coltrane at Jazz Workshop
Earth evaporates.

 

 

1969
DC, Paul Cezanne still life
Shifts reality.

 

 

 

 

1988
Gallantly, I take your hand
Love’s Epiphany.

In Defense of Civility

In the seventies, I was working in Silicon Valley when email became ubiquitous on business’ campuses.  Although email simplified office communication, I noticed two negative aspects: email discouraged face-to-face interaction and it facilitated uncivility.  On January 8th, Twitter — email’s progeny –suspended Donald Trump’s account.  This was a welcome, although belated, defense of civility.

As a computer technologist — since the sixties — I’ve become used to the dual-edge of technological progress: each new advance, in some regard, makes our life easier; on the other hand, each advance has unsavory side effects.  The first computers simplified the keeping of financial records but also eliminated the jobs of many bookkeepers.  In business, the invention of email made day-to-day communication easier, but email made these conversations less personal and, in some cases, more abrasive.  (It wasn’t long after I started using email that I first became aware of the email “flamer;” an angry, accusatory, or disparaging email — someone saying something digitally that they would never say in person.)

Often, technological progress has political consequences.  Political historians note that Adolph Hitler’s rise was facilitated by his use of the (then) new technology of radio.  Donald Trump’s political rise was facilitated by his use of Twitter.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with Twitter — a quick, convenient form of social networking.  Unfortunately, like email, it facilitates uncivility.

Twitter was the perfect social media outlet for Trump because he has a short attention span and is (famously) uncivil.  The dictionary definition of “civil” is to be cultured, courteous, and polite.  Donald Trump is none of these things.  Donald doesn’t thank people or give them compliments; he criticizes and disparages.  Trump disdains conciliation and compromise; his idea of negotiation is “my way or the highway.”

Donald Trump loved Twitter.  When irritated by something, Trump used Twitter to instantly respond; from July 20, 2020, until January 8, 2021, Donald sent 5993 tweets.  Many flamers.  Many lies.  (In October, the Washington Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/10/22/president-trump-is-averaging-more-than-50-false-or-misleading-claims-day/ ) noted that Trump was averaging 50 lies per day.)   On a daily basis, Donald broadcast his uncivility.

The lie that the 2020 election was “stolen” was facilitated by Trump’s tweets.  On January 6th, the insurrectionists that stormed the US Capitol were egged on by Trump’s tweets.  The nature of American political dialogue has been been massively influenced by Trump’s tweets; this discourse has become coarser and more partisan.

Civility matters.  (Truth matters.)  Civility is the moral framework for “civil society,” without which Democracy cannot function.  Civility is the heart; civil society is the circulatory system.

Twitter amplified Trump’s uncivility. Therefore, I support Twitter’s suspension of Donald Trump’s account.  Of course, there is a “free speech” aspect of their decision.  Nonetheless, Trump’s recent conduct — particularly his lies about the 2020 election — meet the constitutional definition of prohibited speech: “that which would be directed to and likely to incite imminent lawless action.”  Equally important is the notion that, as President of the United States, Donald Trump should not have been using his “bully pulpit” to foment uncivility — he should not have been undermining democracy.

Donald Trump’s preferred style is to be uncivil.  Trump’s presidency was an expression of the insurgent wish to “blow up” Washington.  Donald railed against Washington “elites” and promised to “drain the swamp.”  He bragged about not being a politician, of bringing a different perspective into the oval office.  Trump advertised himself as a political insurgent.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with looking at national politics from a different point of view.  It’s true that there are Washington elites, who often do not promote the best interests of the American people but rather the power and fortune of the wealthy.  Many Trump supporters voted for Donald because they truly believed that he would shake up Washington; that he would foment a populist revolution that would improve the life circumstances of his supporters.  He didn’t do that during his term in office.

Donald Trump was unsuccessful because he was pathologically self absorbed.  The Trump presidency was not an era of finding new ways to promote the people’s best interests but rather finding ways to promote Trump’s interests.  Donald practiced the ultimate “bait and switch.”  He promised to “drain the swamp” but instead became the swamp; raised self-dealing to an art form.  Trump promised to “end American carnage” but instead promoted violence with attacks on the press, people-of-color — most everyone other than white men — and political dissidents.  Ultimately, Trump’s rhetoric promoted the January 6th insurrection.

With his uncivility, Donald blew up “political correctness” and replaced it with anger, insults, and lies.  He demeaned gentility.  He normalized what had previously been viewed as unacceptable behavior.

Now is the time to step back from the abyss.  Now is the time to defend civility.

Recovery


No man an island
Our teachers once cautioned us
Now we’re isolates.

Separated from
Our family, friends, and neighbors
Sheltering in place.

The days stagger on
Light at the tunnel’s end, stays
Inaccessible.

Social animals
Cut off from human contact
Starving for soft touch.

Take heart, we know this
Terrain, we have walked here
Help is on the way.

Join recovery
Take responsibility
Cast out the demons.

Shun self interest
Care for your fellow humans
Honor the planet.

Find deep connection
Swim in the ocean of love
Build the bridge of hope.

The Onslaught of Madness

Madness does not run
It slithers up from behind
Catches you unaware.

One moment you’re safe
And the next, its tentacles
Wrap around your heart.

I saw the madness
In its cell, behind strong bars
Before it escaped.

Jumping the high fence
Racing across the pasture
Finding the grotto.

Hiding deep below
Feeding on the dark creatures
Sucking their essence.

Venturing outside
Sensing vulnerability
Probing our weakness.

Haunting our dreams
Polluting our unconscious
Clouding our resolve.

“Are you resentful?
Come follow me,” it whispers,
“Let out your anger.”

“Treated unfairly?
Because of your white skin?
Let your rage flow!”

Hollers, “Might makes right!
The ends justify the means!
Burn down everything!”

Madness taints judgment
Strips away moral constraints
Hardens fist and heart.