Category Archives: Political

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.

 

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.

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.

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.

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.

A New Era

The 2020 election is almost over; it will end when Joe Biden is inaugurated on January 20th. The election process took 19 months: beginning with the first Democratic debate and ending with the November 3rd election, January 6th counting of the electoral votes, and the inauguration. We all have good reason to feel drained.

There were emotional peaks and valleys.  After the polls closed, on November 3rd, there was an awful moment when we thought Trump might win.  Then we worried that Trump might find a way to steal the election; that he would force a coup.  We held on to a slim hope that we would regain control of the Senate by winning two Georgia run-off races; improbably, on January 5th we won both seats.

Now we have to set to work rebuilding the country.  But before we do this, we need to consider what we have learned from this process.

1.Democrats can win anywhere.  Biden won Arizona and Georgia; two states that had previously been considered “red.”  Democrats picked up a Senate seat in Arizona and two (!) seats in Georgia.

2020 proved that the political battlefield is expanding; the number of reliably red states is shrinking.  This means that Democrats can win any election if they have a strong candidate and effective local organizing.  (Dems have proven they have the money to compete in any venue.)  What remains to be done is for Democrats to replicate in every state the effective organization that Stacey Abrams built in Georgia.

2. Trump voters have a different worldview.  Sadly, during the 2020 presidential election, we have also learned that many Republicans — particularly those that idolized Donald Trump — have a vastly different perspective than do Biden supporters.  (We must never forget that 74 million Americans voted for Trump — 46.9 percent of the participants.)

Of course, not every Trump voter continues to support Trump — given recent events, such as the January 6th Capitol Hill riot.  Nonetheless, it’s reasonable to assume that a majority of Republicans support Trump.  In the 2020 presidential election exit polls, 36 percent of respondents identified as Republicans — versus 37 percent as Democrats and 26 percent as Independents.  95 percent of these Republicans voted for Trump; one-third of voters.  Assuming that Trump’s behavior, since November 3rd, has driven away some of this base, this means that between 25 and 30 percent of the electorate now support him — approximately 40 million voters.

It’s impossible to predict what Trump will do and, therefore, difficult to plot the course of the Republican Party.  At this moment, the GOP seems to have divided into two warring factions: the Trump devotees and Republicans who have entered “recovery.”  (On January 6th, 147 Trump-supporting members of Congress voted to overturn the results of the election (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/01/07/us/elections/electoral-college-biden-objectors.html).)

Going forward there are three mammoth tasks confronting the Biden-Harris administration: managing the Covid-19 pandemic, rebuilding the U.S. economy, and responding to climate change.  For each of these, the Biden-Harris administration is going to need the cooperation of Republicans, including some Trump supporters.

a. Covid-19 pandemic: At this writing, the United States has more than 22 million Coronavirus cases.  In contrast to Donald Trump, Joe Biden has promised to take the pandemic seriously: we can expect that he will emphasize mask use and demand funds for testing and vaccinations.  Most Americans will support these efforts, but Trump supporters will resist.  Too many do not take the pandemic seriously and, therefore, resist calls to wear a mask and socially distance — witness the Trump mob that stormed Capitol Hill; most of whom did not wear masks or socially distance.  (On Planet Trump, Coronavirus is a myth.)

Given the level of resistance of Trump supporters, it’s hard to imagine how a Biden-Harris initiative to ameliorate the pandemic will produce quick results.

b. Economic Recovery: The Biden-Harris team will attempt to restore the economy in two phases: first, provide assistance for individuals and businesses that have been damaged by the pandemic; and second, begin to address the more general issue of economic inequity — for example, by raising the minimum wage and forgiving student-loan debt.

Many Republicans, and Trump supporters, will be supportive of these efforts.

c. Climate Change: The 2020 presidential-election exit polls indicate that there’s a significant gap between the climate-change attitudes of Democrats and Republicans.  69 percent of Biden voters believe that “climate change is a serious problem” while 71 percent of Trump voters disagree.  It’s a situation similar to that on the pandemic: a strong majority of Biden supporters take the problem seriously and a similar majority of Trump supporters do not.

This is a particularly vexing situation because, once the pandemic is ameliorated, the United States needs to mobilize to deal with climate change.  We need to go to war to save the planet, but many Trump supporters won’t join this mobilization.

The bottom line is that the Biden-Harris team will govern a broken country; a fragile democracy that has just barely survived the reign of Donald Trump.  We’ve entered a new era but we all have much more work to do.

Donald Trump M.I.A.

On November 4th, after it became apparent that Donald Trump had lost the 2020 presidential election, I suspected that he would not be a gracious loser. Therefore, I haven’t been surprised that Trump has taken the position that the election was “stolen” by Joe Biden. What has shocked me is that Donald has stopped doing his day job. In the midst of four crises, Trump has abandoned any semblance of operating as President of the United States.

In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised.  From at least the time that Donald Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19, October 2, he checked out of his traditional White House duties.  Since November 3rd, Trump has seldom appeared in public and very rarely spoken to the press.  Nonetheless, Donald has tweeted a lot; an average of 25 per day — 75 percent of these tweets have been claims of election “fraud.” (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/11/24/us/politics/trump-twitter-tweets-election-results.html)

While it’s understandable that Trump is upset and, therefore, has sequestered himself in the White House to “lick his wounds,” that doesn’t excuse his failure to do his job.  The United States is beset by four crises.  Over the next 33 days, we need presidential leadership.

National Security:  On November 4th, after I realized that Trump had lost the election, I mused: “I hope there is no national security event between now and January 20th.”  Unfortunately, the United States has been the target of a massive Russian cyberattack.

Writing in the New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/16/opinion/fireeye-solarwinds-russia-hack.html), Thomas Bossert, former Trump Homeland Security Adviser, observed:

“The [Russian] malware was on [SolarWinds] software from March to June. The number of organizations that downloaded the corrupted update could be as many as 18,000, which includes most federal government unclassified networks and more than 425 Fortune 500 companies. The magnitude of this ongoing attack is hard to overstate.  [Emphasis added] The Russians have had access to a considerable number of important and sensitive networks for six to nine months…While the Russians did not have the time to gain complete control over every network they hacked, they most certainly did gain it over hundreds of them. It will take years to know for certain which networks the Russians control and which ones they just occupy.”

This is the most serious cyberattack ever.  The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said the hack, “poses a grave risk to the Federal Government and state, local, tribal, and territorial governments as well as critical infrastructure entities and other private sector organizations.”  It’s an act of war.

President Trump has yet to address this crisis.

Coronavirus Pandemic:  We’re in the middle of the third wave of the pandemic.  So far, 17.7 million Americans have been infected and 320 thousand have died — we’re adding 220 thousand new patients per day.  Since November 3rd, Donald Trump has frequently tweeted, but not about the pandemic.  (On November 13th, Trump held a brief press event, to tout the development of the Pfizer vaccine; he took no questions and did not acknowledge the US pandemic statistics.)

US Economy: In the closing days of the presidential election, Donald Trump ran with the message: “Biden wants to shut down the economy, I want to open it up.  Coronavirus is no big deal; I survived it.”  Of course, we’ve learned that Coronavirus is a big deal, and that it does have a savage impact on the economy.

At the moment, because of the third wave of the pandemic, the U.S. economy has stalled.  Employment growth has slowed down and unemployment lingers around 7 percent.  This week jobless claims increased to a three-month high (885,000).  Consumer confidence has fallen.  About 25 percent of US renters face eviction.  Millions of Americans are suffering.

At this writing, the US Congress is struggling to agree on a compromise stimulus package.  Donald Trump has had only marginal involvement in this process. (And, Trump has not addressed the pain endured by many working-class Americans.)

National Confidence:  Finally, as if it weren’t bad enough that Donald Trump has ignored a Russian cyberattack, mismanaged the pandemic, and provided no economic leadership, he has also failed to send a positive Christmas message.  We’re coming to the end of a very difficult year; American need to be cheered up.  A normal president would transmit a message of hope.

Instead, Donald has hunkered down in the White House.  Trump’s narcissistic focus is on the 2020 election results.  This stance furthers the impression that the 45th President of the United States does not care about the welfare of the American people — that Donald Trump only cares about himself.  At a time when Americans need to come together to fight for the common good, Trump is, instead, promoting a message of “you’re on your own.”

Donald Trump has, once again, failed to be a leader.  Since November 3rd, he’s M.I.A.

Trump Crazy, Republicans Crazy


Like most of you, i cannot wait until Donald Trump leaves the White House and the daily onslaught of Trump “news” ceases.   Unfortunately, while Trump will move on to the netherworld, the political madness will continue.  The most difficult 2020 election lesson is that Trump is not the cause of Republican insanity, he is its symptom.

In the 2020 election, more than 74 million Americans voted for Donald Trump.  They chose crazy.

It’s a deeply disturbing fact that millions of Americans voted for Trump.  A fact that’s important to consider, because Trump will disappear but Trumpism will persist.  Many Trump voters will continue to support Republican irrationality.

Many pundits disparage Trump supporters; call them stupid, deplorable, or worse.  I believe the most apt characterization of MAGA devotees is desperate.  Trump supporters feel hopeless and have grasped Trump as a “lifesaver.”

This is the perspective expressed by UC Berkeley Sociology professor Arlie Hochshild in her 2016 book: “Strangers in Their Own Land.”  Hochschild conducted a five-year study of Louisiana Tea Party voters who eventually became Trump supporters.  Hochschild details their “deep story,” a narrative shared by her interviewees: “You are standing in a long line leading up a hill, as in a pilgrimage.  You are situated in the middle of this line, along with others who are also white, older, Christian, and predominantly male… Just over the brow of the hill is the American Dream, the goal of everyone waiting in line.  Most in the back of the line are people of color… Look!  You see people cutting in line ahead of you!  You’re following the rules.  They aren’t.  As they cut in, it feels like you are being moved back… Who are they?  Women, immigrants, refugees, public sector workers — where will it end?”

The voters Hochschild interviewed had been screwed over for so long that they were profoundly disoriented.  Grasping for a lifeline, they latched onto Trump.  After January 20th, Trump may slink offstage, but the desperation experienced by Trump voters will not disappear.  As a consequence, Trump voters will continue to support Republican irrationality.

This is a perspective shared by New York Times columnist, David Brooks, who recently wrote (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/26/opinion/republican-disinformation.html? ): “We live in a country in epistemological crisis, in which much of the Republican Party has become detached from reality.” [Emphasis added]  Brooks explained: “In 1972, people without college degrees were nearly as happy as those with college degrees. Now those without a degree are far more unhappy about their lives… This precarity has created, in nation after nation, intense populist backlashes against the highly educated folks who have migrated to the cities and accrued significant economic, cultural and political power…. People in this precarious state are going to demand stories that will both explain their distrust back to them and also enclose them within a safe community of believers. The evangelists of distrust, from Donald Trump to Alex Jones to the followers of QAnon, rose up to give them those stories and provide that community. Paradoxically, conspiracy theories have become the most effective community bonding mechanisms of the 21st century.”

Brooks concluded: “Under Trump, the Republican identity is defined not by a set of policy beliefs but by a paranoid mind-set… Distrust and precarity, caused by economic, cultural and spiritual threat, are the source.”

The key question for the Biden Administration is what to do about this.  How should they manage a situation where a substantial percentage of the populous not only did not vote for Biden-Harris but actually believes their election was illegitimate?

Addressing this political and social divide will take time.  There are several obvious steps.  First, the message from the Biden Administration has to be one of reconciliation.  In a recent speech, Joe Biden said, ““We are not enemies. We are Americans. This is the time to heal in America.”  That’s the right message, but many Trump supporters will not accept it; many MAGA devotees will hunker down within their paranoid communities.

Biden has taken control of the “bully pulpit.”  Over the next four years, Biden has to use this communication advantage to promote a positive message of reconciliation and hope.  The key is message consistency; if it’s maintained, Trump supporters will succumb.

The second step requires understanding that “the populist backlash” is a symptom of class conflict.  Donald Trump, and other Republican leaders, have — to further their selfish political agenda — promoted a class war: the “deplorables” versus the “coastal elites.” Listen to the language of Trump attorney Sidney Powell: “American patriots are fed up with the corruption from the local level, to the highest level of our government…  We are going to reclaim the United States of America for the people who vote for freedom.”

In 2016, Trump’s message to his supporters was: “The system is broken and I alone can fix it.”  Millions of Americans responded to Trump’s message, because they believe the system is broken.

The third step is to address the substantive grievances of Trump supporters, and millions of other Americans.  They want a shot at the American Dream.

In October, the Gallup Poll asked Americans: “In general, are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time?”  80 percent of respondents said they were “dissatisfied.”  These Americans are dissatisfied with a lot of things: their jobs, housing, healthcare, and the education of their children.  They are dissatisfied because they do not believe there is “a level playing field.”  They are dissatisfied because they believe that a seminal American mythic narrative is dead.  A myth that Robert Reich (https://delong.typepad.com/egregious_moderation/2008/02/robert-reich-th.html) identified as: “The Triumphant Individual… the familiar tale of the little guy who works hard, takes risks, believes in himself, and eventually gains wealth, fame, and honor.”

This dissatisfaction is not unique to Trump supporters.  It’s shared by many who voted for Biden-Harris.  That’s the silver lining in this difficult situation: most Biden supporters, and Trump devotees, ultimately want the same thing: a fair shot at the American dream.

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.

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.

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.