The Grim Dawn of 2021

New Year’s Day in my corner of the world was wet and grim.  The temperature was in the thirties, and rain fell on the unmelted snow.  The freezing mix formed big slushy puddles, glazed the steps seditiously, left icicles on the downspouts.  Gradually the trees and bushes sank under the weight of the ice forming on their boughs.  The patio grew too dangerous to cross.

Then, after night fell at around 4:40, the ugly grey day morphed into a snowy night.  The tree boughs, now brilliant with snow, arched lower.  By 10pm, the branches of a birch tree taller than the house had drooped to within just a few feet of the ground!  It was weird and beautiful.  Stressful for the trees.  I photographed them before going to bed, knowing I might never see the like again.  At night, I heard a few too-heavy branches fall from somewhere, landing on the roof of the house with a thud.


I want to say “happy new year,” but it would be insincere.  It’s impossible to greet this January with optimism, to pay lip service to the notion of “being better.”  Mortal and political dangers lie immediately ahead, threatening to push the US, already battered from the numerous crises of 2020, into a state of irremediable catastrophe.  What 2021 immediately demands is stamina, renewed vigilance against the coronavirus, and the guts to face down Trump-related threats to our government and national security.


Just as I went to bed the other night wondering whether the birch tree would snap in the night, so I wonder whether the government of the US will survive the week.  Extraordinarily, in the next few days the pressures that have been building on the nation will culminate.

  • This week, we will see whether Congress will allow Trump to destroy the United States or whether it will at last defy him, uphold the Electoral College, and be true to the will of the people and the Constitution.
  • We will see whether Trump will win his struggle to control the Republican party or whether his efforts will produce an all-out schism.
  • Will Mitch McConnell find a way to prevent the challenge to the Electoral College from going forward?  Only if anti-Trump forces in the Senate find a way to avert the EC challenge will the Republican Party, as we know it, survive this week.
  • Donald Trump’s conniving to hold on to an office he knows he lost is a self-interested quest that has nothing to do with his Constitutional duties.  He is a criminal and a grave threat to national security.  With the prospect of an ugly showdown in the House and Senate looming, calls for Trump’s impeachment or resignation are likely to grow.

Will the forces of good be strong enough to keep the nation from buckling under this week? The answer will come in the next 36 hours.

Day 4: Extrapolating from 2016: Why I Expect A Biden Win

The only presidential poll that counts is the one Americans vote in.  That being the case, are there ways (other than opinion polling) to evaluate whether Biden will win?  In the run-up to Election Day, I’m thinking of the odds of his victory in terms of all that has happened since 2016, when Donald Trump scored an electoral-college victory despite Hillary Clinton’s greater popularity. About 137 million people participated in that election.  How will roughly the same electorate behave in the matchup between Trump and Biden?

Of the 65 million people who voted for Clinton, few are going to switch over to Trump this time.  Clinton voters remain firmly opposed to Trump–to people who identify as liberals or Democrats, he is completely anathema.  Knowing that they constitute a numerical majority, they are highly motivated to defeat him this time.  Clinton voters want to see someone of their kind in the White House.

In the past four years, I have never met or heard of a Clinton voter believes Trump is a good guy.  So I can’t imagine there will be many defections from that solid Democratic column.  At a minimum, Biden can count on capturing at least as many popular votes as Clinton.

In addition, he will enjoy the support of many Americans who did not turn out for Clinton in 2016.  Many male voters will turn out for Biden who either went for Trump or refrained from voting in 2016.  Some voters perceived Clinton to have character issues; others harbored intense animus toward her, dating from her husband Bill’s presidency.  For some, Clinton’s sex was itself disqualifying.  Biden is not a better candidate or person than Hillary, but he is male.  He lacks the tangential but still consequential negatives that turned off some of the Democratic voting base.

Biden will also likely do better with supporters of Bernie Sanders than Clinton could.  Sanders voters shunned Clinton in 2016.  This time around, they are somewhat more likely to vote for Biden because of the urgency of defeating Trump, because of Sanders’s urging, and because it’s evident that the progressive agenda is gaining ground within the Democratic Party.   Young voters are mobilizing themselves to save the world.  They are more likely to cast a vote this time around than to sit it out.  And for those who mind Biden’s age and moderation, Kamala Harris represents a conditional promise that the White House will be occupied by a fairly progressive woman of color should Biden die.

Finally, Biden will get the vote of every Trump “resistor.”  Notably, black Americans hate Trump for turning a blind eye to racism and police brutality, threatening military action against protestors (whom he branded as terrorists), and encouraging white supremacy.  Tens of thousands of blacks who didn’t care about the last election and/or don’t particularly care for Biden will nonetheless turn out for him.  It appears they are already vote at higher rates and with more enthusiasm than they did in 2016.

So that is it for Biden’s positive voting base.  Now, when we look at Trump’s support what do we see?

Trump’s margin of victory in 2016 was narrow–very narrow.  The percentage of Americans who approve of him has remained below 50 percent for throughout his presidency.  This verdict on Trump has remained remarkably stable:  Trump was marginally more popular when he was inaugurated than he’s ever since.  Today, he has the good opinion of only 43 percent, and those fans are not necessarily distributed advantageously across the country.  As president, Trump has done nothing to “make friends” or broaden his appeal.  On the contrary, he has gone out of his way to alienate many Americans, specifically by treating everyone who opposes him as an enemy.  Now, the majority who dislike Trump have a chance to act.  This majority comprises not just Democrats but infrequent and independent voters who are likely to go for Biden this time around.

Meanwhile, cadres of Republican voters and officials have repudiated Trump in favor of Biden.  The open defection of elder statesmen, leading scientists and intellectuals, distinguished civil servants, military brass, and former Republican officials (including a number of former governors) is one of the more extraordinary aspects of the 2020 race.  It is a sign of the Republican party’s general decrepitude.

For, while Trump has dishonored the Republican party, the Republican-controlled Senate has shocked and disappointed Americans of all stripes in failing to check Trump or to stand up for the Constitution or the rule of law.  Senate Republicans have instead executed the president’s evil will, siding with him and enabling him to prevail in ways that are contrary to our values and the national interest.  So Trump will suffer because the entire Republican brand is poisoned.  Voting Republican has become synonymous with being provincial, hateful, and anti-modern.

In addition, Trump’s full-bore attacks on the press and journalists (many of them women); reports of his nasty remarks about fallen soldiers and those who have served in the military; his lack of concern for the poor, the ill, and elderly; and his obvious inability to deal with smart women have cost him many votes and sent many once-loyal Republicans to the other side.  His explicit attacks on Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and discriminatory approach to COVID relief, which has prompted him to withhold vitally needed aid from Democratic-leaning parts of the polity, are insults and injuries fresh in voters’s minds as they go to the polls.

In the end, how many Americans will decide that their best interest lies in allowing Trump to continue to lead the US?  What will they get out of his being in charge for another four years?  The social and cultural landscape of the US is withering away, along with its vibrant economy, because Trump has no definite economic or social vision.  His lack of executive ability and essentially corrupt mentality have been especially evident since the coronavirus epidemic hit.  Biden is more open, more compassionate and fair.  He can lead a suffering nation; Trump can’t.

Early voting augurs a historically high turnout for this election.  The high volume makes it more likely that Biden will sufficiently improve on Clinton’s margins to prevail in states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Arizona, where Trump won largely as a result of apathy.  The spread of COVID-19 in rural and red portions of the US will likely dampen enthusiasm and turnout for Trump among Republicans, who are said to prefer voting in person on Election Day.

The 2020 election is a critical one.  I believe that most Americans are good, that most accept and want to live by a time-tested political creed of fairness and toleration.  I believe that most want the US to be governed by the rule of law.  Sadly, millions of Americans support Trump because they do not care about these values enough to embrace social changes they bring.  I believe that Americans want to step into the future, that they want to become a fully multiracial and forward-looking country.

It’s hard to know what will happen if voters elect Biden, but if the US doesn’t move forward it’s going to go down.

RELATED:
“Trump Confronts His Fifty-Percent Problem.” (Politico)

Day 15: The No and the New

The only way to rid the nation of Trump is to vote for Biden. It’s a strategic fact driving millions of Democrats, independents, and Republicans to fill out the same bubble on their ballots, temporarily coalescing into a vast and powerful coalition. If they get their way, Joe Biden, perhaps the most underrated frontrunner in US history, will be the oldest person ever elected to the presidency. He is also one of the most knowing national politicians when it comes to our civic traditions, when it comes to the machinery of government and foreign affairs, and when it comes to the people on the Hill, who are the crucial players when it comes to deals.

Saying no to Trump is saying yes to Biden. Implicitly, the contest between the two is an opportunity to reject an “imperial presidency” in favor of a more balanced Constitutional government. Under Trump and his allies, the tripartite organism born of the Constitution has grossly atrophied. The federalism that holds the states and citizens together in one powerful conglomeration is now bitterly resented and railed against, as though the Proud Boys or Wolverine Watchmen or even Anonymous could build up something more viable and fairer in its place.

If Trump wins, what’s left of the republic will swiftly decline. If Biden wins, the republic will survive, but barely. For the scars of Trump’s wreckage to heal, the body politic will need much in the way of restoration and reform. “Build Back Better,” indeed. Forces at work in American society ordain that, if elected, Biden will preside over a political rehabilitation reshaping the economy, the presidency, Congress, and the parties. Paradoxically, then, one of the oldest members of the old political guard stands to authorize and usher in a dramatically new age.

Those who believe the federal experiment is worth continuing will vote for Biden. Blue voters believe that they can resolve the current crisis in a way that promotes Americans’ collective health, security, and prosperity. They believe that saying no to Trump is saying yes to a new and improved United States.

Image: “Condemned to Die” (1894),
from this source.

Illustration from Puck’s magazine shows reformers building a guillotine
for corrupt politicians condemned in the court of public opinion.

Day 29: Sicko

Hospitalized with a contagious disease, the president continued to behave recklessly.  Yesterday, he demanded that his Secret Service detail pile into a hermetically sealed car with him to parade him past a few well-wishers congregating outside.  Trump’s macho spree, which needlessly compromised his agents’ health, marked a nadir in his relations with Americans already disgusted and fed up with his grossly irresponsible, inconsiderate ways.

It is terribly demoralizing to realize that someone so ungoverned and ungovernable will be returning to the summit of American power. Last week, the New York Times’ expose of Trump’s finances showed cheating to be one of Trump’s lifelong passions, whereas Tuesday’s debate showed Trump to be deeply unreliable when truth and trust are needed most.  Trump is like a faithless husband to the US, his bride.  His love of lying and threats toward voters and other segments of the American population are abusive traits, which, in a marriage, no self-respecting spouse would tolerate.  Yet no one in America can rein in Donald Trump or call him to account.

As Trump returns to the White House from Walter Reed, the nation braces for the next episode of this excruciating charade.  Even though Biden is ahead in the polls, whether the US is on the verge of being rid of Donald Trump or Republican control of the Senate is still very uncertain.  The people in Trump’s administration, his allies in the Senate and elsewhere, donors and capitalists who support Trump for cynical reasons: their actions threaten America’s very being.  Today, I wonder whether the US can survive as a republic if they pull off a win.  In any event, it will take years of effort to build back better, to check the destructive forces that Trump has summoned.  American voters have the power, if only they will wield it, to stave off further disaster, so that reform can begin.

Day 31: The Empty Shell

What are your thoughts on hearing of the unexpected illness of a president who has pitted his fortunes against those of a majority of the American people? After flouting and dismissing measures known to protect the public against COVID’s spread, Trump has gotten the disease himself. He’s in the hospital and said to be doing well, but any outcome is possible. He could recover after just a slight case, or he could worsen; he could die.

Many in Trump’s Republican party mimicked his cavalier approach to the disease. Just as he became sick, so too have a passel of his Republican allies taken ill with COVIDat the same time: GOP party chair Ronna McDaniel; First Lady Melania Trump; Senators Thom Tillis (NC), Ron Johnson (WI), and Mike Lee (UT); Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s close aide Hope Hicks, his campaign manager Bill Stepien, and former Governor Chris Christie, who, with several others listed here, helped Trump prepare for last Tuesday’s debate.

The White House approach to COVID protocols was lax, leading to an outbreak that threatens the stability and security of the United States by sidelining, distracting, and disabling too many of its influential figures at once.

Yet one’s overall impression is how little any sick or healthy Republican cares. It doesn’t matter much to Republicans that the White House can’t do the work of the people, because that long ago vanished as top priority. The Republicans’ main focus since Trump tested positive has been on his suddenly changed situation and what it might mean for them. The party’s agenda consists of two main items: rushing Amy Coney Barrett onto the Supreme Court and making sure (by any means) that Trump wins re-election. No one cares whether Trump misses a few days of work at the White House, because, in all his tenure there, he’s avoided the chore of serving the people.

This has become clear as his schedule over the past week or so has been scrutinized for the bearing it might have on Washington’s contagion. Jetting around to campaign rallies, schmoozing at fund-raisers, preparing for the presidential debate, putting in a ghastly showing in it, and hosting a GOP love-fest for Amy Coney Barrett in the Rose Garden: such are the events that engross Trump most.

In the meantime, millions of Americans are out of work, running out of funds, and going hungry. Many are worried about losing their homes and access to medical care, even as winter comes on and the virus lingers and spreads. Businesses are folding, wildfires rage, and the bright possibilities of vibrant, solvent cities have evaporated. Cities like New York and Chicago, which represent some of the nation’s greatest concentrations of human and real capital, are barely holding together. Some vast piles of money that Congress set aside to help with these problems remain unspent or were spent improperly, attesting to Mr Trump’s ineptitude and indifference when he’s taxed with helping anyone but himself.

Under Donald Trump, the White House has become an empty shell. While he receives Cadillac treatment at Walter Reed, Americans can’t help but notice how little Trump and his ilk care about them.

Image: Currier & Ives print of the White House (1877),
from this source.