Day 34: Filth

I watched the entire presidential debate because my husband said it was our duty. I wanted to turn it off because the president was so disgusting. His speech and his manners were completely indecent. The polish he used to affect for the sake of “appearing presidential” was missing, exposing a loathsomeness (and screwiness) operating with disturbing force.

What we have in Trump is an imposter-in-chief. And the more Americans look into him, the more they discover what a despicable and self-interested con artist he is. The man who claims to have built up his own fortune was first and foremost the beneficiary of a multi-generational tax dodging scheme. His whole life has been devoted to skirting laws to the greatest extent he can. His ethos is deeply antisocial, in that it subordinates everything, including the presidency, to the goal of enriching himself and his family. The presidency isn’t an honor to Trump; it’s an urgently needed shield against legal prosecution. (Turns out, the White House is the safest place for a crook to hang out.)

Americans are beginning to get the facts. They are reading the nasty things he’s said in private about the military being “losers” and “suckers” and they are aghast. They see him failing to disavow white supremacy, instead giving a shout-out to fascists and throwing over black Americans. As support for Trump dwindles, his coffers thin and poll numbers slump. The closer he gets to losing the election, the more fearful, fantastical, and hostile he becomes.

Which produced the filthy spectacle I witnessed last night. A rude moron, who is supposed to be serving the nation and protecting its welfare, instead shirking his responsibility and spouting lies. Making wild promises about delivering a COVID vaccine. Claiming he has helped people get health insurance when he is taking it away. Claiming that he cares about making the air and water clean, after rolling back every environmental regulation he can. Insulting his opponent by taunting him and trying vainly to dispel his dignity. Trump’s heart is a cesspool. When this nation needs a hero, he turns coward–and doesn’t even have the tact to be ashamed.

This is the president: he can’t accept facts; he can’t follow simple rules; he can’t concentrate; he can’t empathize with suffering, he can’t handle dissent; he can’t be a good sport; he can’t be just; he can’t tolerate rivalry; he can’t admit unpleasant realities. To have such a person heading up our nation, which is premised upon compromise, openness, and interdependence, is, as Bob Woodward put it, a calamity.

Trump is dragging the nation through an existential crisis, daring us to figure out how to get free of a person so arrogant, so inept, so deceitful and vile.

“People who follow Trump’s advice and hang around watching polling places will be prosecuted, Nevada’s attorney general says.” (Business Insider)
“The People v. Donald J. Trump: The criminal case against him is already in the works — and it could go to trial sooner than you think.” (NY Magazine)

The Second Democratic Debates

Last night, I evaluated the Democratic candidates participating in the presidential debate less on the basis of their positions than on their demeanor and how they behaved. Relative to the previous night, this was a more ill-assorted group of presidential hopefuls.  Many of them showed an unappealing side.  I was particularly struck with the unbecoming way some of the aspirants chose to behave toward the putative front-runner Joe Biden.

Biden, despite his lead in the polls, is unlikely to become the party nominee.  He has served his country and his party tirelessly.  He was a marvelous vice president for eight years, he has a good heart, he identifies with others, and in the past he has been a riveting and incisive stump speaker.  Sadly, though, the old Joe Biden is no longer much in evidence; he is no longer at the top of his form, no longer brimming with humor and confidence.

Though many Democrats admire and trust Biden more than they do the other candidates, I think that he will net many fewer votes than expected when primary voters actually go to the polls.  In my view, the decline of Biden’s presidential prospects is inevitable, though presently some 30 percent of likely Democratic voters are telling pollsters that Joe would have their vote if the election were held today.

If I am right, there is no predicting who will end up at the top of the field, for, as Joe’s lead is redistributed, one or more contenders now at the bottom of the heap could rise to challenge the second and third most popular candidates, who happen to be the progressive standard-bearers Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Biden’s eventual inconsequence supplied a lens through which I assessed the behavior of the trailing wannabes.  Which of the other candidates looked presidential, remaining calm and far-sighted, and which yielded to the temptation to go after Joe Biden?  I was appalled to see several of the more junior figures on the stage tearing into a seasoned veteran instead of respecting his service and what the Democratic Party during his era managed to accomplish.  The behavior of Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and (surprisingly) even squeaky-clean Kirsten Gillibrand toward Biden came off as desperate and mean.  I loved how Biden pointed out to Gillibrand that “you thought I was fine until you wanted to be president.”  The words “Et tu, Brute?” came to mind as I reflected on this ugly scene.  It’s sad that, in their eagerness to cast themselves as in the vanguard of change, these candidates have opted to trash their own party and denigrate one of their own most popular leaders.  It shows an inauspicious lack of prudence and restraint.

Though Gillibrand otherwise had some good moments, Tulsi Gabbard and Andrew Yang owned the night, standing out as bright, positive, and self-disciplined.  Yang stayed focused on his big-picture agenda and refrained from back-biting.  Gabbard proved herself an able contender who could gain traction.  She scored off of Kamala Harris, reeling off several accusations against Harris’s conduct as California’s state’s attorney without losing her cool or seeming to have an axe to grind.  Gabbard also came across as a sincere defender of the environment, peace, and national sovereignty.  Though I dismissed her chances back when she announced her candidacy, I now view her as a sleeper candidate, whose prospects could brighten as those of her more irascible and immoderate rivals dim.

Julian Castro‘s advocacy of open borders makes him unelectable, while Bill de Blasio came across as a snob whose inaction with respect to the murder of Eric Garner at the hands of the New York City police dooms him to fail.  I appreciated Michael Bennet‘s conduct and ideas but his lack of charisma makes me doubt whether he can make much headway this time around.  Jay Inslee presented himself as a single-issue candidate with an opening statement focused solely on climate change.

Image: from this source.
In 1848, supporters of the popular Whig senator, Henry Clay, were outraged
when their party passed him over to make General Zachary Taylor their presidential nominee.
The cartoon shows a crowd of prominent Whigs conspiring to stab Clay in the back,
as he reads the Tribune in his drawing room.

Getting To Know The Democratic Field

I had barely walked in the door from a long car trip when the second round of Democratic presidential debates began.  So I grabbed the nearest note pad and sat down to begin assessing the candidates in the Democratic field.  Unlike the first round of debates, which were too dizzying to make sense of, the presidential candidates are beginning to come into focus in this second round.

Most Americans are centrists, so it was heartening to see several of the lesser-known candidates pointing out the dangers of falling into line behind the so-called “progressive” policies of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.  To my mind, at least, these two appeared to function last night less as rivals than allies, a relationship visually reinforced by their position together at center stage.  The main axis of the debate, no matter what topic the candidates were discussing, had to do with whether the policies Sanders and Warren are advocating are either fair or achievable, or genuinely appealing to Americans at large.  Particularly controversial is their embrace of Medicare for All, which in their formulation would do away with the nation’s current reliance on private medical insurance.

As the night wore on, Warren, Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, and John Hickenlooper all drifted lower in my estimation, partly because the challenges that Steve Bullock, John Delaney, Amy Klobuchar, and Tim Ryan mounted against Warren and Sanders were sensible and to my mind represented the interests of a wide swath of the electorate.  These more moderate and pragmatic candidates circled back time and again to the issue of what was achievable and what kinds of government help the public will truly appreciate and need.  Whereas Warren and Sanders thundered away, waving their arms and insisting that nothing but radical change could rescue the nation, Klobuchar, Ryan, Delaney, and Bullock voiced innumerable objections, in some cases questioning the desirability of the outcomes; in others, skeptically probing progressive assumptions; in still others, arguing that progressive policies were unworkable and would fail.

Governor Bullock of Montana, who entered the race only belatedly, made a good impression, if only because his presence reminded viewers of how important it will be for Democrats to choose someone who can do well in the “new West” and in purple states.  Amy Klobuchar improved over her first debate performance, exuding confidence and holding to a spontaneous style.  She easily eclipsed Beto O’Rourke, who was trying too hard to look and sound presidential, and Pete Buttigieg, who, in trying to differentiate himself from the competition, ended up marginalizing himself as a niche candidate representing the young.  Some viewers were turned off by Klobuchar’s touting her own record of electoral achievement, but others will take to heart her underlying message, which is that, to beat Trump, Democrats will need to nominate someone who can capture more votes in the moderate Midwest than Hillary did.

John Delaney, a former congressman from Maryland, came across as accomplished, thoughtful, and in command of the facts.  I was glad to see him standing up to Warren and Sanders and objecting to plans that will pull the Democratic party completely off the rails.  He managed to stay calm and listened politely while Elizabeth Warren lectured and whined her way past rules meant to prevent any one candidate from hogging an undue portion of the available time.

Which brings me to Marianne Williamson, who, despite not being an ideologue, perfectly articulated the central ideal of republican government both on the debate stage and in a post-debate interview with CBS.  She comes across as an authentic voice for using government to help individuals reach their full potential, which can only happen when the political class remembers that its job is to help “the people.”  Though she is not likely to become the party’s nominee, her impassioned and spontaneous riffs on environmental injustice and the dark psychic force of hatred that Donald Trump is unleashing stirred listeners’ hearts as nothing else did.  Somehow, this off-beat outsider is channeling the old soul of the Democratic party, delivering jeremiads to the complacent and prodding Americans everywhere to “stay woke.”  I found her refreshing and wouldn’t be surprised to see her star burning brighter for a while.