Biden’s Foreign Policy Challenges

Alan Zendell, February 27, 2021

After Donald Trump’s America First policy, I was glad that President Biden’s first international call was to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. No two countries’ futures are as inextricably tied to each other as Canada’s and the United States’. Twentieth centruy futurists predicted that we would eventually form a North American Confederation with Canada, if not actually merge into a single nation. National pride and cultural differences aside, that made perfect sense fifty years ago; it makes even more sense today.

Fifty years ago, such a confederation would have been one-sided, since Canada’s climate caused chronically high unemployment in seasonal industries like construction and farming. But our evolving climate is leveling the field, if not reversing it. America’s southern farm lands are moving toward another dust bowl, as Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas overheat and experience worsening droughts, while Canada’s agricultural belts benefit from the overall warming trend. Our mutual interests are strong enough that we should be finding more ways to cooperate instead of fighting over dairy products and energy production. As both countries strive to become greener, issues like the Keystone pipeline would be much easier to resolve if we treated Canada like a partner instead of a competitor.

The commendable peace deal between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain brokered by Jared Kushner should expand trade and enrich all parties, always a good thing, but it doesn’t address the Middle East’s worst problems. Barack Obama attempted to project a more even-handed policy toward Arab-Israeli relations, which to the Arab side had always appeared heavily biased toward Israel. I understood his intentions, but he failed, and in doing so convinced strong supporters of Israel that Democrats couldn’t be trusted to support the Jewish state, one of many things that hurt Hillary Clinton and helped elect Trump in 2016. Trump’s close ties to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu worsened prospects for a lasting peace with Israel’s neighbors. Netanyahu has done more to alienate his neighbors than build a lasting peace.

Biden attacked the issue by going after Israel’s enemies. Under Biden, there will be no free passes to the Saudi monarchy, who enjoyed a love affair with Republican administrations going back to George H. W. Bush. Biden withdrew support for Saudi’s war with Yemen, put a large sale of state-of-the-art warplanes on hold, and held Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman responsible for the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashogi. MBS will no longer be treated like a golfing buddy. Biden also struck at Iranian installations in Syria that supported attacks on American forces. These actions demonstrate more support for Israel than propping up a corrupt Prime Minister.

With respect to Europe, Biden kept his campaign promises to renew support for NATO, particularly the commitment that an attack on any member nation is an attack on all. He rejoined the Paris Climate Accord and will pursue a renegotiated Iran Nuclear Deal. Good first steps, but it’s unclear how he will address trade relations or whether he will continue troop drawdowns from NATO countries. More importantly, he is hamstrung by domestic politics. Knowing Donald Trump still has a significant voice among American voters, it’s difficult to see how Europe can have confidence in America as a dependable ally. Policies could easily be reversed in 2024.

Turning to our most dangerous adversaries, we may rest assured that Biden’s foreign policy will not be ego-driven. He will not engage in hyperbolic threats and insults, and he will be as transparent as national security permits. Trump’s attacks on the original Iran nuclear deal were disingenuous. He offered no evidence that it hurt American interests, just noise and bluster. The issue is extremely complex, best left to diplomatic and military experts, not someone who flies by the seat of his pants and undercuts his own State Department. I have a degree in nuclear physics, but I freely admit that I have no idea how to best police Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Biden has been silent on North Korea, deflating the elevated status conveyed on Kim Jong Un by Trump, whose theatrics left us no better off with respect to North Korea than we were when Trump took office. Worse, our relations with our staunch ally, South Korea, were damaged when Trump undercut the South Korean government’s attempts to improve relations with the North. The best way to deal with Kim is to ignore him publicly while squeezing him in private.

I don’t know the best way deal with China, but I’m certain that hurling insults at President Xi and continually referring to COVID-19 as the China virus is the worst. Approaching China diplomatically makes more sense than blowing up trade treaties and starting trade wars. Trump likes to posture as a high stakes gambler willing to throw the dice and see where they land. But Biden understands that taking calculated diplomatic risks in negotiation works better than chaos. The best way to deal with China may be to penalize American companies that offload jobs to improve profits. That’s a far better use of tariffs than hurting our farmers’ export markets.

Finally, Russia and Vladimir Putin. Joe Biden doesn’t worships autocrats or wish to become one. Mr. Putin will neither weave a spell over Biden nor keep him in thrall as he did Trump. The way to deal with Russian interference is clear. Cyber wars are analogous to the nuclear standoffs of the last century. No computer system is safe from hacking, and our people are as talented as theirs. In the absence of voluntary disarmament, mutually assured destruction prevented us from blowing up the planet; now, both sides have the capability to destroy the other’s infrastructure and disrupt social and economic systems without firing a shot. Biden should make it clear to Putin that Russia has as much to lose from cyber warfare as we do, and maybe emphasize his point by taking out a power plant or two.

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Legacy of Misinformation

Alan Zendell, February 26, 2021

The 2020 election and its aftermath demonstrated that the majority of Americans wanted an end to the lies and hateful rhetoric of the Trump years. They proved that nationally by electing Joe Biden, and in Georgia, under the intense scrutiny of the entire world, by defeating two incumbent Republicans Senators in a cherry-red state, turning it a lovely shade of purple. No amount of extremist media reporting can change what we saw and heard. On the other hand, fifty years after the fact, there are still people who claim the Apollo moon landings were faked.

Back in the day, I worked on the lunar landing craft, (LEM,) so I have no doubt that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin really stepped onto the lunar surface and planted the flag. Even so, having observed the lunar simulator used to train Armstrong and his colleagues first hand, and seeing how incredibly real the (fake) television transmissions from the Long Island training sessions looked, if I didn’t know better, I could see how people might buy into the lie that the missions never happened. If not for the fact that every country with tracking capability followed the path of the Apollo spacecraft independently, and were able to intercept the voice and video transmissions from the Moon themselves, the whole thing could have been a Hollywood special effects coup.

Compare that to the unabashed, shameless campaign to discredit the election. It’s not a creation of the Dark Web. It all occurred in plain sight, starting with the seeds planted by Trump months before the election that there was no way he could lose unless the election was rigged. In fact, many actors attempted to rig it, most notably Russian and Ukrainian hackers, who our entire national security apparatus tell us did their best to help Trump win.

I understand his disappointment and frustration. If not for the pandemic, which gave Americans an opportunity to watch him perform during a national emergency and utterly fail except for allowing funds for vaccine research to flow, Donald Trump may well have been re-elected. But he is incapable of accepting defeat. That’s the only thing that generated the horrifying post-election reality show the world got to see while they were locked down watching television.

While the events leading up to the insurrection at the Capitol were the final straw for many Americans, a sizable number still believe the Big Lie. It’s hard to know how many, although polls suggest that as many as two-thirds of Republicans either still believe it or are willing to support the narrative, because they see Trump as their best hope of regaining power in the future. Political differences are normal and healthy. Without the ability to freely express dissent and opposition, our republic could not survive. But when dissent is based on a massive campaign of deceit, our nation is in serious trouble.

That was brought home to me yesterday, when one of my neighbors, a very decent, intelligent man with whom I hadn’t discussed politics before lectured me about how the Democrats stole the election. I was stunned. He doesn’t even like Trump. He began by saying, “Trump is a jerk,” and went on to repeat right wing media sound bites. It was as if he’d been hypnotized to recite them in a trance. I listened, fascinated, to see if I could discern even a shred of truth. I threw in the towel when he said that in some blue states, the number of votes cast exceeded the total population of the state. He was unable to name any of them, and his only evidence was what some whacko on Newsmax said.

That’s only one of false claims that drive the Big Lie, but it’s worth focusing on because it’s not only untrue, it’s absurd. Every state certified its election results, and more than half were signed off on by Republican administrations. Does he believe that any Secretary of State certifying elections wouldn’t notice if four million votes were cast in a state with a population of three million, a fourth of whom aren’t even of voting age?

We’re about to enter a new arena as state and local prosecutors in several locations investigate Trump’s actions, both as president and private citizen. If what results are indictments, prosecutions, and convictions, what happens next? The thought that Trump and his people may have poisoned the well of truth and believability to the extent that his followers are capable of rejecting everything that disagrees with their narrative is terrifying. Trump has undermined the credibility of the free press in the minds of perhaps a third of Americans. If he succeeds in making law enforcement and the courts irrelevant, how can we possibly move forward from that?

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

An Epic Supreme Court Decision?

Alan Zendell, February 22, 2021

Did you ever wonder why beavers spend so much time and energy building dams? When I asked Google, it said because those that do survive and those that don’t, don’t. Beavers are rodents, and not terribly smart ones; they don’t think too hard about what they do. They’re instinct-driven, and their most basic instinct is survival. Their dams create ponds where they can live safely, relatively free of predators most of the time. But every so often, their creek floods, and there’s too much water for their dam to hold back. Their security is breached.

Substitute Donald Trump for the beaver, an army of high-priced lawyers and henchman for the twigs and detritus that form the dam, and the safe harbor Trump retreats to whenever courts and law enforcement start looking into his affairs for the pond. Now you understand why the Supreme Court decision to remove all legal barriers from the release of Trump’s tax records to New York City District Attorney Cyrus Vance is so important. His lawyers created a logjam in the court system that has lasted for decades to prevent exposure of information that could land Trump in prison. The Court, one third of which was appointed by Trump, ruled against him with no dissent.

In most complex criminal investigations, the war cry is, “Follow the money.” If you wonder why tax records matter so much, consider that mobsters like Al Capone were untouchable until the FBI realized they could convict them of tax evasion. Federal and state investigators will be looking for that in Trump’s records, but examining how people spend money and how they represent their holdings on official documents can expose a variety of other crimes: bribery, extortion, fraud, racketeering, campaign finance violations, money laundering, hush payments – the potential list reads like a B movie script.

In 2018, Trump’s fixer and lawyer, Michael Cohen, pled guilty to eight counts of tax evasion and campaign finance violations in federal court. In 2019, he testified to Congress that when he committed those crimes he was acting at the behest of his boss, Donald Trump. He also claimed to have evidence of Trump’s ties to Russia and of his involvement in Roger Stone’s relationship with Wikileaks. After being exposed as the sleaze he is, Cohen’s public attempt at redemption didn’t convince many people, but if money changed hands in either of those activities, Trump’s tax records could validate Cohen’s allegations.

His tax records were the subject of Trump’s first and most persistent lie since he became a politician. First, he promised to release them “at the appropriate time.” When that time, which was never specified, had become moot, he claimed he couldn’t release them because they were under audit. When voters seemed not to care whether he released them, he started playing the victim card. He was the subject of a vast conspiracy to destroy his presidency, the likes of which…you’ve heard it all before. A lot of people wondered, after he’d become president, and his supporters clearly couldn’t have cared less, why Trump continued to go to such lengths to hide his tax records.

Maybe it was the $400 million in Trump’s debts reported by the New York Times. The fact that the only major bank who would do business with him in the last decade was Deutschebank, which was fined nearly a billion dollars by the EU for money laundering, naturally raised the question of whom he was in debt to. The statements of his son, Donald Trump, Jr, bragging that Trump would never have trouble borrowing because Russian banks loved him might shed some light. There’s enough smoke there to call the Fire Department.

The only thing that’s clear is that Trump has been and remains desperate to keep prosecutors from examining the details of his tax returns. Only a fool would conclude that it’s because he values privacy and has nothing of a criminal nature to hide. Trump has repeatedly shown himself to be totally without scruples. Did he, as Michael Cohen charged, undervalue his properties to avoid taxes while simultaneously overvaluing them when using them as collateral? Is he seriously indebted to Russian and Chinese oligarchs? Those question are not academic, and their answers may explain why Trump was willing to provoke insurrection to remain in power, where he was exempt from prosecution.

Donald Trump continues to dominate the Republican Party and says he intends to runs for president again in 2024. If that’s true every American should know exactly who and what he is.

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Mind Of a Trump Supporter

Alan Zendell, February 21, 2021

Don’t let the title fool you. I have no idea what goes on in the mind of a Trump supporter. The things they say usually make me roll my eyes. Absent any other information, it would be easy to conclude that they’re stupid, ignorant, and uninterested in thinking for themselves. But I know that’s not true as a generality. I know too many intelligent, well-educated people who call themselves Trump Republicans. If anyone out there can explain how they think, please let me know.

Watching Trump take over the Republican party and savage the other contenders in the 2016 presidential election was a humbling experience. I used to be pretty good at predictions, at least when they were based on a sound analysis of valid data. In 2016, I understood why people responded to his populist appeal and why they gave him a pass on having no respect for truth and even less character. They had been harboring years of built-up anger and frustration, and for all that time they had nowhere to vent it and no one at whom to direct it. Trump gave them both, and they loved him for it.

But I had no idea that there were so many Americans looking for someone to blame for their unhappiness, so many millions who could be easily provoked into what was effectively a lynch mob with a moving target. Trump’s tweets might have been the Pied Piper’s flute. “Yesterday we hated immigrants. Today let’s go after the courts. Tomorrow – let’s see – let’s string up every pro-choice woman in our neighborhoods.” The crazier his claims got, the more violent his exhortations, the more people he attracted. I realized, then, that my knowledge of human nature was inadequate, so I stopped making predictions, except one, that Trump would overreach until he finally undermined himself. That was an easy one. There was no way he would ever represent the majority of Americans.

I also made an exception for COVID. Once there was solid data for professional modelers to sink their teeth into, I was back on solid turf. I even bought a tee shirt that says, “In Fauci We Trust.” Last Spring, I predicted that the COVID death toll would reach a quarter of a million Americans by Election Day, and some of you scoffed. When I said 400,000 by Inauguration Day, there were still people claiming that either the pandemic was a hoax or it was being exaggerated just to hurt Trump. That somehow got merged into the Big Lie that the election was stolen, and I began to wonder if among Trump’s gifts was the ability to drive his supporters crazy and make loyalty to him a psychological imperative. The death toll reached a half million today.

And then came the ultimate test on January 6th. We all saw the insurrection at the Capitol and the events that led up to it. We all know what happened. We saw the Proud Boys and the Oath Takers lead the assault on the Capitol in the name of their president and loudly proclaim that he had ordered them there to interfere with the Congress’ business of certifying the victory of Joe Biden. Yet, a new USA Today poll of Trump supporters reported that 58% of them believe the riot was perpetrated by Antifa, the largely fictitious organization of left-wing terrorists who support the Green New Deal and eat babies.

After living through a year in which Trump’s criminal malfeasance allowed the pandemic to spread out of control and destroy the lives of tens of millions of Americans who lost their jobs, homes, and families, many of whom were Trump supporters, 41% said they would follow him if he formed his own Party. More than 90% think he is not responsible for the insurrection, and 85% said they’d vote for Trump again if he ran for president in 2024. To me, the result that best describes their mentality, is that of the 58% of Trump supporters who said Fox News was their most trusted source of information last October, that number is only 34% today. The others all defected down the rabbit hole to Newsmax and AONN.

Despite now having a president who cares so much he brings tears to my eyes when he speaks, Trump supporters have a new mission – preventing President Biden from getting anything done. If nothing else, that puts Mitch McConnell who has made a living obstructing Democrats in an interesting place in his fight to regain control of his party.

Knowing all this, I have to ask again. Can anyone explain how these people think?

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Regulations and the People Who Hate Them

Alan Zendell, February 19, 2021

If we learned anything during the last few years it’s to be wary of anything that comes out of a politician’s mouth, especially when there’s a good chance there is a hidden agenda behind the words. Trumpers and Tea Partiers constantly rail against federal regulations, often claiming they’re part of a conspiracy to replace capitalism with socialism. That’s about the same as suggesting that teaching children manners is equivalent to suppressing their creativity and freedom of expression. The intent of federal regulation is no more about restricting capitalism than teaching our children to behave civilly is about turning them into robots.

It might help to remove the mantle of bogeyman from regulation. Our Constitution grants Congress the sole power to pass laws, which in a perfect world, are supposed to reflect the will of the people. But laws tend be statements of principles and concepts. When Congress passed the Social Security Act, for example, and then modified it to include Medicaid, (health care for people in poverty and the disabled,) it laid out a set of goals and minimum standards. Most laws include layers of nuance to allow states and local jurisdictions some leeway to deal with local conditions. Enforcing the Social Security Act was far more complex than pulling someone over for speeding.

The bridge that links federal laws to actionable rules and policies is regulation. Congress passes a law, and then it becomes the province of the Executive Branch to translate the wording of the new statute into enforceable rules, that is, to create regulations that assure adherence to Congress’ wishes. Before any regulation is put in place, the government designates a period of time for public comment, town halls, and these days, debate in both public and social media. Regulations are not edicts of a king. They are intended to serve the common good while allowing states the flexibility they need to apply them to their individual circumstances.

Medicaid is an excellent example of the regulation process, particularly in light of the current push to get the eleven states that held out passing expansions under the Affordable Care Act. Medicaid regulations are written by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid in the Department of Health and Human Services. The people who draft them understand that one size does not fit all. For example, all states must provide eligible recipients with a standard minimum list of health services, but states can add to the list and request waivers if they think they have a better way to serve their populations. Hundreds of such waivers are currently in force. Even then, the regulations are not absolute. A state need not comply if it wants to run and pay for its own program. The regulations are the requirements for obtaining federal financial assistance.

Most regulations attempt to meet a common need. Problems arise when competing financial interests politicize them. The classic example is the body of environmental protection regulations. The fight between scientists, environmental advocates, and polluting businesses has raged since the National Environmental Protection Act was passed by Congress in 1970, by a Republican Administration. Regardless of which side you’re on, the problem is lobbying and politics, not the regulatory process.

The latest example of why this is so critical is the current weather disaster in Texas. There are two national electric power grids in the United States, one for the eastern half of the country and one for the west. Their purpose is to enable power to be shared in emergencies like the current crisis in Texas. Since weather emergencies never impact the entire country at the same time, most local areas have a surplus power supply that can be shared when the demand in one region exceeds supply. The systems that comprise the U. S. power grid are privately owned, not some giant government utility. But in order to assure compatibility and maintain reliability standards, the systems that participate must comply with a set of regulations. No single entity profits from the regulations. They’re all about serving the common good.

As with Medicaid, states were not required to join one of the national grids, but in order to be connected to them and receive federal assistance they had to agree to abide by the regulations. Texas chose to go it alone, believing they could handle their own problems and would never need to borrow power from other states. In doing so they committed the same error as people who believe they don’t need fire insurance. They don’t – until there’s a fire. Texas politicians abhor federal regulation. In this case that fundamental prejudice cost its citizens dearly. It’s a catastrophe for millions of Texans that could have been avoided by preventing political views from overriding common sense.

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Speak Not Ill of the Dead – Or Just Tell the Truth

Alan Zendell, February 18, 2021

We’re taught never to speak ill of the dead. Why? Is it mere political correctness, good taste, or squeamishness? One of the few things about which I agreed with Donald Trump was the need to do away with most forms of political correctness, which is simply lying or refusing to acknowledge the truth. As children, we were taught not to lie, except, that is, when older, wiser adults winked at all those “little white lies” they told us.

Except, there’s no such thing as a white lie. White lies are either an unwillingness to face an uncomfortable truth or a cowardly way of avoiding controversy. There have been many truly evil people in the world. You know who they were. They were evil when they lived and their legacy was still evil when they died. The thing is, if we shrink from telling the unpleasant truth about them in their epitaphs, if we do not shine a spotlight on their vile beliefs and deeds, we increase the risk of having them repeated by others.

Everyone defines evil in his own way, but Rush Limbaugh fit my definition to a tee. Listening to him, it was easy to conclude that he was a bigot and a misogynist, an image he reveled in. He coined the term “Feminazi” to describe women who chose not to be subservient to men. He described black people and welfare recipients (which for him, were synonymous) as leeches and cheats, stealing from the mouths of “hard-working white men.” In 1993, the first year of Bill Clinton’s first term, Limbaugh was not content to speak vilely about Hillary Clinton, the First Lady. He described Chelsea Clinton, their daughter, as the thirteen-year-old whore in the White House. What kind of person does that?

That stuff is damning enough, but my own view of Rush Limbaugh is even worse. I believe he was a charlatan, adopting a racist, populist persona for the sole purpose of enriching himself. It was much like the fake right-wing extremist character Stephen Colbert created in the Comedy Central show, The Colbert Report, except that Colbert’s viewers knew he was simply in character. While pretending to be the champion of the working (white) man, Limbaugh lived extravagantly, owning a private jet and amassing an estate worth $600 million. The real Rush Limbaugh was a self-styled mover and shaker of presidents.

Limbaugh didn’t invent the populist, White Supremacist wing of the Republican Party, but he was one of its principal proponents and supporters until Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Lou Dobbs came along. To some degree, he was an early creation of Roger Ailes, founder of Fox News. Ailes’ dream was to awaken a silent majority of angry white men and call them to action to take back what was rightfully theirs, and Limbaugh was his “beta” test of the concept. When it worked to the extent that Limbaugh daily peddled his hate to a syndicated network of 160 radio stations, Fox News quickly followed, unabashedly calling its news coverage fair and balanced, which was about the same as  Mao Tse Tung calling his Chinese Communist regime the People’s Republic of China.

But there’s more. The evil twins, Ailes and Limbaugh, viewed themselves as king makers. To fulfill that prophesy, they turned their duo into a triumvirate, recruiting a businessman turned television personality with a huge ego and a reputation for ignoring rules and ethics, and flaunting laws whenever it was convenient. Moreover, their new disciple got away with it more often than not. Thus was given birth to Trumpism, which is simply an updated, expanded version of the filth and philosophy Limbaugh peddled for thirty years. Originally a supporter of Ted Cruz in 2016, Limbaugh jumped aboard the Trump bandwagon as soon as it was clear that even the hateful Cruz was no match for Trump’s shameless pandering of lies and bigotry. Limbaugh had as much to do with keeping Trump’s base in line as anyone in America.

Given all that, should we praise Limbaugh as we bury him? Or, now that our country has reached a critical fork in the road with respect to Trump’s movement, should we call a spade a spade? Trump didn’t invent himself. He was the product of a carefully choreographed movement engineered by Ailes and Limbaugh. That, and the hate he spread for all those years until Trump took over the mantle of right-wing extremist in chief, are the despicable legacy of Rush Limbaugh. The world is a better place without him in it.

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Party At War with Itself

Alan Zendell, February 15, 2021

In his new book, A History of What Comes Next, Silvain Neuvel describes the unfortunate circumstances in which the German population, specifically, it’s surviving men, found itself in 1946:

The Germans are in shock, stunned, stripped of who they were and everything that held their world together. It doesn’t matter what they believed in, it’s gone. They were promised the world and lost everything. Those who believed feel cheated, robbed by one man’s stupidity. Those who didn’t are defeated just the same. There’s no prize for having been ashamed early.

What a metaphor for today’s Republican Party. Led astray by a charismatic madman, they were assured that their destiny was to inherit the mantle of power and transform the nation into a Fascist Utopia. That’s not what their maniacal leader called it, but even the dimmest of them eventually got it.

It was clear to many from the start that that’s what Donald Trump was trying to create. They spoke out half-heartedly, mostly out of self-interest, but possessed neither the wit nor the will to stop him. Just as Germany allowed itself to be swallowed up in nationalist pride and prejudice, they took the easy path of going along with the rising tide. If you read what they said five years ago, it’s clear that they were appalled by what they were signing on to, but they played along to get along. In the aftermath, most probably regret supporting the Big Lie, but to paraphrase Neuvel, there’s no prize for being ashamed.

The Republican Party is a shambles, at war with itself, with no outcome in sight. Saturday’s Senate impeachment vote defined three factions – those with the courage to remain faithful to their conservative values, those who appear willing to stick with Trump to the end, and perhaps the largest group, who are horrified by what they allowed themselves to be dragged into, but can’t see a way forward.

Those divisions will be sharpened as President Biden proceeds to methodically level the playing field for Americans caught in the middle. His efforts to assure that people are not left in financial ruin by Trump’s criminal neglect of the pandemic, to expand health care to as many as possible, and to get vaccines into 300 million arms have the support of eighty percent of the country. Standing against them is the only thing that unites Republicans: obstruction. After blowing up the national debt to pass a disingenuous tax law that made the rich richer, Republicans who disagree about everything else are suddenly concerned with the cost of Biden’s recovery program.

Republicans and Democrats have been engaged in class warfare since the New Deal. It was ugly and painful, but somehow, the system functioned that way for more than eighty years. Trumpism, desperate to prevent evolving demographics from transforming America into a majority nonwhite nation, expanded the battle lines by injecting white supremacy and xenophobia into an already explosive mix.

The supply side economic policies Republicans have pushed since the Vietnam War were never more than a smoke screen for maintaining an elitist, classist society. When the nation elected Barack Obama to two terms, it was a sign that the winds of change had shifted toward equality, a word we were once taught was the basis of our Constitution, but was anathema to those who preferred to keep power in the hands of an American oligarchy. Americans revered fictions like the New York 400, the official list of those worthy of high society,  as recently as the second world war. But the Depression and the war showed that kind of elitism for what it was, and the growing middle class rejected it.

The Republican Party courted middle class votes, but their megadonors weren’t about to share their wealth. The extreme faction that formed the Tea Party movement more than a decade ago was dedicated to defending what Bernie Sanders called the Billionaire Class. Trump went a step further, feeding his supporters the lie that he wanted to lift them up. In fact, Trumpism requires a carefully managed underclass to survive. The Trump model differs only in detail from the Fascist tactics that transformed Germany in the 1930s.

Trump supporters in Congress face a conundrum. They are fully invested in currying Trump’s favor because they fear it’s their only ticket to remaining in power. They know it’s wrong. They understand that history will judge them badly, but they’re riding an out-of-control locomotive they can’t stop. The future is not theirs, as the various jurisdictions planning legal action against private citizen Trump are about to demonstrate. The question is what will take their place.

The country needs a loyal opposition. Domination by either party would be a disaster. Perhaps the best solution is Adam Kinzinger’s, a viable third party he refers to as center-right, but which might also include Democrats like Joe Manchin. A third party would enable strong coalitions and end partisan gridlock. It would also make it much more difficult for future demagogues to rise to dominance.

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Disgrace of the Senate’s Acquittal

Alan Zendell, February 13, 2021

Yesterday was Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. I remember when February 12th was a national holiday except for a few southern states. HBO remembered, and they’ve been showing the 2012 film Lincoln wherein Daniel Day-Lewis brought Lincoln to life so convincingly, we might have wondered if we were watching history through a time warp. The film documented the fight to pass the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which outlawed slavery in the United States.

There is so much stark similarity between what occurred in January 1865 and January 2021, watching it again was a valuable wake-up call, reminding me that the struggle between White Supremacy and decency has been part of our history for more than 300 years. The recreated voices of House Democrats of the time (they were the racists back then) openly declared that the words “all men are created equal” were never intended to include Negroes (or women, for that matter.) Those same Democrats also made the argument Trumpers have made about Hispanic immigrants. If Lincoln was allowed to free four million (!) slaves, it would steal jobs from hard-working white men.

The anger, intensity, and hatred that prevailed after four years of Civil War exceeded anything we heard in Congress this week, but there was an important difference. Right or wrong, moral or immoral, the men (there were no women) in the 1865 Congress sincerely meant what they said. Slavery was the basis of the South’s agricultural economy, and shocking as it sounds, it never occurred to most southerners back then that a slave’s right to live free and prosper was worth upsetting the established order.

Today, in the Senate, as the political future of a treasonous former president was debated, we saw craven self-interest and cowardice instead. The Senate voted to acquit Donald Trump, not because of deeply held beliefs, moral imperatives, or conscience. It was because nothing mattered more to the forty-three Senators who voted to acquit than staying in power, which meant not angering the millions of Trump supporters who still believe the Big Lie and threatened to punish anyone who voted to convict.

The fight to pass the 13th Amendment was vicious. Lame duck Democrats were still able to vote, and Lincoln needed to convince at least twenty of them to change their minds. That was accomplished by promising them patronage jobs after their terms expired. But the last critical votes were conscience driven. Enough Representatives who believed slavery was evil had the courage to vote against their own racist party.

The Senate’s failure to convict Donald Trump was exactly the opposite. It was a concession to the power of the mob, acquiescence to the terror of a cultish vocal minority who were sold a complete falsehood and called to arms. It was a disgrace and an insult not only to the country but to the ideals of a once proud Republican Party, the Party of Lincoln, the same Republican Party that had the integrity to force Richard Nixon from office. Nixon’s crime, a failed attempt to fix the 1972 election and then cover up the intent, were trivial compared to the actions of Donald Trump.

A failed attempt to cheat in a presidential election pales before organizing and inciting insurrection. The majority of Americans must understand that the Senate did not speak for them. If Donald Trump attempts to resurrect his political career, I’m confident they will stop him. They also must deal with the clear evidence that integrity is not a quality valued by forty-three of the fifty Republicans in the Senate. Only we the voters can fix that when they ask to be re-elected.

After the acquittal, Mitch McConnell delivered a speech in which he sounded more like a prosecutor than a defender. Despite having voted for acquittal, he held Trump responsible for everything he had been accused of in the Article of Impeachment. He condemned Trump’s actions in the strongest terms, but claimed that the Constitution does not empower the Senate to convict a former president, despite the great majority of legal scholars who disagree.

It makes my head spin that McConnell said Trump was guilty as charged but still voted “not guilty.” He seemed to be attempting to convince Americans that Trump disqualified himself from ever holding office again, and encouraged criminal prosecution for his actions. McConnell convicted Trump unconditionally with his informal words, yet voted to acquit him based on a technical argument in which he is clearly in the minority.

I take heart from the seven Republicans who voted their conscience to protect the nation, but we still have a serious problem as long as Senators like Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, and Lindsey Graham aren’t made to pay a political price for their refusal to do so.

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

America on Trial

Alan Zendell, February 11, 2021

Whether or not House Democrats intended it, the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump is really an attestation before the entire world of what America stands for. The nativist, America First aspect of Trumpism which rapidly evolved into a cult that mesmerized millions of his supporters is what got us here. The truth is that Trumpism was only ever about the megalomaniacal lust for power of its founder and the right-wing extremists he pandered to. America First is a dangerously naïve fiction that may in fact put America last.

In the manner of all wannabe dictators, the former president cultivated a fanatical army of armed supporters comprised of loosely aligned pseudo-militias. Such movements invariably depend on a charismatic leader’s ability to sell a Big Lie. The twentieth century saw several – Vladimir Lenin’s dictatorship of the proletariat, followed decades later by the Maoist philosophy of disinformation and insurgency. Benito Mussolini’s fascism was an attempt to create a new Roman empire with himself as Emperor, the Nazi vision was of a superior Aryan race whose destiny was to rule the world, and the Japanese Empire was driven by the belief that its godlike Emperor was meant to rule the inferior masses of mainland Asia. More recently a call to Jihad swept the Muslim world resulting in the ISIS Caliphate and the radicalized version of Islam that rules Iran.

These movements had two things in common. They were all attempts to overthrow the established order of the time, and they were all condemned by the United States. Emerging as the dominant world power after WW2, America took on the mantle of moral leadership, criticizing other nations’ indiscretions and holding its own values out as an ideal for the world to emulate. How righteous we were as we struggled to ignore the scars of our own history of oppression and genocide!

We railed against the Holocaust, the oppression of Joseph Stalin, Soviet troops occupying the capitals of Eastern Europe, and the killing fields of Southeast Asia. Criticizing the human rights violations of adversary nations became an essential element of our foreign policy. Castro’s Cuba, Ortega in Nicaragua, Tienanmen Square, Tibet, Maduro in Venezuela, Kim in North Korea, Mayanmar – the list of instances in which we held ourselves to be morally superior is endless. Today, it is we who are on display for the world to see, and what we are showing them is nothing to be proud of.

The case being made by the House impeachment managers is powerful and convincing. There is no doubt in the minds of most Americans that Donald Trump deliberately sparked an insurrection and attempted to subvert a presidential election. There is also no doubt that he recklessly loosed a mob on the Capitol that included people willing and able to murder members of Congress and the Vice President, and made no attempt to stop it when it got out of control. Our law-and-order former president, who was sworn to defend the Constitution, watched the horror show he created on television along with a billion people around the world and cheered the rioters on, resulting in five deaths and more than a hundred Capitol police officers injured and brutalized.

The peaceful transfer of power which is the cornerstone of our democracy had to be conducted behind three fenced perimeters guarded by almost 20,000 national guard troops and police. That spectacle was also viewed by the entire world, and now comes the final act, the trial mandated by our Constitution to determine whether Donald Trump committed the treasonous act of insurrection. One hundred Senators swore oaths of impartiality, to serve as a jury that considers all the evidence and renders a fair, reasoned judgment. We criticize the show trials of the Russians and Chinese governments. We attack the Saudi Monarchy and the North Korean regime for sanctioning murder and torture. Now it’s our turn.

It is the prestige and honor of the United States that is on trial before the world. The very Senators who must serve as unbiased jurors have among their ranks people like Josh Hawley (MO) and Ted Cruz (TX) who supported the Big Lie that started all this, and arrogant partisans like Marco Rubio (FL), Ron Johnson (WI), Lindsey Graham (SC), and Rick Scott (FL), who brazenly, in full view of the television cameras, ignored the evidence, instead staring into their laps or doodling.

The trial of Donald Trump is not an esoteric exercise couched in legalese that only the principals can follow. It’s all out there in terms that everyone can see and understand. Sometime in the next few days, the world will watch as one hundred Senators vote as jurors. What is at stake is nothing less than our status as the leader of what we used to call the Free World.

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Trump’s Second Impeachment Trial is Much More Than That

Alan Zendell, February 8, 2021

It’s going to be ugly and unpleasant. At times it will be infuriating and frustrating. And there will doubtless be moments when we feel shame exposing our darkest, seamiest aspects to the entire world. They’ll all be watching, and that’s no small thing.

Many Americans have a “who cares” attitude toward the rest of the world, but it really does matter. President Biden is trying to re-establish normal relations with our allies, normalize trade and undo the damage done by Trump’s tariffs (though he may keep some of them) and reassert America’s moral authority with our adversaries. That won’t be easy when all the sordid details of the former president’s actions are made public.

Here at home, the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump has far greater significance than whether he is punished for his crimes. More than half the country is angry as hell and wants to see him pay for fomenting insurrection and threatening the stability of our nation. But his trial is about much more than that.

I strongly opposed the first impeachment. It was an emotional overreach that was doomed to fail from the start, and warnings that a pre-ordained acquittal on purely political grounds would only embolden Trump’s disregard for law and the Constitution were borne out. As re-election time neared, his desperation to remain in office might have played out exactly as it did even if the first impeachment hadn’t happened, but there is no doubt that it awakened the sleeping monster of the militant extremists who comprise a significant fraction of his base.

If we didn’t before, we now know how dangerous they are. We’ve learned that unfettered access to social platforms and extremist websites must no longer be permitted. Our notion of free speech and what constitutes responsible journalism will also be on trial, as will the survival of the Republican Party.

I opposed the first impeachment because I couldn’t see anything positive coming from it, but this one is different. The sixty-seven votes needed to convict (fewer if some Senators choose to be absent) may or may not be there, but a meaningless vote to remove a president who is no longer in office isn’t what this trial is about. It’s about rooting out what Mitch McConnell called the cancer of Trumpism and excising it. It’s about waking up to the reality that our country has reached a critical crossroad, and the path we choose will determine whether it continues to exist as a constitutional republic.

It’s critically important to tarnish the Trump brand so that it can no longer pose an existential threat to our nation. We already see an upheaval in Republican circles as major donors rethink where to invest their capital, voters reconsider whether they want to be affiliated with either party, and elected officials figure out whether their responsibility to their oaths of office takes precedence over their self-interest.

We may be better than most of the world, but the real America has never lived up to its ideals. Our history has been stained with racism and genocide, misogyny and elitism, greed and indolence, ugly truths that we’d rather not expose for everyone to see, but we have no choice. Trumpism has shined a painfully bright light on all of that, and the American family needs a serious intervention if it is to survive intact.

Interventions are painful. They’re not pretty, and they leave people on all sides battered and feeling raw. But it’s time to take a good, close look at who we are, and the upcoming Senate trial will do that.

There must be no procedural barriers to getting at the truth. We need complete transparency, which means hearing from witnesses, accessing private policy emails, and reviewing the hundreds of hours of documentation available from news media. Americans must clear their minds of preconceived notions and opinions and just pay attention. Both sides will have ample opportunity to present their cases. Watch and listen. Discern the truth.

The only substantive thing the Senate can accomplish is assuring that Trump never holds federal office again. Whether he deserves other forms of punishment will be determined by the courts and the marketplace. Federal, state, and local courts seem prepared to indict and prosecute the former president and his family, and the business world has already begun the process of starving the Trump empire and the Trump wing of the Republican Party of the thing they most crave – money. If you hate what Trump stands for, boycott his businesses and email your Senators about the need to follow their consciences.

The Senate may or may not convict – we’ll see. But it can determine the future of Trumpism, and that will be critical to our survival as a nation.

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment