How High Will Justice Reach?

Alan Zendell, November 30, 2022

The wind blowing across the country this week may be a giant sigh of relief over the Justice Department’s successful prosecution of five people who helped the right-wing extremist Oath Keepers plan the January 6th, 2021 attack on the Capitol. The seditious conspiracy convictions of the two most senior leaders of the Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes and Kelly Meggs, sent a strong message to anyone contemplating the future overthrow of the United States government.

Despite Donald Trump’s attempts to politicize DOJ and the federal courts, up to and including the Supreme Court, the system in place to defend our democracy worked. That all five of the Oath Keepers on trial were convicted of multiple felonies related to the insurrection sends the message that the “we were only following orders” defense won’t protect the rank and file among the insurrectionists.

The convictions are especially important because seditious conspiracy is so difficult to prove. The trial of the Oath Keepers was the first successful such federal prosecution in twenty years. In deciding to go forward with the prosecution, Attorney General Merrick Garland took a huge risk. Failure to convict would have placed the future of our democracy in doubt, and destroyed the legacy of one our country’s most talented and reliable jurists.

Garland’s courage and determination to see justice done remind us that the price of maintaining our freedoms is high and ongoing. We became complacent, and the result was Donald Trump’s ascendancy. Despite never achieving close to a 50% favorability rating, Trump was able to leverage aggressive support from hard core fringe groups and evangelists to assert his will over the majority. He literally attempted to lynch our democracy and strangle it.

Two vital questions remain: how high will the investigations by DOJ and the State of Georgia reach, and how will we deal with Trump supporters moving forward? Donald Trump is a master at keeping his own hands clean and getting others to do his dirty work. That kept him out of serious trouble in his business life, but this is different. He never understood how government works, and that may be his downfall. He will not be able to bribe and threaten his way out of the mess he created. He believes no opponent can stand up to him, but he’s wrong.

Senior aide Stephen Miller is testifying before a federal grand jury, and the convicted Oath Keepers have considerable incentive to cooperate with DOJ now that they are facing what could essentially be life sentences in federal prison. We might even see Mike Pence sit before a federal grand jury. Everyone who seeks to destroy has a price. Faced with the loss of their own life and freedom, they all turn on their leaders when their options run out. If you don’t think so, consider Michael Cohen and Allen Weisselberg. Stabbing each other in the back is the one thing all such people share in common when their own necks are on the line.

Our country needs to see Trump held accountable. He must be indicted and tried for his crimes. Whether he fights in the courts to the bitter end, or realizes that accepting guilt and responsibility for his actions is in his self-interest, he must be convicted to show all of us and the world that America can still be relied on. I expect that President Biden would pardon him to avoid the spectacle of a former president imprisoned and his vilest supporters continuing to stir up trouble, on condition that he stay out of politics and keep his mouth shut.

Whether Trump is convicted or not, his influence will not disappear overnight. We’ll still have to deal with people like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, and Lauren Boebert. In another universe, neutralizing Trump would assure their silence, but in one in which a craven character like Kevin McCarthy is likely to become Speaker of the House, they will have a voice.

McCarthy is a politician who is driven entirely by ambition. Like Trump, he’ll pander to anyone who supports his bid to become speaker. Since Trumpers control enough Republican votes in the House to hold the Speakership hostage, McCarthy’s history makes it a near certainty that he’ll cut deals that preserve Trump’s influence. With more than 220 Republicans in the House come January, is it possible that there is no one who can emerge as the consensus leader we need?

For now, I’m focused on next week’s Senate run-off election in Georgia. Raphael Warnock should easily defeat the last of Trump’s hand picked unqualified candidates, Herschel Walker. The differences between the two men are stark enough to overcome political divisions, and if the Democrats hold fifty-one seats, no one will be able to hold the Senate hostage.

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The Real Republicans

Alan Zendell, November 28, 2022

Donald Trump refers to them as RINOs, Republicans in Name Only. I call them the Real Republicans who still believe in the Conservative principles laid out by former Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater and his contemporary protege, Jeff Flake. Those principles include integrity in governing, a commitment to keeping taxes low, and preventing the federal government from having too much control over states’ and individual rights.

A decade ago, the Real Republicans were the objects of my ire, largely because of the legacy of Ronald Reagan and Grover Norquist, who promulgated the notion that supply side (trickle down) economics was good for all Americans, though its only goal is to insure that the wealthiest Americans maintain the income gap that exists between them and everyone else. I had been focused on that until the advent of Trumpism made realize that lack of integrity and appeals to bigotry and racism, combined with a total lack of concern for the health and welfare of average Americans are far more important than which economic team you’re on.

Unfortunately, the Real Republicans were unprepared for the no holds barred, streetfighter approach Trump brought to politics in 2015. A candidate who preached forgetting courtesy, truth, and basic decency while appealing to every despicable fringe group willing to bend a knee to him was beyond their experience. That, combined with their personal egos and ambitions allowed Trump to divide, conquer, and destroy the traditional Republican Party.

As Trump has shown that he’s an albatross dragging his party down and placing the alliances that have kept us secure at risk, some of those who jumped on his bandwagon early now realize their error. One such is Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence. In the end, Mr. Pence was the hero of January 6, 2021, but that occurred after five years of marching in lockstep with Trump. In that, he was wrong on two counts.

Besides King George’s taxes, the most powerful driving force of the American Revolution was religious freedom and separation of religion from government. Pence, whose self-righteous view of Christianity has always scared me, reinforced my concern when he succumbed to Trump’s pandering on subjects like abortion and LBGTQ rights. His one supreme act of courage, defending our democracy, earns him a pass on the previous five years. But Mike Pence is not the solution for the future.

America needs a strong Republicans Party rooted in the principles of conservatism and the Constitution, and it would benefit from the emergence of a third, centrist party. Moderate billionaire Democrats Andrew Yang and Mike Bloomberg seem to want to found such a party, but until they convince enough centrists from both parties to join them, our best hope lies in a handful of Republicans who have shown their mettle.

Leading that list is Liz Cheney, Wyoming’s lone member in the House, who will leave office in January. Ms. Cheney fell on her sword to preserve the principles she believes in. She was driven from Congress by money from Trump’s PACs, but even with her defeat a near certainty, she never wavered. She voted to impeach him and led the charge to prove that he was responsible for the insurrection that nearly destroyed Congress and left a stain on our reputation around the world. I hope that behind the scenes, bigger PACs are lining up to support her. She shows no sign of backing down from her commitment to keep Trump from ever holding office again and assure that he is held accountable for his crimes.

Adam Kinzinger of Illinois talked the same talk and walked the same walk as Cheney, although he made the decision to not seek re-election more than a year ago. I haven’t heard him discuss his reasons for quitting or whether he plans to remain in politics, but the story teller in me imagines him rounding up Yang, Bloomberg, and a few other billionaires to join Cheney in challenging Trump for the 2024 nomination for president.

There are others, like Lisa Murkowski of Alaska who put their careers on the line to oppose Trump this year. Murkowski also voted to impeach him and has consistently condemned his actions on January 6th. Even Chris Christie, the former New Jersey Governor who sucked up to Trump at the beginning has realized that his political future, already on life support, can only survive if he joins the anti-Trumpers.

There are two more prominent Real Republicans to watch. Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson is one who has never been shy about criticizing Trump’s immoral behavior. Hutchinson is an example of a Christian leader who is guided by principle, who believes in our Constitution. Yesterday, he made an extremely forceful statement about Trump hosting Kanye West and avowed White Supremacist and Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes for dinner at Mar-a-lago. And don’t forget my outgoing Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland, who has been a lone Republican voice of reason throughout the period of Trump’s influence.

Both Hutchinson and Hogan may challenge Trump in the ’24 primaries, but this time, the pundits are wrong. A large field of quality Republican candidates who care more about saving the country from Trump than their own ambitions will not be divided and defeated. That encourages me, because Joe Biden has done an incredible job as president for two years. I’ll sleep well at night knowing that even if he is defeated in 2024, it will be by someone who cares about our country more than him or herself.

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Gangsters, Politicians, and Presidents

Alan Zendell, November 18, 2022

When Jimmy Carter was president, inflation was much worse than it’s been in 2022. From 1978 to 1980, there were only five months in which inflation was below 10%, and during the 1980 presidential campaign (and the Iran hostage crisis) it peaked at more than 14%. The 1970s and 1980s were also a time when the Mafia seemed untouchable and enjoyed a Robin Hood-like folk hero status. The wildly popular Godfather movies were released in 1972, 1974, and 1990, and a decade later, we paid homage to the mob, as The Sopranos made HBO a successful venture for six seasons.

The heated 1980 presidential campaign featured three candidates: Carter, who seemed to be the only person in the United States who didn’t realize he was a failed president, Ronald Reagan, whose platform was something called trickle-down economics that Bush-41 referred to as voodoo; and John Anderson, a Republican who ran as an Independent, because Reagan’s nomination had split the Republican Party. Voters weren’t particularly enamored with their choices that year, and we frequently heard comedians, and then political pundits suggest that the country would be better off if it was run by the Mafia.

Many corporate executives felt that way about their businesses, especially in industries where the Mob dictated the rules. In the New York City area, the most lucrative of those were major construction and commercial real estate. The less ethical an executive was, the more attractive the Mafia appeared, which brings us to the father-son team of Fred and Donald Trump. Between 1954 and 1973, the Trumps were investigated for profiteering by the U. S. Senate and the State of New York and censured by the U. S. Department of Justice for violating the Fair Housing Act.

The Trump Organization became synonymous with unscrupulous business practices, like the fraudulent Trump University and the bankrupting of Atlantic City, NJ. Trump was frequently accused of fraud and reneging on payments to contractors. Looking back, one might ask where the line between unethical and criminal was. An examination of the record suggests that the line was more semantic than real, and that applied in equal measure to The Trump Organization and the Mob.

Donald Trump had gone to school with John Gotti, the leader of the Gambino crime family of New York. It was almost a cliché at the time that it was impossible to be successful in the real estate development business without the cooperation of the gangsters that controlled the concrete and construction trades, and Trump used his connection to Gotti to forge a relationship with the infamous Roy Cohn.

Cohn was a sleazy lawyer who made his name prosecuting Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and helping Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy ruin the careers of countless celebrities on charges of being Communists, though their investigations never resulted in criminal charges. Cohn was ultimately disbarred and imprisoned, but in his heyday he was consigliere for both Gotti and Trump. In the 1980s, New York gossip columnists described Trump and Gotti hanging out together in New York nightclubs and depending on Cohn to keep them out of court and jail.

Cohn’s philosophy was never back down, never admit guilt, deny everything, and attack your accuser with every resource you have. Gotti used Cohn’s playbook to evade prosecution for decades, until the FBI gathered enough evidence to sent him to federal prison in 1992. Trump used the same playbook, often using exactly the same language as Gotti when he was accused of racketeering and fraud. It’s well documented that Trump employed Gotti’s companies to construct Trump Plaza in New York. There were many charges of corruption based on that relationship, and I find it odd that Gotti, the “teflon don” went to prison while Trump was unscathed. We  won’t know until the court records are unsealed, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Trump avoided prosecution by testifying against Gotti under immunity.

Trump sees people like Gotti as gods ruling over their criminal fiefdoms. He envies their power and their ability to escape consequences for their crimes. In politics he transferred that worshipful appreciation to foreign dictators and corrupt politicians at home. There’s a reason he behaves like a gangster. That’s what he was taught by Cohn, Gotti, and his father, and it fits perfectly with his Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Look at the things Trump has done in the past seven years in that context. It’s like an epiphany, or in mundane terms, like finding the missing piece in a jigsaw puzzle.

In 2016, Trump used his gangster persona to awaken the worst among us: racists, xenophobes, misogynists, and people who shared his lust for wealth and power. Back then, he was a celebrity. Today, we know him for what he is, an immoral, self-centered narcissist who will pander to anyone who pledges fealty to him. He may be the most dangerous person in America. He simply cannot ever be permitted to hold a position of power again. Anyone else who did what he has spent his life doing would be spending the rest of it in prison.

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Near Misses

Alan Zendell, November 17, 2022

We’ve all experienced situations that might have resulted in tragedy or disaster but didn’t. Whether we reacted by thanking God or just feeling lucky, we came away shaken, reminded how fragile life and everything we value is. If we were smart, we took our good fortune as an opportunity to learn something.

My wife and I had two such experiences driving, recently. In the first, we were stopped at a red light. When it turned green, I began a left turn, but the sun setting to my right blinded a driver coming from my left. He couldn’t see that the light had turned red in his direction and barreled through the intersection at 60 mph. If some sixth sense hadn’t made me stop, we’d have been killed. The second incident occurred on a freeway with traffic moving at about 65. Out of nowhere, it seemed, a car in the exit lane was hit by another and thrown across three lanes of traffic, directly in front of us.

Whether we survived by luck, skill, or the intervention of some beneficent entity, two such incidents made me take notice. Our reflexes aren’t what they used to be, and we viewed our near misses as a warning that at our ages we couldn’t take anything for granted. Even with the best safety technology in the world, we can’t afford the slightest lapse in attention.

In the past week, we all experienced two near misses that could have been catastrophic. A missile explosion in Poland, just across the border from Ukraine, might have triggered Article 5 of the NATO charter, potentially plunging the world into a nuclear conflict. That occurred eight days after a consequential election that might have left our Constitution in tatters and our country’s future in serious jeopardy. We can only hope our leaders got the messages.

The world has been at risk of self-destruction since 1945. We’ve lived one heartbeat from oblivion, should one person in a critical position of responsibility miscalculate, misinterpret, or overreact to provocation. Our first wake-up call came in 1962, when Soviet Russia tried to install ballistic missiles in Cuba. Premier Nikita Khrushchev had done his best to convince the west that he was an unstable madman. Our world might have ended that day if he hadn’t proven to be a responsible statesman.

We’ve been concerned about the same thing with current Russian President Vladimir Putin. Will his paranoid obsession that NATO is out to destroy Russia cause him to lash out with every weapon at his disposal, or does he have a red line of responsibility that he won’t cross? Now that it appears that the explosion that killed two Polish citizens was a Ukrainian defensive projectile attempting to intercept an incoming Russian missile, we can breathe a sigh of relief.

But we’d better not stop there. If we fail to heed the Poland incident as a warning, if every world leader including Mr. Putin doesn’t realize how easily things could have gotten out of control, we’re ultimately doomed. We can’t live on the nuclear precipice forever, assuming things will always work out. As individuals, nations, and as a species, our survival rests in our own hands. Our best hope is offering Putin an off ramp that would enable him to negotiate an end to his illegal war and save face before he is either taken out by his own people or he commits the sort of desperate error that could end everything.

We faced a similar crisis at home. That it didn’t involve weapons of mass destruction made it no less a threat to our future. We have our own version of an irresponsible leader who allows his personal demons to drive his decisions. His unfortunate, charismatic appeal to the worst, most violent elements of our society had brought us to the unthinkable possibility that a minority of us with their own selfish agendas could destroy the foundations of our democracy.

We saved ourselves from the worst on Election Day. We should be proud that Americans stood up for our Constitution, but when we’re done patting ourselves on the back, we’d best remember that Donald Trump will not go away until people of decency and good will force him to. He has proved that he’d rather burn everything down than not get his way. Just as I realized I couldn’t afford a single inattentive moment behind the wheel of my car, we can never let down our guard as long as he’s out there poisoning our country.

Remember the joke that went viral after Hurricane Katrina about a man who flees from the flooding by climbing onto his roof? He refuses to be evacuated by boat or helicopter, stubbornly claiming that God will save him. When he meets his end, he complains to God that He let him drown, and God says, “I sent a boat and a helicopter to save you. Your salvation was in your hands, but you refused to act.” The same is true for us.

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Legacies of the 2022 Election

Alan Zendell, November 11, 2022

When historians look back on the 2022 election, four things will stand out most prominently: America’s defense of its democracy, clear evidence that Donald Trump’s influence has diminished, the impact of young voters and women turning out in unprecedented numbers, and who stands tallest in the aftermath of the failed Red Wave.

As they always have in the past, when it most mattered, Americans got the message. Slow to awaken to the threats we faced in many cases, Americans all over the country demonstrated that the values we were raised with are still alive and well. We went out and voted in spite of implied, and in some instances, very real attempts to intimidate voters by right-wing fringe elements. Despite severe gerrymandering in many states that created disparities of as much as twenty percent between the votes each party received and how power is divided between them, the voices of reason and decency prevailed.

As in 2016, the whole world is watching. Unlike 2016, however, when most of us had to deal with the aftermath of a shameful betrayal of our values, we can stand proud today. We not only set our country back on the path to healing and re-unification, we sent a clear message to both our allies and adversaries. America is back to stay, there will be no more sabotaging of our traditional allies or sucking up to autocrats, and we can go back to working toward common goals, like saving the planet and ending Trump’s insane trade wars.

With that segue, let’s take a good look at Donald Trump. The day he came down that escalator in 2015, I told my friends and family that he was a man who was capable of destroying our country single-handed. Trump is completely lacking in ethics, grace and class, his only redeeming value in the end, being to have forced us to face up to the divisions in our country that had lain dormant for decades. We knew groups like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers existed, but never accepted that they were an existential threat to our democracy or to the survival of our republic until Trump empowered them and turned them loose to wreak havoc.

Never one to admit defeat and walk away, the Donald will hang on as long he can, continually blaming others for his mistakes and failures. He will continue to stoke the worst elements of our society, spouting hate, bigotry, and greed. The most rabid parts of his base will be with us for years, and perhaps that’s a good thing. This generation will never again be allowed to pretend they don’t exist.

Not since the anti-war protests of 1960s have young voters expressed themselves as they did a few days ago. The 19-30 age group made itself heard, loud and clear. They won’t accept inaction on environmental issues, they won’t be dictated to about who they can love or marry, and they won’t be told when they can become parents. It took years of Trump’s clownish behavior and the recidivist actions of his packed Supreme Court to make them put aside their toys and take notice, but they did.

Women, after years of being relegated to second class status by the entire MAGA movement showed that no amount of gerrymanding or intimidation tactics will keep them from defending their rights. I never understood why any woman would vote for Trump, and now, many who either did or simply stood by and watched him rise to power are wondering the same thing. No one in the MAGA movement will ever doubt the political power of women again.

Finally, who came out of this election standing tallest? My vote goes to President Joe Biden, who never let unrelenting attacks from right-wing extremists and people who put politics ahead of duty phase or deter him. Always reacting with class and decency, he ignored his low approval ratings, achieved truly historic legislative victories, and persisted with his basic message that Americans needed to remember what we stand for. We’ll never know exactly how many people heard him and were motivated to come out and vote, but hardly anyone is mocking Biden today.

Yesterday, Princeton Professor and historian Julian Zelizer penned an OpEd entitled, “The Most Underestimated President in Recent History.” I’ll close by reproducing the final paragraph of what he wrote.

… [T]he midterms make clear that Biden is a much stronger president than he is often given credit for. He has been underestimated and criticized despite having a formidable first two years. The midterms should make Republicans nervous as they think about 2024. After two years of speculation about whether Biden should run for a second term, the outcome should also give Democrats reason to believe that a two-term, transformative presidency is already underway.

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Use It Or Lose It

Alan Zendell, November 8, 2022

Today, Americans have as important a choice to make as they have in my lifetime, which goes back to the middle of the second world war. We may be entering the end game of a fight that has been surreptitiously going on since the passage of the Social Security and Civil Rights Acts, nearly sixty years ago; many people would say since the New Deal of the 1930s.

On one side are people who believe corporations should be able to operate with no government oversight or regulation, that labor unions represent encroaching Socialism, and that billionaire oligarch types should be free to use their wealth to buy Congress and the presidency. They believe America should be a white-dominated Christian nation, although their version of Christianity doesn’t look much like anything in either the Old or New Testament, and the very notion violates the spirit if not the literal wording of our Constitution.

They believe men were meant to rule and women to serve. They believe they have the right to determine who should have the opportunity to be Americans and who should have the right to vote. A frightening number of them believe there should be no restrictions on the proliferation of weapons designed for mass killing in wartime. And they believe that basic human rights – the right to decent health care and a free public education, the right of all of us to love whomever we choose, and most urgently, the right of a woman to manage her own health and determine if and when she will bear children – somehow equate to Communism.

These revisionists and recidivists have been fighting for decades to reverse the great liberal wave that started when John Kennedy was elected president. Many would refight the Civil War and return us to a time when only White Men could wield power and the gap between rich and poor made us look more like a feudal society than a democracy. They would put partisan lackeys in charge of our elections and return us to a time when racism and bigotry were accepted ways of dealing with each other.

But not all of what they strive for is a return to the past. They also believe that lies ought to replace facts whenever it suits their convenience. They believe our leaders should be immune from criminal prosecution and be given a free pass for all manner of immoral and criminal behavior. And they are more than willing to get what they want through violence.

That’s what the Trumpers are trying to sell you. Kevin McCarthy, salivating over his hoped-for takeover of the House of Representatives made it clear, yesterday, that he is prepared to elevate Marjorie Taylor Greene and the other Trump-supported election deniers to important committee posts that will position them to direct the policy of the House. That’s the same Kevin McCarthy who hasn’t seen fit to condemn the violent assault on the husband of the House Speaker whom he is trying to unseat.

The alternative is to return power to people with a moral conscience who believe in our Constitution. It is to remind ourselves that we are supposed to be a nation of equal opportunity and compassion, that we were once a nation that reacted to adversity by helping each other, that accepted a measure of personal sacrifice for the common good.

Since World War 2, the United States has worn the mantle of leader of the Free World, something that is anathema to Donald Trump and his followers. We have some serious choices to make as we cast our votes. Will we return to the chaotic Trump years of insane trade wars and stabbing our allies in the back or do we continue to lead the fight for basic human rights and against greed and autocracy?

Most Americans have family or friends who fought to preserve our freedom, putting their lives on the line, from the world wars to Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Did they give up their lives and their physical well being to defend our way of life, only to have it squandered and given away to craven leaders who care only about their own power and wealth? This isn’t a Netflix series – it’s real life. If every one of us doesn’t get out and vote to defend for what they sacrificed for, we will have lost our identity as Americans.

Ignore the polls, many of which are partisan attemptsj to distort and mislead. Turn off your televisions and your radio talk shows. Log out of Facebook and Twitter and take a moment to think for yourselves. Then vote for what’s right. This year you still have the right to vote. Use it or lose it.

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What Next Week’s Election Really Means

Alan Zendell, November 1, 2022

Next week’s election will decide who gets to legislate in the House of Representatives and seat about a third of the Senate and a bunch of state Governors. Most ballots will contain a slew of other things: candidates for state and local office, constitutional amendments, referenda, and assorted ballot questions, like whether to legalize abortion and marijuana. It’s a cliché that all politics is local, but when they study the cumulative effect of all those local races, most political scientists and commentators will be assessing the health of our nation’s democracy.

Awful as it was, some good might come from the assault by a right-wing nut job spouting Trumpisms that left House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband with a fractured skull. The Speaker is next in line for the White House, should some equally awful or worse fate befall President Biden and Vice President Harris. The attack on Paul Pelosi, which, in the words of the assailant, was an attempt to punish the Speaker for all of her “lies” on behalf the 2020 “election stealers,” has implications for our political future that are only marginally less serious than an attack on Jill Biden or Doug Imhoff (the husband of VP Harris) would be.

Viewing it combination with the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, 2021 should convince voters that the attack on Pelosi is part of a growing pattern that threatens the future of our democracy. We got further confirmation of that today as Steve Bannon and several of the other perpetrators of the election stealing lies urged defeated Brazilian President Bolsonaro to apply the Trump playbook and claim the election he lost was fraudulent. Bolsonaro is one of the world leaders who adopted Trump’s autocratic, extremist style of governance, and Trump endorsed his re-election wholeheartedly.

There is a similar dynamic in play in Israel, as Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to lead his right-wing, anti-Arab nationalists to victory and reclaim the Prime Ministership. The winner in Israel is not clear yet. It’s too soon to tell, but we can hope that the elections in Brazil and Israel are the beginning of a reversal of the global trend toward ultra-nationalism and racial and religious divisiveness, as well as a sign that having watched Trump’s behavior over the past seven years, the rest of the of the world is rejecting it. The question for the United States is whether that trend will materialize when Americans cast their votes.

We’re always going to have to deal with a couple of elected officials who behave like Marjorie Taylor Greene. When there are one or two, they can be viewed as right-wing extremist gadflies, voices that remind us we must always be vigilant in defense of our democracy, but no real threat. When the number of Greene-like people elected to govern us grows, however, alarm bells should go off in the mind of anyone who believes in the American dream.

President Biden likes to describe the present time as a cusp or inflection point. Those are mathematical terms whose meanings are equally valid in the world of government and politics. An inflection point is the moment the direction of a trend changes, when things go from getting worse to getting better, or vice versa. In mathematics, a cusp is the point at which two converging curves like the edges of a crescent moon meet in a sharp tip, but in politics it’s more of a tipping point where everything can change dramatically without warning. Together, those definitions suggest we could see drastic changes in our way of life that seem to occur suddenly, out of the blue. In reality, however, the tipping point only seems sudden to people who have been ignoring trends that have been growing for years.

It’s pretty clear how we got where we are today. Most Americans celebrated Barack Obama’s election to two terms as President as a sign that our society had matured beyond racism, bigotry, and the subjugation of women. It was a shock, when Donald Trump was elected to succeed him, to realize that the voices (and weapons) of hate and authoritarianism hadn’t gone away, but simply retreated underground. Trump brought them out into the light, enabled their reawakening and cheered them on at every turn. The Republican Party was no match for Trump’s canny street-fighting ability, and the cowardice of traditional Republicans who abandoned Conservative values for Trumpism is what is enabling the new crop of Greene’s to gain traction.

Greene and her ilk should not get to decide the future of America. It’s up to us, the voters to do that. Forget the polls and the hype. Look at the candidates’ records and websites. Get off your butts and vote for our future.

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The Midterm Elections

Alan Zendell, October 27, 2022

The much-anticipated 2022 midterm elections are only twelve days away. It feels surreal. It’s almost as if we never completed the last election cycle. A frightening number of Americans still believe the lie that the 2020 election results were wrong despite overwhelming evidence that that election was cleaner than anyone imagined. Worse, the Trumpers’ mobster-like approach to elections, that lying, posturing, falsifying evidence, and stalling the efforts of legitimate law enforcement and the courts may drive our future politics. Don’t be surprised if every Trump-supported candidate who loses claims victory and screams voter fraud.

That scenario might make a great plot for movie, but it spells serious problems for our nation’s future. Just in the past week, we’ve seen dangerous warnings of what might result. Yesterday, for example, Israeli President Isaac Herzog was invited by Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to address a joint session of Congress next year on the 75th anniversary of Israel’s birth. But even such an obvious display of unity among close allies had to be amended to assure Herzog that if the Republicans win control of the Congress next month, the invitation would still stand, because Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell support it.

Similarly, two of the most extreme caucuses in Congress made pubic pronouncements in advance of the election concerning funding for our support of Ukraine. Both the Bernie Sanders Progressives and Kevin McCarthy’s posse of Trump lapdogs issued veiled threats that they might oppose continued aid to repel Russia’s invasion. The statements were entirely political, meant to appeal to the groups’ respective bases when they cast their votes. But both were issued without regard for their international, diplomatic, and security implications.

Both statements were immediately walked back, but the damage had been done. No matter how extremists on both ends of the spectrum water down their threats to the Biden administration, Vladimir Putin heard them, and it was sweet music to his ears. If support for Ukraine were shaky in the American Congress, how long would NATO’s consensus to oppose his war survive? President Biden performed what future historians might regard as a miracle when he restored Europe’s confidence in America as the leader of the democratic world, after the Trump administration made a show of alienating our allies and lauding the dictators who govern our most dangerous adversaries. But if the world sees that our entire philosophy of diplomacy and world politics can be completely reversed every two years, how can countries that depend on mutual aid treaties with the United States rely on us in the future?

A more pertinent question might be how our country can survive, much less prosper under those conditions. The Trump-dominated wing of the Republican Party has perverted the notion of democracy. Instead of a government by and for the people, we have somehow found ourselves being governed by an extremist minority willing to pander to any group, no matter how craven if it assures their votes. That minority was able to leverage its power to stack the Supreme Court with people who call themselves Originalists and states’ rights advocates, labels that have become code for giving a wink and a nod to racists and xenophobes, to assuring the proliferation of military assault weapons, to preserving the wealth of our richest individuals, and enabling a strangely distorted view of Christian extremism that rivals the policies of radical extremist Islamic regimes like those in Iran and Afghanistan.

The point is that we may be on the cusp of what history one day views as the collapse of the American dream. It may not feel that way if you live in a nice house and drive an expensive car, but (pardon the cliché) don’t let the trees blind you from the fact that the forest is changing. It took the Roman Empire centuries to die, though from the context of history, its demise was assured long before that. Did Roman Senators in 100 A. D. realize their civilization was collapsing around them?

The difference today is that we the people have the power to right the ship if we use it properly. Suppose we put aside our petty resentments and remember that most of the good things in our lives only exist because we grew up in the United States and remember that preserving our democracy and our Constitution is the best legacy we can leave future generations. If we re-assess who deserves our loyalty, it’ll be pretty clear who really cares about the future of our country and who is involved in a life-and-death struggle for power and wealth. Unlike the Romans, we have the power to assure that the right people win.

I voted today. Will you?

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A Warning About the Midterm Elections From the UK

Alan Zendell, October 20, 2022

Analogies can be misleading, and there are more differences than similarities in the political crises facing the United Kingdom and the United States, but there’s a warning for Americans in the shockingly rapid demise of UK Prime Minister Liz Truss. COVID, war in Ukraine, climate change, supply chain problems, and OPEC placing its interests ahead of the industrial world’s have created serious challenges for the world’s largest economies.

Since the massive global shift toward progressive government in the 1960s and 70s, there has been a predictable trend back toward fiscal conservatism and the political clout of the wealthy. In the United States, the driving force was Ronald Reagan’s push for smaller government, lower taxes, and the Taxpayer Protection Pledge created by Conservative activist Grover Norquist. The Pledge, which was signed by 95% of Republicans running for office, is a promise to oppose all tax increases and expansions of progressive programs. It is an essential component of supply side economics and its corollary trickle-down theory, which asserts that the more the upper classes are enriched the more money will trickle down to social and education programs.

Over the last forty years, supply side economics, which George H. W. Bush compared to voodoo, never delivered what it promised, except for the part about making the extremely wealthy wealthier and expanding the earnings gap between upper, middle, and lower classes. After Barrack Obama mobilized progressive voters who cared about saving social programs and opposed our war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the extreme right realized it needed drastic action to maintain its power and influence. Thus evolved Roger Ailes and Fox News, who hand-picked Donald Trump to unite xenophobes, racists, misogynysts, and anyone who could be convinced that their own failures were the result of “socialist” policies.

To offset the “browning of America,” which would soon have made white Americans a voting minority, Trump’s movement supported efforts by Republicans to restrict non-white voting and gerrymander the hell out of local legislative and Congressional districts. Most ominous, Trump’s half of the Republican party promulgated lies about non-existent election fraud and supported violent insurrection as means of staying in power. Support for both is the price of Trump’s endorsement.

At the heart of all this is the ongoing fight to control wealth and power. But politicians are playing a zero-sum game – there’s only a finite amount of wealth and power, so the wealthier the people at the top become, the less there is for the other 99%. Liz Truss learned the hard way that you can only squeeze so many golden eggs out of that poor goose before you kill her. Truss is a hard-right Conservative who completely bought in to supply side economics.

In six weeks as Prime Minister, she attempted to enact her “mini budget,” which would have lowered taxes to an unsustainable level based on Britain’s declining GNP. Its wrongheaded approach to Brexit and the EU had already brought the UK to the brink of economic chaos. When you’ve reached the tipping point, it only takes a small nudge to cause everything to crash and burn; that’s what happened to Truss’s government. The pound crashed, and the International Monetary Fund sounded alarm bells. It took only days for a consensus among everyone except Truss’s closest allies that her policies would result in disaster for the UK.

How is that related to our midterm elections? Consider the Republican legislative blueprint written by Florida Senator Rick Scott. Scott pledged that if voters return control of the Senate to Republicans, they will make the Trump tax cuts, which cost our economy more than $2 trillion, permanent, while sunsetting all laws that enable programs most Americans depend on: health care, unemployment protection, public education, and financial support for the poor, blind, and disabled. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy pledged to reduce or end support for Ukraine, while Republicans in general, oppose funding for renewable energy resources and would reduce immigration to mostly white Europeans.

Those issues are what brought our strongest ally to its knees. The UK is not the force it once was, but if its future could be severely threatened by irresponsible politics, what does that say about ours? If anyone suggested, five years ago, that the UK would have five governments fall in six years, would you have believed it? Trump has brought the United States to an equally dangerous pass. Our democracy is tottering the edge of an abyss. Our best hope for the future lies with the voters.

A close friend, a career military veteran who was a registered Republican for more than fifty years, told me his only priority filling out his 2022 ballot was protesting Trump’s takeover of his party. He voted for every Democrat on the ballot, without even reading their names.

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The Pitfalls and Dangers of Narcissism

Alan Zendell, October 14, 2022

Narcissists tend to be arrogant, overconfident, impetuous, and impulsive. They are incapable of empathy or accepting defeat. They’re often good at reacting and adapting to changing circumstances, but their tendency to ignore information they don’t like and surround themselves with people who tell them what they want to hear can make bad situations worse, even catastrophic for them and everyone around them.

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are two such men who have the potential to destroy everything around them. Joe Biden is not, and that’s fortunate for the rest of us. Biden has the unhappy responsibility to protect the world from both of them. Amid his disappointing approval ratings, (he’s at about 45% now,) concerns about his age, (he’ll turn 80 in five weeks,) and constant threats from the far right, I’d ask where the world would be today if Biden hadn’t been there to re-unite NATO and repair the rifts with our traditional allies that he inherited from Trump. Pundits talk about how Putin badly miscalculated when he invaded Ukraine. What they don’t say explicitly is that he seriously underestimated Biden’s leadership.

Back in February and March, NATO countries were divided over how much they were willing to defend Ukraine. Most notable was Germany, which was more heavily dependent on Russian oil and natural gas than any other country as well as being the most influential NATO member on the European continent. When the war started, Germany resisted making a total commitment to defending Ukraine – the cost to its people might have been too high to bear. But Biden forced our allies to confront publicly what everyone already knew, privately.

No one knows better than Germany that the world cannot survive another Neville Chamberlain, especially when Biden convinced them that cutting off the income Russia needed to finance its war, while accelerating Europe’s conversion to renewable energy was their best path forward. Future historians will not fault NATO’s determination to stand firm against Putin’s bullying, regardless of the risk of the war expanding beyond control. That possibility exists only because of Putin’s recklessness and his ability to suppress his opposition, while failing to note that his traditional armed forces had degenerated into a substandard fighting force. Ironically, his battlefield losses are the most dangerous thing that could have happened, because Putin doesn’t know how to lose, and he owns the world’s largest nuclear weapons arsenal.

Donald Trump doesn’t know how to lose, either. He demonstrated to everyone but the most ignorant, bigoted, violent elements of his base that he has no more respect for the rule of law or the conventions that have kept us from destroying ourselves than Putin. Anyone watching the January 6th committee hearings with a shred of objectivity can see that Trump was willing to destroy our democracy and our Constitution to enrich and empower himself, and he still is. The groups he calls on to defend him, like The Proud Boys and The Oath Keepers, are the political equivalent of urban street gangs and mafia thugs. These people couldn’t care less about America or the vast majority of its people. They subscribe only to their own inbred values, a sick mixture of twisted honor and loyalty, and a horribly distorted version of Christianity.

Are these the people we want controlling our country or serving as a private army to a self-serving narcissist? The consequences of failing to stand up to them, if not crush them entirely may be less serious that a nuclear war, but they are equally catastrophic to the future of our republic, which leads me to my second question. Where would we be today, weeks away from a national election, if Joe Biden hadn’t successfully kept his party united, rather than let it fall into civil war the way the Republicans did? Lies and right-wing hype aside, where would we be if our unemployment rate was still close to ten percent, if millions had been left destitute and homeless by COVID? Where would we be if a far-seeing president hadn’t had the vision and fortitude to pass legislation to rebuild our infrastructure and take actions that would finally achieve complete energy independence?

The battles to put down both Putin and Trump are still raging. We don’t know how they will turn out, but two things are clear. When a narcissistic leader continually relies on personal loyalty as the only qualification for joining his team, it will ultimately come back to haunt him. Neither Putin’s traditional armed forces nor Trump’s vengeful army of haters possess the substance required for victory, but they do possess the ability to disrupt and destroy everything they touch unless someone stops them. One could argue that the self-serving narcissism of Trump and Putin constitute the most serious threats the world currently faces.

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