Post-Election Reality Check

Alan Zendell, November 8, 2020

Americans who hate Donald Trump’s presidency had a day of euphoria on Saturday. People who never fully recovered from the shock of his victory four years ago danced in the sun and waved signs. Most wore masks, and there was a noticeable lack of hugging compared to pre-pandemic days, but the joy was palpable. My wife and I felt it as did most of my friends and family. After four years of depression and anxiety, the dragon had been slain and life in America was normal again.

This morning, though we still savored the victory of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, we returned to a more restrained reality. The election results yielded conclusions that didn’t have to be explained by pundits. A nation often embarrassed by low voter turnout in the past set records this time. Biden received more votes than any president in history, but Trump received more votes than any losing candidate ever did.

A majority rejected Donald Trump’s divisiveness and hateful rhetoric, but it wasn’t the majority predicted by the polls. Biden won by three percent, a clear victory, but not close to a landslide. To put it in terms easier to grasp, if you fill a room with 200 randomly selected voters, the Biden people will outnumber the Trump voters by 103-97. That’s a cold-water-in-your-face reality check. We remain a terribly divided country.

When the news channels finally stopped obsessing over the election long enough to take a breath, we faced another reality check. The COVID pandemic is spreading unchecked at the highest rate since it began. In the four days following the election the United States reported a half million new COVID cases and averaged over a thousand COVID-related deaths per day. The exponential rise in hospitalizations supports the CDC forecast that deaths will exceed 2,000 per day just in time for Thanksgiving and the Christmas season. Trump was defeated, but his deadly legacy lives on.

Our allies all expressed relief that Joe Biden’s America will re-affirm its support for NATO, and every human on the planet who breathes is happy that we will rejoin the Climate Accords. But their joy is tempered by the realization that Biden’s margin of victory is no guarantee that we won’t flip back again four years from now. Europeans know the divisions in the United States make us an unreliable partner.

Joe and Kamala have a daunting task ahead, but no more so than the one that Biden and Obama faced on their first inauguration day. Lest we forget, the world’s economy was on the brink of collapse, financial markets had crashed as a result of the banking crisis, and millions of American jobs were threatened. Obama and Biden were up to that challenge. They saved the American automobile industry and set us back on a course of steady economic growth that extended into Trump’s term.

Remember how frightening that was? Our jobs, savings, 401-Ks, and the stability of the country were in jeopardy, yet today we barely even remember it, though it was only twelve years ago. That gives me hope. If Biden and Obama could bring us back from the edge, Biden and Harris can, too. The sooner they get started, the sooner Americans will stop dying of COVID. The sooner they get started, the sooner the rest of the world will see America behave responsibly again.

That cannot happen until our current president does what his predecessors did. Al Gore could have fought the 2000 election in court until January, but he chose stability in the country over pride and ambition. Richard Nixon, for all his faults, did the same thing in 1960, in an election that many historians believe he should have won.

Trump can either accept the reality of his defeat or continue to salve his ego and do what he has unfailingly done in the past. He can accept the inevitable – only Trump and Rudy Guiliani seriously believe there is any basis for claiming the election was stolen – or he can continue to enflame and divide us. He can ask his supporters to stand down as Gore and Nixon did, or he can continue to challenge the mental health of nation by staging an excruciating struggle that will accomplish nothing except further harming our country and the way the rest of the world views us. Remember when that mattered?

Most Republican leaders are taking their cues from Mitch McConnell who has chosen to remain silent on who won the election, thereby enabling further Trump mayhem. Cooler heads have suggested that McConnell understands what’s at stake, and he’s just giving Trump time to have his tantrum. The media reported that Trump’s son-in-law, senior advisor Jared Kushner is attempting to convince him to concede, yet Trump tweets about legal battles and purging those who he perceives as disloyal, and Lindsey Graham cheers him on.

Trump still has the power to hold the nation hostage. He will only submit when his Republican supporters finally step up.

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You’re Fired!

Alan Zendell, November 6, 2020

The American people have spoken. By the time all the votes are counted, Joe Biden will have received five million votes more than Donald Trump. In most countries that purport to be democracies, that’s all we would need to know. In this country, the archaic Electoral College plunged us into this latest abyss of wild accusations of election stealing. After months of hearing Trump attack mail-in voting as illegal, fraudulent, another fake news hoax – I’ve lost track – it is the Electoral College that has yielded a badly misleading result that enables Trump to continue to divide us.

We knew how serious the divide was, but even with 150 million votes cast, a five million margin of victory represents three-and-a-half percent of the electorate, not a landslide but a clear win. And the fact that other Republicans did passably well in this election tells us the repudiation was aimed directly at the president. Republican voters are still out there, but they want their party back.

Donald Trump will continue to be a thorn in the side of business as usual, continuing to try to divide us almost as if he were a Russian sleeper agent. But his voice will be relegated to fringe media. I don’t see Fox News championing him in the future. He was great for their ratings for five years, but Ruppert Murdoch made it clear to Trump that Fox will no longer support his baseless rants and attacks on our institutions.

When America said, “You’re fired!” it wasn’t saying that Democrats have all the answers and hyper-partisanism should continue with the Blue side in control. It was ending the populist, racist, mysogynistic experiment of Trumpism. It was asserting that the Constitution and the rule of law must be protected from charismatic leaders who lack both a moral center and the understanding that only a truly united United States can thrive and prosper.

President Elect Biden knows that. Many of the Republicans in the House and Senate know that. Most Democrats know it too, though it may take a while to shake off the desire for revenge. Call me an optimistic fool, but I think we will right this ship, because there are enough people in Congress willing to put ideology aside and work together for progress.

The fact that many Republican leaders like Chris Christie, Rob Portman and Marco Rubio have refused to support Trump’s desperate, baseless attacks on the election, and advocate counting every vote might be taken as an act of contrition. They know they allowed Trump to divide and conquer their party, and it was their inability to unite against him and their fear of his base that enabled him to reach the White House. They’d never seen anything like Trump before, and were ill-equipped to deal with someone who was so shamelessly immoral, who had no respect for truth or law. They won’t let him undermine the election because they’re eager to be rid of him, to put their own shame and embarrassment in the past.

The truth is that reality has overtaken them. The pandemic proved that insanity cannot be allowed to overrule science and some form of comprehensive health care is vital, not only to the nation’s physical and moral well-being, but to its economy. They know Trump’s self-serving mishandling of the pandemic severely weakened our competitive stance in the world. Stopping the virus and restoring Americans’ confidence that it’s safe to go back to work and school, and fill restaurants, bars, and stadiums is priority one, but that can only be achieved with unity and a consistent, medically sound message from the top.

Fiscal conservatives understand that running up trillion-dollar deficits to increase the wealth of billionaires is not a sustainable policy. Both sides understand that addressing the tax code and the health of Americans requires compromise and commitment to a common goal. They know something must be done to heal the divide in this country, much of which is based on misinformation and crazy conspiracy theories. And they know that our days as a world leader other countries look up to are numbered if we don’t re-engage with our allies and get back to protecting the health of our planet.

Joe Biden will set the correct tone from the White House. There will be no more wild attacks on the media, the courts, and the Constitution. Just as Trump’s constant whining about hoaxes and charges of being undermined convinced his base he was right, Biden’s consistent message of calm and unity will begin to restore order. It won’t be easy, but now we have a chance.

Not having one party completely in control of government may be a blessing. It offers all our elected leaders the opportunity to demonstrate that country is more important than ideology and personal prejudices.

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America’s Role in the World

Alan Zendell, November 3, 2020

I grew up in New York City in the years following World War 2. In many ways New York seemed to be the center of the universe back then, because it represented the financial and cultural heart of the United States, which emerged from the war as the world’s first superpower. It was heady to be a child in those years. Our parents and teachers, our government and radio news commentators painted a picture of a devastated world in which only Americans managed to maintain our values and our standard of living.

I grew up thinking we were the best at everything. We were told we were rebuilding Germany and Japan and feeding the world. We hosted the United Nations. We were very proud of ourselves and most of the world seemed to look to us as a model of democracy.

I know now that a lot of that was illusion. Much of America was illiterate, we hadn’t begun to tackle our racial problems, and the majority of Americans couldn’t afford medical care. Democracy? Voter suppression was so deeply ingrained in our society, we didn’t even notice it back then. Yet, as victors go, we really behaved admirably. An entire generation of children had every reason to believe the propaganda that we were the best country in the world, and then, the leader of the so-called Free World during the Cold War. NATO was strong, and we began to build alliances in Asia and South America. We even landed on the Moon.

Given all that, it’s quite a shock to know that billions of people outside the United States are watching our election almost as breathlessly as we are. They watch CNN all over the world. When my son lived in Australia, he was astounded by the degree to which people focused on what happened here. His wife, who grew up in the Philippines told me her family and friends followed American news and financial markets as closely as their own. And anyone who has traveled internationally runs into the same thing. The rest of the world watches what happens here, sometimes with more urgency than we do.

I am stunned by the way our role in the world has been reversed. Today, when people in other countries watch us, they cross their fingers and themselves, praying that we can right our ship before it sinks. Because if our grand experiment goes down in flames, the entire world will be in chaos. Trump is right about one thing. We have been supporting our Allies for decades. NATO might well have collapsed if we hadn’t accepted the financial burden of propping it up. Europe cannot possibly withstand an expansionist Russia militarily, nor can it trade on an equal footing with China on its own. If we turn inward and isolationist as Trump advocates, if America goes it alone, every other country is on its own too.

Our allies understand that that does not bode well for them. There will be more incursions like Ukraine’s and more terrorist activity. Eastern Europe will be at Russia’s mercy if we’re not actively in the game. That’s what they believe is at stake for them if Trump is re-elected. We, as Americans, are rightly concerned about how long we can sustain ourselves with our partisan dysfunction. If we don’t find a way to fix it, our “Democracy” will be in great peril. But in some ways, it’s worse for our allies, who have depended on us to be there for support for seventy-five years.

Watching the America they have always looked up to succumb to Trumpian darkness must horrify them, much like the break-up of a large extended family. As Americans we are concerned with our standing in the world, with whether other countries respect us more than fear us. With the problems of the pandemic and the divisiveness Trump has energized at home, it’s easy to lose sight of how that affects the rest of the world.

That shouldn’t be the determining factor when another sixty million Americans cast their votes today, but it’s a reality we’ll have to live with if Trump pulls out a victory while losing big in the popular vote. Being a mockery in the eyes of the world won’t be pleasant. But having to live with the mockery we make of ourselves will be worse.

Joe Biden may not be able fix everything that’s wrong and reverse the damage Trump has done. But the entire world knows he will do his level best because that’s who he is. I’m actually pretty optimistic. I think there will be a blue wave that puts our country back on the right path.

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The Final Act of an Overlong Drama

Alan Zendell, November 2, 2020

The only thing our sharply divided country seems to agree on is that tomorrow’s election is the most crucial one in our lifetimes. When you hear a ninety-year-old say that, it means it’s more critical than FDR’s elections that resulted in the New Deal and the massive industrial buildup that enabled us to defeat the Axis powers in World War 2. It’s more important than the election of Dwight Eisenhower who shepherded us through the early days of the Cold War like a kindly old uncle, more important than the Kennedy and Johnson elections which brought us Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Vietnam War, and the Nixon elections which extended the war and introduced a brand of dirty politics that was the precursor of what we’ve seen for the last five years.

The country changed course with Reagan and Bush 41, then back again with Clinton, when we actually achieved a balanced budget for a short time. The Bush 43 election took us to the brink when the Florida vote count had to be decided by the Court. We thought we’d dodged a bullet when Al Gore chose to concede rather than drag the country into litigation that could have exploded into a constitutional crisis, and the Obama election in the midst of the worst financial crisis since 1929 made us believe we’d “rounded the curve” in racial equality. It turned out that we hadn’t rounded that curve any more than we brought the COVID pandemic under control.

With sixty percent of the expected votes already cast, the forty percent of us who will vote today and tomorrow will set the course of the country for a generation. Will we move further down the road to fascism, autocracy, and minority suppression that Trump has put us on? Will we re-elect a president who considers the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans insignificant collateral damage on his way to being crowned emperor? Will we relegate decency and morality to a place so far in our past we can barely remember it? Finally, will those of us earning enough that we’ll never want for anything allow our vote to be bought by promises of lower taxes that are unsustainable no matter who wins?

We’ve been through hell in 2020, but we have a chance to make the holidays a new beginning. This election can be about improving the future for the next generation and ending the politics of divisiveness and intimidation. It’s about reviving respect for science and the health of our planet, about reining in extremists of every stripe and color. It is not about the cult of Trumpism, conspiracy theories, or fears that AOC will control a Biden administration. Forget the bull and the hype. Just think about the world your children will inherit.

Four years ago, we prayed that Donald Trump would grow into the job, would turn out to be a better man than we thought he was. He hasn’t done either. He is as selfish, greedy, narcissistic and power-mad today as he was in 2016. He has weakened our standing in the world, shaken our alliances, and trampled over our Constitution. He has gifted North Korea, Iran, China, and Russia with power and influence that pose more of a long-term threat than ever. And now he has threatened the integrity of our elections like no other president ever attempted to.

The media are all over-reacting to the egg-on-their face complacency of 2016 by constantly reminding us not to believe the polls, but when they are as consistently one-sided as they have been this year, they can’t be disregarded. We’re also being told that an even bigger bullet than we dodged in the 2000 election is aimed at us, and to brace ourselves for a run-up to civil war if Trump doesn’t get his way, but it’s all just the noise and chaos Trump thrives on. If the polls are even close to accurate, we won’t be waiting until Thanksgiving to see who wins the court battles in Pennsylvania – they won’t matter. Critical states like Florida, Texas, Arizona, Georgia, and North Carolina will have no trouble counting their votes tomorrow, and they should tell us what we need to know about the outcome.

Between now and late evening on Election Day I suggest ignoring television, news websites, and social media. You don’t need their input. Anyone who is still uncertain about who to vote for should probably stay home. For me, the decision comes down to the same question I asked four years ago. Do I prefer a president who makes me want to shoo children out of the room whenever he appears on TV or one who inspires them to be the best they can be?

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A Rational Pre-election Discourse

Alan Zendell, October 30, 2020

An unusual thing happened this morning. I received a comment to a recent post from a Trump supporter. The surprising thing was that it was rational, and more important, the commenter probably represents the views of many other voters. There are undoubtedly many thousands of people like him who are now retired, who’ve made a good deal of money in their careers, who weren’t born into wealth; they earned it.

I know several people to whom that description applies. One thing they seem to have in common is a strong aversion to paying taxes, or at least to having their taxes raised. I get that, but as we age into our twilight years, I still have to ask why. I’m talking about people who have enough resources that they will never have to worry about financial security. They have enough to buy expensive toys, travel, (when it’s safe,) and assure that their children and grandchildren never want for anything.

Consider some numbers. I’m not referring to anyone in particular, just trying to get a feel for what is involved. Suppose you’re a billionaire, and your income this year is $300 million. Assuming that you haven’t been cheating on your taxes all along, how will Biden’s promised tax policy affect you? Biden has been specific that he wants to roll back Trump’s tax cut for the very wealthy. That means restoring the highest marginal tax rate to 39.6% from 36%, an increase of 3.6%.

Assuming that you don’t have a billion dollars in losses from previous business failures and we overestimate your tax burden by applying the 39.6% rate to your entire income, you’re looking at a tax increase of ten million dollars. That’s a lot of money. For most of us it’s impossible to imagine earning that much in one year, much less paying that much more in taxes. But you’ve just received that much in the form of a tax windfall for each of the last three years, and your invested billions will be unaffected. You were getting by just fine before Trump gave you that unearned gift. Considering how many Americans are in line at food banks, have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, and now face losing their health insurance thanks to Trump’s obsession with destroying Obamacare – WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU COMPLAINING ABOUT?

The essence of the aforementioned comment was that although Trump really is as awful as I have described him for three years, Biden’s policies would be a disaster. I’m sure we could have a spirited, if polite debate about that. Putting aside the fact that we’re not economists, I cannot imagine how leveling the playing field for Americans who are willing to work hard and follow the rules can be a disaster, and I would remind my commenter friend, that that’s how he got where he is today.

John Kennedy ran for president following the economic doldrums of the 1950s proposing a massive increase in government spending, part of which had the goal of landing astronauts on the moon within a decade. That effort cost hundreds of billions of dollars, which was used to upgrade scientific research, engineering, and educational opportunities. It directly created more than a million professional and skilled trade jobs that sparked a sharp increase in our GDP and saw huge benefits for millions of Americans. Borrowing from Irish politician Sean Lemass, Kennedy assured us that “a rising tide lifts all boats.”

Biden has a similar vision. Substitute rebuilding our infrastructure and reducing our carbon footprint for landing on the moon, and it’s essentially the same argument. The other part of that equation is making American corporations pay a stiff enough penalty to manufacture their products overseas that it’s worth paying to re-open American factories. Trump has railed about China stealing American jobs but hasn’t done a thing to stop it from happening. It’s not that difficult. A Democratic majority in the House and Senate, with Biden’s leadership, need only pass a punitive re-importation tax on companies that continue to employ foreign workers over Americans. Doesn’t that sound like making America great again?

Imagine an economy with increased labor costs for corporations but better wages and benefits for American workers. The corporations will have to choose between raising prices and lowering profit margins, but fewer Americans will be in poverty, and many fewer will be unemployed and homeless. Less will be spent on welfare, food stamps, and unemployment benefits, and millions of children will be able to live well, have enough to eat, and focus on their schoolwork. No matter how much money you have, isn’t that the kind of country you want for your grandchildren? They might even inherit a habitable planet.

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Waves of Condemnation

Alan Zendell, October 29. 2020

When a president, particularly one as unsuited for the job as Donald Trump uses personal loyalty as his sole criterion for selecting Cabinet and staff positions, we will invariably wind up with a government comprised of three kinds of people: sycophants, career professionals who recognize the president’s failings but choose to do their jobs in silence, and those whose commitment to their oath to the American people forces them to speak out.

That last is not easy to do. It requires courage, fortitude, and a willingness to subject oneself to vitriol and vicious personal attack. For high-ranking military and cabinet officers, it is even more difficult because of long-standing traditions that prohibit political attacks on a president by former subordinates. Yet, this year, we have heard former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, former National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster, former White House Chief of Staff General John Kelly, and Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley all speak out publicly against the president.

It is without precedent in the modern era for people at that level of government to describe Donald Trump as “unfit to be president,” “the most flawed individual I’ve ever known,” “unfocused,” and “a threaten to national security.” Now, they are followed daily by public health experts on the Coronavirus Task Force. Anthony Fauci, Deborah Birx, and Admiral Brett Giroir have all decided that telling the truth and trying to save hundreds of thousands of lives takes precedence over loyalty to the president. They are pulling the curtain back to reveal that the Wizard is a fake, that he has lied to the American people about the pandemic and the need to wear masks and remain distanced from each other. They have acknowledged that up to 90% of the pandemic-related deaths in this country can be laid at the president’s feet.

People have attacked Trump for having no plan to combat the pandemic. He’s been called incompetent at managing it, but that never made sense, and we now know it’s wrong. Presidential son-in-law and Senior Advisor Jared Kushner told us as much in his own words, which journalist Bob Woodward recorded back in April. Thinking he was praising the president, Kushner made it clear that Trump never had any intention of managing the spread of the virus. His only interest was political, being re-elected. His plan was evil and immoral, but incompetent only in the sense that he misjudged the virus and it backfired on him.

We now know Trump had no intention of increasing testing or contact tracing. He had no interest in managing the manufacture millions of units of personal protective gear, and his only interest in the death counts of innocent Americans was deflecting responsibility away from himself to the State Governors. After the carnage, when vaccines became available, he intended to take full credit for revitalizing the economy. That’s downright sinister. It’s sick, and by itself ought to result not only in his defeat but in criminal charges.

As the election neared, we heard, among others, Republican Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and former RNC chairman Michael Steele refuse to endorse Trump. Former senior government people like Olivia Troye and Miles Taylor, have been speaking out publicly about the White House horror show they lived in for three years. The consensus of everyone but the sycophants who still prop Trump up is that he has no interest in anything except his own personal power and enrichment.

We’ve heard all that before, but in the final days of the campaign it has become a tsunami. Trump has no response except to call everyone who ever worked for him a disgruntled employee, which is probably true, but in no way invalidates their universal condemnation of him. And Trump continues to make it worse by campaigning in super-spreader rallies that show no concern for his most loyal supporters and spread the virus everywhere as infected attendees return home.

Let’s be clear. Trump understood from the start that there were two ways to achieve herd immunity. One is to follow the advice of infectious disease experts until a vaccine is available and minimize disease and death among the general population. The other is to allow the virus to spread throughout the population hoping that when most people have been infected they will be immune. There are problems with that approach. It costs many hundreds of thousands of lost lives, and there is no guarantee that immunity resulting from a previous infection is permanent. The latest studies show that it may be short term, only a few months.

Knowing all that as early as February, Donald Trump chose the latter because he calculated it was his best chance to be re-elected. At the very least that amounts to a few hundred thousand counts of negligent homicide.

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Stark Contrasts Ahead of the Election

Alan Zendell, October 26, 2020

Eight days to go, and if we didn’t have to worry about legal challenges, voter suppression, and ballot box sabotage, this election would seem open and shut. But this is 2020. In the America we knew before 2015, a president as unpopular as Donald Trump, who had shown such an unprecedented combination of incompetence and disregard for his own people wouldn’t have a chance of re-election.

The past few days showed us contrasts that couldn’t be clearer. First was Thursday night’s debate, during which Joe Biden stuck to his positive message of unity and rebuilding better after the pandemic, while Trump blustered and spouted conspiracy theories. Biden put forth policies in detail rarely seen in presidential debates, while Trump spoke from his own reality in which he has been the best president since Lincoln, promising to deliver an even better four years, with no policy specifics. In other words, nothing new except that Trump didn’t behave like a wild boar.

Then there were the already infamous Sixty Minutes interviews. Trump, angry, belligerent, and whiny, was visibly upset that he couldn’t deflect Leslie Stahl’s determination to ask pointed questions and refute his obvious lies, albeit gently, with a smile. Like a child who never learned how to deal with not getting his way, he abruptly stomped out of his last national television appearance, throwing a silent tantrum. Ms. Stahl would not accept his latest mantra, that we’re turning the corner with the pandemic, pointing out that COVID cases in the United States are rising at the fastest rate since the virus reached our shores.

The correlation between current outbreaks and the locations of Trump’s maskless rallies, combined with the Trump supported motorcycle rally in Sturgis, SD is obvious. Stahl re-stated that every time Trump tried to change the subject, and Trump couldn’t deal with it. After he took his marbles and went home, I almost felt sorry for the way Vice President Pence pathetically tried to clean up the mess he left in front of fifty million Americans watching on TV.

By contrast, Norah O’Donnell’s interviews with Biden and Kamala Harris were polite and to the point. Despite Trump’s constant whining about how he only gets tough questions while Biden gets softballs, Ms. O’Donnell pressed Biden on every hot button issue: fracking, the oil industry in general, the price tag for his environmental proposals, tax increases, the Supreme Court, race relations, and how he would go about safely re-opening the country’s economy and school systems. That’s quite a list, but there was no anger, no accusation of foul play, just calm, reasoned responses.

If that wasn’t enough of a contrast, Trump’s Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows told Jake Tapper on CNN that the Trump administration wasn’t even trying to control the spread of COVID. “It’s a very contagious virus,” he said, as if that were sufficient justification to go on with life as usual, ignoring CDC guidelines, and refusing to require masks or social distancing. I honestly can’t figure Meadows out. He seems like the perfect Trump loyalist, yet this wasn’t the first time he dropped a blockbuster, speaking out in the public media and infuriating the president. Is Meadows just a gaffe machine or does he have an active conscience that makes him tell the truth when American lives are at stake? Today, he was back to being Trump’s choir boy, defending White House Policy after the people closest to Mike Pence all tested positive for the virus.

What struck me most was the final contrast. Trump was running madly through the battleground states, holding rallies in front of a few thousand supporters at each stop. No, they’re not the largest rallies Trump ever had, as he claims. In 2016 he was drawing 20,000 at every stop. Now it’s more like a tenth of that. But two thousand unmasked supporters in tight spaces cheering his hate-filled rhetoric and unfounded attacks on both his current (Biden) and previous (Clinton) opponents must sound equally sweet to his loved-starved ears. It’s too bad the microparticles of COVID flying from mouth to mouth in the crowd don’t have a sound track he can hear. Would it matter if they did?

And while Trump stood by knowingly watching his supporters risk their lives and those of everyone they would later come in contact with, the video dropped by filmmaker Arun Chaudry of Joe Biden attending the memorial for the Parkland, FL school shooting was watched by millions of Americans. I’ve watched it ten times. The compassion and love that flows from Biden to young Corey Hixon, who took him by surprise with an emotional bearhug, makes my eyes water each time.

You can’t fake that stuff. It’s why Trump won’t stand a chance against Biden if there’s no foul play next Tuesday.

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Eleven More Days – the Final Stretch

Alan Zendell, October 23, 2020

Donald Trump spent most of this week demonstrating that he hasn’t lost a step when it comes to dominating the news cycle. Would he show up for the final debate with Joe Biden? Would he release the White House’s recording of Leslie Stahl’s Sixty Minutes interview (and in doing so violate their contract with CBS) due to air on October 25th? Would he order Attorney General Bill Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray to announce a formal investigation into Hunter Biden’s laptops?

The answers are yes, yes, and no. For once, listening to advice from his campaign people, Trump wore his civilized human being persona to the debate, civilized in that he didn’t behave like a predatory animal. He actually followed the rules, helped greatly by no-nonsense moderator Kristin Welker, but I must stipulate that the debate rules did not require that a candidate tell the truth or refrain from making things up. What struck me most about Trump’s relatively meek reaction to Welker was what it said about his behavior at the first debate. He was roundly criticized for being unhinged in Cleveland, but the self-control he exhibited last night tells us that he wasn’t at all unhinged the first time. His bullying and interrupting were part of a deliberate, choreographed, strategy. I can’t decide which is worse.

Trump posted the thirty-eight minute interview with Stahl on Facebook yesterday, with the comment: “look at the bias, hatred and rudeness on behalf of 60 Minutes and CBS. Tonight’s anchor, Kristen Welker, is far worse!” The New York Times commented that “the footage shows Ms. Stahl…calmly and firmly asking the president about the coronavirus and other topics as Mr. Trump grows increasingly irritated.” If you have a half-hour to kill, click on the link and see for yourself. Whether or not he meant it, during last night’s debate, Trump complimented Welker on the way she handled it.

While at times, Bill Barr has seemed to relish the role of presidential lapdog, Cristopher Wray has displayed professionalism and independence since Trump appointed him. Despite Trump’s angry tweet “ARREST SOMEONE!” earlier this week, neither Barr nor Wray was willing to trash his own reputation with the laptop conspiracy theory after it was revealed that Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani had been punked by a Russian agent. But that didn’t stop Trump from bringing it up four times during the debate. Biden, who could have commented on the business practices of the Trump and Kushner families, instead told Trump, “This isn’t about our families. It’s about suffering American families.”

Trump spent the debate repeating his Fox News talking points. As he was at his rallies, he seemed more interested in evoking cheers from his base than expanding it. Instant polls following the debate showed an average twelve-point preference for Biden’s performance, which is right in line with the margin in recent national presidential polls. It’s difficult to imagine that any undecided voters found Trump’s threats, lies, and inability to offer any details about what a second term would look like compelling enough to change their minds.

For what it’s worth, virtually every commentator concluded that the debate did not affect the trajectory of the election. Compared to 2016, with eleven days until Election Day, Biden’s lead appears more sustainable than Hillary Clinton’s, and he will apparently not have to deal with a last-minute October surprise. Note the silence emanating from the Justice Department. Last time, Trump was able to weaponize people who felt left out by Democrats into an angry mob that swept him into office. This time, independents and many Republican seniors are angry at Trump over his abysmal handling of the pandemic. And while Hillary Clinton was a lightning rod for the right wing hate machine, Joe Biden is too well known and too decent a man for them to get their teeth in him.

Only a massive breakdown of the electoral process or a thoroughly co-opted Supreme Court offers Trump any hope of being re-elected. Even though undecided voters don’t have strong opinions about either candidate’s ideology or feel a bond with either of them, it’s clear that Joe Biden’s long record of compassion and a willingness to admit previous mistakes and commit to correcting them has great appeal for people who have been living in fear all year and are still worried about how to pay rent and put food on the table. Add to that the spectacle of rushing the confirmation of a Supreme Court Justice who Trump expects to support his attacks on Obamacare and mail-in voting, and even Vladimir Putin won’t be able to change the outcome.

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The Election: What’s Really At Stake

Alan Zendell, October 20, 2020

The final two weeks of the 2020 election campaign will be a terribly stressful time for Americans. Millions are out of work, COVID-19 infections are exploding all over the country, and countless small businesses are failing. With millions of families unable to pay rent and waiting in line at food banks, we are caught in a tug-of-war among three leaders, none of whom is inclined to blink.

The president changes his mind about a new stimulus bill every day, some days contradicting himself repeatedly, depending on the audience he’s addressing. His latest pitch was to increase the dollar value of the stimulus beyond what even Nancy Pelosi wants, though it’s not clear what he’d spend it on. Mitch McConnell is plowing through with a bill that Senate Republicans may pass, but has no chance of becoming law. And Pelosi postured that there can be no deal if a framework is not agreed upon by close of business today because of all the steps required to pass a law by Election Day.

By the end of today, 35 million ballots will have been cast in in-person voting, which does not count absentee and mail-in ballots that have been mailed or deposited in drop boxes. That suggests one problem may have solved itself. Trump’s constant attacks on mail-in voting and the myriad legal challenges around receipt and postmark dates will continue beyond Election Day, but voters, concerned that Trump and Postmaster Louis DeJoy have sabotaged the postal service, have found a workaround. With two weeks until Election Day, the number of votes already cast in person exceeds a quarter of all the votes counted in 2016.

If we count all the early ballots mailed or delivered to drop boxes, 50 million people may have already voted. If voter participation reaches an unprecedented 150 million, we’re probably a third of the way there. If that trend continues, we could avoid a contested election.

By railing against mail-in voting, Trump may have defeated his own argument as voters take the election in their own hands, where it belongs. But not so fast – Republicans are mounting challenges to state election laws in swing states all over the country. They seem to have lost Round 1 as the Supreme Court let stand an appeals court ruling that Pennsylvania may count ballots received up to November 6th, three days past Election Day. But television legal pundits warn that should not be taken as a precedent that will affect rulings in other states.

In states in which the outcome depends on counting mail-in and absentee ballots, we may still see court challenges that go on indefinitely. What’s really at stake is the viability of our so-called democracy. Congressional gridlock over an obviously needed stimulus bill underlines the problem of a two-party system strangling in a hyper-partisan environment. If Congress remains dysfunctional now, it’s worth asking how it can ever regain its effectiveness and the confidence of the American people.

The reality is actually worse than that. You might ask why, when House and Senate Republicans on the ballot are frantically distancing themselves from the president, the legal challenges persist. The easy answer is that Trump has thown his party into such disarray, those challenges may be the only hope for people who have clung to Trump’s coattails to avoid being dragged down with him if he loses.

Two critical questions remain. One is who is paying for all these court challenges. Big money is being spent to explore every possible way Trump can eke out an electoral college victory, though if he wins re-election while losing the popular vote by a large margin, that won’t help Republican House and Senate candidates. The big money is being spent in a last ditch effort to protect the wealth of white billionaires who are terrified of national health insurance and higher taxes.

That might have been a long shot if Ruth Bader Ginsburg were still on the bench, which is the crux of the current problem. If Amy Coney Barrett takes her seat on the Court before Election Day, she will be the deciding vote on all election challenges. To be fair, we cannot possibly know how she would vote, despite Trump’s confidence that she will side with him. The most important question may be whether Justice Barrett recuses herself on matters related to the election.

Questions of propriety aside, Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham have made it crystal clear that the rush to confirm Barrett is all about the election. Trump said, “I need her on the Court” before Election Day. If Justice Barrett, who calls herself a constitutional originalist allows herself to be used to undermine the election, she will demonstrate a total lack of integrity.

Unfortunately, knowing that won’t do the rest of us any good. If she is true to the words she uttered during her confirmation hearings, she must recuse herself.

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Trump’s Latest Reveals

Alan Zendell, October 18, 2020

I’ve written that despite his bluster, lies, and exaggerations, if you listen carefully, you can always discern the truth behind Donald Trump’s words. There were two such examples last week in his raucous super-spreader campaign events.

Campaigning in Pennsylvania, amid a typical barrage of hate-filled rhetoric and crazy conspiracy theories, Trump got real for a minute looking out at the crowd, half of which appeared to be suburban white women. Although the women at the rally adored him enough to put their lives at risk to hear him speak, he must have had an epiphany, realizing how much of that demographic, which he won handily in 2016, has turned against him. He put on a face like a spoiled little boy and whined, “Suburban women, will you please like me? I saved your damn neighborhoods, ok?”

He reminded me of Dennis the Menace, the blonde tow-haired ten-year-old boy who was always getting into trouble and then pouting when he was punished. For five years, Trump has been setting exactly the wrong example for suburban women who try to instill values and morality in their children. He has increased the stress level of almost every American family, and unlike young Dennis, his mischief isn’t based on misguided good intentions.

On the other hand, like Dennis, master manipulator and con man Donald Trump thought putting on his saccharine sweet expression and virtually begging for their support would change those mothers’ minds. But they know the difference between a sweet little boy who can’t help getting into trouble and a hateful, narcissistic adult who cares more about himself than the millions of Americans he swore to protect. Hollow as his plea was, it may have been the only sincere words thing uttered at that rally.

His principal base of support is shrinking, but in a population of 330 million, it’s not difficult to round up a few thousand people to attend his rallies and cheer for him. He desperately needs their adulation, a reveal that anyone can see. As his niece, psychologist Mary Trump explained, her uncle Donald has never felt loved, and it’s left to all of us to ease his pain. Poor Donald.

He feels persecuted by everyone that refuses to kneel at his feet and pledge fealty to him. To be sure, a lot of people are out to get him to hold him accountable for his actions. No doubt, he feels hounds nipping at his heels but he is not an innocent victim. They represent the people he has hurt.

Friday, in Florida, he was more manic than usual, which some doctors attribute to the steroids he takes to shield him against the effects of COVID-19. The polls continued to predict a dire outcome for him on Election Day, and every passing day, with millions of Americans already voting, there were fewer voters left to convince. The only things Trump hates more than losing are Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and it was sinking in, as his Department of Justice was not producing new scandals for him to tout, that he was probably going to lose.

When he addressed that possibility to a group of Florida seniors, whose votes he desperately needs, he said, “If I lose, I might have to leave the country.” A good friend, a very smart guy who often sees the world differently from me, interpreted that as clever and witty, an ironic response to Americans who wring their hands and say they’ll move to Canada if Trump wins again. There may actually have been an element of that – it would be a mistake to view Trump’s thought process as simple and one-dimensional.

I believe there was literal truth in Trump’s words. He is incapable of controlling the impulse to talk about things that upset him. When he said he might have to leave the country he told us a couple of things. One is that despite his bravado, he knows that he is despised by three out of every five Americans. There will be no more lucrative network television contracts for him if he loses, and those were the only things keeping his financial empire above water.

More importantly, he knows that the moment he leaves office he will be hounded by his creditors and state and local prosecutors who believe he is guilty of fraud and racketeering. He also knows that while Joe Biden will undoubtedly shield him from federal prosecution because his primary goal is to heal the divisions in the country, Biden cannot shield him from indictment by State Attorneys General and local prosecutors. He knows he may face financial ruin and years of defending himself in court if he stays here.

I’ll bet you a dollar Rudy Guiliani is preparing a list of countries that do not have extradition treaties with the United States.

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