Our House is On Fire

Alan Zendell, December 6, 2021

Imagine if you will that you’re sitting at home one evening. It’s been hot, and there’s a huge storm forecast. Leaves and twigs are already blowing everywhere, and there have been tornado watches all day. You look out your window at the 150-foot hickory and maple trees swaying and moaning in the wind, and you notice that a neighbor’s house is on fire. You see flames dancing in the top floor master bedroom – the fire must have started up there, and the family are all down in their finished basement, three levels lower. They have no idea the house is afire.

I experienced something like that a few years ago. We tried calling the neighbor’s land line and mobile phones to no avail. We would have run through our yard to their back door a hundred yards away, but it was very dangerous out there. After wasting valuable time trying to get their attention, we finally just dialed 911. It turned out we weren’t the only ones who saw the fire. Three other neighbors did exactly what we did, but we each thought we were the only ones. One, who lived next door, actually ran over and rang the doorbell of the burning house, but with the wind howling, no one heard it. Would it have helped if we’d been able to work together? (No one was hurt, but it was damned frustrating.)

What are we, who can clearly see our own house on fire, to do to get the attention of those who either can’t see it themselves, don’t care, or think burning it down is a good idea? Good question. Some Americans are old enough to remember the twelve-year run of the original version of this play in Europe eight decades ago. There were many who shouted warnings, but only fifteen years after the end of the Great War, and in the clutches of a world-wide economic Depression, it’s understandable that leaders who might have reacted had other problems to deal with.

What’s our excuse? We’re emerging from the COVID pandemic, our economy is booming, and we’re not presently involved in armed warfare (except on our own streets.) Why can’t people see it, and if they do, why don’t they care enough to fight back? Why are millions of Americans not enraged by the attempts of a soulless, angry minority to sabotage our elections and assure that right-wing extremists gain control of our government and keep it? Why are we all not enraged by the re-emergence and public acceptance of xenophobia and racism? Why are we not angry and terrified about corrupt political and religious leaders who undermine science, who ignore the effects of climate change, and invent lies about protecting ourselves from disease? What has to happen before we come to our senses?

Last Saturday, speaking in Athens, Greece, the birthplace of democracy, Pope Francis, the same one who described Donald Trump as un-Christian in 2016, addressed our burning house. He warned that “democracy has deteriorated dangerously as discontented people are lured by the ‘siren songs’ of populist politicians who promise easy but unrealistic solutions.” Will that help? Previous Popes have spoken out against heinous crimes and impending disasters. In the 1933 version of this play, then Pope Pius XII was accused by many of supporting Adolf Hitler and the rise of Nazism, and ignoring the Holocaust. Had Francis been Pope then, would it have changed anything?

We’ll never know, but it’s clear that if we repeat the mistakes of our great-grandparents, America will be the next empire to be the subject of ‘Rise and Fall” documentaries. With hyper-partisanism gridlocking our Congress, a rogue ex-President continuing to feed the cause of insurrection with lies, and with two of our largest states acting as if federal authority no longer exists, it’s hard to see a path forward on which democracy is intact for the next generation.

But here’s the thing. The trend toward authoritarianism is not some giant unstoppable monolith. It’s just a bunch of noise being made by a few well-funded politicians, political activists, and media executives whose influence on national policy far outstrips the size of the minority they represent.

I was struck by a recent statement by Laura Thornton, director and senior fellow at the Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund. Reacting to Wisconsin Republicans’ attempt to enact a law that would allow political control of future elections, she said, “it is up to us, the people. No party or leader will save us here. No foreign savior will shake us out of our stupor. Americans need to start caring about democracy enough to act on it…. Apathy is how democracies die. I’ve seen it.”

Ms. Thornton is right.

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States’ Rights and the Future of Our Democracy

Alan Zendell, December 3, 2021

When we studied the fifteen years between the American revolution and the adoption of our Constitution, our teachers presented the debate over how the new republic’s government should look as a done deal. In the late 1780s, the chief antagonists arguing over the form of our government were Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. Hamilton favored a strong federal government because he distrusted the motivations of individual states and the people who governed them. Jefferson wanted states to be able to legislate as they wished, without interference from the federal government, except in matters of national security.

The Constitution ratified in 1788, and modified by the Tenth Amendment, spelled out the roles of the federal and state governments. The power to raise revenue through various forms of taxation, to raise an army and navy, and to declare war were explicitly given to the Congress. Virtually everything else not specifically prohibited by the Constitution was to be administered by the states. The federal government could also enact laws that superseded state statutes, as was made clear in the federal supremacy clause.

That all sounds like a neat package until you dig down to the details. It turns out there aren’t any. The Constitution’s provisions are general in nature, and they fail to address many specific issues, which have been disputed in the more than two hundred thirty years since. Thus, we had landmark Supreme Court decisions throughout the second half of the last century. The high court upheld the federal government’s right to overrule states that overtly practiced racial segregation in schools, to assure that every citizen’s voting rights were equal regardless of state restrictions, to protect a woman’s right to control her own health and body, and to assure that states offered basic medical, welfare, and nutrition services to everyone who needed them.

But the movement catalyzed by Donald Trump to dismantle the powers of the federal government and strengthen the states’ ability to pass laws unfettered by central authority has created a state of outright war between federalism and states’ rights. Enabled by then Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, Trump was allowed to appoint three extremely conservative justices to the Supreme Court in a single term, with the express intent of reversing many decisions that Trumpers consider too progressive. Trump and his allies see this as the end game of a nearly ninety-year battle against Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.

What this is all really about is putting an end to the massive transfer of wealth from the fraction of one percent of Americans who own ninety percent of the nation’s assets to programs designed to benefit all Americans. The Constitution is silent on a number of critical issues, like whether basic health care is an inalienable right; that is, whether the Preamble to the Constitution’s assurance of every citizen’s right to “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” includes the right to good health and medical care. The simple truth is that no real medical care existed, and little was known about general health and nutrition in the eighteenth century. There’s no doubt that had they existed, medical care and good health would have been included among the First Amendment rights and freedoms.

The Supreme Court is now debating the future of Roe v Wade, which legalized a woman’s right to have an abortion and is supported by a strong majority of Americans. In the forty-eight years since that decision, right-wing states have continually pecked away at a woman’s right to choose, until this year, emboldened by Trump’s control of the Republican Party, Texas and Mississippi passed laws that directly undermine the Court’s ruling. Today’s Supreme Court is almost the political opposite of the one that issued Roe v Wade. Apparently, two generations of precedent don’t matter when the forces of reactionary politics are in control.

Regardless of how the Court decides the future of a woman’s right to control her body, that’s only the opening act of what could be the critical final battle over states’ rights. Today, Texas’ new law severely limiting voting rights, which is clearly aimed at reducing the votes of Democrats, specifically those of non-white Americans and recent immigrants, went into effect. Other states that recently passed similar laws, like Wisconsin, are already gerrymanding the next ten years of elections (until the 2030 census) at an unprecedented level to assure that right-wing extremists remain in power indefinitely.

The bottom line is whether we will permit big money and autocratic state leaders to undermine the basic principles of our democracy. It is essential that the Biden administration do whatever is necessary to pass a federal voting rights act before the 2022 elections. If not, there will be no stopgap, even in the United States, to resist the worldwide trend to end democracy wherever it presently flourishes.

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After Giving Thanks, It’s Time to Save America

Alan Zendell, November 28, 2021

This was what my Thanksgiving was all about, ten children ranging from six months to almost nine years old, all grandchildren of me and my family members. They represent our futures, and they mean everything to us.

What a wonderful day it was, seeing these kids, cousins who live in Oregon, Florida, New York, and Pennsylvania bonding together and learning how important it is to have family. We’ll do this more often if we are ever fully rid of COVID, because nothing matters more than they do.

It will take time for the glow to fade, but reality has already taken hold. I spent time with some very smart, well-informed people this week. As close as we are, as individuals we’re quite diverse. Despite our diversity, we all tend to be optimists, yet we agreed that our country is at a critical crossroads, and we’re concerned about the world those kids will grow up in.

No one could have expressed the reasons for our concern better than Boston College historian Heather Cox Richardson, whose daily newsletter, Letters from an American, jumpstarts my mornings. Today, she discussed something that has irked me since President Biden took office. People at both political extremes have been accusing media outlets they disagree with of spreading lies and fake news ever since our insurrectionist former president started his campaign to discredit truth and responsible journalism, six years ago. In itself, that’s a seriously troubling development, but perhaps more so, is the subtle bias that every media platform has.

They all depend on ratings, subscriber involvement, and good relationships with sponsors, whose self-interest may not align with objective reporting. While the far the right have accused them of having a liberal bias for decades, we see their true colors this year. With the country in crisis over COVID and a damaged economy, our democracy principles under attack as never before, and most people simply wishing for a return to normalcy, the media have largely focused on sensationalism to increase ratings.

Instead of informing Americans who never paid attention to history or civics in school that entities as large as the United States evolve very slowly, and responsible governing requires slow, grinding deliberation, they describe the struggles to pass major legislation as chaos and disarray. Instead of addressing the way President Biden has shifted the focus of the presidency to the needs of people and restoring our commitment to allies and protecting our future, they dwell on the antics of far-right extremists. This week we witnessed the travesty of Donald Trump, Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene lauding Kyle Rittenhouse, who was acquitted by a Wisconsin jury of responsibility for murdering two people and injuring a third as a national hero.

They repeat the false accusation that our President suffers from dementia and is not up to the challenges of his job, when it’s clear to people who really understand that the minor verbal lapses Mr. Biden has always exhibited are the symptoms of a lifetime fight against stuttering. I’ve watched him critically every time he addressed something of great consequence, and I see a seventy-nine-year-old man who has lost none of the sharpness and command of subjects from the economy to foreign policy, to protecting us from climate change we require of him. Compare that to his predecessor who could barely construct an English sentence and who has the vocabulary of a twelve-year-old.

Isn’t it interesting that while two-thirds of Americans strongly support Biden’s legislative goals, our economy has boomed as a result of his $1.9 trillion stimulus package, and new jobless claims are the lowest they’ve been in fifty-two years, Biden’s approval ratings are around 45 percent? I blame the media’s quest for ratings for that. It’s a lot sexier to focus on growing insurrections and posturing a president on the verge of collapse than telling the truth.

Truth: our withdrawal from Afghanistan looked awful because Trump had already withdrawn most of our intelligence operatives, so we were unaware that the Afghan armed forces were secretly negotiating their surrender to the Taliban. Yet, despite the chaotic appearance, we executed the largest evacuation in the history of the world, and had Taliban security forces not allowed one suicide bomber to slip past them, killing thirteen American soldiers, the whole operation would have looked like a miracle.

Truth: Biden’s patience and respect for his colleagues has breathed life back into bipartisanship, without which our Congress cannot function. They still might fail, but it would be best for everyone if the media presented the issue honestly. Instead, they imply that Biden’s accomplishments, which include restoring our roles in keeping Iran non-nuclear and mitigating the effects of climate change somehow occurred despite his doddering, failing presence.

In fact, these things happened because Biden has not lost focus on what is best for America. He suppressed his own ego and sucked up the criticism while guiding our slowly moving ship of state with a steady hand. Above all, he has restored moral leadership to a nation that had lost its self-respect and that of its allies thanks to the actions of Donald Trump.

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New Rays of Hope

Alan Zendell, November 17, 2021

Looking back on the last couple of years, an objective observer might conclude that the Biden presidency was set up to fail. He inherited a Republican opposition, two of them, actually, that despise each other and agree only on the need to thwart everything the president does. And there’s the mess left by Donald Trump.

International trade and our alliances are in a shambles thanks to Trump’s willful ignorance and his perverse need to upset the order of things just because he could. His tax cuts added $3 trillion to our national debt and accomplished very little besides greatly enriching the wealthiest Americans even further. Finally, there is the pandemic, which appears to be attempting to surge for a fourth time. Trump ignored the spread of the first wave, likely resulting in at least a half million avoidable American deaths in 2020. After losing his re-election bid, he railed about not getting enough credit for supporting the development of the vaccines, while doing everything possible to undermine Biden’s efforts to get needles in people’s arms. It’s anyone’s guess how many of 2021’s quarter of a million American deaths from COVID could have been averted if Trump and his minions hadn’t weaponized vaccines politically.

Things have looked bleak for the administration this Fall, as rising inflation, supply chain failures, lagging job numbers, a litany of comments from Trump’s people questioning Biden’s mental fitness, and Republican obstruction in Congress brought the president’s approval numbers down almost as low as Trump’s. As noted in past weeks, the news and social media saw these portentous signs as a way to boost ratings, and the hype hasn’t stopped to take a breath.

The passage and signing of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure and jobs law was the first break in the constant stream of bad news, and the rays of hope for our future have been showing up almost daily since then. Witnesses have been cooperating with the House Special Committee investigating January 6th, and the Committee itself has demonstrated its intent to use every resource it has to get at the truth of who was involved in planning the insurrection at the Capitol. The indictment of Steve Bannon for ignoring a congressional subpoena sends a clear message to other potential witnesses, and the House vote today, to censure Paul Gosar (R-AZ) for creating and dispersing a cartoon video of him murdering Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and attacking Biden, is a warning to Trumpers who lack boundaries.

For months, with news of employers reporting difficulty hiring workers, Republicans have been claiming that the $2.2 trillion Cares Act passed earlier this year put too many tax dollars in ordinary citizens’ pockets, making it profitable for them to quit their jobs or just stop looking for one. That argument missed two essential points. One is that the Cares Act is being deliberately misconstrued as a bailout for people who were financially hurt by COVID. In fact, its main purpose was to put money in people’s pockets that would be immediately spent and flow directly into the economy, providing a desperately needed stimulus and increasing income tax revenues.

The other essential new information, released today by the Department of Labor, was that late reporting by employers hamstrung by COVID had resulted in new job creation being undercounted by 626,000 over the last four months. The apparent decline in job growth that resulted from the undercount fed fears that the economy’s recovery from COVID had stalled, which Trump’s people pounced on. Now we see a sharp increase in consumer spending which has retailers excited about the holiday season. All that sent the equity markets to record highs, caused Goldman Sachs to predict that by the end of next year our unemployment rate would reach a 50-year low at 3.5%, and caused J. P. Morgan to revise its GDP growth forecast from 4% to 5% for the current quarter.

Football fans know that one play can cause a huge momentum shift, and a team’s fortunes can go from dismal to bright instantly. Since job approval ratings are largely an exercise in manipulating people through mass psychology, they often follow the same pattern. The tide is turning, as prospects for passing some version of the administration’s Build Back Better are looking up.

That’s all very positive, and it will result in restoring Biden’s approval numbers to their post-inauguration levels. But there’s still a lot of critical work to be done to assure that Trump never regains power. The best way to guarantee that is to pass a federal voting rights bills that nullifies state laws that tilt the next election toward Republicans.

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Our Fragile Future

Alan Zendell, November 14, 2021

There’s an article on the CNN website that explains inflation and what is causing it to rise so precipitously in terms anyone can understand. It talks about supply, demand, and the complex international components of modern manufacturing and shipping. The example of how many corporate entities and countries must function well together to create new motor vehicles was especially apt. The article essentially blames the problem on the pandemic. It lists supply chains as one factor in causing inflation to increase, but I think supply chain issues are an ominous warning for our future on their own.

Remember 2020 in the heart of the pandemic? I’m sure you’d rather forget it, but recalling certain events is instructive. Remember when a number of major meat processing plants had to shut down temporarily? Shortly after that, there were reports that cattle farmers, having nowhere to market their animals, were destroying them because it was too expensive to feed them. That greatly lowered the price of beef, pork, and even poultry at the height of the pandemic. But we were warned that down the road those things would all be in short supply and more expensive as farmers renewed their herds and flocks. Most of us ignored that; we had more immediate concerns, and in any case, there wasn’t anything we could do about it.

Have you tried to buy a car, computer, major appliance, or wide-screen television lately? It was probably more expensive but the more serious problem was that there were huge gaps in supply. Last April, I tried to buy a 65-inch Samsung television. I shopped at Costco, BJ’s, and Best Buy. There weren’t any and no one could tell me how long it would be before they’d be available again. I also had to replace my laptop computer. Again, I visited my go to sources, Costco and BJ’s. The brands I usually bought were nowhere to be seen. I finally found a Lenovo that met my needs. The fact that most Lenovos are assembled in the United States (fewer supply chain and shipping issues) is probably why. Friends looking for new refrigerators and dishwashers reported similar results.

Allison Morrow, who authored the CNN article, is a journalist who, despite her nine years at the Wall Street Journal, is not an economist. If she were, she might have noted that the pandemic was not the only thing fueling inflation and fracturing supply chains. Despite all our geopolitical and military issues, the American and world economies did quite well for the first seventeen years of this century. Inflation and interest rates remained stable at historic lows, and if no one in your family was getting his head blown off in Iraq or Afghanistan, you probably prospered. All kinds of fruits and vegetables were affordable and in good supply twelve months a year, and proteins (meat, fish, nuts, etc.,) were equally stable.

But former President Trump’s narcissistic tough-guy act resulted in disrupting world trade and shattering our economic and military alliances around the world. His unwarranted tariffs resulted in retaliatory moves, causing shortages of imported goods and shutting down markets for our exports, notably farm products. Trump even tried to blame Canada for an unsold surplus of dairy products in Wisconsin.

I’m not an economist either, though I have years of experience in econometric analysis, analyzing and predicting future trends. Until now, price increases and supply shortages have merely been an inconvenience, but I fear they may become a far more serious problem, one that threatens the stability of international commerce and the American economy. If the pandemic ended today with no further disruptions, world economics would look very different than in 2019. Many links in the supply chain simply don’t exist any more. Factories have closed permanently, shipping schedules overwhelm ports, and many aspects of our consumer-driven economy are likely to never return to pre-COVID “normal.”

Consider the cruise and airline industries. There’s been a surge in demand for travel and vacations this year. People need to feel normal again, and even the huge increases in travel costs haven’t deterred them. But what about next year? Will those trips still look attractive as costs of travel, hotels, and meals continue to skyrocket? After two years of realizing how effectively you can work virtually, using Zoom, Google Meets, or Skype, are you eager to resume any but essential business travel?

Post-pandemic and post-Trump, the world is a different place. We must be careful that our inconvenient high prices and fragile supply chains do not become the tip of an iceberg of permanent changes that have the potential to wreck our economy and result in worldwide chaos. President Biden’s focus on vaccinations and his negotiations with EU nations that reversed the worst of Trump’s tariffs and resulted in the Glasgow accord on climate change are a good start, but we have to keep our eyes on the ball. Despite essential issues like defending voting rights and the Constitution, the chaos here at home is a dangerous distraction. The long-term threats our future must be addressed starting now.

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And So It Begins…

Alan Zendell, November 13, 2021

Donald Trump continues to try to undermine our Constitution and deepen the divisions he exposed and exacerbated. He continues to do everything he can to undermine President Biden both at home and by eroding our allies’ confidence in the stability of our government and its ability to keep its commitments. It’s one hell of a news story. It’s been going on for a year and nine days, since the people elected Biden, with tension growing as the clock runs down on his legislative agenda.

What an incredible ratings boom for the news media. What a boon for Facebook and Twitter, whose posts and feeds explode with every new hyped development. What could possibly stir up America and keep us on the edge of our seats more than the impending horror that a minority who represent the worst of us could win and turn the Republican Party and the future of the country over to Trump? What network executive and news producer could resist throwing fuel on that fire?

But not all of us buy the hype. Not all of us believe that Trump’s political strength is growing. Some of us understand that a process as massive as an investigation of a direct attack on our Congress and a constitutionally valid election takes time. Every “i” must be dotted, every “t” crossed, every legal procedure and protocol scrupulously followed, because when the guilty parties are identified, there can be no possibility they will get away with their crimes. January 6th isn’t a sensationalized celebrity murder case. There’s far more at stake than whether the next O. J. Simpson who kills his wife goes to prison.

The tide is beginning to turn. Last week, representatives Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) and Liz Cheney (R-WY) announced that they would vote to censure one of their own, Paul Gosar (R-AZ) for tweeting an anime video in which he kills representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). A small victory, a no-brainer, but it sent a message to everyone involved in the January 6th insurrection that the House Committee investigating the event means business. It was the first serious step in pulling our country back from the edge.

Cheney also let it be known that in the corridors of the House and Senate office buildings, safe from the eyes and ears of the media, Republicans are quietly expressing their disgust with their colleagues who support Trump and the Big Lie. It doesn’t take an “expert” talking head to discern that many in the Republican caucuses are waiting for an opportunity to escape the Trump extortion game.

Today, in the most delicious of ironies, the Department of Justice sent a stronger message, when a federal grand jury indicted former Trump adviser Steve Bannon for ignoring a Congressional subpoena to testify. Attorney General Merrick Garland, who Mitch McConnell blocked from a seat on the Supreme Court that ultimately went to Neil Gorsuch, is now in a position to fight Trump with all the resources of his department. Garland has quietly made it clear that he will “show the American people by word and deed that the department adheres to the rule of law, follows the facts and the law and pursues equal justice under the law.”

Bannon’s indictment is a warning to the other players in the planning of January 6th. Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) declared that his Select Committee investigating the insurrection will use every legal and administrative tool at its disposal to get to the truth of what happened that day and the days before when it was being planned.

As the Trump ship begins to take on water, the rats that inhabit it will start leaping off to save themselves. They always do when a soulless sociopath hires sycophants to do his dirty work. They subscribe to the same moral code as their leader, who has never failed to betray a colleague or subordinate when it was in his self-interest to do so.

The group of people scheduled to testify or be deposed by Thompson’s committee include Trump’s former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, former Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, advisors Stephen Miller and Jason Miller, retired general Michael Flynn, and Trump lawyer John Eastman. Each of them was either present in the “war room” during the insurrection or deeply engaged in planning it. They each now face the same fate as Bannon, and collectively, they know where the bodies are buried.

That could result in a criminal indictment of Donald Trump, and his legal jeopardy doesn’t end there. The city and state of New York are concluding years-long investigations of his business activities which could bring charges of money laundering, fraud, and racketeering, and Georgia is investigating his illegal attempts to reverse the 2020 election results.

The first shot in the war to reclaim the integrity of the presidency and remove the influence of Donald Trump from our political scene has been fired. The weasels responsible for creating the crisis all know they have no defense, and that’s not good for Trump.

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The Republican Powder Keg

Alan Zendell, November 10, 2021

Today’s Republican Party is like two freight trains on a collision course. Its two factions clearly hate each other. One is tied to Donald Trump, the other despises him and recognizes that he’s an existential threat to the United States. At first glance, one unfortunately supported by media hype, Trumpers appear to be steadily gaining ground, but I don’t buy that. What we see and hear are angry statements and tweets by a handful of unabashed Trump supporters, countered by a smaller handful of real conservatives, and deafening silence from everyone else.

In the House, out of 213 Republicans, fewer than ten are outspoken Trump supporters. Paul Gosar (AZ), Marjorie Taylor Greene (GA), Lauren Boebert (CO), Matt Gaetz (FL), and Mo Brooks (AL) are the loudest. They have a few things in common. They are shrill, profane, and appear to place little value on facts. They support the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen and have all actively attempted to stir up anger among right wing extremists and promote violent demonstrations, up to and including armed insurrection (though they don’t call it that.)

In the Senate, Josh Hawley (MO) and Ted Cruz (TX) have had the loudest voices, unleashing angry, irrational attacks on everyone from Joe Biden to any Republican who either did not speak up in support of Trump’s lies or supported anything the Democrats tried to pass, even when the overwhelming majority of their constituents wanted and would have benefited from it. They believe pandering to Trump voters will outweigh any negative hangover in voters’ minds that their Senators voted against what they wanted.

With the backdrop of all the pro-Trump noise and the constant litany of anger against “Communist Democrats,” most Republicans in Congress have remained silent. When they have no alternative, they raise their heads just enough to cast votes their leaders require of them, and then crawl back into their holes. But look a little deeper, and you see not a Trump-powered monolith, but a glacier riven with cracks that disintegrates a little more every day.

Kevin McCarthy (CA) is still House Minority Leader only because most of his caucus lacks the courage to stand up to potential primary challenges in next year’s elections. He has repeatedly demonstrated that he never heard the word integrity used in a sentence. No Republican publicly swayed in the wind, changing his tune about Trump whenever the truth became too risky, the way McCarthy has. And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) regularly speaks out of both sides of his mouth. He ordered his caucus to block every item in President Biden’s legislative agenda and voted against both the Infrastructure Bill and the Build Back Better Plan. But back home in Kentucky, he admitted that his state desperately needed both bills to be signed into law and said his constituents supported them and would greatly benefit from their final passage.

That’s what we’ve come to – a Congress in which one party prefers stasis to meeting the obvious needs of the people it represents, supporting insane policies like fighting vaccination mandates. Yet, when the other party shows the courage to move forward without their support, the non-Trump Republicans, who completely sold them out to avoid Trump’s ire, return home to tell voters how much they will benefit from the laws they passed.

On the side of reason were only two House Republicans with the courage and principled convictions to speak out against Trump’s attempts to undermine the Constitution. Adam Kinzinger (IL) was an early voice of conservative principle. Kinzinger never shied away from telling the truth about Trump, and last February, he formed an anti-Trump PAC. Yet, a couple of weeks ago, he announced that he was withdrawing from the game and will not seek re-election. That leaves only Liz Cheney (WY) to speak out against Trump’s atrocities in the House Republican Caucus. Cheney will never back down. In demonstrating her support for the Constitution and ignoring her own personal risk, she convinced even left-leaning centrists like me that her staunchly conservative voice must not be extinguished in the House.

If you look only on the surface, Trump’s eventual dominance of the Republican Party seems almost a foregone conclusion. But not so fast. The vast majority of Republicans in Congress despise everything Trump stands for. Being professional politicians, they’re opportunists, awaiting their chance to pile on while the few with real backbones run point for them. Trump has enormous legal jeopardy, both in the courts and the House Committee investigating January 6th. That will all catch up with him in the coming months, very likely before the 2022 elections become heated. Trump will be indicted in multiple jurisdictions, and the Justice Department will prosecute him as well.

Understanding how cowardice works, I’m confident that when the wolves have been locked back in their cages, our timid Republican friends will eventually use Trump’s legal problems to give them the courage to speak out. The next year is going to be as horrifyingly exciting as a zombie apocalypse. The country’s future may well hinge on which Republican Party emerges from the rubble.

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A Ray of Hope

Alan Zendell, November 6, 2021

Last evening two notable events occurred. One was at a social gathering of my senior community, where I took a lot of razzing from my very purple friends. Their consensus was that henceforth I would be known as “Debbie Downer” because of my predictions of doom and gloom about the future of our democracy and Congress.

I had two reactions. One was joy at the good-natured quality of their teasing and the obvious fact that they were listening and thinking about what I said. The other was – hold on. My perceived negativity was conditioned on the possibility that Joe Manchin’s fight for bipartisan passage of President Biden’s legislative agenda might fail because of Republican obstruction and the inability of progressives and moderates to compromise. In fact, I have never lost my optimism that the Democrats would ultimately prevail, not because I have great confidence in them, but because the alternative, turning the country over to a Trump-dominated Republican party is too awful to contemplate.

For months, we’ve watched Joe Manchin, the centrist Democrat nearing the end of his second six-year term as Senator from West Virginia, a red state that gave Trump one of his largest margins of victory. The 50-50 split in the Senate gave Manchin unprecedented leverage, as he alone could block passage of everything President Biden asked the Democrats to pass, and for most of us, it was impossible to know what was in Manchin’s mind.

Was he sincere? Was he enjoying his serendipitous year of power too much? Would there come a point when, if all else failed, Manchin would get on board and agree to temporarily hamstring the filibuster? Was Manchin as stubbornly uncompromising as Bernie Sanders, his chief rival in these negotiations among Senate Democrats?

All of which brings us to the second event. The House finally passed the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill passed earlier by the Senate. The final stumbling block had been mistrust among progressives over voting on the bill separately from its counterpart Build Back Better bill. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi managed to broker a deal by putting the promise to work on the second bill in writing. Wow, is that all it took? Why didn’t anyone think of that before Biden had to go off to Europe with people believing our government was fatally dysfunctional?

The even better news is that we have a bit more insight into Manchin’s thinking. I believe in his commitment to bipartisanism, which is absolutely essential if our two-party Congress is ever to to function properly again. I also believe Manchin has his own line in the sand, and if Mitch McConnell’s scorched earth obstruction policy continues, he will reach a point where he is willing accept that the only way to move the country forward is to take his partial victory and support the suspension of the filibuster.

There’s still a very good chance that we will soon see a workable compromise on the Build Back Better plan, on which the progressives have already compromised half of their original spending goals. Despite Manchin’s latest objection to the family leave provision, I believe the Democrats will get it done. The inevitable result of that will be happy responses by at least 70% of Americans, if polls are to be believed. That, undoubtedly, will restore Biden’s approval ratings to levels near what they were in the Spring, and that will set the stage for the ultimate battle faced by this Congress, Democrats in particular.

For anyone who cares about the future of our democracy and the stability of our government, the most critical thing this Congress must do is pass a new federal voting rights law. Attorney General Merrick Garland has initiated a series of law suits designed to force the Supreme Court to weigh in on the laws passed by nineteen red states that will make it very difficult for many people of color to vote. The single most important decision the courts may ever make concerning the future of our country will be determining whether these state laws are constitutional. It’s especially critical right now, as the states that are most blatantly working to assure future dominance by Republicans are going to new extremes to gerrymander elections through 2030.

Court decisions aside, it’s impossible to exaggerate the importance of passing a federal voting rights bill. America’s future as a major power and the rights of all our children and grandchildren depend on it. If two major legislative defeats don’t convince Mitch McConnell that continuing to obstruct a voting rights bill is untenable, Joe Manchin will have to make the most critical decision of his career. It’s likely going to be impossible to pass it unless Manchin goes along with suspending the filibuster in the Senate.

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Biden’s Stalled Legislative Agenda

Alan Zendell, November 3, 2021

Getting bills passed with a nearly evenly split Congress and the opposition party determined to prevent any of the president’s agenda from becoming law is a difficult, slow process. That’s no one’s fault. It’s just the way our Congress functions, when it functions at all.

Harry Truman said, “The buck stops here,” meaning that success or failure in any branch of our government will always be a measure of a president’s effectiveness. After a couple of decades of Congressional deadlock, the current Congress appeared to be on the same get-nothing-done trajectory, the handiwork of Mitch McConnell, who is fighting to keep the Republican party relevant, and Donald Trump, who will do or say anything to make Biden look bad.

The Democrats were backed into two corners – one concerning the filibuster and the other, Congress’ reconciliation process. To pass anything, they would have to either abolish or suspend the filibuster so they could move forward with simple majorities. Failing that, they’d have to convince the arbiters of this madness that everything could be passed in a massive reconciliation bill, a device invented for budget resolution that requires only 51 votes for passage.

Enter Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) who has been engaged in a valiant attempt to revive the notion of bipartisanism, without which, our Congress is destined to self-destruct. President Biden, while arguing passionately for what he believes the country needs, has brought rational adulthood back to the Oval Office. Instead of ranting and calling people names, as his predecessor did whenever he didn’t get his way, he has remained calm and stolid during months of political gamesmanship by everyone else. His message is always one of calm reason, reminding people that difficult tasks take time.

Unfortunately, that message is undermined, not only by the antics of Congress, but by their unintended ally, the media. Whether you’re a fan of Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, A01, or Newsmax, you’re being propagandized every day. All media outlets are beholden to their sponsors, which means even in that sector we are being influenced by the interests of big money. They all depend on ratings, which gives them an incentive to keep viewers agitated and angry. What better way to keep an aroused public engaged than by hyping the admittedly frightening stalemate in Congress?

Concern over ratings is the mortal enemy of patience. That’s a huge problem, and it’s disingenuous for the media, all of them, to keep beating on the theme that since the government can’t get anything done, the president is failing in his job. Trump proved that Americans too lazy to research their own facts are easily led astray by politicians with personal agendas, and the media are doing the same thing. The constant braying of no progress has brought Biden’s approvals rating down so much, they’ve dropped to Trump’s level.

Biden, to his credit, doesn’t give a damn about approval ratings. But his calm, polite demeanor isn’t enough to stop the media’s ratings bias from hurting his administration and the country. There are several reasons why Trump’s candidate, Glen Youngkin won the Virginia Governor’s election yesterday, but most analysts believe the principal element was the perception the country was stagnating under Democratic leadership, and that’s simply not true – yet.

It’s possible the Democrats will fail, but it’s more likely that they will ultimately get their act together enough to pass some kind of infrastructure, build back better, and voting rights bills after months of excruciating negotiations. The longer it takes, the more the media will broadcast the delays as Biden’s failure. That didn’t help Biden in Europe last week. Every leader he spoke with understood that our dysfunctional politics is making the United States a risky place to invest their resources.

Yet, Biden persevered, looking extremely statesmanlike in the process. How classy was it to admit at an international media event that America badly mishandled the nuclear submarine deal with Australia that so angered French President Macron and to do so to Macron’s face with the camera’s rolling? Despite all obstacles, Biden left Scotland with a real victory. He reached an accord with the EU to ease Trump era tariffs on EU steel and aluminum, which resulted in harmful retaliatory tariffs on American exports, especially farm products. With the stroke of a pen, Biden erased much of the animosity felt by our European allies over their treatment by Trump.

Despite the arrows being thrown at Senator Manchin for stalling the legislative process long enough to return Virginia to Republican control, Biden calmly addressed the Senator with the whole world watching, praising his efforts and saying he was confident that in the end, Joe Manchin’s vote would put his agenda over the top. Whether or not he’s right, it was wonderful to once again see grace in an American president.

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Democrats Must Get Their Act Together or Admit They’re Unable to Govern

Alan Zendell, October 28, 2021

Presidential candidates spend every year divisible by four making promises. They argue about them at town halls and during televised debates. They attack each other’s ideas, nitpick the details, and vie for voters’ support for their programs. But they never address the most important aspect of presidential promises – they’re worthless. The idea of a president keeping or breaking promises made on the campaign trail is nonsense. They can propose and campaign all they want, but only Congress can pass laws.

President Biden proposed five key legislative initiatives. The $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill which provided direct payments to individuals and families was signed into law in March. Democrats attempted to pass it with bipartisan support, but not a single Republican voted for it, although it has been shown to be an essential stimulus to our recovering economy. That was the beginning of the Republican campaign to stifle Biden’s legislative agenda, which they hope voters will see as Democrats’ failure to govern. Frustrating the Biden administration is the only point on which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and former President Trump agree, but it’s been enough to imperil every other legislative proposal on the table.

Biden’s other four initiatives – voting rights, infrastructure, “building back better,” and addressing climate change – are all currently stalled in Congress, though some of the most important climate change proposals may be included in the building back better bill currently being negotiated. The irony in those negotiations, however, is that Republican obstruction isn’t the only thing preventive passage. Democrats have known since Mitch McConnell announced he would fight Biden at every turn that they would have to pass those bills on their own. They have the votes in both the House and Senate, albeit with razor-thin margins, but to succeed they must first resolve their internal differences.

Those differences are embodied by Bernie Sanders (D-VT) on the extreme left and Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema, who represent fiscally conservative Democrats. The Sanders faction wanted a $3.5 trillion build back better bill, which despite its brilliant alliteration wasn’t going to pass muster with “Moderates.” Manchin has worked hard to force a compromise, refusing to consider more than $1.5 trillion in new spending. He and Sinema have killed proposals for free community college, most Mediaid expansion, a big chunk of the proposed Medicare expansion, paid family leave, and to reverse the Trump tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans.

What appears to remain in the bill, which the administration now estimates will cost $1.75 trillion, was revealed to the media yesterday. Here’s the way The Washington Post summarized it:

• Extension of federal subsidies to assist seven million low-income Americans to purchase health insurance
• Addition to Medicare of hearing and home health care benefits for older Americans
• Universal free pre-kindergarten for all three- and four-year-olds
• Financial assistance to families earning less than $300,000 per year for child care and an extension of the expanded child care credits in the COVID relief bill
• Increases in Pell grants for low income student paying for higher education
• Tax breaks for the installation of solar panels, other measures that increases energy efficiency in buildings, and purchasing electric vehicles
• A 15% minimum tax on large corporations and a tax on stock buy-backs
• An income tax surcharge of 5% on incomes over $10 million and 8% on incomes over $25 million (an 8% surcharge would increase the current maximum tax rate of 35% to 37.8%)
• Empowering the IRS to crack down on tax cheaters, especially among the very wealthy

Democrats brag about the diversity of their big tent, but it only works when its occupants don’t lose sight of their priorities. Here’s the deal, as Joe Biden might say: Democrats can either act like the adults in the room and resolve their differences to give the American people some things that they desperately need, or they can fail and convince voters that they’re not fit to govern. Failure to use reconciliation, amend the filibuster, and agree on the provisions of the build back better and voting rights bills will turn Congress over to Trump-dominated Republicans for at least the remainder of this decade.

It’s up to Bernie Sanders to demonstrate that compromising on his Progressive agenda is more important than exacting revenge against those who have opposed it for forty years. It’s up to Joe Manchin to prove that he wants these bills passed more than he fears Trump voters in West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema to clean up her own murky agenda and clearly outline what she stands for.

Democrats – get your damn act together or concede that you’re unable to govern. The alternative is to turn the country over to the far right and continue to concentrate all of our wealth in the hands of white billionaires.

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