Surviving Nine Weeks Until the Election

Alan Zendell, September 1, 2020

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson offered some advice on Tuesday to people who are afraid Donald Trump might lie, cheat, and steal his way to re-election: behave as if you think Biden is trailing instead of up by nine points in the polls. “…be paranoid that Trump’s encouragement of right-wing violence in Kenosha, Wisconsin might tip that vital swing state in his favor. Worry that Democrats are not paying enough attention to Michigan and Pennsylvania; that Biden’s polling lead in Florida might be a mirage; and that states such as Georgia and Arizona might not really be as purple as they now appear to be. Then act vigorously on those concerns, and be confident that if you do, Trump is toast.”

The complacency of the 2016 Clinton campaign that somehow failed to notice Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania slipping away will not be allowed to take shape this year. No matter how incompetent and disorganized the Democratic Party sometimes appears, they won’t screw this up in 2020. Their 2016 Chairperson, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, spent her time rigging the primaries and alienating the Bernie Sanders wing of the party. Tom Perez, who replaced her after Clinton’s defeat learned from her mistakes. He has worked tirelessly to unite the party, no easy task under such a wide tent.

The only thing that unites Democrats is their animus for Trump. You might worry that that’s not enough to sustain Biden’s momentum for sixty-three more days, but Trump makes it easy. The attributes that were successful in 2016 are stale now. His support for right wing groups, his unapologetic pandering to hatemongers have their downside now that Americans have awakened to who and what Trump really is.

He’s playing to his base, more specifically to people who voted for him in 2016, who weren’t really part of the Anger Cult, like the women he likes to refer to as suburban housewives. He knows his behavior in office has alienated many of them, though he apparently doesn’t understand why. None of the suburban women I know think of themselves as housewives. That description worked in the 1950s when Joe McCarthy, one of Trump’s role models, warned that Communists would murder helpless women and children in their beds.

Today’s suburban women are not helpless. They’re well-educated professionals pursuing careers. Trump desperately needs their votes, but he won’t get them by calling them housewives. His lack of respect for women will sink him, something his narcissistic personality makes him incapable of seeing.

Eugene Robinson was right. Although Trump is his own worst enemy in 2020, we cannot be complacent. Contribute what you can to candidates who want to end the sickness that is Trumpism. It’s the most important investment you can make in your children’s future. Pay attention. Stay engaged, and don’t be shy about calling out his lies and insane conspiracy theories. But don’t overdo it.

Be aware of what Trump says and does, but don’t become agitated by it. Trump thrives on attention and television ratings. The way to starve this beast is simply to ignore it. There’s no need to listen to his rants and shake your fist at the TV. The best way to take the air out of Trump’s balloon is to tune him out.

Trump feeds on creating anxiety and rage. If that continues, and it will, the thing most likely to re-elect him is emotional voter fatigue. As Kellyanne Conway admitted on Fox News last Sunday, his campaign strategy is to create so many fights on so many fronts that voters are exhausted and go numb. He hopes they’ll crawl into a hole until after the election and not even show up to vote.

It sounds contradictory, but it’s possible to stay in touch with the essentials of the campaign without becoming totally immersed in it. Treat Trump’s rants and unhinged attacks the same way you deal with your five-year-old throwing a tantrum or your teenager lashing out at authority. It’s just a symptom of his arrested development. Be aware of his behavior, but don’t be sucked into it.

The one thing that will drive Trump crazy during the next nine weeks is being ignored. The fact that the Democratic convention’s ratings were 30% higher than his has him climbing the walls of the White House. His head must be exploding over the fact that a million more Americans watched Biden’s acceptance speech than his. The ratings for both conventions were down by nearly a third compared to 2016. It’s a sign that very few people are undecided in 2020, and they are learning to just block the noise.

When you check your favorite media outlet and see Trump forcing himself into the sensitive situation in Kenosha over the objections of the mayor and governor so he could do his tough guy act and claim undeserved credit for the work of the Wisconsin National Guard, don’t tear your hair. Turn it off.

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Fanning the Flames of Domestic Violence

Alan Zendell, August 31, 2020

When my younger son was a high school junior he was attacked in the school cafeteria. Since my son is white, and the boy who jumped on him in front of hundreds of students and three teachers was black, it looked like a racial incident. In our highly diverse county that prided itself on racial harmony, that set off a knee-jerk chain reaction of events. Both boys, who were good students with clean records, were suspended during exams week.

The truth was that the two sixteen-year-olds were friends and teammates. No harm was done and the boys wound up shaking hands. The testosterone-charged incident arose over (what else?) the attentions of a girl at a party the previous weekend. It was a minor thing that would have gone unnoticed and completely forgotten the next day if not for the intervention and over-reaction of a politically motivated school superintendent.

The suspension ruined any chance of either boy earning an athletic scholarship to college. It was devastating to their morale, and increased tension and resentment throughout the school community – to what end? So an ambitious politician could claim he had enacted a zero tolerance policy on racial violence, though the teachers who witnessed the incident testified that no such thing had occurred.

That was my first personal interaction with a lying politician who cared more about his image than the integrity of the institution he was empowered to manage and the welfare of the people we’d trusted him to protect. It taught me that the only way to stop it from recurring was to force people like him to be accountable for their malfeasance.

The carnage these people leave in their wake is often irreversible. Although the offending politician paid a price for what he did, that didn’t mitigate the harm done to the boys. (Fortunately, they both grew into fine adults.)

What we experienced was not an isolated episode. Things like that happen all the time, at all levels of government, and ultimately, it’s up to us to fix them. Whenever politics is involved, the first casualty is truth. The facts were clear for everyone to see, yet they were ignored. In battle, it’s referred to as the fog of war. Once emotions are triggered, the result is usually chaos, the outcome wrong-headed.

Demagogues know this. It’s how they survive and prosper. They know that if they cause enough confusion, no one will ask who instigated it. In today’s world of divisive politics, the greatest crime of our current would-be autocrat is the degradation of truth. Spinning a narrative has become more important than honest investigation and determination of facts.

We’ve made enormous progress in race relations since I was a kid, but the problem remains larger and more deeply ingrained than we realized. The election of Barack Obama in 2008 proved that we had matured considerably as a nation, but it also energized the latent racism remaining in large segments of our population, which became the populist movement that enabled someone like Donald Trump to become president.

One of the tragedies of the Trump administration is that systemic racism among some people in law enforcement is exacerbated by a president who has no respect for truth. People of color being murdered by rogue police officers erupts into demonstrations of civil disobedience, which after dark, attract thugs, criminals, and political agitators. It has always been this way – what’s different now is a shameless president who knows that if he throws gasoline on the fire, the question of who caused it will be lost in the ashes.

If we let him, Donald Trump will continue to spread his own sick narrative. There is no connection between a nonviolent black man being murdered in the streets of a typical American city by police and the security of our suburbs. But in the hands of a skillful distorter of truth like Donald Trump, a racist act of violence committed by law enforcement personnel has somehow been twisted into a narrative that raging hordes of non-white anarchists are planning to ravage our white suburban housewives. Trump’s solution is to have federal police marching in our streets.

Far too many angry Americans cheer Trump on because he seems to get away with things they wish they could. It’s like a Robin Hood scenario in which the folk hero villain turns out to be a depraved individual who keeps the gold and power he steals to enrich himself.

This is not a political debate. It is literally about the future of our country and the minds of our children who are being exposed to it. It’s not about Trump or Biden. It’s about We the People.

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Jackie Robinson Day

Alan Zendell, August 29, 2020

When disparate events converge toward a critical focal point my spiritual side takes over. I can’t resist the implications of an unlikely confluence of circumstances.

Every year since 2004, Major League Baseball has designated April 15 as Jackie Robinson Day. April 15th, aside from meaning Tax Day for most of us, was the opening day of the 1947 baseball season, when Robinson made his major league debut as the first black baseball player. But in 2020, COVID caused us to hit pause in our normal routines, and the baseball season didn’t begin until July 23rd. A lot of things fell by the wayside, but Jackie Robinson Day was re-scheduled for August 28th, the date in 1946 that Branch Rickey, the General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, told Robinson he’d be in the Dodgers’ starting lineup the following season.

August 28, 2020 was also the day actor Chadwick Boseman died, not from COVID but colon cancer. Boseman was the 21st century embodiment of a handful of archetypal actors, like Sidney Poitier and Denzell Washington, who re-formed the screen image of black Americans. In addition to creating living monuments to Thurgood Marshall, James Brown, and the fictional King T’Challa who represented the highest values of the African culture from which the slaves who worked American plantations were abducted, Boseman’s first major film role memorialized Robinson.

August 28, 2020 was also when thousands of Americans marched on Washington to mark the horrendous shooting of a young black man, Jacob Blake, by a white police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin. How prophetic that that shooting should have occurred just as two months of protests over racial inequality were dying down, during the Republican National Convention. Speaker after convention speaker touted a return to “American values” while somehow completely ignoring the latest glaring examples of how systemic racism still destroys black families. Worse, in the twisted ideology of Trumpism, people demonstrating against the killing of black Americans are portrayed as criminals and anarchists. Thus, Trump feels justified in claiming America needs a law and order president who can deploy storm troopers at will wherever anyone who doesn’t like him marches on American streets.

On one hand, Trump’s people spent four days fear-mongering on national television, in sharp contrast to the message of the Biden campaign which projected an image of love, unity, and diversity. We’ve been through all this before. Yet somehow, the re-energizing of the Black Lives Matter movement feels different. Thirty-foot-tall letters spell out BLACK LIVES MATTER in permanent yellow paint on a two-block long segment of 16th Street NW in Washington, within sight of the White House, where Trump can refuse to look at it, but he can’t ignore it.

In 2020, black sports stars are foregoing shampoo and car commercials, and instead throwing their weight behind keeping BLM in the public eye, assuring that Trump cannot distract voters from reality with alternate facts and conspiracy theories. Stars of the National Basketball Association, black and white, players and management, boycotted their own playoff games, followed by several MLB teams who refused to play in solidarity. Those games will all be re-scheduled and the players will be paid, but the Players Alliance of more than a hundred black players are donating their salaries for the two boycotted days to aid suffering black families. (The lowest paid MLB players earn $3,500, the highest more than $200,000 per game.)

Doc Rivers, coach of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers, closed the loop on the confluence of events when he reacted to Blake’s shooting during the Republican convention. “All you hear is Donald Trump and all of them talking about fear – we’re the ones getting killed, we’re the ones getting shot.”

For all of these things to be happening at once, superimposed on television images of two hurricanes simultaneously hitting the same part of the Gulf Coast for the first time in recorded history, it seems like we’re being forced to look at everything in perspective. The COVID virus will have claimed over a quarter of a million (!) American lives by Election Day. Our climate becomes more erratic and deadly every year, while the Trump administration continues to dismantle environmental protections.

This year, Trump’s insistence on returning to business as usual may bite him, as every major sports team will keep the fire burning under BLM, and millions of Americans will see that every week. Whether you believe in God, an Earth Spirit, or The Force, it’s with us this year. Trump will not be able to hide from his failures and his pandering this time.

I didn’t grasp the significance of Jackie Robinson when I cheered for him as a kid growing up in Brooklyn, but I do now. On Election Day, everyone will have a clear unobscured choice.

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Trump’s Latest Gift: Vigilantism

Alan Zendell, August 26, 2020

It was no coincidence when David Duke, convicted felon and former Grand Wizard of the KKK tweeted that our new president had their backs, the new president being Donald Trump and “they” being White Supremacists. It was no coincidence when heavily armed militia members in camo garb occupied state capitols in Michigan and Kentucky after Trump tweeted that supporters needed to resist Governors who issued mask orders to prevent the spread of COVID.

It was no coincidence, either, when armed vigilantes showed up to confront demonstrators in Kenosha, WI in the wake of protests over the police shooting of Jacob Blake. That occurred after two days in which the Republican Convention pounded away at the need for law and order, outlining an alternate reality in which Democrats favor lawlessness, Godlessness, and socialism. It was Trump pumping up his base of angry people who support his white-first agenda, whatever he chooses to call it.

In lionizing Mark and Patricia McCloskey, who aimed loaded guns at peaceful demonstrators in Saint Louis, Trump did what he always does. Without overtly saying so, he winks and nods at the worst of us, implying that it’s okay to express themselves with bullets. It was a clear, unsubtle invitation to Americans who do not support the Black Lives Matter movement to take up arms to defend their white suburbs. That kind of behavior is despicable – in other words, it’s typical Donald Trump.

Self-styled militias and vigilante groups have nothing to do with law enforcement. People who take the law into their own hands are criminals. If they injure or kill anyone, they are guilty of felonies. They are more dangerous than looters and arsonists, because their actions are unauthorized and their presence enflames already explosive situations.

Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth unambiguously addressed the issue of deputizing armed citizens:  “Hell no! I won’t deputize private citizens. Deputies must be trained to strictly follow all police procedures and directions. What a scary, scary thought. These people create confrontation. They are not helping.” He went on to decry the role of social media, specifically Facebook, for spreading misinformation and letting itself be used as a vehicle by radical troublemakers to invite vigilantes into situations where they have no place.

Last night, one of those vigilantes, a seventeen-year-old boy who traveled to Kenosha from Antioch, Illinois, egged on by right wing activists and Facebook postings which had no purpose other than to provoke violence, shot and killed two protestors, and severely injured a third. It was all captured on video, and he has been arrested and charged with first degree intentional murder.

The events in Kenosha, this week, are tragic. But the harm done to that peaceful midwestern city is only the tip of the iceberg. Trump not only condones, but willfully incites this kind of violence, because he believes it will inspire his base to re-elect him. Over the last three years many people have warned that Trump is dragging us toward Fascist authoritarianism. Armed vigilantes are a chilling reminder of Nazi Brownshirts terrorizing German citizens in support of Adolf Hitler’s policy of racial purification.

A majority of Americans of all races have been horrified by the continued overuse of violence by law enforcement against people of color. As awful as that it, it is only made worse by a president who encourages more violence by his supporters. It demonstrates in the clearest possible terms that nothing that increases his power and wealth is out-of-bounds. Is there anything he would not do to assure his re-election?

Having lived through the Civil Rights Movement, the wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and the rise of right wing politicians, Americans my age have seen our country swing away from the idealism of our youth to angry self-righteousness. I once subscribed to the naïve, complacent notion that America’s values were unassailable, but I failed to take into account the lengths people will go to when they’re driven by greed and lust for power. Rather than speak of equality and racial blindness, Trump is leading us exactly where we feared he would. If he is not defeated in November, we can look forward to more and more armed confrontations between extremists at both ends of the spectrum.

I did not choose the banner for this blog lightly. It lays out exactly what our founders intended when they drafted the Constitution. “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…” Most of us know the rest, but it means nothing to Donald Trump.

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A Mentally Deficient Candidate

Alan Zendell, August 21, 2020

For months, Donald Trump and his supporters, have been labeling his Democratic opponent “mentally deficient.” Biden has been in politics long enough to have his own folk lore, which seems to revolve around his so-called gaffes. That started in 1987 when he quit his first presidential run amid charges of plagiarism. It was as unfair then as it is today. Politicians rarely write their own speeches; the charge that Biden had quoted from a speech by British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock without attribution was a lesson in placing too much trust in a speechwriter.

In 1987, the bar was still pretty high for politicians. The nation hadn’t yet been exposed to a politician like Donald Trump who revels in lying, misquoting people, and inventing conspiracy theories on the fly. Since accusing his opponent of lying would undoubtedly backlash on him, Trump instead focused on Biden’s lifelong affliction with stuttering and characterized it as everything from mental incompetence to encroaching dementia.

Yes, Biden occasionally stumbles over words or misspeaks. It’s part of his being human. He doesn’t always filter his thoughts or words like other politicians. Some people see that as a character flaw. Others, like me, find it an endearing reminder that he is real and authentic. I am five months younger than Biden, and if I didn’t have my dictionary and thesaurus handy when I write, I’d be known for gaffes too – as would almost everyone I know.

All that aside, the Democrats put on a brilliantly conceived virtual convention that surprised most observers with its intimacy and personal appeal. It was far more watchable than previous conventions with their self-serving applause lines, balloons, horns, and whistles, all of which could be summed up in one word: boring. The only time they were interesting was when a nomination was contested after the first ballot.

This convention wasn’t like that. While there was an occasional minor snafu, and one might argue with the emphasis on some of the content, the convention did its job. Holding my attention for more than eight hours without commercial breaks says a lot. With all that success, last evening it all came down to the last half hour when Joe Biden delivered his acceptance speech. With the world watching, we would all see if the gaffe machine, as he jokingly refers to himself, could pull it off without embarrassing himself.

Biden’s supporters held their breaths as he began speaking, but he silenced our concerns quickly, with a well-written, moving appeal to Americans’ better natures, and a clear agenda for what he will do the moment he takes office to get the pandemic under control and revitalize our economy. The focus was jobs and bringing manufacturing back home, rather than relying on China to keep supply chains running. He was so good, we stopped worrying that he might screw up and just listened, coming away feeling more optimistic than any time since Trump won in 2016.

But don’t just believe me, I’m clearly biased. Let’s see what Chris Wallace, the most professional journalist on Fox News thinks. “After tonight, Donald Trump will have to run against a candidate, not a caricature.” Wallace called Biden’s acceptance speech “enormously effective,” asserting that it blew a hole in Trump’s characterization of him as a mentally shot captive of the extreme left.

That won’t convince devotees of Sean Hannity, but independent voters who are troubled by Donald Trump’s incompetence and divisiveness should have no concern that Biden is not up to the job. He showed himself to be everything we hoped he was: compassionate, caring, experienced, and thoroughly in touch with the existential threats to our nation. At the margins, where it counts in this election, that should be a clear sea change.

It shouldn’t be difficult for clear-thinking concerned voters to distinguish between the man who has taken on the task of restoring America’s soul with the president who has been destroying it for five years. As Trump continues to rail against phantoms like voter fraud and campaigns with hate-filled rhetoric, he looks more like a desperate caged animal every day. As his administration is revealed to be the corrupt creature it is and he uses every ploy he knows to distract from the 175,000 COVID deaths he could have prevented if he cared about anything but himself, it’s reasonable to ask who the mentally deficient label fits best.

I can’t wait for their first debate.

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The Postal Service: Fight Back But Don’t Panic

Alan Zendell, August 19, 2020

I must correct some misinformation in my post, “The Integrity of Our Election.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s email address on the official Senate website doesn’t work. If you want to tell him how you feel about Republican Senators sitting on their hands while Trump sabotages the Postal Service, the following links work:
Phone Number: 202-224-2541
Government Website: mcconnell.senate.gov
Contact: http://www.mcconnell.senate.gov/public/index.cfm
Campaign Website: http://www.teammitch.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/mitchmcconnell
Twitter: twitter.com/senatemajldr

Donald Trump’s attempt to, as Barack Obama put it, kneecap the Post Office is a critically important threat to our election, but in practical terms, it’s not as foreboding as it seems at first glance. As a matter of principle, this brazen attack on the Constitution must be stopped. Pay close attention when the Postmaster General, wealthy Trump donor Louis DeJoy testifies before the Senate and House over the next few days.

The outcome will turn on whether the hearings are legitimate bipartisan inquiries or more meaningless television spectacles. DeJoy wasn’t any more subtle than Trump when he warned that if universal mail-in balloting was adopted, the Post Office wouldn’t be able to deliver all the ballots in time to comply with State laws. If any Republican Senators are critical of the removal of high-speed sorting machines, canceling overtime, and the removal of mailboxes, it will mean that the public outcry has been heard. Whether those Senators are motivated by integrity or self-interest, it will be a costly political defeat for the president.

On the other hand, the specter of 150 million ballots inundating mail processing centers is just a bad dream. In a poll published yesterday, only 34% of likely voters said they would request mail-in ballots. In 2016, more than 136 million Americans voted in the presidential election. Even with a sizable increase in turnout this year, fewer than 50 million mail-in ballots would likely be requested. But many of them, considerably less than half would likely be returned to local Boards of Elections by mail.

Yesterday, Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold said Colorado has successfully carried out mail-in voting for the last ten years without serious problems or any evidence of voter fraud. Colorado has secure drop boxes all over the state which Griswold estimated could handle up to 75% of the ballots cast. Thus, only a fourth would have to be processed by the Post Office. My own state, Maryland does the same thing. I cast my primary vote by delivering my ballot (no postage stamp necessary) to a drop box located outside the Board of Elections. Trump’s claim that the lack of an official postmark on a ballot would invalidate it is pure nonsense.

To put things in perspective, if a third of registered voters request mail-in ballots and two thirds of those use drop boxes to cast their votes, the Postal Service would have to deliver fewer than ten million ballots, nationwide. It processed more than fifty-seven million absentee ballots in 2016 with no reported problems, but that was before 95% of the high-speed sorters were removed by DeJoy. Note, too, that the Postal service handles over a billion Christmas cards and packages every year with negligible mishaps.

Trump is probably powerless to undermine the election, but that doesn’t mean a serious assault on our constitutionally mandated election process is not underway. Attempted murder is a felony even if the victim survives.

Like most things in Trumpworld, there are also serious ethical issues here. DeJoy’s multimillion-dollar stake in a firm that will profit from the Post Office’s demise is a clear conflict of interest. And there is Trump’s often stated desire to hurt Amazon which allegedly saves millions from having the post office do the final step in most of their deliveries, part of his vendetta against Jeff Bezos, who runs both Amazon and the Washington Post.

Nancy Pelosi said DeJoy’s announcement, yesterday, that changes in the mail processing procedures will be halted until after the election is “necessary but insufficient,” and she is correct. Nothing will stop Trump from creating chaos every way he can to discredit an election he fears he will lose. Pelosi and the states must choose their battles, and not react to every provocation. But this is the place to draw a line in the sand and defend it at all costs. The recent attempts to undermine the Post Office’s ability to process mail must not only be halted but reversed.

With at least twenty State Attorneys General suing the administration to restore full productivity at the Postal Service and two Congressional hearings coming up, we should know the outcome before voters lose confidence that their votes will be counted.

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The Integrity of Our Election

Alan Zendell, August 16, 2020

Until 2018, most Americans silently watched, cringing at the things Donald Trump said and did, but they were disturbed enough by then to vote Democrats back into the majority in the House. We have more and better reasons to be disturbed now, but this year we cannot wait until Election Day. The time to act is now.

It‘s impossible to overstate how important this is. It would be bad enough if the president had simply appointed a new Postmaster General charged with bankrupting the Postal Service, but he appointed a man with a huge financial stake in a company that would stand to make enormous windfall profits if the USPS were privatized. It’s no surprise that Louis DeJoy has a glaring conflict of interest – that’s the norm in the Trump administration from the president himself on down.

As bad as that sounds, the reality is far worse. The pandemic has redefined the 2020 election along with almost everything else we do. Trump still refuses to take the basic actions recommended by his entire public health team. There is no national mask mandate, and virus testing is still far below the level required to control the spread of the virus.

If the nation’s anxiety level weren’t high enough, Trump turned up the amplitude by demanding businesses remain open and all schools begin in-person instruction by September, even in high infection areas, again contradicting his health advisors. It’s part of his cynical pretense that everything is normal to keep financial markets strong regardless of how many lives it costs.

Most Americans fear crowds despite the president’s false narrative. They don’t want to stand in long lines or be pressed into crowded voting places, especially if our changing climate throws us a major November storm. Forcing them to vote in person, especially those of limited resources, would depress the turnout in a way that everyone understands would be Trump’s best chance at re-election. Trump admitted on Fox Financial News that he is deliberately hamstringing the Postal System to prevent universal voting by mail, and his lackeys in the USPS warned almost every state that they might not be able to deliver all the ballots if everyone votes by mail.

None of the president’s staff deny that he is trying to rig the election. DeJoy even admitted removing high speed sorting machines and canceling all overtime for postal workers. In the wake of those actions, the Republicans in the Senate ran for cover to avoid being interviewed when Mitch McConnell adjourned the session without considering the House bill that would keep both the Post Office and struggling, out-of-work Americans afloat. It’s the most brazen power grab in American history, one that has the potential to destroy our two-party political system if it’s allowed to continue.

But we the people are not powerless to stop it. Like most of Trump’s actions, this one is a deliberate overreach of presidential power intended to intimidate the opposition. He has the legal right to refuse to negotiate but he cannot destroy the Postal system without the complicity of Senate Republicans, twenty-three of whom are on the ballot in November.

The truest definition of patriotism is putting the nation ahead of personal or political gain in times of crisis. That’s where we are now, folks. Whether you want Trump to be re-elected or defeated, that decision cannot come at the expense of the integrity of the election. Honest elections are probably the only things Washington’s Federalists and Jefferson’s Republicans agreed on except the need to be free of King George.

Every American who cares more about America than politics MUST act now. Let Mitch McConnell know you won’t tolerate inaction by Senate Republicans. They need every vote they can get, and they won’t ignore millions of emails. Take five minutes and email him at senator@mcconnell.senator.gov.

More importantly, the president cannot prevent every American from requesting a mail-in ballot in accordance with state laws. If every registered voter requests one at the earliest date allowed by state law and returns it immediately, the Postal Service is required by federal statute to deliver it even if it has to re-institute the Pony Express. The Constitution requires the Congress to adequately fund the Post Office. Knowing there will be in excess of 100 million ballots, USPS can easily plan for and process them if it is given the resources.

Most jurisdictions also provide drop boxes in which voters can deliver their ballots directly to their local Board of Elections, bypassing the mail entirely (and saving 55 cents per stamp.) If Trump gets away with cheating by suppressing the vote, we can blame him, but we’ll all have to live with knowledge that everyone who didn’t take action abetted his crime.

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The Most Serious Threat to Our Democracy Yet

Alan Zendell, August 14, 2020

I was a Never-Trumper long before he announced that he was running for president. Trump and I have the same Queens, New York pedigree, except that I wasn’t born to a wealthy, racist father. My father was a hard-working guy, a smart, decent man whose education was cut short by the Depression. While Fred Trump was getting rich cutting corners and denying decent housing to blacks, my father served in World War 2 and came home with neurological damage that led to a long, slow decline from Parkinsonism. He did his part to protect our democracy and raised his children to respect that above all else.

As the president’s niece, Mary Trump documents in her book, Donald Trump was raised with an entirely different set of values. Laws existed to be circumvented, morality was for chumps, and nothing mattered except making money. Lying, cheating, stealing, ripping off people who depended on him were just business, as long as he didn’t get caught. After he left his father’s house he was schooled by corrupt lawyers and criminals. Unlike the wild claims and accusations Trump throws around, all that is well-documented in places like the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

That was the Donald Trump who was constantly in the face of everyone who grew up in New York, the Donald Trump I believed was not only unfit to be president, but a dangerous threat to our country. It wasn’t about politics. I would happily trade Trump for a conservative Republican, in the mold of compassionate conservatism, people like John Kasich, Larry Hogan, or Jeff Flake.

Despite my misgivings, when I began this blog shortly after Trump was inaugurated, I decided to wait and see if he was capable of growing into the job as Lyndon Johnson did. With an education rooted in scientific method, I put my bias aside and watched as objectively as I could. But it was clear from the start that Trump reveled in vulgarity, pandering, and flaunting every norm including laws, honesty, and common decency. I and others better qualified to evaluate such things, quickly noticed frightening parallels between Trump’s behavior and that of Adolf Hitler. We posted warning signs, things to look for that would signal our democracy was in jeopardy.

Trump brags that he’s an expert at creating chaos, sowing dissension, and generating rage so intense it blinds his opponents. In three-and-a-half years he has outdone himself with lies, absurd conspiracy theories, and bald-faced attempts to undermine the Constitution. He would turn back the clock to the era in which people like his corrupt father thrived. We warned in 2017 that he would stop at nothing to expand and hold on to his power, even at the expense of our democracy.

As the endgame for the 2020 election begins, Trump is at his immoral, conniving worst. The last two years have seen Trump-inspired attempts to suppress voting on an unprecedented scale, most notably in Georgia. Both parties agree, the lower the turnout on Election Day, the better it is for Republicans. The more Trump prevents people of color from voting, the greater his chances of re-election. Trailing badly in the polls, he decided to undermine the election rather than lose.

This isn’t just Trump being the immoral narcissist we knew him to be. This is a man willing to dismantle our Constitution for his own ends. The American Revolution was about escaping the financial and social tyranny of an autocratic king. The framers of our Constitution assured, as best they could, that an autocrat would never rule here. The keystone of the thing we call the American experiment in democracy is our elections. Discredit and undermine them, and our country will never be the same again.

Yesterday, Trump admitted to a world-wide television audience that he intends to hamstring the postal service, to assure that universal mail-in voting in the midst of a pandemic expected to claim a quarter of a million American lives by Election Day will be impossible. There is no greater existential threat to our nation.

For voters, there are two ways out of this mess. One is to raise our voices to tell Republican Senators who are on the ballot in November we will not tolerate the destruction of the Constitutionally mandated federal postal system. The other is something each of us can do. If every registered voter requests an absentee ballot today and mails it back by mid-October, Trump’ s attempt to rig the election will fail.

It’s a simple enough thing for every American who cares to do, and Trump is powerless to prevent it. We apparently can’t stop the cost of mailing a ballot to increase from twenty to fifty-five cents, but if you don’t care enough about our country to buy a stamp, don’t complain about the outcome.

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Kamala and Joe

Alan Zendell, August 13, 2020

Sometimes, starting out getting a thing wrong is the best way to get it right. For three months, I was certain the best running mate for Joe Biden was Amy Klobuchar. Her Midwest roots, centrist policies, and law enforcement background made her the obvious choice. When the pandemic struck, forcing major cities to shut down and throwing millions out of work, her straightforward, easygoing sincerity made her an even better choice.

Then, her own state sabotaged her when three Minneapolis police officers murdered an unarmed black civilian in plain view of anyone with a phone camera. From that moment on, the Black Lives Matter movement dominated the election cycle, making it inevitable that Biden would have to select a black woman as his running mate, and inspiring President Trump to order unidentified federal officers to attack peaceful civilian demonstrators and threaten to have a federal police force occupy cities controlled by Democrats. Klobuchar withdrew her name and advised Biden to choose a woman of color.

After that, my favorite was Susan Rice because I can’t resist an intellect as powerful as hers, despite the fact that her close ties to the Clintons and her involvement in the Benghazi debacle made her a lightning rod. That’s twice I was wrong, but no one had asked my advice. I had nothing against Kamala Harris, but I thought her aborted presidential campaign was too forced and staged, and lacked the likability that had drawn me to Klobuchar.

When Biden announced Harris as his choice, I accepted it as inescapable. I was ambivalent, waiting for their first appearance together. And wait we did, for three hours, as the event scheduled for 2 pm yesterday in Wilmington, didn’t get started until 5. We knew they both had to be at their best.

Biden spoke first, and did exactly what he had to. Fully aware of the right-wing spin that his life-long stuttering affliction is actually mental infirmity, he knows he must always speak at a measured pace. It’s a double whammy because when he restrains the passion he feels, he‘s criticized for not having enough fire in his belly. I thought he found the perfect balance, yesterday, pacing himself and never raising his voice, while letting his anger at the failures of the Trump administration and his compassion for its many victims come through clearly. His basically gentle nature, devoid of insults and name-calling served him well. He was the perfect Antitrump.

Harris watched from across the room, smiling like an excited school girl anticipating her first dance. When she took the podium, the sheer joy of the occasion shone on her face. In fifteen minutes, she showed several different aspects of who she is. Her emotional description of the relationship between Biden and his deceased son, Beau, was heartfelt and genuine in a way we never saw when she was a presidential candidate. Her pride in being the first non-white woman to stand for one of the two highest offices in the country was unmistakable. She was charismatic in a way that surprised and delighted my wife and me.

When it was time to get serious, we saw the other Kamala Harris, the woman who is a brilliant prosecutor, who can argue a case coherently and logically in a way that anyone can understand. She laid out a tough indictment of the Trump administration, and most directly of the president himself.
She was entirely self-assured, completely on top of her game. She was so effective, I had a strange thought. Like the commercials that say, “I’m not a doctor, I just play one on TV,” I thought she couldn’t have done better if she were Meryl Streep playing herself.

I have never been so happy to have gotten something completely wrong. Harris is the perfect running mate for Biden, and in four years, she may stand alone as the only viable Democratic candidate for president. Except for dyed-in-the-wool racists, I can’t imagine anyone watching and hearing her and not entirely forgetting that she is Black or Indian or anything else. She will be a formidable running mate who will get under Donald Trump’s skin just by being herself and telling “her truths” as she likes to say.

Trump is absolutely incapable of dealing with a woman like Harris. The fumbling responses to her speech by his campaign, today, showed that despite knowing for weeks that she was Biden’s most likely choice, they still haven’t formulated a strategy for dealing with her. And when they come up with one, Trump will stay on script for perhaps thirty seconds, before his terror of facing off against a strong, competent black woman makes him lose control. It’s going to be great theater.

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Polling and Statistics

Alan Zendell, August 12, 2020

Any statistician or analyst will tell you that statistics can be a dangerous weapon in the hands of unscrupulous people. It’s almost a cliché that any analyst worth his salt can use the same data to support multiple mutually contradictory conclusions. (Full disclosure: I’ve been guilty of it myself on a number of occasions.)

Does that mean we can’t trust statistics? No. It means you should think before you draw any conclusions, something fewer and fewer Americans do these days. Gullibility about polls and statistics Is one symptom of the intellectual laziness that has made our nation susceptible to deceptive social media and political propaganda based on lies and distortions, both foreign and home-grown.

The first rule to keep in mind is that a trend cannot be inferred from one or two data points. Yesterday, the president offered as evidence that mail-in voting cannot be trusted, a claim that one state had mailed a ballot to a dog. In the early 1960’s when I was an undergraduate at Columbia, the Ivy League schools constantly tried to outprank each other. The hands down winner was a group of Princeton students who created an application for admission for a pet dog, complete with fake transcripts, awards, and letters of recommendation. Princeton accepted the dog. Even a school smart enough to have Albert Einstein on its faculty can be fooled.

Whether or not either story is true, they’re both irrelevant except for amusement. Highly unlikely events are not impossible, and they will occur in small numbers in all situations. The key is “small numbers.” They’re insignificant.

Another good rule is to apply common sense. Some polls are more reputable than others, and some well-intentioned pollsters make mistakes.

When George W. Bush was gearing up his re-election campaign in December of 2003, before cell phone directories were available, polls were conducted solely by interviewing people who had landlines and were willing to interrupt their dinners to answer phone calls. Many people questioned how such a polling universe could be representative of the entire population. I had an opportunity to put the question to Louis Harris, founder of the highly regarded Harris polling organization. He said, “Honestly, I have no idea why it works, but our results have been excellent.” It was an honest response, but not useful to someone looking for a reason to trust the results. That kind of conundrum plagues all polling. Sometimes pollsters are just lucky.

Rule three – before you believe the results of a poll or statistical conclusion, make sure you know the reputation of the reporting organization, who paid for the study, and what their biases might be. Ignore all social media polls. Major news organizations – NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, CNN – all have very respectable pollsters. It’s the fringe services, PACs, and party organizations asking for money you need to watch out for.

Rule four – pay attention to the margin of error. For most people that goes in one ear and out the other. Projections based on statistics are imprecise by definition. The margin of error defines a range of values, all of which are equally likely to be the right answer. If someone reports that the president’s approval rating is 40% with a margin of error of 3%, the only reasonable inference is that the right number could be 37%, 43%, 41.2%, or any other number between 37% and 43%. That becomes very important when his approval rating appears to change from week to week. If his approval rating was 40% last week with a 3% margin of error, and 42% this week, that isn’t necessary an increase, because last week’s correct number might have been 43%. On the other hand, it could be an even larger increase than it appears.

As the election draws closer and we’re flooded with poll results about candidates, whether parents are willing to send their children to school during the pandemic, how likely we are to have a vaccine this year, or how many hurricanes we’re likely to see before the election, your best defense against being misled is to use your brain. Ignore everything you read on social media and ask yourself if what’s being reported makes sense. Think for yourself and don’t accept anything just because you see it on a screen.

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