Archive

Archive for November, 2020

In his final days in office, Trump is proving to be even more dangerous than Nixon was – posted 11/22/2020

November 22, 2020 Leave a comment

Back in 2018, I wrote about the Watergate parallels that connect President Trump and President Nixon. Even in Trump’s final days in office, eerie parallels hold. I would argue though that Trump is proving to be more dangerous than Nixon ever was.

At his end as President, Nixon faced articles of impeachment (a fate Trump has already survived). Nixon was utterly incapacitated by the fear that he would be forced out of the presidency. As described by Woodward and Bernstein in their book, “The Final Days”, Nixon was isolated at the end. He drank heavily and he was unable to sleep.

Like Trump, he spent his final days as president brooding about his deteriorating circumstances. He famously wandered the halls of the White House at night, weeping and giving speeches to the portraits on the wall. Meanwhile, his chief of staff, General Alexander Haig, ran things. Haig worried that Nixon might commit suicide. Haig worked with Nixon’s doctors to limit his access to pills and tranquilizers. Nixon told Haig,

“You fellows, in your business, you have a way of handling problems like this. Somebody leaves a pistol in the drawer. I don’t have a pistol.”

His aides believed Nixon might order tanks and armored personnel carriers to surround the White House to block his removal if things reached that point and he was ordered removed from office by Congress or the Supreme Court. There were active discussions about invoking the 25th Amendment because the President was appearing incapacitated to White House staff.

There was also concern that Nixon might not be willing to leave the White House. Defense Secretary James Schlesinger worried that troops might be needed to physically remove Nixon. Sound familiar?

Before Nixon’s end, it is worth recalling his schemes. Most infamously, Nixon had an enemies’ list. The list initially had twenty names and it included people like the actor Paul Newman, Congressman John Conyers and the CBS broadcaster Daniel Schorr. The list expanded to about 200 prominent Democrats. It even included New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath.

Nixon henchman Charles Colson turned the list over to White House counsel John Dean on September 9, 1971. The document described “how we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political opponents”.

Nixon’s goal was to discredit and silence his political adversaries. Like with Trump, revenge mattered to Nixon. He wanted payback on those who opposed him. Nixon wanted to use the IRS to audit and investigate the names on his list.

Nixon was not successful in this endeavor as he could not get the cooperation of the IRS Commissioner, Johnnie Walters. Walters refused to weaponize the IRS against Nixon’s enemies.

In a recorded conversation in the Oval Office, Nixon laid out his view of the job qualifications for the IRS Commissioner:

“I want to be sure he is a ruthless son of a bitch, that he will do what he’s told, that every income tax return I want to see I see, that he will go after our enemies and not go after our friends. Now it’s as simple as that. If he isn’t, he doesn’t get the job.”

After Walters rebuffed Nixon, on September 15, 1972 in another recorded White House conversation with John Dean, Nixon said, “Well, he’s going to be out. He’s finished.”

The mis-use of IRS tax audits made it into the articles of impeachment filed against Nixon. Trump has used his long-time lie that he is under a tax audit to avoid disclosure of his own taxes.

About Nixon’s enemies list, his successor as president Gerald Ford quipped, “Who can’t keep his enemies in his head has got too many enemies”.

There can be little doubt Trump has an enemies list and that list is long. It is not clear if that list has been written down. Someday, history will probably tell us. Trump has demanded absolute blind loyalty. There have been so many firings over the last four years, I would need pages to list all the names.

The list is not just the famous like James Comey, John Bolton, Andrew McCabe, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman or Christopher Krebs. It includes the names of many government officials who have been replaced or slated for replacement by pro-Trump loyalists. Part of Trump corruption is removing civil servants deemed disloyal and replacing them with hacks and political cronies.

One difference with Nixon, Trump has been far more successful in retaining the support of Republican leaders even after losing. Nixon faced significant defection on the House Judiciary Committee on the impeachment charges of obstruction of justice and abuse of power.

In August 1974, Senator Barry Goldwater and other GOP leaders met with Nixon and told him that if he did not resign, he would be impeached. Nixon had lost support in his party even though he still commanded the support of a hardcore of loyalists.

Today’s Republican Party, with few exceptions, has remained slavishly devoted to the Trump cult. This is true even in the aftermath of a decisively lost election. The Republican Party remains a study in amoral cowardice. Putting party above country, the party has passively collaborated with Trump’s attempt to overturn the popular vote and democracy.

While Nixon degenerated with alcohol abuse and self-pity, Trump has not gone that route. When not golfing, Trump has worked feverishly to figure out a way to hang onto power even in the face of a well-run election with no voter fraud.

Unlike Nixon, Trump has maintained a stronger hold on his party’s base. Many Republican politicians live in fear that whatever happens with the election, Trump will stay on as a kingmaker, purging those whom he feels were insufficiently loyal. Trump’s power over Republicans remains the fear he can have them primaried if they do not pass his flunkey test.

I do not see a gracious concession speech in Trump’s future. He is too committed to his narrative of winning even though he lost. The next six weeks before Joe Biden’s inauguration will be a good indicator of how low and demagogic Trump will be willing to get. Nixon at least in the end accepted his fate. So far that cannot be said about Trump.

Categories: Uncategorized

The decline of science and reason – posted 11/15/2020

November 15, 2020 Leave a comment

One peculiarity of our time has been the explosive growth of belief in conspiracy theories. Science denial has become a staple of the Trump era. Clear thinking is out. We have become like the Enlightenment-in-reverse.

A conspiracy theory is a falsely derived belief that the ultimate cause of an event results from the plotting of multiple omnipresent and omnipotent actors working together in pursuit of an often malevolent, unlawful and secret goal.

The number of conspiracy theories actively at play in our lives now is staggering. These theories have moved from the fringes to the mainstream. Evidence and science have taken a back seat.

We can begin with the 2020 presidential election. There was a heated contest between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Joe Biden won. But Trump and many Republicans say the race was stolen. Trump tweets about deleted and flipped votes. The Trump campaign complains about dead voters and massive voting machine fraud. He and his allies have orchestrated a “Stop the Steal” campaign across the internet.

The fact that there is no evidence of fraud – none – does not seem to bother him or the Republican Party. They continue with bogus lawsuits.

Trump had previously said the 2016 election was rigged even though he won. Again, proof did not matter. Trump had already manufactured the phony birther argument against Obama.

In the 2020 election, Biden won by over five million votes and he has a comfortable electoral college advantage but still Republicans indulge the fantasy that Trump won. They say illegal votes were counted without any specificity about what votes were illegal. Possibly this is intended to sow doubt about the legitimacy of Biden’s presidency much as birtherism was used against Obama.

The darker thread is the idea promoted by authoritarians that you cannot have trust in democratic institutions. This is a way to discourage belief in the vaiidity of voting. It is hard not to wonder if one future agenda of authoritarians on the political right is promotion of dictatorship based on inability to win a popular election. Voter suppression and control of the courts have not gotten them to a majoritarian result.

Of course, the fantasy that the presidential election was stolen is nothing compared to the Q’Anon delusion of a Democratic Party of satanic pedophiles operating out of a pizza parlor in Washington DC. Q’Anon has to remain the gold standard for collective insanity but it does show the degree of distrust of government that so many believe it.

A USA Today poll found half of Trump supporters believe in Q’Anon. One Q’Anon supporter, Marjorie Taylor Greene, got elected to Congress.

I am reminded of the Voltaire quote:

“Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.”

The pandemic is another current example of science denial. Trump acts like COVID-19 is a plot against him. He has said that the CDC had exaggerated the COVID threat to weaponize it and use against him politically. Right before the election he claimed that the media would only talk about COVID and that they would stop on November 4, the day after the election. Trump fans online claim that the pandemic spread was a result of a conspiracy between the Democratic Party and the Chinese government.

Without evidence, Trump assumed the Pfizer vaccine was delayed to hinder his re-election chances. For many months he has falsely said the end of the pandemic was “right around the corner” while hawking quack cures like hydroxychloroquine.

Instead of relying on science we have close Trump allies like Steve Bannon suggesting that Dr. Anthony Fauci be beheaded. Trump pedals the junk science of Dr. Scott Atlas with his theory of herd immunity which has resulted in an absolute disregard for human life with skyrocketing deaths.

Tens of thousands have needlessly died. If the government had had the simple scientific message of masking and social distancing, many thousands of lives would have been saved. Masks should be no more controversial than toilet paper as a public health item.

Know-nothingism is the new normal. On the environment, under Trump, climate change denial has ruled. Trump has called it a “hoax”, a “scam invented by the Chinese” and “a bunch of bunk”. Even though there is an overwhelming consensus among scientists about the reality of the climate emergency, Trump has said,

“I have a natural instinct for science, and I will say that you have scientists on both sides of the picture.”

The Trump Administration has failed to make the link between the more powerful hurricanes, catastrophic firestorms and rapid ice melt and climate change.

The Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th century undermined the authority of monarchy and the Catholic Church. Reason and the scientific method became increasingly hegemonic. Part of the Enlightenment was the promotion of individual liberty and religious tolerance.

For all our technological innovations, we now live in a world where knowledge is becoming delegitimized and scientific consensus is dismissed. We have been dumbed-down. We are not proving to be worthy successors to our Enlightenment heritage.

Categories: Uncategorized

Increasing hunger is an unspoken pandemic reality – posted 11/8/2020

November 8, 2020 2 comments

With all eyes having been fixed on the titanic battle between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, less attention has gone to the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences. That is tragic because, of late, the pandemic has been spiking. Even if we pay it less attention, the pandemic does not quit.

One pandemic-related problem that deserves far more attention is food insecurity. There has been a dramatic increase in the number of American households struggling to put enough food on the table. According to the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse survey data collected in October, 10.9% of all adults in America reported that their households sometimes or often didn’t have enough food to eat in the last seven days.

That number represents a big increase over the pre-pandemic rate. The Agriculture Department had previously conducted a survey in 2019 that found 3.7% of adults reported that their households had not had enough to eat at some point over the full twelve months of 2019.

There has been some attention paid to the loss of employer-connected health insurance for millions during the pandemic. The issue of possible repeal of Obamacare by the U.S. Supreme Court was prominently publicized during the Amy Coney Barrett hearings.The economic fallout for food, housing and employment should get much more coverage.

In the context of the pandemic, I have seen almost nothing in the media about the Trump Administration’s attack on the Food Stamp program (also known as SNAP). You would think the threat of increasing hunger in a pandemic would prompt positive steps such as raising food stamp benefits. That has not happened even with the virus again surging at a rate of over 100,000 new cases and 1,000 deaths everyday. Daily infection tallies are setting records.

The Trump Administration’s failure on the food front was highlighted by a recent federal court decision in October. In the case Bread for the City v Department of Agriculture, Chief Judge Beryl Howell of the Federal Court in Washington DC blocked a rule change that would have eliminated food stamps for almost 700,000 recipients. Nineteen states, the District of Columbia and the City of New York had sued to block the rule change.

The Trump Administration had targeted one group of food stamp recipients: non-disabled, working-age adults without dependents. This group is currently limited to receiving benefits for three months in a 36 month period unless they are working or are enrolled in an education or training program for 80 hours in a month.

Under present rules states had flexibility to waive work mandates. Congress had suspended these mandates in the Food Stamp program as part of coronavirus relief. When Judge Howell asked the Department of Agriculture lawyers how many Americans would have been denied benefits if the rule change was in effect during the pandemic, she wrote they were “icily silent”.

In her stinging ruling, Judge Howell wrote:

“The final rule at issue in this litigation radically and abruptly alters decades of regulatory practice leaving states scrambling and exponentially increasing food insecurity for tens of thousands of Americans.”

Judge Howell found the rule change was “arbitrary and capricious” and she felt the agency did not adequately explain how the rule comported with federal statutes. She did not think the change made any sense.

According to government statistics, there were 2.9 million of these recipients in 2018 and nearly 74% of them were not employed. States have had the ability to waive the work requirements for areas where unemployment was at least 10% or if there is an insufficient number of jobs as defined by the Department of Labor. The new rule would have removed that flexibility.

I would note the harshness of a rule that already limits eligibility to only three out of 36 months.

The rule change is one of three outstanding efforts that the Trump Administration has made to revise and shrink the food stamp program. They want to change categorical eligibility rules that could cut off an additional three million people. A further rule change would alter how allowance for utility expenses are calculated. The agency is still working on these rule changes.

The Urban Institute released a study that indicated the combined impact of these rules would cut 3.7 million people from food stamps in an average month. The changes would also reduce benefits for millions more and would result in 982,000 students losing automatic access to free or reduced-price school meals.

In the middle of a raging pandemic, with massive unemployment, a looming eviction and foreclosure crisis and almost incalculable financial hardship, you have to wonder about the rationality of government officials promoting large cuts in the food stamp program.

You could call it class war on the poor or just meanness. This is also happening at a time when grocery prices have shot up and many more people are relying on food banks.

Since the end of the virus is definitely not around the corner and because economic hardship is an ongoing fact of life for millions, shrinking the safety net now is a Marie Antoinette move. With food prices rising, a new coronavirus relief package should feature an across the board 15% increase in food stamp benefits. In the 21st century we need to make hunger un-American.

Categories: Uncategorized

Saturday pre-election chilling – posted 11/1/2020

November 1, 2020 3 comments

Ordpress.com

Categories: Uncategorized