Now I know we are supposed to be sensitive to all the lost souls living in their extremist news bubble who let themselves be suckered into buying all of Trump’s phony, desperate – in need of medical attention – claims of fraud. But I don’t. Those assaulting the Capitol yesterday deserved to be tried and dealt with as terrorists, but as we know, in America, white guys’ hurt feelings always get treated with kid gloves.
Then Trump hammers the final nail in the coffin of the insanity of his presidency with a video message that is so psychotic, pathological and ridiculous that it is reminiscent of Hugo Chavez blabbering nonsense in his red tracksuit, or Baghdad Bob claiming US soldiers were committing suicide in the hundreds and that Iraq was destroying the US in the war, or Monty Python’s Black Knight sketch.
Abandoned by Pence, McConnell, Lindsey, and most of his White House staff (everybody except Ted-I-won’t-defend-my-own-dad-or-wife-Cruz), my hope is that those scenes at the Capitol yesterday were the pathetic but definitive demise of the “carnage” that was Trumpism and the last of the Trumpsters eagerness to be publicly punked and suckered by Don The Con.
Nothing we write about 2020 can start without the caveat that it has been a strange year. In a normal year, I average about two books per/month and generally reach around 24 books for the year. This year I struggled to hit 19.
The year started off pretty routine. I completed my last book of 2019 – Samantha Power’s memoir (coincidentally I am ending this year with Obama’s memoir) — and then did what I normally do, I turned to a George Pelecanos staple to pick up the pace. One day on my bus commute back from work (when no one thought twice about taking public transportation), I was listening to a podcast with an old interview of Mario Puzo where he talks about how his magnum opus was The Fortunate Pilgrim, not any of his mafia stories. So I read that, and then a variety of other books (including re-reading Dance Dance Dance) until finally Covid hit and the lockdown began.
During lockdown, I read the very appropriate The Plague, but also spent many nights reading about the virus. I didn’t touch Netflix, Disney Plus or Amazon Prime until the Fall. Instead I tried my hand at the Ken Follet Kingsbridge novels. At the end of the summer, I finally caved to the easy thrills of The Mandalorian, Cobra Kai, and then Seinfeld re-runs for lots of late 90s nostalgia.
So to make a long story short, there were lots of distractions from my normal reading pace, yet I was still able to get in some very good books. Here’s what I read this year:
How to Decide: Simple Tools for Making Better Choices by Annie Duke (currently reading)
The Promise Land by Barack Obama (currently reading)
A Column of Fire by Ken Follet
Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne Porter
Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
World Without End by Ken Follet
The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet
Deacon King Kong by James McBride
Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry That Unraveled Culture, Religion, and Collective Memory in the Middle East by Kim Ghattas
Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami (a re-read)
Shame the Devil by George Pelecanos
True Grit by Charles Portis
The Plague by Albert Camus
The Sweet Forever by George Pelecanos
Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation by Jeff Chang
The Fortunate Pilgrim by Mario Puzzo
Warrior of the Light by Paolo Coelho
In the Woods by Tana French
King Suckerman by George Pelecanos
The Kingsbridge series pretty much dominated my year. Of the three, A World Without End was my favorite as it takes place during the Black Death (which felt very timely). Kim Ghattas history of the cold war between Saudi Arabia and Iran to dominate the Muslim world by competing to push the extremist ideologies across the region was incredibly informative, as was Jeff Chang’s history of Hip-Hop culture. Dance Dance Dance like almost all of the Murakami novels I have re-read seemed much more flat and repetitive the second time around (which always breaks my heart because he has been one of my all time favorites). I loved The Fortunate Pilgrim which is an Italian immigrant family struggling to make it in Hell’s Kitchen during the Depression. I could imagine the characters as my grandmother and her brothers who suffered through the same time period and circumstances just a dozen blocks away. Butler’s excellent Parable of the Sower about an unraveled and dystopian American society felt all too possible. And of course, for a DC boy like me, anything by George Pelecanos is always enjoyable. All in all, though, I will go with A World Without End as my favorite read of the 2020, with Parable of the Sower coming in second.
It’s hard to find words to express just what Donald Trump has pulled off.
By all accounts, Trump lost in a historic blow out. Forty days after the election with all 50 states having certified, Biden won with 306 electoral votes and defeated Trump by some 7 million popular votes. Trump lost 57 times at court, including twice at the Supreme Court. Judges across the country, including many Republican judges and one appointed by Trump himself laughed him out of court. Regardless of all of his screaming and yelling about fraud, Trump failed to present any evidence of fraud at court (contrary to his stump speeches, many of Trump’s suits weren’t even alleging fraud). During Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation proceedings, Trump stated that getting her on the Court would secure his ability to win the election, as if he expected to lose all along but hoped to prevail by stacking the Court in his favor. Nevertheless, all of his appointees ruled against him (twice).
All of this would mean a humiliating defeat for Trump. But not so fast. Since election day, we kept hearing Trump surrogates saying that the president deserved his day in court and that he had every right to exhaust his legal remedies. As any lawyer will tell you, the decision to litigate is essentially a business decision: is the risk of losing worth the financial investment? If a litigant has no money to put up but has a strong case, then he’ll have no problem finding a competent lawyer to do the work on a contingency fee basis, meaning the litigant only pays the lawyer if his wins the case. Furthermore, a reputable lawyer won’t put his name on a case that is doomed to failure, even if the client is paying big bucks. This is how the American free market manages frivolous lawsuits.
So step into Trump’s world. Trump puts up no money at all. None of the leading Republican election lawyers want anything to do with the case, and instead of agreeing to take the case on contingency, Rudy Giuliani increases his fees to the astronomical amount of $20,000/day regardless of having no expertise in election law. In other words, neither Trump or anyone around him actually believes that he will prevail.
But who cares, right? Trump is America’s greatest conman. One of the keys to being absolutely convincing is to show absolute conviction to your target audience (and that your audience wants more than anything to believe the con you are selling, like a make-it-rich-quick university degree). And that is exactly what Trump did and continues to do.
After collecting over $200 million in donations for his legal defense, of which Trump is only required to allocate 15% to the actual legal defense, Giuliani has lost those 57 cases I have mentioned. But again, who cares? Trump keeps screaming and yelling and people keep handing him over their hard-earned cash. Fifteen percent goes to Giuliani at a rate of $20,000/day and Trump gets to keep the rest for whatever yes whatever he wants. When you are racking in hundreds of a millions of dollars without having to win a single lawsuit, losing is a pretty lucrative business model. In fact, why would you ever want to win if the suckers keep paying you to lose?
But this is what confuses me: does Trump truly, honestly and sincerely believe that he is the biggest victim in American history — the victim of a conspiracy so wide, so vast and so deep that the entire American eco-system and all of its players, including Republican election officials, attorney generals, secretaries of states, and Republican appointed judges at all levels have conspired against him – or whether this is just Trump using his unique skills to pull off one final con job before leaving office? Either way, it is absolutely, undeniably pathological. Worse are all those suckers who keep falling for another classic Trump swindle.
A few quick reflections on the election after the election:
The Election Came Off Exactly as Trump Predicted
Donald Trump insisted that his constituents vote in person, that if he lost it would only be because of fraud, and therefore the winner must be declared on Election Night. For a number of reasons, it was widely predicted that Republicans would vote in person, Democrats would vote mainly by mail, and that it would take days to process the mail-in votes. Trump’s entire game-plan all along was to discredit those Democratic votes which would be counted last. In fact, it was so predictable that Republican legislatures in states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania refused election commission requests to allow for canvassing and processing of mail-in votes prior to election day. The result was exactly as expected: a massive back-log of mail-in votes that would not be counted until after the in-person ballots were counted, allowing Trump to try to call the election early on Election Night and then claim all other votes were fraudulent.
It Was Clear Trump Lost When He Claimed Victory
When Trump called victory and cried fraud on Election Night prior to tens of millions of votes had even begun to be counted, it was clear that even Trump knew he had lost.
Crying Wolf – The Modus Operandi
Trump always lashes out, cries, whines and blames everyone else when he loses. He did the same when he lost the Iowa primary to Ted Cruz back in 2016. Trump has never taken responsibility for anything in his presidency. He blames everything on everyone else all the time. He often threatens lawsuit or demands investigations. It’s always pure theater. The lawsuits never happen and the investigations always miraculously disappear (think of his demands to investigate Hilary or FBI wrongdoing, most of the time the evidence makes Trump look even worse).
No one in American history has ever been treated as unfairly as Trump, right? During the past four years, everyone from local and federal law enforcement to (Obama appointed and Mexican American) judges, the DOJ, State Department, Pentagon and Intelligence community, the Chinese government and the entire establishment press have been systematically corrupt for the sole purpose of victimizing Donald Trump. Forget police killing innocent people, the fact that more Americans are imprisoned in the US than in any other country (the vast majority for non-violent crimes), or that now over 200,000 Americans have died of Covid . Forget that the Republican party has “gutted Voting Rights Act, sabotaged USPS, closed polling places, purged voters, attacked mail voting, tried to throw out ballots & fabricated evidence under oath”. Trump is America’s biggest victim.
The Press Does Not Decide Who Won
Neither does Donald Trump, who demanded to be called victor on Election Night. The custom (but not the law) in American politics is that when it becomes absolutely clear that one candidate has a share of the votes beyond the margin of error, then normally the following happens: (i) the press calls one of the candidates the winner, and (ii) the losing candidate gracefully concedes. But the presidency is only granted to a candidate when (i) each state has certified the winner in its respective state, (ii) the electoral college meets, (iii) the elector college gives the votes to Congress, (iv) Congress counts the electoral college votes, (v) the candidate is sworn in. When it appeared that Hillary would demand recounts, Trump surrogates went ballistic.
A Biden Landslide
This election saw record turn-out, and even though Trump got more votes than any other losing candidate in history, it appears that when all is said and done, Biden will have won by +5 million votes, the highest percentage in half a century, and the largest margin won by a presidential candidate challenging an incumbent since FDR.
Furthermore, Biden appears to have split the ticket. Republicans voted for him for the presidency but then voted for Republican congressmen down ballot. That means that Biden in fact helped Republicans win congressional elections more than Trump did. It’s hard to see how fraud would have been possible on the top of the ballot but not the bottom.
The Election Results Will Not Change
In any election, especially close elections there are always a number of irregularities, and states have mechanisms for addressing them. This is why it take states days to review, collect and recount ballots before certifying their final results. In states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia we would expect to see recounts, in accordance with local law, where the vote margins are below a certain thredhold. In the states where Trump is contesting the election results, the vote differentials appear to be well above the threshold where a Trump challenge would overturn the election results. Even Republican loyalist Carl Rove admits Trump will not be able to overturn the election results.
There is No Fraud
While there may be irregularities that are corrected by the normal processes, not a single state election commission has presented any case of voter fraud on the scale that Trump is claiming or in any way that would change the outcome of the election. In fact, election officials are directly contradicting Trump. Here is the Philadelphia City Commissioner (a Republican) saying that his team has seen no evidence of fraud and that he is receiving death threats for “counting votes … in a democracy”.
And in one case Trumpsters were hanging their hats on, the postal worker who alleged witnessing vote tampering has since recanted. He had been paid $130,000 by the GOP.
Trump is Not Entitled to His Day in Court
We keep hearing the simplistic soundbite that Trump is entitled to his “day in court”. That is just not correct and isn’t how our judicial system works. First Trump needs to establish a basis under state law (in each state where he is contesting the election results) for bringing a claim. There are series of things that a court will look at when they decide whether to hear a claim, like whether (i) there is a cause of action , (ii) the court has the power to remedy the claim, and (iii) the remedy would in fact change the outcome of the election. In other words, the courts don’t just give people their “day in court” because the plaintiff is upset with something not going his way. Entertaining grievances just because is a waste of tax-payers’ money and the judicial system’s resources.
As a result, Trump’s ability to overcome a motion to dismiss seems incredibly unlikely. In other words, Trump almost certainly will not get his day in court. So far Trump is losing case after case in state courts, and law firms are dropping him.
Who’s Going to Pay for Trump’s Lawsuits
In addition to the normal barriers that courts put on litigants to avoid their dockets being filled with frivolous lawsuits, lawyers’ fees are usually one of the biggest deterrents to litigation. So who is going to pay Trump’s legal fees? Certainly not Trump. We do know that Trump is hoping to con his supporters into donating to his legal case (but in the process they’re mainly just paying off his campaign debt). Now we see that Attorney General Barr is trying to pull in the DOJ to get tax-payer money to cover some of Trump’s fishing expedition. So whenever you hear Trump or his supporters say he is going to fight this, follow the money to see who the real sucker is.
Tax-Payers Have Had to Pay More because Trump is Trump
During Trump’s entire presidency, tax-payers have had to fit the bill for Trump’s constant visits to his golf clubs and resorts (mainly because he didn’t like Camp David or hanging at the dumpy White House). This would not have been the case with any other president. So if putting up with Trump’s fraud claims is about humoring his narcissism and inability to accept losing, then again the tax-payer and the entire government infrastructure is stuck with fitting the bill for an eggshell president.
What’s Trump’s End Game?
Narcissism aside, we are often told that Trump is above all else transactional. Pretend for second that you believe that Trump is a master dealmaker. In that case, Trump’s entire temper-tantrum isn’t because he actually believes there is fraud or has any intention to litigate but rather he is using his concession as leverage. So what would Trump want in exchange for a deal to concede? Maybe state and federal immunity for him and his family? Maybe he is just trying to milk his supporters for money to cover his costs. Maybe it is pure narcissism after all, and he is trying to convince himself that he is not a loser but the greatest victim in American history. The greatest I say!
What’s the GOP’s End Game?
It is undoubtedly clear that Trump will not succeed in altering the final election results in court. It is also clear that Republican Senators who just won will be in office for the next six years and therefore don’t need to pander to Trump anymore. I can then only think of two reasons why an elected Republican congressman would roll with Trump’s cry-baby narrative: (i) Republicans need to rally Trump’s most ardent supporters in order to win the Georgia senatorial run-off and thereby retain their Senate majority, and (ii) there is no new Republican front-runner to take Trump’s place. The ones shouting the loudest are the ones who are contending for that role.
What Happens to the Biden Coalition?
Bide won not be inspiring the Left but by building a coalition of those who could not stand Trump any longer. These included the entire array of Democrats from progressives like AOC and Sanders to right of center Democrats like Biden himself. It also included the Lincoln Project folks, Never Trump Republicans and foreign policy hawks. The success of this coalition also meant that many Republicans who voted for Biden, down ballot voted for Republican congressmen. In other words, Biden’s sweep of the presidential election did not translate into a Democratic sweep of Congress. The younger generation of his party leans progressive but Biden has always leaned right. If Biden sides with Republicans, he’ll lose his party’s base, and if he sides with the progressives he’ll lose the Never Trumpers. When push comes to shove, Biden’s intuition will take him to the right, and no matter how he leans, Mitch McConnell will always push him further to the right. It is just a matter of time before the Democratic party is in chaos.
The Old Man and the Transition
When my eldest son saw Biden on TV a few weeks ago, his reaction was, “that guy is so old”. Biden appears too old to maintain the rigorous schedule of a younger president like Clinton or Obama. I am not convinced he will last the full term. This reminds me of when Pope John Paul II passed away and the Vatican named the elderly Benedict XIII to replace him. Sometimes you need an old person to act as the short-term buffer when the democratic institutions and society cannot handle the need for radical change that the times demands.
Coke vs. Pepsi
On the eve of the election I was watching French television making fun of US politics. One of the jokes was that the American presidential election was between two candidates: one who was right wing and the other who was right wing. At the end of the day our entire political spectrum has been reduced to nothing more than an irrational tribal choice between two groups that are about as different as Coke and Pepsi. And when all is said and done – regardless of trumped up issues like abortion or guns geared to make voters choose a brand – both govern in exactly the same way and for the benefit of the same elite corporate and private interests. This year the difference – which did feel important to me – was that one party was represented by an offensive cartoonish conman with no respect for anyone or anything other than himslef. The other guy really didn’t matter.
Along the lines of what Van Jones said, Trump losing makes it so much easier to sell to our kids that lying, cheating, insulting, calling people childish names, and disrespecting others just doesn’t pay.
UPDATEDNovember 13, 2020:
A TV Gig
In my original post, I stated that Trump being transactional was likely withhold conceding in exchange for something: maybe for immunity from prosecution or simply for his ego. Now that it is absolutely clear that Biden won, Trump has no leverage left. All he can do is try to salvage his winner-persona with his loyal fans. Over the last decade — according to leaks of his tax filings — Trump has only made money from his salary as a TV personality while his real estate ventures have largely been failures. I’m pretty convinced now that Trump’s endgame is a Hannity-like TV show where he can pontificate to his loyal followers and finally rake in some easy cash. Not his own network to compete with Fox, but a talk show where he parlay his victimization-persona to a group of loyal followers.
Disclaimer: written in haste, please forgive typos.
You may have wondered why during the past months I have not written much about the Trump presidency and almost nothing about the 2020 elections. The main reason is that regardless of Trump’s incessant lying, conmanship and projection (like giving his objectively unqualified adult children high profile roles in government while complaining about his opponent’s nepotism), Trump’s supporters have become so tribal that no matter what argument or facts you present, their dedication to him is unwavering. Not wearing masks – which makes no sense whatsoever –is a perfect example of the type of death cult fidelity test that Trump expects of his followers. In other words, engaging Trumpsters in a rational debate is worthless.
Nevertheless, there are a few issues relating to today’s election that merit discussing.
The End of the Union as We Know It
During recent years, I have argued that if the US continues to have elections where the winning candidate always loses the popular vote yet still becomes president then within 30 years we should expect to see separatist movements and possibly the breaking up of the Union.
Currently, the Republican dominated Senate represents 30 million voters less than the Democrat minority. Republican candidates have lost the popular vote in five of the last six elections, and even if Trump were to now win the electoral college, mostly like he will still lose the popular vote by anywhere between 2-7% points. How much longer will people in states like California or New York which are the motors of the US economy accept to be ruled by Republican-led White Houses they did not vote for and have their fundamental rights be adjudicated by a Supreme Court that absolutely does not represent their values?
Now Mitch McConnell and the GOP efforts during the past decade to suppress democracy have become more apparent than ever. Facilitated by judges appointed by the GOP dominated Senate (vacancies that Mitch blocked during the Obama years), Mitch and the gang have categorically dismantled the Voting Rights Act, have made it systematically more difficult for Democratic-leaning Americans to vote, and have engaged in other tactics – such as delaying mail delivery to impact the election. For example, normally it only takes five days for a letter I send here in Spain to arrive to my parents in the U.S. It took my ballot five weeks!
Voter suppression, either through a poll tax or outright terrorism has a long history in the U.S., defining the South for a hundred years from the Civil War until the Voting Rights Act. Recall that the police slaughtered peaceful protesters crossing the bridge in Selma when none of the African American citizens who represented 60% of the town’s population were permitted to vote. That was 1965 not 1865.
Today, the GOP has actively tried to rig the election, and Trump says he will not accept the results if he loses. His militias are threatening violence. The year is 2020, not 1965 or 1865.
Trump Knows He Cannot Win
Trump knows he cannot win democratically. During his term, Trump has never been able to break a 43% ceiling on popularity, yet in the waning days of the election instead of pitching to swing or undecided voters, he has focused exclusively on rallying his most ardent supporters. His stump speech is an all too familiar combination of narcissism, victimization and projection:
The fidelity test: lie about everything even basic stuff as a test of true obedience. Not wearing masks is a badge of honor.
Insult anyone that challenges his lies.
Project: accuse everyone else of doing secretly what Trump has done openly and with impunity (like conflicts of interest)
Whine, play the victim, call everything unfair. Trump is claiming that the only way he loses is if there is massive fraud.
Bravado and a call to arms: act tough, make threats and encourage others to engage in confrontation.
So in these final days as Trump perceives that his chances of victory dwindle especially with data on the record number of mail-in ballots, he is increasingly trusting that a combination of his cries of voter fraud, the confusion resulting from no definitive winner on election night and his pushing through a friendly Supreme Court justice may just keep him office long enough to dispute any unfavorable results. Winning over new voters was never his strategy.
Get Out of Jail Card
A shrewd strategist and lawyer friend has predicted that if he loses, Trump will dispute the results for the sole purpose of getting a deal from Biden so he and his family stay out of jail. In addition to Trump’s own legal troubles in New York, his family could also face prosecution. Recall that the GOP led Senate intelligence committee made criminal referrals to federal prosecutors with respect to Jared Boy and Donny Jr. Note that Rudy has been working overtime the past few weeks to stay out of jail by trying to keep Biden out of the White House. Trump has regularly used his position as president to argue that while in office he is not subject to indictment or even disposition. I’d love to believe in justice, but Biden does not have the ability to give Trump immunity from state prosecution, and more importantly, Trump knows that presidents don’t prosecute their predecessors lest they be prosecuted by their successors.
Live by the Sword Die by the Sword
We have never had a president think about and talk to the American people in such insulting, all-or-nothing divisive terms before. It is therefore no surprise then that with Trump’s rhetoric, for the first time in my lifetime, we have the real potential for election violence and even a coup. We have pro-Trump armed militias “standing by” who have been conned by Trump into believing that only foul play could make him the loser he’s always been. On the other hand, we have businesses in major cities boarding up shops, fearing that people – those who are living the nightmare of their communities disproportionately hit by Trump’s Covid inaction and who are witnessing a return to pre-Voting Act suppression — may take to the streets.
But I can promise you though that if Trump wins and businesses get looted, Mitch McConnell will have no problem suddenly coming up with the federal tax dollars for large retail chains damaged by looters. Yeah, the same money he couldn’t find to help out households ruined by Covid
Seriously, though, how much would it take for American society to look like the sectarian cluster-f@ck that resulted from the destruction of civil order in Iraq? I used to think we’d see revolution in thirty years, now I am hoping the country survives the week.
The World Wants a Thriving United States
Living abroad and working for a non-American multinational, I have had countless discussions over the past two weeks with people across the world who are extremely concerned about the potential for a Trump victory. With the exception of maybe Russia and Iran, every nation in the world, including even China, wants a thriving vibrant U.S. The world is a vastly safer and wealthier place when Americans do well because more than anything else, the global economy depends on the American consumer doing what we do best: buy lots of stuff. Even when certain industries or sectors may benefit in the short term from things like war or speculation, in the long term global markets need stability and certainity for capital to flow. Trump’s lack of coherence and his inability to create confidence in the stability of all things American from foreign and domestic policies to the peaceful transfer of power is a major threat to the entire world.
A Word on How Voting is Easier in Other Countries
I recently obtained the right to vote in Spanish presidential elections and in 2019, I voted. The physical effort of voting in Spain is so much easier for a number of reasons. Here are just two examples which are very common amongst most other developed countries. First, all citizens are required by law to have (and in fact to carry on themselves at all times) a national ID card. No citizen is unregistered and unidentifiable. Second, elections are held on Sundays. No one is put in the position of having to fit voting into their work schedule, but most importantly there are no long lines for voting. Of course, in states like Georgia hundreds of polling stations in minority districts were closed in order to create long lines designed specifically to discourage voting.
What Happens if Biden Wins
If Mr. Biden wins it won’t all be rosy for the Democratic party. Right now support for Biden is made up of a vast array of conflicting political interests from your traditional center-right Democratic establishment of which Biden fits very comfortably to your younger generation of much more liberal Democrats like AOC. Then you have your traditional Republican supporters like Romney and Never Trump Hawks like those in the Lincoln Project. Biden’s instinct will be to cater to where he is most comfortable and that is clearly right of center. But I predict that with Trump out of the picture, this Biden coalition will quickly erode, and we may even see the end of the Democratic party as we currently know it.
Who will Save Us (this time around)
If Trump does dispute the election results, then the only saving event will be the GOP leadership prioritizing democracy over power, and forcing Trump to concede. Trump will only last as long as his enablers let him. Maybe Mitch and the gang are happy enough to have gotten away with their judicial appointments and believe it is safe to dump Trump. Maybe. Maybe not. The problem is that if we don’t fix the electoral process and how easy it is for one party to game the system, then yes maybe we can avoid civil war this time around, but not much longer.
There is a strongly held belief amongst many Americans that the Constitution (in particular the Second Amendment) not only protects the right of citizens to revolt against their government but in fact encourages them to arm themselves in case of an oppressive government. At the same time, America’s founding document – the Declaration of Independence – sets forth the oppressive conditions upon which a people have a right to revolt and seek independence from an oppressive government. Yet these same Americans NEVER take the side of African Americans when they are regularly abused by police. To the contrary, they take the side of the agents of the government, and deride them both when they protest peacefully as being unpatriotic and then as barbarous and counterproductive when they burn and loot.
The question is: how should an American act when treated with violence by the state that is supposed to protect them?
It is June 2020. Imagine having witnessed the following:
One hundred thousand Americans have died due to a pandemic. A disproportionate amount of the victims have been African Americans. While wealthy and suburban White Americans are able to either work from the comfort and safety of their homes or take private transportation to work, many African Americans in places like New York do not have these luxuries. They have to take mass transit and are required to work from the office. The White House refuses to roll out mass testing yet tests all of its personnel on a daily basis to keep the President safe. And just as the White House was pushing factories and working-class people to return to the office with no absolutely no health or legal protections for workers – ignoring its own experts’ warnings – Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar blames African Americans for their high death toll as if it were caused by their own moral failings.
Who is looting whom? The billions in Covid aid have gone to the wealthy and their businesses, including those close to the president — with only a couple of trinkets going to the average Joe. The President regularly milks the tax-payer for the costs of trips and events held at his personal businesses and resorts. Meanwhile, the police are constantly looting African Americans. After the Ferguson protests, the DOJ investigated the local police department finding coordinated efforts between the police, prosecutors and judges to shakedown African American citizens to get them to pay fines to make up from shortfalls in tax revenues caused by reducing taxes on the wealthier citizens. Then you have civil forfeiture that allow for police departments to keep any cash they seize during drug raids and stops even if the police do not prevail at court. That is looting.
Concerted efforts by the president to make it more difficult for African Americans to vote.
A president who constantly whines that he is uniquely the victim of law enforcement abuses while constantly accusing other of crimes and threatening them with prosecution from the Central Park Five to Ted Cruz’s father, Hilary, Biden and Morning Joe.
After years of calling on the NFL to fire athletes who exercise their First Amendment right of free speech through peaceful protest, President Trump whines about Twitter oppressing his rights by putting a caution label on tweets where the President himself is threatening violence.
Small groups of white people – though highly publicized in the press – protest against social distancing and mask-wearing ordinances imposed to protect society. Some of them protest heavily armed, forcing the Michigan legislature to close – a threat of violence for political gain is terrorism by definition. Nevertheless, none of these White protesters were treated with the type of hostility and show of might that are so common whenever African Americans protest.
So now all hell breaks out on the streets of many US cities. At first, I agreed with this impassioned speech by Killer Mike:
Ultimately those who believe they can overthrow oppression with force have no means to stand-up to the militarized police, not even the White Second Amendment Crew decked out in the favorite costumes. Plus, we all know that Trump will spin the protests to only increase tension.
Then I saw this monologue by Trevor Noah of the Daily Show:
And he is absolutely right: when the people do not believe the rules of the game protect them, then they will stop playing by the rules. This is a truth as old as time. So why not loot? Plus, there is an argument that these past days of rioting have achieved more attention than a QB taking a knee or years of peaceful BLM rallies?
I definitely don’t know the answer to how people should act. But I do know that I cannot stomach when the oppressed are told violence is not the answer, especially after their peaceful protests are constantly mocked and when done by those who ALWAYS resort to violence or the threat of violence as the solution to any dissent.
Last night I went on a Facebook rant:
One thing I find so astonishing about America is this particular group of conservative psychopaths who are obsessed with cosplay/fantasy military fetishism. They dream of playing GI Joe and are convinced the Constitution gives them the right to be terrorists. Well, they don’t call it terrorism. They call it arming themselves against a potentially abusive government. Ironically they are the same people who worship unfettered police power and the militarization of police. What is more representative of big government out of control than a militarized police force that is almost never held accountable or “personally responsible” for their actions? These same role play fanatics get to protest against having to wear masks during an unprecedented pandemic. And how do they protest? By threatening violence, decked out in full fetish military costumes. How does the police react? They do nothing!!!!!!
Then you get a group of people who are protesting against being killed and hunted by the police and lynched in 2020 and the police show up dressed in military gear like they’re about to invade Iraq. Do the conservatives who believe in standing up to oppressive government support them? No! Of course not, they’re too busy having boners watching the police in their sexy military gear.
And there it is folks, I just revealed the dark secret of American culture. The same people who worship violence and the military, who use the threat of violence ALL THE TIME, have the gall to tell others that violence is not the way to protest.
When has Trump not threatened every American or foreign country that has disagreed with him? He either insults, belittles, threatens with incarnation, sanctions or invasion and violence. EVERY SINGLE TIME.
I am against violence. Is anyone else in America? I have been living abroad for 20 years. No one else in the world talks like Americans. No one else throws around the threat of violence like Americans. No one!!!!
You can’t make this shit up. As if to prove my point that Americans – even when denouncing violence, always turn to violence as the solution — President Trump then uses tear gas (a form of violence) to disperse peaceful protestors so he can give a speech. And what is his message? Does he stand arm-and-arm with African American leaders and police forces to march as a symbol of peace? Of course not. He holds a Bible and threatens the citizens of the United States of America with military force if they cannot behave.
Somehow along the way, the President forgot that this all started with the police killing people with impunity. Yet again We the People can only seem to muster up two types of solutions to all our problems: violence or tax cuts. Wait, when White people are killed by other armed White people there is another option: thoughts and prayers.
So what is an American to do? If violence doesn’t work, then why is violence always the answer?
Can anyone tell me what is the White House’s official position on the virus? Is it a deadly virus and national security threat or no biggie, like a flu that kills lots of people too? If it’s not a big deal, then how were the Chinese government and WHO underplaying its significance?
If the virus is not so deadly – at least not for White people or those with optimal health like the Healthiest President in History™ then why does the president say he needs to undergo an experimental preventive treatment that has yet to be approved by the government that the president himself administers?
Do we need more testing to be safe or not? If we don’t need testing, then why is everyone who works at the White House tested on an ongoing basis? Is that for their protection or for the president’s? Why should White House personnel be tested and not, for example, workers at meat packing facilities?
And if the virus’ threat has been over-hyped by the lame-stream media, then why must the U.S. close its boarders. Are we supposed to be afraid or not?
So if 90,000 dead isn’t such a big deal, we don’t need to wear masks or be tested, and we should drop all these silly restrictions, then:
China and the WHO did not do anything wrong
White House personnel don’t need tests either
Trump does not need to take preventative medication
Hypocrisy from a politician, especially from Trump, should come as no surprise. And now after three years with Trump, we’ve seen that whenever Trump’s poll numbers look real bad or when Trump has almost no excuses for his own incompetence, misdeeds, or misuse of power, Fox News will always run headlines about Obama or Hilary (or accuse his rivals of felonies. This is to remind Republicans that even though Trump may be scum, the reason they support him is because they hate Obama and Hilary.
So with the Covid-19 death toll now exceeding 80,000 with no plan or end insight, Fox News and Trump are – you guessed it — focusing on Obama. But what I find most interesting is how all of Trumps’ defenses to his own misdeeds are a direct contradiction to every allegation he makes against his rivals.
Trump has two defenses:
those who accuse him are partisan, and therefore per se those accusations are illegitimate (unfair, no due process and fake news), and
as his entire legal team argued before the Senate, a president is essentially above the law. A president does not commit a crime or engage in wrongdoing as long as he believes it is in the country’s best interest, and if the president believes it is in his own political best interest then it is per se in the country’s best interest.
So if Trump and Republicans are accusing Obama or Biden (in the case of Ukraine) of having acted improperly shouldn’t we then have to apply #1 above and disregard these accusations as being political motivated and therefore illegitimate? How is there due process and impartiality in leading crowds with “lock her up”? Furthermore, if Obama believed it was in his own political interest to have Flynn investigated (or if Obama and Biden believed it was in the White House’s best interest to have Hunter on the board of Barisma), then according to Trump’s own defense in #2 above, it was 100% kosher.
Next you have the Trumpsters telling us that Americans should be extremely concerned that if the government can spy on Flynn, they could be doing it to you too. I would definitely agree that from Bush to Obama to Trump, the unfettered surveillance of American citizens is appalling. So are Trumpsters now calling Edward Snowden a hero or demanding an end to the Patriot Act or FISA? Of course, not. In fact, Mitch McConnell is expanding the Patriot Act to make it easier to do exactly what Trump is accusing law enforcement of having done to Flynn.
And finally, the epitome of hypocrisy here is Kenneth Starr. Remember Ken Starr? Ken Starr who just a few months ago was part of that entourage of Trump lawyers arguing tooth and nail in the Senate that presidents can do whatever they like. Now Starr suddenly thinks those novel rules would not apply to Obama and just as he previously believed they didn’t apply to Bill Clinton. Ken Star who — together with none other than Brett Kavanaugh — deliberately orchestrated a series of salacious questions about sex acts to entrap Bill Clinton into perjuring himself (knowing it would be a major personal and political embarrassment) because they didn’t have enough evidence to get him on the underlying crimes they were investigating. Now that same Ken Starr is arguing that the FBI improperly entrapped Mike Flynn into perjury, and therefore Flynn’s guilty pleas should be withdrawn, and all charges dropped. Like magic!
Absolutely everything that Trump, his Republican henchmen and Fox News have excused Trump and his entourage of doing, they now accuse their rivals of doing. You cannot make this stuff up !
At the beginning of confinement back in March, one of my first thoughts was that lockdown was going to be a lot like Ramadan, just instead of not eating, we wouldn’t be able to go outside. One clear difference, though, was that with Ramadan at least you knew it would last no more than 30 days.
This is only my third year observing Ramadan, but my wife who has celebrated it her entire life always says (and I can now corroborate) that the first week is hard because your body is adjusting. The last week is hard because of the anticipation of it being over. During both the first and last weeks, you are very vocal. You spend a lot of energy speaking to friends and family, first about what you are preparing for evening meals, and then later about what you will do when Ramadan is over. It is that middle period – the in-between days where no one is as excited about what they are cooking and no one sees the light at the end of the tunnel – that is the hardest. Things get real quiet and fasting becomes tedious, losing its celebratory luster.
When confinement began, I switched what I was reading at the time and re-read Camus’ The Plague. One of the things that struck me the most was this comment from one of the characters:
At the beginning of a pestilence and when it ends, there is always a propensity for rhetoric. In the first case, habits have not yet been lost; in the second, they’re returning. It is in the thick of a calamity that one gets hardened to the truth. In other words, to silence. So let’s wait.
That is exactly how I have felt during this prolonged period of confinement. At first, it was about adjusting to the staying inside, and now it is about what the new normal will be like as we try to slowly reopen. In the middle, it has been real quiet and tedious.
Today is day 15 of Ramadan, so I am in the midst of the silence, routine and grunt of it (and also the secondary effect of lots and lots of hunger-induced typos and grammatical errors). On the bright side, I have shaved off a couple of pounds/kilos.
One of the most newsworthy but least reported stories to come out of Covid-19 is the geopolitical irrelevance of the US on the international stage, signaling the demise of Pax Americana and the US’ role as the indispensable nation.
I have already written why I believe that China will emerge as the new global leader in the same way that the US did after World War II. Surely the Chinese government has its degree of responsibility for this outbreak (without getting into a debate about the virus’ origins). Nevertheless, China is now taking advantage of the vacuum in US leadership to wield soft power in ways that the US used to. China is sending supplies, experts, and aid throughout the world. The US is at home, making a fool of itself.
Think about every major geopolitical and humanitarian crisis since World War II and how the world has looked to the US to lead. But now for this first time since World War II, the US is playing absolutely no leadership role in alleviating the global crisis, and quite frankly, no one is asking.
Some of this makes perfect sense. First, right-wing populists have always played the anti-multinationalism and isolationist game. This has generally been lip-service. A huge part of US hegemony has been making sure the world is absolutely dependent on our disproportionate military, financial and commercial muscle. So while we may whine about the US having to play global police or subsidize more than our fair share, it has always been in our selfish, best interest to pay that price and maintain our dominance. But because Trump has mainstreamed populism – ignoring the leverage that we have had, pulling out of treaties and threatening to pull US financial and logistics support to NATO and international organizations – the rest of the world is simply moving forward without us.
Second, the US failure to take the lead globally with Covid-19 relates to the fact that this is the first time in our country’s collective memory that we have faced a sustained and significant threat on U.S. soil. Even Pearl Harbor and 911 were one-time attacks and we were able to mobilize against them by fighting abroad with the vast majority of fatalities occurring abroad. Ironically, a small group of Americans are protesting the lockdown, social distancing and confinement as unduly hindering their personal freedoms without considering that what they are living through is a mild peaceful version (without constant bombings) of what people in Iraq and Afghanistan have had to endure when the US took revenge on the wrong people after 911. The US has always been able to fight its battle without feeling the imminent threat at home, and Covid-19 has changed that.
Most of the world still remembers the lies and fraud leading to the Iraq war, so imagine how those in the rest of the world perceive the absurdity of Trump’s press conferences, binge tweeting and more importantly the total absolute lack of an American plan even after months. This may likely be the nail in the coffin. Applebaum writes:
I wish I could say for certain that a President Joe Biden could turn this all around, but by next year it may be too late. The memories of the prime minister at the airport, welcoming Chinese doctors, will remain. The bleach jokes and memes will still cause the occasional chuckle. Whoever replaces Pompeo will have only four short years to repair the damage, and that might not be enough.
And if Trump wins a second term? Any nation can make a mistake once, elect a bad leader once. But if Americans choose Trump again, that will send a clear message: We are no longer a serious nation. We are as ignorant as our thoughtless, narcissistic, ignorant president. Don’t be surprised if the rest of the world takes note of that, too.
Most likely the geopolitical impact of Covid-19 will be that countries tighten borders – as the biggest threat to countries that have best controlled the virus will be from those entering the country from abroad – meaning more domestic travel and trade, less transboarder transactions, and increased nationalism. This sounds very much like Trump and his supporters worldview.
But as I wrote previously, the world didn’t want American style democracy after World War II because of its ideals. They wanted to live prosperous American lives with big cars and big houses. They wanted to live in a country not destroyed by war. When a country — especially a developing country – looks at who is prospering and who they want to become, they will see two models. One will be where there is lots of political bickering, childish insults, partisanship, gridlock, nepotism, gerrymandering, inequality, and social unrest. The other will be a utilitarian and authoritarian regime that prioritizes the economic growth over individualism and was the first out of running. And most likely, they’ll remember the airplanes full of supplies, not the conspiracy theories from the one that sold them WMDs even before their Reality TV star was pushing miracle cures.
Not convinced? Yes, everyone is hoping the US quickly develops a vaccine or treatment, but dozens of other countries are also hard at work. But in the meantime, the red phone in the Oval Office isn’t ringing, and no one is knocking on the White House door to come to the rescue. That in the past 100 years is unprecedented.