Sunday, August 8, 2021

Are We Now Losing the War on Covid-19?

The title of this post conveys a decidedly pessimistic mindset. But it wasn't that way for me until pretty recently. As someone who is over 65 with additional risk factors, I was in no mood to take any chances of contracting the disease.  When the vaccines were announced late last year, I looked forward to the day when it would be my turn to get the shots. After I was fully vaccinated, I felt the euphoria of finally being able to safely gather with family and friends - a life that finally signalled a return to normal.

But even back then, most of us knew that we had only won the battle. To win the war, we first needed to vaccinate enough Americans to get us to that promised land of herd immunity. But even then we knew that the war would not finally be won until enough of the world’s population was vaccinated. It was no surprise that some of those here in America would be hesitant to take the vaccine. But seeing over 600,000 Americans perish from the disease, it was hard to believe that the resistance from those left to take the vaccine would last so long and be so entrenched. We were wrong. We were so very wrong…


Once the so-called Delta variant started to take hold, an epidemic sickened many of those who chose to remain unvaccinated. The progress we celebrated started to take a u-turn backwards. Will we need masks and lockdowns again? While the present vaccines still adequately protect the vaccinated against the Delta variant, the virus has not yet surrendered. There is reason to fear that if the virus hangs around long enough, there will likely be future variants that will elude our present vaccines. Will many of us, especially the older ones, need a third shot soon to keep us safe? And what about those under 12 who have shown that they too can get sick, but are unprotected for now because they are ineligible for the vaccine?


Put another way, until the virus is eradicated or at least brought under control, it will continue to become an increasingly dangerous threat - probably someday even to the vaccinated. There is only one way out of this to win the war - we simply must get enough of us vaccinated! 


While a shortage of vaccine supply is an obstacle to the long term goal of vaccinating the world, the more immediate obstacle is to get enough people vaccinated here in America where we have an abundant supply but too many who are hesitant to take it.


So how do we get enough of the hesitant to take the vaccine? This is a question without any easy answers. Polls have determined that this is far from a monolithic group. Many fall into different categories, each possibly requiring different strategies in hopes of winning them over.


In the interests of simplifying things, I believe most of the hesitant fall into one of two categories.


The first group is primarily politically oriented. While there are some on the left who haven’t been vaccinated, surveys show that many more on the right are stubbornly resisting the vaccine. With them, it is a libertarian streak asserting itself. To them, Americans must have the right to choose whether or not they will wear masks and whether or not they will take the vaccine. It’s all about FREEDOM! Government has no right to make this decision on their behalf. In his attempt to be “helpful”, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to take away the ability of public schools in Florida to enforce mask mandates on its students. In his eyes, this is a decision that belongs in the hands of parents and not big, bad government.


The second group more than anything else is just scared of the vaccine. A recent poll showed that among this group, there is far more fear of the vaccines than the diseases they are supposed to prevent.


Trying to persuade these people seems to be a tall order. The idea of imposing vaccine mandates at first blush looks to have more appeal. Want to work in an office or attend public events with others? Prove you are vaccinated or undergo periodic testing. Don’t want to take the vaccine without a bonafide medical exemption? The cost of your health insurance may go up. (Many smokers already pay more for health insurance.) While this may all sound appealing, in my opinion, this is something that should only be considered as a last resort. People who feel that their liberty is being taken away are not going to be cooperative to say the least. Even more disturbing, a number of unvaccinated people who were polled openly admitted that they would not hesitate to use fake vaccine cards to avoid exclusion from places where they would not normally be allowed.


So can enough of the vaccine hesitant be persuaded to take the vaccine? Although there are both Democrats and Republicans among the vaccine hesitant, it stands to reason that a Democratic administration is going to have a much more difficult time persuading Republicans/Conservatives. Indeed many of these people see vaccine hesitancy as a litmus test to prove they are real conservatives. But the irony of this all is that The Former Guy and his wife indeed took the vaccine. Unfortunately, it was done in a very quiet and low key way instead of being recorded on video for all of America to see. What is so regrettable is that this one man had the power to persuade more conservatives into taking the vaccine than anybody else in America. But true to his selfish nature, he apparently couldn’t be bothered to do so.


One thing that the Biden Team had right from the beginning was that when it came to persuading people to take the vaccine, the messenger was at least as important as the message itself. But despite assembling what appeared to be a formidable cast of celebrities to spread the message, the results have been to be kind, underwhelming. Perhaps if they could only find the most convincing spokespeople, they might be onto something.


Interestingly, in the last few weeks, a small clue emerged. For those paying attention, the vaccination rate lately has been slowly increasing. Nothing earth shattering, but a trend nonetheless. What could be the cause? While before most of the attention has been on the vaccine deniers, a new story has begun to dominate social media. 


One of the first of its kind was posted on Facebook by a Birmingham, AL intensive care physician, Dr. Brytney Cobia. With Alabama’s lowest vaccination rate in the country, she was suddenly surrounded by sick and dying Covid patients, most of whom strangely enough were still in denial over whether Covid was a real disease that demanded a vaccine to help evade its dangers. The post has since gone viral. But for those who missed it, here is a link to the story. 

“I’m admitting young healthy people to the hospital with very serious COVID infections. One of the last things they do before they’re intubated is beg me for the vaccine. I hold their hand and tell them that I’m sorry, but it’s too late," she wrote.


"A few days later when I call time of death, I hug their family members and I tell them the best way to honor their loved one is to go get vaccinated and encourage everyone they know to do the same,” she posted.


“They cry. And they tell me they didn’t know. They thought it was a hoax. They thought it was political. They thought because they had a certain blood type or a certain skin color they wouldn’t get as sick. They thought it was ‘just the flu,’” Cobia wrote.

But they were wrong. And they wish they could go back. But they can’t. So they thank me and they go get the vaccine. And I go back to my office, write their death note, and say a small prayer that this loss will save more lives,” she continued.

But even this was too much for some of the crazies who still believe in their lies.

Cobia declined a request for an interview on Wednesday, telling NBC News via text that she’s been receiving “threatening messages.”

There are many other similarly sad stories online. The reader can Google “unvaccinated regret” to see more. Hopefully, the reader can indulge me with sharing a couple more stories before I conclude.


Here is a gut-wrenching Facebook video diary by Travis Campbell from his hospital bed.

“I messed up big time, guys,” he said through an oxygen mask in one video posted to Facebook on Wednesday. “I didn’t get the vaccine … I made a mistake, I admit it.”


In his first couple videos in July, he was describing his illness in full, uninterrupted sentences. By July 31, he was talking only a few words at a time between strained breaths.

By Tuesday, he was lying in bed, struggling to talk about whether he and his wife would let hospital staff put him on a ventilator if needed.

That night appeared to be his darkest yet, because by Wednesday, he was recalling a difficult thought that came to him: He might not live to see his 19-year-old daughter’s wedding, whenever it comes.

“I had to make a phone call (Tuesday night) to my 14-year-old son … and I had to ask for his permission that if I didn’t come home, that he would give my daughter away” on her wedding day, Campbell said in Wednesday’s video.

I saved the final story to talk about Phil Valentine who is not just a recent victim of Covid, but who also used his conservative radio talk show to spread vaccine skepticism to his audience. This is his story. 

Conservative radio host Phil Valentine spent months preaching vaccine skepticism to his followers in Nashville. It seems like many of them listened. Tennessee has experienced a dramatic spike in the Covid-19 cases as the Delta variant has swept the nation, with the case rate ballooning over 220 percent over the past two weeks, according to The New York Times.

 

Among the newly infected is Valentine.

 

Valentine’s station, 99.7 WTN, announced on Friday that the host contracted Covid and that he is in “serious condition” in the critical care unit. The experience has led Valentine to reconsider his stance on the vaccine. “If he had to do it over again, he would be more adamantly pro-vaccination, and that is what he will bring in his message when he gets back to that microphone which we hope is sooner rather than later,” his brother Mark recently told News4 Nashville.


Valentine’s hospitalization is another needless tragedy in a pandemic that should have been all but snuffed out months ago. Thankfully, he’s had plenty of support. Since the announcement last week, friends and fans have expressed their well wishes on Twitter, and his family has kept followers updated on Facebook. “Phil & his family would like for all of you to know that he loves ya’ll and appreciates your concern, thoughts & prayers more than you will ever know,” 99.7 posted July 22nd. “Please continue to pray for his recovery and PLEASE GO GET VACCINATED!”

At the time of this posting, we do not know what Mr. Valentine’s ultimate fate will be. [Sadly, Mr. Valentine died from Covid 8/21/21] I’m sure there are some that if he were to die, wouldn’t shed a tear. He got what he deserved.


I don’t feel the same way. He may have put out a lot of anti-vaccine propaganda. But he was at least morally consistent in that he himself didn’t take the vaccine. I would categorize him as willfully ignorant but not evil. To my mind, the lowest of the low are those who put out anti-vaccine rhetoric while unbeknownst to others, he and his family have taken the vaccine.


I truly hope from the bottom of my heart that Mr. Valentine survives and makes a full recovery. And then I hope he gets on his knees and thanks the God he worships for granting him another chance for life. But most importantly, I hope he uses this second chance for life to own up to all the lies he has spread, going far and wide and talking to anybody who will listen.


As mentioned earlier, it’s often more about the messenger than the message itself. If President Biden tried to appeal to a hard core conservative by telling him to take the vaccine to save his life, he likely would accomplish little. At worst, the man might conclude that if Biden was giving him the advice, it might convince him once and for all to permanently ignore it. But the same advice coming from a fellow conservative he trusts and has come within a whisker of losing his life over the lies he believed - would be truly difficult to discredit.


If President Biden wants to launch an effective ad campaign to convince as many as possible to take the vaccine, using these conservative survivors to tell their story would be a most effective option. And for those who weren’t fortunate enough to have their dear loved one or friend survive, there would be no better tribute to their memory than saving as many lives as possible by persuading as many as possible -  to just take the damned vaccine!

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Will the Republicans Steal our Democracy?

Steal our democracy? That may seem over the top to some. But they certainly look like they are trying.

When Trump refused to concede the election alleging fraud, we figured it would only be a matter of time until he was done trying to find this alleged fraud. Maybe he won't concede, but once the Electoral College certified Biden's victory in December, this would finally go away. Indeed, most mainstream Republicans finally recognized Joe Biden as the president-elect. The actual meeting of the Electoral College in December was certification of Biden's win. That settled it - except for the electoral votes being announced in Congress on January 6 in what is (or at least should be) little more than a ceremony. But we all witnessed the rioters storming the Capitol, encouraged by Trump to try that one more time to retake the presidency believing the election was stolen. They were not successful but tragically, lives were lost in the process. The day is considered so tragic that this event is now referred to as 1-6, just like we do with 9-11.

Many Republicans in Congress said they were done with Trump even though most of them did not vote to convict in the impeachment trial. It was assumed that Trump would go away quietly, especially with his Twitter account being taken away from him. But after awhile, it became apparent that many Republicans at the state and local levels throughout the country were still fiercely loyal to Trump with as many as 70 percent of them believing that the election was indeed stolen from him and that Biden is not the legitimate president. This caused many Republicans in Congress to reevaluate their stance toward Trump. If the only way to win a Republican nomination in future elections was to endorse Trump, they will then become Trump supporters often going as far as endorsing the fraud that Trump still alleges (but without any supporting evidence).

To be a member of good standing in today's Republican Party, one has to pledge loyalty to Trump. If he wants to steal the election along with effectively stealing our democracy, this is more important to them than their oath to faithfully protect the Constitution. This is sadly from one of our two major parties.

To address what they claim as voter fraud, there have been voter suppression laws passed along with many in the works in states with Republican legislatures. The view of Democrats is that these laws are there to make it more difficult for black voters to come out and vote. Republicans deny this. But it is obvious that with their added restrictions it will be more difficult to vote. They are certainly not going to make voting more difficult for themselves. The only possible reason for these laws is to try and keep groups more likely to vote Democratic away from the polls. In other words, this is about gaining a tactical advantage for Republicans. The stuff about voter fraud is just a pretense that has been debunked many times. Every time an investigation of fraud is initiated (usually by Republicans), the amount of fraud found is close to non-existent. House Democrats have passed a comprehensive bill known as the For the People Act to address these abuses along with gerrymandering, a term for partisan redistricting. Needless to say, Senate Republicans are bitterly opposed to this bill.

The phony election audit conducted by Trump partisans in Arizona is just icing on the cake. In essence, the Republicans want to select their voters as much as possible but even worse, want to be able to overturn an election result they don't like. If this isn't an attempt to steal our democracy, I don't know what is!

But will they succeed? It's scary as hell but ultimately, I don't think they will.

The important thing to remember is that Republicans are still a minority of the American voters. Trump may be loved by many Republicans but he won a minority of the popular vote in both elections he ran in. All of this loyalty to Trump may indeed win primary elections. And in solidly Republican states, this will win general elections (just like before). However, in the swing states with all of the independent and especially suburban voters that Trump lost in the second election, this nonsense is not going to fly! What do you claim in your reelection campaign? That you did little more than help to spread crackpot theories that Biden is not the legitimate president? I think not!

The Democrats hold very slender margins in both the Senate and the House. And conventional wisdom says that the president's party will lose seats in the midterm elections. Although Republicans in Congress have voted in lockstep against Biden's bills, the polls show that Biden's recently passed Covid-19 relief bill along with his proposed infrastructure bill are surprisingly popular with many Republicans back home.

But for President Biden to keep passing bills, the Senate will likely have to end the filibuster. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has been solidly against this, wanting to negotiate with the Republicans to secure enough votes for passage each time. But he also said that the Republicans will have to be more than just the party of no. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised that Biden's proposed infrastructure bill will get zero Republican votes while promising to put 100% of his effort into opposing President Biden's agenda. Surely, Manchin will change his stance if the Republicans refuse to compromise on any bill. Yes, Manchin is a very conservative Senator from a state that Trump won by about 40%. But I have to believe that he wants his fellow Democratic president to succeed. Surely enough non-stop McConnell obstruction will eventually make Manchin change his mind about the filibuster despite promising to never do so. 

So when the midterms come along, who will have the better sales pitch to the voters? The Democrats who have provided help to a wide section of the population? - or the party of no? Having said this, a number of Republicans have shamelessly claimed credit to their constituents for benefits they opposed when the bills were voted on.  The Democrats will have to be alert and call out these hypocrites when they run for reelection.

But there is also a reason to be pessimistic. When President Obama took office in 2009, he pushed through a stimulus bill to rescue an economy in free fall along with passing Obamacare which provided health insurance for tens of millions more Americans. The voters 'rewarded' him with a crushing Republican victory in 2010.

Perhaps it's little more than wishful thinking that the Republicans won't someday steal our democracy. After all, another Trump can become president without all of the incompetence the former president displayed. Trump himself still talks about running again in 2024. But as long as the Republicans remain as the minority party, our democracy is so precious that I have faith President Biden and enough Americans will not let this happen!

Monday, March 1, 2021

Where Should We Get Our News?

Is this important? An emphatic yes! America is so polarized that it not only has two parties but sometimes totally different views of reality. News is what informs us on the reality around us. If there are different views of reality, it follows that some sources of news conform to reality more than others. Those with critical thinking skills naturally will want to seek the path to reality wherever it may take them. But for others, reality is what they want it to be or whatever they are told it is. Unfortunately, there are some who offer "news" that takes advantage of this latter mindset. Even if what they offer might not be true, they can be very persuasive. And when others around them confirm what they receive in their alternative views to be the truth, it can and does easily replace reality until different versions of reality become entrenched. In this case, I am not referring to different versions of reality as opinion which is perfectly OK. I'm talking about those who have their own set of facts. Of course this only leads us down the rabbit hole. For us to have a functioning democracy, we have to at least agree on a common set of facts to be able to settle our differences. But there are some "news" sources who thrive on this chaos. And that presents a serious threat to our democracy.

This is hardly hyperbole. Democracies go down that slippery slope when propaganda snuffs the life out of truthful discourse. This happened in the fictional novel 1984.  But it has also happened in a number of countries around the world that we used to think of as free, but no longer. This hasn't happened to America because we still have a predominance of news sources we can rely on. But for how long?

Much of what is predominating the airwaves is opinion/entertainment that some will consume as news. AM radio is dominated by right-wing talk shows with the late Rush Limbaugh (and many imitators) being the most prominent examples. Cable news has been dominated for some time by Fox News. Their news content is in my opinion OK. For example, Chris Wallace and Bret Baier are respected journalists. Interestingly enough, the Fox News political poll is widely respected throughout the industry. But their opinion/entertainment shows, such as Hannity, Tucker Carlson Tonight, The Ingraham Angle along with Fox & Friends are OK if you are of a conservative persuasion. But a steady diet of this without at least some straight news to achieve some balance may cause you to acquire their views as your own perhaps false version of reality. That is not at all healthy. Disclosure: As a flaming liberal, I prefer the opinion programming of MSNBC. But only so much. I need to spend enough time reading online newspapers like The New York Times and my local paper to get enough straight news and then make my ultimate escape to cooking shows before depression takes over. 

So where are the best places for us to get our news? This is subjective not just only based on preferences but based on how much appetite for news each person has. 

So here is my subjective list:

Newspapers (either online or an actual newspaper) are best based on breadth and depth of the stories they cover. They suit someone with enough appetite for news along with the willingness to pay a subscription to get through the paywalls many newspapers now have. But you get what you pay for!

Cable news channels can't cover as much as a newspaper. But they are better than the sources listed below. But cable news can be subject to more bias which the viewer has to critically evaluate.

Commercial TV network news is a favored source for many people. But these are 30 minute broadcasts that are loaded with commercials and fluff pieces since they need to entertain their audiences to get those all-important ratings. It's better than nothing but a superior choice is the non-commercial PBS News Hour. No fluff and lots of depth because it's an hour long newscast with no commercials and no need to entertain for the sake of ratings.

Commercial radio news can be good if the format is long enough to include a broad enough presentation of stories. Non-commercial National Public Radio (NPR) is an excellent alternative.

Local TV news is perhaps adequate but only if supplemented by other news sources. These broadcasts are a major source of revenue for local TV stations. So it's about grabbing your attention with the emphasis on flashy stories rather than substance for again, those all-important ratings. And there is now some insidious right-wing bias creeping into local TV with Sinclair Broadcasting Group now owning 193 stations across the country. This video that went viral shows how these stations can be programmed to parrot the views of their corporate parent.

Finally there is news from social media which is becoming more popular but it is in my opinion the worst of the lot. I would argue that social media news is not really news at all. Let me explain.

News as we all know, is a gathering of new information from the world around us. Since there are almost infinite reports of what's going on in the world, we need an editor with adequate journalistic standards to select what is most relevant with the stories normally presented in descending order of importance. Some may have more bias or skills but each presents a single broadcast to all of its consumers. But with social media news, each member of the audience picks the news stories they want. And because social media is about getting as many clicks on stories as possible to generate advertising revenue, the stories are offered based on what was read before. So someone who likes say, liberal stories will be offered lots more liberal stories. It's the same for conservatives, conspiracy theorists and others. So instead of news, it becomes an echo chamber that reinforces what is already believed - otherwise known as confirmation bias. For a fascinating look at this phenomenon in more detail, the reader is invited to check out The Social Dilemma now available on Netflix. What makes this so dangerous is that the information presented can be based on reality or something that was made up. This is perhaps the best explanation on why so many Americans have political beliefs that are not based on fact. 

Pew Research Center is a respected non-partisan polling organization offering this interesting article Americans Who Mainly Get Their News on Social Media Are Less Engaged, Less Knowledgeable. Here are a couple of charts from the article.



There are a huge number of lies being propagated by social media including the incredible conspirator theories of QAnon which was preceded by the ludicrous Pizzagate where it was spread that members of the Democratic Party were behind a pedophilia ring at a Washington D.C. pizza shop. It's hard to believe anybody took this seriously but a man showed up firing his AR-15 rifle to as he said "self-investigate" the theory.

But the most serious lie to threaten our democracy was Donald Trump's claim that he won the 2020 presidential election instead of now President Biden because of what Trump called massive voter fraud. Polls still show that a majority of Republicans still believe that Trump is the legitimate president and not Biden. This can create some serious destabilization in a democratically elected government. 

Trump's claims of voter fraud can be dismissed by simple logic.

Let's start with a basic fact we all can agree with. The larger something is, the more difficult it is to hide. Allow me an extreme example to illustrate this.

I am asserting that there is an elephant in the room with me. We can determine the truth of this conclusively. If you see the elephant, the statement is true. If you can't, the statement is false. You can't say that it's there but it's hiding behind the couch or TV. On the other hand, if I claim there's a mouse in the room and you don't see it, it's always possible that it could be hiding somewhere.

Now, back to Trump. He is claiming fraud on levels never seen before. There is fraud in many of the states that Biden won (but none in the states that Trump won, of course).  More significantly, he's not just saying that he won but that he won in a landslide. In addition, none of his some 60 protests in court has yielded any evidence of fraud. And on top of that, his own sycophant Attorney General Barr announced that there was no widespread fraud to make any difference in the results of the election.

Trump's claim of election fraud is the same as the elephant in the room I was claiming. How can something so massive that allegedly involved so many people stay hidden all this time?  It can't because it doesn't exist.

This is another example of what is called a conspiracy theory. Instead of a plain explanation of something that happened, there are dark, mysterious actors behind the scene manipulating everything out of our sight. There are an almost unlimited number of these conspiracy theories. 9/11 was an inside job. The murders of schoolchildren at Sandy Hook were all staged. Etc. It's all garbage but there are enough people mostly from social media brainwashing who believe some of this stuff.

How is a Big Lie like this perpetuated? Trump's non-stop Twitter feed was a good start. When others online join in, more material supporting this is circulated on social media to those who rely on it for news. This is something beyond plain delusion. When enough people believe this through constant feedback through sources like Facebook, they get fired up to the point of being militant and perhaps advocating violence.

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.  - Voltaire

There have been countless examples of this happening throughout history. But it will suffice to say that the most recent tragic example is the rioting invasion of the US Capitol on January 6.

Social media, most prominently Facebook and Twitter have been under fire from both sides of the political spectrum for some of the outlandish departures from truth that have spread everywhere. How do they get away with it?

Conventional media is required to adhere to some basic journalistic standards. For example, if they distribute something that is libelous, the target of that libel can sue the media outlet. Dominion and Smartmatic are suing Fox and others for false claims of tampering in the 2020 election. But social media gets an exemption from this due to the controversial Section 230 of the Telecommunications Act.

The regulation states, "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider." 

What that means in practice is that internet companies — everything from social media platforms to online retailers to news sites — are generally not liable if a user posts something illegal. Backers of Section 230 credit in part for the success of companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, which depend on vast amounts of user-generated content.

There is a good practical reason for this. Social media providers can have millions of posts that they help to forward. If they were responsible for policing all of this, there might not be any of these companies in existence because of the potential legal exposure. But some of what has been spread over social media is beyond the pale. Facebook is now doing more aggressive screening of posts. Twitter has banned Donald Trump for using his tweets to instigate violence. It should be pointed out that the First Amendment only protects from government censorship. Private platforms can boot anybody off as they see fit. Many feel that these social media outlets need to do more to protect against abuses. But how much they can and should do is both very controversial, not to mention very complicated.

So what can I recommend to the reader to find a suitable news source? First and foremost, don't rely on social media for your news, especially if it's your only source of news. Secondly, try to determine what kind of bias your chosen sources have. Here is a handy chart provided by Allsides.com on the major media players.

In addition, AllSides offers this site which evaluates over 800 media sources. Closer to the center is more desirable to get news with the least amount of bias. Those further away from the center may have an agenda to persuade you to a certain view so one has to be careful here.

But more important than the source you choose whether it is left or right, it is necessary to apply critical thinking to what you see or hear. Do they provide evidence to back up what they are saying? Maybe it's necessary to cross-check with other sources to determine the truth. Indeed, critical thinking is vital to keep us from being sucked into the land of make believe!

Thursday, November 19, 2020

American Democracy Dodges a Bullet by not Reelecting Trump

I was hoping to write this 4 years ago. Wanted to say what a relief it was that America had dodged a bullet by not electing Donald Trump as president after all of his disgusting behavior during the 2016 campaign. But it didn't turn out that way.

Like many Americans, I was in shock and in grief. I wondered what terrible things would happen to America with him in charge. But we had to accept reality. I tried to console myself with the belief that all of the outrageous behavior was just shtick and once the immense responsibility of being the leader of the free world was placed on his shoulders, he would start to take the job seriously and begin to govern like any normal president. But that didn't happen either.

As I expressed in my previous posting, Trump was not really interested in becoming the president when he ran. Instead he was using the campaign as a way to promote his brands. And indeed, according to a number of observers, he did not expect to win the election. But that did happen.

Normally, one runs for public office with the intent of serving your fellow citizens. But being such a narcissist, Trump was only interested in how holding office could financially benefit him and his family. He certainly didn't work hard at his job. He poked fun at President Obama for what he believed was the excessive amount of golf he played while in office. He said that he would be so busy with his new job that he wouldn't have time to play golf. But that again, didn't happen either. His time was occupied by prodigious amounts of golf, along with TV watching, rallies in front of his adoring fans - and all of those tweets.

Incumbent presidents don't lose very often. They have built in advantages of their incumbency including non-stop exposure of everything they utter or in this case everything he tweets. After all, the media reasons that if it comes from the president, it's news. Speaking of media, it doesn't hurt to have such a widely followed outlet like Fox News to dependably offer its reliably supporting views. Indeed it has been speculated that if Richard Nixon had Fox News back then, he might well have survived the rest of his term instead of having to resign.

Indeed, just doing even a mediocre job probably would have been good enough to ensure reelection. With the economy and the stock market (not necessarily the same thing) doing well, Trump believed this would be his ticket to reelection. But that didn't happen. The pandemic turned our world (and his) upside down. After getting intelligence in January about a possible pandemic coming to our shores, he downplayed it for 2 months until March before finally sounding a public alarm over it. He tried to say that he didn't know how serious it was at the time. But his interview with Bob Woodward on tape verified in no uncertain terms that he was well aware of how deadly this virus was. His feeble excuse was that he purposely downplayed the threat because he didn't want us to panic over it. But that did happen.

It could be said that the pandemic robbed Trump of the opportunity to win reelection. But the other way of looking at it was that the pandemic was an opportunity to show what he could do to save us from much of the suffering and death. If he indeed had made a good faith effort to fight the pandemic and kept its worst effects from harming us, a grateful nation would have surely rewarded him with a second term. But that didn't happen. 

Trump's opponent in this year's election, Joe Biden correctly surmised that Trump's mishandling of the coronavirus would be the number one deal breaker that would sway voters his way. So he relentlessly kept the conversation on the coronavirus and the over 200,000 resulting American deaths. Keeping Trump on defense turned out to be perhaps his most effective strategy that led to his victory.

For those like me (among many) who had a strong dislike of Trump, there was a hope of repudiation, a crushing victory that would embarrass Trump and his Republican enablers. It looked like a record voter turnout was in the works. And the conventional wisdom is that large turnouts benefit Democrats. But indeed, many of Trump's supporters also turned out. While Biden's supporters can brag that with over 79 million votes, he got more votes than any presidential candidate in American history, Trump got over 73 million votes (more than in 2016) to claim the second highest number of votes in American history. (vote totals from Wikipedia)

Democratic partisans like me believed flipping the Senate to Democratic control was just as important as winning the presidency. And the polls said that this was likely. But the pollsters had an embarrassing night. Biden did win Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania as predicted but the polls had Biden as a prohibitive favorite in Wisconsin and Michigan which turned out to be nail biters. Instead of grabbing at least 4 Republican Senate seats as expected, the Democrats could only win 2. But because the 2 Senate seats up for grabs in Georgia weren't captured with a majority vote, Georgia's election laws mandated that these will be contested as runoff elections on January 5, each race with the top two finishers. Democrats will have to win both races to capture control of the Senate while Republicans only need 1 in a traditionally Republican state (Biden's slim victory in Georgia notwithstanding). At least it's one more bite of the apple which is better than no chance at all.

For the party losing the presidency, the story will be that Republicans need to control at least the Senate to keep all of those crazies on the left from taking over and our country going to hell. But the first 2 years of the Trump Administration enjoyed control of both the Senate and the House. If people elected Joe Biden based on what he promised, it would be nice if he had a similar advantage that Trump had in his first two years. But this will be decided by the voters of Georgia.

If as expected, Republicans maintain control of the Senate, Biden's prospects of a productive presidency will be under the control of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Even if some moderate Republicans can be persuaded to support some of Biden's measures, McConnell has absolute control over what goes to the floor for a vote. At its worst, Biden can have not only his legislation blocked but also his judges and even cabinet picks!

McConnell was famous for his vow to make Barack Obama a one term president by blocking as much as he could. Obama did win a second term but McConnell successfully blocked his Supreme Court pick, Merrick Garland. The only reason for hope is that Biden and McConnell are longtime friends from Biden's Senate days. Maybe Biden can reason with him. But so far, it's not off to a good start with McConnell still denying Biden's victory to please Trump.

But there are a lot of good things that Biden can accomplish in spite of McConnell.  Many of Trump's reversals of Obama policies were done by executive order instead of legislation. The downside to this is that Biden can reverse all of those in short order. Replacing Trump cronies with competent people would be a major step in the right direction. Getting rid of Attorney General Barr along with seeing Jared and Ivanka go (among many others) will bring a smile to my face. And when it comes to foreign policy, the President has a much freer hand. What will Putin along with all of those other dictators do without a buddy in the White House?

It wasn't surprising that Trump didn't concede the presidency to Biden. Before the election, Trump said there were only 2 possibilities for the election - either he wins or the election was stolen. And back in 2016 when it appeared that Hillary Clinton was going to win, Trump was making similar noises about not accepting the result - unless he won, of course.

Normally, the losing candidate not conceding isn't too big of a deal. Concession or not, Biden will occupy the White House on January 20. And after noon that day, Trump becomes a trespasser which means that in the unlikely event he insists on staying, the Secret Service now working for Joe Biden will escort him off the premises.

But these are far from normal times. With the pandemic now spreading widely and new vaccines coming over the horizon, Biden's team needs to get involved in how Trump's team is managing the pandemic, even in their limited amount. More important, the logistics of distributing the vaccine will be enormous. Although the preliminary distribution of the vaccine will likely occur in the last month of the Trump Administration, the overwhelming number of vaccines will be distributed by the incoming Biden Administration. As Biden said in recent remarks, if he can't hit the ground running after taking over, there may well be a significant delay in many getting the vaccine which means "more people may die".

Hopefully, this delay won't last too much longer. It appears that more and more of the Republican enablers surrounding Trump are starting to acknowledge the reality of the Biden victory. Now Trump is starting to acknowledge reality now saying in effect that "He won because of a rigged election". The various states will be certifying their results later this month with the Electoral College making things official next month. When this happens, the argument that there is some way to overturn the state results becomes little more than fantasy - even for most of Trump's enablers. But the unfortunate result is that there will be a significant number of Trump's followers who will continue to believe that Biden is not the legitimate president. I'm sure there are some hard core Trump supporters who still believe that Obama wasn't a legitimate president because of their belief that he wasn't born in America.

Perhaps the best indication of Trump coming around to reality are reports that he has privately talked about running again in 2024. There are also reports of his interest in starting another right-wing network perhaps to compete with Fox News who has been a loyal supporter of his through the years. But as we all know, loyalty with Trump only goes one way.

The smart money says that Trump will be spending a lot of time and money trying to stay out of prison once he becomes a private citizen no longer enjoying immunity from prosecution.

One of the more significant potential legal threats Trump could face is from Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, who opened an investigation more than a year ago into Trump’s personal and business finances.

The case started over payments to women who had alleged affairs with Trump, that he later denied through a White House spokesperson.

New York Attorney General Letitia James separately announced in August that she was investigating whether Trump and the Trump Organization improperly manipulated the value of certain assets to secure loans and obtain tax benefits to which they otherwise would not have been entitled.

Two things are worth noting here. First, Trump's former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen testified about these alleged crimes to Congress before Cohen himself had to serve prison time for his role in these offenses. He may well be used as a witness for the prosecution. Second, although it may be politically unpalatable for the federal government to prosecute Trump, these charges originate from the state of New York and are not subject to any federal pardons that Trump may have in mind. 

So while America did not dodge the bullet of Trump's election back in 2016, it dodged a more destructive bullet in not reelecting Trump in 2020. Over the last 4 years, Trump has gained tremendous control of the government starting with making Attorney General Barr his personal attorney to his wholesale replacing of government positions often with incompetents whose only qualifications were loyalty to Trump. All of this with the blessing of mostly all Republicans in Congress meant that our democracy continuing under Trump's iron grip of control was starting to become unrecognizable. Democracy has slipped away from other countries around the world. Hopefully, we will never take our democracy for granted ever again!

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Did Donald Trump Really Want to Be President?

At first blush, this seems to be an inane question. After all, the guy ran for president. But when you see the large number of longshot candidates who run for president (about 2 dozen for the Democratic nomination), it's hard to believe that most of these people had any realistic hope of winning.

So why do they run? Sometimes it's a vanity campaign run by a billionaire who thinks he can buy his way into an election. Sometimes it's a promotion of their own brand to sell products or perhaps do a book tour. Some use the campaign as a dry run for a future election when they are older and more seasoned. And then there is that opportunity to pad their resumes. Somebody who can be introduced as a 'Former Presidential Candidate' will command a lot more respect in addition to higher speaking fees if that person is not presently in office.

So why did Donald Trump run? If Trump is known for anything, it is the relentless promotion of the Trump brand to make as much money as possible. He had talked many times about running for president, but it seemed like little more than attracting attention to himself.

Then there was the White House Correspondents' Dinner of 2011. President Obama was one of the speakers and Donald Trump was one of the guests in the audience. There was certainly friction between the two since Trump made his transition from reality TV star to political figure by circulating his 'birther' conspiracy theories, claiming among other things that Obama was born in Kenya instead of Hawaii which as the narrative goes would make him an illegitimate president.

But at this dinner, President Obama along with MC Seth Meyers got to take aim at Trump. And did they let him have it as preserved in this video! It should be pointed out that making fun of people is what these dinners are all about. Almost always, the target of the humor is laughing just as hard as anyone else.

But not Trump. All through the routine, there were face shots of Trump looking really pissed. When you consider that he is such a vain man so totally lacking in humor, it's not hard to conclude he was not enjoying the moment (although he claimed later that he did). If one could read Trump's mind at the time, maybe he was thinking of revenge. "OK you son of a bitch. If I ever become the president I'll blow up everything you accomplish during your term!"

While the thought is speculation, Trump throughout his term has had an obsession with burying Obama's legacy as president whether it came to the environment, or immigration, or more that anything else, the Affordable Care Act also known as Obamacare. To show this extreme level of obsession, while countless millions have lost their jobs along with their health insurance during this pandemic, Trump is still pursuing a case pending before the Supreme Court to invalidate Obamacare destroying it once and for all. Even other Republicans who are in favor of getting rid of Obamacare think the timing of this is political suicide since Joe Biden will undoubtedly use this issue to hammer Trump throughout the campaign.

So Trump did finally decide to run for president. But nobody took him seriously especially after all of the inflammatory remarks about Mexican rapists and the like that would normally put most campaigns out of commission. But something unexpected happened. The more crazy stuff he said during the campaign, the more he attracted an adoring crowd to attend his rallies. It was these rallies that more than anything else spurred him on towards the presidency.

Nobody expected Trump to win. Indeed it had been asserted that he didn't even have a victory speech ready. Many feel that he was satisfied that he could promote his brand and maybe even establish another conservative cable outlet once the election was over. But on election night, he pulled what some had called an inside straight - winning Florida by about 1%, and then proceeding to win Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin by a total of 70,000 votes. Whether he wanted it or was ready for it, Donald Trump was now the President Elect!

So the reader may ask why this question of whether Trump wanted to be president is relevant. If it is true that Trump didn't really want to be president, a belief that I share, it would explain a lot of his behavior over these last 4 years. Instead of embracing a job where he could serve America and make life better for its people, he treated the job with indifference - as just something that interfered with what seemed to be the most important things in his life which is playing golf and making money through his businesses and properties.

Soon after being elected, he went back to doing his rallies. In a way this could be constructive if he agreed to meet with voters who didn't vote for him in a show of unity. But the sites were carefully chosen in areas that already solidly supported him. It was all about trying to satisfy his never ending craving for adulation from his supporters. Meanwhile, the job of assembling a new team and inheriting guidance from the outgoing Obama administration went largely neglected.

Trump is certainly not known for his work ethic. Workday schedules that were leaked to the media show about 60% of his day devoted to 'Executive Time' which is said to include a lot of his mornings watching TV. He has been notorious for paying little attention to the Presidential Daily Brief otherwise known as the PDB. This was a summary of the most vital issues that should have demanded the president's attention. It first informed him of what could be a looming pandemic emanating from China. He treated this news as just a possible nuisance that might affect the booming economy and stock market that he planned to use as his ticket to reelection. So he denied its importance for at least two months until the pandemic attained a choke hold on America. To this day, he has never assumed a national role of leadership on limiting the number of people affected or even developing adequate testing. This was all delegated to the individual states. 

In addition, he ignored intelligence briefings that Putin and Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election. Later, he ignored (and is still ignoring) a PDB on his Russian friend Putin paying bounties to the Taliban to kill US troops.

Eventually, the stock market along with the economy tanked when affected areas of the country first had to be shut down. Incredibly, there was the cynical observation (apparently true) that since New York and New Jersey voted against him and were not his people, he cared even less about it all.

But then his campaign advisers told Trump that with the economy in the sorry state it was in, his reelection chances would be shot. So in an act of self-preservation (the only ones he knows apparently), it was a dramatic reversal of course in opening the economy up as quickly as possible in the hope of reviving it in time for the November elections.

Most of us knew then and still know now that getting control of the pandemic OR opening the economy as quickly as possible was a false choice. Without getting control of the pandemic, there was no way to permanently sustain the economy. The result today was predictable in that we have the worst of both worlds - an economy that is in free fall along with a pandemic which is still out of control in much of the country. At this posting, America has suffered through over 150,000 deaths with no end in sight.

So to get the economy opened as fast as he could, Trump and his supporters engaged in a campaign of denial. We would all gather together for Easter church services, he predicted. Then his chief lackey, VP Mike Pence promised that the pandemic would be behind us by Memorial Day. Then his son-in-law Jared Kushner, perhaps the most astounding combination of incompetence and nepotism, expressed hopes that the US would be "really rocking again" by July.

Of course, none of this happened. But it hasn't stopped Trump from his latest misguided attempt to quickly reopen the economy - one that will again surely fail. To enable Mom and Dad to go back to work and rescue his economy, Trump wants all schools to fully reopen. After all, it's just children who he says are immune to the virus. But he conveniently doesn't mention the adult teachers and administrators who must share the same spaces with the schoolchildren. 

This leads us to the final question here. If Trump didn't really want the job of being the president, why is he running for reelection? That's an easy one. There are a number of indictments he could be facing that he has been protected from as a sitting president. Most notably, New York prosecutor Cyrus Vance will finally be able to obtain Trump's long-hidden tax returns which will most likely yield a sizable amount for a Grand Jury to chew on.

The polls are unequivocal. Here is one example. Trump will most likely lose in November and take a number of Republican Senators up for reelection with him. As much as he wants to deny reality, surely he must realize this. As we get closer to November, Trump will get more desperate. There was the forceable removal of peaceful protesters outside the White House to get a photo-op holding a Bible in front of a church. And there was the unwanted dispatching of uniformed troops to Portland and perhaps other cities to stir up trouble and provide video for his campaign ads.

He has long railed against voting by mail knowing that this will increase voter turnout and further doom his reelection chances. If the pandemic comes back in another wave this November, voting by mail may be the only safe choice for many. Because he says the Postal Service along with election officials won't be able to handle the extra load, he actually made the unprecedented suggestion that the election might need to be delayed. This was universally renounced even by his most partisan Republican supporters. But instead of providing help to the Postal Service, there is a fear that the appointing of a major Trump donor as Postmaster General may be a way to sabotage the Postal Service's ability to properly function. Talk about self-fulfilling prophecies!  

But no matter - the 20th Amendment requires the president to leave the White House by January 20 if he loses the election - whether he wants to or not! While we may worry about what shenanigans he will try between now and the election, more worrisome is what he might do if he loses the election and becomes a lame duck between then and January when he is no longer accountable to the voters. We were worried about a more totalitarian Donald Trump if he was to win a second term. A vindictive Trump after losing may be scarier yet!