Category Archives: Later, in commentary

America Again

Election day was three weeks ago. Joe Biden won the presidency by well over six million votes in the popular vote, winning a majority of Electoral votes, 306 to 232. More people voted for Biden than for any presidential candidate in history. His 306 electoral votes matched Trump’s total in the 2016 race, a margin that Trump described then as “a massive landslide victory.”

To this day, the Republican has refused to concede defeat. Instead, he continues to preach to his party followers that he won, and at least one reputable poll found that more than half of the party believes that he “rightfully won” the contest and that large-scale voter fraud occurred. Despite more than 30 lawsuits instigated by the Trump campaign, no evidence of fraud has come to light in a court.

Meanwhile, Emily Murphy, Administrator of the General Services Administration, has been so perplexed by the election results that she has been unable to “ascertain” who won. Because of her inability to ferret out the winner, the Biden transition team has been denied funding, security briefings, and the ability to communicate directly with counterparts in the outgoing administration.

The congressional leadership of the Republican party has also uniformly refused to acknowledge Biden’s victory. Senate Majority Leader McConnell, unable to admit who won, dangled the rhetorical bauble that the president is “100% within his rights to look into allegations of irregularities and weigh his legal options.” This is a dodge. The president’s rights, whatever they may be, are beside the point: when all the votes were counted, he lost. Allowing for an orderly transition of power—for the good of the country—would not interfere with the loser’s freedom to pursue hopeless, made-up claims that he didn’t really lose.

The truth—that he lost—was not useful to the president. In his mind, the truth was irreconcilable with the Trump brand. Accordingly, the truth must be wrong. The election must have been stolen. There must have been massive fraud, the likes of which have never been seen before.

Fabrication of his alternate reality worked pretty good for the president until November 23, when 160 New York business leaders representing more than 300 important companies sent an open letter to the president exhorting him to allow the transition process to proceed: “Our national interest and respect for the integrity of our democratic process requires that the administrator of the federal General Services Administration immediately ascertain that Joseph R. Biden and Kamala D. Harris are the president-elect and vice president-elect so that a proper transition can begin.”

Before the end of the day, the president tweeted: “in the best interest of our Country, I am recommending that Emily and her team do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols.” The tweet did not exactly direct the GSA Administrator to “ascertain” that Biden won, and it was anyone’s guess what “initial protocols” were. The tweet was certainly not a concession: “our case STRONGLY continues…and I believe we will prevail.”

And after all, his people—perhaps the only people he felt he needed to impress: New York CEOs—did not call on him to concede or even to acknowledge Joe Biden as the President-elect.  

That same day, Emily Murphy sent a letter to Joe Biden. She informed Biden that “post-election resources and services” would now be available to the Biden transition team. She assured Biden that she “was never directly or indirectly pressured by any Executive Branch official—including those who work at the White House or GSA—with regard to the substance or timing of” her decision. She herself did not elaborate on the factors that led to her decision, and she was very careful to specify that she, as GSA Administrator, “does not pick or certify the winner of a presidential election.”

What the McConnell dodge fails to address is the damage that has been done to America by a president who claims the election was rigged. The president even now continues to promote false fraud claims and to insist that he won. Many otherwise presumably rational Americans believe the election was “stolen” from him. They believe because he has told them so. He told them so because the truth is wrong and because he thinks it is perfectly okay to throw out the votes of people who did not vote for him.

There is something grossly un-American about Trump’s refusal to abide by the decision of the voters. Yes, it would be different if there were any factual basis for concluding that fraud had occurred. But there is no fraud in this election except the fraud he is attempting to commit by refusing to concede.

America’s faith in its elections is fundamental to the nation’s survival as a democracy. The idea of fair play—the grace to admit defeat—is central the best in the American character. It is what we teach our children, but it seems our soon-to-be ex-president failed nursery school.

It is time to let America be America again.

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Let’s Not Do This Again

A week before the presidential debate, I said to a friend: “I am not sure you can ‘win’ a debate with a liar.” The atrocity that occurred on September 29 in Cleveland proved my point. Not only did the president predictably and automatically lie, distort and demean, he refused to abide by the simple rules of the debate, rules which he or his minions agreed to beforehand. So he is both a liar and a person who cannot be trusted to keep his word.

He constantly interrupted with a relentless drone of jibes and inquisition, blocking his opponent, Joe Biden, from effectively communicating with the audience. Chris Wallace, the hapless and impotent moderator, tried valiantly to have the candidates give a full response on the issues he presented to them. The president, who never stopped talking, managed to avoid or derail Wallace’s questions. The resulting spectacle was 90 minutes of frequently unintelligible crosstalk. The president succeeded in keeping attention focused on himself, which may lead his defenders to conclude that he won the debate.

My first thought when it was all over was dismay. This man—a boorish, crude and dishonest person—is the President of the United States! He is the representative of the United States. People around the world form their opinions of all Americans based on how the president behaves. He embarrasses us all.

This thought was followed soon by wondering how the next two presidential debates can avoid being like this one was, what CNN’s Dana Bash cogently described as a shit show. If the next two are going to be more of the same, what is the point of holding them and why would people want to watch? Of course, that is precisely the president’s game plan: make more people disgusted by the process, disengaged from the details and discouraged from voting. Joe Biden would be justified in refusing to participate in such a charade again—although the president would inevitably call him a coward.

The next debate, scheduled for October 15, would be a “town hall” format, which can only be worse because the president would have a live audience to play to. The Commission on Presidential Debates should have a re-think about the format. Merely giving the moderator the power to mute the mics would not be of much use because the muted candidate would move closer to his opponent’s live mic or talk ever louder.

My suggestion would be to put each of the candidates in a separate studio where they could hear their opponent but would be unable to interrupt. Each man would be allowed alternating , uninterrupted two-minute segments in which to respond to the moderator’s question or to respond to the opponent’s statements, and they would be given a verbal warning when their time period was about to expire.  

But not only can you not win a debate with a liar, the Cleveland spectacle showed us that you cannot even have a debate in any real sense of the word with a fabricator. A presidential debate should be about comparing and contrasting the ideas and policy prescriptions of the candidates for dealing with the major issues of the day. It should be an organized discussion that provides a format for equal-time presentation of the candidates’ views and rebuttal of an opponent’s arguments. Ideally, the result is a clarification of each candidate’s vision for the future of our nation. Ideally, the public learns something they did not already know about the candidates.

The spectacle in Cleveland was not a debate. It was an extended infomercial for the president’s vision of himself playing presidential. In 2016 he said: “I can be more presidential than any president that this country has ever had except for Abraham Lincoln.” Tellingly, his words reveal that he lacks the character or even the interest to be president, but he believes he can play the role. And that is what he’s done.

To play at being presidential demonstrates a certain contempt for the office of the presidency and for the American people themselves. He leads by example—but bad example. The example he set this week in Cleveland was shameless contempt for the rules of the debate and for his opponent and, worse, contempt for the election process and the voters’ intelligence. He modeled the contempt that he wants people to feel: contempt for Joe Biden and Democrats in general and contempt for an election process that will of necessity rely on mail-in ballots. He wants people to believe that for him to lose, the election must be rigged. He is prepared to take that fabrication all the way to the Supreme Court where he is counting on five justices, at least, also to follow his example.

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