Donald Trump destroyed many things in his single term as president. The quickest one Joe Biden can repair may be the measure of self-respect Trump robbed through four years of national humiliation.
Of all the endless lies made by and for Trump, the most insidiously effective is the one his daughter Ivanka uttered at his nominating convention, when she described him as “the people’s president.”
Trump has been fanatical on the subject of portraying his shocking election in the cloak of an imagined popular mandate. It is why he instructed his press secretary to tell farcical lies about his inaugural crowds, why he has circulated misleading maps showing the vast land areas occupied by his supporters, and why he has depicted his enemies as an elite and alien force. They needed to depict Trump as the true representative of the volk.
The shock of Trump’s election provoked a crisis of self-confidence for his opponents. Humans have an innate need to believe events with profound importance must have profound causes. Trump’s success must reveal some vast and terrible secret.
The simple truth is that was all a mistake — a ghastly, deadly mistake, the toll of which will linger for decades. The precise causes have all been exhumed: bad decisions by Hillary Clinton, an easily manipulated press corps, the FBI, the GRU, the Electoral College sorting out the votes just so.
America, by and large, never wanted Trump to be president. The public opposed his presidency from the moment he took office, and he trailed Joe Biden in polls continuously. The first chance the country got to correct the mistake, we fired him unceremoniously. He suffered the rare ignominy of becoming an incumbent president denied a second term, a category that over the last century includes Hoover, Carter, Bush and now Trump.
And while Trump kept his reelection close in the Electoral College, the nation as a whole registered clear opposition. Biden’s margin in the popular vote – the most precise measure of a “people’s president” – is likely to swell to an Obama-like margin. Progressives have chosen to torment themselves with the fact that Trump’s supporters continue to exist, rather than allow themselves to absorb the extent of his repudiation.
None of this is to say that the Trump experience was a mere aberration or without meaning. Even those who did not suffer directly from his presidency have come away shaken and disillusioned. Not only was one of the worst human beings in this country entrusted with massive power, but he put his twisted psyche on constant display.
Trump’s overt grossness is what made his rise, and his ability to hold on to 40 percent of the country, so unnerving. We have a model in our heads for a slick, appealing demagogue: dashing aviator Charles Lindbergh in The Plot Against America, or butter-smooth Bob Roberts, or (for the theologically inclined) Satan. Donald Trump isn’t selling reaction beneath a superficially appealing package. The surface itself is hideous. Trump looks and acts like a compilation of movie villains: a theatrically pudgy, whiny, evasive, lazy, egotistical, cowardly, image-obsessed bully.
Just how a man like this managed to eke out a narrow victory in 2016 has been a source of torment for his critics. It is easy to understand if you begin with the fact that most Americans — and especially the most persuadable Americans — spend little or no time following political news.
[I]f you put yourself in the position of a person who has just a passing knowledge of the figures involved, it is easy to see why Hillary Clinton’s perceived sins loomed as large as Donald Trump’s. Both Clintons have been the subject of years worth of critical coverage, including scandals both real and imagined. Donald Trump starred in a television show as an executive who could do no wrong. A person following the 2016 campaign via snippets of cable-news chatter and the headlines streaming across their Facebook page could very well have chosen him as the lesser evil — without being evil themselves.
For the political elite, Trump was a moral X-ray. Some (mostly, but not exclusively, on the left) responded to the crisis with noble opposition. Others (mostly, but not exclusively, on the right) with opportunistic sycophancy, or by retreating into myopic factional micro-obsessions. Trump has a magnetic attraction for the cruel, the venal, and the stupid. Trump, in a way no other American president has done, revealed basic things about peoples’ characters.
Defeating Trump will not banish the forces in American life he represents.
But the character of the American people as a whole has proved worthy. On Election Night 2016, in the immediate shock of Trump’s victory, I wrote about how we needed to stay and fight for American democracy and how that fight has always been part of America’s heritage.
Biden’s spiel about the soul of America may be corny and oversimplistic, but at the end of the day, it is true. We are better than Trump, better than what he has done to this country, and we can make it a better place still. Trump will be remembered by future generations as, at best, a clown and, at worst, a criminal.
The disgrace of this presidency will cling to his enablers forever. The rest of us can exult. America is far from perfect, but it is also far better than Donald Trump. Our problems may not be solved, but our nightmare has ended.
Saturday, November 07, 2020
I typically avoid Fox News - a/k/a Faux News - due the many falsehoods put out by the channel, but I had to take a screen shot of the channels main page today knowing that Der Trumpenfuhrer is likely seeing it and having a psychotic meltdown. Yes, we will be having champagne toasts to Biden's and Harris' victory this evening. Now we need to win the two Georgia Senate seats so Moscow Mitch will no longer be majority leaders.
The moment every Donald Trump opponent has been waiting for is at hand: Joe Biden
seems to be taking the lead [has won]. So why am I not happy?
I am certainly relieved. A Biden victory [is]
would be aninfinitely better result than a Trump win. If Trump were to maintain power, our child-king would be unfettered by bothersome laws and institutions. The United States would begin its last days as a democracy, finally stepping over the ledge into authoritarianism.
A win for Biden
wouldforestall[s] that terrible possibility.
But no matter how this election conclude[d]
s, America is now a different country. Nearly half of the voters have seen Trump in all of his splendor—his infantile tirades, his disastrous and lethal policies, his contempt for democracy in all its forms—and they decided that they wanted more of it. His voters can no longer hide behind excuses about the corruption of Hillary Clinton or their willingness to take a chance on an unproven political novice. They cannot feign ignorance about how Trump would rule. They know, and they have embraced him.
Sadly, the voters who said in 2016 that they chose Trump because they thought he was “just like them” turned out to be right. Now, by picking him again, those voters are showing that they are just like him: angry, spoiled, racially resentful, aggrieved, and willing to die rather than ever admit that they were wrong.
I [was never] among the progressives who believed America would repudiate Trump’s policies. For one thing, I am a conservative—and I know my former tribe. Trump voters don’t care about policy. They didn’t care about it in 2016, and they don’t care about it now. The party of national security, fiscal austerity, and personal responsibility supports a president who is in the pocket of the Russians, has exploded the national deficit, and refuses to take responsibility for anything. I had hoped, at the least, that people who once insisted on the importance of presidential character would vote for basic decency after living under the most indecent president in American history.
It’s clear now that far too many of Trump’s voters don’t care about policy, decency, or saving our democracy. They care about power. Although Trump appears to have received a small uptick in votes from Black men and Latinos, the overwhelming share of his supporters are white. The politics of cultural resentment, the obsessions of white anxiety, are so intense that his voters are determined not only to preserve minority rule but to leave a dangerous sociopath in the Oval Office. Even the candidacy of a man who was both a political centrist and a decent human being could not overcome this sullen commitment to authoritarianism.
Biden will become our 46th president. But Americans can take very little pride in the overall vote and what it reveals about nearly half of our electorate.
American voters, including those who didn’t show up or who voted third-party in 2016, are now like drunks who have been bailed out of jail in the morning, full of relief as their lawyers explain that the police aren’t pressing charges. [With]
IfBiden win s, we will have a second chance to keep our democracy intact. Some of us will have a moment of clarity. Most of us will just want to go home, throw up, change our clothes, and hope for the best.
As the vote tally currently stands, 4.38 million more Americans want Trump gone than those who continue to drink up his lies and savor his divisiveness. I honestly do not comprehend how anyone moral and decent could vote for Trump with greed among the wealthy or racism and/or religious extremism being the only apparent motivations to vote for a pathological liar and self-admitted serial molester. Trump is the antithesis of true family values and facing down a loss that his fragile ego cannot comprehend, Trump is underscoring his unfitness for the office he has tragically held. During his regime - reign in his mind, I suspect - America has been diminished both in the eyes of millions of Americans and in the eyes of the world. Indeed, internationally only America's enemies and would be or real dictators seem to hold Trump in any positive regard, although even there he may be playing the role of useful idiot to their machinations. We need him gone so that hopefully a national rebuilding can proceed and perhaps the nation can regain some semblance of unity. A column in the New York Times looks at where America finds itself:
To see that child-man charlatan in the White House spouting lies yet again, asserting without a trace of evidence that “If you count the legal vote I easily win,” claiming that “I won Pennsylvania by a lot,” and Michigan and Georgia, too, was to be reminded of the American nightmare of these past four years that the American people seem to have brought to an end.
It was a nightmare in which truth died, decency was trampled, science was flouted, division was fanned and the American idea was desecrated, as
President Trump wheedled his way into the minds of every American with an insidious cascade of self-obsessed posturing and manipulative untruth.
In a democracy, a beautiful idea for which so much blood has been shed over the centuries, every vote is counted and each vote counts. That is what happened in 2016, when President Trump won Michigan by 0.2 percentage points, Pennsylvania by 0.7 and Wisconsin by 0.8. What goes around comes around. The difference in 2020 is that the child-man cannot accept his treat being snatched away.
As I write, it appears that Joe Biden will be the 46th president of the United States.
There may be recounts. There will be legal challenges. But Trump’s attempted coup against democracy, for it is no less than that, will be resisted. The United States is far bigger than this little man.
Trump’s arguments, which in fact reflect no more than the hysteria of a narcissist for whom the phrase “You’re fired!” is unbearable. He cannot seem to distinguish between voting after the election, which would be illegal, and the process of receiving and counting votes cast in a timely manner. Or rather, he can make that distinction, but only when it comes to Arizona, where he hopes the ballots still being counted will reverse Biden’s lead.
Trump has another mental problem. He cannot, it seems, distinguish between a snapshot of a moment — when, for example, he was ahead of Biden by several hundred thousand votes in Georgia and Pennsylvania on election night — and the eventual result after all votes are counted. He keeps bleating that he “won”
Such desperation — the antics of the sandbox transposed to the Oval Office — is excruciating to watch, not least because it is so predictable.
Throughout his life, when in a tight corner, having stiffed his contractors or ushered his businesses to the brink of bankruptcy, Trump has responded with lawsuits, lies and threats. His method was simple: attack, attack, attack. It often worked. But until now, he has not faced the will of the American people in the opposing corner.
Now it is Biden’s moment, on the eve of his 78th birthday. The moment of a man with a deep respect for America’s institutions, its alliances and the rule of law. The moment of a man who reached out to all Americans during the campaign. The moment of a man who became the Democratic nominee as people turned to safe hands to confront the coronavirus and now, it seems, will be asked to heal a wounded nation. The moment of a man who came to a gift for empathy through the devastating loss of his first wife and two of his four children. The moment of an American who understands that you cannot sculpt from rotten wood, and so every democracy requires the foundation of truth.
Trump’s last-ditch incitement of his vast tribe — composed of tens of millions of Americans — will cast a shadow across an eventual Biden presidency. The battles of today will not quickly abate. But the restoration of sanity to the highest office in the land is the prerequisite for the rebuilding that must now begin.
I think now particularly of Georgia, where a Biden victory would be the first by a Democratic candidate in almost three decades. With its large African-American population, and its sharp division between diverse, fast-growing Metro Atlanta and a mainly white conservative hinterland, Georgia was a bellwether of a changing America reeling from a pandemic and racial tension.
Democracy is messy but stubborn. It is the system that best enshrines the human desire to be free. This massive American vote has been many things — bitter and ugly among them — but above all, it has been a beautiful testament to the power of each, single ballot in the world’s oldest democracy.
Friday, November 06, 2020
Thursday, November 05, 2020
It’s somehow fitting. A presidency launched with lies, and fueled by them ever since, was destined to finish with the worst of them all.
Donald Trump’s presidency began on Jan. 20, 2017, with what he asserted was “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period,” a claim whose absurdity was evident to anyone with eyes. From his first week in office, the president lied about an election that everyone agreed he had won. He claimed that “VOTER FRAUD,” by “millions” of noncitizens, cadavers and “people registered in two states,” had deprived him of a popular-vote majority in 2016.
He lied about health care, the economy, immigration and trade — repeatedly. He even claimed that, under his proposed tax plan, he’d “probably pay more than I’m paying right now,” which might, unlike the rest of his claims, have been literally true, because, as we now know, he was barely paying taxes at all.
But all that was just the beginning. Trump has told lies about virtually everything ever since, lies big and small, meaningful and meaningless, saying anything to put himself in the best position or the best light. He lied about paying off a porn star. He lied, despite photographic evidence, about having never met a woman who accused him of rape. . . . . And on and on and on.
By the end of August, when he accepted his nomination for reelection, he’d told more than 22,000 falsehoods in office, barrelling ahead at a clip of more than 50 a day, meaning that he’s probably over 25,000 by now.
The newer lies are the most serious — for individual citizens and for our democracy. Without hesitation, Trump has said anything about the pandemic he has thought politically helpful, whether it was true or made sense. We know the litany by heart: The coronavirus affects virtually no one. We’ve rounded the corner. A vaccine is almost here. Herd immunity will save us.
As for our democracy, Trump unceasingly and maliciously maligned the electoral process, just as he did when he took office. Facing an uphill reelection fight, he made every false claim he could to delegitimize, or set the stage for challenging, the result — truth, logic and consistency be damned, even at the price of undermining the democratic system he swore an oath to protect.
Mail-in voting begets fraud, Trump said, except when conducted by people or in places supporting him. Democratic governors were sending mail-in ballots to dogs. Ballots were being “dumped in rivers.” Votes were being faked, votes were being discarded — take your pick.
He said he could lose only if the election were “rigged.”
In effect, Trump announced long ago precisely what he would be doing now: spuriously assert victory, and mendaciously claim thievery, “a fraud on the American public,” before all the votes were counted, and without the slightest evidence of fraud.
Claim “plenty of proof” of “Voter Fraud and State Election Fraud” — without an ounce of it. And wherever it matters, bring meritless lawsuits. Argue to “STOP THE COUNT!” — or not — depending not on the facts, or the law, or simple fairness, but upon what he believes at any moment might help him.
Trump’s conduct illustrates, as well as anything else over the past four years, his unfitness for office. Trump may lose his lawsuits and the election, but he will never give up on his claims of fraud.
In the end, his deranged claims of fraud will have accomplished only one thing: He will have squandered his last and best chance to show he could admit the truth and, for once, do something right by the country instead of himself.
Sadly, he cares only about himself. No one and nothing else matters to him. Always the malignant narcissist.
PresidentTrump repeated his unfounded claim that political foes were trying to steal the election from him during a briefing on Thursday evening as he trailed his opponent and remaining swing states were leaning toward a Joe Biden presidency.
The presidentrailed against what he called “illegal votes,” not acknowledging that the US election is still in progress as legal mail-in votes are being counted and that the 2020 presidential race was simply not able to be declared on Election Night due to the coronavirus.
More than 100 million Americans cast their vote early or by mail — out of roughly 160 million total — but [Trump]
the presidentclaimed that those mail-in ballots, which are still being tabulated, were either illegal or invalid as they surged Biden’s standing in the suburbs and cities of must-win states like Pennsylvania and Arizona.
It was Trump’s first appearance in almost two days after his early Wednesday speech where he also claimed Democrats were using “fraud” to help Biden win.
With the former veep leading the Electoral College and swing states coming down to the wire, [Trump]
the presidenthas deployed surrogates to key states to claim the election is being stolen from him.
The votes currently being tabulated are legal mail-in ballots but the president claimed without evidence that the system was “corrupt” and again suggested Democrats were producing fake ballots to oust him.
At various points throughout the campaign, Trump himself encouraged supporters in states like Florida to use mail voting, calling it “safe and secure.”
The president’s reelection campaign has filed a flurry of lawsuits in must-win states including Georgia and Pennsylvania in a bid to halt vote counting there.
Illinois GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger called Trump’s claims “insane.”
“We want every vote counted, yes every legal vote (of course). But, if you have legit concerns about fraud present EVIDENCE and take it to court. STOP Spreading debunked misinformation… This is getting insane,” he tweeted during the briefing.
And even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Wednesday said that while “it’s not unusual for people to claim they’ve won the election … claiming you win the election is different from finishing the counting. And what we’re going to see here in the next few days, both in the Senate races and in the presidential race, is each state will ultimately get to a final outcome.”
When the Louisville Courier Journal asked if McConnell thinks it’s appropriate for the courts to halt counting of votes, McConnell noted it depends on state law.
“And my personal view is it’s none of the federal government’s business how states decide to conduct their election,” he said. “I mean, I think that has been, for 230 years, a state decision, and we have to adapt to how states choose to do it.
the president’sre-election campaign has been particularly aggrieved by Fox News’ decision to call the swing state of Arizona late on Wednesday evening, followed by Associated Press, when hundreds of thousands of votes were still uncounted.
On a call with reporters earlier Thursday, senior advisor Jason Miller said the campaign would “very aggressively” continue to push the publications to reverse their calls.
Meanwhile, Joe Biden has essentially declared himself the victor even as counting continues in six states.
With luck, losing will push Der Trumpenfuhrer to a nervous breakdown and the 25th Amendment can be utilized to remove him for the balance of the lame duck period which would produce a further irony: Mike Pence could be president for a few weeks and achieve what he has prostituted himself for for the past 5 years, just not in the way he envisioned.
In the end, the biggest interference in America’s elections didn’t come from Russia, or China, or Iran or North Korea. It came from the president of the United States.
As I write this, we still don’t know for certain who won the election, although Joe Biden seems in a strong position to win the White House and Republicans to retain the Senate.
But we do know for certain that
PresidentTrump lied to the public early Wednesday morning when he claimed victory and sought a judicial rescue from voters. His brazenness undermines our election system and the very idea of a peaceful transition of power.
It’s hard to imagine that the Supreme Court, however politicized it may have become, would go along with such a charade. I don’t believe that Trump, if he loses in a clear-cut way, will be able to remain in office; if he tries to barricade himself in the Oval Office, he’ll be escorted out on Jan. 20.
Yet what Trump has already done is what the Russians have always tried to do: cast doubt on American elections and destabilize the United States. The 2018 federal indictment of Russian election hackers alleged that they were engaged in “information warfare against the United States of America, . . . That’s precisely what Trump is now doing. He may hug and kiss American flags and pretend to be a great patriot, but this is a betrayal of our country.
If Biden wins after this poisoning of the chalice, he will inherit a badly divided country after an election that many will deem illegitimate, and it will be harder to govern and more difficult for the United States to exert influence around the world. It’s one thing for Russian hackers in St. Petersburg to sabotage our government; it’s far more tragic when the president does the same from the White House.
[Mike] Pence let his boss’s lies stand, and most leading Republicans have also kept quiet.
Trump’s latest attack on the integrity of America’s electoral system . . . . comes after years of other lies and efforts to discredit the electoral system. And yes, it’s true that it is an electoral system that has obvious undemocratic elements, but these aren’t what Trump has been talking about.
Biden will easily win the popular vote by millions of ballots, and yet the outcome is in doubt only because of the Electoral College. Between 2000 and 2016, in two of the three times when Republicans won the presidency, it was while losing the popular vote.
The Senate has similar issues. The current Democratic senators represent 14 million more voters than the Republican senators, but it’s the Democrats who are in the minority because of the outsize influence of low-population states.
More broadly, much of the Republican Party seems to fear voters and believes that its best path to victory is to suppress voting or even, in the case of Harris County, Texas, discard ballots. We no longer have poll taxes and grandfather clauses to disenfranchise Black voters, but G.O.P. officials modernized the barriers to voting by people of color.
Trump himself said in March that he opposed efforts to encourage more voting because “if you agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”
The Democrats had a great deal going for them in this election: a nominee viewed as soothing and electable, streams of new outrages from Trump, frequent revelations of corruption or improprieties involving him, denunciations of him from family members and former aides, and, above all, a mismanaged pandemic that killed 230,000 Americans and devastated the economy.
Yet many voters saw all this and were unfazed. Dr. Irwin Redlener, an expert in managing health disasters, says that Trump won nine of the 10 states with the highest prevalence of the coronavirus.
So as I fret about Trump’s efforts to do Russia’s work and delegitimize this election, I also keep wrestling with this question: How is it that so many millions of Americans watched Trump for four years, suffered the pain of his bungling of Covid-19, listened to his stream of lies, observed his attacks on American institutions — and then voted for him in greater numbers than before?
The answer to the columnist's question is easy. Trump pandered to the hatreds of these voters and the prejudices be they racial or religious in motivation. Here in Virginia, Trump did best among uneducated, low income white males - those who perceive their skin color to be their only source of privilege and social standing. The irony is that the GOP's policies over the years have harmed these white voters the most.
Wednesday, November 04, 2020
When the Supreme Court on Wednesday hears Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, much attention will be on the new justice — it’s Amy Coney Barrett’s third day hearing oral arguments — and on a hot-button case about whether the city may cancel the contract of a Catholic foster care agency because it won’t work with same-gender couples. But a potentially broader issue will arise during the hearing that could potentially reshape the status of religion in U.S. law — further strengthening religious freedom rights in ways that some say has already gone too far.
In Fulton, the court will consider whether the city violated the First Amendment by disallowing Catholic Social Services from being part of its foster care system.
The justices are also being asked to overturn a ruling that has been controversial for religious conservatives since it was made 30 years ago: Employment Division v. Smith. The decision, which says a person’s religious motivations don’t exempt them from neutral, generally applicable laws, was written by Justice Antonin Scalia and said that without limits “every citizen [would] become a law unto himself.”
The Trump administration is supporting Catholic Social Services. It says the court does not need to overturn Smith to rule for the agency and alleges there’s evidence of religious bias in the way the city went about enforcing the law.
The court this week said it would entertain taking up Smith, but it is not obliged to make any ruling or detailed comment about it. However, multiple justices have made comments reflecting their willingness to reconsider that ruling, and lawyers are prepared to present arguments about Smith broadly — and how it pertains to Fulton.
The possibility that the newly 6-3 conservative-majority court could overturn Smith and set a new precedent about the legal status of religion comes as the country is deeply unsettled about how to balance LGBTQ and other rights with the rights of religious traditionalists. There are increasingly diverse views about what constitutes religiosity in general and how it should be weighed against other rights and when and how much religion can be burdened.
A 2016 Pew poll showed Americans split down the middle on whether religious business owners who work in the wedding industry should be required to provide services to same-sex couples or be allowed to refuse. A much higher percentage — 67 percent — said employers with religious objections to providing contraception as part of their health-care plan should still be required to do so.
Demographics also show a country steadily becoming more religiously diverse, pluralistic and secular.
“On the one hand, you look at the [Supreme] Court, and especially with Barrett, religious freedom will be locked up for a while, even as the culture is moving in this other direction unabated,” said Daniel Bennett, a political scientist at John Brown University who focuses on religion.
But this feels like a moment of huge potential for some religious groups and their advocates — religious conservatives in particular — who in recent decades have come to see themselves as endangered.
That sense of threat prevails even though many religious liberty experts across the ideological spectrum agree that the legal place of religion has been getting stronger and more secure in the last decade or so. There have been multiple high-profile recent wins at the Supreme Court . . . . Those cases touch on the two big arenas of religion in constitutional law — the establishment clause and the free exercise clause. Establishment cases deal with the Constitution’s ban on Congress endorsing, promoting or becoming too involved with religion. Free exercise cases deal with Americans’ rights to practice their faith.
Barrett’s addition to the court raises concerns among some that the balance will tilt further toward religious privilege for some at the expense of the nonreligious and religious minorities.
“Does the establishment clause work with the free exercise clause to protect equality in religious freedom for all, instead of just for some?” asked Rachel Laser, president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Barrett’s record, Laser said, shows “she’s willing to use religious freedom as a sword, not a shield. So we’re concerned how that will come down.”
[I]f the court decides to toss Smith and go back to the previous standard — which strongly limited when government could burden religion — or to substantially alter it, that would present a significant challenge to some of the progressive agenda. That includes Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s vow to introduce an Equality Act that he says would end religious exemptions to LGBTQ protections.
Personally, I continue to view religion (a man-made construct typically used to divide or penalize an unpopular group), especially as practiced by its more far right adherents, to be one of the great evils in the world. Religious belief should be subordinate to all civil non-discrimination laws. Similarly, unless 100% engaged in charitable work, religious institutions including all churches should lose tax-exempt status.
. . . Americans will choose between two radically different paths: a populist ideology transforming the values of the country itself, and an attempt to reject it.
However unprecedented these times might feel, it’s a decision as old as democracy itself. Over 2,000 years ago, the Republic on which America was modeled faced the same choice. The Donald Trump of his day, Julius Caesar, promised to return Rome to an imagined ancient glory—but instead constructed himself a throne, bulldozing democratic norms, ignoring checks on his power and eroding political debate. Rome chose to follow Caesar, putting the famed Republic on a glide path to destruction.
Trump himself would undoubtedly relish any characterization as the American Caesar, but that comparison is more damning than he might like.
Like Trump, Julius Caesar was already a celebrity when he took the highest office in Rome—and despised by much of the ruling class. As a leader, questions were constantly raised about his fitness for office; more than simply unconventional, he operated within an entirely new set of rules, overturning procedure and bending the law whenever it was expedient.
Caesar was mired, too, in crippling debt—accrued in the promotion of his own image as he sought to deliver the most ostentatious festivals and gladiatorial games. Deeply concerned with appearances, he performed lavish demonstrations of wealth, exhibiting a penchant for displays of as much gold as possible—and did so by taking on eye-watering amounts of credit.
Most objectionable to his critics, however, was the explosive form of his message, which threatened to tear the fabric of the state apart. Like Trump, Caesar spoke directly to the people, railing against traditional elites, complaining about noncitizens taking jobs and encouraging violence. Romans had assumed their Republic could weather the threat of iconoclastic populism, that their norms were sacrosanct, that their system couldn’t be brought down. But the consulship of Julius Caesar shattered this illusion in the same way that Trump and Trumpism have radically reconfigured the boundaries of acceptability in modern U.S. politics, revealing cracks in the ability of institutions to withstand the creep of authoritarianism.
The choice made by the Republic guaranteed that, ultimately, it did not survive the premiership of Caesar. Rather, his tenure left the state mortally divided, paralyzed by brutal street violence and sliding toward civil war—a war that Caesar himself would eventually lead against his internal enemies to become the most powerful man in the world—this time, for life. When he was finally removed, it wasn’t a legal repudiation at the ballot box—it was the grisly assassination of a dictator perpetuus, and the damage had already been done.
The Roman Republic was much more democratic than many assume from the popular image of toga-wearing, dormouse-eating oligarchs, vying for power in the closed shop of the Senate house. While the Senate usually set the agenda, “The People”—that is, the male, free, citizenry—voted, in person, on almost every law, declaring war, determining government spending and electing magistrates.
At the heart of this democracy was a battleground of public opinion and ideology, the contio—the public meeting held in the forum in the shadow of Rome’s most sacred monuments.
[F]or centuries, the contio was constrained by a set of norms—known as mos maiorum, or the “ways of the ancestors”—that balanced the sovereignty of the people with the authority of the state.
Though powerful and essential in the administration of the Republic, the contio’s power was limited by the powers of other branches of government. It worked in conjunction with the Senate as the means by which that body gauged public opinion and sought to build consent and consensus. Most importantly, the magistrates that officiated meetings rarely strayed too far from sanctioned kinds of political communication. Abiding by laws, conventions and a sense of constitutional propriety represented a faith in the eternal state itself—a kind of Roman “originalism.”
But this faith in the constitution . . . . was a powerful illusion, belying the deep structural vulnerabilities within the state.
The spell broke during Julius Caesar’s consulship, when he first ascended the speaker’s platform. Caesar turned the contio from an arena of fierce, multisided debate into a rally, addressing crowds of the faithful with calls for resistance against the corruption of the elites—a “drain the swamp” message that fostered massive support among disaffected plebeians.
The tipping point came on the eve of an important vote. Caesar was holding an assembly to pass his landmark piece of land reform legislation, when a number of highly prominent magistrates—including Caesar’s co-consul that year, Marcus Bibulus—arrived at the voting pens to exercise their legal veto. Suddenly, Caesar’s supporters attacked.
When Caesar declared that there was nothing to gain by engaging politically with his opponents, and instead addressed his loyal followers directly, he embarked on a political arms race that drew the battle lines of an internal conflict that consumed Rome for a generation. The same is happening in America today. When Trump communicates at the contio of social media, there is no debate, no call for consensus or cooperation, simply a merry-go-round of tweets attacking the “corrupt elite” and promoting the brand of Trumpism. . . . . The corresponding rise in violence—from the vigilantism in response to Black Lives Matter to the plot to abduct Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan—is alarming.
At the same time, the U.S., like Rome, is experiencing a profound shift toward acceptance of authoritarianism. Returning to the Senate after the attack, Bibulus attempted to have Caesar denounced for what was clearly an illegal act—the veto had still been declared, protested Bibulus, despite the chaos in the forum. Nevertheless, though the chance was there to disavow Caesar, at the crucial moment, he was acquitted.
Today, as with Caesar and the Roman Senate, the Republican Party’s pivot from opposition to full-throated support of Trump after his election victory four years ago has transformed the GOP into an institution that is simply unwilling to stand up to [Trump]
At the same time, opponents of both Trump and Caesar have woefully misunderstood their appeal. As with Trump, Caesar’s image was mired in what his opposition always felt would be his downfall; his braggadocio, his hostility toward political opponents, a history of financial, political and sexual irregularities. And yet, the more outrageously he behaved, the more devoted his followers became. The political class of both Caesar and Trump’s time failed to understand the image as part and parcel of the underlying message; these men were crusading on a platform of smashing the conventions of the state for their own benefit, conventions which meant little to their fervent supporters.
Trump’s opponents, too, have often reacted like Caesar’s: at first with pearl-clutching incredulity about his “unpresidential” image while failing completely to deal with the power of his message—followed by a propensity to adopt a Trumpian, Caesarean style of “us vs. them” communication themselves.
These parallels come with a warning for the United States today: Two thousand years ago, many establishment Romans misunderstood the damage that Caesar was doing to the state’s political culture and institutions, and a nervously asserted sense of complacency continued in certain circles. History’s most famous orator, Cicero, decried this complacency—the belief that the damage of “one bad consul” could always be undone. In Rome, that was far from the case: Caesar left office legitimized, emboldened and—even in his absence—an ever-present force in the political landscape of Republican Rome. When he departed for the provinces, the rot of authoritarian populism had already set in.
By failing to curtail Caesar, and failing to address the deep social and structural inequalities driving ordinary supporters into his arms, the establishment ensured that the tribal rhetoric espoused by Caesar at the contio translated into a destructive and pervasive authoritarian ideology.
With violence now a legitimate form of political expression, when Caesar returned to Rome, it was at the head of an army. The environment of strongman politics he helped to create left civil war and violence as the only effective means of political change—and ultimately sealed his own fate. After he had himself appointed “Dictator for Life,” there was no longer a legitimate political avenue by which to remove him: The result, famously, was a bloody tyrannicide in the Senate house itself.
Just as the Romans discovered, the political structures of the U.S. are not as robust as many thought they were. . . . The challenge of fixing public discourse in the age of QAnon and Covid-19 conspiracies may be insurmountable, particularly without a resounding result this week that legitimately rejects Trumpism. Nevertheless, regardless of who wins, avoiding the fate of the Roman Republic will require an enormous shift across society, and a frank reappraisal of the weaknesses of an 18th-century pluralistic political system. Real democracy promotes a range of voices; Twitter democracy—the democracy of the contio—privileges the loudest. If America is to survive this new era, it must relearn how to speak, and how to listen.
Like many, I feel physically sick as we await a determination of whether Biden or Trump is the winner of a contest that will once again likely be decided by rust belt states. Meanwhile, as expected, Trump is call for a cessation of vote counting and messaging his horrible supporters that any additional votes will be fraudulent. Never mind the state laws that govern the issue. I cannot help but think of a column by Frank Bruni in the New York Times a week or so ago that argued the most destressing thing about Trump's win in 2016 is that it revealed much about America and too many Americans: many of our fellow citizens are not the good people we would like to think they are. A piece in The Atlantic looks at Trump's efforts to subvert the valid election laws. As for Hispanic voters in Miami-Dade County, don't get me started on the idiocy of those who seemingly voted for Trump. Here are article excerpts:
With most polls closed around the nation, it is clear that Democratic dreams of a quick and decisive Biden victory were just as much an illusion as the president’s hope for a clear-cut win. The winner of the election remains unclear, with the result appearing likely to come down to Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania—upper-Midwest states that swung from Democrats to Trump four years ago, and where clear results are not expected tonight.
Speaking at the White House around 2:25 a.m. on Wednesday, Trump declared victory and falsely claimed that the results were pending because of misconduct.
“This is a fraud on the American people,” Trump said, baselessly. “This is an embarrassment to our country. We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election.”
Trump promised to go to the U.S. Supreme Court to demand an end to vote-counting, which has still not concluded. “We want all voting to stop,” he said.
Even without the results, there are some lessons to draw from the race already. State-level polls suggesting a rosy outlook for Biden seem to have been badly off. (Biden is still likely to win the national popular vote.) The most glaring example is Florida, which appears to be headed into Trump’s column despite Biden consistently but narrowly leading in polls there.
Florida is also a good example of one of the most important trends in the results so far: Trump is outperforming expectations, many polls, and his 2016 results among minority voters. In Miami-Dade County, for example, where more than two-thirds of the population is Hispanic, Biden was leading Trump by just 7.3 percent with 95 percent reporting—in a county Hillary Clinton won by nearly 30 points four years ago.
Results from those states will stream in slowly. Officials in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin say that they do not expect to declare winners tonight, and counting could stretch later into the week. Trump is comfortably ahead in Ohio; Biden polled well in Nevada, where results were slow to arrive. Although Biden is seeing positive signs in Arizona, most of the reach states that he had dreamed of snatching from Trump aren’t breaking his way. Texas is likely to remain Republican. North Carolina is on a knife’s edge. In Georgia, many votes remain outstanding from the Atlanta area, which is expected to tilt heavily Democratic, but Trump currently leads in the state.
This means that the final outcome may not become clear for days. Maine and Nebraska, which award some electoral votes by congressional district, could find themselves in the spotlight. There is even a chance of a 269–269 Electoral College tie, a once-in-a-blue-moon scenario that would send the race to the U.S. House.
The uncertainty will test the strength of the country’s democratic institutions. Americans are accustomed to news outlets projecting the winner of the presidential race on Election Night. Official election results don’t exist until states certify them, which will be weeks from now, but ever more sophisticated numerical analyses have produced an expectation of quick and decisive answers.
“From a legal perspective, there are no results on Election Night, and there never have been,” Edward Foley, a law professor at Ohio State University, told me in August. “The only thing that has ever existed on Election Night are projected results that the media has helpfully provided to its audiences.”
Some states will continue to accept ballots for several days, as long as they are postmarked by Election Day or the day before. And surging voter enthusiasm this year means there are likely to be more provisional ballots cast than normal.
The coming hours and days, and potentially weeks, will see a flurry of lawsuits and countersuits as the candidates seek any advantage they can get—and election officials try to figure out who actually won.
The most important state to watch now might be Pennsylvania. Election experts have long viewed the Keystone State as the most likely to cause a nightmare this year, both because it is highly contested and because it has been the subject of intense litigation.
Officials in the state were barred from counting the onslaught of mailed-in votes until Tuesday, which will delay the final count. That will take time, and there’s likely to be more litigation over the state’s decision to accept ballots that didn’t arrive by Election Day and over individual ballots. All of these factors mean that a complete tally is probably still days away at best.
“I’m less worried about the process playing out,” Dan Mallison, an assistant professor at Penn State at Harrisburg, told me. “I’m more worried about the rhetoric, particularly [Trump's]
the president’srhetoric casting delays as a product of fraud or funny business. It’s important to think of this as we’re probably going to have an Election Week, not an Election Day.”
Be very afraid.
Tuesday, November 03, 2020
Boarding up storefronts in the days before an election isn't something we do in this country. Supporters of one presidential candidate don't use their vehicles to create havoc on major highways or to threaten a bus filled with supporters of the other candidate. We don't go into Election Day wondering if all the votes will be counted — or if everyone will accept the outcome. We don't turn a deadly pandemic into a political issue. None of this happens in the self-proclaimed greatest democracy on Earth.
Until now. It is tempting to blame all the chaos and conflict we're living through on
PresidentTrump — and to hope that if Trump is defeated, things will snap back to the old normal. But Trump is a mere symptom, not the disease itself.
As he campaigns for Joe Biden, former president Barack Obama has riffed on a memorable line from his wife, former first lady Michelle Obama: "Being president doesn't change who you are, it reveals who you are." More than that, the Trump presidency has revealed who we are as a nation.
If Biden's superpower as a politician is empathy, Trump's is shamelessness. He has zero respect for the guardrails that long proscribed our political life.
Not so long ago, a public official caught in a lie had some explaining to do and some contrition to display; Trump simply repeats the lie, confident that many of his followers will believe it. He claims that he can lose only if the election is somehow riddled with fraud. And when a caravan of Trump supporters dangerously surrounded a Biden campaign bus on a Texas highway Friday — an incident now being investigated by the FBI — it was no surprise that Trump reacted by calling those reckless drivers "patriots" and saying they "did nothing wrong."
What continues to be surprising and disturbing is the wider Trump effect: the way he gives both his supporters and his opponents permission to say and do things they might once have considered beyond the pale. At rallies, that means encouraging ritual chants of "Lock her up!" or "Lock him up!" about Trump's political opponents.
But if Trump revealed this ugliness, he didn't invent it. A segment of the White population, especially in rural areas and small towns, was already alienated from political and cultural "elites" in the big, globalized urban centers — and increasingly anxious about lost status and power in a nation rapidly becoming more diverse. Unjustified police violence and unaddressed systemic racism had already brought many Black Americans to the boil-over point — and Trump devoted himself to turning up the temperature.
[T]oo many Americans [are] looking to politicians to provide them with a sense of affirmation and superiority rather than with carefully considered policy proposals that might benefit the entire nation.
Take Trump's opposition to the Affordable Care Act, . . . Trump's animus about "Obamacare" was personal: Destroying it wasn't about changing health-care policy but about dismantling a hated opponent's legacy.
Even if Trump gets the electoral drubbing he deserves, the cleavages he has so successfully and destructively exploited will still endanger us. Covid-19 will still plague the land. No election can erase the fact that we have more cases and deaths than any other nation. Whether or not Trump is defeated, his influence can linger: Too much of the country is refusing to regularly wear masks because the hated "other tribe" insists that everyone should, making a bare face the 2020 equivalent of a "Make America Great Again" hat.
One thing that gives me hope is the fact that so many of us — nearly 100 million, as of Monday — defied both the raging pandemic and widespread attempts at voter suppression to cast ballots before Election Day.
We can't begin to solve our problems unless we talk to one another, and elections are the venue for that conversation. We may be yelling and screaming across the divide, but it's a beginning — and you have a part to play. Vote.