Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The Future Of Debates

At the end of the previous post, I speculated that after last night’s production, the Commission on Presidential Debates may decide that was enough for this cycle, at least at the presidential level.  I doubt we’ll see such behavior at the one next week between Mike Pence and Kamala Harris.

I think that’s a bad idea, and I concur with Steve M.’s reasoning.

Canceling the debates would send a signal that Trump won by debating the way he did. Trump’s base believes that every individual and institution in America that isn’t explicitly pro-Trump is part of an organized partisan conspiracy against him, so canceling the debates would be treated as a Democratic subterfuge meant to shield Biden from harm.

Change the rules if necessary — or maybe the rules just need to be enforced. But let the debates continue. Let Trump remind America again how miserable he can make the next four years if he’s given a chance.

So keep the debates going. They’re not about substance, anyway, and anyone who thinks they’ll learn anything substantive about a candidate’s policies are the same people who go on Grindr looking for a long-term relationship with the love of their life: it’s not gonna happen. And the more Trump behaves like a playground bully and refuses to abide by the rules, the more it will show how unhinged he is, and if re-elected, there would be no restraints on him, as if there ever were in the first place.

“Shit Show” “Dumpster Fire” “Complete Mess”

The reviews are in:

Dana Bash on CNN:

Bash put it bluntly: “that was a shit show.”

She noted that because they’re on cable TV, they’re permitted to use such crude language, which she also apologized for.

“But that is really the phrase I’m getting from people on both sides of the aisle on text and the only phrase I can think of to describe it.”

Bash’s CNN colleagues Jake Tapper, Wolf Blitzer and Abby Philip echoed similar sentiments.

Tapper called the debate “a hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck.” Philip said it was “a complete disaster.”

Blitzer agreed that it was “the most chaotic presidential debate” he had ever seen, adding that the first debate between Trump and Biden raises “a lot of questions about the future of a presidential debate between these two candidates.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised, by the way, if this is the last presidential debate between the president of the United States and the former vice president of the United States,” Blitzer said. “But we shall see, fairly soon.”

Brit Hume of Fox News:

Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume said Trump “was like a bucking bronco the entire time. I don’t know how the people at home would find that appealing.”

As for Biden — who Hume earlier in the evening repeatedly said was “senile” — he “came across as competent” during the debate.

Josh Marshall:

I worried what this momentous night would bring. In the event I think it was somewhere between bad and disastrous for President Trump.

The most important fact about this debate is that going into it President Trump was clearly behind. He needed to shift the dynamic of the race, force some major error, introduce some new factor. That didn’t happen. I saw nothing tonight that seems at all likely to improve things for President Trump. Nothing.

Biden did fine. Not great. But fine. I’d say he had a B performance with some B+ or even A- minus moments. But for him that’s fine. He’s ahead. He’s not running as best debater. He’s not running as most dynamic figure. He’s not competing for most unstable affect. He’s running as the guy who will end the nightmare. If that’s the goal he turned in just the right performance.

To the extent there was any strategy to Trump’s ranting – and I think it was mainly instinctual – it was to create chaos in the hope that it would throw Biden off his stride and prompt some scattered or damaging moment. That didn’t happen. It was really just Trump yelling. That was the strategy his surrogates previewed. And if he had triggered some embarrassing flub perhaps it would have been a winning strategy. Everybody knows Trump’s a bully and a loudmouth. That’s not new information. But maybe it would be worth it if he forced some major error from Biden. He didn’t. And so what we had was Trump ranting, visibly angry, launching off on numerous digressions, lying. It was ugly, unhinged and exhausting – a good summary of Trump’s entire presidency.

One thing that struck me was that the few times when Biden was able to speak uninterrupted for 30 or 60 seconds he was actually devastating against Trump. I was thinking, Trump’s right to keep interrupting. When Biden gets to talk it’s terrible for Trump.

Biden spent a lot of time simply laughing at Trump. That made for a good visual and it also clearly enraged the President. That spurred Trump to be even more self-injuring. It made him more spluttering. Donald Trump is the President of the United States. And yet half the time during this spectacle he looked like the loudmouth yelling taunts and insults outside a party he’s pissed he wasn’t invited to.

He looked weak and angry.

There are definitely people who think Biden didn’t seem strong enough reacting to or containing Trump’s tirades. Basically I don’t think this is right. Clearly Biden isn’t really quite able to keep up with Trump’s antics. I don’t say that because of age. It’s just characterologically beyond him, for better or worse. But Biden’s not running for arguer. He held his own and simply showed himself to be a very different kind of person, a very different kind of potential President. That’s a win for him.

Trump talked a lot more. In a sense he did “dominate” the debate. But most of it was self-injuring.

I think there’s a decent chance this performance will be quite damaging for Trump. But who knows? Other outrages have rolled over him like water over a duck’s back. What I’m very confident of is that Trump needed to change things in his favor. He failed to do that. Since he’s behind, and significantly behind, that is a huge missed opportunity and a big loss.

Benjamin Wallace-Wells in The New Yorker:

“Did you see what’s going on?” President Trump asked toward the end of the first Presidential debate, on Tuesday night. The moderator, Fox News’s Chris Wallace, had asked whether Trump would insure a smooth Presidential transition, should he lose. “Take a look at West Virginia. Mailmen selling the ballots,” Trump said. (In fact, a mail carrier from Dry Fork, West Virginia, pleaded guilty in July to altering eight primary ballot request forms—which some in the conservative media have described as a portent of a stolen election.) “They’re being sold. They’re being dumped in rivers. This is a horrible thing for our country. This is not going to end well.”

In recent weeks, President Trump’s reëlection campaign has sometimes slipped between a normal mode, in which he makes explicit appeals for the votes of suburban women and tries to pin left-wing labels on Joe Biden, and an abnormal one, in which he amplifies right-wing talking points and speaks suspiciously about the integrity of the election. Even so, it was new to see the pattern on a Presidential debate stage. Wallace asked whether the candidates would encourage their supporters to stay calm while the ballots were counted. A simple ask. Biden agreed. Trump focussed instead on his campaign’s effort to get his supporters to monitor elections in big cities and on a Pennsylvania rule that might stand in the way of that effort. He said, “I’m urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully, because that’s what has to happen. I am urging them to do it. As you know, today there was a big problem in Philadelphia; they went in to watch. They are what you call poll watchers—a very nice, very safe thing. They were thrown out; they weren’t allowed to watch. You know why? Because bad things happen in Philadelphia, bad things. I am urging my people—I hope it’s going to be a fair election. If it’s a fair election, I am a hundred per cent on board. But if I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can’t go along with that.”

Wallace kept trying to get the President to say that he would play by the normal rules, but each exchange only encouraged Trump to signal that he wouldn’t. A few minutes earlier, Wallace had asked the President about right-wing militia groups. Trump responded, “What do you want me to call them?” The Proud Boys, Biden said, from the other podium, naming a prominent far-right group. Trump said, “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.” Biden flashed a big grin, which covered some of the chill of the moment: Had Trump meant to condemn the right-wing militias or encourage them? The Proud Boys’ chairman, Enrique Tarrio, wrote online, “Standing by sir.”

There was quite an arc to the debate, which was held on a makeshift stage at the Cleveland Clinic. It started as a farce, with Trump so relentlessly interrupting Biden that Wallace struggled to keep the early exchanges coherent. “Will you shut up, man?” Biden asked, exasperated, when Trump kept talking over him. Biden tied himself in knots in the first few minutes, struggling to make the case that the President shouldn’t get to nominate Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court before the election and to clearly explain the benefits of the Affordable Care Act and the threat Trump poses to it. The speculation had been that at least eighty million people might watch the debate—which is a lot of eyes to simultaneously roll. Debates are meant to present contrasts, but at the outset this one delivered only characters: the challenger serious and meandering; the incumbent more concise, funnier, and saying plainly false and ridiculous things.

The fact-checkers tallied plenty of Trump lies, about the Obama Administration’s Clean Energy Standard, about the extent of ballot fraud in New Jersey, about proper forest management. Twenty-five minutes in, just after Trump had promised that a coronavirus vaccine will arrive within weeks, Biden asked, “Do you believe for a moment what he’s telling you, in light of all the lies he’s told you about the whole issue relating to COVID?” Biden was looking directly at the camera; Trump was looking sideways, at Biden. Throughout the night, Trump seemed to be focussed on his opponent first and the audience only abstractly. He did not seem to notice that his untrustworthiness was the main theme Biden had been pressing, inelegantly but effectively, to persuade voters away from Trump, in the long summer defined by the pandemic. The President didn’t hear the challenge, only a pause. He rushed to fill it, with an attack he’d signalled in his rallies. “Did you use the word ‘smart’?” Trump asked Biden. The Democrat had, though only in passing, while talking mainly about mass death. “So you said you went to Delaware State, but you forgot the name of your college.” (This was likely inscrutable to most of the audience: Biden, who attended the University of Delaware, has never said that he attended Delaware State, a historically Black college, though this has become a right-wing talking point.) Trump went on, “He graduated, either lowest or almost the lowest in his class. Don’t ever use the word ‘smart’ with me.”

Trump’s trouble isn’t debating, exactly. It’s the same political problem he’s had since the spring, when the pandemic turned a modest Biden lead into a large one. Trump has tried to answer the material suffering of people with culture-war posturing, in a language mostly familiar to conservative political obsessives. In the decisive second phase of the debate tonight, the one centered on COVID, Biden kept the focus on people. “How many of you got up this morning and had an empty chair at the kitchen table because someone died, to COVID?” Biden asked. “How many of you are in a situation where you lost your mom or dad, and you couldn’t even speak to them—the nurse had to hold the phone up so you could, in fact, say goodbye?” One difference between the Trump of 2016 and the current version is that, in his campaign against Hillary Clinton, he talked about people (mostly exaggerated versions of people who’d been the victims of immigrant violence or betrayed by élites, but people still), and now he talks in the abstract nouns of news chyrons. Presidents lose touch. Trump trails in the polls by seven or eight points, and he spent the evening speaking to his base. The debate went to Biden on points.

But that wasn’t the texture of the evening, or the story. The texture was chaos—the overlapping non-responsiveness, visible even in those few moments when the candidates arrived at a clear point of contrast, as they did in an exchange over the coronavirus lockdowns.

“People want their places to be open,” Trump said.

“People want to be safe,” Biden said.

For a moment, the contrast between the two men was correctly set, gemlike, just like that. Wallace, for the first time all night, might have allowed himself a sense of triumph. It didn’t last a full second. Trump’s voice, throaty and random as ever, blundered on, “I’m the one that brought back football.” And then, defiantly, “It was me, and I’m very happy to do it.”

There is a comic version of Trump’s four-year term that ends on a note just like that. But the story of the evening was that the same factors that have Trump behind in the polls—his sequestration in an imagined culture war, during a real pandemic—also raise the likelihood of a tragic, violent version of the end to this election season, about five weeks from now. The mundane aspects of the campaign keep intersecting with the ominous, surreal ones. Here’s hoping that we can look back on this debate and remember only the ridiculousness.

Rob Reiner on Twitter:

We just won the election.

I don’t know if Mr. Reiner is right; counting chickens and all that, but it certainly did define it for the rest of the run. I’d be willing to bet that there won’t be any more presidential debates in this cycle.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Not So Fast, Ron

From the Miami Herald:

Jimmy Flanigan walked into his family’s packed Flanigan’s Restaurant in Coconut Grove Friday night, three hours after Gov. Ron DeSantis approved 100 percent inside seating, and thought it looked too busy.

A crowd gathered to watch the Miami Heat play an 8:30 p.m. playoff game Sept. 25 on more than a dozen televisions. Patrons were standing shoulder-to-shoulder. The bar was steadily serving drinks.

“It was a little scary walking into a Flanigan’s after six months and seeing it full,” said Flanigan, CEO and president of the South Florida-based chain of 24 sports-bar-style restaurants. “It was too busy. So we backed off to 50 percent.”

New state guidelines for restaurants and bars, released after 4 p.m., and a delay of more than a day before Miami-Dade clarified its own rules to stem the spread of coronavirus, caused confusion across the county among patrons and restaurant owners.

“To say it was confusing would be an understatement,” Flanigan said. “It was compounded by the fact that the governor released the hounds without any warning.”

DeSantis moved the state into Phase 3 Sept. 25, ordering that all businesses immediately be allowed to open with at least 50 percent capacity. Restaurants, the order said, would be allowed to open at 100 percent indoor seating capacity. Local government would have to justify to the state any restrictions that kept capacity under 50 percent, DeSantis’ order read.

Not until nearly 11 p.m. the next day did Miami-Dade release its new guidelines to control the spread of coronavirus. Mayor Carlos Gimenez’ order allows at least 50 percent inside dining capacity for restaurants. They may reach up to 100 percent if they can sit tables six feet apart or by using outside spaces.

However, bars are allowed to seat at least 50 percent, even if their inside space does not allow for six feet of social distancing, DeSantis said.

The 30-plus hours between those two orders allowed for scenes not seen in Miami since before the March 16 restaurant shutdowns.

Flanigans, which regularly fills up for sporting events, immediately drew crowds that heard about DeSantis’ rules. Other restaurant owners were calling Jimmy Flanigan for advice, even as he was learning of the rules himself.

Flanigan said he ordered his Miami-Dade restaurants to go back to 50 percent capacity starting Sunday, and he shut down service at the bar.

“If you see a business at full tilt, it’s shocking. You start thinking about the (COVID-19) spread again,” Flanigan said. “That 24-hour period was where all the confusion came in.”

And it will, according to those who know best and who are being ignored by Trump and his whiny little minion, Gov. DeSantis.

Florida’s decision to reopen bars and restaurants at full capacity has the United States top infectious disease expert concerned that it will lead to another COVID-19 outbreak.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, shared his concerns on ABC’s “Good Morning America” Monday.

“Well that is very concerning to me, I mean, we have always said that, myself and Dr. Deborah Birx, who is the coordinator of the task force, that that is something we really need to be careful about,” Fauci said, “because when you’re dealing with community spread, and you have the kind of congregate setting where people get together, particularly without masks, you’re really asking for trouble. Now’s the time actually to double down a bit, and I don’t mean close.”

Fauci shared his concerns just days after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that all 67 counties would be transitioning into Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan, including Miami-Dade and Broward, the two hardest hit areas in the state.

Meanwhile, Richard Corcoran, the state’s Commissioner of Education, is trying to force Miami-Dade County Public Schools to re-open fully. That is being met with resistance both from the school administration and the rank and file teachers.

The Miami-Dade County School Board will convene an emergency meeting Tuesday to discuss reopening schools, this time under pressure from the Florida Department of Education to open schools Monday.

Days after the board voted on a conditional timeline of reopening schools between Oct. 14 and Oct. 21, Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran sent a sternly worded letter to Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and board chair Perla Tabares Hantman on Friday. He accused the board of contradicting the district’s state-approved reopening plan, which says the district would determine by Sept. 30 if “local conditions meet the criteria established” to open schools Oct. 5.

Corcoran instructed the district to open schools for in-person classes by Monday or prove exemptions on a school-by-school basis by Friday.

Tuesday’s 1 p.m. board meeting, to be held in person for the first time since March at the school district’s downtown headquarters, only has one item on the agenda to decide how to proceed. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho offered the board two options.

[…]

A dozen protesters led by the Rank and File Educators of Miami-Dade rallied outside the Miami-Dade School Board administration building on Monday afternoon supporting the board’s decision for a later start and condemning DeSantis’ demands as bullying.

Jeff Raymond, a high school social studies teacher, said he visited his classroom at the end of last week and didn’t see any hand sanitizer and not enough social distancing in classrooms. His school, which he asked to not name, said 80% of students are expected back for in-person learning.

On Monday, Raymond received paperwork to apply for an exemption under the Americans with Disabilities Act. He has pre-existing health conditions and said he was “not comfortable at all” with his classroom setup.

“I’ve been prepared to take a bullet for my students and those are unpreventable,” he said. “This is preventable.”

Several teachers from Miami Beach Senior High were present. One teacher who declined to give his name said he hasn’t received any PPE or been told about protocols.

History teacher Charles Pilamunga said he brought a tape measure to his classroom. He has 37 desks in his spacious classroom, yet there’s only 2 feet between desks. International standards outlined in the teachers union agreement with the district call for 3 feet, 3 inches of social distance.

Pilamunga can’t quit his job. He’s the sole breadwinner in his family and he has two young children.

“It is what it is but I’d rather it not be this way,” he said, carrying a sign that read, “It’s life or death for us, our students and our communities.”

But as long as DeSantis can deliver the votes for Trump, it doesn’t matter if more people get sick.

1,000,000

From the Washington Post:

The global death toll from the coronavirus pandemic eclipsed 1 million on Monday night — a figure that carries an incalculable human cost, and is almost certainly an undercount.

Calling the milestone “agonizing,” U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said Monday that it was crucial that the international community learn from the mistakes made in the first 10 months of the pandemic. “Responsible leadership matters,” he said. “Science matters. Cooperation matters — and misinformation kills.”

I think we all know who that last line was directed at, because nearly a quarter of those deaths happened here.

Monday, September 28, 2020

The Price We Pay For Civilization

From the New York Times:

Donald J. Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes the year he won the presidency. In his first year in the White House, he paid another $750.

He had paid no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years — largely because he reported losing much more money than he made.

As the president wages a re-election campaign that polls say he is in danger of losing, his finances are under stress, beset by losses and hundreds of millions of dollars in debt coming due that he has personally guaranteed. Also hanging over him is a decade-long audit battle with the Internal Revenue Service over the legitimacy of a $72.9 million tax refund that he claimed, and received, after declaring huge losses. An adverse ruling could cost him more than $100 million.

The tax returns that Mr. Trump has long fought to keep private tell a story fundamentally different from the one he has sold to the American public. His reports to the I.R.S. portray a businessman who takes in hundreds of millions of dollars a year yet racks up chronic losses that he aggressively employs to avoid paying taxes. Now, with his financial challenges mounting, the records show that he depends more and more on making money from businesses that put him in potential and often direct conflict of interest with his job as president.

All this time he’s been telling us he’s the smartest businessman out there and that’s why we need to have him running the country. He can’t even run his own businesses.

But I think this points to a larger, more important issue. Trump — along with many of his followers — think they have the bounden duty to avoid paying taxes as if the Internal Revenue Service didn’t have enough deductions and loopholes to pay the least amount legally. We all do that, and there’s an entire industry that advertises about getting us the largest tax refund that we’re entitled to. But I also think we have the moral — the civil — obligation to pay our fair share. As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. noted, “Taxes are the price we pay for civilization.” If you want to have the greatest country in the world, you have to pay for it. And while it could be perfectly legal for Trump and people like him to avoid paying taxes, it doesn’t make it right. As my friend and fellow playwright Franky Gonzalez noted on Facebook:

Anyone can go to the local food bank to get food. Anyone. Just go in and get it. Perfectly fine. It’s meant for the needy, it’s meant for those who desperately need food, but really, anyone can go. Anyone can get food.

Those of us lucky enough to have food in our kitchens and the ability to feed ourselves can even go.

And if we did, it’s perfectly within our rights to do so.

But it speaks to a shameful moral character to take something meant for the disadvantaged for our own benefit when we didn’t have to.

It’s much the same here with our president. Only in this case here, it also includes financial entanglements with strongmen and lobbyists who are funneling money and turning the presidency into an office for bribery like many authoritarian governments, but I digress.

He’s certainly entitled to do as he pleases. He can even lie about what he does. It’s in his right to do so. But it speaks to a deeply and morally flawed individual to use programs meant generally for small businesses in dire circumstances to make himself wealthier and then lie about paying the taxes. If it’s a non-issue, why not release the returns and be done with it all?

We know why. It’s like a well-off family taking from the food bank. You can do it. But you’re a real asshole for doing that. To release the returns would prove he’s lied about his wealth and how he’s used it in relation to the tax code. And that makes him an asshole.

When you get right down to what really matters, it is that here in America we need to remember that we have more to look out for than just ourselves. If there is anyone in this country who should lead by this example, it is the president, and that is why this story is such a revelation about the true character of Trump.  That it is no surprise that he is as morally bankrupt as his businesses says more about us than it does about him.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Sunday Reading

Why Her — Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker.

Amy Coney Barrett, whom President Trump has nominated to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court, was born in 1972, so she can expect to spend several decades shaping both American law and American life. As it happens, a year before Barrett’s birth, Lewis F. Powell, Jr., then a prominent lawyer in Richmond, Virginia, and later a Supreme Court Justice himself, wrote a now famous memorandum to the United States Chamber of Commerce, arguing that businesses needed to take a more aggressive hand in shaping public policy. “The American economic system is under broad attack,” he wrote, from, specifically, the consumer, environmental, and labor movements. He added that “the campus is the single most dynamic source” of that attack. To counter it, Powell suggested that business interests should make a major financial commitment to shaping universities, so that the “bright young men” of tomorrow would hear messages of support for the free-enterprise system. A little less than a decade later, a pair of law professors named Robert Bork and Antonin Scalia signed on as the first faculty advisers to a fledgling organization for conservative law students called the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies. The efforts of the Federalist Society were lavishly funded by the business interests invoked by Powell, and it has trained a generation or two of future leaders. Not all of them have been “bright young men.” Some are women, including Barrett, and her confirmation would vindicate Powell’s plan and transform the Supreme Court.

Barrett made an appealing first impression in 2017, during her confirmation hearings to the federal bench. She and her husband are the parents of seven children. For many years, she was a popular professor at Notre Dame Law School, which she also attended and from which she graduated summa cum laude. She clerked on the Supreme Court for Justice Scalia. As a judge on the Seventh Circuit, she has been a reliable conservative voice. Even liberal peers in the academy find her personable. She will probably do well in providing the artful non-answers that are the currency of Supreme Court confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, just as she did in 2017.

But there should be no doubt about why Barrett has been chosen. Much of the commentary about her selection will focus on the issue of abortion, and her likely role in overturning Roe v. Wade. During the 2016 campaign, Trump repeatedly promised to appoint Justices who would vote to overrule that landmark, and with his three selections, including Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, he appears to have delivered. Barrett is not only a member of a conservative organization within the Catholic Church; her legal writings, and the views of some who know her, suggest that she would overturn Roe.

Still, it’s worth remembering the real priorities of Trump and Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, in this nomination. They’re happy to accommodate the anti-abortion base of the Republican Party, but an animating passion of McConnell’s career has been the deregulation of political campaigns. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision brought the issue to wide public attention, but McConnell has been crusading about it for decades. He wants the money spigot kept open, so that he can protect his Senate majority and the causes for which it stands. This, too, is why the Federalist Society has been so lavishly funded over the years, and why it has expanded from a mere campus organization into a national behemoth for lawyers and students. Under Republican Presidents, Federalist Society events have come to operate as auditions for judicial appointments. The corporate interests funding the growth of the Federalist Society probably weren’t especially interested in abortion, but they were almost certainly committed to crippling the regulatory state.

Barrett is a product of this movement, and not just because she clerked for Scalia. Her writings and early rulings reflect it. Her financial-disclosure form shows that, in recent years, she has received about seven thousand dollars in honoraria from the Federalist Society and went on ten trips funded by it. But it’s not as if Barrett was bought; she was already sold. The judge has described herself as a “textualist” and an “originalist”—the same words of legal jargon that were associated with Scalia. (She believes in relying on the specific meaning of the words in statutes, not on legislators’ intent. She interprets the Constitution according to her belief in what the words meant when the document was ratified, not what the words mean now.) But these words are abstractions. In the real world, they operate as an agenda to crush labor unions, curtail environmental regulation, constrain the voting rights of minorities, limit government support for health care, and free the wealthy to buy political influence.

It should go without saying that the nomination and the expected confirmation of Barrett in the final days before a Presidential election represent a paramount act of hypocrisy for McConnell and the other Republicans who denied even a hearing to Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s choice for the Supreme Court, in 2016. But the fact that these Republicans are willing to risk that charge shows how important the Supreme Court is to them. Far more than a senator, a Supreme Court Justice can deliver on the agenda. The war on abortion is just the start.

How To Debate A Bully — Peter Wehner in The Atlantic.

“I’m used to bullies.”

That’s a line Joe Biden has used several times during his run against Donald Trump, and he said it again recently in talking about the first presidential debate.

“I hope I don’t take the bait, because he’s going to say awful things about me, my family, et cetera,” Biden said at a virtual fundraiser. “I hope I don’t get baited into getting into a brawl with this guy, because that’s the only place he’s comfortable.” Biden expects to be able to keep his cool because, he said, “I’m used to dealing with bullies.”

The challenge for Biden isn’t simply that he’ll be facing a bully on the debate stage in Cleveland on Tuesday; it’s that he’ll be facing a man who is shameless and without conscience, a shatterer of norms and boundaries, a liar of epic proportions, a conspiracy-monger who inhabits an alternate reality. President Donald Trump operates outside any normal parameters.

If one is not used to dealing with someone like that, it can be utterly disorienting. Just ask the 2016 GOP primary field, or Hillary Clinton.

“We were on a small stage,” Clinton said about her second debate with Trump, “and no matter where I walked, he followed me closely, staring at me, making faces. It was incredibly uncomfortable. He was literally breathing down my neck. My skin crawled.”

She went on to describe what went through her mind: Should she keep her calm and carry on as if he weren’t repeatedly invading her space, or should she turn to him, look him in the eye, and say, “Back up, you creep. Get away from me. I know you love to intimidate women, but you can’t intimidate me, so back up”? Clinton chose the first option, but in retrospect, she wonders whether she should have chosen the second.

What might Vice President Biden do to prepare for his debates with President Trump?

For starters, I hope the former vice president’s campaign team has consulted psychologists who can help prepare Biden to deal with Trump’s disordered personality.

A second thing Biden can do is put Trump’s words within a larger context. For example, the president is a profligate liar; we know that in the course of the debates the president will tell an avalanche of falsehoods. It might therefore be useful for Biden, early in the debate, to warn viewers what will happen—Trump will lie, and lie again, and lie again. The former vice president should put a frame around those claims, so people understand what’s happening in real time.

In February, a friend pointed out to me that years ago Donald Trump lied about the size of Trump Towers, claiming he lived on the 66th to 68th floors. Here’s the thing: Trump Tower has only 58 floors, according to New York City documents. So Trump lied about even this, as he lies about virtually everything else. (In fact, Trump has lied about the height of several of his buildings, including Trump World Tower, which he claimed has 90 floors. In fact, it has 70.)

If Biden were to use this story at the beginning of a debate, perhaps even before Trump’s first lie, the former vice president, when hearing a lie, could simply say, “Donald, we’re at the 66th floor again.” This response would certainly be more effective than repeatedly calling Trump a liar and serving as a fact-checker for the entire debate. Biden has to find a way to quickly name what’s happening and move on.

When it’s his turn to respond to a comment by Trump, the former vice president should confidently name each strategy Trump attempted—“That was a deflection … That was a hoax … That was scapegoating … We’re at the 66th floor again.” By quickly and succinctly answering any question after naming the strategy, Biden will appear controlled, reasonable, and intelligent; Trump will feel dismissed and mocked. This will enrage the president, especially if his attempts to engage in argument are ignored, and Biden refuses to look at him.

Beyond that, as one clinical psychologist I consulted for this piece suggested, Biden should simply name what is true and what most Americans intuit about the president: He is a terribly broken man. Money and privilege spared him from the consequences that might have helped him develop a conscience. He does not show remorse or guilt, because he does not feel it. Decency and honesty yield no reward for Trump; indecency and lying yield no consequences. He doesn’t apologize to others, because he doesn’t feel the pain of others. He does not have the capacity for empathy and authentic relationships; all his relationships are conditional. He knows only pleasure and pity for himself. He perseverates on the wounds to his ego. Telling the truth, when it’s not Trump’s truth, is viewed as a betrayal by the president, because he always places his interests above truth.

Such a damaged individual may deserve some measure of pity as well as some measure of contempt; but in either case, such a person should not be the president of the United States.

Yet the reality is that such a man is the president, and with every passing day, his pathologies grow worse, his instability becomes more apparent, the danger he poses to American democracy more undeniable. Yesterday, he once again signaled that he has no interest in accepting the election results if he loses. In the summer of 2016, I said of Trump, “with him there’s no bottom.” We’re now seeing what “no bottom” looks like.

The investigative reporter Bob Woodward, whose book Rage is just the most recent, scathing indictment of the Trump presidency, said that historians, looking back at this period, are going to ask, “‘What the F happened to America?’”

The answer is that Donald J. Trump happened to America.

Joseph R. Biden is the only person who can keep Trump to a single term and stop this ongoing American carnage. And that, in turn, could depend in large part on how the former vice president does during the first debate.

I’m a conservative who served in the Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush administrations. I’m also wishing Joe Biden very well on Tuesday evening. It’s less for his sake than for the sake of the country I love.

Doonesbury — Losing Count.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Friday, September 25, 2020

Happy Friday

My niece and her husband welcomed a new member to the family on Wednesday.

That’s either a sunrise or a sunset depending on your point of view.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

No What-Ifs About It

There is a lot of talk about Barton Gellman’s article in The Atlantic considering the very likely possibility that Trump will not concede if he loses and in fact will do everything he can to cling to power.

There is a cohort of close observers of our presidential elections, scholars and lawyers and political strategists, who find themselves in the uneasy position of intelligence analysts in the months before 9/11. As November 3 approaches, their screens are blinking red, alight with warnings that the political system does not know how to absorb. They see the obvious signs that we all see, but they also know subtle things that most of us do not. Something dangerous has hove into view, and the nation is lurching into its path.

The danger is not merely that the 2020 election will bring discord. Those who fear something worse take turbulence and controversy for granted. The coronavirus pandemic, a reckless incumbent, a deluge of mail-in ballots, a vandalized Postal Service, a resurgent effort to suppress votes, and a trainload of lawsuits are bearing down on the nation’s creaky electoral machinery.

Something has to give, and many things will, when the time comes for casting, canvassing, and certifying the ballots. Anything is possible, including a landslide that leaves no doubt on Election Night. But even if one side takes a commanding early lead, tabulation and litigation of the “overtime count”—millions of mail-in and provisional ballots—could keep the outcome unsettled for days or weeks.

If we are lucky, this fraught and dysfunctional election cycle will reach a conventional stopping point in time to meet crucial deadlines in December and January. The contest will be decided with sufficient authority that the losing candidate will be forced to yield. Collectively we will have made our choice—a messy one, no doubt, but clear enough to arm the president-elect with a mandate to govern.

As a nation, we have never failed to clear that bar. But in this election year of plague and recession and catastrophized politics, the mechanisms of decision are at meaningful risk of breaking down. Close students of election law and procedure are warning that conditions are ripe for a constitutional crisis that would leave the nation without an authoritative result. We have no fail-safe against that calamity. Thus the blinking red lights.

“We could well see a protracted postelection struggle in the courts and the streets if the results are close,” says Richard L. Hasen, a professor at the UC Irvine School of Law and the author of a recent book called Election Meltdown. “The kind of election meltdown we could see would be much worse than 2000’s Bush v. Gore case.”

A lot of people, including Joe Biden, the Democratic Party nominee, have mis­conceived the nature of the threat. They frame it as a concern, unthinkable for presidents past, that Trump might refuse to vacate the Oval Office if he loses. They generally conclude, as Biden has, that in that event the proper authorities “will escort him from the White House with great dispatch.”

The worst case, however, is not that Trump rejects the election outcome. The worst case is that he uses his power to prevent a decisive outcome against him. If Trump sheds all restraint, and if his Republican allies play the parts he assigns them, he could obstruct the emergence of a legally unambiguous victory for Biden in the Electoral College and then in Congress. He could prevent the formation of consensus about whether there is any outcome at all. He could seize on that un­certainty to hold on to power.

Trump’s state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for postelection maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states. Ambiguities in the Constitution and logic bombs in the Electoral Count Act make it possible to extend the dispute all the way to Inauguration Day, which would bring the nation to a precipice. The Twentieth Amendment is crystal clear that the president’s term in office “shall end” at noon on January 20, but two men could show up to be sworn in. One of them would arrive with all the tools and power of the presidency already in hand.

“We are not prepared for this at all,” Julian Zelizer, a Prince­ton professor of history and public affairs, told me. “We talk about it, some worry about it, and we imagine what it would be. But few people have actual answers to what happens if the machinery of democracy is used to prevent a legitimate resolution to the election.”

Let’s just go with the foregone conclusion that no matter what the vote count is on Election Night or in the days after as the mail-in and absentee and overseas and military ballots are counted, Trump will never concede. He will not do what every losing candidate has done in living memory: take the stage in some hotel ballroom or some gathering in front of somber supporters and staff and say in some fashion that he called the president-elect to congratulate him and mutter some platitude about how the system works and God bless America. He is mentally and physically incapable of doing that. Indeed, he’s admitted as such with his ominous threat yesterday about “we’ll have to see” about the outcome. And we can be sure that he’s already drafted an army of lawyers to challenge every mail-in vote in every state — except, of course, his own — and there’s even talk about going to the various state legislatures where he has allies to overturn the electors that will be the ones who actually cast the votes that matter in the Electoral College in December to try to persuade them to vote for him regardless of the actual vote count in the state. He could drag this out to January 20, 2021 when he shows up — maskless, of course — and demand that Chief Justice Roberts swear him in to a second term, even if Joe Biden is standing there. So, what do we do?

What we do is show up at the polls in early voting where it’s done and on Election Day in such overwhelming numbers for Biden and the Democrats that no matter what Trump says or does, the landslide we deliver makes the 1980 Reagan/Carter election night look like a close one. We fight back with every lawyer who ever passed the bar that still believes in the Constitution to be ready to counter every argument in court, and we have to make sure that the “what-ifs” about this election and the nightmare of four more years of Trump are the stuff of apocalyptic political pot-boilers that you find in paperback novels at the airport.

We have to win this election as if our lives depend on it.  Because it does.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Sucker Bet

I wonder if this news made it to los historicos on Calle Ocho who despise everything about the current Cuban regime and adore Trump.

Despite earlier promises in Miami that he would not do business in Cuba until the island was “free,” Donald Trump applied in 2008 to register his Trump trademark in the Caribbean nation for a variety of commercial activities, including investing in real estate, hotels, casinos and golf courses.

A search of the Cuban Industrial Property Office database shows that Donald J. Trump hired a Cuban lawyer, Leticia Laura Bermúdez Benítez, to submit the application in October 2008. The address listed was that of the Trump Organization: 725 Fifth Avenue, New York, 10022.

As is common in Cuba, where red tape is rampant, the trademark was not approved until much later, until March 2010. It expired in 2018, well into Trump’s presidency.

They probably have some weaselly way of justifying it. Those who are being conned usually do.

Staggering Back To School

From the Miami Herald:

At the end of what may be a record-breaking 29-hour special meeting that began Monday, the Miami-Dade County School Board voted unanimously Tuesday to push back the gradual start of in-person classes until Oct. 14, more than a week later than first proposed.

The board is following the staggered reopening of schools that Superintendent Alberto Carvalho recommended Monday, but with later dates to make sure schools are ready and teachers and staff are protected from the spread of coronavirus.

A soft opening of schools is expected for students in Pre-K, kindergarten and first grade and students with special needs on Oct. 14.

All elementary school students, plus students in sixth, ninth and 10th grades — some of whom are entering new buildings and schools for the first time — can return the next day. On that day, all high school students, whether learning online or in-person, would go back to starting school at 7:20 a.m.

Schools would be fully open for all students who wish to return to the schoolhouse on Oct. 21.

The timeline applies only to the 51% of students whose parents chose for them to return to school, based on the district’s parental surveys. The remainder of the students will continue with online learning.

The new plan, which the school board approved around 3:30 p.m. Tuesday after more than four hours of changes and debate, also comes with a no-opt teacher planning day moved to Oct. 13.

Before opening, the school district must also have a “verified provision of all PPE (personal protective equipment) and related resources and full compliance with all required and represented procedures, protocols, personnel, and approaches presented regarding employee and School House Model reopening readiness presented by the Superintendent.”

A formal recommendation from medical experts must be provided to the school board prior to reopening.

I work part-time for two District-managed charter schools, and I work in one of those school offices two days a week (the other school I work strictly from home). The school where I report to has the strict CDC and District protocols in place, and on Monday we welcomed back students in Kindergarten and Grades 1 through 3.

We are a comparatively small school. Even at full enrollment we are under 800 students in Grades K-10, and the remote option remains; we’ve been doing that for a couple of weeks now with our students.

There is no easy way to do this.  Unlike some people’s thinking, we can’t just throw open the doors and let chance and hope lead the way.  Lives are at stake, and not just the students.  Some of the most vulnerable age groups — over 60 — work in the schools as teachers, staff, and other ancillary positions.  And for those politicians who are pushing so hard for the schools to re-open, I’d like to offer them the opportunity to spend a week in our school and see if they are willing to be brave enough to do it.  Any takers?