Tuesday, May 26, 2020
Ah, the frenzied speculation about who Joe Biden will pick as his running mate! This year, with a fractious Democratic Party coalescing behind the least common denominator, the choice holds great risk – will Joe’s pick disenfranchise crucial segments of the party?
Joe Biden’s stealth campaign for President is a bit like the Loch Ness Monster: it rarely appears, is hardly ever captured on film, and when it does rise above the surface, it looks genial and unthreatening… nothing monstrous at all.
Sure, we love Joe Biden, and we will work, donate, and do everything in our power to help him defeat the big stupid orange.
But – true confessions – as we watch him at the helm of his “run silent, run deep” campaign, we may be feeling a whiff of Biden remorse. C’mon, Joe! Time to step it up!!
Indeed, we all remember Biden when he was a younger man, back when everything in America was so different from today. I’m talking February. Then, so long ago, a trailing, frantic, and frenetic Joe Biden would rush headlong into paragraphs, defying grammarians to diagram sentences that cartwheeled across time zones, topics, and tenses. It could get crazy, but it was high-energy Joe.
Now that he is the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party, Joe Biden has reverted to his comfort zone: low-T, uncomfortable stirring controversy, wanting to please everybody, not looking to pick a fight. He has failed to take decisive, aggressive stands that bluntly label Trump’s handling of the coronavirus for the de facto American genocide that it is. He is not actively demanding to be heard as the leader of the opposition. And he still the captain of the good ship Gaffe Spree.
The other day Biden told radio talk show host Charlamagne Tha God that “If you have a problem figuring out whether you're for me or Trump, then you ain't black.” Now, I am pretty sure that I know what Biden was trying to say, and I think I even agree with what Biden was trying to say, but anytime an old white guy starts telling African American people when they are and are not behaving in an authentic manner, you cringe viscerally as you watch Instagram light up in real time.
C’mon, Joe! Get it together! We need a big dose of Presidential gravitas, and we want it now.
How about showing us some in how you solve your V.P. selection dilemma, which is slowly beginning to boil as rumors are rampant, one-time favorites recede, and long-shots emerge.
The V.P. selection process is often characterized as the most important decision a Presidential candidate makes. A bad choice can severely damage a candidacy, as happened when John McCain selected Sarah Palin, but a perfectly “good” choice (put Paul Ryan, Tim Kaine, and Jack Kemp in this bucket) does not necessarily help. As such, one would assume that there is a sort of Hippocratic Oath operating, in which the goal should simply be to “do no harm.”
All the more so when you realize that there is never a “perfect candidate” for the V.P. slot, a single person who can simultaneously turn the tide in a big battleground state, aggressively play the role of attack dog so the candidate can sail above the fray, and precisely and sincerely echo the candidate’s every policy goal and philosophical belief. It never happens that way. There is always a compromise to be made.
But this year – simply because of the growing internecine conflict in the Democratic Party – the V.P. choice may be thornier, and riskier, than most. There is substantial pressure coming at Biden from a variety of Democratic constituencies, and it is all real and very consequential. It is the irony of ironies: Biden’s party of unification is splintered among competing interests, while Trump’s party of division is unified.
The party’s progressive wing is once again disappointed and disenfranchised, as neither Bernie Sanders nor Elizabeth Warren earned the party’s nomination. Indeed, they may have noticed that the party raced to consolidate around Joe Biden precisely to deny Bernie the nomination. Some vocal progressives seem to believe that if you represent 35% of the party for two consecutive Presidential cycles, you somehow deserve 70% of the say in who wins. Biden would love to find a way to entice the progressives to his candidacy, and giving the V.P. nod to Elizabeth Warren would seem to be a nifty way to build that bridge.
However, the party’s African American constituency can fairly tell Joe Biden that without James Clyburn’s endorsement and South Carolina’s African American vote, there is no Joe Biden in 2020. Biden owes his nomination entirely to the seismic momentum shift triggered by Clyburn, and many have made clear to Biden that should nominate an African American as his V.P.
Of course, Biden has already publicly committed to picking a woman as his V.P. While the party has a vast wealth of talented female stars to choose from, Biden’s pledge inherently limits his options.
Still more to chew on: in the age of the coronavirus (which, if you can believe it, came after South Carolina), Biden must carefully consider that his V.P. choice must be fully ready to step into the Presidency if need be. A 76-year-old candidate in the midst of a global pandemic that is particularly toxic for elderly people must be able to look the voters in the eyes and promise that his running mate is ready to be president on the first day of the administration. This has raised the stakes on the level of government experience that will be expected in Biden’s choice.
This last point happens, by the way, to conform to Biden’s own vision of the ideal Vice President, as incarnated by, well, Joe Biden. As V.P. to a young Barack Obama, Biden felt that he added enormous value by virtue of his experience, his network, and his power and influence in Congress. That is Biden’s model for a terrific V.P., and that concept will weigh significantly in his choice.
An added element of intrigue: shortly after Biden secured the nomination, he commented that he envisioned that he would be a “transition candidate," leading to extensive tea-leaf reading exercises in the political press. Did this mean that he would only serve one term? Did it mean that he intended to choose a significantly younger Vice President who would be specifically groomed for the Presidency? In either case, the message appeared to be adding yet another criteria – that his selection for Vice President would represent a true generational change.
As long as we are adding to the specifications, here’s one we hope Joe Biden considers: he needs a V.P. candidate who has the DNA of a velociraptor, someone who savors the role of ripping the opponent to shreds. Indeed, one reason Joe Biden is the candidate is precisely because he lacks a true aggressor’s verve and comfort with a switchblade. He is a nice human being who everyone genuinely likes. This means that he needs a world class attacker on his flank – someone who relishes the job of tearing Donald Trump limb from limb on any and every television camera that is plugged in to a working outlet. I’m thinking bad, bad Leroy Brown meets Rambo First Blood with a dash of Michael Corleone’s chilling disposal of Fredo. The Dems need someone on the ticket who has the guts, fire, and knowledge to prosecute the argument that Donald Trump is not simply the worst President ever, but one of the most toxic, inept, and unqualified fools ever to lead a modern democracy.
Let's not forget the increasingly important matter of personal chemistry. Once upon a time, the Vice President was largely a hood ornament, a purely tactical selection to help win an election, never to be heard from again. But ever since Bill Clinton chose Al Gore, the notion of a close working relationship between President and Vice President has been on the ascent. Joe Biden – who insisted on a real partnership with Barack Obama on all aspects of his Presidency – will care enormously about having a strong personal chemistry with his Vice President.
Finally, there’s a very knotty problem that generally escapes broad scrutiny. Two of the leading candidates for the Vice-Presidency – Warren and Minnesota's Amy Klobuchar – are sitting Senators. If either were to resign to become V.P., it would put a safely Democratic Senate seat at risk at a moment in time when the Democrats are straining, struggling, and desperately stretching to eke out a majority in the Senate, thereby ending the death grip that Mitch McConnell wields over any and every action in the Senate. It is an absolutely crucial issue.
Warren represents a state with a Republican governor. This means that if Warren resigns her Senate seat to become Vice President, the Republican governor has the power to – and most certainly will -- name a Republican to take her place. Dems then have to hope they would win the seat back in a special election. So you think that’s a pretty safe assumption in deep blue Massachusetts? I have two words for you: Scott Brown. In a year in which Democrats must fight tooth and nail to achieve the tiniest sliver of a majority in the Senate, taking a risk by abdicating an existing seat seems exceedingly dangerous.
So there you have it. All Biden needs to do is find a young but deeply experienced African American woman with world class bona fides among progressives with whom Joe Biden feels a strong professional chemistry, and who is not a sitting senator in a state with a Republican Governor.
Woah. Suddenly, that’s a very tall order indeed.
Still, even with these stringent requirements, there are candidates that jump to mind.
Those of you who favor Kamala Harris have plenty of company. She’d be an excellent choice. There are rumors, however, that Jill Biden remains angry at the way Harris kneecapped her husband in an early debate with an orchestrated cheap shot about Biden’s record on busing 45 years ago. (Remember what we said about the importance Biden places on chemistry!) Others would be quick to point out that Harris herself was not a particularly effective candidate, as she was forced to drop out quite early in the race despite bringing major credentials, national standing, a powerful personal narrative, and California’s vast fundraising potential to the task. Final note: the Democrats own California. It is not like Kamala Harris is going to tilt a purple state blue.
Ah, not so easy, is it?
Stacey Abrams is a dynamic, charismatic African American woman from a purple state, but her highest level of government service was her six years as minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives. Tough to characterize that as ready to step into the Oval Office on day one.
It is at this point that people often jump in and say, “Come on! The V.P. candidate does not have to be an African American – I mean, it’s not like the African American community is ever going to vote for Trump!” That argument completely misses the point. The issue is about voter turn-out. In each of the presidential elections of the 21st century other than 2008, roughly 55% of U.S. adults actually vote. In 2008, when Barack Obama’s nomination inspired African American turn-out, that number soared to 58%. There are millions of votes in that 3% -- and that is why is it absolutely vital that the African American population feels heard, respected, and excited by the Biden candidacy. It’s not that African Americans would vote for Trump… it is that they might not bother to vote at all.
Still, though, some may think 3% added voter turn-out is not that big a deal. Think again, about this: sprinkle in just 3% more Democratic voters in states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, and today Donald Trump would be back in reality television, only this time as star of “the biggest loser.”
Recently, V.P. speculation has shifted to Senator Elizabeth Warren, who could serve as a powerful bridge to the party’s progressive wing, which is estimated to comprise about a third of the Democratic voters… and is a group that feels alienated by a party that has twice rejected their champion, Bernie Sanders. There is a lot to love about Warren, but that means no African American on the ticket, and what may well be the oldest combined age for a major party ticket in American history. Then there is the matter of allowing the Massachusetts Senate seat to go Republican – a huge risk. But if Biden wants a razor sharp, search-and-destroy Rambo as his running mate, there is simply no better choice in the country. If you have any doubts, go take a look at the tread marks all over Michael Bloomberg.
Amy Klobuchar? Appealing, endearing, and she improved as a candidate every day she was on the stump. But the Minnesota Senator is sort of Elizabeth Warren lite – many of the same issues without the offsetting strengths. Yes, she is appealing in the “heartland” states that the Democrats must win back, but popularity in the Rust Belt is supposedly Joe Biden’s wheelhouse. It’s not clear how Klobuchar adds that much to the ticket. Of greatest concern in choosing Klobuchar for any role in the Biden administration: if the Dems give up her Senate seat, there’s absolutely no certainty they will keep it in purple Minnesota.
There are several governors in the mix – notably Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and Michelle Grisham of New Mexico -- but the general thinking is that it would be a mistake to take an effective Democratic Governor off the front lines in the midst of the coronavirus.
There are a number of other elected officials on the list, but we are going to cut to the chase: nobody is perfect. Nobody checks all the boxes. No matter who Biden picks, the story is going to be about the constituency that was ignored. Pick Harris, and the progressives will feel ignored yet again. Pick Warren, and the African American community could feel that their vital importance to the Democratic party is being undervalued. Pick someone who is not embraced by either constituency, and the concern about Democratic voter turn out reaches Def Con One.
How’s this, Joe: pick everybody.
Joe, it’s the first rule of debating: if you don’t have a good answer to the question, change the question.
Yes, pick everyone. Joe Biden, don’t just announce your pick for V.P. Start by announcing your choices for Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury, Attorney General, and Secretary of Health and Human Services. Pick your whole cabinet if you can.
Make an announcement that the nation is in such a disastrous health and economic crisis that you want your team to begin developing solutions now so that you can hit the ground running.
Show that you are going to govern with a team of big name all-stars, not the meek, crooked sycophants who populate Donald Trump’s White House.
Perhaps you start by holding a major press conference to declare that African-American Susan Rice will be your Secretary of State.
A week later, announce that Pete Buttigieg will become the first openly gay cabinet officer as Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Perhaps declare that Texan Julian Castro will be your Secretary of Energy.
Tell the world that you have asked Kamala Harris to be the first female African American Attorney General of the United States, to fill the enormous job of repairing the DoJ after the depravity and disgrace of William Barr.
Hey, Joe, while you are at it, pick a Republican – perhaps Jeff Flake, or Ohio governor Mike DeWine – to take a role in your administration. (Even better, though a tad disingenuous: offer a big post to a Republican Senator from a state with a Democratic Governor!)
Keep going. The more positions you can announce, the more it is clear that you will be governing with the best that a new generation has to offer, drawn from every part of the country, every constituency, and every area of expertise and competence you can bring to bear on repairing our country and our soul after four years of Donald Trump.
Every week, fill out your team as the convention approaches. Each new announcement brings attention and momentum.
Then, and only then, announce your candidate for Vice President.
Maybe you want to roll the dice with Elizabeth Warren’s Senate seat because you feel she would be the perfect Vice President in your administration. Maybe you don’t take that chance, and name Kamala Harris as your Vice President, knowing that Democratic Governor Gavin Newson and massively blue California will keep the Senate seat Democratic.
By then, you’ve already set the table. Lincoln had his team of rivals. You’ve put forward your team of All-Stars.
To be clear: this proposal is not about who fills specific positions. Using the exact same logic, you can lay out a completely different org chart that has big name stars in every cabinet post, coming together to powerfully represent the diversity, opportunity, and equality that the Democratic Party stands for. Need some names? John Kerry. Andrew Yang. Deval Patrick. Beto O’Rourke. Michael Bloomberg. Tom Steyer. Michelle Obama. All are ready to go, without putting a single Senate seat in jeopardy.
That, Joe, is how we solve your VP dilemma.
Don’t have a perfect answer for how to please every constituency with your V.P. pick? Challenge the premise.
From your own experience, you know that V.P. is only one of a handful of jobs in a new administration that shapes its success and failure. Play up the importance of the other jobs. Tell people you think it is more important to announce to the world the full picture of how you plan to lead than to lead with just one story.
It’s time to turn a tough problem into a big opportunity to make a much larger statement about your approach to governing.
Time to get us excited, Joe. Yes, we are with you. But it is your job to create the excitement, dynamism, and energy that turns out the electorate, and will bring out all the “sometimes” voters this November.
Time to show that you are going to bring some fresh ideas to replace conventional political thinking .
Time to remind America that great Presidents assemble great teams of immensely accomplished, powerful leaders… not a clown school of third rate suck-ups.
Time to get moving, Joe. We are ready to fall in line, but we need you to lead.
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Monday, May 25, 2020
We are honored today, on Memorial Day, to have another guest post written by our good friend, Charles B. Dew, the Ephraim Williams Professor of American History at Williams College.
All Americans treasure the concept of freedom—our colonial forbearers’ determination to achieve it gave birth to our country during the American Revolution. Not everyone was considered worthy of the blessings of freedom, of course. To their eternal shame, our Founding Fathers excluded the men, women, and children being held in bondage from its enjoyment, but the Founders justified that by defining Americans of African descent as a brutish and inferior people unworthy of freedom. And, of course, it did not hurt that “this species of property” was worth a staggering amount of money even in those early days. But the majority of white American colonists clearly knew what freedom meant, and they were willing to die to achieve it for themselves.
How did these early Americans define “freedom”?
For the British colonists living in North America in the 18th century, the word had a simple meaning: to be free was to be free from tyranny—free from the tyranny of King George, free from the tyranny of a British Parliament seeking to impose taxes on them without their consent, free from the tyranny of being forced to quarter red-coated British troops in their own homes, the list went on and on. And the American colonists, of course, reacted violently to what they considered tyrannical policies emanating from the mother country (policies, it might be added, driven largely by an effort to raise revenue to meet debts incurred in the defense of those self-same colonists during the French and Indian War).
This concept of freedom was clearly reflected in the words of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the Constitution eleven years later. After Thomas Jefferson’s stirring preamble declaring that “all men are created equal,” he went on to enumerate multiple dastardly acts committed by the British crown, “…all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.” The careful balance of powers crafted into the Constitution in 1787 was motivated by an absolute determination to prevent a president of the United States from ever becoming another King George, either in the near term or on some distant horizon when a crisis gripped the country and a sitting president might be tempted to say “When somebody is the President of the United States, the authority is total, and that’s the way it’s got to be.”
This definition of freedom as the absence of tyranny changed over time.
In the 19th century, as Jacksonian America took shape, freedom and equality became linked in the American mind, but not equality of condition—equal opportunity became our watchword, a level playing field for all, with the accident of birth or the actions of the government not acting as a hindrance to individual advancement. Abraham Lincoln was powerfully motivated by this concept, and he extended its reach to include everyone held in bondage in this country—close to 4 million children, women, and men at the moment of emancipation in 1865. Lincoln’s bedrock belief in free and equal thus led to the greatest act of social reform ever carried out in the United States;
In the 20th century, the American definition of freedom again underwent modification. As a new urban and industrial society took shape, Thomas Jefferson’s ideal citizen, the yeoman farmer, guaranteed his freedom and independence by living on the land, no longer defined the vast majority of our population. Freedom increasingly involved not only imposing restraints on monopoly power (the Jacksonian concept) but also took on a new dimension: the guarantee of a basic level of security for each citizen. FDR and the New Deal were the embodiment of this new definition: to be truly free meant one also had to be secure from the multiple ravages of an increasingly complex society—joblessness, hunger, lack of shelter, even the death march of a previously unknown epidemic disease. This new definition, free and secure, clearly could only be underwritten by a dramatic expansion of government.
So where are we now?
It seems to me we are witnessing a struggle between the devotees of the 18th century and the 20th century definitions of American freedom. The heavily armed, Confederate-flag waving, screaming-in-the-face-of-state-troopers demonstrators are convinced they are being oppressed by tyrannical governors who are depriving them of their freedom. Most Americans, according to every poll out there right now, holds to the more recent definition: that freedom and security are joined at the hip, that a government that is keeping them safe is protecting their ability to enjoy the benefits of freedom (not to mention keeping them alive). Both of these views are deeply rooted in American history. Now might be a good time for us to ask ourselves “which side are you on?” After all, both sides are as American as apple pie.
Tuesday, May 19, 2020
An email exchange with a reader after our last post inspired Steve to reflect on media bubbles, propaganda, and the purpose of political writing in a radically polarized country.
A long-tenured BTRTN reader wrote us about our recent post in which we castigated Republicans for clinging to their belief that a GOP President is certain to be a better steward of the economy (and, more pointedly, their own personal portfolios) than a Democrat. After proving the blatant factual inaccuracy of this long-standing myth, I concluded the post by addressing the greed, ignorance, and character judgment of Republicans who justify supporting Trump with specious claims about the economy:
“Hey, all of you greedy, self-involved, money-grubbing Republicans who go into a voting booth caring only about which candidate is going to make you richer – I have a great idea for you. Vote Democratic.”
Our reader called me out for insulting the very people whose minds, she presumed, I hoped to change. What was the point of writing such a post if not to attempt to persuade Republicans to change their belief, and, if that was indeed the point, was it not counterproductive to alienate those readers with such a vituperative insult?
Or, she mused, did I simply not care about trying to influence Trump supporters? Was I just “preaching to the choir?”
I responded, and wondered if the substance of the exchange was worth sharing broadly, as it goes to one of the larger questions of our era. Indeed, long before we began physically sheltering-in-place, one could argue that many Americans had been intellectually sheltering-in-place, seeking refuge inside impermeable media bubbles, exposed only to the news and opinions that have been curated to make us feel justified in our pre-existing beliefs. Why bother? Why read this column if you know that there is an extremely high likelihood that its conclusions will simply serve to reinforce existing beliefs?
In short, if so many writers and pundits are merely preaching to the choir, what good is that?
In order to explore the issues of purpose and motivation, I must start by disclosing that for this particular writer, a crucial reason for creating these essays is that they are far less expensive than therapy.
Many people who attempt to ingest the daily torrent of cerebral malfunction and moral turpitude from this White House have no way to vent their rage other than to turn the dial to the "maximum hill workout" in a ZOOM spin class. Writing about this stuff at least affords me the satisfaction of aiming my rage at its true source rather than some poor online Bikram yoga instructor.
However, I do have a sense of purpose and mission that is slightly more noble than merely discharging pent-up stomach bile.
Let’s start by addressing the question at hand: is my goal to convince a Trump supporter that they are making a mistake and that they should vote Democratic in November?
Once upon a time, I held out hope that one of my blogs would be the one, the essay that went viral and lifted the veil that was blinding millions of Trump supporters. Back then, I believed that a reasoned argument, thoughtfully presented, well supported, and passionately argued, could change the mind of a Trump supporter.
But that was a long time ago.
If the last three years of dishonesty, incompetence, corruption, bigotry, misogyny, xenophobia, ignorance, assaults on the Constitution, assaults on the press, assaults on legitimate government institutions and career professionals, placing sycophants and family members in positions far above their experience and still farther above their intellect, Ukraine quid pro quos, alienating allies, enabling tyrants, Charlottesville, the destruction of our climate, tax cuts that benefit the rich and big corporations, co-opting the DoJ to attack political enemies, separating immigrant children from their families, persecution of those who protest, utter contempt for science, impeachment, and now de facto American genocide in the form of a politically motivated botched response to a global pandemic – and trust me, I could go on – if none of that is going to change your mind, a 2,500 word essay on Born To Run the Numbers is not going to get the job done.
Of course, Trump supporters do not see any of it that way. Thanks to their state-run news outlet and Twitter, Trump supporters see an inverted universe in which the President is a victim …of a deep-state conspiracy, an industry of “fake news,” invading immigrants, and now a nation that is insufficiently appreciative of the masterful way that he has managed to “contain” the coronavirus so that our nation has, uh, the most infections and deaths of any country on earth. America First, indeed.
It is of course considered in some circles to be enlightened and fair-minded to say that the “liberal media bubble” is no different from the “conservative media bubble,” that each trade in selective editing, misleading data, deception, outright deceit, and manipulation in order to advocate for a political point of view and make money.
Hmmm… what is the word? Ah, yes. That is bullshit. What is labeled the “liberal media” – The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC – cannot possibly be equated with the fire hose of falsehood that spews out of Fox News and Donald Trump’s twitter feed. Fox News is Pravda without the intellectual honesty to actually admit it is Pravda. John Oliver laid bare the supreme hypocrisy of Fox News in noting that at the very time their news shows were ridiculing social distancing and shelter-in-place measures, the company itself was aggressively advocating that its employees work from home. Quite literally: watch what we say, not what we do.
No, if you buy into Trump and you only follow Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, or OAN, then you will reject anything I say out of hand as just the latest deep state rants of a traitor intent on undermining the 2016 election.
Hey, Trumpster, I get it: there is no sense wasting any of my precious cloud storage on you.
But it is quite important to pause at this moment and make the connection between the conservative media bubble and the fact that Donald Trump’s approval rating has essentially been chiseled in granite at about the 42% mark since the day he was inaugurated. In fact, his Gallup numbers range from a low of 35% to a high of 49%. This is an incredibly narrow range when compared to the lows and highs of George W. Bush (25% to 90%), Barack Obama (40% to 67%), and Bill Clinton (37% to 73%). Trump’s rigidly fixed approval rating simply reflects the fact that nothing he does will ever shake the loyalty of his supporters, although it appears that losing grandmothers and medical professionals to COVID-19 is beginning to make a dent. Equally true: it is hard to imagine a hardened Trump opponent now suddenly deciding that he’s doing a heckuva job.
It stands to reason, therefore, that time and effort spent trying to convince a Trump supporter to change their mind is time and effort wasted.
Which brings us directly to the second crucial point: modern election strategy.
Increasingly, political campaigns are not focused on shifting the views of undecided voters in the center, but are all about getting as many like-minded people to the polls.
Think of a church, where the candidate is the preacher, the choir is analogous to the volunteer campaign workers, and the people who show up regularly every week are the people who always vote. If you want more votes, do you try to convert atheists who have never set foot in your church? No. You go out into the community and try to persuade irregular church goers to attend more often.
No, it is not to say that centrist or “undecided” voters are to be ignored. But the numbers are not with this strategy. In most of the presidential elections of the 21st century, a mere 55% of U.S. adults actually vote. In 2008, when Barack Obama’s nomination inspired turn-out, that number increased to 58%. There are millions of votes in that 3% -- there is enormous leverage in stimulating voter turn-out.
And that is why the astute preacher understands that his or her first audience actually is the choir.
Preachers get it: the choir is made up of volunteers who give their time and energy to advocating for the cause. These volunteers, in turn, are the ones who will go out into the community searching for the “occasional” voters, and doing everything in their power to get the “occasional voters” to the polls. This is how modern elections are won.
So there is an important task in making sure that the people on the front line – the ones who believe so passionately in the cause -- feel supported, renewed, inspired, informed, and recharged for battle.
Because “battle” is exactly where we are.
Every time you see Donald Trump crowing about himself and abusing the legacy of Barack Obama, every time Bill Barr prostitutes himself and the DoJ to fellate Trump, every time Mitch McConnell snickers with Machiavellian contempt as he abuses his authority for partisan ends, you realize that every day these clowns are in power, we are losing ground.
Every day brings a new atrocity: the appalling handling of COVID-19 is ongoing, abandoning the case against Michael Flynn is politics at its worst, firing still more career government officials charged with executive oversight is systematic degradation of the democratic process. That’s just last week.
As we speak, we are losing the war for preserving the United States of America as a functioning democracy, a nation governed by the rule of law, and a nation that is admired and respected in the global community.
Yes, we are losing. We know we are losing because 40% to 45% is still a stunningly high percentage of Americans to be buying the horseshit that Trump manufactures and Fox distributes. It may not be a majority of Americans, but it is large enough number that it is easy to see Trump replicating his lose-the-popular-vote, win-the-Electoral-College triumph of 2016.
The battleground in this war is information. Every day, Trump and Fox partner in a relentless blitzkrieg of deceit, revisionist history, and character assassination. They are masters of the craft of propaganda. One of the pre-eminent practitioners of political propaganda made clear the purpose of such manipulation in state-sponsored media programs. The “task is not to make an objective study of the truth, in so far as it favors the enemy, and then set it before the masses with academic fairness; its task is to serve our own right, always and unflinchingly.”
Once upon a time, our government was able to clearly see and assess how the tools of propaganda are employed, and the threat that they represent. An analyst in the OSS, the predecessor to our current CIA, once wrote this about an adversary, many decades before Donald Trump emerged in our national consciousness:
“His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.”
Back then, the United States could size up the tactics of a propagandist and understood the satanic power that such an utterly corrupt and morally bankrupt soul could yield.
Yes, the war that is raging is a nuclear war of information. Our government – the government of the United States of America – is now one of the most aggressive and sophisticated users of political propaganda in history. Our government is bringing tanks, missiles, and howitzers of misinformation and firing it at the weak-minded, lesser-educated, and ignorant people who watch Fox News.
We ignore the power of this tool at our peril.
Every citizen who enjoys the freedoms, lifestyle, and aspirations that this country afforded us in years past must understand that it is all in jeopardy.
It will take the active participation of every citizen who has not been mentally overpowered by Trump’s propaganda to win this fight.
This time, it is the leaders of our own government who are the force of evil. Our President is the propagandist. We are in a war to win the United States of America.
That means we must all become resistance fighters.
To my good friend who wrote me about the tone and language of my last column: thank you for challenging me to explain my mission.
My job is to support the front line fighters as they search for people who are sympathetic to our side but who may not express their opinion in the voting booth.
Preaching to the choir is to give ammo to our cause… to point out the deceit, the corruption, the degradation of our country, the erosion of our freedom, and indeed the likelihood that if Donald Trump is re-elected, that our country will become an authoritarian government in which all levers of power are fully owned by the likes of Trump, Barr, and McConnell, all for the purpose of preserving their power, repressing the will of the people, and scouring the country in search of the enemies who dare oppose them.
If it ever comes to that, we will all want to earn a place on that list.
The romantics among us are moved by the scene in Casablanca when Humphrey Bogart’s character, Richard (“Rick”) Blaine confronts Czechoslovak Victor Laszlo, the vital leader of the underground movement, about the value of his effort.
Rick: Don’t you sometimes wonder if it’s worth all this? I mean, what you’re fighting for.
Lazlo: You might as well question why we breathe. If we stop breathing, we’ll die. If we stop fighting our enemies, the world will die.
We have a mere six months between now and the election of 2020. A mere six months to recruit all the voters we possibly can from the ranks of those so desperate to make ends meet that they cannot focus on politics, those who literally lack the means – the literal time and transportation to vote -- those who are apathetic, those who do not believe that voting matters, and those who do not realize that their future, and that of their children and grandchildren, are at stake.
Our job is to make sure that everyone who leans in our direction gets to the polls. It is that simple. Yes, of course, vote. But if you can find a way to turn your single vote into two by getting another person to the polls, you are more than a regular attendee at Sunday service. You have joined the resistance.
What is at stake?
The quote about propaganda noted above? It was written in 1924 by Adolf Hitler.
And the report by the OSS agent? It was written during World War II… about Adolf Hitler.
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