Sunday, November 29, 2020

The Larger Transition Is Upon Us

For Democrats, it could have been worse. The Senate seats that seemed within reach probably never were, despite what the polling said. The expanded House majority did not materialize as Republican candidates ran hard on painting Democrats as socialists and soft on support of the police. State legislatures that started to move leftward in 2018 snapped back to the right, which means that Republicans will draw gerrymandered maps in many of the states that stand to gain representatives and electoral votes in 2022 and 2024. And the Supreme Court? know.

Why, then, am I feeling pretty good about the direction of the country?

Because the biggest loser was Donald Trump, who lost because he alienated enough suburban women and moderate Republicans that they voted for Joe Biden for president and, it seems, their local and state Republicans because they are...wait for it...Republicans. And Donald Trump is no Republican. He belongs to his own reality, and that reality was too dangerous or anti-science or anti-democratic or racist or misogynist or all of the above for the mainstream GOP. Add in many voters, especially white men who came back to the Democrats in the upper Midwest and Pennsylvania, and there's Biden's victory. Georgia and Arizona were added bonuses that were on the cusp of becoming bluer in past elections. This year, it happened. 

The biggest slap in the president's face was that he might have given wavering conservatives and moderate Republicans enough reason to switch to the Democrats this year. After all, conservatives have a solid majority on the court, and the Senate will likely stay Republican, but even if it doesn't, Republicans can filibuster and block progressive legislation. Also, Democrats like Joe Manchin are not voting for tax hikes on the wealthy or court packing. Further, taxes will stay low and the economy will probably rebound once there's a vaccine. We don't need the drama anymore. It's the perfect environment for gridlock and stability.

We have, though, taken the first step toward the political center and are on our way leftward, no matter what other pundits will say. Democrats who believed that there would be a blue wave and a landslide this year were fooling themselves. First of all, Donald Trump is far more popular than many Democrats wanted to give him credit for. His approval ratings since he took office were around 45-47%. He won 47% of the popular vote. It shouldn't have been a surprise. And in the United States, we do not generally swing wildly from one political extreme to another. We are in a conservative era that took 40 years to mature. We will eventually be in a more liberal era, but that will take time and hard political ground work.

Still, the election of 2020 is an improvement over what could have been, and it should serve as one building block toward a more inclusive, prosperous future. Most important is that the climate will finally be at the top of the policy agenda. Coal is dead. Oil and natural gas are the fuels of the present, but Joe Biden was absolutely correct when he said they were bridge fuels to the future. The decision by Mary Barra, the CEO of GM, to abandon the Justice Department's case meant to force California to give up its more stringent environmental laws is a huge win for climate policy. Electric cars and cleaner energy are in our future. If the oil and fracking companies want to be a part of that, then they better change their direction now, or they will be in the Kodak, U.S. Steel, Compaq, Blockbuster, and Pan Am wing of the Bankruptcy Hall of Fame.

Democrats have a tough road ahead trying to cement a new coalition, given that many more Latinos and Black men voted Republican than in past elections. They need to make the case that government can work if given proper resources, and that they can enable people to get affordable health care, child care, better roads, airports and schools, and support when things get bad. If Republicans get in the way, then Democrats need to play hardball, and blame when necessary, Joe Biden wants to be a healer and a uniter, but he also needs to send a message that is clear and unambiguous for those who will stand in the way.

Donald Trump has demonstrated since the election, that he cares only about himself and is uninterested in helping the country through the pandemic. It's time to move on from him.

To a brighter future.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, November 22, 2020

The Real Fraud

 I've said it before and I'll say it again: I don't know why anyone, and I mean anyone, listens to anything, and I mean anything, Donald Trump says. 

He won the election? No. 

He's going to get states to appoint alternate electoral college voters who will undo the will of the people? No.

He's the best Republican president since Lincoln? No.

It's clear that he doesn't care at all about the country or democracy or unity, but only about himself and how history will see him as a minor, failed, one term president who lost because he couldn't adequately meet the most serious challenge of his presidency. In fact, history will remember him as the president who refused to wear a mask, told the country to take unproven medicine and bleach to fight Covid, and victimized responsible politicians who followed science and common sense rather than worrying about how the pandemic was going to effect Donald Trump.

He's also going to be remembered as the president who couldn't even consider that he might lose the election to a more qualified, less hyperactive candidate who spoke sensibly and genuinely to the American people. Donald Trump could have easily won this election, but his strategy in the first debate was a debacle, and his reliance on conspiracy theories regarding Joe Biden's son and mail-in ballots, and that darn virus likely did him in.

And it's not like Donald Trump is in any way a popular president. He lost the popular vote in 2016 with 46% of people voting for him and 48% for Hillary Clinton. During his presidency, his approval ratings rarely rose above 46% and only in the pandemic's early days did it rise above 50% before moving back down into the 40s. In the 2020 election he improved his share of the vote from 46% to...47%. In an election where more Americans than ever took part. In every case, he claimed fraud, illegal voters, and other plots robbed him of his rightful majority. The only thing he didn't claim was the truth; that he didn't, never did, and doesn't now, have the approval of a majority of this country.

Joe Biden has so far won 51% of the popular vote, and more votes are being counted. Joe Biden got more votes than any other presidential candidate in the history of this country. Joe Biden won the election. I just don't see where Donald Trump can claim anything other than he lost the election. Period.

But rather than show any grace or respect for the country, its democratic institutions, and its people, Donald Trump has to drag us through a process that has seen him lose in court after court because he has no case and no facts. He certainly has his supporters and spineless Republican officeholders who fear that if they tell him the truth he'll have them defeated in primaries, but, again, there's no case for anything other than helping to transition the country from the Trump Administration to the Biden Administration. 

Anything else does damage to the country.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

The Return of Hope Runs Into the Reality of Politics

Well, that was exciting. And in the end, most gratifying. Joe Biden will be the next president and Kamala Harris will be the first female vice president in the nation's history. The Democrats will hold the House of Representatives and have two chances to take nominal control of the Senate, if they can win both runoff elections in Georgia. Which all of a sudden seems eminently achievable. 

I know that many Democrats were surprised and rather annoyed that this was not a landslide election and that Republicans won back some House seats and held off Democratic challenges in the Senate. Most of all, they wonder why Biden didn't win with 58% of the popular vote, given how they feel about Donald Trump. The reason is that this country is divided by party, and that most Republicans voted...Republican, just as most Democrats voted for their party, and it was naive to think that 10 or 20% of Republican voters would vote Democratic when they had a president who gave them pretty much all they wanted in terms of ideology. The tweets? We ignore them. The outbursts and personal affronts? No politician is perfect. The Supreme Court? Ours. For years.

The truth is that Joe Biden won this election because enough voters, including a swath of Republicans, rejected Donald Trump. His tweets and speeches were just too vile. His grasp of basic facts was too loose. His undermining of basic and cherished American values and norms was too deep. His uncompromising ignorance on the issues was too great. His inability to make deals the result of his being politically inept. I understand that to a great number of Americans, these were actually his strengths, and they supported him because he promised to shake the system to its core so it finally served those who thought the country was becoming untethered from its rightful course.

Those people are in the minority, and have been since 2016, and you can't have a functioning democracy when a minority of voters determine who wins the highest office in the land. Further, Republicans have lost the popular vote in seven of the past eight presidential elections. And now the Supreme Court reflects that minority's view. It's no wonder that the country is angry. The will of the majority has been thwarted. Again; that's no way to run a democracy.

What really defeated Donald Trump, though, was Covid-19. Last January, I truly believed that Trump would be reelected because the economy was in great shape. People had jobs, the poverty rate was falling, and in a presidential election year, it is the economy that generally determines the fate of the incumbent. Then came February, and the beginning of the end. The president decided that he was going to fight the virus on his terms. Bad decision. 

Yes, Trump tried to seal the border, but he also tried to minimize the virus, and worse, tried to manage the number of reported cases so the numbers looked better than they were. He dismissed the science, sidelined the country's experts on infectious diseases, and promoted dubious, and deadly, remedies. 

And of course, there was the issue of masks. Right wing groups who believed their fundamental rights were being denied because governors and mayors wanted to keep people healthy and alive became prominent. Those who actually believed a real estate developer when he said they should go shopping and dining, as opposed to the scientists who said these were bad ideas, spread the disease. The vaccine he promised was never going to be ready on his political schedule. 

To be blunt; most things the president said about the virus and its effects were incorrect or untrue, and most everything the scientists said turned out, at some point in the argument, to be accurate. The more the virus spread, the more the president tried to ignore it. Then, he just ignored it. Now the virus breaks records day by day, and the winter hasn't even begun. Both Trump and Mike Pence said during the debates that the prediction was that if we did nothing, over 2 million people would die. We're on course for about 500,000. Does that make anyone feel good about the administration's response? So far, about 70 million people have said no.

For many Democrats and Independents, the virus was just one more excuse to vote against Donald Trump. He wallowed in conspiracy theories, didn't condemn right wing terrorists loudly enough, if at all, and made it clear from the beginning of his term that he was not going to make any effort to widen his appeal or attempt to govern for the good of all the people of this country. 

He had no health care plan, and his administration is arguing to end the protection for people who have preexisting medical conditions before the Supreme Court in a few weeks. He has eviscerated environmental laws in favor of placating the coal, oil, and gas industries that pollute and warm the planet. His administration's policy was to actually separate children from their parents at the southern border. He is using his Justice Department as a personal attorney service to investigate his enemies and those who have not been sufficiently supportive of his policies. He did nothing to address the deep seated racism woven into the fabric of American society. He tried, and was impeached for, leaning on the President of Ukraine to find dirt on Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.

And in what I found to be one of the more confounding practices of the Trump Administration, he never really used his office to promote his policies by speaking to the American people. Yes, he tweeted, but there is nothing like the president speaking to the country through television. In many instances, Trump stepped on his own good news by constantly using social media to comment on events as they unfolded, rather than using the media to tell a coherent story and to promote legislation. I get that he wanted to be a disruptive president, but rather than constantly calling the media fake, he should have copied the Reagan and Clinton playbooks and used the media for his own ends and forced them to report on what he wanted. Too many stories per day just muddied the waters.

Now Joe Biden is asking the country to unite and put aside its vast differences, but that will be almost impossible in the short term and difficult in the long term. We are too divided. We sometimes believe in two wildly different realities. We rely on separate systems of fact. We blame the other side for being dangerous. Many Democrats hashtagged NotMyPresident onto their social media identities in 2017. The president is doing the same thing now by questioning the legitimacy of the election and of Joe Biden's presidency.

Trump's supporters love what he's done on immigration and taxes and the courts and political correctness and trade and foreign affairs. They are afraid of the disturbances and riots in the cities and are repelled by the ideas that were a major part of the far left wing of the Democratic party. I'm fairly sure an analysis of voting will show that many Republicans and Independents voted Biden for president, but voted Republican for Congress and state/local offices. This is not uncommon, and quite honestly, I understand this sentiment. Trump was too much, but giving free reign to the Democrats was beyond what many people wanted to happen. That's why there was no landslide.

The next few days and weeks will be rocky. Donald Trump cried fraud when he won in 2016, and he spent the majority of his campaign saying that the only way he could lose was because of voter fraud. Unfortunately, many people believed him. What did you think was going to happen when he's losing? He will eventually have to concede, but this is a man who believes firmly in his own propaganda. Perhaps the best we can hope for is that he goes away mad, but that he does go away.

The Republicans spent the past four years playing hardball politics. It's time for the Democrats to do the same for the next four. That means promoting their agenda and reminding people why they voted for Joe Biden. This will not be a progressive's dream, and many Democrats will be frustrated by the slow, perhaps glacial, pace of change. Joe Biden's election will slow the train, but it will not reverse it. It took the conservatives 40 years to get to this point. Democrats have to understand that this  election represents the beginning of the process.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

The Campaign's Final Days

Presidential campaigns always last too long. I think we can nominate, debate, scare, insult, propagandize, and raise obscene amounts of cash in two months and then be done with it. Start in September. Done by November.

Of course, this campaign is different from most others because of the virus and because of the candidates and because of the virus. President Trump did not help himself by catching Covid-19 by flouting every bit of science we have about how the virus spreads, and then telling the country not to be afraid of it. I've been trying to find some rationality in the man, but I can only conclude that he really doesn't have a whole lot of empathy in his personality and that he is tone deaf to the fact that we're on the way to 250,000 dead and countless millions affected by this scourge.

And Joe Biden? Solid debate performances, but nothing really special, but then again, he doesn't need to do much other than act presidential and appeal to the more rational among us who see the value in not gathering with thousands of other unmasked people at a political rally, football game, biker confab, or mass pig roast. In addition, this is exactly the type of campaign that Biden needed; no big rallies, few occasions to say something mystifying, odd, offensive or wrong, and against an opponent who wallows in conspiracy theories and personal vendettas. 

The Trump Administration can say all it wants about how it handled the initial outbreak of the virus, but the fundamental error was the president's decision to fight the numbers associated with Covid-19. By trying to minimize the number of people infected and to control how many cases were reported, the administration missed an opportunity. What they should have done was embrace what was going to happen and set up the president as leading the fight against it. I know he said he was trying to calm the situation, but he only ended up telling us that it would be over soon, which is something that he never should have said because he couldn't make it happen. Banking on a vaccine is not a bad idea, but again, hyping a vaccine every few weeks when clearly we weren't going to get one for at least six to eight months does not enhance his credibility.

Yes, I know that the millions of Americans who support President Trump have assigned him a credibility that has a wide, no, yawning gap in it that's enough for two or three jumbo jets to pass through, so his saying that the virus is nothing to fear and that a cure is just around the corner are comforting rather than irresponsible. What troubles me is that so many people are willing to listen to him over experienced, professional scientists. This is why we are in the midst of a terrible new wave of the virus in exactly the states and localities where the president has so much support. Thankfully, not as many people are dying, but they still getting sick. Wear a mask. Please.

As for the issues, well, we certainly haven't had a robust debate over health care and taxes and foreign affairs and anything else related to how we should be moving forward as a country. That's a shame, but if the president wants to rehash conspiracy theories and falsehoods about how terrible the country will be if the Democrats win, then that's his choice. I prefer facts and science. Call me naive.

The president has tried to question the validity of the vote, which is a shame. Instead of creating problems, he should be working to solve them by making voting more accessible and fair. Undermining democracy is no way to run a...democracy. Of course, when your party has lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections, I can see where you might question allowing more people to vote. Perhaps the Republicans could change their message to, let's see, expanding health care, protecting Dreamers, making wealthy corporations pay their fair share of taxes, allowing women to make choices regarding their own bodies, and other issues upon which most of the country agrees.

Just a suggestion.

If you waited until Tuesday to vote, please make sure you do.