Both Parties Lost the Election. Now the Real Trouble Begins.

Five myths about lame-duck presidents - The Washington Post

            My liberal friends are relieved. I am terrified.

            Democratic voters got what they wanted last Saturday: the electoral defeat of Donald Trump.

By this time next year if not sooner, Joe Biden’s win will look like a Pyrrhic victory.

            Rather than pushing an affirmative platform of policy proposals, Biden’s entire campaign boiled down to opposition to Trump. This is the first time that a purely negative campaign has unseated an incumbent president.

            I was skeptical of Biden’s decision to target disaffected anti-Trump Republican swing voters rather than shore up the progressive base, but it worked. That’s why he won personally, yet didn’t have coattails in the House (where Dems lost seats), Senate or state races. Many Republican voters, tired of Trump’s tweets and disgusted by his COVID buffoonery, voted straight red except for crossing party lines for President-elect Biden.

            Going forward, there are several reasons to be scared.

            First: Trump isn’t gone. He isn’t the quiet type. Coupled with his refusal to concede the race, Trump’s silence and that of his MAGA supporters is spooky. As previously discussed in this space, Trump is a desperate man fighting for his freedom. On January 20th he loses executive immunity, becoming exposed to the New York prosecutors who are gunning for him on bank fraud, tax fraud and insurance fraud charges that will probably land him in prison for the rest of his life. He will do anything — wouldn’t you? — to avoid that fate.

            Trump’s Plan A, I believe, is his flurry of lawsuits related to supposed voter fraud and vote-counting irregularities. Trump doesn’t care about winning his cases. He wants to run out the clock by delaying ballot certifications past the December 14th electoral college deadline in enough states in order to trigger the 12th Amendment, which would grant him a second term via a vote in the new House of Representatives. Trump’s legal filings probably won’t prevail. But his odds are better than zero. This is why so few GOP politicians have broken rank — they know the SOB isn’t yet done for.

            Plan B, because there is no other option that leaves him in the White House and thus out of prison, is for Trump to declare some sort of “state of emergency” in response to a real or imagined crisis (Antifa, coronavirus, ISIS, just the election having been “stolen”). Martial law, tanks in the streets, stay in your homes or you will be shot. We’ll figure out the election later…much later…never.

            On-and-off Trump crony Roger Stone recently suggested that Trump invoke the 1807 Insurrection Act, declare martial law, arrest Harry Reid, Mark Zuckerberg, the Clintons and journalists. Trump himself threatened to use it to crush the Black Lives Matter movement this past summer.

His armed redneck MAGA brigades may be deputized as the coup’s paramilitaries “to protect law and order.” He could pull it off; liberals are wimps and Trump has widespread support among local police forces and sizable support among the white nationalists and other reactionaries within the military. On the other hand, a presidential attack on democracy could unite the left and the mainstream right.

            There might not be a coup. Trump might slink off into the night or fly into Saudi exile. Point is, I won’t breathe easily until he’s gone on January 20th.

[Edit Added 11/10/20:]

Adding to the growing sense that a coup attempt may be in the works were Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s statement on the floor of the U.S. Senate yesterday, and the fact that no Republican not previously identified anti-Trump has come out to urge Trump to accept defeat and concede the election to Biden. “President Trump is 100-percent within his rights to look into allegations of irregularities and weigh his legal options,” McConnell said. Only one GOP senator, moderate Susan Collins of Maine, congratulated Biden on his win. While acknowledging that Biden won, Fox News continues to use weasel language like “if and when Biden takes the oath of office.”

Two other developments give cause for concern.

First, Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper. Why would an outgoing administration fire a cabinet officer two months before the end of its term? Because it intends to remain in office. Esper was notable for refusing Trump’s order to deploy the military against BLM protesters in June. Trump will require a compliant defense secretary to stage a coup that cannot succeed without troops in the streets; he appears to have found such a figure in Esper’s acting replacement.  Second, Attorney General William Barr ordered the Department of Justice to investigate voter fraud in the recent election, providing a fig leaf for Trump’s allegations that he was cheated.

[/end of edit]

            If that happens, Joe Biden’s problems begin. And ours become immeasurably worse.

            Republicans will probably retain control of the Senate. Anyone remotely familiar with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell knows that it will be impossible to pass big-ticket Democratic legislation. The $15-per-hour federal minimum wage, public option for Obamacare, partial student loan forgiveness and anything that approaches a Green New Deal are all dead on arrival.

Biden hasn’t even taken the oath of office yet. But he is already the lamest of all lame ducks. Progressives will protest and attack Biden from the left, arguing that his centrist campaign failed to generate the Blue Wave necessary to get big things done. (They will be right.) Centrists, seeing that Biden’s presidency is doomed, that Bidenism never meant anything and will never accomplish more than to simply exist, will resign themselves to apathy.

The country will be in big trouble. It will have been over half a year since the last infusion of economic stimulus. Unemployment will be soaring, the long-term unemployed will face evictions and foreclosures, the sagging housing market will begin to collapse and securities markets, which have managed to teeter along through COVID, will start to feel the pain. And the coronavirus will be ravaging us through its second or third wave of death and disability, no vaccine yet available, in an insane for-profit healthcare system.

Biden and the Democrats will be in the worst possible position. The pandemic will be raging and the economy will be in depression. Democrats will be blamed for the mess left behind by Trump but they won’t be able to do anything to try to fix it. They’ll complain about McConnell but voters won’t listen.

Ordinary citizens will suffer the most. We need a huge stimulus package but we’re not going to get one. Gridlock will prevent the U.S. government from doing anything to save the planet, the economy or us.

Or itself.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

Previewing a Biden Presidency: Dementia, Impotence, Collapse

If he had a fast-ball, it's gone': Critics ask if Joe Biden is sharp enough to win the presidency

            At this writing two days after the election, Joe Biden appears to be six electoral votes away from winning the presidency.

The Trump campaign has requested a recount in Wisconsin. Republicans are suing in Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Nevada to demand the right to observe vote counts and challenge absentee and COVID-related mail-in ballots.

Recounts rarely change the outcome of an election, and never do so when the margin is significant, which it is in Wisconsin. The filing is a doomed Hail Mary pass—a delaying tactic at best. Trump’s fading hopes remain, as I have written previously, with the obscure 12th Amendment to the United States Constitution. If legal challenges prevent another state from certifying its results to the electoral college by the December 14th deadline, the incoming House of Representatives votes by state delegation for the new president. Most states are Republican so Trump would win.

With Biden a single state away from legitimately declaring victory, however, the one to focus on appears to be Nevada. Of the states still in light-blue or light-red play, it’s the only one leaning toward Biden, by 0.6%. If Trump can reverse that trend, possibly by disqualifying Democratic votes, he may remain in the White House. But Trump’s legal challenges in Nevada, though technically still alive, face long odds.

So the wind is at Biden’s back, even if it feels more like a mild breeze. Which makes it a good time to consider what a Biden presidency could/will look like.

Few presidents in American history have entered the White House as politically impotent as Joe Biden. No Democrat since and including Andrew Jackson has ever been elected without Democratic control of both houses of Congress, as Biden will face GOP control of the Senate. (The most recent Republican to face congressional opposition on day one was Ronald Reagan in 1981.)

Biden’s inverse coattails made history: Democrats lost five seats in the House. They had expected to pick up 15.

After months of smugly predicting a blue wave landslide, Democrats can’t possibly argue that they enjoy a national mandate for significant change. This margin is too tight and too similar to the electoral college map four years ago. They are already arguing that Biden won more votes than any other candidate in history. But Republicans were energized too. Trump won the second highest. Could the Democratic Party’s endlessly fruitless search for anti-Republican Republican swing voters finally be finished?

Biden’s advisers have to be obsessing over the words of former House speaker John Boehner in 2010: “We’re going to do everything — and I mean everything we can do — to kill it, stop it, slow it down, whatever we can.” “It” was President Obama’s agenda. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell added at the time: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” McConnell is even more of an obstructionist today. And now he’s the majority leader.

Even if Joe Biden were predisposed to a bold agenda, which progressives have a good reason to doubt, McConnell will block the crap out of it. Unlike Obama, who had a Democratic supermajority in the Senate, Biden will have a valid excuse to accomplish nothing. If I were him, I’d sleep in every day.

And that’s assuming that he is able to function in the first place. All the Democratic denials in the world can’t hide the possible president-elect’s worsening dementia. At a recent campaign event Biden introduced his granddaughter as if she were his dead son: “This is my son, Beau Biden, who a lot of you helped elect to the senate in Delaware.” Wrong gender, wrong generation, wrong sentience. He tried to correct himself. “This is my granddaughter, Natalie.”

Actually, Natalie is a different granddaughter. His son Beau died five years ago. Beau never even ran for the Senate. This is dementia, not “stuttering.” It’s sad. It’s also scary. As commander-in-chief, Biden can single-handedly launch a nuclear attack.

Biden’s defenders point to evidence that Reagan suffered from Alzheimer’s, but there was zero evidence of the disease when he took office in 1981. Woodrow Wilson suffered cognitive decline after a stroke, but that was toward the end of his second term. Biden will be the first president to begin his first term with clear signs of dementia.

An old joke goes: I want to die like my grandfather, in my sleep. Not screaming like the passengers in his car. Joe Biden is about to drive the country off a cliff and he may not even know it.

Impotence, dementia and gridlock. This is exactly the opposite of the strong leadership we require during a medical and economic crisis of staggering proportions. The best way to avoid collapse is for Biden to step down and hand the reins to Kamala Harris.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

Next: a Recount Battle from Hell, Then the 12th Amendment?

As I predicted, the 2020 presidential election was much closer than the Biden landslide  anticipated by corporate media. Not only did former vice president Joe Biden underperform due to an enthusiasm gap the MSM pretended did not exist, he does not appear to have had any meaningful down-ballot coattails.

What happens next? Exactly what I predicted would happen.

As of this writing two key battleground states in the upper Midwest — Wisconsin and Michigan — plus Pennsylvania are still counting mail-in ballots.

With 95% of the vote in, Biden leads in Wisconsin by a razor-thin 49.6% to 48.9%.

With 94% of the vote in, Biden leads in Michigan by another thin margin, 49.4% to 49.1%.

Pennsylvania only has 64% of the vote in. Trump leads 54.8% of 44.7%.

I believe the uncounted mail ballots from the Detroit and Philadelphia metro areas will push Michigan and Pennsylvania into the Biden column—Michigan with a comfortable margin, Pennsylvania just barely. Under normal circumstances, any two of these three states would tip Biden over 270 electoral votes and hand him the White House.

These are not normal times.

As Greg Palast has written, mail-in ballots are subject to a 22% rejection rate on technicalities. In a close race where 50% of ballots were cast by mail, that will make an enormous difference. Republican attorneys are now going to swarm metro Detroit, Philadelphia, and courthouses in Harrisburg and Lansing to get as many of those votes as possible thrown out. In addition to getting votes thrown out, they are going to drag their feet in order to try to avoid allowing the states, as well as others, from certifying their electoral votes by the December 14 deadline.

GOP lawyers won’t get any help from the three states’ Democratic governors in terms of foot-dragging. That goes triple for Michigan, where Governor Gretchen Whitmer must still be sore under the collar for that plot to kidnap her, which was tacitly approved of by President Donald Trump. You can’t make this stuff up!

American courthouses are giant mechanisms of delay. Motions for continuances, requests for additional hearings, recount of recounts you name it, the Republicans are going to throw everything they can add to this challenge.

You saw last night that Donald Trump semi-declared victory. This is just the beginning of a long month or two in a major crisis of electoral democracy. The odds of the 12th Amendment scenario remain high. In that scenario, the House of Representatives will select the president. Since there wasn’t a blue wave, the incoming House of Representatives will have more than 26 Republican delegations, which means Donald Trump would win.

Election 2020 Minus 3 Days: This Race Is Much Closer Than It Looks

It may or may not be the most important election of our lifetime but the November 3rd  contest between incumbent president Donald J. Trump and former vice president Joseph R. Biden is surely one of the most hotly contested and greatly anticipated.

As I have said many times before, electoral politics is politics without politics and real change will only manifest from direct action by we the people in the streets.

That said, I’m pretty good at predicting these outcomes and it’s a fun parlor game to handicap the horse race. So here’s how things look on the Saturday before the election.

As you know, if you read me regularly, I believe there is a strong chance that legal challenges and recount battles all over the country will trigger a 12th Amendment scenario after December 14th, which will lead to the presidency being decided by the House of Representatives after January 3rd. But the way things are shaking out, despite polls that show Joe Biden about to win by a landslide, I’m guessing this will be a much closer race than mainstream pollsters expect – assuming all the votes are counted, which at this point seems doubtful.

The race is tightening. Just a few weeks ago, Joe Biden was leading the national average of polls by between 14 and 16 percentage points. Now it’s less than 8%.

The number that I’m looking at the most is the national Rasmussen poll. They were the only ones who got 2016 right or close to it, and they have Biden ahead by 3%. At this point in the race in 2016, they called it a dead heat between Clinton and Trump. The day before the election, Rasmussen had Clinton ahead by 2%. That turned out to be pretty much right.

Mail-ins will winnow away at Biden’s lead. If all things were equal, that is to say COVID-19 had never happened and voters were still casting votes the old-fashioned way, mostly in person, I would call the selection for Joe Biden right here and right now. Instead, at least 80 million votes will be cast by mail, compared to 6.9 million in 2016.

Let’s do some back of the envelope arithmetic.

According to my colleague and friend, national voter suppression expert and investigative reporter Greg Palast, 22% of mail-in ballots are never counted. There are a variety of reasons for this, including voter error and institutional corruption, but you can look elsewhere for the whys and wherefores. The point is, when you vote by mail, you’re not really voting. You’re really buying a raffle ticket that is like a chance at a vote.

Experts believe that roughly 40% of this year’s presidential ballots will be cast via mail by people who don’t want to brave long lines or risk contracting the coronavirus in person. Because Republicans aren’t as scared, those votes will be skewed by 2 to 1 in favor of Democrats.

Republicans outnumber Democrats in early real life voting. CNBC reports:

Democrats still lead Republicans in mail voting for states that report party data, but GOP voters have surpassed Democrats in ballots cast in person. Of the more than 26 million returned mail ballots tracked by the U.S. Elections Project, registered Democrats have sent in 51.3%, compared with 25.5% from Republicans. Of over 7.4 million in-person votes with party affiliation reported, Republicans lead with 41.7% over Democrats’ 36.9%.

Let’s assume those trends continue through election day. 60% of the vote will be cast in person, and Trump will carry those votes by a 41.7-to-36.9 margin. Trump gets 53% of votes cast in person. 53% of 60%, or just below 32% of the total vote. Biden gets 28%.

Now let’s look at the mail-ins.

If anything, Greg Palast’s numbers are low because this year’s voting will include inexperienced first-time absentee voters unfamiliar with the requirement to be extremely precise and to insert a privacy envelope inside an envelope, etc. To be conservative (in other words, favor Biden), however, we will take a 22% disposal number at face value and apply it here. We will further assume that votes will be discarded without consideration for whether they are cast by Democrats or Republicans.

Since 40% of the vote are mail-ins, and 22% of them will be tossed, that means 8.8% of the total vote will be gone. Of the remaining 31.2%, 1/3 will go to Trump and 2/3 will go to Biden. So it’s Trump just over 10% and Biden just under 21%.

Add these numbers to the votes cast in person, and that means Trump gets 42% and Biden gets 49%. Adjusted to 100%, Biden wins roughly 54% to 46%. It’s almost impossible to imagine how Trump can turn that into an electoral college victory.

Progressives are still angry.  Between 3 and 4 million Bernie Sanders voters sat on their hands on election day four years ago. This year, I think it will be closer to 1 million. Still, that’s going to be roughly 1% of the vote. So let’s make Biden’s lead really 53% to 47%.

The enthusiasm gap still favors Trump.  Biden is still running an anti-Trump campaign with minimal enthusiasm for his own agenda. Trump’s supporters adore him. The enthusiasm gap doesn’t change approval ratings but it does affect turnout. Millions of absentee ballots haven’t been returned despite being requested; no doubt, some of those voters decided to show up for in person early voting. But not all. And I’m going to guess that people who decided not to bother are mostly Democrats. I think that’s going to cost the Democrats about one percentage point. So really, we are looking at a 52% to 48% popular vote lead in favor of Joe Biden.

Which is basically where we were four years ago. Trump will certainly lose the popular vote. Whether he wins the presidency a second time will depend on whether he is able to cobble together another electoral college victory in key swing states, or run out the clock into a 12th Amendment scenario.

 

Election 2020: What Happens Next?

How the 2000 Election Results Came Down to a Supreme Court Decision - HISTORY

            Predictions are the third rail of punditry. Everyone hates a Cassandra who gets it right; the poor columnist never hears the end of a wrong call. Like a beautiful luna moth drawn to the flame, however, we can’t help ourselves.

We think we know what will happen next. People constantly demand our prognostications. We crave danger.

With the caveat that you’d probably have to go back to one of the two elections in which Abe Lincoln was a major party candidate to find a contest with more crisis-related variables than this one, here’s my guess for how this year’s presidential and congressional elections will play out.

            When: Don’t expect immediate results. For the first time ever a whopping 40% or more of the vote will come into boards of election by mail—about 13 times more than 2016. Some 42 states have laws (pushed through by Republicans) that prohibit counting to begin until after the polls close. Eight states, including the swing states of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, don’t even allow election officials to begin processing—opening envelopes, verifying signatures and removing secrecy sleeves— mail-in ballots before the night of November 3rd. Even if the polls turn out to be correct and it’s a popular vote landslide for Joe Biden, I’ll be shocked if any broadcast network will be able to project a 270-electoral vote winner on Election Night.

            Who: If Biden wins, it won’t be by double digits. As usual at this stage, the presidential race is narrowing. A week ago, Biden was ahead by 14 points. Now it’s 8. If every vote, those cast in person as well as mail-ins, were counted (which is a mega big if, keep reading), Biden would probably win the (theoretically 100% counted) popular vote by a bigger, but not much bigger margin, than Hillary Clinton did in 2016. Biden’s sizable lead in the polls will be shrunken by two factors.

First, the enthusiasm gap. Republican voters are wildly enthusiastic about Trump; Biden’s voters just want Trump gone. It is true that, as a CBS pollster notes, “an unenthusiastic vote, of course, counts just the same as an enthusiastic one.” The point is that anti-Trump Democrats are less likely to vote than fervent Trumpists.

Then there’s the progressive factor. Biden and the DNC have bent over backwards to insult, belittle and generally tell leftists they’re not welcome in what Biden calls “his” party. The same centrist tiny-tent approach, coupled with sucking up to imaginary swing voters, prompted between 3 and 4 million Bernie Sanders voters to stay home in 2016. If half as many progressives sit this one out too, Biden’s lead gets nibbled away more.

Unequal Votes: One person, one vote? Not when there are two classes of votes. Because they’re less worried about the coronavirus Republicans will tend to vote in-person. Democrats will disproportionately vote by mail, by a factor of at least 3-to-1.

Mail-in ballots often get thrown out. 1.2% of mail-in ballots got tossed in 2016. But many of those were cast by experienced absentee voters like business travelers. This year, because the vast majority of them will be sent in by voters who have never before been through this arcane process, I think it will be closer to 6% (the rejection rate in Philadelphia’s local election in 2019), meaning that Biden could see up to 2% or 3% of his popular vote total vanish.

The biggest reason mail-in ballots get thrown out is because the signature doesn’t match the one on file. People add or subtract a middle initial or they change the way that they sign their name. In states that require a witness signature, many voters blow off that requirement. People ditch the seemingly redundant security envelope. Poof!

Running Out the Clock: COVID-19 is President Trump’s ace in the hole. The 80 million expected mail-in ballots, three-quarters or more of them Democratic, will be targeted by the GOP’s team of thousands of attorneys all over the country for legal challenges. “Republicans are preparing prewritten legal pleadings that can be hurried to the courthouse the day after the election, as wrangling begins over close results and a crush of mail-in ballots,” Politico reported in late September.

The chaos in America’s COVID-choked court system will make Bush v. Gore look like a cakewalk.

Trump’s legal filings will have two goals: disqualifying Democratic mail-in ballots over technicalities and dragging out the vote count until December 14th. Trump’s lawyers may get help from partisan election officials in Republican states. State officials may take advantage of the fog of uncertainty of a recount war to order their electors to vote Republican whether or not their state’s actual voters agree. The chairman of the Pennsylvania state Republican Party told a magazine he had talked to the Trump campaign about subverting the popular will. (He later walked that back. Still.)

Running out the clock could tip the election to Trump. If the December 14th electoral college deadline for vote certification isn’t met by enough states to add up to 270 for Biden (or Trump), the dreaded 12th Amendment scenario kicks in. The new House of Representatives convenes, one state, one vote, and Trump almost certainly wins.

What are the chances of a prolonged recount battle triggering the 12th? At this point, in my view, slightly better than 50%: far from certain, but likely. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is alarmed and trying to win races that could be crucial in a House vote scenario.

If Trump wins: No president, not even George W. Bush or Rutherford B. Hayes, will ever have enjoyed less legitimacy or acceptance by voters. Democrats will control a bigger majority in the House and will probably retake the Senate, so Trump will be unable to govern beyond executive orders and his role as commander-in-chief. City streets will be roiled by liberal protests and counterprotests by the president’s reactionary supporters. Whether the U.S. recovers or collapses into a full-fledged depression will depend on whether Trump is willing to acquiesce to Democratic demands for a major economic stimulus package. If not, things will burn. And there will be a renewed cry to get rid of the Electoral College.

            If Biden wins: With his party controlling both houses of Congress a victorious Biden will be able to do anything he wants. Voters will expect quick, bold executive action to address the pandemic, fix the economy and reverse Trump’s noxious policy attacks against the environment and illegal immigrants. Americans will give him six months to turn the country around.

            If he doesn’t, things will burn.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

When a Country Reeling from Crisis Turns to an Aging Father Figure

Vichy/ Free France and Lead up

Not long ago, there was a country whose people were suffering a devastating moral, political and economic crisis. Before the crash they were certain of their place in the world; theirs was, even in the opinion of their adversaries, an exceptionally prosperous, powerful and politically vibrant civilization whose culture had disproportionate influence around the planet.

Then everything collapsed. Just like that, seemingly out of nowhere, they were laid low, lost, no hope in sight.

No one was sure why. But there was no shortage of scapegoats. The left blamed the right, the right blamed the left, and everyone wondered whether it was simply a meta case of nothing good lasts forever.

Before the collapse this nation had been a military and economic colossus, a superpower possessing one of the world’s biggest navies and one of its strongest armies. It controlled a vast empire. What had happened was unthinkable. Yet there it was.

This was France in 1940. In just six weeks, Germany—itself defeated and humiliated by France 20 years earlier—had invaded and subjugated this proudest of peoples. How, the French asked themselves, could they have been so unprepared? Why had their much-vaunted democracy, first in the West, failed?

In their time of need this desperate people turned to the leadership of a revered father figure, an elder statesman. His advanced age and halting manner worried some. (He was probably suffering from Alzheimer’s.) The leader “is good for three or four hours a day… but when he is tired, especially in the evening, you can get him to sign what you want without him realizing,” one of his ministers said at the time.

The old man’s politics included unwholesome dalliances with reactionaries. But he had a long record of service to the nation. His patriotism was unquestioned. He claimed not to have sought power; he had stepped up, he reassured the people, to protect and guide them through a terrible time. “I make France,” Marshal Philippe Pétain told the French after ordering the army to surrender, “the gift of my person.”

France should have returned that gift.

Some wondered whether, at age 84, Pétain was too old to understand that he was being used. Playing on his name, critics called him “maréchal péteux”—senile. The Marshal had certainly lost a lot of sharpness since World War I when he led the miraculous victory at the Battle of Verdun—“on les aura!” he had cried to his dispirited troops, deliberately echoing Joan of Arc—that many believed to have turned the tide of what had felt like a doomed war.

It is more likely that the Hero of Verdun, a vain and reactionary man who had always been stubbornly resistant to suggestions he might be on a wrong course, felt vindicated by the catastrophe. In his view, and he was hardly alone, louche liberalism had led France to a sorry fate. It was his fate to salvage the mess and keep the Germans at bay—and his opportunity to create a cult of personality under a pathetic sub-dictatorship.

As the rot of his brain proceeded, Pétain became apathetic and withdrawn, leaving the outright fascists in his puppet administration to collaborate with the Nazis enthusiastically. His government protected no one. It deported tens of thousands of Jews to Nazi death camps, tortured and shot members of the communist-led Resistance and turned over so much cash and food to the Reich that France soon had the highest hunger rate in occupied Europe. Today Pétain’s name is synonymous with weakness and treason.

Unless Trumpian legal challenges to mail-in ballots don’t trigger a 12th Amendment scenario, polls indicate that desperate Americans are about to turn to a father figure with visibly diminished mental capacity to lead them out of a deep crisis whose causes and nature they have not yet internalized.

While it is undeniable that Donald Trump’s initial non-response to the COVID-19 pandemic and his bizarre refusal to embrace basic medical protocols increased the economic costs and killed more patients, the fundamental causes of the crisis were structural: predatory corporate capitalism that long predated his presidency, a for-profit healthcare system without a social safety net, poor diet and obesity, staggering disparity of wealth, previous administrations’ outsourcing the manufacture of vital supplies such as masks, too much power vested in local and state governments.

I do not expect President Joe Biden to sell us out to foreign enemies. He will not fill his cabinet with proto-fascists, as did Pétain. Like Pétain, however, he has neither the vigor nor the vision nor  the political orientation required to get us through the coronavirus crisis or to correct the systemic flaws that made a terrible problem unnecessarily worse. When he was called upon to defend Anita Hill and block the confirmation of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court but enabled him instead, when he ought to have taken a stand for African-American men systemically condemned to draconian prison terms but joined the racist jail-them-all crowd, when he had doubts about the Obama Administration’s decisions to destroy Libya and Syria and remained silent—whenever he was required to stand tall and speak up—Biden failed the test of leadership. And that was when he was a more lucid, younger man.

Not unlike Pétain, Biden seems unable to work more than a few hours a day.

If Biden wins, only three things can save us from this crisis. If he dies or is incapacitated and President Kamala Harris turns out to listen to better angels she didn’t reveal as DA, we may have a shot at recovery. If Biden’s cabinet turns out to be a remarkable collection of Best and Brightest and he serves as their figurehead, we could muddle through. If the American people rise up and overthrow this corrupt and moribund government and replace it with one that serves our needs, and we somehow manage to avoid the despotism that often follows revolution, we might emerge better than ever.

I am not optimistic.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

After The Donald, The Deluge?

French Revolution Series Ordered at Netflix - ComingSoon.net

           Joe Biden enjoys a double-digit lead over the incumbent president because he promises a return to normalcy—not the platonic ideal of objective normalcy in a country that doesn’t torture or spy on its citizens or let them starve because their coding chops are a few years out of date. Americans desperately want to resume “normal” political life as Americans knew it before the last four years of manic presidential tweetstorms, authoritarian strongman antics and pandemic pandemonium. As Michigan voter Katybeth Davis told The Guardian, “I just want it [the Trump presidency] to be over with. I really do.”

            Be careful what you wish for. Things could get even crazier under Biden.

            Even though it’s only a few weeks away, I am hesitant to call the election. Biden has a huge lead in the polls but Trump has an ace in the hole: an unprecedented volume of mail-in ballots due to the COVID pandemic, which will run predominantly Democratic and provide attractive targets for Republican attorneys to drag out state vote counts past the December 14th electoral college certification deadline, which would trigger the obscure 12th Amendment scenario in which 50 states each get one vote for president in the next House of Representatives, in which case Trump wins even if Biden wins the popular vote by a lot.

            But let’s assume Biden prevails. Let’s say it’s a blue wave election and the Democrats expand their majority in the House and take control of the Senate. What happens next? Revolution, maybe.

            Revolution would certainly be likelier under Biden than under Trump.

            One of history’s least-discussed ironies is a counterintuitive pattern: it is not the vicious tyrants who are overthrown by angry mobs, but well-meaning liberal reformers who promise to fix a broken system and fall short of expectations.

            A Biden Administration will face several daunting existential challenges. Unlike Obama, whose high approval rating at inauguration prolonged his political honeymoon into his second year, Biden will enjoy little to no support from Republican voters or elected representatives. Progressives will pressure him from the left. Worse, Biden will inherit problems that have been neglected or exacerbated for so long that no solution will be able to come fast enough.

A president who will have achieved victory by campaigning against his predecessor’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic will be expected to quickly turn around the ongoing medical and economic disasters with lightning quick results. Like Obama, Biden has promised to add a “public option” to the Affordable Care Act; he’ll need to do that right away. That’s only the beginning: the ACA will collapse unless Congress vastly increases premium subsidies to middle-class patients and orders Medicaid expansion nationally.

The $600-a-week supplemental unemployment benefits that both parties allowed to expire during the summer will have to be replaced in some form. There will need to be meaningful broad-based relief for distressed renters and homeowners facing eviction or foreclosure; without an infusion of cash millions of people who formerly belonged to the middle and working classes will become homeless, adding to social and political instability. Billions will have to be pumped into the economy in the form of direct stimulus checks to every man, woman and child. The alternative is economic collapse.

The presidency, of course, is about more than policy. Many Americans who believed in exceptionalism a few years ago are wondering aloud whether the U.S. is literally over and done. During times of crisis, leaders are called upon to reassure citizens that a wise and steady hand is at the helm and that a team of intelligent and innovative advisors is running the show behind the scenes.

Can Biden deliver? On most fronts, probably not.

The Democratic Party is too beholden to its corporate donors to enact the FDR-style stimulus and social programs that are required to dig out of an economic hole filled with tens of millions of newly unemployed workers and where one out of five businesses have gone broke. Biden comes out of the Clinton/Obama/Democratic Leadership Council austerity wing of his party. His instinct will be to spend as little as possible in order to try to balance the budget.

“When we get in, the pantry is going to be bare,” says Ted Kaufman, who will run the transition office that will select Biden’s top personnel. “When you see what Trump’s done to the deficit…forget about COVID-19, all the deficits that he built with the incredible tax cuts. So we’re going to be limited.” Kaufman, a former Delaware senator, promises that Biden won’t significantly increase federal spending.

The streets are already seething. Austerity will bring things to a boil.

Political suicide by fiscal means.

The Soviet Union didn’t collapse under Josef Stalin. It couldn’t have. He would have ruthlessly crushed any meaningful opposition. Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev presided over graduated liberalization but it was under Mikhail Gorbachev, architect of perestroika, that the USSR went out of business. Gorbachev, arguably the best, brightest and most decent premier the Soviet system could allow to come to power and the best the Russian people could hope for, failed to deliver the improvements in living standards and personal freedoms people wanted and needed. It was precisely the fact that he was so excellent, yet couldn’t deliver, that exposed the corruption and incompetence inherent to the system.

Neither Khrushchev nor Brezhnev nor Gorbachev were the problem. The system itself was. It had to go.

Similarly, the French Revolution couldn’t have succeeded under Louis XIV; the Sun King was too brutal and autocratic. Louis XVI attempted numerous reforms to make life better for the French, including the free distribution of grain, slashing the royal budget and the abolition of torture and servitude. He granted equal rights to Jews and Protestants, tried to tax the nobility (they refused) and began a transition toward parliamentary monarchy as in Great Britain. But the reforms were insufficient, internal forces were intransigent and resentments had built up for too long. The French were hungry and angry so Louis XVI lost his head to the guillotine.

So it went in Russia. Although Czar Nicholas II was a bit of a clueless dolt, he recognized the crisis and desperately tried to save a collapsing system. He introduced civil liberties, worked to increase literacy, granted representation to local districts throughout the country and modernized the empire’s infrastructure. Again, it wasn’t enough. He destroyed the economy by squandering the treasury on wars of choice, refused to consider democratization and ultimately succumbed to the resistance of shortsighted Russian aristocrats. Lenin and the Bolsheviks had long argued that the Russian government was corrupt and unwilling to provide for the needs of the people. Only when Nicholas II’s reforms proved to be too little too late did they agree and rise up.

Like Gorbachev, Louis XVI and Nicholas II, President Biden will disappoint at the worst possible time.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

 

What to Expect from Tonight’s Vice Presidential Debate

Executive summary: Mike Pence is a more formidable adversary than you think. Kamala Harris is a worse debater than you remember.

Kamala Harris is known for one thing from her failed presidential primary run: kneecapping Joe Biden, her future running mate, with her “I was that girl on the bus” cheese ball. But there’s a reason she only scored 2% in those primaries: she isn’t much of a campaigner and, in general, she’s not quick on her feet. Not to mention, voters aren’t particularly fond of mean people who send innocent people of color to prison, fight in court to deny their right to get DNA testing, don’t apologize, and don’t try to get them out. She’s evil and we know it.

Mike Pence, on the other hand, his remembered mainly for referring to his wife as “mother“ and for gazing adoringly at President Trump for elevating him from representing Indiana.

Many Democrats I know are salivating at the thought of the former prosecutor eating Trump’s number two alive. I don’t think it’s going to go that way.

Like most vice presidential debates, tonight will be a fight between two surrogates mainly talking about their bosses, President Donald Trump and former vice president Joe Biden. This will be like that even more than usual. Neither figure here has a major profile like Dick Cheney. But don’t be surprised if Pence goes after her personally for her record as a prosecutor.

The major point of interest here is the wild difference in their personalities and speaking styles. In a way, they will be speaking completely different languages so they might not really connect against each other. The question is, will they connect with the television audience watching at home?

Mike Pence is creepy and weird but he’s going to do better than you think. He is methodical, calm and not easily flustered. Harris, ever the prosecutor, is best when rehearsed so she will come with plenty of prepackaged “girl on the bus” type of zingers. But she’s not used to being attacked one on one so Pence could easily throw her off balance if he comes at her hard or from an unexpected angle.

If I have to handicap this — and I guess I do – I’m going to give the advantage to Mike Pence.

President Trump Neither Needs Nor Deserves Our Thoughts and Prayers

Salem • View topic - Know Your Enemy.

            I don’t give a damn if Donald Trump lives or dies. I don’t wish him well. I don’t send him thoughts or prayers. If COVID-19 or green men from Mars or liopleurodon take him to his despicable maker, so be it. Everyone dies. Being famous and or a billionaire and or President of the United States does not entitle you to universal goodwill.

            Neither do I wish Trump ill. That’s how little I care.

            Republicans, members of the self-proclaimed Party of Personal Responsibility, ought to acknowledge that this man has been asking for this. I’m not talking about karmic retribution for the 200,000+ Americans who died on his watch while he plainly didn’t much care. Trump has been cruising for COVID-19 spring, summer and fall, avoiding masks and social distancing the way he dodges the construction contractors he chisels out of pay. If you drink like a fish, you’re cruising for liver disease. If you like to run red lights, don’t whine if you get broadsided by a semi-truck. Trump wanted this virus and he got it.

            What’s fascinating and enlightening though is the semiotic contortions that liberal Democrats twist themselves through in order to simultaneously dogwhistle their glee at the President’s medical misfortune while patting themselves on the back for their phony compassion.

            MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, the former progressive to whom I point whenever I’m trying to instance the term “sellout,” tweeted a watered-down liberal version of “hearts and prayers” in response to the big news: “God bless the president and the first lady. If you pray, please pray for their speedy and complete recovery — and for everyone infected, everywhere.” Atheists, thank the Lord, are apparently off the hook.

            Maddow continued sympathy shaming for Trump on her nightly TV show.

“If you know someone who smoked for years and years and years and never even tried to quit despite knowing the risks of lung cancer from smoking and then that person who you know got lung cancer, how do you react to that?” she asked. “Well, part of the way you react is that you understand why they likely got it. Your instinct might even be to blame them for getting it. Go right ahead. Enjoy that schadenfreude.” Internet searches for schadenfreude soared over the weekend.

“But also, you’re a human being in this situation,” Maddow went on. “If your friend has lung cancer now, regardless of what you feel about how he or she, how he or she got it, once you find out that they’re ill, you wish and hope and try to save them, right? You get them into treatment. You help them try to survive it. You move heaven and earth to cure them. That’s how we do as humans, right? That’s how this works!”

Well, yes. The keyword is “friend.” If your friend screws up, you are there for them. But Trump is not my friend.

Trump made excuses for and let Saudi Arabia off the hook for butchering Jamal Khashoggi. Trump bombs innocent people with drones. Trump kills the poor in Yemen. Trump coddles neo-Nazis and cops, who are often the same people. Trump doesn’t care if I die due to lack of healthcare. Trump doesn’t care about all the homeless people sleeping outside tonight.

So Trump is my enemy.

He’s probably yours too.

And when your enemy suffers, you have no obligation whatsoever to care. You are allowed to laugh. Pretending that you care about your enemy, especially when they are a mass murderer—every American president is—is the pinnacle of psychological alienation. Make no mistake: your enemy would do the same to you. That is, if he even knows you exist.

            It’s interesting that Maddow used the F-word. I don’t know if she is friends with President Trump the same way that Ellen DeGeneres chills with George W. Bush, but there’s an important similarity: both men and both women belong to a privileged class of ruling elites for whom rules and laws do not apply as stringently as for the rest of us. Maddow earns $7 million a year and is worth $20 million. The rich are different from you and me: they don’t care about us.

            From a class perspective, Trump and Maddow might not be friends. But they are part of the same clique. And if anything makes these insanely wealthy people nervous—aside from succumbing to a mysterious disease or getting strung up by an angry mob of revolutionaries —it’s their suspicion that we might not like them. That we might not consider them “friends.” Not only that we might not give a damn about them, but that we might actually take pleasure in their suffering.

            40% of Democratic voters told a poll that they were happy that Trump had COVID-19. I was surprised that anyone took such a poll and that any media organization published the results. That wouldn’t have happened 40 years ago.

There isn’t much historical data to compare to but it’s a fair bet that most Democrats felt sympathy for Ronald Reagan when he was shot in an assassination attempt in 1981. I was a leftist and I hated Reagan. His financial aid cuts forced me to work multiple jobs through college and pushed many of my classmates to drop out of school. But I was glad he recovered. At the time, an attack on the majesty of the presidency was shocking.

            The presidency no longer has much majesty; I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.

            The liberal Democrats who fall over themselves in order to shed crocodile tears for a man they excoriate every day and every night showcase the nature of the system under which we live and the separate class interests that divide the American people. While talking heads on CNN and columnists for the New York Times virtue-signal their concern for the latest murderous president, policemen are shooting unarmed people of color in their cars and in their homes with impunity, renters who lost their homes to the COVID-19 lockdown are being evicted, unemployment benefits still haven’t been renewed, people in the Middle East are getting blown up by Hellfire missiles and cultural gatekeepers have nothing to say.

            We might not have internalized the fact that they are our enemies.

But they know we are theirs.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

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