Black and Blue in America

I started writing for TomDispatch.com in 2007. I really thought I had one article to write, focusing on the disastrous Iraq War and the way in which the Bush/Cheney administration was hiding its worst results behind the bemedaled chest of General David Petraeus. Here we are, in 2020, and my latest article is my 75th contribution to the site, which truly amazes me. Special thanks to Tom Engelhardt for publishing my first piece back in 2007 and for setting a stellar example of what alternative freethinking media can be.

We Could Use A Leader Like George McGovern Again
By William J. Astore

As I lived through the nightmare of the election campaign just past, I often found myself dreaming of another American world entirely. Anything but this one.

In that spirit, I also found myself looking at a photo of my fourth-grade class, vintage 1972. Tacked to the wall behind our heads was a collage, a tapestry of sorts that I could make out fairly clearly. It evoked the promise and the chaos of a turbulent year so long ago. The promise lay in a segment that read “peace” and included a green ecology flag, a black baseball player (Brooklyn Dodgers second baseman Jackie Robinson, who had died that year), and a clenched fist inside the outline of the symbol for female (standing in for the new feminism of that moment and the push for equal rights for women).

Representing the chaos of that era were images of B-52s dropping bombs in Vietnam (a war that was still ongoing) and a demonstration for racist Alabama governor and presidential candidate George Wallace (probably because he had been shot and wounded in an assassination attempt that May). A rocket labeled “USA” reminded me that this country was then still launching triumphant Apollo missions to the moon.

How far we’ve come in not quite half a century! In 2020, “peace” isn’t even a word in the American political dictionary; despite Greta Thunberg, a growing climate-change movement, and Joe Biden’s two-trillion-dollar climate plan, ecology was largely a foreign concept in the election just past as both political parties embraced fracking and fossil fuels (even if Biden’s embrace was less tight); Major League Baseball has actually suffered a decline in African-American players in recent years; and the quest for women’s equality remains distinctly unfulfilled.

Bombing continues, of course, though those bombs and missiles are now aimed mostly at various Islamist insurgencies rather than communist ones, and it’s often done by drones, not B-52s, although those venerable planes are still used to threaten Moscow and Beijing with nuclear carnage. George Wallace has, of course, been replaced by Donald Trump, a racist who turned President Richard Nixon’s southern strategy of my grade school years into a national presidential victory in 2016 and who, as president, regularly nodded in the direction ofwhite supremacists.

Progress, anyone? Indeed, that class photo of mine even featured the flag of China, a reminder that Nixon had broken new ground that very year by traveling to Beijing to meet with Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong and de-escalate the Cold War tensions of the era. Nowadays, Americans only hear that China is a military and economic threat; that Joe Biden and some Democrats are allegedly far too China-friendly (they aren’t); and that Covid-19 (aka the “Wuhan Flu” or “Kung Flu”) was — at least to Donald Trump and his followers — a plague sent by the Chinese to kill us.

Another symbol from that tapestry, a chess piece, reminded me that in 1972 we witnessed the famous Cold War meeting between the youthful, brilliant, if mercurial Bobby Fischer and Soviet chess champion Boris Spassky in a match that evoked all the hysteria and paranoia of the Cold War. Inspired by Fischer, I started playing the game myself and became a card-carrying member of the U.S. Chess Federation until I realized my talent was limited indeed.

The year 1972 ended with Republican Richard Nixon’s landslide victory over Democratic Senator George McGovern, who carried only my home state of Massachusetts. After Nixon’s landslide victory, I remember bumper stickers that said: “Don’t blame me for Nixon, I’m from Massachusetts.”

Eighteen years later, in 1990, I would briefly meet the former senator. He was attending a history symposium on the Vietnam War at the U.S. Air Force Academy and, as a young Air Force captain, I chased down a book for him in the Academy’s library. I don’t think I knew then of McGovern’s stellar combat record in World War II. A skilled pilot, he had flown 35 combat missions in a B-24 bomber, winning the Distinguished Flying Cross for, at one point, successfully landing a plane heavily damaged by enemy fire and saving his crew. Nixon, who had served in the Navy during that war, never saw combat. But he did see lots of time at the poker table, winning a tidy sum of money, which he would funnel into his first political campaign.

Like so many combat veterans of the “greatest generation,” McGovern never bragged about his wartime exploits. Over the years, however, that sensible, honorable, courageous American patriot became far too strongly associated with peace, love, and understanding. A staunch defender of civil rights, a believer in progressive government, a committed opponent of the Vietnam War, he would find himself smeared by Republicans as weak, almost cowardly, on military matters and an anti-capitalist (the rough equivalent today of democratic-socialist Bernie Sanders).

Apparently, this country couldn’t then and still can’t accept any major-party candidate who doesn’t believe in a colossal military establishment and a government that serves business and industry first and foremost or else our choice in 2020 wouldn’t have been Trump-Pence versus Biden-Harris.

Channeling Lloyd Bentsen

As I began writing this piece in late October, I didn’t yet know that Joe Biden would indeed win the most embattled election of our lifetime. What I did know was that the country that once produced (and then rejected) thoughtful patriots like George McGovern was in serious decline. Most Americans desperately want change, so the pollsters tell us, whether we call ourselves Republicans or Democrats, conservatives, liberals, or socialists. Both election campaigns, however, essentially promised us little but their own versions of the status quo, however bizarre Donald Trump’s may have been.

In truth, Trump didn’t even bother to present a plan for anything, including bringing the pandemic under control. He just promised four more years of Keeping America Trumpish Again with yet another capital gains tax cut thrown in. Biden ran on a revival of Barack Obama’s legacy with the “hope and change” idealism largely left out. Faced with such a choice in an increasingly desperate country, with spiking Covid-19 cases in state after state and hospitals increasingly overwhelmed, too many of us sought relief in opioids or gun purchases, bad habits like fatty foods and lack of exercise, and wanton carelessness with regard to the most obvious pandemic safety measures.

Since the presidencies of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, and especially since September 11, 2001, it’s amazing what Americans have come to accept as normal. Forget about peace, love, and understanding. What we now see on America’s streets aren’t antiwar protesters or even beat cops, but Robocops armed to the teeth with military-style weaponry committing indefensible acts of violence. Extremist “militias” like the Proud Boys are celebrated (by some) as “patriots.” Ludicrous QAnon conspiracy theories are taken all too seriously with political candidates on the Republican side of the aisle lining up to endorse them.

Even six-figure death tolls from a raging pandemic were normalized as President Trump barnstormed the country, applauding himself to maskless crowds at super-spreader rallies for keeping Covid-19 deaths under the mythical figure of 2.2 million. Meanwhile, the rest of us found nothing to celebrate in what — in Vietnam terms — could be thought of as a new body count, this time right here in the homeland.

And speaking of potential future body counts, consider again the Proud Boys whom our president in that first presidential debate asked to “stand back and stand by.” Obviously not a militia, they might better be described as a gang. Close your eyes and imagine that all the Proud Boys were black. What would they be called then by those on the right? A menace, to say the least, and probably far worse.

A real militia would, of course, be under local, state, or federal authority with a chain of command and a code of discipline, not just a bunch of alienated guys playing at military dress-up and spoiling for a fight. Yet too many Americans see them through a militarized lens, applauding those “boys” as they wave blue-line pro-police flags and shout “all lives matter.” Whatever flags they may wrap themselves in, they are, in truth, nothing more than nationalist bully boys.

Groups like the Proud Boys are only the most extreme example of the “patriotic” poseurs, parades, and pageantry in the U.S.A. of 2020. And collectively all of it, including our lost and embattled president, add up to a red-white-and-blue distraction (and what a distraction it’s been!) from an essential reality: that America is in serious trouble — and you can take that “America” to mean ordinary people working hard to make a living (or not working at all right now), desperate to maintain roofs over their heads and feed their kids.

It’s a distraction as well from the reality that America hasn’t decisively won a war since the time George McGovern flew all those combat missions in a B-24. It’s a distraction from some ordinary Americans like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Jacob Blake being not just manipulated and exploited, but murdered, hence the need for a Black Lives Matter movement to begin with. It’s a distraction from the fact that we don’t even debate gargantuan national security budgets that now swell annually above a trillion dollars, while no one in a position of power blinks.

Today’s never-ending wars and rumors of more to come remind me that George McGovern was not only against the Vietnam conflict, but the ones in Afghanistan and Iraq, too. Joe Biden, meanwhile, voted for the Iraq War, which Donald Trump also spoke in favor of, then, only to campaign on ending this country’s wars in 2016, even if by 2020 he hadn’t done so — though he had set up a new military service, the Space Force. Feeling the need to sharpen his own pro-war bona fides, Biden recently said he’d raise “defense” spending over and above what even Trump wanted.

If you’ll indulge my fantasy self for a moment, I’d like to channel Lloyd Bentsen, the 1988 Democratic vice presidential nominee who, in a debate with his Republican opposite Dan Quayle, dismissed him as “no Jack Kennedy.” In that same spirit, I’d like to say this to both Trump and Biden in the wake of the recent Covid-19 nightmare of a campaign: “I met George McGovern. George McGovern, in a different reality, could have been my friend. You, Joe and Donald, are no George McGovern.”

Prior military service is not essential to being president and commander-in-chief, but whose finger would you rather have on America’s nuclear button: that of Trump, who dodged the draft with heel spurs; Biden, who dodged the draft with asthma; or a leader like McGovern, who served heroically in combat, a leader who was willing to look for peaceful paths because he knew so intimately the blood-spattered ones of war?

A Historical Tapestry for Fourth Graders as 2020 Ends

What about a class photo for fourth graders today? What collage of images would be behind their heads to represent the promise and chaos of our days? Surely, Covid-19 would be represented, perhaps by a mountain of body bags in portable morgues. Surely, a “Blue Lives Matter” flag would be there canceling out a Black Lives Matter flag. Surely, a drone launching Hellfire missiles, perhaps in Somalia or Yemen or some other distant front in America’s endless war of (not on) terror, would make an appearance.

And here are some others: surely, the flag of China, this time representing the growing tensions, not rapprochement, between the two great powers; surely, a Trump super-spreader rally filled with the unmasked expressing what I like to think of as the all-too-American “ideal” of “live free and die”; surely, a vast firenado rising from California and the West, joined perhaps by a hurricane flag to represent another record-breaking year of such storms, especially on the Gulf Coast; surely, some peaceful protesters being maced or tased or assaulted by heavily armed and unidentified federal agents just because they cared about the lives of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, among others.

And I suppose we could add something about sports into that collage, maybe an image of football players in empty stadiums, kneeling as one for racial equality. Look, sports used to unite us across race and class lines, but in his woebegone presidency, Donald Trump, among others, used sports only to divide us. Complex racial relations and legacies have been reduced to slogans, Black Lives Matter versus blue lives matter, but what’s ended up being black and blue is America. We’ve beaten ourselves to a pulp and it’s the fight promoters, Donald Trump above all, who have profited most. If we are to make any racial progress in America, that kind of self-inflicted bludgeoning has to end.

And what would be missing from the 2020 collage that was in my 1972 one? Notably, clear references to peace, ecology, and equal rights for women. Assuming that, on January 20th, Joe Biden really does take his place in the Oval Office, despite the angriest and most vengeful man in the world sitting there now, those three issues would be an ideal place for him to start in his first 100 days as president (along, of course, with creating a genuine plan to curb Covid-19): (1) seek peace in Afghanistan and elsewhere by ending America’s disastrous wars; (2) put the planet first and act to abate climate change and preserve all living things; (3) revive the Equal Rights Amendment and treat women with dignity, respect, and justice.

One final image from my fourth-grade collage: an elephant is shown on top of a somewhat flattened donkey. It was meant, of course, to capture Richard Nixon’s resounding victory over George McGovern in 1972. Yet, even with Joe Biden’s victory last week, can we say with any confidence that the donkey is now on top? Certainly not the one of McGovern’s day, given that Biden has already been talking about austerity at home and even higher military spending.

Sadly, it’s long past time to reclaim American idealism and take a stand for a lot less war and a lot more help for the most vulnerable among us, including the very planet itself. How sad that we don’t have a leader like George McGovern in the White House as a daunting new year looms.

William Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and professor of history, is a TomDispatch regular. His personal blog is Bracing Views.

Joe Biden Wins!

United, but for what causes?

W,J. Astore

I’ll admit it: I never saw Joe Biden as president. Not when I remembered his abortive presidential run in 1988, when he lied about his college record and plagiarized speeches of Bobby Kennedy and Neil Kinnock.

He made an effective vice president for Barack Obama, mainly at first because he reassured White America that the Black guy was OK. Being vice president is an “It must have been cold there in my shadow” kind of job, but Joe handled it pretty well, and even catastrophically deferred to Hillary Clinton as Obama’s rightful successor in 2016.

After that debacle, Joe persisted, and in the campaign of 2020 he found a Democratic establishment that loved his pro-business and pro-banking record, his strong support of high military spending and overseas wars, and his past calls for cuts to Social Security as well as his steadfast opposition to Medicare for all. Our kind of Democrat, the owners and donors said, and with a big push from Obama, Biden found himself anointed as the candidate to defeat the Orange Ogre.

But Biden didn’t defeat Trump; Trump defeated Trump. Trump’s response to Covid-19 was so incompetent, so reckless, and so tone-deaf to lives lost that even the usual spin about fake news and alternative facts didn’t work. Indeed, Trump first said the pandemic would magically disappear, then tried to blame it all on China, then said the media was covering it only because it hurt his chances for reelection, then persisted in holding rallies that turned into super-spreader events for the virus.

Despite all of Trump’s flaws, despite all of his lies, he still almost defeated Biden, a stunning achievement when you really think about it. To my mind, the closeness of this election, the narrowness of Biden’s victory, is as much a reflection of the weaknesses of Joe Biden as it is the strength of the Trump cult.

What kind of president can we expect Biden to be? He won’t be anything like Trump, which in some ways is a bad thing. What I mean is this: Trump turned the narrowest of victories over Hillary Clinton into mandate-level deeds. He got the big tax cut Republicans covet. He got to pick three Supreme Court justices and to redefine lower-level courts for a generation. He served his base and made no apologies.

What is the likelihood that Biden adopts a progressive agenda? That he takes no prisoners, that he rides roughshod over Republicans, that he calls them traitors and dictates terms to them? Unlikely indeed. Even if Democrats win a majority in the Senate, which we won’t know until January and runoff elections in Georgia, Biden will likely position himself as a centrist, i.e. a moderate Republican, a man willing to reach across the aisle for bipartisan accord.

It’s likely Biden will even appoint Republicans to his cabinet. I’m betting we’ll see more Republicans in his cabinet than progressive Democrats.

I won’t shed any tears when Trump departs, perhaps into a new self-named media empire. Because for Trump it’s Trump now, Trump tomorrow, Trump forever. Biden, unlike Trump, has at least some experience with public service, and that can’t be a bad thing.

The question is: Which publics will Joe Biden serve with the most passion?

Too Close to Call!

W.J. Astore

Who knew that choosing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, two pro-business, pro-establishment, anti-progressive tools with limited charisma, would result in an election that is currently too close to call?

Meanwhile, Trump has made his own call. He won! Here’s what he had to say earlier this morning:

Trump falsely declared himself the winner around 2:30 a.m. Eastern. He said he would call on the Supreme Court to stop counting ballots in states where he led, while urging more counting in states where he was behind. He claimed “fraud” (for which there is no evidence) and he called the election an “embarrassment to the country.”

My wife and I had a good if grim laugh at this. Trump is like that ten-year-old bully in a class election who says: “Let’s count the vote until I’m winning, then we’ll stop.” Every kid would shout that that’s unfair and wrong, until the bully threatened to slug them.

It’s truly astounding that so many Americans think Trump is a competent and desirable president. Again, though, it didn’t help matters when the DNC tilted the table in Biden’s favor, then picked Kamala Harris as his running mate, another establishment tool who faded fast after her fifteen minutes of post-debate, that-little-girl-was-me, fame.

Of course, Biden/Harris may yet prevail, assuming Americans can muster some patience and that the Trump-leaning Supreme Court doesn’t intervene. But if they lose, the loss is truly on them and the DNC operatives who went all-in on them.

Thoughts on Election Day

W.J. Astore

Some thoughts on this presidential election day:

  1. Trump isn’t running against Biden/Harris. He’s running against a caricature of the Democratic Party. The usual lies: the “radical left” is coming to take your guns; they hate America; they want open borders so that America will be flooded with non-white foreigners; they’re godless socialists; they favor abortion on demand; they want to turn your kids against you by controlling education; and so on. The truth is entirely the opposite: Biden/Harris are in fact the darlings of Wall Street and are without a radical bone in their bodies.
  2. Trump and the Republicans are running without a platform. It’s rather remarkable that the Republican Party is totally subservient to Trump. Meanwhile, Trump’s “platform” is more of the same, including yet another capital gains tax cut. And if Trump wins, you can count on the “radical” Democrats approving that tax cut.
  3. Trump still wants to overturn Obamacare during a pandemic, which could lead to 20 million people losing their health care coverage. It’s no surprise that repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) helps the rich the most, as their taxes will decrease. (As an aside, polls show Americans favor the ACA more than they do Obamacare: they are, of course, the exact same thing.)
  4. Trump’s rallies have served as super-spreader events for Covid-19. In short, the president is a pandemic vector, yet his supporters continue to love him and defend him. Death cult?
  5. Way back in April 2019, I picked Biden/Harris as the Democratic dream ticket. You know: an elder white guy balanced by a younger black woman, sort of like a network news team that is supposed to show inclusion and diversity while broadcasting steadiness. Yes, the fix was in from the beginning. Biden has said nothing will fundamentally change under his administration, the one promise he will be certain to keep.
  6. Compared to Biden supporters, Trump supporters are more fired up, more committed to their man and how he makes them feel. Meanwhile, Trump is at pains to show how many people cheer for him at his rallies. If Trump loses, how will these supporters process that loss?
  7. I can’t remember a presidential election in which foreign policy has been so infrequently discussed. Presidents possess the most latitude in dealing with other countries, yet rarely did Biden or Trump answer any questions in detail about world affairs. The impression from their “debates” is that China and Russia are enemies and that a new cold war is essentially inevitable. Neither candidate talked about defense spending except to stress it probably would go up. The U.S. dominance of the world’s trade in weapons went unremarked upon. America’s wars they pretty much ignored.
  8. A final thought: If you think your vote is worthless, you’re wrong. If it was worthless, various forces wouldn’t be trying to buy it, or block it, or otherwise restrict it. The choices may be depressing, but I’ve found voting itself to be uplifting. Get out there and vote!

Beware a Return to Normalcy

A century ago, Warren Harding bloviated about normalcy.

W.J. Astore

About forty years ago, I took undergraduate courses in U.S. History, where I first learned about “normalcy.” Normalcy came from the (successful) presidential campaign of Warren G. Harding in 1920. After World War I’s devastation and Woodrow Wilson’s attempt at internationalism, what Americans wanted most of all, according to Harding, was a “return to normalcy.” Harding, running against Wilson’s record though not Wilson himself, won the presidency.

Wilson himself favored a sort of high-minded preaching when he addressed Americans; in his own way, he may have been as narcissistic as Trump, and probably more racist. Again, while Harding didn’t run against Wilson, he did run against his legacy, and to many Americans he seemed like a good and decent man and was considered handsome to boot.

Another word associated with Harding’s campaign a century ago was “bloviate,” which basically means BS. A quick Google search confirms that bloviation is “a style of empty, pompous, political speech which originated in Ohio and was used by US President Warren G. Harding.” I guess I did learn something in those history classes.

I mention these two words, normalcy and bloviate, because in many ways they sum up Joe Biden’s strategy in 2020. He’s promised a return to normalcy, i.e. a return to the Obama/Biden years, and this does hold some appeal to Americans who are sick and tired of Trump’s lies and incompetence. But Biden himself has told us little about what he hopes to achieve, preferring to bloviate, which suggests he won’t be doing much to improve the lives of ordinary working Americans, assuming he wins.

The presidency of Warren G. Harding was an ill-starred one. He surrounded himself with corrupt cronies and was humiliated by the Teapot Dome Scandal. Harding died at the comparatively young age of 57 in 1923; his vice president, Calvin Coolidge, took over and led the country until 1928. Interestingly, Coolidge had made his reputation putting down the Boston police strike in the name of preserving “law and order” during the Red Scare of 1919. Perhaps his most famous sentiment as president was the idea that the business of the American people is business. It seemed to make sense during the Roaring Twenties until the Wall Street Crash of 1929.

History, as they say, doesn’t repeat itself but it does echo. Biden/Harris in 2020 is a little like Harding/Coolidge in 1920. Biden is the normalcy guy who bloviates; Harris is the VP who may well have to step in as president, but who as a “top cop” in California was no friend of labor but very much pro-business. Naturally, judging by our history, whether in 1920 or 2020, you can forget about any progressive policies unless and until we experience a cosmic crunch like the Great Depression of 1929. Even then, FDR and the New Deal didn’t come along until 1933.

History can be a depressing subject to take — a record of crimes, follies, and disasters of the past. We’re supposed to learn from it so as to avoid repeating the same. Assuming Biden/Harris win this week, we shall see if there’s any substance to them, or whether it’s just normalcy, bloviation, scandal, and business-friendly policies all over again.

Those Pesky Hunter Biden Emails

Joe and Hunter Biden in 2010

W.J. Astore

In trying to cover the Hunter Biden email story with his usual zest, honesty, and outspokenness, Glenn Greenwald ran afoul of the bosses at The Intercept and issued his resignation. Matt Taibbi covers Greenwald’s resignation here, and Greenwald himself has posted the article that got him into trouble here. At her own site, Caitlin Johnstone cites Greenwald’s resignation as exposing the rot in mainstream media outlets. As Johnstone puts it:

I don’t know that the Hunter Biden October surprise shows anything more scandalous than you’d expect for any major US presidential nominee. I do know that the uniform conspiracy of silence and obfuscation from the mass media about it is uniquely scandalous and says bad things about the future of journalism in western news media.

The Bidens have yet to deny the authenticity of these emails. Even so, the mainstream media, joined by digital powerhouses like Facebook and Twitter, have worked to minimize the story. In some cases, not just minimize but to misdirect, as in suggesting the emails are part of a Russian disinformation campaign in favor of Trump, even though there’s no evidence of this.

As one Washington Post article bizarrely put it: “We must treat the Hunter Biden leaks as if they were a foreign intelligence operation — even if they probably aren’t.” [emphasis added]

Come again? Obviously no Vulcans work at the Post, since there’s a complete lack of logic in that statement.

I think what’s going on here is obvious. For the mainstream media, it’s payback time for Donald Trump. Trump has described journalists as “the enemy of the people,” and don’t think that scarily intimidating statement has been forgotten by the press. Also, there is a modicum of guilt within the media, I think, for their role in facilitating Trump’s rise in 2015-16. They never took him seriously in the sense of believing he could win, but they did love all the high ratings (and money!) he generated.

Readers here know that I reject both Trump and Biden as viable presidential candidates. Trump is a narcissist, a liar, and an incompetent leader; Biden is a fading bureaucrat who’s thoroughly compromised by his business, industry, and banking ties. Arguably, Biden is the lesser of two evils, but that certainly shouldn’t mean that the media should protect him from Hunter’s sad record of influence-peddling in the Biden name.

More so than most people, I imagine, journalists are tired of Trump. They want things to go back to “normal.” But censorship in the cause of normalcy is too high a price to pay, especially for the lesser of two evils.

Biden-Trump, The Final Debate

No inspiration, no vision

W.J. Astore

I didn’t fall asleep easily last night.

Neither candidate, Donald Trump nor Joe Biden, inspires confidence, and their final debate performance highlighted their flaws.

First, Donald Trump. He remains the narcissist-in-chief, in which everything is about him except when it reflects poorly on him, in which case scapegoats are found. Trump talks about Covid-19 deaths always in the abstract, except when he talks about himself getting the virus. Then he boasts about his quick recovery and how he’s now immune to it. Trump is always the best at everything. He’s the best president that Black people have ever had, with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln. He’s the least racist man in America. The usual BS.

Muted microphones kept Trump’s worst impulses in check. You could see him wanting to butt in, to interrupt, and then he would check himself. It’s rather amazing that the only way America could have the semblance of a debate was through muted microphones and repeated warnings from the moderator.

What strikes me still is Trump’s laziness and lack of discipline. He really should dominate Biden quite easily. When Trump focused on Biden’s record, when he called him out for not doing anything of note in his eight years of being Obama’s VP, when he attacked him as another promise-breaking politician, Trump scored points. But Trump couldn’t focus his attack. He kept returning to Hunter Biden and the kind of Washington in-fighting that turns most people off.

For an America in despair, Trump simply promised more jobs, cheaper gas, and higher Wall Street profits. There was no vision, no hope, and most certainly no solace offered by this president. There’s no poetry to Trump, and only martial music. Even in militarist America, the Trump drumbeat is growing tiresome.

Turning to Joe Biden, he had a good night for Joe Biden. Good as in he remained vertical and mostly on target throughout the debate. Biden was strongest when he addressed the American people directly: when he showed empathy and talked about the pain and despair Americans are feeling. I did catch Biden looking at his watch once, but I’ll cut him some slack because I wanted the debate to be over as well. Overall, I don’t think Biden’s performance in this debate moved the needle in this election.

With regards to national security, naturally there were no questions about ending our wars, or reducing the Pentagon budget, or downsizing nuclear arsenals, or anything like that. “National security” focused on alleged Russian and Iranian interference in our elections and the small nuclear arsenal of North Korea. Of course, the best people at mucking up our elections aren’t Russian or Iranian, they’re American. From gerrymandering to voter intimidation to closed polling sites and lengthy lines in disadvantaged neighborhoods, Americans need no help from foreigners to interfere with our “democracy.”

For a country in despair, a country suffering from a pandemic and from a loss in confidence, neither candidate offered a clear vision for a better tomorrow. Perhaps it simply doesn’t exist in their minds. They are both remarkably limited and flawed men. One is almost certainly a sociopath in which all human relations are transactional, the other is a muddled functionary who’s been wrong more often than he’s been right.

More than microphones were muted in this final debate. Fresh thinking was muted. Inspiration was muted. Generosity was muted. And, dare I use the word, grace was muted.

Small wonder I had trouble sleeping.

Trump: Loser?

Truly shameless

W.J. Astore

I’ve been thinking that Donald Trump is going to lose on November 3rd.

Why? It’s just a feeling, but I think enough Americans are tiring of his act to tip the scales to Joe Biden, which in my view is not a lot to celebrate.

Senator Joseph McCarthy had his run of malicious lies and denunciations in the alleged cause of anti-communism, but the American people tired of him. They came to reject a man with no sense of decency — a man of no shame. Trump is also indecent and shameless — and reckless with his accusations. These qualities endear him to his closest followers, but over time they lose their appeal to those who aren’t as enamored with the man-child.

Today we learned Trump released his own video of his interview on “60 Minutes.” I chuckled when I read his description of his performance:

“Watch [Stahl’s] constant interruptions [and] anger. Compare my full, flowing and ‘magnificently brilliant’ answers,” Trump tweeted along with the link to the interview.

“Magnificently brilliant”: you have to hand it to Trump. What modesty! The “very stable genius” strikes again.

Readers of Bracing Views know I like to cite my father and one of his favorite sayings: An empty barrel makes the most noise. I think enough Americans are tiring of that noise, and enough have recognized the emptiness of the man, to throw the election to Biden. Which, again, is not a lot to celebrate.

Readers, what do you think on this eve before the last debate? Any predictions?

Monday Musings, October Surprise Edition

My vote for 2020 is in …

W.J. Astore

The real October surprise is that there is no surprise. Trump or Biden will win, meaning Wall Street, Big Finance, and the Military-Industrial Complex win. (Biden is on record as saying he would increase defense spending!) All you “little people,” whether you’re for Trump or Biden: you lose.

My dad, born in 1917 and a survivor of the Great Depression, used to remind me you need three things in life: A roof over your head, three square meals, and clothes to keep you warm. (Nowadays, given the high cost of getting sick, I’d add health care coverage.) How sad is it that America may soon face a massive eviction crisis, and is already seeing people hungry in the streets, even as Wall Street booms? (Yes, I know America has had trouble housing and feeding people for decades — and it’s only getting worse.)

Amy Coney Barrett was picked for one reason, and one reason alone: Her mentors and handlers know how she will vote in the future. So much for judicial independence.

When you think about it, there shouldn’t be “liberal” or “conservative” justices. Each justice should interpret the law based on her understanding of it informed by her conscience. If this were true, justices would be more or less unpredictable in their rulings. But the justices are hopelessly politicized, rendering “justice” politicized as well.

Speaking of justice, Amy Coney Barrett is a friend of corporations; she’s also uncertain whether global warming even exists. Does this sound like a person with a strong conscience, someone who will fight for equality under the law?

What does it mean that the U.S. military is still at war in Afghanistan and elsewhere, but that few Members of Congress even attempt to exercise oversight of the same, let alone make an attempt to end these wars?

I got my ballot this weekend. Faced with a choice of voting for Biden and Harris versus Trump and Pence, I wrote in Tulsi Gabbard and Bernie Sanders, in that order. It’s the only way I couldn’t waste my vote.

Tulsi would make a great president. Young, insightful, smart, she’s taken a critical stance against the military-industrial complex and wants to end America’s awful regime-change wars. Bernie would make a terrific vice president. Seasoned, dedicated, he could focus on domestic policy while Tulsi remakes U.S. foreign policy. Imagine if Bernie really could advance his essential policies: Medicare for all, a $15 minimum wage, free college education, relief of student debt, and so on. Gabbard and Sanders are the closest candidates to my positions, so I voted for them.

There are still plenty of good people in the USA, but callousness and cruelty are on the rise. Who knew that as the Covid-19 death toll soars past 200,000 to approach possibly as high as 400,000 by the new year, so many people would just shrug collectively and then consider voting for a man who so disastrously mismanaged the pandemic response? Trump — what a loser!

Speaking of Trump, is he even our president? As near as I can tell, he’s spent most of his presidential days golfing, tweeting, attending rallies, signing statements and holding them up like a child, and traveling to and from his various resorts. America’s next authoritarian autocrat will be far less lazy and spoiled — and far more dangerous to the world.

The Election Without a Future

Their vision for the future is stuck in the past

W.J. Astore

Isn’t it remarkable that Joe Biden and Donald Trump have no compelling vision of a future America?

Both Biden and Trump are retrograde candidates. Biden talks of restoration. He wants to restore comity and decency. To turn the clock back to a mythical time of bipartisan accord. A time when Americans sought to help other Americans. Trump, of course, is about division and carnage but he has his own vision of restoration. Trumps appeals to the America of the 1950s, before the Civil Rights movement, before the Vietnam War protests, before the Women’s Liberation movement, before Roe v. Wade was the law of the land, and (taking it back even further, to the Roaring Twenties, perhaps), before FDR’s New Deal.

It tells us something that Biden and Trump are so past-oriented. It suggests our best days are behind us, that we know, on some level, the future is in the crapper, what with extreme weather, anti-social technologies, forever wars, pandemics, exploding deficits, and the ever-growing gap between the richest few and poorest many.

The America I grew up in was future-oriented. Space travel would be routine. We’d have a moonbase; we’d have journeyed to Mars and Jupiter; we’d have flying cars; we’d have rewarding work, with more leisure time; we’d live longer, healthier, richer lives. That was a vision of the new millennium, but here we are, twenty years into it, and our political candidates look desperately (Biden) or maniacally (Trump) to pasts that never really existed.

A saying attributed to Yogi Berra is that the future ain’t what it used to be. Now it seems we have no future. Just one day after another, chasing our tails and calling it “progress.”

Why is this? Perhaps it’s because certain powerful forces in American society like things just the way they are. They’d rather have us fighting over which past is more comfortable to us than have us reaching for a new future without them in charge. That’s one big reason we have two presidential candidates in their seventies with their gear shifts locked permanently in reverse.

Biden and Trump both want us peering closely into the rear view mirror (even as Trump’s is more distorted) when we should be looking ahead through the windshield. Put differently, Biden is comity without change, and Trump is American carnage on steroids. Considering both, it’s an election without a future.