America Is Stabbing Itself in the Back

W.J. Astore

Americans may already be lying themselves out of what little remains of their democracy.

The big lie uniting and motivating today’s Republicans is, of course, that Donald Trump, not Joe Biden, won the 2020 presidential election.  Other big lies in our recent past include the notion that climate change is nothing but a Chinese hoax, that Russia was responsible for Hillary Clinton’s electoral defeat in 2016, and that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was necessary because that country’s leader, Saddam Hussein, had something to do with the 9/11 attacks (he didn’t!) and possessed weapons of mass destruction that could be used against the United States, a “slam dunk” truth, according to then-CIA Director George Tenet (it wasn’t!).

Those and other lies, large and small, along with systemic corruption in Washington are precisely why so many Americans have been driven to despair.  Small wonder that, in 2016, those “deplorables” reached out in desperation to a figure who wasn’t a product of Washington’s mendacious Beltway culture.  Desperate times engender desperate acts, including anointing a failed casino owner and consummate con man as America’s MAGA-cap-wearing savior. As the 45th president, Donald Trump set a record for lies that will likely remain unmatchable in its “greatness” — or so we must hope anyway.

Sadly, Americans have become remarkably tolerant of comfortable lies, generally preferring them to uncomfortable truths.  Nowhere can this be seen more clearly than in the military realm that I’ve inhabited most of my life.  The first casualty of war, so it’s said, is truth, and since this country has remained perennially at war, we continue to eternally torture the truth as well.

When it comes to war, here are just a few of our all-American falsehoods: that this country is slow to anger because we prefer peace, even if wars are often necessary, which is also why peace-loving America must have the world’s “finest” and by far the most expensive military on the planet; that just such a military is also a unique force for freedom on Planet Earth; that it fights selflessly “to liberate the oppressed” (a Special Forces motto) but never to advance imperial or otherwise selfish ambitions.

For a superpower that loves to flex its military muscles, such lies are essentially par for the course.  Think of them, in fact, as government-issue (GI) lies.  As a historian looking to the future, what worries me more are two truly insidious lies that, in the early 1930s, led to the collapse of a fledgling democracy in Weimar Germany, lies that in their own way helped to facilitate the Holocaust and that, under the right (that is, wrong) circumstances, could become ours as well.  What were those two lies?

Germany’s Tragic Lies After World War I

During World War I, the German military attempted to defeat the combined forces of Britain, France, Russia, and later the United States, among other powers, while simultaneously being “shackled to a corpse,” as one German general described his country’s main ally, the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  By the middle of 1916, the German Second Reich led by Kaiser Wilhelm II had, in essence, become a military dictatorship devoted to total victory at any cost. 

Two years later, that same military had been driven to exhaustion by its commanders.  When it was on the verge of collapse, its generals washed their hands of responsibility and allowed the politicians to sue for peace.  But even before the guns fell silent on November 11, 1918, certain reactionary elements within the country were already rehearsing two big and related lies that would facilitate the rise of a demagogue and the onset of an even more disastrous world war.

The first big lie was that the German military, then considered the world’s finest (sound familiar?), emerged from World War I undefeated in the field, its troops a band of heroes covered in glory. That lie was tenable because Germany itself had not been invaded in World War I; the worst fighting took place in France, Belgium, and Russia.  It was also tenable because its military leaders had lied to the people about the progress being made toward “victory.” (This should again sound familiar to contemporary American ears.)  So, when those senior leaders finally threw in the towel in late 1918, it came as a shock to most Germans, who’d been fed a steady diet of “progress,” while news of serious setbacks on the Western Front was suppressed.

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The second big lie followed from the first.  For if one accepted the “undefeated in the field” myth, as so many Germans did, then who was responsible for the defeat of the world’s finest military?  Not Germany’s generals, of course.  Indeed, in 1919, led by Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, those same generals would maliciously claim that disloyal elements on the home front — an enemy within — had conspired to betray the country’s heroic troops.  Thus was born the “stab-in-the-back” myth that placed the blame on traitors from within, while ever so conveniently displacing it from the Kaiser and his generals.

Who, then, were Germany’s backstabbers?  The usual suspects were rounded up: mainly socialists, Marxists, anti-militarists, pacifists, and war profiteers of a certain sort (but not weapons makers like the Krupp Family).  Soon enough, Germany’s Jews would be fingered as well by gutter-inhabitants like Adolf Hitler, since they had allegedly shirked their duty to serve in the ranks.  This was yet another easy-to-disprove lie, but all too many Germans, desperate for scapegoats and undoubtedly bigoted as well, proved eager to believe such lies.

Those two big and insidious falsehoods led to an almost total lack of accountability in Weimar Germany for militarists like Hindenburg and General Erich Ludendorff who were significantly responsible for the country’s defeat.  Such lies fed the anger and fattened the grievances of the German people, creating fertile ground for yet more grievous lies.  In a climate of fear driven by the massive economic dislocation brought on by the Great Depression of 1929, a previously fringe figure found his voice and his audience.  Those two big lies served to empower Hitler and, not surprisingly, he began promoting both a military revival and calls for revenge against the backstabbing “November criminals” who had allegedly betrayed Germany.  Hitler’s lies were readily embraced in part because they fell on well-prepared ears.

Of course, a mature democracy like America could never produce a leader remotely like a Hitler or a militaristic empire bent on world domination.  Right?

To read the rest of my article for TomDispatch.com, please click here. Thanks!

Note: In writing my book on Paul von Hindenburg, I was greatly helped by Dennis Showalter, a wonderful historian and a better friend. Dennis was remarkably generous to me and to so many other students of history. Dennis died at the end of 2019, and I miss his keen mind, his exceptional scholarship, but most of all his warmth and sense of humor. We joked that our work on Hindenburg represented a rare “bipartisan” collaboration between a Yankees fan (that’s him) and a Red Sox fan (that’s me). Thanks for everything, Dennis.

Dennis Showalter, a remarkable historian and a better friend

The Depressing Reality of America’s Political Scene

W.J. Astore

America’s Democratic Party, as it stands today, is essentially a pro-business and pro-war party. On the political spectrum, it’s a center-right party, roughly equivalent to the Republican Party of the 1970s but probably more conservative. Joe Biden, for example, is against Medicare for All, and he’s abandoned all talk of a single-payer option. He’s refused to fight for a $15 federal minimum wage. He’s most likely extending the war in Afghanistan well past the troop pullout date of May 1st as negotiated by the Trump administration. He’s keeping military spending high and is pursuing a hardline foreign policy vis-à-vis Russia and China.

America’s Republican Party has become the party of Trump. It’s unapologetically far-right, evangelical, anti-immigrant, and openly contemptuous of Democratic calls for “diversity.” Like the Democratic Party, it’s militaristic, pro-business, and pro-war, but is even more in favor of blank checks for Wall Street and the major banks and corporations. Its strategy for future victories focuses on suppression of minority voters through various laws and restrictions (voter ID laws, closing polling places, restricting mail-in and early voting, and so on). The Republican Party’s version of “cancel culture” is canceling as much of the vote by minorities as it can.

You’ll notice what’s missing: any major political party that’s center-left or left; any party that has any allegiance to workers, i.e. most of America. There are new parties being created, like the People’s Party, that promise to fill a gaping hole on the left, but it may take decades before a new party can seriously challenge America’s two main parties.

What’s truly depressing is that the mainstream media, along with the Republicans, sell and support a narrative that the Democrats are radical leftists. That such a laughably false narrative is embraced by America’s talking heads on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, and the other major networks highlights their complicity in ensuring the triumph of business and war imperatives in America.

What this means for elections in 2022 and 2024 was brought home to me by Richard Dougherty’s book, “Goodbye, Mr. Christian: A Personal Account of McGovern’s Rise and Fall” published in 1973.  Dougherty nailed it back then when he talked about the baneful influence of the Republican Party as led by Richard Nixon and its reaction to attempts at real reform by George McGovern.  Here’s an excerpt:

“McGovern saw something new emerging in American politics and saw that it was ugly and frightening not only because of its burglars and saboteurs, its insensitivity to the delicate mechanisms of freedom, but for its profound deceptions of a troubled people which, if successful, would reduce and debase them as a people.  Nixon offered no improvement in the life of the people but only empty and ersatz satisfactions to their angers and bewilderments.  It cost the rich Nixonian oligarchs nothing, yet it gratified the lumpenbourgeoisie to tell the poor to go out and get jobs, the black children to stay off the buses, the young draft evaders to stay out of the country, to make noises about permissive judges rather than hire more policeman.

Let ‘em eat revenge.

That was the gimmick.  Was not this sleaziness, this moral midgetry, this menace to the American character, proper stuff for a presidential candidate [like McGovern] to raise as an issue?” (246-7)

If only …

I thought this passage captured what we’re likely to see in the next four years: more sleaziness, more deceptions, more divisiveness, even as the plight of ordinary Americans worsens.

But it’s worse now than in 1973 because the oligarchs now own both parties, the Democratic as well as the Republican.

The challenge for us all is to look past the sleaze, the deceptions, the divisiveness and to focus on bettering the plight of ordinary Americans.  To free ourselves from the oligarchs and the narrative control they exercise via the major media networks.  To recapture the reformist spirit of the 1960s and early 1970s as embodied by a leader like George McGovern.

Much hinges on whether America can do this.

Trump Should Learn from Marshal Ney

Michel Ney, the “bravest of the brave”

W.J. Astore

Treating rivals as enemies has been an identifying characteristic of the Trump administration. Trump has been at pains to denounce Democrats collectively as enemies. He’s denounced with relish the American press (like CNN) as enemies of the people. He knows such incendiary rhetoric inflames his base. He knows it divides Americans, which has made it easier for Trump to rule.

When you denounce your political rivals and the press as not just your personal enemies but enemies of the people, you’re setting the stage for violent actions. Trump’s stage-setting reached its logical culmination with the riots at the U.S. Capitol. Some of the rioters acted like an invading army, planting their own flag, attacking the police, occupying “enemy” offices, even looting. A few apparently contemplated political assassinations of their “enemies.” Having swallowed Trump’s lies, they apparently believed they were the patriots even as their activities amounted to a violent attack on Congress as it attempted to do its job in certifying Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 election.

Trump and his followers failed in their cosplay coup. Some of the rioters are being tracked down and arrested. Trump himself has already been impeached by Congress for inciting the riot. What should Trump now do?

It comes down to this: Trump instigated and incited a rebellion against Congress and violated the Constitution. His rebellion failed. Is it not time for him to pay a price?

I have a suggestion from history for Trump, a man who is much impressed by his own bravery. (Recall when he claimed he’d rush in without a weapon to take on the armed shooter at Stoneman Douglas high school in Florida.) Mister Trump, learn from Michel Ney, the “bravest of the brave,” the famous Napoleonic marshal who, when he was sent to arrest Napoleon after his return from exile, joined him instead — and paid the ultimate price.

Napoleon and Ney, of course, had their Waterloo. Napoleon was sent yet again into exile, this time much further away from continental Europe, never to return. How did Ney pay for his treachery — his rebellion? He commanded his own firing squad.

When you turn against your government, and when your rebellion fails, you should be prepared to pay for it. Ney knew this. And he met his death with courage.

I have it on the very best authority — Trump’s own words! — that he’s a brave man. With typical hyperbole, he’d probably add he’s the bravest of the brave. In that spirit, then, I urge him to follow Michel Ney. Man up. Give the order that Ney gave unblindfolded:

Soldiers, when I give the command to fire, fire straight at my heart. Wait for the order. It will be my last to you … Soldiers, fire!

I know: Trump commanding his own firing squad? Unlikely indeed! Much more likely is Trump fighting to the last dying gasp — of Rudy Giuliani. And then not paying his estate for services rendered.

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!

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?

Four Big Reasons Not to Vote for Trump

Trump, keeping his promise about American carnage

W.J. Astore

Back in May of 2016, I wrote an article on two big reasons not to vote for Donald Trump. Those reasons, his denial of climate change and his cavalier approach to nuclear weapons, remain valid. But I’d like to add two more that we were unaware of in 2016: his total inability to bring people together, i.e. his divide and rule approach to everything; and his murderously incompetent response to Covid-19.

If there are any lukewarm Trump supporters reading this, I hope you join me in voting your conscience, which in my case meant rejecting both Trump and Biden for candidates I believe in (in my case, Tulsi Gabbard and Bernie Sanders).

Don’t vote for a man-child, Donald Trump, who’s golfing and tweeting while the planet burns; who has no idea what nuclear weapons can do, but who threatens to use them while bragging about the size of his nuclear button; who dismisses Covid-19 as just another virus that will magically disappear; and who is so eager to divide us in the cause of enriching himself and his family.

Here’s what I wrote in May of 2016:

Nuclear proliferation and global warming are two big issues that Donald Trump is wrong about.  They’re also the two biggest threats to our planet. Nuclear war followed by nuclear winter could end most life on earth within a matter of weeks or months.  Global warming/climate change, though not as immediate a threat as nuclear war and its fallout, is inexorably leading to a more dangerous and less hospitable planet for our children and their children.

What does “The Donald” believe?  On nuclear proliferation, which only makes nuclear war more likely, Trump is essentially agnostic and even in favor of other nations joining the nuclear club, nations like Japan, South Korea, even Saudi Arabia.  When all countries should be earnestly working to reduce and then eliminate nuclear stockpiles, Trump is advocating their expansion.  (An aside: recall in a previous debate that Trump had no idea what America’s nuclear triad is; add intellectual sloth to his many sins.)

On global warming, Trump is essentially a skeptic on whether it exists (“hoax” and “con job” are expressions of choice), even as he seeks to protect his resorts from its effects. Along with this rank hypocrisy, Trump is advocating an energy plan that is vintage 1980, calling for more burning of fossil fuels, more drilling and digging, more pipelines, as if fossil fuel consumption was totally benign to the environment and to human health.

Along with his tyrannical and fascist tendencies, Trump is wrong on two of the biggest issues facing our planet today.  His ignorance and recklessness render him totally unfit to be president.