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The Republican Party's insane and accelerating implosion is amusing -- but dangerous

The implosion that is today's Republican Party, choosing Trumpism – whatever it means beyond blind personal loyalty to a would-be king – and principled conservatism that veers from the idolatry is growing in intensity.

It is something to heed as another signal for the triumph of emotion over serious information.

Normally, I try to stay away from the tactical inside-baseball stuff of politics; it is not that interesting or determinative unless one is part of that game. But discussions with friends have underscored value concerns about the effects of a continuing downward spiral among Republicans.

The changes were most recently highlighted in an article in The Daily Beast that tracked the ouster of longtime, regular, conservatives Republican party stalwarts – people who had personally supported Donald Trump – from local party organizations in South Carolina, itself hardly a swing state. The new, self-appointed inheritors of the GOP mantle were a number of political newcomers who had no agenda other than support for Trump, the Big Lie, and a hatred for those reflecting the status quo.

The woman leader thrown out of her local political organizing job and all possible secondary roles "seemed to offend simply by having a whiff of experience in local politics, a black mark that was linked to the worst possible offense to the GOP base: not doing enough to support Donald Trump in the wake of the 2020 election." The incoming replacement explained that Trump's instructions to the faithful were clear. "He said, 'Go purge, get rid of the RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) in the Republican Party.' So, we took him seriously."

Truth, notwithstanding.

So, the target now is not just Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., and the nine others in the House who supported impeachment. It is all Republicans in sight unless they are outspoken allies of the Jan. 6 insurrection attack on the Capitol and all things Trump – the only real political religion of this newest version of Tea Party/Freedom Caucus right-leaning authoritarians.

Showing Your Beliefs

It is this active show of support for the gone-but-not-forgotten Trump that is prompting the sudden splurge of anti-democratic voter suppression bills around the country, that is prompting even longtime conservative members of Congress to just call it quits, that is going to fuel a bottom-up takeover of GOP party apparatus.

Antipathy for immigrants, gun control, Black Lives Matter, gays and transgender rights and abortion are expected but not unique to this group, though wider acceptance if not fealty to white supremacy, anti-Semitism, and claims of victimhood by a perceived cultural elite (and journalists) certainly are part of the picture.

Still, the question here is basic: Do I care what crazy Republicans are doing to one another? Does it make a difference to the country beyond the chances of one conservative Republican to outlast the purge of other conservative Republicans?

Of course, Democrats argue all the time, though they generally don't throw each other out of all political roles if they are more centrist or more progressive than the other guy. Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden and Joe Manchin all seem to share a belief in the same facts, just not necessarily what to do about them. Not so these newcomers, who have learned from Trump and right-leaning news outlets how to turn events inside out to come out with a totally different story – as in blaming the Jan. 6 attacks on left-wing antifa rather than Trump supporters, and to insist that it was a peaceful get-together when five deaths showed the opposite.

The voluntary departures of senators like Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania and Rob Portman in Ohio, and a host of "moderate" congress members like former Rep. David Jolly of Florida or Charlie Sykes of Wisconsin are seen as losses to the ability of government debate and compromise. All parties except Trump claim to miss John McCain, whose voice and influence were strong.

So, we're now moving to replace thinking lawmakers with Trump puppets – and we have a generation of the disgraced Matt Gaetz of Florida, fun-toting Lauren Boebert from Colorado, the vocal Jim Jordan of Ohio and Marjorie Taylor Green of Georgia of Jewish-space-laser fame, all willing to stand tall for QAnon, conspiracy theories, anti-everything and to threaten anyone who criticizes them or policies that defend and defer any loss of White, Christian right power – whether the issue at hand is taxes, border walls or public health. There is no compromise with the incoming group, as former Speaker John Boehner outlines in his new book, "On the House: A Washington Memoir."

How's this new generation of No working out?

Does It Matter?

On some level, it's amusing to see Republicans who oppose anything I seek from government in disarray. And I can see the danger in replacing even committed small government conservatives with authoritarian yahoos who know nothing about the issues, the processes and reject the values of democracy.

But here's the snag: What's to happen with these Republicans pros ousted by Trump? Do they drift leftward, and find themselves supporting a Joe Biden? Doubtful. Do they turn against Trump, should he run again? Again, doubtful.

No, they are likely to keep on as they have, albeit from corporate jobs to which they will turn or return, and vote again for Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott as Republicans from South Carolina, in this case, and Trump whenever they can.

The group formerly known as Republicans and its plasticized replacement vote the same way. They are going to support the full anti-immigrant, anti-voting rights, anti-health, anti-environment agenda they always have.

Meanwhile, state legislatures and Congress will become more a house of extremes and untruths. That's hardly a formula for dealing with the nation's most pernicious issues. In realpolitik terms, what actual policy changes do these purges achieve?

"Trump's toxicity continues to poison the Republican Party," writes columnist Greg Sargent of The Washington Post, one of a slew of articles on dozens of publications about the problems of trying to de-Trump the party. Among the political pundits, the consensus is that Trump's very possibility of running again is freezing other potential candidates in place, and Trump himself is using all of the turmoil to siphon more money to himself—outside campaign fund review -- than to Republican coffers

We are getting different faces, likely less proficient, as political figures, who come into office already ready to say No to anything that even Joe Manchin suggests. They are carrying water for white supremacy, for nationalism and tribalism, for uncaring isolationism, indeed for everything we find objectionable in our value systems, anything even remotely touching racial or even legal justice, public health or a reckoning with climate.

The only difference is that they also bring a personal loyalty to King Trump, who would throw out democracy too. It is hard to see the political gain of purging people who already vote the way these folks want.

Republicans are playing hardball -- and are striking out

Republicans aren't trying to squash voting rights for people of color, explains Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. Apparently, Baseball is, "caving to fears and lies."

And his Republican teammates in the U.S. Senate are backing the play, now finding time once again for an irrelevant threat to withdraw anti-trust protections for Major League Baseball in retaliation for pulling its annual All-Star Game from Atlanta in protest of the new voting changes in Georgia that, well, tend to squash voting rights for people of color.

The Former Guy went even further, not only trashing organized baseball but calling for a boycott of those Georgia-based corporations like Coca-Cola and Delta that belatedly criticized the new voting restrictions after allowing most of them to become law. In their defense, those corporations note that they lobbied to keep yet worse restrictions from taking hold. This is the same Donald Trump who never showed up to throw out the Opening Day pitch for any of his four years in office, the same Trump who makes no effort for public health or coronavirus relief but who comes to life again to push his own election fraud nonsense.

Nearly 200 companies have joined in a strong statement against proposals that threaten to restrict voting access in dozens of states, in a further sign of corporate willingness to speak out on social justice issues.

Meanwhile, here were Joe Biden, Barack Obama, and a host of others saying that moving the All-Star Game was just the right touch to honor Hank Aaron and lots of other Black ballplayers – and voters – for working off the field for expanded voting rights.

Of course, the week before, voting advocates were threatening a similar boycott over corporate silence,

Now, nearly 200 companies have joined in a strong statement against proposals that threaten to restrict voting access in dozens of states, in a further sign of corporate willingness to speak out on social justice issues. Just for the record, the NBA, the basketball equivalent with teams made up of a majority of Black players, is already on record opposing these Republican legislative restrictions in 47 states, and the NFL has been slapped repeatedly by Trump and Republican leaders over kneeling incidents during the national anthem to protest racism.

Customers and Conscience

Baseball has plenty of other issues, starting with the pandemic, but also including a dwindling audience, its persistent desire to change its rules to speed up the game, and way too much trading of players among teams to inspire local loyalty. But this one stands out, of course, for the social justice statement behind it. (This is to say nothing of the tragic start of a new season in which my team has lost its first games.)

Naturally, the hope of the joint statement by businesses, organized by Civic Alliance, a nonpartisan focused on voter engagement, is as much about keeping employees and customers as about racism. But it is an action that is meant to speak to the commitments those companies made last summer after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others at the hands of police, and the need to show corporate accountability for the effects of policy on minority communities in particular.

Ultimately, activists want corporations to withhold campaign money from those supporting these voter restriction bills, promoting the baseless election fraud allegations or refusing to pursue the origins of the Jan. 6 insurrection swarm of pro-Trump forces at the U.S. Capitol.

Though Georgia has voted, other states with Republican state legislative majorities are teeing up similar bills mostly drafted by national groups to ensure Voter ID rules and to restrict mail voting. In Georgia, Governor Kemp rightly notes that an additional Saturday of early voting would expand voting, but there are many provisions that appear aimed directly at making voting easier or at damping voting in majority Black areas.

Indeed, the entire Trump campaign of Stop the Steal has been aimed at challenging votes in cities with substantial Black voting populations.

In Texas, where 49 restrictive bills have been filed, the state Senate passed one that would ban overnight early voting and drive-through early voting. That drew critical remarks from Texas-based businesses, including Dell and American Airlines.

The sheer number of companies coming out with statements about the need to expand voting should be attracting attention from the very Republican leaders who cite these businesses as demanding tax cuts or other legislation that happens to fit more neatly into their ideology.

But Kemp and others are pushing back instead, saying companies will "have to answer to their shareholders," for example. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick responded to American Airlines, saying: "Texans are fed up with corporations that don't share our values trying to dictate public policy."

Whom to Boycott

No decision has been made about a new location for the All-Star Game, said to be worth $100 million in local business impact, but logic says it likely will move to a more identifiably Blue state—home stadiums for the Yankees/Mets, Dodgers, Cubs/White Sox, or somewhere with a totally neutral focus like Milwaukee, one-time home to the then-emergent Hank Aaron.

Here was conservative Hugh Hewitt: By moving the game, "MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has, in the opinion of many Republicans, declared the league an arm of the Democratic Party and baseball itself to be a blue sport, with values opposed to the Constitution and representative government," and he promised to boycott the season along with all other companies noting unfairness. Okay.

Both politics by boycott and business by protest seem like extreme outcomes. If you don't go Delta, you also don't go American, and the other airlines will follow.

What should happen here is that legislators remind themselves that these debates concern the preservation of democracy, whose practical and moral core is easier voting.

Step One should be an emphatic vote by Congress on its two current bills to step on these restrictive state laws, followed by an equally clear decision from the Supreme Court that acknowledges a mistake in guessing that the era of racial prejudice towards Black voters is over.

Indeed, in a world turned electronic, you wonder why we're insisting either on hours-long, water-free voting lines on a select Tuesday workday or on a slow-moving mail system, and not looking to technologies that allow for electronic voting from wherever we happen to be – reflective of the same kind of identifications and ID challenge questions that the bank and every supermarket now requires and offers.

More to the point, whom do these Republican lawmakers think they are serving other than themselves and their own reelections? Do Republicans think that Stacey Abrams and the voting advocates across the country are going to wither away with new rules in place?

It is refreshing to see corporations speaking up; it is depressing that Republican ears are closed.

When we do vote, under whatever the rules, it would be nice to see the backers of these restrictive bills sent to the showers.

Play Ball.

Reparations for bias and slavery gains momentum

Keep your eye on Evanston, Ill., which this week became the first U.S. city to make reparations available to its Black residents through home loan repairs or down payments on property.

Reparations – financial amends for discrimination and slavery – is among the most controversial of social programs sought by progressives.

Evanston's City Council made it real with a revolving $400,000 fund for qualifying residents. Qualifiers have lived in or been a direct descendant of a person who lived in the Chicago suburb between 1919 and 1969 and who suffered discrimination in housing because of city ordinances, policies or practices against Blacks.

The program will be underwritten through donations and revenue from a 3% tax on the sale of recreational marijuana. The goal is distribution of $10 million in 10 years in chunks of up to $25,000 per household.

In this age of me-first, it is stunning to see some Americans willing to acknowledge with public policy that we of current generations owe something to those who had suffered not only through slavery but decades of approved and formalized discrimination.

Getting policy approved for the elimination of unfair poverty and bias deserves celebration. And the discussion itself feels important, which should inspire us to learn how we got to this point.

So far, these entities are considering providing reparations in some form:

  • California cities
  • Amherst, Mass.
  • Providence, R.I.
  • Asheville, N.C.
  • Iowa City, Iowa
  • Georgetown and Brown universities
  • the Episcopal Church
  • the Jesuit order

Congress is once again debating a federal reparations study, an idea stagnant for decades. President Joe Biden has offered support, unlike the Former Guy, who rejected the whole concept of acknowledging institutional racism in America.

Practical discussion of reparation programs started taking off after last summer's Black Lives Matter protests following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The arguments for and against are not always straightforward. Debates range from how much the history of slavery is worth to whether reparations are paid to individuals or communities to is there such a thing as payments for historical ill-worth.

Even among Black Americans, programs are seen as paternalistic or segregating. Some ask whether investment in overturning centuries of housing discrimination will make a wide difference in the lives of Black communities that badly trail the ability to build wealth and share fully in the American Dream.

Agreement on Need, Not Payment

Even in Evanston, population 73,000, the liberal home of Northwestern University, debate over how to approach reparations has yielded unusual splits.

Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, an architect of the measure, told The Washington Post, "It is the reckoning.

"We're really proud as a city to be leading the nation toward repair and justice."

But the details show disagreement among officials, residents and activists for racial equity. There was debate about using money for housing grants and mortgage assistance rather than cash payments to individuals. Housing grants are targeted to residents who can show that they or their ancestors were victims of redlining and other discriminatory practices. No one knows exactly how many people that might mean or how to show it.

Another alderman, Cicely L. Fleming, voted no. She said, "I 100 percent support reparations. What I can't support is a housing program being termed as reparations."

In a noteworthy 2014 Atlantic article author Ta-Nehisi Coates used Chicago area neighborhoods to lay out the case for reparations to rebalance the wealth lost by the generations surviving slavery who were made subject to continuing waves of mortgage redlining and discriminatory practices that met with official urban approval over decades. The article helped to update and focus on practical calls for reparation for centuries of bias, and, like others mentioned below, offers loads of scholarly references for learning.

"Chicago's impoverished black neighborhoods—characterized by high unemployment and households headed by single parents—are not simply poor; they are ecologically distinct," he argued. Chicago was not alone. he said.

Carefully exploring sociological studies, he outlined the case that while the daily lives of Black Americans had improved, Black neighborhoods still suffer demonstrably worse performance in income, health, environment, poverty, teen pregnancy and lack of education, among other measures. Wrestling publicly with reparations as policy, he said, "matters as much as—if not more than—the specific answers that might be produced...

"More important than any single check cut to any African American, the payment of reparations would represent America's maturation out of the childhood myth of its innocence into a wisdom worthy of its founders."

A 2020 Brookings Institution study traced much of the economics, finding that the racial wealth gap resulted from a lack of financial capital to provide improvements in social services. It said, "Wealth is positively correlated with better health, educational, and economic outcomes. Furthermore, assets from homes, stocks, bonds, and retirement savings provide a financial safety net for the inevitable shocks to the economy and personal finances that happen throughout a person's lifespan."

The study argued for reparations aimed at improving neighborhoods.

Last summer, New York Times writer Nikole Hannah-Jones, the force behind the paper's 1619 Project, argued that the natural resolution of issues raised by the Black Lives Matter protests must be reparations.

"The process of creating the racial wealth chasm begins with the failure to provide the formerly enslaved with the 40 acres they were promised," one interviewee told her. "So, the restitution has never been given, and it's 155 years overdue."

What's Ahead

Congress has before it H.R. 40, last considered in 2019. It refers to the Civil War-era broken promise to give former slaves "40 acres and a mule." Under the bill, $12 million would be spent to establish a commission to study the history of slavery and discrimination and create a proposal for remedies.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Tex., took up the yearly cause from the late John Conyers, D-Mich., to create the 13-member commission. House subcommittees have retold the stories of slavery in an attempt to win the day. California Secretary of State Shirley Weber who guided a parallel state law as a California assemblywoman to establish a task force to study reparations for descendants of enslaved people argued that the federal government should follow suit.

UCLA School of Law professor E. Tendayi Achiume, an expert in international human-rights law, added that while popular conceptions of reparations tended to be relatively narrow and focus only on financial compensation, the international system emphasizes a more comprehensive approach that may also include transforming political, economic and social institutions.

Opponents have included Rep. Burgess Owens (R-Utah) and former football star Herschel Walker, a Donald Trump supporter, who argued that reparations are divisive.

"Reparations teach separation. Slavery ended over 130 years ago. How can a father ask his son to spend prison time for a crime he committed?" Walker told the committee.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in 2019 he believed reparations aren't a "good idea", and "No one currently alive was responsible for that."

Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only Black Republican senator, also rejected the idea last year: "I don't think reparations help level the playing field — it might help more eruptions on the playing field."

It would appear that consideration reparations are starting to kick into a higher gear. We should help.

Republicans just revealed their deplorable new priorities

By now, we know that the overly loud ruckus raised by Congressional Republicans criticizing too much spending and a growing deficit is a message leveled only when that spending is aimed at those of us at the bottom and middle.

As progressives have argued endlessly, there was no Republican concern about lowering tax rates for the wealthy and corporations.

Nevertheless, it is now clear that "centrists" in the Congress, regardless of party, are those who believe that there should be limits on all government spending. For most Republicans, it is enough to oppose anything from Joe Biden.

Our government is on track from the previous administration to spend more than to $1.5 trillion over several years to overhaul the nuclear arsenal.

So, the idea Biden's $1.9-trillion coronavirus aid and economic plan actually will squeak through the divided Congress mostly unscathed when the House likely votes today is close to miraculous – or specifically thanks to Georgians who elected two Democrats in January.

Actually, there's another, lesser-discussed of the many pending legislative battles that will put this thinking to a test – approval for some billions this year to upgrade nuclear weapons, as part of some proposals to boost defense spending by an estimated 3% to 5%.

According to the Arms Control Center, the government is on track from the previous administration to spend more than to $1.5 trillion over several years to overhaul the nuclear arsenal by rebuilding each leg of the nuclear triad of ballistic missile submarines, silo-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, a new nuclear cruise missile, a modified gravity bomb, a new stealthy long-range strike bomber and warheads. Cost estimates for this year alone are $16 billion for the National Nuclear Security Administration systems and about $29 billion for the modernization of aging delivery systems.

In other words, it is on the scale of changes in the range of this current contention. But this time, expect the sides of the ruckus to be reversed.

Spending Priorities

Democrats have been introducing bills to curtail costly nuclear modernization programs. Republicans want Biden to continue spending on defense and weapons modernization, with no concern yet about cost and have included questions about this issue to Cabinet defense nominees.

Indeed, Republicans, as always, are pushing an increase in defense spending overall, though the Trump administration budget for defense for this year was more modest than its $740 billion for the previous year. To pay for it, they propose cuts in social spending.

The Biden White House is starting work on its first budget, with some expectations to keep funds for weapons flat against last year, which is still an increase.

We should note that at the same time, we are hearing repeatedly that the biggest threats we face are domestic terrorism, climate change, cybersecurity hacks and international economic warfare. None of those are addressed by better nuclear weapons, of course.

Even among specific military priorities, there are questions about priorities other than more modern nukes – including the number of Navy ships, actually being able to launch and maintain the expensive fighter jets developed over the last years, military pay and benefits. Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks apparently has directed a review of selected programs, including low-yield nuclear warheads and nuclear command and control. The Trump administration developed and deployed a submarine-launched, low-yield nuclear warhead, called W76-2, that Democrats argue raises the risk of nuclear war by potentially lowering the threshold for using nuclear weapons. There now is a bill to stop a new sub-launched cruise missile from Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.).

Feels Like an Old Argument

Actually, it was the Obama administration that had started the modernization program, out of the belief that aging weapons might prove dangerous to have deployed, and that while treaties have called for fewer nukes, they should be in good shape. None of that has stopped the Russians, and now the Chinese, from bringing out new generations of nukes.

So, what we can see brewing is kindling over old issues on spending on weapons over social issues, varying and convenient use of the deficit monster as a threat, and partisan maneuvering.

Democrats Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) argue that the real issue here is the over-emphasis of nuclear weapons as well as the cost. They are lobbying Biden to abandon some of the programs underway and to revisit our actual defense priorities. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, and Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the Senate counterpart, argue against efforts to "cripple the U.S. nuclear deterrent forever."

House Armed Services Committee Adam Smith (D-Wa.) says that the defense budget ought to be the result of effective spending, whatever the total is.

Hear that silence? No one is talking about deficits.

At best, what we have is a nice distillation of just when deficits do and don't matter.

The annoying truth about Joe Manchin

We spent hundreds of millions of dollars and endless hours of talk, debate and generally insulting campaigns to elect a new president, even undergoing months afterward of one side denying results, leading to an attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Where in all this was the decision to elect the winner to be Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WVa.)?

Forget competing personalities, ideologies, even skills. What we effectively have wrought is that the decisions about whether we extend unemployment or try to save restaurants or pay to widen federal research into coronavirus mutations don't sit in the White House or even in the leading majority leaders of Congress, it is with Manchin, the self-described centrist—which means he is so moderate a Democrat that he is always a threat to vote for Republican policies—from a state that he sees as unready to embrace climate change or big investment in recovery, or, as we found out this week, a Biden Cabinet-level nominee.

Manchin says he is opposing Neera Tanden for the Office of Management and Budget because she tweeted too harshly about political opponents, and maybe now the nomination of Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) as Secretary of Interior, who thinks drilling for oil on public lands is a bad idea (Manchin headed the committee holding this hearing.)

As an aside, when compared with colleagues in the Congress who have tweeted and worked hard to ignore years of public insult tweets of Donald Trump, the argument against Tandem seems pretty limp. Still, among Tanden's tweet targets was Manchin's daughter, Heather Bresch, former CEO of Mylan a company that made EpiPens and raised its price substantially over 10 years. Bresch defended the higher prices as less than that of others and said she also raised financial assistance for patients.

The Key Vote?

It's not so much that we may find ourselves agreeing or disagreeing with Manchin, but rather the idea that we have given the car keys to a single individual who may be voting only to support the local interests of a 93% white state still waiting for coal mining to come back, that votes Republican, that has the nation's worst record on opiate usage and the dominance of small business owners who reject raising the minimum wage.

With the U.S. Senate split down the middle, Manchin's vote has become The Vote for a Democratic agenda, followed closely by the support of sorta Democrat Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and one or two others. Indeed, one hears Manchin's vote more linked to that of Susan Collins (R-Maine) than to the Democratic majority.

Would an LBJ or even a Harry Reid have allowed the Senate majority to have allowed a critical vote like Manchin to run free from issue to issue, from more liberal to more conservative, but outside the party attitudes? No, they would have found a way to pressure his votes with something that West Virginia needs, like energy jobs, or found a threat that worked. A weaker Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) just seems to believe that repetition of arguments alone will win the day.

One friend proposes that Democrats offer a trade of Manchin to the Republicans, baseball style, for their Collins or Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), though I doubt that Joe Biden or Schumer would count on that outcome as any more dependable.
Manchin is insisting that calling yourself a Democrat does not necessarily mean anything.

Most Valuable Target

Manchin has become the most sought-after target for lobbyists, reports TheHill.com because he is seen as the swing vote in the 50-50 Senate on many bills and nominees. And he has to watch his own political back in a Republican-leaning state.

Actually, only a small group of former staffers and ex-senators-turned-lobbyist have a chance to influence Manchin, who prefers to listen to groups that have established direct interests in West Virginia. That has included more liberal groups like the Poor People's Campaign and unions, or those with ties to local businesses.

It's also true that Manchin voted with the Trump administration half the time.

Manchin, fully aware of his sudden celebrity status, talks a lot about the need for bipartisanship and listening to the other side, no matter what it is, before coming out with what he sees as his more common-sense solutions. It all must come as a bit of upbraiding for Biden, who considers himself a centrist, and float the question of what it is that makes Manchin want to identify as Democrat in the first place.

"He's kind of the Democratic version of John McCain," said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) told Politico. "I say that partially in jest. But partially it's true: Joe's a hard guy to figure out how to lead. He dances to his own music."

Actually, Manchin favors raising the minimum wage, but more slowly and as not part of a coronavirus aid bill. He generally favors gun rights, though backs "sensible" registration efforts, and he opposes killing the Senate's filibuster rules to make decision-making into simple majority votes. He sleeps on a houseboat, occasionally swigs moonshine from a jar, was a college football quarterback and ran a coal brokerage before running for governor.

As The Washington Post noted, Manchin is a coal country native come to power as Biden is proposing vast climate changes. As governor, he sued the Environmental Protection Agency. He has scuttled efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, criticized the Paris climate agreement and famously shot a copy of a cap-and-trade carbon proposal full of lead. "There's nobody I know in my state that wants to drink dirty water, to breathe dirty air, I can assure you," Manchin told the Post. "I'm as environmental as anyone else. I'm pretty rational, practical about it, too."

The Decider?

Based on reports from his Senate colleagues, Manchin often does succeed at changing minds, including getting Republicans Steve Daines of Montana and James Lankford of Oklahoma to stand down from their election challenges in the hours following the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Manchin is the ultimate gradualist, making Biden look as if he is speeding towards some progressive goals in immigration, race relations, environment and economic policies aiming to re-set built-in inequalities. Manchin's support—and those middle position on every sizeable issue brings with him—is the reason behind the agonizingly slow response from Congress on coronavirus and economy alike.

At least with the main body of Republicans in the Senate, we know there is straight opposition to virtually any Biden policy, and we expect the tight majority to work around whatever those limitations set. So, expect to see Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the new head of the Budget Committee, for example, maneuvering to use the more arcane rules of reconciliation to move Democratic bills through the process.

But it is annoying to me to see a single individual, Democrat or Republican, insisting that he or she is the center of the political universe. It's more annoying when I thought I have voted for the program of a party that I favored. I didn't like it with Donald Trump insisted that he was the sole voice to hear, even from the White House, I didn't like it with chief obstructor Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) deciding to forgo Senate votes on more than 300 House-passed bills.

We didn't vote for Joe Manchin to be The Decider.

A grim milestone of 500,000 dead

Stunningly, a year into coronavirus, we've reached 500,000 American deaths—and climbing, particularly since November.

That as many people as live in Miami, Atlanta, Omaha or Oakland, all gone in a single year, a disproportionate number of deaths—many avoidable—in the best medically equipped nation on the planet.

The marker is effectively reflected as accelerating graduated dots in a New York Times graphic.

The pandemic has shut our schools and restaurants, killed jobs, interrupted our intimate relationships. It has ended going to the movies, created the Zoom cocktail hour, and made life more isolated.

It's a moment that cannot pass without some solemn reflection, without thinking about personal loss and the effect on our nation and culture. The pandemic has shut our schools and restaurants, killed jobs, interrupted our intimate relationships. It has ended going to the movies, created the Zoom cocktail hour, and made life more isolated.

There's little doubt that the failure to deal effectively with the pandemic was a major factor in ending Donald Trump and creating more exacting expectations for competence from Joe Biden and from governors who had been perceived as doing well on our behalf.

And yet, even as the vaccines are starting to kick in on a wide basis, we still can't find a true national consensus that we should be doing the basics of public health—mask-wearing and distancing—even as we wait, endlessly, for some return of life as we knew it. Some 500,000 deaths in, our national monument to pandemic efforts is a mask that substantial numbers of Americans won't agree to wear in the name of personal liberty and convenience.

We still have people who won't acknowledge that there is a pandemic at all, as the oft-played videos of mask-less beaches, bars and grocery stores in Florida or California attest.

How high does this death toll need to get for us to learn?

We're Doing Better

We all have stories of people we've lost, or watched afar as they were hospitalized. News outlets single out some in an attempt to keep a human face on an unforgiving contagion. In Biden, we've elected a replacement president who actually believes in empathy, and whose first steps included using a Washington Mall light display (will it become permanent?) to provide a simple moment of communal recognition of loss.

It's a lot better memorial than the lasting images of a president pushing off-label use of hydroxychloroquine or injecting bleach to forestall the disease – all based on his gut rather than Science.

After some fits and starts – including the push and pull over who gets proper credit – the vaccine campaign is well underway, though vulnerable to the ease or not in finding a location for inoculation, the number of vaccinators, sites and the effects of weather on transportation. Still, more than 40 million shots have been administered, the third vaccine maker is about to get federal emergency use approval, we finally have official laboratory eyes on the mutations expected from such a virus.

We have promises still being matched with performance on delivering the vaccine to neighborhoods where they are most needed, even as we are uncovering more and more schemes by individuals and areas of wealth to circumvent the lines. We're still arguing about which front-line workers, teachers and educators or cops and grocery workers are supposed to go before the other.

We have some longer-term health studies started, but the disease is proving more squirrelly than we had hoped. China is still screwing around with hidden information about the origin of the pandemic, and the bigger countries are taking care of their own populations before worrying about areas of the globe that are not as able to buy the vaccines.

In short, we're finally righting a ship that ran aground on the shoals of delay and political gain, but we still are aiming at the rocky shore. Experts disagree, of course, but we're headed for a return of much of our lives now by the fall, with vaccines to all who want them completed in six or seven months – quite an achievement if you can lift above the impatience.

Still, Where's the Will?

Through polls, calls to leaders and public anger, most Americans say they are ready for the government to be taking Big Action on jobs and economic aid to get us through this period. In that regard, it seems nuts to see the usual conservative-liberal politics governing our national healing.

That preventing the eviction of millions, or the extension of unemployment payments or money to ensure that there is continuing pandemic research is depending on a vote or two in the U.S. Senate seems way out of line. We elected a government to deal with this, let's now hold them to doing so, and give them the tools to make it work.

What is the legacy of a country that wants someone else to deal with problems from disease and health to guns, but not to provide the wherewithal to make it work? How does it work that teachers should go back to work in schools that lack ventilation or that, magically, Broadway and concert arenas or organized baseball should return right now without a care about public health preparation?

Our addiction to conflict over pulling together to solve a communal problem has become almost as much a problem as the pandemic itself. That we have reached 500,000 should be telling us that our history will be about impatience and division along tribal lines, a communal hesitance to address our most central problems.

Whatever the final number of American deaths, we may have met our ultimate enemy: It is us, the very people whose creativity and get-it-done attitudes could fix anything if we want to do so. With 500,000 deaths, the question is whether we have the will to get the job done or just rather fight.

The Texas disaster and COVID-19 have made it impossible to deny that the GOP ideology is dangerous mythology

We don't have to look very hard to see some common themes running through the Texas freezes, consternation over school re-opening and the worries over significantly unseen recent cyber-attack on U.S. government agencies and private company networks.

In fact, at a glance, there's a recognizably simple demand on the table that we have a government that can anticipate emergencies, plan for them and stand ready to execute, rather than suffer the talk of lawmakers who insist on throwing the inevitable verbal bombs about ideology. Thinking otherwise, that we can stint on investment and preparation is as effective as sticking your head in an oven and yelling.

For Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott and Fox News commentators to spend their time blaming wind turbines for years of forgoing investment in a weather-resistant statewide electric grid dependent on fossil fuel sources is not only silly; we now see it is dangerous. The state's insistence that Texas remain out of the two national electrical grids to avoid federal rules has come home to roost.

Emergencies don't just get dealt with spontaneously. They require procedures and investment to invoke when they are needed.

Having spent a lot of years overseeing news, production and technology issues in newsrooms, I can assure you that emergencies don't just get dealt with spontaneously. They require procedures and investment to invoke when they are needed. That Y2K deadline that passed without serious incident in 2000, for example, was not the result of luck; the lack of problems resulted from months of planning and rebuilding. The ability of The New York Times, where I worked, to continue publishing digitally and in print despite a blackout that hit a large portion of the aregion required adaptation, but came about because we had anticipated such a problem.

That decision by the Donald Trump White House to shut down its National Security Council pandemic office had consequences in delaying the response to coronavirus. This raging debate we're having about whether teachers must be vaccinated before schools open overlooks the obvious need to look at having appropriate ventilation in aging school buildings.

The continuing reports about bridges failing, outmoded airports and failing mass transit systems are open pleas for giving government the money to fix things.

Disasters All

Add into emergencies our incessant need to find blame – usually skewering a political foe – and you have the legends of hurricanes dating back to Katrina, wildfires in California, floods, tornadoes and even terrorist attacks. You have all the effectiveness of a Donald Trump throwing paper towels to workers in Puerto Rico.

For Governor Abbott to attack the aspirational Green New Deal proposals for climate while people are freezing in their homes doesn't help make either heat or water start working again. It just makes him look as if he is trying to use the problem for partisan political points, which he is.

Even worse, his predecessor, Rick Perry, unbelievably the U.S. Energy Secretary under Trump, says that for Texans to go days without power is a sacrifice they should be willing to make if it means keeping federal regulators out of the state's power grid.

Whether for freezes or hurricanes, pandemics or terror attacks, Americans want to be able to count on some government agency to have anticipated the issue and to be ready to act.

With the climate changes now worsening every major storm, it is anticipatable that we will be seeing more severe effects on systems of all kinds. With rising tensions and rivalries in international relations, we've long expected that our military and national security agencies will have adjusted to whom they are listening.

With months of anti-election organizing and actions by pro-Trump forces who refused to recognize the November elections, we should have been able to anticipate a problem that became the Jan. 6 swarm on the U.S. Capitol.

We Resist Government

The Texas story is pretty straightforward: "What has sent Texas reeling is not an engineering problem, nor is it the frozen wind turbines blamed by prominent Republicans. It is a financial structure for power generation that offers no incentives to power plant operators to prepare for winter. In the name of deregulation and free markets, critics say, Texas has created an electric grid that puts an emphasis on cheap prices over reliable service," reports The Washington Post.

In the case of the coronavirus, it was an insistence by the feds for the states to deal with the problem. With Joe Biden, we finally have a plan rolling out, though it too is drawing complaints about speed and uncertainties about when it will be complete – as if that is the only goal. We remain unprepared for changes in climate, immigration, population, manufacture and education.

With all that in mind, it seems more than weird that we have not yet moved very far in Congress on adopting the coronavirus aid package, though it is inching along as a one-party proposal. How do we square having general upset in the country over a patchwork of half-open, half-closed schools if we are not providing the funds to ensure safety for students, teachers and staff? For that matter, how do we account for Americans refusing to wear protective masks in the name of personal convenience and resistance to government orders?

We are ready at the drop of any hat to be insistent on immediacy without doing the work or raising the money. We'd rather find fault with our partisan foe than try to put in place the institutional network that would help us to succeed.

Only now are we really assessing the effects of those cyber-attacks thought to have been directed by Russia, and already we have questions about when damages still being assessed will all be fixed.

The takeaway here is equally straightforward: If we want immediate response to public problems, we need the work – and the will – to be ready. In most cases, we have neither.

House GOP leader's weakness has sent his dying political party down a treacherous path

It almost didn't matter what House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) had decided to do about his divisive Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) problem.

It's too late. The Republicans own her and her extremism now, and won't be able to walk away from an association in the minds of voters with accepting QAnon conspiracy and White supremacy advocates in their midst.

Nor can they walk away from efforts to dethrone super-conservative Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) in a House leadership position because she committed the ultimate no-no in voting to impeach Donald Trump for doing what he had taken pride in doing – provoking his base over months in what culminated in a riot at the U.S. Capitol.

American values are being put on the debate scale here, and we're seeing another adoption of violence and untruths over anything close to civility.

While Republicans can do what they want with their party, American values are being put on the debate scale here, and we're seeing another adoption of violence and untruths over anything close to civility.

In the end, McCarthy, under pressure from all but his own caucus to discipline Greene and to retain Cheney in a leadership position, whiffed, failing to satisfy anyone. As a result, House Democrats moved to intervene towards a rare vote today to strip Republican Greene's committee memberships – a vote that will put every Republican on the record on the question and will undoubtedly turn into another partisan floor fight.

Meanwhile, the Republican caucus spent hours debating about whether to oust Cheney as head of their caucus before finding out that she had the votes to keep her job.

For the GOP, which has labored overtime to tag the likes of Joe Biden and centrist Democrats with what they see as overly eager left-leaning policies, including the aspirational Green New Deal of Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Ilan Omar (D-Minn.), now trying to distance themselves from their right-leaning loonies has become impossible.

That is especially true because Republicans in Congress still fall all over themselves to kiss the would-be regal ring of Donald Trump. If they wanted separation from Greene's dangerous threats against government figures, denials of mass shootings and wrong-headed beliefs in Jewish space lasers, they had plenty of chance to do so.

Now that something serious was broken in the Jan. 6 insurrection, the GOP owns it.

So, let's get it straight please, the problem at hand is not Ms. Greene – it is a wider problem of Republican blinders to reality for partisanship. Let's be sure to mark Republicans as the party for conspiracy and against conscience.

Trump Over All

The party antipathy we're hearing even in very politically red Wyoming to oust Cheney for her impeachment vote – arguing that Trump had "lit the flame" that sparked the riots – has nothing to do with what Trump said or did. It reflects only that Republican voters have been boiled repeatedly in a broth of propaganda that Trump actually won the election, choosing to attack anyone finding fault with Trump rather than Trump himself.

To this day, despite the hours of video evidence, the lost court challenges, the proved abuses and the reported plotting of anti-democratic efforts to change the vote outcome, the Republican party in Wyoming, in Arizona, in Texas and lots of other states simply deny that any of it happened.

"We Republicans need to stick together," said a Republican voter in an anti-Cheney crowd, adding, "They're coming after our guns. They're trying to tell us what to do, so we can't have people who are not with us."

They were mask-less because this government is trying to tell them about the communicable disease, which many in the party apparently still think is a hoax as if we have not had 450,000 American deaths.

So, instead of working to resolve public crises over coronavirus and jobs, over a future for health care, education and environment, towards re-securing American standing lost in the isolation policies of the Trump years, we're adrift in a constant sea of whether requiring members of Congress to leave any guns off the floor somehow abridges the rights. The vote on that House rule on Tuesday was nearly 100 percent partisan, with Republicans opposing the safety of colleagues.

How in good conscience, were these Republican Congress members attending that memorial in the Capitol for Capitol police officer Brian Sicknick who was killed by Trump-clad insurrectionists that day? How in good conscience did Republican senators repeat an oath to act as independent jurors in the pending impeachment trial when they already have decided that Trump should go free?

Looking to Leadership

For weeks, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) let Cheney hang in the wind and let Greene's conspiracy run on endlessly before calling her a "cancer" on the party and the country. We know that as a wily political insider, McConnell has something else on his mind – moving the party into a post-Trump position. He was maneuvering – once again – to position his caucus into a mode to oppose Biden policies and prepare for the next elections.

McCarthy himself has been more openly torn between his desire for the votes of conspirators while trying to stay relevant. He privately prodded Greene to apologize for her comments and remove herself from her committees to avert the House vote Democrats to force the issue.

Were he not to represent such a Republican district, he might find himself out.

As Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent argued, both the Greene and Cheney "dilemmas are fundamentally about whether Republicans will unambiguously stand for the proposition that the temptation to resort to political violence is wholly intolerable in a democracy and has no place whatsoever in their party."

In homage to Donald Trump, Republicans did not take the pledge and they won't. Not for Greene, not for Cheney, not for the impeachment trial itself.

As voters, we know what we need to do.

Jarring images from Moscow raise questions about Trump's brainwashed followers

We couldn't help wondering what the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and other right-wing militia groups are making of the images of pro-democracy violence, mostly from anti-democratic police, on the streets of Moscow.

The inside-out juxtaposition of images of thousands in the streets in an attempt to take down the Vladimir Putin government for jailing opponent Aleksei A. Navalny with the constant airing of Donald Trump-clad militants attacking the U.S. Capitol to overturn democratic elections is startling.

It makes you wonder whom our domestic extremists find heroic in Moscow – or in the streets of Belarus in recent weeks or Hong Kong in months-long protests before that. These images show ordinary Russian people willing to brave certain mass arrests and worse all for the chance to vote, to escape the iron grasp of dictatorial governments.

And yet, our own domestic protestors-turned-insurrectionists claim such personal fealty to a dictatorial Donald Trump that they stormed our Capitol in the name of throwing out election results that were counted, recounted, audited, court-reviewed and certified multiple times.

Indeed, weekend reports out of the FBI has deployed hundreds of agents who are explicitly noting that it was among groups like Proud Boys and Oath Keepers that there is evidence of actual planning and coordination leading to the Jan. 6 Insurrection attack.

Federal prosecutors have charged two Proud Boys leaders for conspiracy to obstruct law enforcement, and have indicated they are weighing more serious felony charges, including sedition, for a wide group. Moreover, while the FBI has followed right-wing extremism, The New York Times found that Trump's efforts to focus his administration on violence by leftist Antifa protesters diluted that effort.

The Jarring Images

We apparently now face the prospects of actual Capitol insurgents throwing up their hands to say that they were simply following Trump's inciting demands to pressure officials at all levels to keep him in office. Jacob Chansley—the notorious horned "QAnon Shaman" invading the Capitol—has asked to testify against Trump at his imminent impeachment trial, said the Daily Beast.

With sudden dismissal—and now replacement—of his impeachment trial legal team, we see Trump trying to turn away from the images of violence and wanting to argue anew that the election was stolen from him and that the proceedings are somehow unconstitutional even though the offenses and impeachment by the House of Representatives occurred during his days in office.

Trump appears as unrepentant today as he did in delaying the deployment of National Guard troops on Jan. 6 to defend democracy.

As president, Trump was hesitant to speak much about Hong Kong and Belarus. Clearly, while he has read a couple of statements about our own Insurrection attempt, he has not taken responsibility for any role that he and his obsession with election results have played.

Half of our country believes in the Trump cult. Obviously, a smaller number are willing to take up arms and go to the Capitol or statehouses and threaten lawmakers with kidnap or killing to promote Trump.

But let's be clear, none of this is about assuring the popular vote or anything but the enshrining of Trump as an unelected monarch willing to repeat a Big Lie enough to brainwash his voters into believing that Trump won the election.

Washington vs. Moscow

A big difference we're seeing on the streets of Moscow is that Putin would never have let the voting happen. He has shown instead that he would simply lock up his opponent (Where have we heard that one?) or poison them—with nary a critical word from Trump as the world's designated defender of democracy.

Another is that every Muscovite interviewed in American press reports is world-savvy and informed, an immediate difference with domestic militia members who have chosen to be brainwashed by propaganda.

There is no election pending in Russia now, and Putin has dispatched his most unforgiving troops across the city to beat and imprison those who rise against him.

So, I'm wondering: Do our right-wing militia members seeing those images from Moscow see any irony in their putative rule in trying to overturn democracy? Do they see themselves as the people in the street rising up against an authoritarian government—or the thugs in uniform seeking to defend the status quo?

Do they care about democracy at all?

The pro-Trump Capitol insurrection has exposed a startling fact about America's military

The more we look at the Jan. 6 insurrection attack at the Capitol, the more we see participants with military experience.

A National Public Radio (NPR) analysis of the 140 arrested to date says that one in five were military veterans, who clearly had sworn in the past to protect the Constitution and democracy. By comparison, veterans represent about 7% of Americans altogether.

That there are strains of political extremism in the military, outward expressions of support for White supremacy and racism is hardly a new development, But participation in a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol raises questions anew.

Participation in a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol raises questions anew.

Simply put, the military needs to teach some basics to our volunteer army to ensure that the troops know what they are defending.

It's a situation serious enough that Defense Secretary-designate Lloyd Austen started his testimony in Senate confirmation hearings by committing to investigating and uprooting extremism, racism and sexism in the military before he was asked a question.

Of course, others who should know better, including some Republican members of Congress and state officials, also now find themselves targets for re-education about basic civics. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) had to be told, for example, that the inauguration date could not be postponed, that it is in the Constitution.

In summary, NPR reporters reviewed military records, social media accounts, court documents and news reports of those arrested so far, and found that at least 27 of those charged, or nearly 20%, have served or are currently serving in the U.S. military. Several face charges of violent and disorderly conduct at the Capitol—charges that may be upgraded to felonies including domestic terrorism and sedition.

We all have seen the many videos showing those in military-style helmets carrying zip-ties and make-shift weapons. Some rioters appear to have ties to groups like the Oath Keepers, a far-right paramilitary group that includes many retired military and law enforcement personnel.

These reports came as prosecutors filed their first serious conspiracy charges, accusing three members of the right-wing militia group the Oath Keepers, a group that targets recruitment of military and vets, of plotting the riot in advance.

It's Not New

A year ago, The Military Times polled military members and determined that more than one-third of active-duty troops and more than half of minority service members said they had witnessed examples of white nationalism or ideological-driven racism within the ranks in recent months —a rise from the previous year. The military outlet said it was a "troubling snapshot of troops' exposure to extremist views while serving despite efforts from military leaders to promote diversity and respect for all races."

Troops said they had seen "swastikas being drawn on service members' cars, tattoos affiliated with white supremacist groups, stickers supporting the Ku Klux Klan and Nazi-style salutes between individuals."

By contrast, the military has imposed rules for joining our volunteer army with gang background. As far back as In 2008, according to the FBI, 1% to 2% of the U.S. military belonged to gangs, which is 50 to 100 times the rate in the general population. Upon joining, the military has insisted on removal of gang tattoos, for example.

The military, which over years has been a model for training and education efforts, is active in training officers to recognize foreign terrorism efforts, but readily acknowledges that it has lagged at looking within its own ranks for such disturbing trends. Indeed, the Pentagon had developed several educational programs aimed at increasing understanding the roots of Islamist terrorism, only to find itself surprised by the emergence of lone-wolf outbreaks at home, as in the killings by a rogue Army officer at Fort Hood in Texas in 2013.

Still, that is a long way from seeking to root out affinity within its ranks or among its veterans for the kind of anti-democratic riot that hit the Capitol over a basic desire to declare election fraud and demand that U.S. elections be nullified.

Disturbing Images

Air Force veteran Larry Rendall Brock Jr. was photographed in his tactical gear and flex cuffs in the Senate chambers. According to court documents, he posted on Facebook that he was preparing for a "Second Civil War," and that "we are now under occupation by a hostile governing force." Jacob Fracker, 29, was an infantry rifleman in the Marine Corps, deployed twice to Afghanistan, and is a member of the Virginia National Guard and a police officer, along with Thomas Robertson, 47, an Army veteran also facing charges.

Right-wing militias and anti-government groups are targeting the military and veterans, federal officials say.

General Austin, who would be the nation's first Black defense secretary, said he would fight hard "to rid our ranks of racists," adding that "The Defense Department's job is to keep America safe from our enemies. But we can't do that if some of those enemies lie within our own ranks."

Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow with the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism, told NPR that the military's efforts are largely "haphazard" and "it's not like the military is just tolerating white supremacists." But efforts to address the problem need to be more systematic. "Not only does there need to be training," Pitcavage said, "but there also need to be clear expectations coming down from on high about what you should do when you encounter an extremist in your unit, at your base or whatever the circumstances are, and that here are the procedures that need to be followed."

After Jan. 6, the Defense Department said there were 68 notifications of investigations by the FBI last year of former and current military members pertaining to domestic extremism.

In his inaugural address, Joe Biden pledged to combat "a rise of political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism."

It sounds as if teaching the basics of democracy and civics for the military ought to be high on that list.

How a congressional un-American activities caucus of radical Republicans is trying to destroy our government

The only good thing we can see in next Wednesday's planned stage set of Trump vs. Democracy is that the challenge finally will put the names of Republicans who believe in a coup on the record.

In any normal world, that should mean that they have signed a political death warrant. Who wants to stand election in a world where elections are declared null and void?

But in these divided United States, these Republican plotters may well emerge as some kind of patriotic if zany Donald Trump loyalists worthy of a return to office. After all, it has been reported widely that most of the 74 million who voted for Trump believe without evidence the election for president was fraud-filled, and stolen by Joe Biden's radical leftists. Almost five dozen court challenges later, there still is no evidence.

The only three election fraud cases to be prosecuted this year have involved individual Republicans seeking to vote for Trump.

We can expect that more than a few will not accept any resolution here, and turn to the streets, even to violence, to keep Trump in office.

First, Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri offered himself as the single required senator to step up to the formal election challenge and joining with the 140 or so Republicans in the House. We are facing a formal operetta to delay declaring Biden the next president. Set aside that Hawley likely is motivated by early recognition of his own presidential hopes for the next election. And even set aside that it is numerically impossible to see a successful vote to overturn the election results. It will still be a slap to the country's most central traditions.

But then, on Saturday, nearly a dozen Republican senators and senators-elect led by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said they, too, will reject electors from some states won by Biden, citing without evidence allegations of voter fraud and calling for an emergency 10-day audit of results. It is an attempt, they said, to give voice to those who don't believe the election was conducted fairly, despite no investigation nor court finding any evidence of wrongdoing.

What We Face

What we will get is another airing of baseless accounts—some made up, some just legally incomplete—that selected results from contested states like Pennsylvania were swayed by so-called suitcases of votes suddenly appearing late at night, by reliance on mail balloting that Democrats used for recruiting in a time of the pandemic, by machinery that magically changed votes only in districts with higher Black and minority populations.

From Hawley's statements, his challenge to automatic acceptance of receiving the Electoral College results—the ritual that is scheduled before the incoming Congressional session—is only a call to get focus on the actual Trump complaints about the election, despite procedural and substantive rejection by scores of state and federal courts all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The only three election fraud cases to be prosecuted this year have involved individual Republicans seeking to vote for Trump. Hmm.

For once, we may find ourselves in agreement with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that Republicans should just drop this nonsense and move on, this act of public Trump loyalty is more than a ceremonial call. McConnell believes that it will hurt Republican political fates to have to split his party members on whether to publicly appear to back Trump even through election fantasy or stand for realism.

As a vote-counter who holds his own idea of a Senate caucus as the controlling arm of government, McConnell clearly hates anything that seems to weaken his position.

Trump, of course, cares only about Trump, and McConnell is a temporary obstacle, and Hawley is this week's hero, preempting incoming Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville, who previously had offered to launch the formal challenge.

Meanwhile, we keep hearing about another loony lawsuit by Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert, among the pure-bred Trumpists, filed seeking a legally strange and strained argument that Vice President Mike Pence, the titular presiding officer of Wednesday's session, act in a way to hold up acknowledging election results, or insisting that votes of alternate slates of electors be the ones accepted. And this prompted Pence's lawyers to go to court to argue – successfully -- that the lawsuit that ostensibly asks to give him more power be thrown out.

It's political weirdness that seems so last year now.

Silliness Personified

Throughout, we keep hearing the alarmed tone of academics, legal experts, election officials, journalists and pundits as they intone that a judgment on democracy itself is being served up here. They are not wrong, but they keep missing the point that this is all for show toward creating an aggrieved Donald Trump – and for guaranteed future fund-raising.

Here's Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post columnist: "There is no irregularity or evidence of fraud that justifies this move. It is pandering to a party's base which has lost touch with reality and fidelity to our Constitution. . . Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro called the lawsuit 'seditious abuse.' That's an apt description for Hawley's latest move."

When looked at that way, these unfolding events need a different filter – like looking at political showmanship and advertising.

Trump himself finally seems engaged enough by the developments to come off the golf course long enough to oversee the staging of a pretend coup – or to be present for coronation should an actual coup somehow emerge from all the chaos being sown.

We can even add in the dramatic almost-certainty that the two Senate races in Georgia on Tuesday won't be resolved in time to seat any of the four candidates on Wednesday.

My advice: Keep track of those voting to dump the votes of 82 million Americans who voted for Biden to insist that the only votes that count come from Republican districts.

You can start with these: Senators Cruz and Hawley, Ron Johnson (Wis.), James Lankford (Okla.), Steve Daines (Mont.), John Neely Kennedy (La.), Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.) and Mike Braun (Ind.) with incoming Cynthia M. Lummis (Wyo.), Roger Marshall Kan.), Bill Hagerty (Tenn.), Tommy Tuberville (Ala.). Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama will be the first among House Republicans.

Actually, if they believe what they say, these Republicans should simply quit, and refuse to serve. After all, they, too, came to office via elections equally flawed—whatever the evidence.

Or better, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) should refuse to seat them, because they are choosing not to follow their oaths.

And, when they don't, we should simply get rid of them all: They don't believe in American democracy.

This last day of a very horrible 2020 perfectly encapsulates the year's frustrations

Donald Trump tweeted early yesterday on the reality that his crowning achievement of the year, getting vaccine research moving quickly, is bogged down hopelessly:

"The Federal Government has distributed the vaccines to the states. Now it is up to the states to administer. Get moving!"

And there it is in 120 characters:

Love me for what I've done and shut your mouth about any criticism. Look away from 325,000 American COVID-19 deaths, including Republican Luke Letlow, 41, a Congressman-elect from Louisiana. Forget that many deaths could have been avoided by with a strong position on normal public health measures. And if anything is wrong here, it's not my fault. I take no responsibility for the results.

We have ended the year with Dear Leader preening himself, insisting to Washington and the nation that they heed his every requirement for adoration and ... spending his days golfing and ignoring the realities that the coronavirus is wreaking across the country.

Pure Trump. Pure 2020. Pure personal politics over all else. Pure BS.

Despite repeated promises for rapid deployment with pressured emergency approvals from the Federal Drug Administration, and with two vaccines being distributed with at least two more in the pipeline, we find ourselves at the literal end of the year with only 2 million inoculations rather than 20 million.

We are ending 2020 as we have lived the last four years. Dear Leader is preening himself, insisting Washington and the nation heed his every requirement for adoration and re-election despite losing and spending his days golfing and ignoring the realities the coronavirus is wreaking.

We can agree that there Is Zero Percent efficacy for vaccines that never make it to the arms of Americans.

Logistical Issues

States are finding that getting the earliest vaccines into arms is proving to be the predicted logistical challenge.

There are delays due to some allergic reactions, complications from having omitted pregnant patients from clinical trials and red tape as nursing homes only now start the tedious job of collecting vaccine approval paperwork from family members. There are issues about refrigeration, as expected, and there have been various administrative screw-ups.

It'll get resolved in time, of course, just not immediately.

But rather than own the issue on behalf of anxious Americans, Trump is disowning any responsibility for getting the job done. We have Vice President Mike Pence, head of the White House coronavirus task force, vacationing on the ski slopes of Colorado. We have babble from the mouths of federal health agency heads.

We have calls for immediate patience from governors trying simultaneously:

  • to stop additional surges of coronavirus
  • to watch the airports for flights from the UK and elsewhere where new strains are reported
  • to find retirees and other volunteers to work at inoculation sites still located in the very hospitals that are overwhelmed with surges of new patients because too many Americans decided to party rather than isolate during holidays

And we have righteous anger from President-elect Joe Biden over the slow start to inoculations and the withholding of appropriate information about how it is all supposed to be working.

What we don't have is enough of a jump on stopping this virus.

Everywhere but Mar-a-Lago

The nightly news country-wide reflects overfilled hospital wards. The number of infected has reached nearly 20 million, with deaths accelerating. The government's great hope: Vaccines. Otherwise, there is talk of military precision, but no plan.

Instead, there is government dissension every time health official Dr. Anthony Fauci's estimates move a little more about how we finally get to needed levels of immunity. There is Trump continuing to say schools, businesses and the economy should be open fully and stoking political resistance to state orders for quarantines, masks and social distancing.

Trump talks bigger individual stimulus payments without getting Republican senators to go along. There is no linkage of the payments in return for temporary shutdowns of regions hard hit.

Indeed, Trump and Republicans agree that a little money should go to states to pay for the distribution of vaccines or for hardening schools and businesses from contagion.

For Trump, the credit should go to him, the work should go to the states.

Biden is offering us grim assessments about more death and troubles before vaccines can get to where they are needed. He says this is "the greatest operations challenge we've ever faced as a nation."

As far as we can tell, by the end of this week, the government insists that about 14 million doses will have been distributed to states, although there's been a lot of apologizing about whether those totals match what was promised by end of December. There is no real explanation of why that has resulted in 2 million inoculations by 50 states or hundreds of distribution points.

Instead, there's a whole lot of scrambling under way to prove that we've equally focused effort on manufacturing and drug store distribution partners, further vaccine approvals and respect for local decision-making about who gets the available vaccines.

There's not a lot of government talk about what hasn't gotten done. In other words, it feels as if it is a replay of start-stop coordination of testing and any of the broader plans to stop the disease.

Is it too much to ask for people – Trump included – to do their jobs completely?

The Final Showdown: Here's what to watch for when congress meets next week to review electoral college votes

Next week's vote by the incoming Congress on the Electoral College roll-up of November election results will be anything but routine.

But, as has become the usual way, too much attention is focused on the personalities involved and not enough on the effects on the country.

Indeed, it feels much more depressingly usual that we could have debate to resolve a fantasy election challenge than we can have to settle the new outstanding impasse over a presidential hissy fit over signing an overdue coronavirus aid bill – a signing that came without explanation last night.

A final showdown will make this country weaker in the eyes of adversaries, invite more chaos and make it tons more difficult to move ahead.

The cast of the Jan. 6. drama includes Donald Trump, of course, whose obsession with the fantasy of a Congress overturning reality is center stage; Sen. Mitch McConnell and his apparently doomed hopes for a unified Republican caucus; the puppetry of incoming Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), acting on behalf of Trump; and the spinelessness of Vice President Mike Pence, who is caught in the unfortunate speaking role of recognizing (or not) the vocal attempts of a few Trump loyalists in both houses to float the required objections to the Electoral College results.

Oh yeah, there also is a president-elect-in-waiting expecting to move into the White House on Jan. 20.

From a point removed enough from the scuffling to take a deep breath, the question is why so little concern in this dust-up is about the well-being of the country rather than calming the insistent demands of the Trump personal tantrum.

For Trump, like a perceived Louis XIV from another era, the state actually is him, and, in his delusion, Trump must think what he is doing is toward Making America Great.

Actually, what an arbitrarily disruptive Jan. 6 vote is doing is to continue and, in fact, accelerate Trump's attacks on trust in American institutions. A final showdown to attempt to overturn an American election will make this country weaker in the eyes of adversaries, invite more chaos at a time already fraught with illness and economic disruption and make it tons more difficult to move ahead with the many aspects of governance that require actual review – and change.

Avoiding a Fight

Multiple news articles are reflecting similar themes about this pending last-ditch election challenge, even amid a few hints from pundits that perhaps Trump had been holding back on signing the coronavirus bill in return for promised Republican leadership help on contesting the election.

The set-up: A single objection from both a House and Senate member to the presentation of Electoral College results kicks off a two-hour debate and vote in each house on the objection.

Here's TheHill.com: "National Republicans are desperate to avoid a floor fight in Congress over the certification of the Electoral College vote next month, believing it would be horrible politics to continue waging what most recognize to be a hopeless battle to overturn the outcome of the election."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Deputy John Thune (R-S.D.) have asked their Republican Senate colleagues not to join Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) or other House members looking to object to the election results. Incoming Tuberville says he is heeding Trump's urge for Republicans to revolt. Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) are wild cards.

Trump this week threatened to primary Thune in the next election, showing what he believes to be his iron fist.

On top of all else, the two races on Jan. 5 in Georgia are so close that it seems likely we will not have those two seats filled on the following day.

Those who follow these procedural issues closely say any revolt will not be effective. Already too many Republican senators say they will oppose any effort to overturn the election, starting with Mitt Romney (R-Utah), but also including Mike Lee (R-Utah), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

And Trump's inner circle of lawyers still have one last case pending before a Supreme Court that already has shot down the appeal from Texas to overturn, without evidence, the elections in four contested states. Trump has been waving a 36-page document assembly by Trade Representative and non-lawyer Peter Navarro compiling unverified affidavits and complaints as if they are evidence.

What's the Alternative?

Pence is in a strange position, among the last of the Trump defenders. As vice president, it is he who presides over the joint meeting of Congress that day and it is he who must accept or reject the objections from the floor. My bet is that he accepts the objection, allows the votes to shoot down the objection, before slinking out of town on a previously set foreign trip he announced for cover.

Off to the side, Trump's armies of white supremacists and loyalists seem to care little about either the realities of the election nor the actual rules for such affirmation of Electoral College outcomes. They want only what they want – Dear Leader for another four years and the ouster of Joe Biden as an imposter president-elect.

They are making clear to anyone who stands in the way – including Fox News, Newsmax, retiring attorney general William P. Barr, governors and state legislators – that they will have their way, even threatening violence to get it.

So, a congressional procedural floor fight is just symbolic.

Trump just wants chaos that continues to keep him in the limelight, and puts himself in the position of aggrieved candidate from whom reelection was stolen. That allows him to continue collecting tons of unrestricted money from supporters, to threaten a new election try in four years and to seek to establish himself as shadow president-in-exile, whose tweets and opinions he thinks will matter.

Of course, instead, Trump could stand on principle here—for elections not his own. If he truly thinks there was fraud, he could be asking for a full review and evaluation of the things that he thinks the states should change – from procedures governing mail ballots and authentication to a required mechanical review of voting machines.

We know Trump cares only about his own political fortunes, however, and believes that he gains by causing agita for the country.

He already has his 2024 would-be red hat: Make America Chaotic.

Congress could erupt in chaos next week -- here's why

From all that we hear about next week's pending vote by the incoming Congress to affirm the Electoral College roll-up of November election results, it will be anything but routine.

But, as has become the usual way, too much attention is focused on the personalities involved and not enough on the effects on the country.

Indeed, it feels much more depressingly usual that we could have debate to resolve a fantasy election challenge than we can have to settle the new outstanding impasse over a presidential hissy fit over signing an overdue coronavirus aid bill – a signing that came without explanation last night.

A final showdown will make this country weaker in the eyes of adversaries, invite more chaos and make it tons more difficult to move ahead.

The cast of the Jan. 6. drama includes Donald Trump, of course, whose obsession with the fantasy of a Congress overturning reality is center stage; Sen. Mitch McConnell and his apparently doomed hopes for a unified Republican caucus, the puppetry of incoming Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), acting on behalf of Trump, and the spinelessness of Vice President Mike Pence, who is caught in the unfortunate speaking role of recognizing (or not) the vocal attempts of a few Trump loyalists in both houses to float the required objections to the Electoral College results.

Oh yeah, there also is a president-elect-in-waiting expecting to move into the White House on Jan. 20.

From a point removed enough from the scuffling to take a deep breath, the question is why so little concern in this dust-up is about the well-being of the country rather than calming the insistent demands of the Trump personal tantrum. For Trump, like a perceived Louis XIV from another era, the state actually is him, and, in his delusion, Trump must think what he is doing is towards Making America Great.

Actually, what an arbitrarily disruptive Jan. 6 vote is doing is to continue and, in fact, accelerate Trump's attacks on trust in American institutions. A final showdown to attempt to overturn an American election will make this country weaker in the eyes of adversaries, invite more chaos at a time already fraught with illness and economic disruption, and make it tons more difficult to move ahead with the many aspects of governance that require actual review – and change.

Avoiding a Fight

Multiple news articles are reflecting similar themes about this pending last-ditch election challenge, even amid a few hints from pundits that perhaps Trump had been holding back on signing the coronavirus bill in return for promised Republican leadership help on contesting the election.

The set-up: A single objection from both a House and Senate member to the presentation of Electoral College results kicks off a two-hour debate and vote in each house on the objection.

Here's TheHill.com: "National Republicans are desperate to avoid a floor fight in Congress over the certification of the Electoral College vote next month, believing it would be horrible politics to continue waging what most recognize to be a hopeless battle to overturn the outcome of the election."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Deputy John Thune (R-S.D.) have asked their Republican Senate colleagues not to join Rep. Mo Brooks R-Ala.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) or other House members looking to object to the election results. Incoming Tuberville says he is heeding Trump's urge for Republicans to revolt, and Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) are wild cards.

Trump this week threatened to primary Thune in the next election, showing what he believes to be his iron fist.

On top of all else, the two races on Jan. 5 in Georgia are so close that it seems likely we will not have those two seats filled on the following day.

Those who follow these procedural issues closely say any revolt will not be effective. Already too many Republican senators say they will oppose any effort to overturn the election, starting with Mitt Romney (R-Utah), but also including Mike Lee (R-Utah), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

And Trump's inner circle of lawyers still have one last case pending before a Supreme Court that already has shot down the appeal from Texas to overturn, without evidence, the elections in four contested states. Trump has been waving a 36-page document assembly by Trade Representative and non-lawyer Peter Navarro compiling unverified affidavits and complaints as if they are evidence.

What's the Alternative?

Pence is in a strange position, among the last of the Trump defenders. As vice president, it is he who presides over the joint meeting of Congress that day and it is he who must accept or reject the objections from the floor. My bet is that he accepts the objection, allows the votes to shoot down the objection, before slinking out of town on a previously set foreign trip he announced for cover.

Off to the side, Trump's armies of white supremacists and loyalists seem to care little about either the realities of the election nor the actual rules for such affirmation of Electoral College outcomes. They want only what they want – Dear Leader for another four years and the ouster of Joe Biden as an imposter president-elect.

They are making clear to anyone who stands in the way – including Fox News, Newsmax, retiring Atty. Gen. William P. Barr, governors and state legislators – that they will have their way, even threatening violence to get it.

So, a congressional procedural floor fight is just symbolic.

Trump just wants chaos that continues to keep him in the limelight, and puts himself in the position of aggrieved candidate from whom reelection was stolen. That allows him to continue collecting tons of unrestricted money from supporters, to threaten a new election try in four years and to seek to establish himself as shadow president-in-exile, whose tweets and opinions he thinks will matter.

Of course, instead, Trump could stand on principle here—for elections not his own. If he truly thinks there was fraud, he could be asking for a full review and evaluation of the things that he thinks the states should change – from procedures governing mail ballots and authentication to a required mechanical review of voting machines.

We know Trump cares only about his own political fortunes, however, and believes that he gains by causing agita for the country.

He already has his 2024 would-be red hat: Make America Chaotic.

Donald Trump didn't drain the swamp -- he is the swamp

Stop talking about draining swamps in Washington. You're just adding to them instead.

Pardoning convicted and confessed campaign associates, disgraced, discarded members of your own political party, and those found guilty of the murder of Iraqi civilians disqualifies you from talking swamp.

You're a swamp maker – these pardons are the very epitome of that swamp that has feathered its own nest in office, including you, who sees this act of clemency only as a chance to promote your own case.

And worse, on the same day, you are putting in danger this frail legislative deal – negotiated with your own people – that is meant to start helping millions.

Donald Trump, you apparently cannot stop yourself from insisting that you know better that Wrong is Right than judges, voters, advisers, allies or even his own loyalists – any more than you can respect scientists, educators, or anyone citing the Constitution.

Instead, disgracefully again last night, you showed us your unrestrained imperial self once again showed—through pardons that may have been expected from you but are a sneer at American, and refusing to sign this bill in a way that puts all of it, from food aid to actually running the government at all, at serious risk.

It seems that under the pressure of having to leave the White House stage, you are proving is a danger to the health and morality of the United States. You are fully acting like a madman, flailing against law, limits or the prospect of causing harm to others

More To Come, Clearly

The only trouble with getting angry about you issuing 20 pardons for campaign friends caught up in the Mueller Report – and pleading guilty – and the three dishonored Republican former congressmen who spent our money on themselves -- is that we know there are more pardons to come.

But it does make me angry that you have no respect for your job, your role, or our country outside of trying to use these pardons to insist that your excesses and those of your friends never happened.

I'll grant you this: You won't give up in the face of fact, political reality or private advice of even those close to him. You just can't give up the spotlight.

These pardons and commutations of sentence for George Papadopoulos and the lawyer Alex van der Zwaan from the Russia investigation – who both pleaded guilty to lying to investigators – doesn't change their involvement in an overabundance of contacts between your 2016 campaign and Russian operatives, any more than the previous pardons for Michael T. Flynn and Roger Stone. They just underscore that you hold yourself and your friends above the law.

Your pardons of former Republican congressmen Duncan D. Hunter of California, Chris Collins of New York and Steve Stockman of Texas just shows that you have no respect for the exact principles of swamp that you have preached. Indeed, you yourself should be looked at for profiting in office.

And your pardons four former U.S. service members who were convicted on charges related to the killing of Iraqi civilians, including boys aged 8 and 11, while working as contractors for Blackwater in 2007 are an affront to the honor codes of the military as well as a snub of humanitarianism.

Whatever you think you're trying to achieve in these pardons reflects the exact opposite.

The Veto Threat

At almost the same time, your videoed remarks vowing not to sign this mammoth bill that finally starts to address ill effects of coronavirus that you have allowed to lie fallow for months is simply governmental malpractice.

The list of what you could have done since the Democratic House passed its version of this bill last June is huge. Instead, you have frittered time and focus on yourself and your flailing about losing the election.

None of us was happy to see congressional leaders pass the relief bill by combining it with the broader spending plan to fund government operations and the military. Of course, it dealt with things other than relief alone. This is not a surprise – except apparently to you.

If you had wanted a higher direct payment to Americans in relief, you would have pushed the total cost of the disputed legislation higher to match the mathematics.

Instead, you insisted on petulance from the White House, and now present your legislative grievances as something everyone should rethink on the fly.

You don't belong in your job. Thankfully, voters agreed.

discussions about whether employers can require vaccination to return to work. And whether the Biden Labor Department will take a much more aggressive role in inspecting workplaces for safety, for example.

At the end of the day, a whole lot of Washington is going to feel itself prideful about turning itself inside-out to achieve a modicum of bipartisanship over something that, while differences exist, should have been a no-brainer for months already.

Biden is going to tap into every bit of that mock pride, and quickly.

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