Biden’s most important task

So I was listening to this podcast, talking about the rise of neoliberalism and opining that it is likely in its last gasps. A poorly named philosophy, neoliberalism is actually better named neoconservatism. It’s the idea that freedom comes through markets and that the more we orient society to enable entrepreneurs and free markets and clip the government’s wings, the more everyone’s boat rises and freedoms expand.

The opposite of course has happened. Income inequality is now at record levels. What new growth there is goes almost entirely to the rich. The only mystery is why it was hung on to for so long. It hung on in part because there are a lot of shysters out there. Its most recent example is Donald Trump, a so-called populist who pulled the wool over the eyes of his supporters so well that they still support him, even though he has systematically tried to impoverish them.

Remember the Trump who was going to do all these magical things like give us something better than cheaper than Obamacare, and almost instantly, and was going to bring back jobs to the United States? You got to hand it to Trump, though. Right now, he is still picking the pockets of his supporters, still getting them to send his campaign money, even though he has lost the election. Most of these donations goes to an entity which allows him to channel it right back into his pocket. These loonies though are still smitten with Trump, still convinced our election was rigged (but only against Trump, apparently) and have no problem with totalitarianism to keep Trump in power. If he somehow succeeded though, based on his track record, he would just find more ways to fleece them and the rest of us. That’s his biggest skill.

In 2016 Trump sounded a lot like Bernie Sanders; it’s just that Sanders was the true populist. People followed Trump because he told them stuff they wanted to hear. You know his base wants a lot of progressive policies; after all, Florida voted for him while also approving a $15/hour minimum wage. Many progressive ideas are popular with Trump supporters. They just get lost in supporting class warfare. They can’t seem to figure out that by supporting it they are undermining their own prosperity.

Anyhow, if this podcast is true, neoliberalism is in its last days. The reaction to Trump’s defeat is strong evidence that his supporters are coming apart at the seams because they can’t get their way. Is a new, more progressive era at hand?

I’m hoping it is and there are certainly signs that time should prove this true. The hard part is getting from here to there. One constant has been the obstinance from red states, who seem to be all for white supremacy and income inequality. It’s just that red states are becoming fewer. Georgia is looking purple and may start to look blue if both Democrats win their runoff races next month. There’s more early voting in Georgia for these races today than there was before the presidential election. Polls proved unreliable in the November election, but what polls there are in the Georgia Senate race suggest Democrats Warnock and Ossoff have slim leads.

I spent more than thirty years in Virginia and watched it moved from red to purple to consistently blue. Arizona is definitely looking like a purple state. North Carolina and Wisconsin seem to be becoming purple too. You have to look hard for a state that is bucking the trend. I can only see Ohio trending more red.

The challenge of the moment is keeping our fragmenting country together. The Trump base has never been a majority, but they are a large minority and they apparently have few limits. Republicans in general have been playing a high stakes game for decades, methodically investing the time and resources to turn things their way. Now though it seems like they feel it slipping from their grasp. It’s this anxiety that is driving crazy stuff, like violent Proud Boys marches in Washington, D.C. Their tactics though only work as long as they work. With voter suppression losing its edge, and states moving slowly toward less gerrymandered districts, the extremes are feeling marginalized. In the past this would be a sign to expand their coalition by moving toward the middle, but Trump won’t let them.

President Elect Joe Biden has many things to tackle once he assumes office. But arguably the most important task will be to restore our democratic republic. Rule of law must reflect adherence to our actual law. Our government needs to function again.

How many years has it been since Congress not funded government through continuing resolutions? Congressional committees used to have real power; now most are fig leaves. The real power in Congress rests in its majority leader in the Senate, since he seems to control everything, most importantly its agenda. The situation in the House is not much better. Nancy Pelosi too is exercising powers largely beyond those traditionally granted to the Speaker of the House. So we get crazy things like an omnibus spending bill where members have two hours to read it before voting yea or nay and no opportunity to debate it. Agencies get by from year to year on continuing resolutions with little changing of their priorities and missions as a result of Congressional deliberations. Congress needs to do its job in the way it was set up to do it. Most of those in Congress though are arguably superfluous, since their power amounts to electing their majority leader or speaker, done every two years at best.

If we can’t run the government the way it was intended to be run, if power can’t be shared more equitably, if its members can’t even agree to a modicum of respect and compromise, things will only unravel more. Joe Biden at least seems to understand this. Let’s see how much he will actually be able to accomplish.

Getting out … of a shutdown and a presidency

The missus and me are getting ready to bug out of the United States for two weeks. Saturday we are off to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. While in the Galapagos, we’ll spend four nights on a yacht out of range of all Internet and cell phone towers. We’ll be diving into the ocean and seeing species that cannot be found anywhere else in the world, in an area that is largely untouched by the scourge of man. Somehow we’ll have to survive for a while cut off from all media, particularly those four nights we spend on a yacht island hopping. But we’ll be wondering if there will be any TSA or CBP agents still on the job to let us back in on January 18th.

As vacations go, this one will be a departure. In theory, there is no jet lag to worry about, as Ecuador is in our time zone and the Galapagos Islands are basically on Central Time. There are no international flights to the Galapagos; you have to go through Ecuador. So we will spend a few nights in Quito breathing the rarified air at 10,000 feet up, seeing the cloud forests and putting one foot in the northern hemisphere and one in the southern. You can do that in Ecuador, which is basically on the equator. It will be the first time I will have ever been in the southern hemisphere. Still, there will be jet lag of sorts: rising around 4 AM for a flight to the Galapagos Island is equivalent to a red eye to Europe. But we’ll survive these trials and have a lot of fun.

So don’t expect much posting from me over the next couple of weeks, but I do hope to document our journey to this rarely visited area of the world, albeit belatedly. It all depends on how much time I have to write and if I have Internet access. We’ll be kept pretty busy.

Still, I imagine our thoughts will frequently be of home and how much wackier our country has gotten since we left. Democrats now formally control the U.S. House, which means that our crazy government is about to get a lot crazier. Our national parks are overrun with litter and our museums are closed. Those asylum cases underway: postponed; no money has been allocated to pay the judges. Something has to break so you have to wonder how it will break and when.

A couple of Republican senators seem ready to cry uncle, specifically senators Susan Collins (ME) and Cory Gardner (CO), both up for reelection in two years in states swinging blue. House Democrats are swiftly passing bills to reopen the government, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is refusing to consider them if they are not acceptable to Donald Trump. There is another meeting tomorrow at the White House that probably won’t change the dynamics. In any event, it’s hard to see how a Democratic House with forty new and mostly progressive members can be convinced to add funding for a border wall, since most of them campaigned against doing just this. Speaker Pelosi is pursing a logical strategy of trying to pass individual appropriation bills, but she has to convince people who are not thinking logically.

Divided government requires compromise but it’s hard to see how it will happen. It will probably happen when the pain gets too bad to endure. I’m betting that Trump declares victory to make it all go away. Today’s tweets suggest he’s already preparing his supporters for this out: because of the new NAFTA treaty, Mexico will somehow pay for the wall, so problem over! Of course the treaty is not ratified, Congress has not agreed to allow a wall to be constructed, and there are no revenues there that will be paid by Mexico to the U.S. government that can be used for a border wall even if the treaty is signed. In the end though this probably won’t make much difference to his supporters: they will dopily follow Trump anywhere. If Trump says black is white, they’ll believe him. Mostly they want to see him stand up and fight for something, and mostly he’s been full of bluster instead of action.

If Democrats want to concede something symbolic, then how about a small wall near Tijuana? A nice, outwardly arching wall would obviate the need to throw canisters of tear gas across the border. I’d like to see Democrats propose to open the government by throwing the border wall issue to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service to study. I doubt Trump would go for it, but it would defer the issue for another day and inject some honest research into the topic.

In reality, Trump has much bigger fish to fry. The subpoenas from House Democrats are going to come fast and thick. Hearings will be ramping up; Trump’s tax returns will be demanded from the IRS that must supply them by law. And of course we can expect Mueller’s report at some point, and it’s unlikely to be flattering to Trump.

Some posts ago I suggested that Trump won’t escape justice this time, but there is a way. It requires a deal, not with Congress or Mueller, but with Mike Pence. It is simply this: Trump agrees to resign if Mike Pence will pardon him for any crimes committed against the United States. He’d still have to deal with potential state crimes, but there is some hope that the Supreme Court will rule that states cannot prosecute people pardoned for similar federal crimes. This approach though assumes that Trump’s narcissism can abate long enough for him to execute something smartly in his self-interest. He’s obviously feeling the pressure, as his daily tweets get continually more unhinged. It’s clear he hates being president. He just has to figure out a way to justify his resignation. If he does resign, he will blame the deep state, Democrats and obviously anyone but himself.

And there is the 25th amendment route that Pence could choose, if he can get a majority of what’s left of Trump’s cabinet to agree. As an acting president, he could at least reopen the government. If it came to it, it wouldn’t be hard to find some top-notch psychiatrists to testify that Trump is dangerously mentally ill. I’m not holding out much hope on this. Pence is likely too much a coward, Trump’s base is too loyal and he would be seen as a turncoat.

It would be nice if it were all over when we return. But I’d best not hold my breath.