Biden is unlikely to pay a political price for getting us out of Afghanistan

The images all over the news and social media on Afghanistan are heart wrenching. It was made more so when the predictable happened: a suicide bomber affiliated with ISIS-K, an Afghani ISIS affiliate of sorts, killed thirteen U.S. soldiers and more than a hundred others outside the gates of Kabul’s airport. Everyone seems to be pointing fingers at Biden, as if there was ever a way to get us out of Afghanistan in a safe and orderly manner.

Lost among all the finger pointing and nervous nellies wondering about all the political implications is what, in general terms, has been a pretty good withdrawal, under the circumstances. We evacuated more than 100,000 people out of the country in only a few weeks, massively dwarfing the 7,000 of so when we hastily pulled out of Vietnam. Yes, we’re leaving some equipment behind but most of it is obsolete or had been rendered inoperative. The cost and hassle to remove this equipment, much of it by road, was more than the cost of leaving it there. Leaving behind equipment is standard practice when getting out of conflicts like this.

Biden is unlikely to pay much of a political price because Americans want us the hell out of there. A Hill-Harris poll, for example, shows 73% support for Biden’s actions. Generally, foreign policy is simply not a factor in elections, which turn mostly on local issues. You’d have to go back to 1968 to find an election where foreign policy was a major issue (Vietnam in this case). Richard Nixon’s “secret plan” for getting us out of Vietnam was likely why he won that election.

Even Donald Trump realized that staying in Afghanistan was a political loser, which is why he negotiated with the Taliban and released thousands of Taliban fighters. His agreement with the Taliban had some upsides. For example, the Taliban pretty much agreed to stop targeting our soldiers, an agreement they lived up to. Until the recent incident at Kabul’s airport, just three U.S. soldiers had died in Afghanistan in 2021.

Our withdrawal from Vietnam also suggests it will be quickly forgotten. Until Afghanistan, it had been our longest war. At the time (I was a teenager, so I remember), Vietnam fatigue was overwhelming. Virtually no one wanted us to stay there. Like in Afghanistan, South Vietnam’s government was wholly corrupt and there was no fixing it.

If you want to hold Biden responsible for something, it’s for putting too much faith in the Afghani army. The fall of Vietnam suggested Afghanistan too would fall quickly too. I was not the least bit surprised that the Taliban rolled into Kabul with virtually no opposition. I was also not surprised that Afghanistan’s president would slip away to a foreign country, reputedly with millions of dollars in secret bank accounts. The same was true with South Vietnam’s last “president”, Nguyen Van Thieu. What would have been surprising if it Afghanistan’s president Ghani stayed and fought it out.

The good news is that our returning soldiers should get a lot better treatment than those who served in Vietnam. Most were scorned for their service, and tried to hide that they had ever served in Vietnam. Many Americans took it out on our soldiers that we lost there, so a lot of these soldiers ended up depressed, unemployed and suicidal. Mostly though America wanted to forget Vietnam. At the time we were much more consumed by the oil embargo, the gas lines it brought and high inflation.

Of course, now we have a much bigger distraction: covid-19, the story that seems to never end. We’re starting wave number four and in many places hospitals are overrun with covid-19 patients. In Louisiana, residents are likely to suffer a double-whammy due to Hurricane Ida’s landfall.

It’s becoming impossible to ignore these events close to home as we are all impacted by them. A week ago it was Hurricane Henri that affected us locally. Fortunately being more than a hundred miles inland, its affect was minimal. These more powerful storms, not to mention forest fires in western stakes, bring smoke, haze and air pollution eastward. We just have to look outside our window to see issues that matter to us.

Frankly. most of us don’t give two hoots about the wreckage of our presence over nearly twenty years caused in Afghanistan. What we can say is that soon we’ll be wholly out of there, and that huge sunk cost estimated to have cost us $2T won’t enlarge.

After Vietnam, many political refuges (“boat people”) there fled to refugee camps in Thailand and off China. We’ll have over 100,000 refugees to handle this time around, so there will be recurring news items as processing that volume of people is bound to be tiring, time consuming and messy.

But mostly these will be a back page stories. Over time, Vietnamese refugees made new lives for themselves in the United States, and enriched our country with their talents, hard work and productivity. It is likely the same will be true with these Afghan refugees.

Should Biden run for reelection, I’m sure Republicans will raise the withdrawal as an issue. It’s just that almost nobody will care.

Biden is being presidential

I’m trying to remember the last time we had a president do something actually presidential … in a major way I mean. I’m not sure it has happened in my living memory, until recently.

Joe Biden is getting us out of Afghanistan, albeit with a large amount of pandemonium and confusion that comes with the decision. He’s proactively doing something no modern president has done. He’s fixing a mistake Bush, Obama and Trump dodged.

Most presidents want the veneer of being presidential, not to demonstrate the real thing. Even Barack Obama knew our presence in Afghanistan was doomed to fail; he just couldn’t pull off what he wanted to do, which was get us out of there entirely. In 2009, he surged troops there but also said he would get us out of in 2014, signifying to the Taliban that they just needed to wait. “Out of there” amounted to leaving a substantial number of troops in the country indefinitely while proclaiming that our war there was over. Like Bush before him, we were going to stand up an independent country that wouldn’t need us forever. And like in Vietnam, his generals and his State Department prettied up the reports to put lipstick on the pig. It was all a house of cards, something Obama probably knew but couldn’t find the strength to do.

Biden became presidential by doing what needed to be done and actually getting us out of there. It’s an effort obviously still underway. It doesn’t appear that he will change his mind and I hope he doesn’t. We’ve needed to be gone for a long time. This was always doomed to be an unwinnable war.

Granted, as Senator after September 11, Biden voted with virtually all of the rest of Congress to effectively wage war against Afghanistan. We were actually at war with those who caused September 11, and at the time al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden were holed up on Afghanistan. In fact what led us to war in Afghanistan was achieved about eighteen months later when bin Laden left Afghanistan and went into hiding in Pakistan. That was the time to get out of the country.

It should be noted that President Bush turned down two opportunities to have the Taliban work as our agents. They were quite willing to turn over bin Laden to us; he just didn’t like their conditions, which would leave them in charge. Instead, he spurned them and we went on another righteous but pointless excursion of nation building. It was window dressing for what we really wanted: an imperialistic state there that we basically controlled. We controlled the government by making it impossible for them to exist without our funding and expertise.

This experiment in nation building was, like most of the others that preceded it, doomed from the start. More than ninety five percent of Afghanistan’s people are illiterate. It’s a third-world country that the U.S. expected could quickly evolve to act like a first-world country. Not surprisingly, it didn’t. We set up a lot of Potemkin cities to provide us with the illusion that Afghanistan could be a democracy, merely to make ourselves feel better.

For all practical purposes though, Afghanistan is not a country. It is too ethnically divided to be one. Multiple states are possible perhaps run by the ethnic minorities in that part of the “country”. Trying to make it one just proved how impossible a task it actually was.

As the saying goes, you got to know when to hold them and know when to fold them. Biden became presidential by folding our hand and acknowledging reality. It was sustained only by spending vast amounts of money and by wearing rose colored glasses.

With the possible exception of Japan, we’ve done a lousy job of nation building. We like the idea of spreading democracy but are inept at doing so. The latest twist is that right here in our country many of our own citizens are working hard to ensure the U.S. becomes an autocracy. Many of Biden’s biggest critics on Afghanistan would be quite happy if our government looked and lot like their new Taliban-run government, just with Americans praying to a different deity.

I had misgivings about our war on terror from the start. I was in a tiny fringe, but it drove me to seek compatriots online on sites like Daily Kos. Everyone else I knew was excited to rally behind President Bush. I was concerned about mission creep and my concerns were justified.

This blog started in December 2002, after September 11. But if you read this post from eighteen years ago, you will read that I was in Washington D.C. with thousands of others protesting what looked like and became our imminent invasion of Iraq. That turned out to be a huge folly too. The lessons of Vietnam remained stuck in my brain at least.

While Vice President, Biden was the dissenting voice urging President Obama to get us out of Afghanistan. All these years later, as president he took the opportunity to do what should have been done more than fifteen years ago. Yes, it’s miserable to many Afghanis and of course we should get out as many interpreters, allies and legitimate refugees there as possible. But out we should get and Biden should stick to his plan. It’s also risky for Joe Biden’s reelection strategy, but it’s what needed to be done. To be presidential, you must put the country’s needs above your own political needs.

The real problem is not in Afghanistan, but in our own country. We have to give up the illusion that the United States’ might can impose order and our will where it cannot. It’s folly to try. We keep making the same mistake over and over again.

But in the minds of too many Americans, this is a delusion they cannot give up. Our country is not all that special and epic mistakes like these simply enforce this impression on the rest of the world, which largely doesn’t buy into our bullshit anyhow.

A real constitutional crisis is well underway

I was hoping Trump’s defeat would lead to the death of the Republican Party. Obviously that didn’t happen. It is fair to say that the Republican Party is basically the Trump Party now, so in that sense it is dead. Ronald Reagan, for example, would not recognize the party, although he did much to put it on its present course. Its mission now is to echo whatever Donald Trump says and to remove if possible the few remaining Republicans who dare to criticize him. It’s unstated but obvious mission is to end democracy in the United States leaving only Republicans in charge.

Since Trump’s defeat, the party’s behavior has been truly appalling. They will leave no stone unturned in their quest to regain power, but it must be on their terms. They have tacitly conceded that they cannot win power fairly, so most of their effort is to ensure it is won unfairly.

Many of the prerequisites have been long in place, in particular the extreme right-wing bent of the federal courts. Most of their focus is on voter suppression of those they don’t want to vote. But many states are passing laws that make it impossible for election officials to do their job. Among these is to charge these officials with felonies if they send out an unsolicited absentee voter application or leave an absentee drop box unguarded. Georgia has given the state legislature permission to remove local election officials, or simply to overturn the results of the popular vote for the presidency if they don’t like the outcome. None of these actions are in the democratic spirit, but are signs of desperation for a party for whom losing power fairly is no longer an option.

January 6 should have been the acme of their awfulness. Now it appears to be the first true skirmish of our next civil war, like lobbing the first cannon ball at Fort Sumner. They appear willing to kill democracy to save it for themselves. Basically, it’s a party of traitors. Now the rest of us have to figure out what to do about it.

Legislatively, the answer is H.R. 1, the For the People Act. It would prohibit exactly the sorts of legislative excesses we are now seeing, including gerrymandering and voter suppression. Getting it enacted into law though is a very tough job for Democrats. It currently would need to pass cloture in the Senate, which means it would require sixty votes to end debate on it and bring it to a vote. With a 50/50 Senate, that won’t happen unless Democrats either find the spine to end the filibuster rule or make an exception in this case. Without it, the likelihood is that Republican election law changes in many states will give the party the wins they need to retake the House in 2022.

These other laws tilt the 2024 presidential election in their favor too, even more than it already is. Assuming President Biden runs for reelection, he would need a commanding victory. So far at least with his popularity at 62%, that at least seems plausible. Of course, a lot can happen in the interim, and you can count on Republicans in Congress to do just this. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said his focus is just to obstruct every Biden initiative.

None of this matters if you rig the system. If Republicans regain their House majority, the next January 6 (actually January 8, 2025) won’t require an insurrection for Republicans to get a Republican president regardless of the Electoral College vote. They simply have to stand united and refuse to certify the results, which then allows the House to decide who the next president will be. In this scenario, the representatives of each state cast one vote as a bloc, so if a majority of states have a majority of Republicans representing them in the U.S. House of Representatives, they get to overturn the Electoral College and the popular vote.

As for presidential elections in 2028, 2032 etc., simply repeat. This is clearly where the party is going. They don’t intend to ever lose again and if it kills democracy in the process, so be it.

To change the way a president is selected would require a constitutional amendment. Good luck getting that passed by three-quarters of the states. There is some hope if the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact get passed by enough states, but that has stalled in recent years. Perhaps Democrats should focus their effort there.

In short, this is a four-alarm fire for our democracy. If we weren’t in a constitutional crisis before, clearly we are now. Fixing the problem looks increasingly unlikely.

It’s the end of times! Again!

There are lots of political and sociological theories going around about … well, what’s going around: current events. We are living through a pretty stressful time: covid-19, hyper-partisanship, so-called “fake news”, a climate crisis, a refugee crisis, police brutality against people of color … it all seems to be heaped on top of each other with seemingly no way out.

Okay, there are ways out of all this stuff, but it means persuading people and power brokers to act not in their immediate self-interest and, like the Grinch, let their hearts expand three sizes. Good luck with that.

One theory is that societies go through periods of great turbulence with some regularity and in a few years we’ll achieve some sort of new consensus where something like a new normal can resume. In this theory, President Joe Biden is the antidote to President Ronald Reagan. It was arguably Reagan who popularized “the government is bad” mantra and since that time, well, there’s been a lot of bad coming from government.

Some are hoping that by making government work again, Biden has the Reagan antidote. Except he’s a long way from that and his attempts to break partisanship likely won’t amount to anything. Our democracy feels very fragile at the moment, and there are few signs here in America in particular that we are rising toward our better selves.

Yet, it does seem like we’ve been through this before. Maybe the fever will break around 2030. This will be roughly two millennium since the death of Jesus of Nazareth. Or maybe in 2063, when I expect to be dead, two millennium since the Jewish Diaspora, at least the big one where the Romans retook Palestine, utterly destroyed Jerusalem and those few Jews they did not kill left the area permanently. In any event, reading the Muslim scholar and historian Reza Aslan’s book Zealot, about the lives and times of Jesus of Nazareth, it’s hard to escape that feeling of we’re reliving, at least in spirit, those turbulent days.

I’ve read many books about the historic Jesus of Nazareth, but Zealot fills in some important gaps. For one thing, when Jesus was alive Palestine was rife with messiah wannabees. Crucifixion, as horrible as it is, was pretty routine, at least for anyone that seemed to threaten order. This penalty did not seem to deter these potential messiahs. Indeed, Jesus’s death never made the headlines of the time. Only one reference from the time by Josephus alludes to Jesus, as the brother James. All other references come from the Bible.

Anyhow, the Jews were just one of many natives who fought occupations, and the Romans in 63 A.D. were just the latest. While the Jews were largely wiped out by the Romans (and later, the Nazis) the Jews also practiced genocide. That’s how ancient Israel was founded: not by routing non-Jews from Palestine, but killing the non-Jews living there. This is a matter of settled history and is commanded in the Old Testament. One of the wonders about the new state of Israel created in 1947 is they didn’t kill all the Palestinians living there as the Torah commands. But they killed plenty to again create a state by and for Jews.

It seems we just can’t abide comfortably with people too different from ourselves. These days it’s all seemingly coming to a head. Future shock has arrived and we’re not coping well. It feels something like being crammed into an elevator with too many people.

We refuse to cope with our new and more complex reality; we refuse to believe this is how it’s going to be. For Fox “News” commentator Tucker Carlson, it’s happening through “replacement theory”: we Democrats are supposedly trying to cancel the votes of whites by allowing too many non-whites into the country. Implicit in this theory is the idea that non-whites don’t deserve the same rights as the rest of us. To address their fears, they must do everything possible to marginalize the votes of non-white Americans; hence the many voter suppression laws emerging from the outcome of the 2020 election. Can ethnic cleansing be far behind?

Jesus of Nazareth believed the end of times was near. “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” (Luke 21:32) He was obviously wrong about that, unless we’ve had a new Methuselah around since he was alive. Similarly, many of today’s Christians believe the end of times is near. It seems they want to hasten it all along so the rapture can commence.

Two thousand years should teach us that no messiah is on its way to establish the Kingdom of God here on earth. But by acting like the end of times is near, these people can certainly add to the chaos underway. Why care about the future if the end is near? Why take a covid-19 vaccine if you believe God will protect you from it anyhow, or rapture is imminent? Why use common sense when it’s easier to rely on gut feelings and prejudice? Why place hope in scientists when you don’t like what they are telling you?

Reading Zealot has affected me. It makes me angry that two thousand years after Jesus walked among us we are still mired in the same pointless conflicts and backwards thinking. What hope I can find is that more of us are just giving up religion. For the first time, a poll shows a majority of Americans are now unchurched. It may be in twenty years as this majority grows we will have a majority people who can act logically, rather than rely on a holy book.

If God exists, it works in mysterious ways. I can cite my wife, definitely unchurched but with Buddhist inclinations, as God at work in the real world. If God wants us to be loving, kind and create the Kingdom of God here on earth, she’s on the case by volunteering at a local survival center.

It’s her and others engaging in these largely thankless and necessary tasks of simply keeping people alive despite slim to no odds of solving these systemic problems. Her heart grows with compassion every time she volunteers.

I’m not convinced there’s much of this compassion within evangelical churches, except perhaps for people in their own congregation with that share their skin tone.

Joe Biden and the Democratic Party have done something amazing

The American Rescue Plan, expected to be signed into law shortly is, as Joe Biden would say, “a BFD”.

President Joe is of course too polite to articulate what the acronym means. What it means to me is that government is working for the people again. Joe Biden and the Democrats in Congress are finally canceling Ronald Reagan (and, yes, even Bill Clinton) by declaring the government is not the problem. They are demonstrating the opposite: government in fact can be the solution. We literally haven’t seen this to this extent since before Ronald Reagan was president.


We’ve actually seen plenty of government working these last forty years, but it’s been working against the interests of the American people and for the companies that funded the campaigns of those in Congress. It’s no wonder then that Americans soured on government in general. The American Rescue Plan is amazing in that it gives literally nothing to the top one percent. It’s a bill focused on the people who have spent forty years trying to fend off poverty, with many failing at the task. It’s a huge step toward leveling the playing field between the haves and the have nots and boosting the income of working folk, through not only stimulus, but also through child tax credits, health care subsidies even to those making close to six figure income and covering the freight of Medicare for any states willing to allow it. Lose a job with health insurance? You won’t lose the latter and the government will pick up the COBRA premiums until you have a new one.

It’s true that it doesn’t increase the federal minimum wage, but it’s essentially 95% of what Biden proposed and was somehow pushed through a deeply partisan Congress by the slimmest of majorities. While it attracted the support of zero Republicans in Congress, it is supported by nearly sixty percent of Republicans polled. The plan is what the long suffering American people need. It explains why Joe Biden’s approval rating is 59% while Trump struggled to get out of the low forties.

Oh, and it does a lot of obvious covid-19 relief. Testing, contract tracing and vaccine deployment are all covered. There’s money to allow schools to reopen, to allow restaurants and businesses to avoid bankruptcy, and to assist state and local governments whose tax revenues plunged during the recession, making helping people difficult. It keeps a lot of people from being evicted from their homes. It does some actual racial justice, with money going to black farmers. It provides substantial credits to families with children, and delivers these payments monthly, instead of through once-a-year tax credits, credits that will be hard not to make permanent once parents get used to them. It puts a lot more money into people’s pockets, most of who will turn around and quickly spend it. So it’s going to juice the economy like a rocket.

For a change, me and the missus will be spending our stimulus money. There was nothing to spend it on a year ago, but it’s safer to let people into the house now and they know to wear masks. We have a huge unfinished basement and the stimulus should cover painting the floors, ceilings and posts.

Ideally this would not happen with borrowed money, but interest charges on government debt right now are minuscule, making it a great time for the government to run up debt at minimal cost. Ideally while providing the relief that most of us needed for decades, we’d also be tapping the overstuffed kettles of the rich. We could start by repealing the trillion dollar tax cuts passed during the last administration.

But Joe Biden is quite pragmatic and tactical. I can see these ideas are on his mind too, but he’s smart enough to know “not yet.” Making government function again feels novel. In fact, it is novel for most of us because only us oldsters remember a time when government functioned in their interest.

With nearly five decades in public service, Biden knows how to make things happen. It’s true he’s gotten some lucky breaks. Picking up two Georgia Senate seats made this bill possible – thank you Georgia voters! The Trump administration did not deserve to be called an administration. Calling it an administration assumed it was competent. It never was. You can’t say that about Biden’s administration. What he’s doing is tactically smart. Moreover, Biden is focused and tenacious. Just about every day I see something important and tangible getting done. Today, it was getting 100 million new doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine ordered. The current vaccine scarcity is soon not going to be a problem. Biden is systematically and carefully putting the pandemic behind us. He’s making government work.

This should rebound for the Democrats, but you never know. Biden is building a case for pragmatism over partisanship. It may turn into a majority and an enduring coalition. There are many forces though pushing against regular order. So far though Biden and his team seem to be one step ahead of them. He succeeds through intelligence, pragmatism, not getting on soap boxes and mostly by staying focused. It’s quite clear he wakes up every day thinking about what is most important to get done and spends his day on it. He adroitly greases the gears of government. It’s quite amazing to watch.

Quite frankly, Joe Biden has surprised me. He’s proving far more effective than Barack Obama, but a lot of this is due to a more favorable set of political cards. But it’s also because Biden plays a deft game of musical chairs and it seems forces allied against him just can’t keep up. He may be an old dog, but he’s got lots of tricks. He’s quite impressive. I keep expecting the other shoe to fall, but so far it hasn’t.

Joe Biden hasn’t forgotten his working class origins. His public school education, including his public university degree, are proving to be of much more use than any Ivy League degree. Joe is a man of practical action and much slicker than Bill Clinton ever was. You just don’t notice it behind his generous, every day man smile.

Keep me smiling, Joe. You’re surprising the heck out of me.

Just our Joe

Joe Biden’s presidency so far is such a contrast from Trump’s. While it should be no surprise, what is a surprise is just how well Joe Biden is filling the role of president. I am starting to see him as the president I always wanted but never quite got. He may well turn out to be a better president than the one he served: Barack Obama.

Biden’s effectiveness may be due to some good fortune. Democrats control Congress, albeit narrowly. We picked up both Georgia Senate seats — quite a surprise for a state that is just turning purple — plus Georgia voters elected both a Black man and a Jew! Barack Obama theoretically had a super majority in the Senate when he took office in 2009. It takes 60 votes to overturn a filibuster. But Al Franken didn’t take office until the summer, as his race was tied up in endless lawsuits. Also, Joe Liebermann was technically an independent as was as likely to vote as a Republican than a Democrat.

Back then there were lots of Blue Dog Democrats in the Senate that made sensible things like Medicare for All impossible despite a supermajority. Today, with a 50-50 senate and Vice President Harris breaking ties, arguably the Senate is more left than it was then, and it’s easier to get things passed. The Democrat’s most conservative member, Joe Manchin (WV) is arguably more to the left than any of the Blue Dog Democrats in 2009. Also, the filibuster has been gravely injured since 2009. There doesn’t appear to be a Democrat in the Senate willing to vote against a covid-19 bill at the price President Biden is asking for: $1.9T or unwilling to use the reconciliation process to do so, which allows spending bills to pass with a simple majority. In the House, Democrats are similarly united, at least so far.

Biden also remembered lessons from 2009 when he was tasked on a rescue bill. Then they went small mostly because they had to, though it muted the recovery and led to a Tea Party upset in the 2010 elections. This time they are going big because they can and because Biden remembered what happened to the party when they didn’t. Polling shows the American people are solidly behind him, with about seventy percent approving of his covid-19 bill. One poll has Joe Biden’s approval rating at 61%, a number that should make Obama jealous. The bill contains just the stuff we really need: stimulus, rent relief, unemployment compensation and money to get inoculations and testing going quickly.

Government is beginning to work again. This is because Biden is not doing stupid stuff, but instead is executing a well thought out plan. He’s got his ducks in a row before taking office and he’s moving forward with all deliberate speed. Unlike Trump, he feels no need to grandstand. He’s happy to delegate work and let others share the credit. We haven’t had a president since Jimmy Carter with his natural sense of modesty. It remains to be seen if Biden can avoid Carter’s mistakes.

Biden promised a cabinet that would look like America, and he more than succeeded. Aside from a Black/Asian vice president, he’s got four women in his official cabinet, one Native American (as Secretary of the Interior!) and three Blacks, including a Black defense secretary. And that doesn’t include the unofficial (non-departmental) appointments which even includes a transgender person. His administration is far more diverse than Obama’s, who seemed more comfortable with largely white males running things. He is systematically empowering women and minorities to key positions across his administration. By golly, his administration does reflect a changing America, and these people will be able to exercise the levers of power, as well as serve a president who doesn’t require that they continually grovel to him.

Biden sees clearly what our real problems are and is moving forward quickly to address them, including climate change. He’s doing his darndest to make government work for people instead of the elite. And he’s back to running a sane foreign policy, which won’t include needlessly stoking conflict with Iran.

Moreover, Biden is a decent guy. He’s more relatable as someone to have a beer with than Barack Obama. He’s a man of true faith, a genuine Christian who usually attends mass weekly, prays daily and keeps a set of rosary beads in his pocket. He doesn’t denigrate anyone and is enthusiastically inclusive toward everyone. Even his barbs against Republicans are relatively few and mild.

How can you hate such a person? You have to gin up fake animosity in order to do so.

Biden reminds me a lot of my father, who died five years ago. My father never was interested in running for public office but like Biden he was one of the few people who called themselves Christian that I felt warranted the label. My father never spoke ill of anyone that I can recall, and was genuinely nice and sincere with everyone. Both he and Biden were just fundamentally nice and decent people. Both are/were grandfathers, and both have/had a natural ability to relate to children as human beings. Biden brings fifty years of public service to his presidency, and unlike many politicians he paid attentions to his mistakes so he could learn from them.

So, while I wanted Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren to be president, I’m not sure they would be as effective at the job as Joe Biden. Biden is a wonderful role model, and an entirely decent man and human being and showing himself to be an unusually competent president.

We’ll see how it goes. Grandfatherly Joe Biden may surprise us and end up as one of our most effective, decent and wholly admirable presidents. So far, it’s looking like he’ll be the best of those I’ve lived through. If so, he is the right person at the right time.

Running down the QAnon rabbit holes

It sucks to be a QAnon believer right now. Their god, Donald J. Trump, let them down. No message went out the day before Inauguration over the Emergency Broadcast System that their Lord and Savior was going to rescue the country from the peril of democracy and that the army was imposing martial law. Somehow, Joe Biden’s inauguration went off without a hitch. In fact, he was sworn in about ten minutes before he was legally the President of the United States. After four years of chaos, Biden seems to be aggressively focused on working for the American people instead raging, golfing and tweeting all day.

A less biased QAnon devotee might simply decide it was all BS, and at least a few of them seem to have sobered up. For most of course what didn’t happen requires recontextualizing and reinterpretation. So that’s mostly what’s going on in QAnon world at the moment. Some have figured out that Trump was never their savior, but that doesn’t mean someone else isn’t waiting in the wings. Maybe it’s Joe Biden.

Others are suffering from a guilt complex. They didn’t try hard enough on January 6 and that’s why it failed. Here’s one way it probably wouldn’t have failed: had Trump actually marched to the Capitol with them (admittedly, it would probably have severely taxed him as he reportedly only took elevators in the White House), perhaps leading the pack, pushing his way through the doors of the Capitol. Imagine how the Capitol Police would have reacted to that? Do they shoot the president? It would be a Storming of the Bastille, just in reverse. That probably would have been the end of our democracy.

But that would have been scary, and Trump is basically a coward. So instead, Trump went inside the White House to watch it on TV and criticize the insurrectionists he urged on for looking low class. And QAnon-ers and other conspiracy minded folk were forced to try to figure out what went wrong. Now Trump is officially an ex-president, stands some low but measurable probability of actually being convicted of impeachment this time, and still hasn’t found a Twitter alternative. No one knows what he’s doing at Mar-a-Lago, and most of us don’t care. It’s a good bet he’s mostly golfing, ranting at staff and drinking Diet Cokes.

For the moment, the whole QAnon movement looks rudderless,, not that there was ever anyone really in charge. Q him(her?)self was always cryptic. Like Batman, he couldn’t give away his secret identity. My theory of the moment is that it was Sheldon Adelson. Like Batman, he has plenty of money and wasn’t afraid to spend it. It’s just that Adelson has been declining for years, like Q, and is now unfortunately deceased.

Or just as likely Q is some troll from the liberal left having some fun. If so, he likely had a drinking problem, as his posts got less frequent and even less coherent with time. Maybe he is the guy that invented BitCoin. At least he knew how to obscure his identity. Or maybe it’s Julian Assange. It was likely someone who knew a thing or two about technology, as it takes a lot of tech smarts to evade detection all this time. Lately though according to reports it seems like Q has gone missing in action, or nearly so.

Wittingly or unwittingly, Q certainly did stir up a crowd, and knew what buttons to press to get his followers riled up. There were probably hundreds of other Qs out there trying something similar, but his was the one to get some traction.

It’s not a hard sell to make. There is always a crowd ready to believe in conspiracy theories, particularly here in the United States. You just don’t expect though that two QAnon supporters would actually get elected to Congress in the last election: Marjorie Taylor Greene (GA) and Laura Boebert (CO). Reportedly, Boebert was giving insurrectionists an inside tour of the Capitol the day before the coup attempt. Followers of Q can develop their own Internet entourage if they can play this crowd. I could be susceptible too, if I started getting thousands of reads and likes per day. Perhaps I could if I could whip up just the right conspiracy meme.

Q though seems to have spawned a lot of hate groups and a lot of organizing on various platforms, most of which are now shutdown. So, Q does seem to be something of a force. President Biden though won’t turn up as Q, as he’s too nice a guy not to mention a technology lightweight. But unlike Trump he’s smart enough to recognize a real national security threat when he sees it. Expect that white nationalist domestic terrorism to be the principle national security threat that he concentrates on during his term. This stuff is wacky and weird, but it’s obviously dangerous enough, as January 6 proved.

Luckily for the FBI, there are plenty of rabbit holes to investigate.

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.

An adult in charge

And that’s basically it. One month from today, we’ll have an adult in charge of our country again.

For four years Trump has run the government as if Dennis the Menace were in charge. He was aided and abetted by the Republican Party, but make no mistake: The Republican Party itself didn’t want Donald Trump. They just discovered that they had no choice. Trump crashed their party so it was either adapt and be his fawning sycophant or do what only a relative handful of Republicans did: become Never Trumpers. Coincidentally they are also no longer Republicans, because the Republican Party is now basically the Trump Party.

It was crazy while it lasted, but in a month the party should be over. You know it’s still crazy because Trump sure appears to believe that somehow, he will still be president after noon on January 20. Too many Republicans in Congress are still afraid to state the obvious. I mean, the Electoral College voted last week so that’s that.

Well, not quite. It’s likely Trump believes that when the certification gets challenged in Congress on January 6 that somehow that verdict will get undone. Or there’s the less subtle route. Last Friday, Michael Flynn — his short-lived national security advisor who Trump pardoned — along with attorney Sidney Powell reportedly tried to talk Trump into a military coup. Just until the election could be rerun properly, mind you; “properly” meaning Trump is declared the winner, the only possible correct result.

It sounds like our next attorney general will have new charges (sedition) to file against Michael Flynn. Anyhow, for reasons I discussed in an earlier post, a coup is extremely unlikely, in part because it appears the military voted overwhelmingly for Joe Biden. But also because the military swore an oath to uphold the Constitution, not the president. So did Trump, but Senate Republicans decided that it didn’t matter when your party is in charge.

Anyhow, one of the few things that made me feel better since the election was to watch our president elect behave, well, presidential. He’s busy doing the stuff that presidents traditionally do before they take office, albeit with fitful cooperation from the Trump Administration. Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has finally acknowledged the obvious. Frankly, for all his words, I suspect McConnell is secretly relieved that Biden will be the next president. At his heart, McConnell is an institutionalist. Trump wanted to blow up the government. McConnell knows that is reckless; indeed, the surest way to get Republicans out of power is to blow it up. Institutions he cares about, like a conservative-leaning Supreme Court, can’t have much sway if government no longer exists. Also, he could be replaced with someone Trump would prefer more.

Biden’s picks so far have lived up to his promise to create an administration that reflected our diversity. It’s pretty breathtaking, really. Barack Obama’s administration was certainly reasonably diverse, but it was still mostly full of insider white guys. Frankly, had Bernie Sanders somehow won the presidency, I doubt his picks would be as diverse as Biden’s. They would definitely be more progressive, but I doubt we’d have an Interior secretary nominee who is Native American, a sign that Biden truly gets it. An insular figure like Trump would wreak havoc on his political opponents; Biden is wise enough to bring them along and put them to work, making them vested in the outcome.

Biden is smart enough to know he doesn’t know everything, and that he can only be effective through others. Trump never understood this at all; he values only subservience and loyalty. Only someone who has led a completely insular life where they never were accountable to anyone like Donald Trump can think they will always know more and be smarter than others. In his own way, Biden is creating another Team of Rivals, similar to what Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln did. The ramped-up diversity in Biden’s picks brings out more opinions and perspectives. The effective president spends most of their time listening, not giving orders. In short, Biden’s approach so far is very smart and bodes well for his administration.

Biden also understands that government and business are two completely different spheres and they really don’t mix. Trump’s term has pretty much proved this; he saw the presidency as primarily a way to satisfy his own ego while hopefully profiting from it as well. Government is in the business of serving the people, not the other way around.

Now if we can just get through this final month. Biden is not even president yet and already has a 55% approval rating. Trump never broke fifty percent and spent most of his time in the low forties. Citizens can smell competence, which Biden has aplenty. He may not be the president we want, but it sure looks like he’ll be the president we actually need for this moment.

Breaking the egg

If your stomach isn’t churning right now, you probably aren’t an American. I’m willing to bet though that much of the rest of the world has a churning stomach too as they too wonder how our election will turn out. Like it or not, our election affects virtually everyone. It’s pretty clear who should win the presidency (Joe Biden) but it’s less clear whether he will succeed in actually taking office.

I am one of many pundits that proclaimed the next likely steps. In the past you could count on the loser graciously (sometimes with arms twisted) conceding, thus smoothing the path for the winner. (Obviously 2000 was an exception, but Al Gore did concede when the Supreme Court effectively voted Bush into office.) The peaceful transition of power has been one of the hallmarks of American democracy. That’s likely now about to change.

Trump’s already signaling his next steps: declare an early victory when early results in states like Pennsylvania make him appear momentarily ahead. Declare that votes not cast on Election Day don’t count and claim that those cast by mail were rigged somehow. So, it will quickly be off to the courts (both state and federal) to try to invalidate as many votes as possible.

Meanwhile Trump supporters will try to foment violence. We saw a touch of it over the weekend when Trump supporters managed to delay a Biden/Harris campaign bus on the road in Texas. Needless to say, although it caused two campaign events to be canceled, Donald Trump had no problem with it. Meanwhile, the White House is becoming even more of a fortress, with scale-proof fencing being rapidly installed around its perimeter.

So, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that Trump won’t concede, as it would assume civil behavior from a man who has never shown any. Trump is counting on “his” Supreme Court, not to mention the many district and circuit court judges he appointed to come through for him. Republicans have packed a lot of state courts too in the last ten years, so expect a lot of monkey business as we get all sorts of incredulous rulings from these judges that try to put the Republican Party and Trump’s interests above those of the masses. Biden’s margin of victory and the fact that many swing states aren’t wholly controlled by Republicans though mean there are likely too many moving parts for Republicans to ultimately succeed in the courts.

Here in Northampton, Massachusetts we got a taste of what’s to come yesterday. In this extremely progressive city, a bunch of Trump supports waving Trump flags occupied the corner of Pleasant Street and Main. This soon drew counter protesters across the street at King Street and Main. The chanting and jeering went on for a couple of hours. Police managed to keep the groups separated. Most likely these Trump supporters came from the hill towns.

In short, after a years-long campaign, the election is merely an event in a long series of events whose ultimate outcome is unclear. Those wanting it to all go away will be disappointed. The only question is how bad it will get.

One theory is that if Biden wins a huge victory it will suppress the emotions of Trump’s supporters and keep them from engaging in violence. I don’t expect this. Trump will simply goad them on. They are all being used but it’s clear Trump doesn’t care. Thousands who picked up the virus at his many rallies will likely die, but none of that will matter to Trump. Sociopaths simply don’t care and may take pleasure at inflicting pain on others. At some level, I expect that if Trump ultimately loses, he will blame his supporters for not trying hard enough.

I expect I will be in the streets doing my best to peacefully protest, but I expect there will be counter protests and it could get ugly and violent. It will be mostly up to governors and local police departments to try to keep things civil and quell violence. It’s unclear whether we have enough resources to do this.

Ultimately though there may be some good that comes from all this. Americans may embrace democracy again and the forces of radical Republicanism may finally be checked, perhaps fatally so. So much depends though on the majority of us standing up, not just to vote, but to carry on with grit and determination afterward.

Democracies are the most fragile forms of government. If we want to keep it, we’re going to have to work for it. If nothing else, we’re going to find out how vested we are in a civil society.