Stumbling across the finish line

It’s Inauguration Day. As I write this, it’s just after 10 a.m. Eastern time, Donald Trump has flown off to Florida, and the dignitaries are arriving for the inauguration of Joe Biden as president.

I’d like to say I’m excited about the change, but honestly, I’m just exhausted. I’ve read stories about endurance athletes, like marathoners, triathletes, and distance cyclists, and how, as they approach the finish line, they’re more relieved than thrilled that their journey is over. Later, they can appreciate their accomplishment, but in the moment, they’re just happy it’s over.

I feel that way today. I think we’ll have things to celebrate in the days and months to come. Perhaps the work needed to fix our many serious problems will be accomplished with a new president and a Congress controlled by one party. A lot of that will have to do with how determined Mitch McConnell is to make sure that nothing positive happens, thanks to the filibuster. Chuck Schumer may have a big decision to make to restrict or eliminate the filibuster entirely, which is a Senate rule and tradition, not required by the Constitution.

But right now, I’m just exhausted. After living through four years of attacks on our democratic norms, culminating with the reprehensible attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, I’m trying to be positive and trying to be excited, but I can’t summon up the energy to believe that we’re suddenly going to flip a switch and go back to our regularly-scheduled democracy. Maybe that will happen tomorrow.

We’ll see.

Signs, revisited

Back in September I wrote a post about the political signs in my neighborhood. In the last paragraph, I suggested something that I intended as a joke:

On the bright side, maybe we can beat each other over the head with our signs when it’s finally over.

I imagine you’ve seen multiple videos of the mob attacking police officers during the insurrection, using flagpoles, fire extinguishers, pretty much whatever was on hand… including their protest signs. I won’t link them here, they’re easy to find on YouTube if you’ve somehow missed them.

It’s gut-wrenching to think that we have that many people who were willing to commit felonies in plain sight for a single individual. And that they chose to make it so easy to identify them, because they wouldn’t wear masks because their hero had made that politically toxic. Watching the videos, it’s easy to think we’re split right down the middle and that endless conflict, whether it reappears as physical confrontations or not, is inevitable.

I don’t think it is. And I’m going to use my completely unscientific observations of my neighborhood as the basis of this postulate. My counts are based on a regular cycling route I use through Marine City and East China Township, and includes lower-middle-class to middle-class homes. This is generally a working-class area.

As I noted in September, my neighbors had a lot of signs, flags, and other displays (some bordering on shrines to Donald Trump) in their yards. About every fourth or fifth house had a sign or flag or both. Most were for Trump, but a sizable percentage – let’s say 30 percent – were for Biden. After the election, most of them were taken down within a week. Some of them – maybe a third – stayed up through last week, especially the more elaborate displays of Trump signs mixed with American flags.

After 1/6, you can count the Trump flags and signs on one hand. I think that’s significant. St. Clair County is a very red county in Michigan. Almost every elected official from township to federal offices are Republicans. Even when the office is supposed to be non-partisan, everyone knows which candidates are GOPers and which are Democrats. So if you were looking for continued protests on behalf of the president, this is one place you’d expect to see it.

I think the events of last week were too much for many Trump voters. Notice that I said “voters,” not “supporters.” My feeling – and hope – is that many of the 74 million plus Americans who voted for Trump are as appalled by the insurrection – even if they can’t bring themselves to call it that – as the rest of us are. And they’ve decided enough is enough, they can’t be associated with that, and the signs have disappeared.

You can see some of that in the national polls as well. Today’s FiveThirtyEight composite polling chart shows Trump’s approval rating at 40.0%, while 55.8% disapprove. That’s down nearly five percentage points from right after the election in November, and most of the drop is in the last week.

Yesterday we kept hearing from Republicans in the U.S. House (with the exception of the ten who voted for impeachment, including Michigan’s Fred Upton and Peter Meijer) about how 74 million Americans still stand behind the president and that impeaching him would just incite more violence. I don’t believe we’re going to see 74 million people in the streets today or on January 20. Almost all of them are disappointed, perhaps even still angry, that their candidate lost. But in the end, most of us – regardless of our opinion on whether Trump has done a good job or not – want to get on with our lives. We want our families to thrive. We want the pandemic to go away. And we want to be left in peace.

I’m hopeful that last paragraph will also turn out to be true. No joking here, not this time. After all, it’s in the signs.

Cat facts

What’s the answer to the following simple math problem?

4 + 6 = ?

Take your time. It’s not a trick question, by the way. Just a straightforward addition problem.

All set? Good. The answer, of course, is 10.

Did you get that answer? Yes, you did. Nearly every American child learns simple addition beginning in first grade. Maybe you memorized addition tables, or maybe you learned it in story problem form:

Mary has four cats. If Mary adds six more cats to her family, how many cats will Mary have?

Yes, Mary will have ten cats. (Mary is also well on her way to being a crazy cat lady, but that’s another issue.)

Very few people will contest this fact. Oh, you’ll run into the occasional philosopher or theoretical mathematician who will state that “the cats don’t exist at all” or “the number of cats approaches 10 but never actually becomes 10,” or you have an older version of Excel that somehow comes up with 9.999999999999 cats as the answer. In the real, boring, everyday world people actually live in, there are now ten cats. This is known as a fact.

A fact is something that’s empirically true. Through observation or experience, we can know that 4 plus 6 equals 10. We can observe Mary’s home, see the four cats she had previously, watch her crate in six more, and then count them to prove that there are now ten cats.

In politics, facts are more nebulous. That’s not to say that there isn’t something empirically true at the root; for example, Joe Biden got over 81 million votes for president in 2020 while Donald Trump got over 74 million. Using our first-grade subtraction skills, we can determine that Biden got about 7 million votes more than Trump. We don’t elect presidents based on the overall popular vote, of course, but it does indicate that Biden was more popular than Trump among all voters. This is a fact.

Unless you don’t believe it. Despite dozens of court challenges by the Trump campaign, all but one of which has resulted in a defeat for them, we’re still hearing rhetoric about “fraud,” “dead people voting,” “ballots being counted multiple times,” and so on. Most of the leaders of this line of argument know what they’re claiming isn’t true, but the empirical facts in this case are very inconvenient for them. What they want is a country where we can ignore election facts and continue to rule simply because they think they should. That is not democracy, it is autocracy, and that is also a fact.

As we continue to navigate through these treacherous waters over the next two weeks and into the first months of the Biden presidency, here are a few definitions (another type of facts) that are understood differently depending on your political ambitions and needs (actual definitions are from the New Oxford American Dictionary). Keep in mind that the ability to redefine words isn’t limited to Trump supporters; politicians of every party and stripe are fully capable of ignoring facts when it suits them:

Fraud (n.) Wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain.

Alternate political definition: Everything my opponent does that isn’t completely in line with my political needs.

Legal (adj.) Recognized by common or statutory law.
Vote (n.) A formal indication of a choice between two or more candidates or courses of action, expressed typically through a ballot or a show of hands or by voice.

Alternate political definition of “legal votes”: All votes for the candidate I support; any votes for anyone else are therefore “illegal.”

American (n.) A native or citizen of the United States.

Alternate political definition: A native (and usually not a naturalized citizen) of the United States who agrees with my political point-of-view, i.e. “The American People support what we’re doing here” or “We need to do this for The American People.” May also include sub-definitions that specify racial, ethnic, gender, sexual preference, or other individual traits that also are similar to the person using the alternative political definition.

I could go on. There are many other words that have been thrown around since the election that have actual definitions but seem to have a different meaning depending on who’s saying them: “allegations,” “preponderance,” “patriot,” “socialism,” and “stolen.”

I’m not sure how we get back to a place where we can start to agree on what words mean and that facts are, well, facts. It has to start with us rejecting the appeasement of those who refuse to acknowledge reality and who commit crimes against our country in the service of falsehoods. If we’re unwilling to hold those people accountable for their lies and deceit, there’s no chance we can return to a time when we can agree that Mary, in fact, has ten cats.

Electoral College votes shouldn’t be dramatic, but 2020, right?

So it looks like maybe, just maybe, this guy Joe Biden might end up being the next president of the United States. I know you were wondering about it, what with all the lawsuits and official statements (and, of course, tweets – the official communications tool of the Trump White House). I mean, if a guy like Rudy Giuliani is involved, it’s gotta be serious, right?

For the first time in anyone’s memory, though, the voting of Electoral College delegates in many state capitals today was dramatic, tense, and even a bit scary. In Lansing, Michigan’s Capitol Building was closed to the public because the state’s sixteen presidential electors were meeting to cast their votes and there had been threats of violence against them that the Republican leadership of the House and Senate felt were credible.

My state representative, Gary Eisen (R-St. Clair Twp.), went on the Paul Miller Show on WPHM in Port Huron this morning and suggested that there could be something “dangerous” happening at the State Capitol today. When asked if he could guarantee that everyone would be safe in Lansing today, Rep. Eisen refused to say yes. Instead, he was going to participate in an event later in the day that would be “all over the news later on.”

From the New York Times, December 14, 2020 (nytimes.com)

As a result, the GOP leadership in the Michigan Legislature stripped Eisen of all of his committee assignments for the remainder of this term, which ends in two weeks. It’s unclear whether he’ll be able to return to any committees in the new year; Eisen was re-elected last month (despite all of the alleged fraud and shenanigans, apparently his election was completely on the “up and up”) to another two-year term with 61 percent of the vote in our solidly-conservative district.

Every human interaction has the potential for violence. Starting as children, we learn that we can’t always have our way and that there is a difference between winning and losing, and that threatening violence is not a civilized way of getting what you want. Most of us accept this, internalize it, and we’re seldom provoked to the point of potential violence. Individually, that type of behavior is only seen in severely anti-social personalities. However, when people in positions of leadership start behaving that way, it becomes more acceptable, and a mob is capable of practically anything at that point.

The Republican leadership in Lansing did the right thing in swiftly condemning Eisen’s statements and demonstrating that they took their oaths to defend the U.S. and Michigan constitutions seriously. While I disagree with them on many issues, current Michigan House speaker Lee Chatfield and his successor, Jason Wentworth, absolutely did the right thing, and I commend them.

If we’re unable to move on and restore some semblance of unity, we’re going to have bigger problems than the pandemic gave us next year.

Election wrap-up – for now

So Joe Biden will be the next president. I’m not surprised, that seemed pretty much what the end game was even late on Tuesday. I appreciate the work that was done by poll workers, municipal and county clerks, and secretary of state staff members all over the country. As usual, there were few mistakes and no evidence of any conspiracies to steal the election, despite Trump’s claims of fraud. As I suggested a few days ago, regardless of whether city or township clerks are Republicans or Democrats, they want to run an honest election, because if they don’t (or it’s even suspected that they didn’t), they have to live in that town and deal with the consequences. They are your fellow Americans from all types of backgrounds and with all types of personal beliefs, and in the end, they always do what’s right. We owe them our thanks.

Despite some concern that there could be violence after the election when it was obvious that either Biden or Trump had lost, there’s been only a handful of isolated protests and no injuries or property damage. So far anyway. I didn’t expect much and still don’t. In the end, what most Americans want is to be left alone and for our families to be safe, even if we’re angry or frustrated by events in the news. When I went for a ride yesterday, nearly all of the Trump flags and signs are gone already. We’ve had elections before and in a lot of ways, this one wasn’t really that much different for most people. My candidate won, nice. My candidate lost, oh well, time to move on.

There will be many loose ends to tie up over the next few weeks. The big one will be trying to convince Trump that he really lost. In his mind, he’s never lost in his life. Of course he has, but in every case he’s justified it to himself that someone cheated him or rigged the game against him. These will be potentially dangerous days ahead as he deals with being a lame duck president – he’s still in charge until noon on January 20.

Finally, I’d like to point out – one last time, I promise – that the “ballgame” model of covering the presidential election is seriously flawed. Every state that Biden won (and every state Trump won) was won at the same time, regardless of how long it took to count the ballots. Trump never had a lead in Michigan, or Pennsylvania, or any of the other states Biden won. The final score happens at once as soon as 100 percent of the votes are officially counted. If we’re going to keep doing mail-in voting – and I believe we should – we need to allow them to be counted as they come in. No running totals would be issued, of course, but they would simply be added to the Election Day totals and reported all at once.

Time to move on.