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.

Responsibility and law and order first, then – perhaps – we can begin to heal

It is both fascinating and infuriating to watch members of the GOP, long self-identified as the party of “law and order,” “personal responsibility,” and more recently the leading actors in the “Blue Lives Matter” playacting exercise, suddenly calling for “healing” and “unity.” If the mob that descended on the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday had actually been made up of leftist thugs, these same sensitive souls would be calling for putting the culprits in the same cages they’ve used for children on the Mexican border.

The law is clear about what seditious conspiracy is and how it should be punished. The Constitution – from which the ability to enact laws is derived – similarly includes specific punishments for persons holding state or federal offices who participate in an insurrection. Why don’t these “law and order,” “personal responsibility” Republicans want to follow those laws and punish the criminals who broke them? Why, after a generation of pious bullshit, are they suddenly leading a chorus of “Kum Ba Yah?”

There are two reasons, one more immediate and one the result of long-term trends and choices made by the leadership of the Republican Party.

In the immediate timeframe, there are credible reports that members of Congress themselves may have been involved in the planning and execution of the “rally” on January 6th, including providing information to leaders of the Capitol riot on where key members of Congress would be located and possibly how to move through the labyrinthine corridors and tunnels that make up the Capitol complex. If true, any member of Congress who was involved must be removed from office per Article III of the 14th Amendment. Beyond the individual humiliation of being removed from office, the loss of multiple GOP representatives and even senators would also affect the balance of power between the parties. While the Democrats currently hold both houses of Congress, the margin is slim in the House and as close as it could be in the Senate, where each caucus (including independents who vote with the Democrats) has 50 seats, making Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris the tie-breaking vote if needed.

The long-term issue for Republicans has been how demographic change in the U.S. has been eroding their influence and voting numbers. This isn’t new. It’s been discussed for half a century, ever since the GOP developed its “Southern Strategy” in the wake of the civil rights movement in the sixties and particularly after passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibited discrimination based on race in voting and had the potential of adding millions of largely Democratic votes to the rolls.

Republicans could have changed their strategy and tried to reach out to the growing numbers of Hispanics and other immigrant populations. They even commissioned a report in 2012 after Barack Obama’s re-election that called for “an extensive outreach to women, African-American, Asian, Hispanic and gay voters [and] backing “comprehensive immigration reform.”

Sally Bradshaw, a Florida GOP strategist and one of the project’s co-chairs, said the party has been “continually marginalizing itself and unless changes are made it will be increasingly difficult for Republicans to win another presidential election in the near future.”

“Public perception of our party is at record lows,” Bradshaw said. “Young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the party represents and many minorities think Republicans don’t like them or don’t want them in our country. When someone rolls their eyes at us they aren’t likely to open their ears to us.”

Bradshaw added that the GOP “needs to stop talking to itself” and needs to open the tent in order to win presidential elections in the future.

“We have become expert at how to provide ideological information to like-minded people but, devastatingly, we have lost the ability to be persuasive with or welcoming to those who don’t agree with us on every issue,” Bradshaw said, noting they need to be “inviting and inspiring.”

Sound advice, right? But GOP leaders instead decided to double-down on their appeals to white, mostly male, and mostly less-educated, voters with a combination of fear-mongering, racism, white nationalism, xenophobia, voter suppression (including successful efforts to weaken the Voting Rights Act) and even religious fanaticism, both through conventional Christian groups and the rise of the QAnon mythos in the past few years.

This is how people who knew they were losing control of the country they’d always dominated behave. It’s a desperate defensive action by conservative Republicans (who are, incidentally, neither conservative nor small-r republicans) to hold on to power. Under other circumstances, appeals to healing and unity would have been welcomed. But where were those appeals for the past four years (and even during the Obama presidency)?

There can be no healing, there can be no unity, until those who created the environment that made it possible for a fraud like Donald Trump to be president of the United States recognize their culpability and accept the reality of the situation. That includes, first, acknowledging – with no hesitation or caveats – that the 2020 election was held fairly and Joe Biden will be president beginning at noon on January 20. Those responsible for the outrage of 1/6 then must be held accountable, through arrests, fair trials, and appropriate punishment; expulsion from Congress where required by the Constitution; and even the impeachment and conviction of the president for his support of the actions of last week.

Only then will we truly be able to move beyond this dark time in American history and attempt to heal and find common ground. It will not be easy and there are no guarantees, but our children and grandchildren deserve nothing less.

No.

No to more abuse. No to appeasement. No to the false appeals for “healing.”

It is ridiculous, though predictable, that the enablers of the current president are now calling for “reconciliation and healing.” They tell us that if we insist that Trump and the mob that tried to overturn the result of the 2020 presidential election committed treason and try to hold them accountable, they’ll just get angrier and probably do it again.

Breaking News: They’ll do it again anyway. The choices are impeach, expel, and punish, knowing there’s a risk of additional upheaval or violence; or live through more upheaval and violence but don’t enforce our laws or follow the Constitution. There were already indications that plans for more “protests” were being planned, including one for January 17, which was one of the reasons given by Twitter in its explanation why it suspended the president’s account.

The “give me one more chance” gambit is also familiar to domestic abuse victims. Too often, the abuser pleads with their victim not to press charges, to give them another chance, because facing trial and going to jail is only going to make them more angry. And too often, the victim goes along with it, only to regret it later when more abuse is all too predictably dished out. To be clear, this is never the victim’s fault; the blame always lies squarely with the abuser.

No, we’re not going to pretend it didn’t happen or turn the other cheek. The only way the rule of law works is if we enforce the laws. Everyone involved with the disgraceful episode in the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday needs to be identified, arrested, and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Appeasement will not work, in particular with fascists or neo-Nazis who are taking their cues from the rise of the Third Reich. It certainly didn’t work for Neville Chamberlain in September 1938. Just under a year later, Germany invaded Poland and World War II started.

We must stand up to the bullies or they will keep working to overturn our system of government. Once we’ve lost it, it will be very difficult if not impossible to get it back.

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.