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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

‘Stand Back and Stand By’: What is Trump Up To?

When the smoke cleared from the utterly chaotic and at times raucous presidential debate on September 29 between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, two things stood out to me. One is that President Trump failed to condemn white nationalism and two, he is hell-bent on not accepting the results of the election should he lose. And the combination of the two could be deadly. #hocopolitics

This was the debate where I expected “death and taxes”—the mounting toll on Americans who have succumbed to Covid-19 and the reported tax manipulations and possible fraud on the part of Trump—to be the major subjects.

Instead, in all my years of watching televised presidential debates including the first one between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon in 1960, I have never witnessed such a gross display especially from a sitting president as this one. Worse and clearly more alarming, Trump may be sending signals that if he loses he will provoke at some level a civil war.

Other than the boorish and obnoxious Trump’s bizarre obsession with Biden’s son Hunter, Trump was very clear in the waning moments of this debacle of a debate that he believes the election will be rigged and tainted—rife with fraud and ballot tampering caused by “unsolicited” mail-in ballots. He is establishing a rationale that if the vote tallies don’t go in his favor, the election would be illegitimate.  He cannot lose this election, Trump believes, and he will not let it happen, not without a bloodbath.

On the question of denouncing white nationalism, Trump could have simply put it away. Instead, he provoked further controversy by avoiding such a condemnation. He asked to name a specific group and both moderator Chris Wallace and Joe Biden suggested Proud Boys. He said Proud Boys should “stand back and stand by”—comments that alarmed many including myself.

“But I'll tell you what somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left, because this is not a right-wing problem, this is a left wing,” he said.

The Proud Boys describe themselves as “a pro-Western fraternal organization for men.” The far right, white supremacist, anti-Semitic, anti-transgender group has openly endorsed violence and has recently been tied to several violent incidents at recent protests. Proud Boys has been classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League referred to them as “hard-core white supremacists.”

Even allies of Trump were baffled by his response.

“Donald Trump ruined the biggest layup in the history of debates by saying—not condemning white supremacists,” said Fox News host Brian Kilmeade during Fox & Friends the morning after the debate. “I don’t know if he didn’t hear it, but he's gotta clarify that right away. That’s like: Are you against evil?”

For their part, Proud Boys, who marched in the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville,   rejoiced at hearing the president telling them to stand back and stand by. According to NBC News, on the Proud Boys’ account on the social media app Telegram, the group appeared to take the statement as marching orders.

“Standing down and standing by sir,” the account wrote. The account then posted two videos of the answer, including one with the caption "God. Family. Brotherhood,” in which a man howled at the TV in response to Trump’s response.

Within minutes after the shout-out by the president, Proud Boys crafted a new logo and spread it on social media.

Both candidates were asked whether they would urge their supporters, in view of likely vote-counting delays, to be patient and wait calmly for the election results to be certified. Trump equivocated. Biden said yes. This is where the comments about Proud Boys—especially “stand by”—and the failure to condemn right wing extremist groups in general become chilling if the following nightmare scenario occurs.

Trump appears to have lost the election. Mail-in ballots still need to be counted, however. Trump calls them fraud. Angry Biden supporters and left-leaning demonstrators take to the streets in protest. Trump calls on his right wing militia groups, such as Proud Boys and Boogaloo Boys, to quell what could amount to violence, precipitating a civil war of sorts. Martial law invoked, chaos, the end of democracy on the horizon.

It’s an untenable situation, but unless Trump lowers the temperature on mail-in voting and unequivocally squashes right wing extremism this could very well happen.

Friday, September 25, 2020

How Biden Should Handle the Debate


We are approaching the first debate in an election that will decide whether our democracy can be saved or will our country descend further under a totalitarian regime.

Down in the polls and desperate for a game changer, Donald Trump, the premier conman, is a master of gaming the situation. After months denigrating Joe Biden’s mental acuity, Trump is now marveling over the former vice president’s 47 years of experience that presents Biden with a decided advantage in the debate in Cleveland on September 29.  Trump is also trying to psych out moderator Chris Wallace by falsely complaining that the veteran journalist Wallace is owned by the left.

Wallace announced in advance the six broad topics that will be covered: the Trump and Biden records, the Supreme Court; Covid-19, the economy, race and violence in our cities, and the integrity of the election. Fortunately for Trump, this debate will not touch on foreign policy as he won’t have to mention Thighland or his love affairs with Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un. #hocopolitics

As with death and taxes, two things are certain: Donald Trump will lie profusely and attack relentlessly. In that vein, Trump will talk over, shout over and interrupt Biden as he offers his responses.

The TV ratings will shoot through the roof. Virtually all the viewers are familiar with Trump, but despite Biden’s long history of public service, that level of familiarity is not there. Many will be tuning in to watch Biden in action perhaps for the first time. Of course, Trumpsters, led by the president’s two immature, trophy-hunting sons, will be hunting for any stumbles or gaffes made by Biden and will “Benghazi” them on Twitter from here to eternity.   

So, what is the best strategy for Joe Biden? He leads in several battleground state polls but not by such a large margin that he can afford to take the night off. He needs to be prepared, act presidential and minimize verbal miscues that could otherwise turn a solid performance into a calamity as the Republican attack apparatus will be in high gear.

But there’s more.

I liken this debate to a football game whereby a team is leading by 6 points with 6 minutes to play. Do you play conservatively by keeping the ball on the ground with the hopes of running out the clock? Or do you throw downfield with a risk-reward effort that could lead to a score and clinch the game?

I choose the latter. Biden must not stay back on his heels and accept incoming from Trump. He needs to go on the offense. Trump is not very convincing playing defense; in fact, he sucks at it.

At a convenient point during the debate, Biden should work in some questions to Trump based on the New York Times disclosure, such as why do you pay less in taxes than the average working man or woman in this country? What about the discrepancies between your tax returns and your financial reports? How come you pay more in taxes to foreign countries than the U.S.? To whom do you owe $ millions? There are so many others, too he could ask.

He should remind the audience by accusing Trump of disparaging our fallen war heroes, veterans and active service personnel as “losers” and “suckers.” Even Republicans have been disgusted by Trump’s comments on this matter and would prefer that the subject never surfaces again. Biden needs to make sure it does. At that point as Trump tries feebly to deny making those comments, his nose will undoubtedly itch and he will return to that familiar sniffing reaction we saw during the 2016 debates with Hillary Clinton. Don't forget Putin's bounties on U.S. troops, too. He hasn't answered to that yet.

As for the coronavirus, arguably the most important subject during this cycle, Biden has been effective so far painting Trump as not up to the job, lying to Americans with over 200,000 dead from Covid-19. Recently, he said Trump “froze.” That’s not adequate. Instead, say he “choked”—a word that Trump will equate to fingernails on a blackboard or worse. Also, throw in Trump’s absurd therapeutic idea of ingesting or injecting bleach.  The remainder of Trump’s response to the pandemic has been so ghastly and inept, Biden can reel off the other examples quite easily.

Biden should also unequivocally pin the racist label to Trump. He’s got a trove of evidence to back it up. And while at it, he can restate his opposition to arson, looting and violence.

These are just a sampling of how Biden should play this debate. You know Trump will attack, and Biden must be ready to return serve but be calm about it. Trump accuses Hunter Biden of corruption in Ukraine, Biden can bring up the “perfect call” to Ukraine’s president resulting in impeachment. He can also mention Trump’s three adult children sued by the New York Attorney General’s office for their role in the now defunct Trump Foundation. Touch my kid, I’m going after yours.

I believe that if Biden goes on the offensive and takes no crap from Trump, his supporters will be gushing with pride and Biden will have removed many of the doubts that the Republicans have planted.

If for some reason this strategy doesn’t work this time, there will be two more debates plus the vice president debate as a safety net. But I think it will.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Stop with the Fake Patriotism

I don't care if you wear the American flag on all your articles of clothing. 
I don't care if you hug the flag. 

I don't care if you mount an oversize flag on your pick-up truck. 

I don't care if you condemn athletes for kneeling during the Star Spangled Banner as they demonstrate against racial injustice. 

I don't care if you attend Trump rallies mask-less thus putting others at risk for a deadly virus because it's the Trump thing to do.

I don't care if you do any of these things. 

You are NOT patriotic if you support a president who:

As Commander-in-Chief denigrates fallen service members, veterans and active duty troops and tags them as "losers and suckers."

Does nothing when he learns from U.S. intelligence that Russia paid for hit jobs against our troops in Afghanistan.

Deliberately lied to the American people about the severity of the Covid-19 pandemic that is on track to cost over a quarter million U.S. lives.

Politicizes the pandemic by assigning credit and blame according to "red states" and "blue states."

Welcomed and used assistance from Russia during the 2016 election and sought help from Ukraine during the 2020 election cycle.

Accepts the word of Putin over our intel agencies on Russia's interference in our elections.

Authorized the use of tear gas and other weaponry against Americans engaging in peaceful protests.

Ordered the postmaster general to sabotage the postal system for political purposes thereby denying veterans and other Americans the timely receipt of medications.

If you can get behind this president despite the actions above (and this is not a full list), you are a patriot pretender, not a patriot in the true meaning of the word.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Why is This Race Even Close?

If you’re like me and received a degree in political science, you might as well rip it up.  All that you learned from your experience in college while majoring in poli-sci—the models, the theories, the trends, the paradigms, everything—has been turned upside down in this 2020 presidential election cycle.

We always believed that an incumbent president seeking reelection would defend his record and not do stupid stuff to create doubts. Yet, with Donald Trump, he has done and said many dumb things with some more serious than others. I pointed out some recent miscues here as if he was trying to lose. Still, he remained close in the polls. #hocopolitics

Throughout his term, he has been the recipient of bad press emanating from a host of tell-all books that have ripped Trump’s intellect, lack of curiosity, temperament, competence, judgment, honesty and a bevy of other flaws.  I cannot think of a case where an individual in the know wrote a flattering piece about Trump. They’ve all been scathing indictments from former administration officials, journalists, intelligence officials, his long-time personal lawyer, and even family members.  Still, he remains close in the polls.

Then came a stinging bombshell story in The Atlantic  whereby Trump reportedly denigrated wartime casualties and POWs as “losers” and “suckers.”  These remarks were essentially verified by several news outlets including Trump favorite Fox News. Trump’s denials as well as those from his allies rang hollow given his public disparagement of war hero and POW John McCain.

As for his defense by his press secretary and others in his administration, how would they know what he said or didn’t say unless they have been in his company 24/7?  Two people who did not step forward to defend Trump were notably former chief of staff General John Kelly and former Defense Secretary General James Mattis. How these revelations did not trigger outrage from veterans and POW/MIA groups is beyond me. I wonder how those on active duty with some serving in harm’s way felt after learning what their commander-in-chief allegedly said.  Still, he remains close in the polls.

Trump’s insufficient response to the COVID-19 pandemic will probably be the key issue during this cycle. We bore witness to his lack of seriousness and leadership as the coronavirus hit a second gear and triggered an economic calamity the likes of which the country has not seen in many decades. 

Recall, how he called the virus “the Democrats’ new hoax” and that it is under control and it will miraculously disappear. Trump played it down when he realized that the virus was targeting blue states and more specifically people of color. He scoffed at those who kept social distancing, wore masks and blasted mostly Democratic officials for not jumping in with two feet to re-open businesses and schools. They did so to help spread the virus further. Trump even suggested dubious and dangerous therapeutics like ingesting bleach. Still, he remains close in the polls.

Well, it hit the fan with the previews of famed journalist Bob Woodward’s book Rage, which is about to be made public. All the suspicions about Trump’s failures during the pandemic came to light, which have been backed up by audio of Trump’s own answers to questions covered by some 18 interviews with Woodward. Trump’s best retort is that the book is “fake,” failing to grasp that his own words were used and were damning. Still, he remains close in the polls.

Why, then, is the race so tight even though Joe Biden has held a steady lead? This isn’t 2016 when Trump was merely a TV star and failed businessman and was considered entertaining to some. His opponent had been reviled by the Republican hit machine for decades and couldn’t get from under the baggage she was carrying.

There isn’t that level of animosity towards Biden. Moreover, the Democratic Party is more unified given the imperative that Trump be defeated.

As opposed to 2016, Trump has a record, and it’s not very pretty. Yet, he remains close in the polls.

The answer seems to be that much of Trump’s unyielding support stems from the fact they hate the same people he does: African-Americans, the BLM movement, protesters,  immigrants especially Mexicans and Hispanics in general, Muslims, and liberal Democrats among others. Of course, there are others solidly in Trump’s camp but I believe that the bigoted MAGA folks are the core.  

Many supporters are QAnon conspiracy believers, coronavirus deniers, climate change deniers, and white supremacists.  They form the foundation of his base, and they are frothing at the mouth to see that Trump gets 4 more years.

With such a shoddy record, Trump should be way behind. But that’s under the old rules of politics. The country is deeply divided and few are undecided. The upcoming debates will be hyped and considered must-see TV.  Each side will claim victory though there aren’t that many persuadable voters remaining to make much of a difference either way. The fact check industry, however, should get a huge boost from Trump’s participation.

Like 2020, which has been the weirdest of years, one thing remains constant in this election cycle from how it was back in the day when I studied politics. This November’s election will be decided by who and how many actually vote. It’s that simple.

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Why Trump's Reelection Strategy is a Riot

It took a while, but President Donald Trump finally found the shiny object he was seeking. With polls showing him losing to Democratic rival Joe Biden, Trump desperately sought to change the subject from his catastrophic response to COVID-19 to something else. He found it with the protests that had erupted stemming from yet another unarmed black man shot by police.  #hocopolitics

To be sure, Trump’s supposed management of the pandemic, which has killed nearly 190,000 Americans and counting, has been a complete failure. From scuttling the Obama-Biden plan for dealing with a potential pandemic, to denying coronavirus’ existence, to calling it a hoax, to claiming it would magically disappear, to politicizing masks, to a lack of a national testing strategy, to rejecting scientific and medical expertise, to bizarrely silencing Dr. Anthony Fauci, Jr., to the U.S. leading the world in fatalities, to blaming everyone else but him, registered voters overwhelmingly disapproved of his response.  

Trump initially assumed the coronavirus was a blue state problem until he was stunned by learning it has spread to rural America—Trump country. For good measure, his son-in-law Jared Kushner fought the development of a nationwide testing strategy believing the coronavirus impacted blue states more and that team Trump could blame Democratic governors..

Moreover, Trump falsely claimed he saved hundreds of thousands if not millions of lives with the “great job” he was doing. That’s akin to saying he saved over 300 million American lives by not nuking our country. In an open and fair election, Trump was clearly on the path to lose and he knew it.
Then came the brutal murder of George Floyd at the hands of members of the Minneapolis Police Department and the worldwide protests that ensued.  Instead of calling for social justice to end the stench of racism that exists in many police departments and to embark on a journey towards healing, Trump focused on the arson and looting that accompanied what were overwhelmingly peaceful demonstrations until police and other provocateurs raised the temperature.

Clashes with protesters have continued on and off for months in Portland, OR, and a new hot spot in Kenosha, WI. emerged with the shooting of Jacob Blake by another police officer leaving Mr. Blake paralyzed.

These events and others gave Trump the opportunity to turn the page on COVID-19 (indeed, speakers at the Republican National Convention acted as if the pandemic was history) and blame Democratic-led cities for being incapable of squashing the “violence.” In Portland Trump dispatched unidentified cammo-wearing agents to clash with and arrest the protesters.  

Inspired by Trump’s complete disregard for police reform and instead his zeroing in on the protesters who he describes as “rioters”, right wing militia groups saw themselves as the only force standing between chaos in the streets of America and law and order.

What could possibly go wrong?

Well, it did. A 17 year-old Trump and avid police supporter, Kyle Rittenhouse, traveled from Illinois to Kenosha, just 20 miles away carrying a military-style assault weapon under the guise of protecting local businesses from destruction. He had been joined by other far-right extremists including “boogaloo bois.” During a melee, young Rittenhouse shot and killed two protesters and injured a third.

Though he was charged for murder, rather than condemning the killings, Trump sided with Rittenhouse because, obviously, he was a Trump supporter. He suggested he acted in self-defense as the youth’s lawyer contends. In doing so, Trump put his fingers on the scale of justice.

All this is adding up to a clear reelection strategy. Trump cannot run on the hard-hit economy in which his failed pandemic response created. He certainly can’t run on his character, or foreign policy as we are now the laughing stock of the world. On top of that, he is solidly in the history books as an impeached president.

So he works up his base into a lather by stoking racism and fear. He inspires and encourages “his people” to act where Democratic leaders are incapable of doing. And he defends them as “peaceful protesters” never mind that they are often heavily armed. Trump repeatedly said Biden’s America would devolve into ruins ignoring the fact the unrest is taking place on his watch.

Crazily Trump blames protest violence on people in “dark shadows” and conjures up an old conspiracy theory stating there are planes filled with “thugs” in black uniforms that descended on Washington. He compared the shooting in Kenosha by police officer to a golfer missing an easy putt.  Wow!

For his part, Joe Biden presented an eloquent alternative view of the situation. In a speech delivered on August 21 in Pittsburgh, Biden condemned Trump’s actions.

“Fires are burning and we have a president who fans the flames, rather than fighting the flames,” Biden said in his speech. “But we must not burn. We have to build. This president long ago forfeited any moral leadership in this country. He can't stop the violence because for years he’s fomented it.”

And that, sadly, will be the norm over the next 60-plus days. Calling for law and order after he incites rioting is Trump’s only strategy left.