The Third Transition: Trump to Biden and the Return of Politics

by Michael Liss

Some may belittle politics, but we know, who are engaged in it, that it is where people stand tall. And although I know it has its many harsh contentions, it is still the arena that sets the heart beating a little faster. And if it is on occasions the place of low skullduggery, it is more often the place for the pursuit of noble causes, and I wish everyone, friend or foe, well, and that is that, the end. Tony Blair, ending his last PMQ, June 27, 2007

Mask From UVA Center For Politics

Yes, that was Tony Blair, the man everyone loves to hate, but in those few short words, he managed to capture the highs and lows of a democratic system. Politics can be rough and tawdry, but debates can be substantive, goals high, and accomplishments, perhaps not as high, but still advancing the good of the many. In the end, you fight like cats and dogs, but you shake hands, accept the verdict, and prepare yourself for the next battle.

This belief, that there is always next time, is predicated on three key assumptions—that, in our system, there is, in fact, always a next time, that even winning coalitions will screw up enough to ensure that the next time may be viable, and that the loser (if the incumbent) will cooperate in the orderly transition of power.

That is the theory, and, for most of our history, that has also been the reality. Winning coalitions stay winning because they deliver policies that a majority support. They fray when internal discipline breaks down (usually because of unsatisfied desires or ambitions), and/or when they become so sclerotic, doctrinaire, or just wrong that enough of the public rejects them. Lincoln’s election in 1860 reflected a reality that the disparate needs of North and South could no longer be reconciled within the status quo. FDR’s trouncing of Hoover was the rational judgment of the voters that Hoover had simply failed, and would continue to fail. Trump’s victory in 2016 was a reminder of not only Hillary Clinton’s flaws as a candidate, but also Barack Obama’s shortcomings as a President. As much as I admired Obama, he didn’t do enough for enough people to earn transferable loyalty during a time when, as my friend Bill Benzon notes, the tectonic plates were moving. The voters really do choose. Read more »

Deep Disagreement and the QAnon Conspiracy Theory

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse

Deep disagreements are disagreements where two sides agree on so little that there are no shared resources for reasoned resolution. In some cases, argument itself is impossible. The fewer shared facts or means for identifying them, the deeper the disagreement.

Some hold that many disagreements are deep in this way. They contend that reasoned argument has very little role to play in discussions of the things that divide us. Call these the deep disagreement pessimists – they claim that many of the disputes we face cannot be addressed by shared reasoning.

There are also deep disagreement optimists. Their view is that deep disagreements are intractable only for contingent reasons – perhaps we have not yet surveyed all the available evidence, or we are waiting on new evidence, or there is some background shared methodological principle yet to be uncovered. With deep disagreement, the optimist holds, it is hasty to give up on rational exchange, because something useful is likely available, and the costs of passing such rational resolution up are too high. Better to keep the critical conversation going.

Disputes among pessimists and optimists regularly turn on the practical question: Are there actual deep disagreements? The debates over abortion and affirmative action were initially taken to be exemplary of disagreements that are, indeed, deep. Later, secularist and theists outlooks on the norms of life were taken to instantiate a divide of the requisite depth. More recently, conspiracy theories have been posed as points of view at deep odds with mainstream thought.

This brings us to QAnon. Read more »

Fuck It, I’m Staying Here

by Akim Reinhardt

Sunset America New York Statue - Free photo on PixabayMy Jewish maternal grandparents came to America just ahead of WWII. Nearly all of my grandmother’s extended family were wiped out in the Holocaust. Much of my grandfather’s extended family had previously emigrated to Palestine.

My maternal family history illustrates why many modern American Jews continue to view Israel as their ultimate safety net. After two millennia of vicious anti-Judaism, many Jews believe they can eventually be run out of any country, even Untied States. American Jews’ sometimes uncritical support for Israel is underpinned by a wistful glance and a knowing nod; if it does happen here, we can escape to there.

Even though I am only half-Jewish, my familial immigration history is more recent than most American Jews.  Their ancestors typically arrived here a full generation or two earlier than mine, and most of them did not lose a slew of close family members in the Holocaust like my grandmother did.

But unlike most American Jews, I can counter the fear of “It can happen here” with a sense of American belonging that stems from deeply rooted Southern WASP family history. Depending on which of my paternal branches you follow, we’ve been here upwards of about three centuries.

Or so they tell me.

Exactly how long ago the Reinhardts, Lowrances, Younts, Dunkles, and Hollers I’m descended from first arrived here is besides the point. In fact, not having an exact date actually helps; it was long enough ago that no one really knows. And that feeds into the one common thread binding deeply-rooted white Protestant Americans, despite their many differences in class, education, geographic region, and religious denomination. It’s the unassailable sense that you belong here because you’re from here. That you’re not really the sons and daughters of immigrants. Rather, you’re descended from the people who took this land from Native Americans, and who fought to gain independence from the British. That you’re part of the group who really “earned” it. America’s your inheritance. You own it.

This is also the core of Trumpism: believing you have a better claim to being here than other people do. Read more »

Fair Is Foul, Foul Is Fair: Trump’s Final Soliloquy

by Thomas Larson

According to Donald Trump, in a statement made to MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” April 11, 2011, about the fake “birther controversy” of President Barack Obama—the opening salvo in Trump’s campaign of political disinformation—Obama’s “grandmother in Kenya said, ‘Oh, no, he was born in Kenya and I was there and I witnessed the birth.’ She’s on tape,” Trump went on. “I think that tape’s going to be produced fairly soon. Somebody is coming out with a book in two weeks, it will be very interesting.”

And, according to Vox News, President Trump, two weeks after losing the 2020 November 3rd election, tweeted, “I won the election!” He had warned many times prior to the vote that the only way he would lose the election would be if it was rigged, and the only way he would win was if the election was fair, a remarkably trenchant conjuration of the Three Witches’ spell on Macbeth, “Fair is foul, and foul is fair.”

And, according to Chanel Dion of One America News and Trump legal team lawyer, Sydney Powell, software engineers in Michigan and Georgia (and in parts of 26 other states) contracted with Dominion Voting Systems, which has financial ties to Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein, George Soros, the Clinton Foundation, and the seven-years-dead Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, to make ballot-counting machines switch votes from Republican to Democrat presidential candidates or to leave out a prescribed number of votes for President Trump in Joe Biden’s favor. Read more »

Is Joe Biden Mentally Fit to Be President? Here’s What Doctors Think

by Godfrey Onime

President-elect, Joe Biden
President-elect, Joe Biden

Just months after the new president was sworn into office, a would-be assassin’s bullet whizzed through the air and sliced into his chest. It  cracked his rib, punctured his left lung, and barely missed his heart.  It was March 30th, 1981 and Ronald Reagan was rushed to the George Washington University Hospital, in Washington, DC.  His wife arrived as Reagan was being whisked to surgery and the injured president managed to croak, “Honey, I forgot to duck.” Reagan recovered fully after surgery, becoming the first U.S. president to survive an assassination attempt after a gunshot. Three years later and aged 73, he would clinch a resounding reelection to become, until now, the oldest person to win a presidential bid. But soon questions of a potential mental decline began to mount concerning the septuagenarian, such as when during a 1984 general election debate he told an anecdote that meandered aimlessly and fizzled to nowhere. A decade later, Reagan would announce that he had Alzheimer’s disease.

President Ronald Reagan recovering at George Washington Hospital after his 1981 shooting
President Ronald Reagan recovering at George Washington University Hospital after his 1981 shooting

Age, it is often said, is just a number. But when it comes to the presidency of the United States, is it really? Should it simply be? This question is compounded by the lack of guidance in the U.S. constitution: While it places a minimal age requirement of 35 to run for office, it imposes no upper age limit.

And now, the country has elected Joe Biden to assume the presidency at age 78 – one year older than when Reagan, after a second term, left the post. That is among the many presidential histories that Biden’s election has made — the oldest person to date to be rewarded with America’s highest office. Yet, an advanced age puts a person at increased risk for diseases and health complications, including heart attack,  stroke, various cancers, Alzheimer’s disease, and of course, death. After all, as George Burns once quipped, “At my age, flowers scare me.” Read more »

Lowered Expectations

by Akim Reinhardt

Most People are Good | SLC6A1 ConnectPeople are basically good.

God, what a tiresome trope.

It is a desperate and naive sentiment, often advanced by those who can’t bear the truth. I say this as a historian who has studied genocide, ethnic cleansing, slavery, vast, violent, exploitative colonial systems, and more mundane expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism. But if you’ve neither the time nor the inclination to brush up on 10,000 years of human history as a background for this discussion, then allow me to point you towards the present.

More than 70,000,000 people just voted for Donald Trump. Again.

After four years of observing, on a near daily basis, his presidential grotesquerie. The racism, the sexism, the vindictiveness, the endless vitriol, the knee-jerk authoritarianism and ceaseless attacks on and erosion of American constitutional mechanisms and democratic norms.

The number plagues us like a cancerous tumor unfazed by chemotherapy or radiation, and too large for a scalpel to carve away without disfiguring the corpus: 70,000,000. Read more »

How Black is Not White?

by Akim Reinhardt

Today in TV History: Bill Clinton and His Sax Visit Arsenio – TV ...During the 1990s, the impossibility of a black president was so ingrained in American culture that some people, including many African Americans, jokingly referred to President Bill Clinton as the first “black president.” The threshold Clinton had passed to achieve this honorary moniker? He seemed comfortable around black people. That’s all it took.

Because an actual black president was so inconceivable that a white president finally treating African Americans as regular people seemed as close as America would get any time soon.

In 1998, Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison brought Clinton’s unofficial title to national attention with a New Yorker essay aimed at discrediting the impeachment proceedings against him. One of Morrison’s rhetorical devices was to check off all the boxes in which Clinton displayed “almost every trope of blackness,” including being raised in a working class, single-parent household, and loving fast food.

By 2003, the idea of a black president was still outlandish enough that it served as common comedic fodder. Chris Rock starred in the film Head of State, a fantasy comedy in which Chicago Alderman Mays Gilliam becomes a fluke president. And Dave Chappelle portrayed an unabashedly African American version of President George Bush in a Chapelle Show sketch. The skit’s running joke was how outrageous and “unpresidential” it would be to have a black chief executive. Read more »

Biden’s Binders: We Select A Veep

by Michael Liss

That Fifties-looking gent to your right is John J. Sparkman (D-Alabama) who was Adlai Stevenson’s running mate in 1952. Sparkman served in Congress for more than 40 years, the last 32 of them in the Senate. While not a star, he was associated with several pieces of important legislation and became Chair of the Senate Banking Committee and, late in his career, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He was also a committed segregationist and, in 1956, signed the Southern Manifesto, in emphatic opposition to Brown vs. Board of Education.

Not the best look in what was then an evolving Democratic Party, and the party bosses who made the decisions in those days knew it. When it became time for Ike to crush Stevenson again, Sparkman was replaced by Tennessee’s more liberal Estes Kefauver, who did not sign the Southern Manifesto. Sparkman remained in the Senate, where he served for 23 more years.

This scary-looking guy to your left is John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, who, during a truly extraordinary career that included being a Congressman, Senator, Secretary of State, and Secretary of War, also managed to sneak in two terms as Vice President under two very different Presidents, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. You are going to hear a lot over the next few weeks about “chemistry” between Joe Biden and his running mate. Suffice it to say that John C. Calhoun never had chemistry with anyone, except perhaps of the combustible kind. Mr. Jackson and Mr. Calhoun disagreed constantly, particularly on the enforcement of federal laws that South Carolina found not to its liking (including the juicily named “Tariff of Abominations”), which led Mr. Calhoun to resign the Vice Presidency during the Nullification Crisis in 1832.

I bring you these little worm-eaten chestnuts as an appetizer before today’s entrée, the coming vetting of either the next Vice President of the United States, or the next footnote to history. Sparkman’s and Calhoun’s experiences came to mind when it was announced that this is the week when Joe Biden’s team starts seriously thumbing through his binders of women. Since I have written kindly about Joe in the past, I thought he’d appreciate the input. Mr. Vice President, give me a call. Read more »

A Sentimental Bond with the Product: Joe Biden, the Past and the Future.

by Michael Liss

I’ve been thinking a lot about Joe Biden recently. Joe Biden and nostalgia, Joe Biden and memory. Joe Biden and Mad Men.

There is a wonderful scene to close the first season as Don Draper pitches an ad campaign to two exceptionally nerdy guys from Kodak. The boys from the lab want to talk technology, but a plastic and metal “wheel” is decidedly unsexy. Stumped at first, Don puts in a few of his own 35mm slides and an idea emerges. The lights dim, and images of happy moments with wife and kids, some posed, more not, each appear on the screen, with Don providing narration:

Well, technology is a glittering lure. But, there is the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash, if they have a sentimental bond with the product. My first job, I was in-house at a fur company, with this old-pro copywriter, a Greek named Teddy. Teddy told me the most important idea in advertising is new. Creates an itch. You simply put your product in there as a kind of calamine lotion. But he also talked about a deeper bond with the product. Nostalgia. It’s delicate, but potent. … Teddy told me that in Greek, ‘nostalgia’ literally means ‘the pain from an old wound.’ It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, forwards, takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel. It’s called the carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels. Round and around, and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved.

I’ve never had an itch to see Joe Biden as President. I do like him. A lot of Americans of a certain age like him, friendly and familiar and a bit worn, like a favorite old jacket you take out every fall when it gets a little chilly. The country could do a lot worse than elect Joe Biden. He has the temperament and the policy chops: former Chairman of both the Senate Foreign Relations and Judiciary Committees, former Vice-President, former glad-hander, back-slapper, and deal maker. Republicans who mocked him during the Obama Administration were often secretly relieved when the occasionally aloof President would send Joe to work the back-rooms and rope-lines. Joe got it done.  Read more »