November 24, 2020

Why People Are Traveling for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is in two days. In an ordinary year, millions of Americans would be traveling to attend family gatherings. This year, with coronavirus infections, hospitalizations, and deaths reaching new peaks, health officials have been telling people to stay home. But airline travel has seen surges not seen in months. Airports are filled with holiday travelers, often without masks, and seldom distant from one another.

Why are so many people ignoring what is clearly wise advice? Admittedly, I have not gone to the airport to interview airline partons, but I can offer a theory. (I’m staying home and keeping away from others, of course, so I’m not going to the airport.)

The most obvious explanation is that people are idiots. Either they are fed up with restrictions or they have considered the pandemic overhyped all along. Let me offer a less gloomy explanation.

Most people crowding the airports have likely heard the pleas to stay at home. Their logic for getting on an airplane may have gone something like this: Because medical experts are telling people to stay home, few people will be traveling. That means that airports and airplanes will not be crowded, and travel will be relatively safe. Unfortunately, if lots of people reason this way, their logic becomes self-defeating.

This phenomenon is akin to bank runs. If there is concern that a bank is unsound, an individual, protecting his or her assets, will go to the bank and withdraw whatever funds are on deposit. If one person does this, the action is innocuous. If hundreds or thousands of people do this, the situation becomes a crisis.

Alas, we have become a country in which many people are concerned only with themselves, ignoring the common good and whether their actions may have unintended consequences.

November 12, 2020

The Anti-Democratic Party

I created the graphic below for posting on Facebook. I was disappointed that it didn’t seem to get much attention. Perhaps it isn’t as clever as I thought it was, but I still think it deserves more exposure. Therefore, I am making this post on my blog.

The text in the graphic, of course, has a double meaning. Obviously, the Republican Party is, in general, the party that opposes the Democratic Party (the “Democrat” Party to GOP partisans these days). Being aligned against the Democrats, it is anti-Democratic.

Increasingly, the party that likes to think of itself as the “party of Lincoln,” is a party that seeks power at all costs to benefit the wealthy and well-connected. (Lincoln would not be pleased.) The GOP is the party of gerrymandering, voter suppression, and, in the aftermath of the 2020 election, the party of outrageous claims and frivolous lawsuits. It may be the party of even more outrageous attempts to steal the election from Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. In that sense, the Republican Party is deeply anti-democratic. It cares about obtaining and wielding power and cares not a fig about the abstract idea that is democracy.

Feel free to copy this graphic for use elsewhere.

Republican Party: The Anti-Democratic Party

November 6, 2020

Is the Use of the Twentieth-Fifth Amendment in our Future?

 My last post expressed concern about how Donald Trump will behave after he has definitively lost his re-election bid and before his term expires on January 20. My concern has increased after seeing Trump’s unhinged briefing last night. The president lied so much and so outrageously that networks that usually broadcast his briefings in full cut away from the president and explained how what he was saying was untrue.

Last night’s briefing may have been a preview of the next few months. What will happen if Trump’s post-election actions appear to be those of a madman whose ego has been fatally threatened by failure? I will suggest a possible scenario.

If Trump’s actions become totally outrageous, a turn to the Twenty-Fifth Amendment becomes a reasonable step to rescue the country from chaos. This would require the co-operation of Republican leaders, of course, but one can hope that even Republican politicians can recognize that their party’s titular leader is ruining their brand. If Trump can be sidelined, allowing Mike Pence to assume presidential duties until January 20, the country will have a chance to achieve a normal and peaceful transfer of power without further damaging the Republic.

Am I putting too much faith in Mike Pence? I think not. Pence has been Trump’s lackey for the sake of his own career, but he is not stupid. If Trump loses, the vice president has little incentive to follow the president’s descent into madness. If Pence is accepting of the will of the people and actively assists in the transition to a Biden administration, he will earn the thanks of the nation and may even have a political future.

October 31, 2020

The Post-election Interregnum

Once all the frivolous Republican litigation challenging Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election is resolved, Donald Trump will no longer have any incentive to please or help anyone but himself. He will use his last opportunity to settle scores, to further enrich himself and his family, and to lash out at God knows who or what out of sheer malevolence. 

Do not expect Trump to help the incoming administration or to retire quietly. He will issue pardons to unworthy supporters, perhaps even to himself. (Pardoning himself for past and future crimes will be a great temptation for the president. Such a move would be challenged, of course, and it has the drawback of suggesting that he might have done something wrong, an admission Trump would be loath to make.) Expect more increasingly outrageous executive orders from the Oval Office. Thanksgiving and Christmas will give the president excuses to take additional vacation days and to use time on the links to temporarily alleviate his frustration and anger. The effect will be fleeting.

Alas, Trump will remain bitter, uncomprehending, and eager to identify people and circumstances to blame for his misfortune. This will be a painful time for the American people and perhaps a dangerous time as well.

But we will somehow muddle through with the hope for better times and a strengthened democracy beginning on January 20. As Biden assembles his cabinet, a return to reasonable governance will seem a genuine possibility. Let us hope that Donald Trump does not find a way to derail that possibility.

October 26, 2020

A Note on Blog Comments

 I need to apologize to a few people who left comments on this blog but who never saw their comments approved. Somewhere along the line, a change that Google made to Blogger meant that I was no longer being informed of comments requiring moderation. I have now fixed that (I think), so that moderation should no longer take forever.

I will not offer an apology to those who left comments that seemed oblivious to the content of the post on which they were leaving a comment and whose content was intended to promote some commercial Web site. My blog is not a billboard for posting ads.

I also deleted comments in several other categories. If the comment was totally incomprehensible, I deleted it. Readers would be no more enlightened than I by reading such a comment. I also deleted anonymous comments, which I have explicitly disallowed. I was sad about doing this in a few cases where the content was genuinely responsive to what I wrote. If you want to leave a comment but do not want to tell me who you are, make up an alias and use it whenever you leave a comment. That way, people will be able to identify comments from the same person, even if they do not know who the writer is.

Expect comment moderation to be timely in the future.

October 23, 2020

Is “Apiece” Really Necessary?

 Sixteen years ago, I wrote a post titled “Is ‘Both’ Really Necessary?” It was written in response to this sentence heard on NPR: “Both of the planes disappeared within a few minutes of each other.” I commonly hear “both” used this way, implying that each of two entities possesses a property that necessarily involves both of them. (If the problem with this location is unclear, read my earlier essay.)

Today, I encountered another use of a redundant word in a similar context. On the 11:00 am EDT NPR newscast, Korva Coleman reported:

Game three of the World Series is tonight. The Los Angeles Dodgers and the Tampa Bay Rays are tied in the World Series. They have each won one game apiece.

One might ask if “in the World Series” is really necessary in the second sentence, but this is only a matter of style. Perhaps it is even helpful to the listener who is not paying close attention.

My concern is actually with the word “apiece.” The word, in the sentence in question, is not only unnecessary but is also nonsensical. The sentence is essentially saying

The Los Angeles Dodgers have won one game apiece.
The Tampa Bay Rays have won one game apiece.

Neither of these sentences makes sense. Just as the property “disappeared within a few minutes of each other” is a property necessarily involving more than a single entity, “apiece” necessarily involves more than one entity. Either of the following sentences would have been grammatically and logically acceptable alternatives to the original formulation:

They have each won one game.
They have won one game apiece.

The first sentence attributes having won one game to each team. The second sentence attributes having won the same number of games to both teams. Unlike the original, both sentences are grammatical and logical.

October 22, 2020

A Biden Administrative Agenda

Presidential campaigns usually emphasize policy positions intended to appeal to one constituency or another. The 2020 presidential campaign is very different.

Donald Trump hardly talks about policy positions at all. The Republican Party didn’t even bother to produce a 2020 platform. The understanding is that a Trump victory will deliver a continuation of what we have seen for nearly four years. Without concern for re-election, we can reasonably expect that Trump will continue to ignore existing norms.

Joe Biden, on the other hand, has articulated positions on many issues, though he does spend a lot of time decrying the dumpster fire that is the Trump administration. The Biden campaign implies that, whatever its policy positions, a Biden administration will return our national government to “normal.”

I suspect that many voters indeed yearn for “normal,” perhaps even for something a little better than what has passed for normal heretofore. The Biden-Harris campaign should, I think, be forthcoming about what a new Democratic administration would look like. Although a campaign can articulate a long list of policy objectives, achieving those objectives ultimately depends on the coöperation of the Congress. Those policy goals may be met or not or, perhaps achieved imperfectly.

On the other hand, Joe Biden can promise how a Biden White House will operate administratively, and such promises are not dependent on others. I will suggest what such a promise might look like. I think that making it public now would be a positive move by the Democratic campaign. If not used by the campaign, it can be used to guide the new administration as it comes together.

Here, then, are administrative policies I believe the Biden White House should implement. The items on my list are in no special order, and I don’t claim that my list is exhaustive. I invite additional suggestions.

The list:
  1. Twitter will be used neither by the president nor the vice president. The White House will only use Twitter to call attention to material and announcements otherwise released in a conventional manner.
  2. The president will hold monthly news conferences and will encourage government departments to hold regular news conferences as may be appropriate.
  3. Except possibly in extreme circumstances, the president will not lie to the American people. (Exceptions to this policy are most likely in the pursuit of foreign policy objectives. Exceptions should be rare or nonexistent.)
  4. The president and vice president will offer to meet regularly with the congressional leadership. (This should result in regular meetings if the Democrats control both houses of Congress.)
  5. Anti-nepotism rules will be enforced throughout the government and will be applied to the White House as well.
  6. Cabinet secretaries and administrators will be selected for their technical and managerial expertise. They will be expected to resolve any conflicts of interest before assuming their duties.
  7. Judicial candidates will be selected for their legal accomplishments and liberal views. None will have any connection to the Federalist Society. Originalist or literalist views will be disqualifying.
  8. Ambassadors will be selected for their relevant skills. Contributions to the president’s campaign are not relevant.
  9. The president and vice president will each put any assets that could be affected by government actions into a blind trust while in office.
  10. The vice president shall work closely with the president and will be responsible for any special tasks determined by the president.
  11. No lobbyists will be appointed to administrative positions.
  12. Appointees must agree to not lobby the government for a period of two years after they leave government service.
  13. It is the intention of the administration to fully fund and staff all governmental organizations consistent with funding from the Congress. In particular, every attempt will be made to fill diplomatic, scientific, and technical positions left vacant at the end of the Trump administration.
  14. Relevant governmental units will be instructed to restore information related to climate change that was removed from the Web by the Trump administration.
  15. All governmental units will be encouraged to be transparent by publishing as much useful data as possible on their Web sites.
  16. All governmental units will be expected to respond in a timely manner to any reasonable Freedom of Information request.
  17. An absolute separation will be established between the White House and the Department of Justice. The White House will have no influence over the impartial administration of justice.
  18. The administration will obey existing laws limiting the tenure of temporary appointees to positions requiring Senate approval. Temporary appointments should be for as short a period as possible.
  19. The president will consider all cases of the Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal from international organizations and agreements. Most of these withdrawals should be reversed. Included in the cases to be reconsidered are, among others, the following: the World Health Organization, the Paris climate agreement, the U.N.Human Rights Council, the U.N. Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, the Iran nuclear deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, etc,
  20. The president will review all executive orders from President Trump and rescind or modify them as seems appropriate for the good of the country.
Updated: 10/27/2020