August 14, 2020

Trump-Pence Slogans

In 2016, the slogan of the Trump-Pence campaign was “Make America Great Again.” The implication was that, in 2016, America had ceased to be great, but that it had been great at some past time. It was never clear when, in the Trump-Pence universe, America was last great, but Democrats concluded that that fabled time was probably the 1950s, when whites were prosperous and blacks knew their place.

This year, somewhat predictably, the GOP slogan is “Keep America Great.” Democrats, of course, believe that the Trump administration has run the nation into the ground, so that “Make America Great Again” could logically be this year’s Democratic slogan. “Keep America Great” is, at best, disingenuous.

I began thinking of possible Trump-Pence slogans that would be scrupulously honest. That’s an unconventional concept for political rhetoric in general and an especially peculiar one for Republicans. But one can have some fun with the concept. I want to offer the GOP some signs that could capture the actual thoughts and intentions of its standard-bearers.

Trump is already trying to label the Democratic ticket as “socialist.” This is absurd. Although the Democratic Party has certainly moved left in recent years, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris hardly represent the far-left wing of the party. We can expect the Republicans to weaponize the “socialist” label. Here’s a possible sign:

FIGHT SOCIALISM

One of Trump’s most conspicuous efforts has been the elimination of federal regulations. His administration has also been lax in enforcing existing laws and regulations. The GOP faithful love this stuff, as they have a basic dislike—hatred even—of government. Trump‘s base sees every law or regulation as a limitation on freedom. This will please them:

LESS GOVERNMENT/MORE FREEDOM

In 2016, Trump made much of his intention to keep foreigners out of the country. He began his campaign with outrageous charges against Mexicans. This year, the campaign could be equally outrageous but might opt instead for subtlety. This seemingly innocuous sentiment suggests, in the Trump universe, keeping foreigners out and deporting the undocumented people already here:

AMERICA FOR AMERICANS

Trump had planned to be able to boast of a prosperous economy in the 2020 campaign. It was always questionable how much Trump was responsible for a strong economy, and fate dealt the president a nasty blow. The economy, as a result of the ongoing pandemic and the administration’s failure to deal with it effectively, has been sent into the toilet with little prospect of improvement in time to be of much help to the GOP ticket. Trump cannot brag about the financial health of the country, but he can assert that the economy is more important than, say, the health of school pupils:

ECONOMY FIRST

Trump not only values the economy over the health of Americans (and especially of children, who don’t vote) but he also values economic health over the environment and the regulations intended to protect it. Many Trump supporters would resonate to this message:

JOBS BEFORE TREES

The Trump administration has been characterized by disdain for competence. Cabinet secretaries have been selected for their political contributions rather than for their subject-area knowledge and experience. Trump’s disdain was even more in evidence as he dealt with (or failed to deal with) the pandemic. The president has refused to pay attention to medical and scientific experts. Instead, he seems to believe that he is the world’s greatest expert on every conceivable subject. Alas, America has always supported an anti-intellectual strain that can make a virtue of Trump’s dislike of experts:

FREEDOM FROM EXPERTISE

Black Lives Matter demonstrations have given Trump an opportunity to bring out the ever-popular law and order Republican theme:

LAW & ORDER

Black Lives Matter also suggests a more obviously racist slogan. Alter all, in Republican voting, black lives really do not matter:

WHITE LIVES MATTER

A surprising initiative from the Trump administration is the campaign against mail-in voting. Given that Trump himself votes by mail, this effort is decidedly insincere. The strangest component of this crusade has been the attack on the United States Postal Service. The Trump-Pence ticket could try to minimize the significance of the anti-USPS effort:

WHO NEEDS THE POST OFFICE?

Trump believes in family, albeit only his own. He could claim otherwise, suggesting a softer side of the president. This suggests:

FAMILY FIRST

Trump came into office arguing that we should have more friendly relations with Russia. Even President Obama attempted to “reset” U.S.-Russia relations, after all. Trump’s studied avoidance of ever saying a negative word about Russia or Vladimir Putin and his willingness to accept Putin’s word over that of his own intelligence services has been incomprehensible. This suggests a slogan that perhaps not even his most ardent supporters will fully appreciate:

MAKE RUSSIA GREAT AGAIN

Trump has eagerly taken credit for positive developments, even if his actions have not been the cause of them. (The rising stock market is one of his favorite “accomplishments.”) On the other hand, he seems incapable of taking responsibility for negative events or for actions that have the potential to turn out poorly. For example, rather than taking charge of the production and distribution of personal protective equipment needed by medical and other workers, he left the matter to governors. Those governors found themselves outbidding one another for PPE. Here is one slogan that certainly captures the Trump philosophy of governance, but it might not be popular, even with the true Trump believers:

AUTHORITY WITHOUT RESPONSIBILITY

We are unlikely to see any of these proposed Trump-Pence slogans, with the possible exception of “Law & Order.” It is worth thinking about what honest slogans of the GOP ticket might be. As Trump literally lies more often than he tells the truth, however, honesty will not be much in evidence in the 2020 presidential campaign.

August 8, 2020

Vote in Pennsylvania

 I believe that the November 2020 election is the most important election in my lifetime. It is probably also the most problematic, given the ongoing pandemic, Republican attempts to restrict voting, and the president’s efforts to discourage mail-in voting.

Vote in Pennsylvania LogoThe upcoming election is of greatest importance for three reasons. First, we need to remove the proto-fascist Donald Trump from the White House. Second, if a President Biden is to be able to change the direction of the country, we need a Democratic Congress. Democrats need to hold the House and flip the Senate. Finally, state elections are crucial because the state legislators we elect will redraw electoral districts, a task that fell primarily to Republicans after the 2010 census and result in gerrymandering that assured that Republicans sent more people to Congress even in states where Democratic voters were in the majority.

The main message I want to send to my fellow Pennsylvanians is this: VOTE. Vote as though your life depends on it, but try to do so without actually putting your life in jeopardy. You can vote in person, of course, though this is potentially risky because of the coronavirus. It is better to vote by mail. It is no longer necessary to provide an excuse for doing so. Any voter can vote using a mail-in ballot.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has conveniently provided a Web site that provides all the information you need to vote. From that site, you can register to vote, check your registration, request a mail-in ballot, and find additional information related to the voting process. That Web site can be found here:

https://www.votespa.com/

Here are some important dates you need to keep in mind:

  • The last day to register to vote if you are not already registered is October 19, 2020. Most people will be able to register on-line (see above link).
  • Applications for mail-in and absentee ballots must be received by your county election office by 5 p.m. on October 27, 2020. You must be registered to submit an application. Most people can apply on-line (see above link).
  • Ballots must be received by your county election office by 8 p.m. on election day, that is, November 3, 2020. Having an earlier postmark doesn’t count if your ballot is not received by that time.
Rules are slightly different for active-duty military personnel (see above link).

There are few compelling reasons to apply for an absentee ballot, which requires that you offer a reason for not voting in person. You can request a mail-in ballot simply because you want one. (This is a recent—and welcome—innovation.)

Finally, I offer some advice:
  • If you are a resident of Pennsylvania and you are not registered, register to vote as soon as possible.
  • If you are unsure about your voter registration, you can check it on-line.
  • If you are registered, even if you think you will want to vote in person, request a mail-in ballot right away. If you choose not to use it, you may still vote in person.
  • If you are going to vote by mail, fill in your ballot as soon as you get it and mail it to your county election office. (It can be hand-delivered if you prefer.) You can hold onto your ballot for a time if you are uncertain how you want to vote, but be keenly aware that your ballot must arrive on time to be counted. Do not rely on the swiftness of the U.S. Postal Service.

Remember: Democracy does not work if people don’t exercise their right to vote.

August 1, 2020

The Biden Agenda before the Biden Agenda

Joe Biden has articulated his plans and objectives for addressing myriad matters—the environment, education, women, gun violence, you name it. Each topic is treated on his Web site in a longish essay, not simply in a list of bullet points.

As of August 1, 2020, Donald Trump’s Web site is quite different. It is compact and concerned primarily with fund-raising. Only two issues are dealt with, and neither page treating one of these issues is linked to from what passes as the home page. The issues carry the titles “Drain The Swamp” and “Stand Against Antifa.” Apparently, these are the two most vital issues facing the nation in the Trump universe. Each page is virtually devoid of seemingly relevant text and, like the home page, concerns itself primarily with fund-raising.

What is the president’s plan for the environment, for civil rights, for prison reform, for the COVID-19 pandemic? Who knows! In fact, when questioned about his goals for a second term, Donald Trump could only speak of his natural talent and the failings of his enemies, most notably John Bolton. Trump never answered the question asked. However, his goals presumably include enriching himself and his friends through government action, continuing the dismantling of democratic institutions, alienating our allies, and enjoying the fellowship of foreign despots. Interestingly, the Republican Party has decided not to devise a new platform for the 2020 campaign but to simply reuse the platform from 2016. The party wasn’t going to get any fresh ideas from their current standard-bearer anyway.

Laudable though his intentions are, Joe Biden’s most important and urgent task is one that, out of political politeness, he is no doubt reluctant to publicize. Like a parent facing widespread devastation caused by a precocious but destructive toddler left alone in the house too long, Joe Biden must concentrate on cleaning up Trump’s messes. He must quickly build an administration comprising men and women of experience, competence, and unswerving loyalty to democracy and the rule of law. He must reassure our allies that a steadfast United States of America is back and that its flirtation with fascism is over. The Biden administration must begin re-implementing regulations annulled by its predecessor and seek to enact the most important ones into law. A Biden Justice Department needs to drop its support of anti-democratic conservative litigation and turn its attention to police department misconduct and the crimes of Donald Trump and his cronies.

Once the ship of state is diverted from its course toward the rocky shoals of autocracy, Joe Biden, his administration, and—it is to be hoped— a Democratic Senate and Democratic House of Representatives—can renew the goal of perfecting our Republic and again becoming a beacon of freedom in an increasingly dark and perilous world.

Enough.

July 30, 2020

The Real Trump Platform

Republicans have decided to forego creating a new party platform for 2020 and to simply reuse their 2016 version. This is administratively simple, of course, but the United States of 2020 is very different from that of 2016, and Donald Trump’s agenda, now that Trump has seen what he can get away with, is rather more expansive. The president will not be too explicit about his real goals for the country, but we can glean some objectives from his actions and his tweets. Others, we can guess. Some of these ideas, he may be willing to talk about; others not so much.

Here is an attempt to discern the planks of Mr. Trump’s real platform for 2020:
  1. Complete and strengthen the wall on our southern border and begin building a wall on our northern border.
  2. Deport all people in the country found to be undocumented.
  3. Eliminate all immigration into the U.S., both permanent and temporary.
  4. Stop admitting asylum seekers.
  5. Withdraw from the United Nations, NATO, and other multilateral compacts.
  6. Add Russia to the G7.
  7. Add a representative of Russia to the National Security Council.
  8. Accept Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
  9. Remove U.S. troops from Europe, Korea, Syria, and Afghanistan.
  10. Increase spending on defense.
  11. Increase arms sales to Saudi Arabia and Israel.
  12. Eliminate the inheritance tax.
  13. Decrease the corporate income tax.
  14. Provide additional tax breaks for real estate developers.
  15. Outlaw all abortions.
  16. Keep niggers out of white suburbs.
  17. Eliminate scientists and science advice from government.
  18. Eliminate spending on science and medicine.
  19. Eliminate public schools and universities in favor of for-profit education.
  20. Protect statues of Confederate generals and other monuments to the Confederacy.
  21. Put the portrait of Robert E. Lee on the $20 bill.
  22. Outlaw books criticizing the president.
  23. Strengthen laws against slander and libel.
  24. Institute new taxes on newspapers and radio and television stations.
  25. Outlaw mail-in voting.
  26. Require a government ID for voting throughout the country.
  27. Privatize postal and weather services, Social Security, and the IRS.
  28. Begin charging admission for D.C. museums and monuments.
  29. Make the Justice Department and Federal Reserve answerable only to the president.
  30. Provide a domestic police force for the sole use of the president.
Perhaps you think the above list an exaggeration. A little, maybe, but it is certainly commensurate with Donald Trump’s inclinations. Only this morning has the president tweeted that we should postpone November’s election because mail-in voting is “INNACURATE & FRADULENT.” (He approves of "Absentee Voting,” which he himself uses, but he condemns “Universal Mail-In Voting.”) The Constitution be damned.

If you want a president with a real platform like the one above, by all means vote for Donald Trump in November, preferably in person and without wearing a mask. If you want to preserve our Republic, vote for Joe Biden by whatever means are at your disposal.

July 22, 2020

Votes for All—Universal Adult Suffrage

Voting access is the key to equality in our democracy. The size of your wallet, the number on your Zip code shouldn’t matter. The action of government effects every American so every citizen should have an equal voice. … We all count! It doesn’t matter whether you’re black, or white, Latino, Asian-American or Native American. We are one people. We are one family. We all live in the same house—the American house.

   — John Lewis, 2019

Vote button
I recently watched the four-hour American Experience documentary “The Vote,” which traces the long road to women’s suffrage. “The Vote” is available on the PBS Web site, and I recommend it highly.

The documentary pointed out a characteristic of our laws that I had never thought about. As the franchise was expanded over the years, the Constitution was amended to say not who could vote but who could not be prevented from voting.

Voting by ordinary citizens was not dealt with in the Constitution until the post-Civil War amendments were enacted. In Section 1 of the 14th Amendment, citizenship is defined:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.
This provision was required by the infamous Dred Scott Decision, which denied that Blacks could be U.S. citizens. Section 2 annuls the notorious provision of Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3, which treated slaves—referred to as “other Persons”—as three-fifths of a person:
Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed.
(Notice that “persons,” not “citizens” are to be counted, despite President Trump’s recent instructions that the census should not count undocumented persons.) Section 2 also provides that a state’s representation can be reduced if the right to vote
is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion or other crime
This provision has been used to disenfranchise felons in some states. It has never been used to reduce a state’s representation. The provision was largely made moot by the 15th Amendment, Section 1 of which reads
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
Taken together, the 14th and 15th Amendments require that, with minor exceptions, all men aged twenty-one or older may not be prevented from voting based on race, color, or having been a slave. (Apparently, some Southern states tried to prohibit people from voting whose parents or grandparents were slaves.) Nothing is said about prohibiting voting because of religion or sex. Arguably, the First Amendment made using religion to disenfranchise citizens questionable. Some women argued that these amendments should have given them the right to vote. They argued for their suffrage to be provided for explicitly. They did not carry the day.

Not until the ratification of the 19th Amendment, did women get the right to vote:
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
It is unclear whether “sex” includes sexual minorities such as homosexuals. It is reasonable to conclude that it does, as the Supreme Court has just ruled that “sex” in legislation prohibiting discrimination in employment does indeed cover such people.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was designed to enforce the protections of the 14th and 15th Amendments and explicitly outlawed certain mechanisms for denying the right to vote such as the use of literacy tests. Additional legislation over the years has sought to strengthen voting rights. In 2013, however, a major provision of the 1965 law was struck down by the Supreme Court. That provision required states with a history of discrimination to obtain federal clearance for any changes to their voting laws.  Shelby County v. Holder provided an excuse for Southern states to implement procedures intended to limit voting by racial minorities.

The 24th Amendment outlawed the franchise’s being dependent on paying a poll tax or other tax. The 26th Amendment, the most recent amendment touching upon voting, reduced the voting age to 18:
The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.
The Constitution does not explicitly prohibit using other criteria to prevent people from voting, such as removing them from the voting rolls for not having voted in recent elections. Additionally, many states prevent incarcerated persons from voting, possibly even after they have served their term in prison. In Florida, for instance, felons lost their right to vote and had to go through an elaborate procedure to restore their rights upon release from prison. Floridians voted to eliminate that procedure, but the legislature passed a law that, before voting rights could be restored, all fines and mandated restitution had to be paid. Does that law run afoul of the 24th Amendment? That question awaits an answer.

If the United States is to be a true democracy, should not everyone be allowed to vote? Even criminals sent to prison remain citizens. What harm can come by allowing them to vote? They might even have special insights into our penal system that might profitably be taken into account. Given that this country incarcerates so many people, taking away those people’s franchise significantly reduces the electorate.

I believe, apparently as did the recently departed Congressman John Lewis, that all citizens should be allowed to vote. Period. Therefore, I propose a constitutional amendment that would make that ideal a reality:
Amendment XXVIII
Section 1. All citizens of the United States who are eighteen years old or older shall have an irrevocable right to vote.
Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
This amendment, rather than describing who cannot be prevented from voting, simply declares that suffrage is universal among citizens. Moreover, events such as incarceration can have no effect on suffrage. One can lose the right to vote only be losing citizenship, by personal renunciation, for example. States could implement this amendment in various ways or Congress could specify a nationwide implementation. Ideally, voter lists can be done away with. When presenting themselves to vote, whether in person or remotely, people can simply self-certify that they are citizens. As now, severe penalties can be assessed on non-citizens caught trying to vote. (Although Republicans falsely claim that many non-citizens have been allowed to vote, there is no evidence for that belief.)

Would not such an amendment be a reform that enhances our democracy?

July 14, 2020

A New Name for the Redskins

So the Washington Redskins are finally to get a new name. Fine. What is it to be? I have been unimpressed by most of the names I have heard suggested. Redtails? That seems like a cynical attempt to embrace one minority after defaming a different minority for decades. Will the new uniform pants have scarlet seats?

An obvious naming strategy would be to take advantage of some aspect of the District of Columbia. After all, there once was a baseball team called the Washington Senators in town. This could be the new name for the NFL team. The team could adopt another name suggesting the governmental nature of Washington. We could cheer the Washington Lobbyists, the Washington Legislators, the Washington Lawmakers, the Washington Politicians (commonly called the Pols), or the Washington Solons. Less favorable references to our nation’s capital suggest names such as the Washington Swamp Rats or other names that, out of delicacy, I will not mention.

Redskins Helmet
Many of those names probably would not work well, particularly those having more than two syllables. Actually, I sort of like Swamp Rats, though I doubt that has much chance of being selected. It does have but two syllables, which is a plus. (Go Rats!)

How about the Washington Leaders? If the team is actually any good, that name would have a double meaning. Again, the name has but two syllables.

My best suggestion is simply to call the football team the Washington Reds. Fans of the old name will see a surreptitious reference to the former name; detractors of the old name will see a name with no negative implications or, perhaps, will imagine a team of revolutionaries (or maybe Bolsheviks). The communist reference is a stretch. The name can just suggest a color. After all, my alma mater, the University of Chicago, fields the Maroons. What, after all, is a Maroon?

Well, I await a final decision about the team name from the Redskins front office. Is anyone ready to wager on what name will be selected?

Community vs. Individual Concerns in the Time of Pandemic

What is needed to control the coronavirus until a vaccine is available, we are told, is extensive testing and effective contact tracing. We should all be wearing masks and be distancing from one another. This will allow us to identify outbreaks and quickly contain them. There is general agreement, except in the White House, that we have not yet achieved effective control of the virus by these means.

Coronavirus
Coronavirus
We must recognize, however, that even if we have readily available testing and contact tracing, and people are wearing masks and avoiding getting close to one another, individuals are not immune to catching the virus. Some people will be infected, and they may get sick and possibly die. The benefit to the community is that fewer people will become sick, and a good deal of economic activity can resume with reduced risk. The heavy burden currently being felt by hospitals, EMS personnel, and funeral homes will be substantially reduced, and the nation will be a happier place.

The one bright note for individuals is that the medical establishment is learning how better to treat COVID-19 patients. There is still no cure, but treatment is improving, and one’s chance of surviving a COVID-19 hospitalization has improved. Because, even with extensive testing and contract tracking, individuals are not immune to getting sick, however, it is wise to do everything you can to stay well—wear a mask, wash your hands, avoid touching your face, and avoid people—especially crowds of people—as much as possible. If you can, stay home and watch Netflix or read War and Peace.

Good luck surviving this pandemic.

July 11, 2020

Masks

Despite the now universal medical advice that, during this time of pandemic, people should wear masks in public to decrease the spread of the coronavirus, many people refuse to do so. Masking has unfortunately become a political issue. People eschew masks as effete or as a concession to a science in which they have no faith or in recognition of Donald Trump’s assertion that the pandemic is some kind of liberal plot. To my knowledge, no one has so far been killed in arguments over mask-wearing, but that may well happen before the pandemic subsides.

The militantly unmasked are doubtless inspired by the actions of the president. Donald Trump has consistently dismissed the viral threat despite the 135,000 deaths in the U.S. that have been caused by it. He has made a point of not wearing a mask, even in situations in which doing so has seemed particularly urgent. Today, for the first time, he unabashedly wore a mask publicly in a visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. One suspects that the hospital staff was insistent on mask usage to protect its patients. The president has not suggested that he has changed his mind regarding masks, however, and today’s mask usage is probably a one-off event.

I believe that the zealous opposition to mask-wearing could largely be extinguished if the president would simply proclaim that he will wear a mask whenever he is interacting with others and that he urges everyone to follow his lead in order to decrease the spread of disease.

Why is Mr. Trump so reluctant to take this simple action? Why is he willing to contribute to already appalling death toll by failing to do the obvious?