Trump, the insurrection, and what comes next

Bob Sheak, Jan 15, 2021

bsheak983@gmail.com

In this post, I review evidence of Trump’s false claims that the election was rigged and stolen from him and how he tried to override the election results to favor him. I then consider the answers to some questions. Why so many Americans were willing to accept Trump’s claims? How thousands were mobilized to travel to Washington D.C. with the purpose of disrupting the Joint-Session of the U.S. Congress as it was in the process of counting the already certified electoral votes? What were they told by Trump at the March to Save America rally on January 6? What did the crowd do, once it reached the Capitol building grounds? And, in concluding thoughts, I raise a series of questions that have become relevant since the attack on the U.S. Congress, while also discussing the impeachment of Trump by the U.S. House, and closing with some wise statement from Richard Heinberg, author and senior fellow at the Post Carbon Institute.

In the weeks before and after the presidential election

Advancing the “big lie” that the election was rigged

Trump’s efforts to win the 2020 presidential election by any means began well before the election itself, when he repeatedly said that millions of mailed-in ballots were fraudulent. Then after the election, Trump claimed that he had won the election by millions of votes – that the election was fraudulent, that millions of votes cast for Biden were invalid, that millions of votes for him were not counted, and, absurdly, that Biden must prove to him that the 80 million plus votes he received were indeed valid votes before he concedes. Susan B. Glasser writes in an article for The New Yorker on January 7th that the country “had to brace for an alarming confluence of virus denialism and election denialism between November 3rd and January 20th.” Glasser continues: “As devastating as it is for American democracy, it is no longer news that the President insists, as he did in a tweet the other day, that he is the victim of the ‘greatest Election Fraud in the history of the United States.’” Then, in the days immediately following the election, “Trump said that his goal was to ‘STOP THE COUNT,’ ‘stop the steal,’ or to demand recounts, or to discover evidence of fraud’” (https://newyorker.com/news/letter-from-trump-washington/its-not-just-trumps-war-on-democracy-anymore). Glasser further writes:

“Trump has escalated and escalated, culminating on Wednesday [Nov 9] with a single-word tweet announcing his new goal: not to win the election but to ‘#OVERTURN’ the results.” Even more strikingly, while his lawyers lost 64 court cases since the election, Trump has told millions of Americans through his Tweet account to believe that the election was rigged against him—seventy-seven per cent of Republicans now say mass fraud occurred, according to a… Quinnipiac poll out Thursday [Nov 10]—and enlisted virtually the entire national leadership of the Republican Party in his concerted attack on the legitimacy of the results.”

Anne Gearan and Josh Dawsey report that “Trump has been fixated on overturning the election for weeks, making hundreds of calls to allies, lawyers, state legislators, governors and other officials and regularly huddling with outside lawyers Rudolph W. Giuliani and Sidney Powell, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and others.” And Trump fed “his base through twitter that the election was rigged against him, even before he lost the election on November 3. He asked his right-wing supporters to come to Washington for a rally on December 6, when a joint-session of Congress was convening to take the final step to sanctify Biden’s victory. It was at this rally, including an assimilate of some 30,000, that told the crowd to march to the US Capitol building” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-election-capitol-building).

Republican Party leadership delay acknowledging Biden’s victory

Glasser offers the following examples of the Republican Party’s support of Trump’s failed presidential candidacy and his baseless claims of electoral fraud. Not only had both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy refused to recognize his win for weeks after the election; they both voted against a ceremonial motion of the committee organizing the January 20th handover of power to ‘notify the American people’ of plans to inaugurate Biden. In the immediate aftermath of the election, McConnell said that Trump ‘has every right to look into allegations and request recounts under the law.’ When Trump lost the recounts and lost the lawsuits, after the votes had been certified by the states’ electors, and long after Trump had demanded the certified votes in swing states be rejected, McConnell remained silent,” or was so until Dec 15 when he finally relented to and announced the extraordinarily well-documented fact that Biden had won the election.

Trump’s efforts to sway certified vote in Georgia

After the election, Trump also spent time trying to intimidate electoral officials in Georgia to “recalculate” the state’s votes in his favor. Both Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state and Ryan Germany, the chief counsel for Mr. Raffensperger’s office, refuted Trump’s claims about electoral irregularities in the state’s presidential election and refused to change the already legally certified votes (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/03/us/politics/fact-checking-trump-georgia.html).

Rallying and inciting his followers to disrupt Joint-Session of the U.S. Congress on January 6

After failing there, Trump turned his attention to the final official step in the certification process of Biden’s victory, that is, when a Joint-Session of Congress is mandated by the constitution (the 12th amendment) to convene and count the electoral votes, already certified by the 50 states and Washington D.C. and delivered to vice-president Mike Pence by December 23 and to be counted on Jan. 6. According to Scott Bomboy, “Any objections at the session must be made in writing by at least one Member each of the Senate and House of Representatives. If an objection meets these requirements, the joint session recesses and the two houses separate and debate the question in their respective chambers for a maximum of two hours,” following a process established by the Electoral Count Act of 1887 and as interpreted by the Congressional Research Service. “The two houses vote separately to accept or reject the objection. They then reassemble in joint session, and announce the results of their respective votes. An objection to a state’s electoral vote must be approved by both houses in order for any contested votes to be excluded” ((https://constitutioncenter.org/blog/explaining-how-congress-settles-electoral-college-disputes).

Scott Bomboy provides some further details, referring to how the process of counting the electoral college votes from the states may be challenged (https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2021/politics/congress-electoral-college-count-tracker). According to Bomboy, if legislators from a state present an “alternative” slate of electors, one that is different from the slate already certified by the Electoral College, or if a slate is challenged without an alternative, the vice president, whose role is “to preserve order,” may allow alternative slates or the elimination of slates to be considered. This would require the two houses of the US Congress to meet separately as already described. This eventuality would open up the possibility that the duly certified slate a state’s electors could be replaced by the alternate slate or that a slate of electors from a given state could be eliminated. Either situation would change the overall electoral vote count in ways that could favor Trump. As it turns out, there were objections from 8 Senators and 139 House members based on the assertion that there should be an additional audit of the ballots in six swing states that had voted in favor of Biden.

The riot/insurrection, then Congress certifies Biden’s win

On January 6, while in the process of counting the votes from the states, rioters breached the Capitol just after 2 p.m. After terrifying members of the Congress and their staffs, vandalizing the building, killing one capitol policeman and injuring 50 or more others, the capitol was only secured by 5:34 p.m. In the end, five died during this what has been called an attempted insurrection. The joint-session of Congress resumed its deliberations at 7:00 p.m. After many hours of considering the objections, first of Arizona, then of Pennsylvania, the objections failed and Biden was declared president-elect just before 4 a.m. on January 7 (https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2021/01/06/how-pro-trump-mob-stormed-us-capitol).

Why did Trump’s followers do his bidding?

Why did tens of thousands of Trump believers decide to converge on D.C. on January 6 with the intention of disrupting the proceedings of a joint-session of the US Congress and then, after being incited by Trump to march to the Capitol, some would breach the understaffed Capitol police force at the Capitol, killing one and injuring 50 or more of them, occupying, roaming through, and vandalizing the building, entering vacated offices of Congress members, and in some cases looking for opportunities to harm members of the Congress?  They came because Trump urged them through his twitter account to come. They came because of hearing Trump for years rant about the “dark state” and the bureaucratic swamp in Washington, about the globalists who took away American jobs, about immigration policies that threatened white supremacy. Indeed, Dan Barry and his colleagues write: “For years, he had demonized political opponents and the media and egged on thuggish behavior at his rallies. But they felt a new urgency when Trump advanced his “big lie” that he, not Biden, had won the November election. The election, trump repeated over and over again, had been rigged against him, at least in six battleground states (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/09/us/capitol-rioters.html).

In a column for The New York Times, journalist and academic Thomas B. Edsall queries experts on “how racism, grievance, resentment and the fear of diminished status came together to fuel violence and mayhem on Jan. 6” (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/13/opinion/capitol-riot-white-grievance.html). Edsall posits: “There is no question that out-and-out racism and a longing to return to the days of white supremacy were high on the list of motivations of the pro-Trump mob that ransacked the Capitol on Jan. 6.” Here is what one of the experts said. “Bart Bonikowski, a professor of sociology at N.Y.U., was forthright:

“Ethnonationalist Trump supporters want to return to a past when white men saw themselves as the core of America and minorities and women ‘knew their place.’ Because doing so requires the upending of the social order, many are prepared to pursue extreme measures, including racial violence and insurrection. What makes their actions all the more dangerous is a self-righteous belief — reinforced by the president, the Republican Party, and right-wing conspiracy peddlers — that they are on the correct side of history as the true defenders of democracy, even as their actions undermine its core institutions and threaten its stability.”

Mobilizing supporters for Trump’s “March to Save America” rally

Getting the “big lie” out

There was plenty of advance publicity for Trump’s rally. Dany Barry and his colleagues at The New York Times report the “advance publicity for the ‘March for America’ had been robust (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/09/us/capitol-rioters.html). They continue: “Beyond the repeated promotions in tweets by the president and his allies, the upcoming event was cheered on social media, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. But woven through many of the messages to stand up for Mr. Trump — and, if possible, block the congressional certification of the election he claimed he had won — was language that flirted with aggression, even violence. For example, the term ‘Storm the Capitol’ was mentioned 100,000 times in the 30 days preceding Jan. 6, according to Zignal Labs, a media insights company. Many of these mentions appeared in viral tweet threads that discussed the possible storming of the Capitol and included details on how to enter the building.” These were messages that resonated with “the convoluted collection of conspiracy theories” of QAnon “that falsely claims the country is dominated by deep-state bureaucrats and Democrats who worship Satan, the word.” Adherents Barry et. al. write, “have often referred to a coming storm, after which Mr. Trump would preside over a new government order.” The reporters did not find clear evidence of “any big money or coordinated fund-raising…though some Trump supporters appear to have found funds through opaque online networks to help pay for transportation to the rally.”

The mob included extremist, violent-advocating groups

Alex Newhouse, the Research Lead at the Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism, at Middlebury Institute of International Studies, where he focuses on right-wing extremism, religious fundamentalism, online extremism and terrorism, and terrorist propaganda, provides further details on the mobilization ((https://www.commondreams.org/views/2021/01/09/far-right-activists-social-media-telegraphed-violence-weeks-advance-attack-us). Newhouse’s account goes as follows. “Since the election in November, Trump and his allies had spread baseless conspiracy theories alleging that Democratssome Republicans and  had committed widespread voter fraud to elect Biden. In this myth, Trump had won the election in a landslide, and only corrupt politicians stood in the way of his victory. These conspiracy theories sparked fury in all corners of the right-wing ecosystem, and the certification process for the Electoral College votes became a symbol of both corruption and opportunity.” Following a tweet from Trump posted on Dec. 18, ‘Big protest in D.C. on Jan. 6. Be There, will be wild!,’ right-wing groups began organizing for a large-scale protest in Washington, D.C. As a part of his research on far-right extremism, he found on “Facebook, Twitter, Parler and other platforms, influencers, politicians, activists and ordinary people focused on Jan. 6 as their final opportunity to prevent what they claimed was corruption on a monumental scale” and that January 6 was their last chance “to force Congress and Vice-President Mike Pence to nullify the election results and declare Trump the victor.” There were hints of violence, especially on Parler, a social media site that

has attracted millions of new conservative users in the past year, has positioned itself as a bastion for right-wing conspiracy theories and organizing efforts.” Newhouse found from his research that “hundreds of Parler users expressed their sincere belief, and even desire, that the demonstrations would spark a physical battle, revolution or civil war.”

Trump’s allies in the U.S. Congress spread the word long before the January 6 rally

Republican lawmakers using “bellicose language” spreading the false view of the election being rigged against Trump in the days and weeks before Trump’ January 6 rally and subsequent riot. Catie Edmondson and Luke Broadwater document this point. (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/11/us/politics/republicans-capitol-riot.html). They report: “…a handful of Mr. Trump’s most loyal allies in the House had gone even further in the days and weeks before the riot, urging their supporters to come to Washington on Jan. 6 to make a defiant last stand to keep him in power. They linked arms with the organizers of the protest and used inflammatory, bellicose language to describe the stakes.” The journalists continue: “Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Lauren Boebert of Colorado, first-term lawmakers who ran as outspoken defenders of Mr. Trump, referred to the day as Republicans’ ‘1776 moment.’ Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona, who for weeks promoted the Jan. 6 protest and other ‘Stop the Steal’ events across the country more than a dozen times, repeatedly referred to Mr. Biden as an ‘illegitimate usurper’ and suggested that Mr. Trump was the victim of an attempted ‘coup.’” And: “Be ready to defend the Constitution and the White House,” Mr. Gosar wrote in an op-ed titled ‘Are We Witnessing a Coup d’État?’”

Republican Support in the U.S. Congress to postpone and reject final validation of Biden’s already certified victory

Edmondson and Broadwater remind us that “[e]ven after the tear gas cleared and the Capitol was secured, more than 135 House Republicans, including the party’s two top leaders, ultimately voted to throw out millions of lawfully cast votes, fulfilling the rioters’ demands and answering Mr. Trump’s call for Congress to subvert the election results in his favor.”

Dark money groups were involved

Brian Schwartz’s investigations uncovers that interlinked Pro-Trump dark money groups organized the rally that led to deadly Capitol Hill riot,” signed the permit for the rally, promoted the rally, and hired the vender to put up the stage (https://www.cnbc.com/2021/01/09/pro-trump-dark-money-groups-organized-the-rally-led-to-deadly-capitol-hill-riot.html). Specifically, Schwartz writes, “The rally, officially known as the ‘March to Save America,’ was largely organized by a 501(c)(4) group known as Women for America First, an organization certified by the Internal Revenue Service as a nonprofit that can engage in limited political activities. These groups are known as dark money organizations as they do not [ordinarily] publicly disclose their donors.” Amy Kremer chairs Women for America First and is “a longtime political operative that was once the head of the Tea Party Express, an organization that was created to support the conservative Tea Party movement.

Schwartz found that Women for America First received a contribution of $25,000 in 2019 from a pro-Trump policy advocacy dark money group called America First Policies, a pro-Trump policy advocacy dark money group. America First Policies, which is also a 501(c)(4), is chaired by Linda McMahon, a longtime Trump ally and former head of the Small Business Administration. The Washingtonian obtained a copy of the permit and the executive director of a third group, Women for Trump. Kylie Jane Kremer, the executive director of the third group is named on the rally’s permit as the person in charge.

According to Schwartz, “Women for America First’s Facebook pages show they were calling on supporters to be part of what they described as a ‘caravan’ to Washington for the event.” In a recent post, the group calls on Facebook followers “to meet at an address in Virginia on Jan. 5, the day before the now infamous rally, to ‘join the caravan to D.C.’ There’s a picture of a bus with their logo on it and, though it notes they are not providing transportation, they encourage people to follow the bus.” Women for America First’s executive, Amy Kremer, “promoted the rally through a Twitter post that has been retweeted over 16,000 times and, she notes that it was shared by the president himself. Trump had over 80 million followers before he was permanently banned from Twitter on Friday, Jan 8.

The “woman” groups did more than arrange for the rally’s venue and promote the rally. They were additionally engaged from Jan. 2 through Jan. 5 in “setting up lighting, tents, flooring, bike racks, chairs and decor, all for Trump’s speech on Jan. 6.” A production vender, Event Strategies, was also involved. Event Strategies “was founded by Tim Unes. On the company website, Unes is credited with producing Trump’s 2015 ‘campaign announcement tour’ and later joined the campaign as a deputy director of advance.”

One other interesting point. Schwartz writes: “According to video obtained by CNBC, those backstage included the president, Donald Trump Jr., his girlfriend and Trump campaign advisor Kimberly Guilfoyle, his brother Eric Trump and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. Many behind the scenes were laughing and dancing before the festivities ensued.”

Trump’s crowd arrives

On Tuesday night, Jan. 5, early arrivers were stirred  up

Dan BarryMike McIntire and Matthew Rosenberg report: “A few thousand arrived for an earlier rally on the previous night of January 5 and gathered at Freedom Plaza in Washington for ‘The Rally to Save America’ event, permitted as ‘The Rally to Revival’(https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/09/us/capitol-rioters.html). The early arrivals were addressed by “well-known evangelists, alt-right celebrities (Alex Jones of Infowars) and Trump loyalists, including his former national security adviser Michael Flynn and the self-described Republican dirty trickster Roger Stone, both of whom he [Trump] had pardoned. The speakers repeatedly encouraged the attendees to see themselves as foot soldiers fighting to save the country. Americans, Mr. Flynn said, were ready to ‘bleed’ for freedom.” One speaker declared “It is time for war.” The journalists add: “As the audience thinned, groups of young men emerged in Kevlar vests and helmets, a number of them holding clubs and knives. Some were aligned with the neofascist Proud Boys; others with the Three Percenters, a far-right militia group.”

Wednesday, Jan. 6: The “Save America” Rally and March – an incitement to commit violence?

Before the rally on Jan. 7, Anne Gearan and Josh Dawsey that “some aides worried that if Trump spoke at the event not far from the Capitol, it could stoke the crowd and create a volatile scene, a senior administration official said. But Trump, the official said, was determined to do it” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-election-capitol-building). Then, once in front of the crowd, they report some of Trump’s fiery words as follows. “‘We will never give up. We will never concede. It doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved,’ Trump told the crowd to whoops and loud cheers, falsely claiming that President-elect Joe Biden’s victory was based on fraudulent vote counts. ‘We won this election, and we won it by a landslide. This was not a close election.’” Gearan and Dawsey  report Trump also told the crowd that “Republicans had to keep fighting and urged a crowd of aggrieved supporters to mount an insurrection against constitutional order on Wednesday, encouraging what quickly became a mob assault on the U.S. Capitol carried out in his name. The fabrications were familiar, but this time, Trump’s angry rant amounted to a call to arms.” Later Wednesday, after the crowd had become an insurrectionary mob, “Trump appeared to sympathize with the mob and to explain away the violence as the natural consequence of his election loss to Biden. He also edged close to celebrating the day’s events in a tweet with these words: “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long,” adding, after the mayhem at the Capitol was going on, “Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!” Twitter then decided to lock Trump’s account.

Charlie Savage analyze’s what Trump told the assembled crowd at the rally and asks the question whether Trump’s words constituted an incitement to riot. The implication of what he writes is that Trump’s statement did represent an incitement. (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/10/us/trump-speech-riot.html). As already noted, Trump “had urged supporters to come to Washington for a ‘Save America March’ on Wednesday, when Congress would ceremonially count President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s win, telling them to “be there, will be wild!.” He identifies five parts of Trump’s diatribe at the rally.

First, “Trump urged his supporters to ‘fight much harder’ against ‘bad people’ and ‘show strength’ at the Capitol.” For example, Trump told the crowd this: “Republicans are constantly fighting like a boxer with his hands tied behind his back. It’s like a boxer. And we want to be so nice. We want to be so respectful of everybody, including bad people. And we’re going to have to fight much harder.” At the same time, he made only a passing suggestion that the protest should be nonviolent, saying, “I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.”

Second, “Trump told the crowd that ‘very different rules’ applied,” as when he said: “When you catch somebody in a fraud, you are allowed to go by very different rules. So I hope Mike [vice-president Pence] has the courage to do what he has to do, and I hope he doesn’t listen to the RINOs [moderate Republicans] and the stupid people that he’s listening to.”

Third, “Trump insinuated that Republican officials, including Pence, would endanger themselves by accepting Biden’s win.” With respect to this point, Trump hoped that Pence would have the courage to support alternative slates of electors, thanked the “courageous” members of the Senate who were supporting his position, and said that the vice-president and senators who did not support him that it would safer to go along with what he wanted.”

Fourth, Trump suggested that he wanted his supporters to stop the certification of Biden’s electoral win, not just protest it.” For example, Trump said that “we will stop the steal,” or the country “will have an illegitimate president” and “we can’t let that happen” and “we will fight like hell” to keep it from happening.

Fifth, As he dispatched his supporters into what became deadly chaos, Trump falsely told them that he would come, too.” Here’s what he said: we’re going to walk down, and I’ll be there with you. … We are going to the Capitol, and we are going to try and give — the Democrats are hopeless, they are never voting for anything, not even one vote, but we are going to try — give our Republicans, the weak ones, because the strong ones don’t need any of our help, we’re try — going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.”

The criminal incursion of the Capitol by a violent insurrectionary mob – a rough timeline

Sandhya Kambhampati and her colleagues at The LA Times provide a detailed time-line and the context of the mob’s attack on January 6 on the nation’s capital, interrupting the electoral college vote count (https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2021/01/06/how-pro-trump-mob-stormed-us-capitol). They write: “The rioters, fueled by Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud, breached the building and ran freely through its historic halls before being forced out.”

Trump supporters gathered between 11:00 a.m. and 12:00 a.m. to hear Trump repeat his claims of how the election has been stolen from him and that they should protest the ratification by the Joint Session at the capitol building. By 1:00 p.m., his supporters are advancing toward the capitol. At 1:13 p.m. Trump finishes his speech, closing with this: “We’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Ave … and we’re going to [try] to give our Republicans – the weak ones because the strong ones don’t need any of our help – we’re to try and get them kind of pride and boldness they need to take back our country.” By 1:20 p.m., Trump’s crowd, now a violent, insurrectionary force, forms outside the Capitol building, while some try and successfully break past police barriers.” At 2:16 p.m., rioters breach the building, despite it being on lockdown.

By 2:20 p.m., disregarding guards, Trump’s supporters are banging on doors and breaking windows and are entering the building, storming into the Capitol Rotunda by 3:00 p.m.

Reporters from The New York Times, add further details about this criminal invasion (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/01/06/us/trump-mob-capitol-building).

  • “Shouting demonstrators mobbed the second-floor lobby just outside the Senate chamber, as law enforcement officers placed themselves in front of the chamber doors.”
  • “The President’s supporters swarmed the western and eastern sides of the Capitol’s exterior….
  • “The mob also broke through the main doors on the east side of the Capitol’s central building, which leads into the Capitol Rotunda,” some vandalizing the statutes ringing the area.”
  • The mob gathered outside the door of the main House chamber, while lawmakers “were given masks and evacuated”
  • Police arrested “at least 13 people, while dozens of others were allowed to go free”
  • Meanwhile, rioters invaded and roamed freely in the Senate chamber. Speaker Pelosi’s suite of offices was breached.

The LA Times reporters continue the story.

4:06 p.m.: “President-elect Joe Biden makes a speech in Delaware, saying ‘our democracy is under unprecedented assault.”

4:18 p.m.: “Trump tweets a video repeating his false claims of election fraud and praising his supporters, although he encouraged them to go home.”

5:34 p.m.: “Capitol building is announced as secure.”

6:00 p.m.: Curfew starts in Washington

7:00: p.m.: Preparation for the Joint-Session of Congress to resume and continue to count the electoral college results

Trump has second thoughts

At 4.54 p.m. on January 7, Trump switched gear and, in a video, condemned the mob violence he had unleashed. Dave Nemetz reports: “Trump began the video by addressing the ‘heinous attack’ that took place on Wednesday when a mob of pro-Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, which resulted in at least four deaths [now 5] and several dozen injuries [over 50]. After facing intense criticism for inciting his supporters and justifying the siege, Trump now says he is ‘outraged’ by it: ‘The demonstrators who infiltrated the Capitol has defiled the seat of American democracy. To those who engaged in the acts of violence and destruction, you do not represent our country. And to those who broke the law, you will pay” (https://tvline.com/2021/01/07/trump-concession-speech-video-concedes-election-watch).

Trump’s belated concession

According to a report by Darragh Roche, “White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications Dan Scavino shared Trump’s statement on Twitter. The president is not currently able to send tweets from his account” (https://www.newsweek.com/did-donald-trump-concede-president-statement-sparks-debate-1559597). The statement read as follows: “Even though I totally disagree with the outcome of the election, and the facts bear me out, nevertheless there will be an orderly transition on January 20th. I have always said we would continue our fight to ensure that only legal votes were counted. While this represents the end of the greatest first term in presidential history, it’s only the beginning of our fight to Make America Great Again!”

There is now a debate about whether Trump’s statement meant. He refers to an “orderly transition,” but also suggests the election results illegally denied him the presidency. And, in conceding the election, he does not mention Biden by name. Roche adds: “Many social media users were quick to suggest that Trump’s statement stopped short of conceding that Biden had defeated him, while others claimed it was as close to a formal concession as the president would offer.”

Reports on the mayhem – some examples

Amy Davidson Sorkin, reporting for The New Yorker, describes what she witnessed (https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/the-mob-is-gone-but-the-crisis-of-the-republican-party-has-only-begun).

Many of the Trumpists had displayed, for the cameras, a thuggish air of territorialism, as if it hadn’t occurred to them that battering through the windows of the Capitol; assaulting police officers; trying to hunt down the Vice-President, Mike Pence; physically threatening legislators; or vandalizing the Speaker’s office might carry with it legal liability. It’s not known how many may have had guns or other weapons. There had been no effective effort to repel them and, in the immediate wake, few arrests. (A woman died after being shot by the Capitol police; three people died of what authorities described as medical emergencies [a capitol police officer later died from an assult by an insurrecetionists].) Those circumstances will require an urgent and profound inquiry in the days to come—how much is attributable to a security failure, to the mis-deployment of law-enforcement, to a sense of impunity encouraged by Donald Trump, to a strain of violence in our political culture, or to, as Lamb [Democratic representative from 17th Disrict, Pa] suggested, racism? (Some of the rioters carried Confederate and white-supremacist symbols, as well as ‘TRUMP’ flags.)

Anne Gearan and Josh Dawsey report that Most of the rioters shown on television smashing their way into the Capitol were wearing Trump regalia. Many shouted his name or proclaimed the conspiracy theories he has told them about unsubstantiated election fraud, saying it robbed him of a victory in the Nov. 3 election” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-election-capitol-building).

Dan BarryMike McIntire and Matthew Rosenberg write about what they saw (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/09/us/capitol-rioters.html). “People surged past a few Capitol Police officers to bang on the windows and doors. Many eyewitness accounts and videos have since emerged that convey the pandemonium as hundreds of people overwhelmed the inadequate law-enforcement presence. In several instances of role reversal, for example, rioters are seen firing what appeared to be pepper spray at police officers trying to prevent mobs from getting closer to the Capitol Building. After a few minutes, the crowd broke through and began streaming into an empty office. Glass shards crunched under people’s feet, as the scene descended into chaos. Some stood in awe, while others took action. As one group prepared to break through an entryway, a Trump supporter raised a wine bottle and shouted, ‘Whose way?’ To which the crowd responded, ‘Our way!’”

Katie Shepherd reports on a video, first shown by CNN on Sunday, Jan. 10, showing a mob dragging a police officer down stars” and “one rioter beating an officer with a pole flying the U.S. flag” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/01/11/police-beating-capitol-mob). Shepherd describes the videoed scene further: “one man in a white hat and backpack grabbed a police officer by the helmet, dragging the officer down the stairs. Soon, other rioters kicked and punched the officer, and one man even bashed the prone figure repeatedly with a pole flying an American flag.” The people around the officer chanted “U-S-A! U-S-A!” “and a man shouted ‘Take him out,’” while others “threw flagpoles, metal crutches and other projectiles at police standing just inside an archway, trying to prevent the mob from entering the Capitol.”

The rioters seem to know where to go in the labyrinth spaces and offices of the Capitol building. There is some evidence that they may have been assisted by Congress members or some of the capitol police. Sharon Zhang reports that on the day before the pro-Trump mob violently breached the Capitol, Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-New Jersey) “saw some members of Congress leading groups on what she termed ‘reconnaissance’ tours of the [locked down] building” (https://truthout.org/articles/gop-reps-accused-of-giving-reconnaissance-tours-of-capitol-before-mob-attack). There are other similar claims. ‘One video appears to show members of the violent mob discussing the Capitol floor plan in detail on the day of the breach and planning things like breaking windows in order to ‘take this building.’ Zhang continues: “One of the organizers of the violent attempted coup, Ali Alexander, claimed in a now-deleted video that he specifically had help from members of Congress in planning the breach that killed five people. Alexander names three Trump-friendly Congress members who he says helped him plan the “Stop the Steal” mob: Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Alabama), Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Arizona) and Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Arizona).” Their goal, according to Alexander, was to put “‘maximum pressure on Congress’ while they were certifying the Electoral College vote and ‘change the hearts and the minds of Republicans who were in that body, hearing our loud roar from outside.’ There may have been more than just a few people involved. Acccording to Zhang, “At least a dozen officers are under investigation for their involvement in the breach, and several Capitol Police officers have been suspended. One had taken a selfie with a member of the mob, and one, donning a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat, helped in directing the far right militants around the Capitol during the breach. Investigators in another case found messages from officers in support of the extremist coup and bolstering Trump’s fraudulent claims about the election. The Capitol Police chief resigned on Sunday.”

Matthew Rosenberg and Ainara Tiefenthaler capture the “far-right symbols at the Capitol riot” representing various extremist groups (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/13/video/extremist-signs-symbols-capitol-riot.html). They saw Militiamen [who] showed up proudly bearing the emblems of their groups — American flags with the stars replaced by the Roman numeral III, patches that read ‘Oath Keepers.’ Alt-right types wore Pepe the Frog masks, and QAnon adherents could be seen in T-shirts urging people to ‘Trust the Plan.’ White supremacists brought their variant of the Crusader cross.” Additionally, “there were thousands of Trump supporters with MAGA gear — flags, hats, T-shirts, thermoses, socks. One flag portrayed President Trump as Rambo; another featured him riding a Tyrannosaurus rex and carrying the kind of rocket-propelled grenade launcher seen on the streets of Mogadishu or Kandahar.” Among the right-wing militias were “the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters, whose symbol, the Roman numeral III, could be seen on patches and flags. Both groups are anti-government, pro-guns and, nowadays, devoted to Mr. Trump.” The Boogaloos showed up wearing “their signature Hawaiian shirts” and the Proud Boys in their orange hats, both groups “include racists and anti-Semites, though the outright white supremacists tend to keep a lower profile.” QAnon members were there, wearing shirts with the letter “Q.” This is a group that “falsely claims that there is a cabal of Democrats, deep-state bureaucrats and international financiers who use their power to rape and kill children, and that Mr. Trump was elected to vanquish them.” Rosenberg and Tiefenthaler that these and other far-right groups reveal “an alternate political universe where violent extremists, outright racists and conspiracy theorists march side by side with evangelical Christians, suburban Trump supporters and young men who revel in making memes to ‘own the libs,’” They are united by their “loyalty to Mr. Trump and a firm belief in his false and discredited insistence that the election was stolen.”

U.S. military leaders condemn the Capitol riot (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-elections-capitol-military). Idress Ali writes: “The U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, the uniformed leaders of the military branches, on Tuesday put out a rare message to service members saying the violent riots last week were an assault on America’s constitutional process and against the law.” In an internal memo to troops, the seven generals and one admiral said: “The violent riot in Washington D.C. on January 6, 2021 was a direct assault on the U.S. Congress, the Capitol building, and our Constitutional process,” adding that “the military remained committed to protecting and defending the Constitution.” They said “that President-elect Joe Biden would be inaugurated on Jan. 20 and become their commander in chief.” In addition, Ali reports, “The Army told Reuters on Tuesday that it was working with the FBI to see if any attackers were current service members and with the Secret Service to see if any of the nearly 10,000 National Guard troops securing Biden’s inauguration would need additional screening.”

Concluding thoughts

There are many questions still to be answered about the January 6 riot/insurrection. Why was security of the Capitol building so lax? Will the Republican Party continue to be dominated by Trump? Will a large number of Republicans in the U.S. Congress continue to say that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Trump and do their best to de-legitimize Biden’s administration? How many of the rioters will be brought to justice? Will Trump pardon any of the insurrectionists? Will Trump’s base remain blindly loyal to him? Will Trump and his supporters find ways to use social media to transmit their anti-constitutional views? With or without Trump as leader, will this right-wing base continue to believe that Biden’s victory was stolen? How many of the base are geared up to continue terrorizing government officials? Will journalists and other citizens, especially Black and Brown people and other with whom they disagree, be terrorized? Will the country become like a war zone?  How will law enforcement respond? Will the mega-corporations and banks continue to support the extremist Republicans in the Congress and move against Biden? What will the radicalized Trump supporters do to protest Biden’s Inauguration on January 20 in Washington, D.C., and in the fifty state capitols?

Because of all that Trump has done and what he represents, he must be – should be – removed from ever again holding political office. The process of achieving this end has begun with the U.S. House voting to impeach Trump (for the second time on January 13. Wikipedia provides a succinct account of the steps leading up to Trump being impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives.

“The second impeachment of Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States, occurred on January 13, 2021, one week before his term was due to expireTrump‘s impeachment by the House of Representatives came after his attempts to overturn the 2020 United States presidential election; the adopted article of “incitement of insurrection” cited his January 2 phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and alleged that Trump incited the storming of the United States Capitol one week prior.[1] He is the only U.S. president and the only holder of any federal office to have been impeached twice, the previous time in December 2019 for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.[2][3]

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House would impeach Trump for instigating “an armed insurrection against America” if his Cabinet did not strip him of his powers and duties using the 25th Amendment.[4] On January 11, Pelosi gave Vice President Mike Pence an ultimatum to invoke the 25th Amendment within 24 hours or the House would proceed with impeachment proceedings.[5] On January 12, in a letter to Pelosi, Pence made it clear that he would not invoke Section 4 of the 25th Amendment, arguing that doing so would not “be in the best interest of our Nation or consistent with our Constitution”.[6] Nevertheless, a majority of the House of Representatives, including one Republican, passed a resolution urging Pence to either invoke the 25th Amendment or have the House majority impeach Trump.[7]

On January 11, 2021, an article of impeachment charging Trump with “incitement of insurrection” against the U.S. government and “lawless action at the Capitol” was introduced to the House of Representatives.[8] The article was introduced with more than 200 co-sponsors.[9]

‘Trump’s impeachment marked the fourth impeachment of a president in U.S. history, the first being the impeachment of Andrew Johnson in 1868, and the second being the impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1999. With ten Republican representatives voting support, the resolution received the most pro-impeachment votes ever from the president’s party and is thus the most bipartisan presidential impeachment in history.[10] This was also the first presidential impeachment in which all members of the majority caucus voted unanimously for impeachment. If the Senate holds a trial and a two-thirds majority of senators vote to convict Trump, he would be either the first president in U.S. history to be removed from office by impeachment or the first former president to be convicted by the Senate. Either result would trigger a second vote in which a simple majority in the Senate is needed to permanently disqualify Trump from holding public office in the United States.[11]

Reporting for CNN, Meg Wagner and her colleagues report that “The House voted 232 to 197 to impeach Trump exactly one week after rioters forced lawmakers to flee from the very chamber in which they cast ballots in during the fourth presidential impeachment in US history. This is the first time a President has been impeached twice.” There were 10 Republicans who joined the vote to impeach Trump, “including the House’s No. 3 Republican, Liz Cheney of Wyoming, joined all Democratsto impeach Trump to impeach Trump for ‘incitement of insurrection.” Wagner continues: “Cheney’s statement was cited by impeachment supporters and detractors alike Wednesday after she charged that Trump ‘summoned this mob, assembled the mob and lit the flame of this attack’” (https://www.cnn.com/politics/live-news/house-trump-impeachment-vote-01-13-21/index.html).

Let me close this post with the wise comments by Richard Heinberg, senior fellow at the Post Carbon Institute and author of 13 books. Here’s the last part of his essay (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2021/01/14/insurrection-pandemic-and-censorship).

“The best I can suggest is that we as a society draw the line at physical violence and direct calls for harm to others. Prosecute anyone who vandalizes property or injures other people in the process of making their point, along with those who knowingly incite them. Take down message boards used to plan efforts to overthrow elected leaders. Beyond that, as long as we have the internet and social media, we will probably have to live with the cognitive dissonance and fracturing of consensus reality that they facilitate. It’s an uncomfortable situation, but the alternatives are worse.

“We have individual responsibility for how we shape our own worldviews based on the news and opinions we “ingest.” Don’t assume the worst about individuals who have adopted views you find unhinged or even dangerous; sometimes they’re just ordinary people who’ve fallen into a disinformation echo chamber. Heterodox [unorthodox opinions or doctrines] assertions about reality are worth examining; sometimes they’re right. But when you find yourself considering a novel claim or theory about what’s happening and why, whether it concerns politics or the pandemic, exercise critical thinking. Has this idea been debunked? By whom? What are the verifiable facts? Be prepared to withhold judgment if the facts are unclear. The mainstream media are getting pummeled these days—sometimes for good reason. But credentialed reporting is the closest thing we have to a science of fact gathering. So, just as you should be careful not to dismiss a heterodox idea just because it’s not mainstream, be even more leery to dismiss reportage just because it issues from, say, CNN or the New York Times. If you find yourself thinking, “Of course they’d say that—they’re all in it together!”, then think again. If your media diet is making you anxious and angry, take time out. Go for a walk in the woods—and if no woods are available, spend time in as natural an environment as you can find.

“Those of us who understand the systemic crises we face have a special responsibility to build our own emotional resilience and to be open-minded so that we can help others in our communities, who don’t have that same clarity, to navigate the craziness to come.

“It’s a crazy world out there, and it’s getting crazier. Don’t add to the insanity.”

Trump’s unceasing attack on democracy

Bob Sheak Dec 18, 2020

The following post considers Trump’s nefarious impact on US politics and governance, the attempts by him and his allies to undermine Biden’s electoral victory, and, how thus far these attempts have failed. If nothing else, the post helps to explain how the presidential election process works and tries to clarify how the Electoral College figures into and confounds this process.

2016:  Winning the Electoral College while losing the popular vote

Trump’s ascendance to the presidency is, Ralph Nader maintains, a “once-in-forever fluke,” that is, a reflection of “the confluence of Putin, Wikileaks, James Comey, the electoral college, and racially targeted voter suppression” (Mark Green and Ralph Nader, Wreaking America: How Trump’s Lawbreaking and Lies Betray US all, x-xi). He lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by almost 3 million votes, but the Electoral College gave him the victory, and this despite “a lifetime of cheating workers, consumers, bankers, and wives,” plus leaving Trump to think “he can get away with just about anything” (xii). Susan B. Glasser reminds us of Trump’s besmirched  record, writing on December 11 in the New Yorker magazine (online) that “Donald Trump has survived impeachment, twenty-six sexual-misconduct accusations, and thousands of lawsuits” (https://newyorker.com/news/letter-from-trump-washington/its-not-just-trumps-war-on-democracy-anymore). In their book, The Trump Revealed, Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher write: “Over three decades, Trump and his companies filed more than 1,900 lawsuits and were named as defendants in 1,450 others, according to a USA Today analysis (p. 300). David Cay Johnston reports that Trump has been a con artist his entire life. In his book, It’s Even Worse Than You Think, Johnston writes:

“In The Art of the Deal he [Trump] brags about deceptions that enriched him. He has boasted about not paying banks that loaned him billions of dollars. He conned thousands of people desperate to learn what Trump said were the secrets of his success into paying up to $35,000 to attend Trump University. In a promotional video, Trump said his university would provide a better education than the finest business schools with a faculty he personally picked. Lawsuits forced Trump’s testimony and documents that showed that there were no secrets he shared with the ‘students.’ The faculty never met Trump. These professors turned out to be fast-food managers and others with no experience in real estates, the focus of the ‘university.’ Because of the lawsuits, Trump paid back $25 million to the people he conned so the scam would not follow him into the White House” (p. 10).

 Trump entered the White House as a minority-president, having won only 45.9 percent of the popular vote, with 62,985,106 total votes, compared to Hillary Clinton’s 48% percent and 65,853,625 votes. Nonetheless, in the US electoral system, the popular vote is not what determines the outcome. Rather it is the Electoral College (the only one in the world), which gives low-population, highly-rural states a disproportionate impact in the elections of presidents and vice-presidents. In the Electoral College, Trump garnered 306 electoral votes to Clinton’s 232 (https://nytimes.com/2016/results/president).

2016-2020: In office

Nader points out that Trump survived the tumult and crises of his presidency by “gaming the system,” having his message amplified by right-wing media, with the unquestioning support of “a core of Republican voters who, due to economic grievances, religion, region, or race, comprise an unbreakable steady 25 percent [or more] of aggrieved Americans” (xv). He also had the groveling support of Congressional Republicans who feared how Trump could turn his electoral base against them if they crossed him. But there is more to the story. The Republicans used their control of the Senate to nullify Democratic legislative initiatives for the sake of political power and to advance a right-wing agenda. Trump and the Republicans in the U.S. Congress agreed on their mutual desire to advance a neoliberal agenda to lower taxes, deregulate whatever they could, privatize public resources when there was a profit, continue corporate subsidies, forget about anti-trust policy, starve social-welfare programs. Nader also addresses how Republicans intensified political gridlock: “As soon as the Democrats took control of the House in January 2019, the White House practiced constant stonewalling and disparagement of this coequal branch of government” and the Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, refused to have hundreds of bills from the House considered at all by Senate committees. Additionally, Trump benefited from the conservative-dominated Supreme Court, which gave him five-to-four decisions in favor of his “Muslim Ban and on racial gerrymandering.” Attorney General William Barr successfully covered-up the devastating Mueller Report and “cherry-picked all confidential intelligence…to support Trump’s evidence-free assertion that the Mueller probe will illegitimate.”

At the same time, the Republicans in Congress countenanced Trump’s self-promoting declarations, his continuous stream of often contradictory and inflammatory tweets, and behavior that has been described by mental health experts as exhibiting a “malicious narcissistic” personality (see Bandy Lee’s edited book, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump). At the same time, Trump has used his power, rooted in his cult-like, clueless base following, to intimidate, ridicule, and punish those who challenge his power and reward those who advance his interests, however nefarious. Near the end of their 417 page scathing “insider” account of Trump’s presidency, Philip Rucker and Carol Leoning write: “When Alexander Hamilton wrote the two essays in The Federalist devoted to the idea of impeachment, Trump was the kind of president he had in mind – a populist demagogue who would foment frenzy, pander to prejudices, feed of chaos, and secretly betray the American people in the accumulation of power – according to Hamilton’s biographer Ron Chernow” (A Very Stable Genius, p. 416). And he urges his supporters to find ways to avoid paying taxes, just as he has.

Abby Zimet provides an apt summary of some of the other major effects of the Trump presidency, supported by his base, the Republican Party, along with many rich donors and major segments of the corporate community. Zimet writes:

“George Packer wrote an epically searing political obituary by the numbers – 300,000 COVID dead, millions lost health insurance, 666 children lost parents, slashed numbers of refugees, reversed 80 environmental rules, appointed most “not qualified” judges of last 50 years, grew national debt $7 trillion, signed one, bad piece of major legislation, made/scammed millions, told 25,000 lies that “contaminated the minds of tens of millions of people…poisoning the atmosphere like radioactive dust” – to conclude, “America under Trump became less free, less equal, more divided, more alone, deeper in debt, swampier, dirtier, meaner, sicker, and deader. It also became more delusional” (https://commondreams.org/further/2020/12/15/embarrassing-situation).

Trump has little regard for verifiable facts

And, through it all, Trump lied continuously. Reporters at The Washington Post have kept track of Trump’s lies and misrepresentations over the course of his presidency and counted over 20,000 such statements from the beginning of his presidency to November 2020. Glenn Kessler, who keeps track of Trump’s lying for The Washington Post, had counted “22,000 false or misleading statements” as of November 9, 2020 (https://washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/11/09/fact-checking-post-trump-era). One of the glaring and repeated false statements was that he claimed to have a “terrific” health plan that he was going to release to replace the Affordable Care Act and that it would be “so much better.” The plan was never forthcoming. Kessler also notes that Trump “also falsely said he would protect patients with preexisting conditions even as he pursued a strategy in the courts that could nullify those protections.”

Trump’s core sticks with him

“Through his entire term,” Kessler writes, “Trump is the first president since World War II to fail to ever win majority support in public opinion polls.” He adds: “A key reason is that relatively few Americans believed he was honest and trustworthy, an important metric in Gallup polls. Gallup has described this as ‘among his weakest personal characteristics.’ The fact is that “Trump earned 33 or 34 percent on the trustworthiness question throughout most of his presidency, though it inched up to 40 percent in the weeks before the election. By contrast, Americans were more likely to consider George W. Bush (65 percent), Barack Obama (61 percent) and Bill Clinton (46 percent) honest and trustworthy.” The 33% to 40 percent who believed Trump to be trustworthy are among those who make up his unquestioning electoral base. Fortunately, the majority who voted for Biden in November were not swayed by Trump’s fabrications.

Many in Trump’s base don’t care about “honesty”

Still, Trump received about 74 million votes in the election, up by about 11 million over his vote total in 2016. Polls also find that Republican voters had come to believe that it was important for presidential candidates to be honest. Kessler refers to the following evidence. A 2007 Associated Press-Yahoo poll found that “71 percent of Republicans agreed with this statement. A 2018 poll by the Washington Post found that only 49 percent of Republicans agreed that honesty was extremely important in choosing a presidential candidate. Additionally, the Washington Post poll “also found that clear majorities across party lines said it is never acceptable for political leaders to make false statements. But there was an important distinction between the two parties: 41 percent of Republicans said false claims are sometimes acceptable ‘to do what’s right for the country,’ while only 25 percent of Democrats and 26 percent of independents agreed.”

Fascist tendencies

There are fascist tendencies reflected in Trump’s governance that are not challenged by his base or those who benefit from his right-wing policies. Federico Finchelstein, professor of history at the New School of Social Research, posits that the leader in a fascist movement or state represents what many people at a given time and place yearn for. He writes in his book A Brief History of Fascist Lies: “the reality that their fundamentally authoritarian lies and racist fantasies about the world become constantly normalized and supported by a wide segment of the population, as well as major party figures. Most pointedly, Finchelstein writes about Trump: “He does not lie because he is a crazy cheater; he lies because he belongs to a political tradition that proposes an alternative notion of truth that emanates from the sacred infallibility of the leader” (p. 104). He continues: “…Trumpism represents an extreme form of… antiliberal, and often anti-constitutional, authoritarian democracy with a political rationale of its own. This is a political formation with a mythical notion of the truth,” so he replaces “historical truth with fake ideas about the glorious past that their leaders promise to revive,” with expressions such as “Make America Great Again.” For his tens of millions of followers, he promises to restore to life “a past that never existed” (p. 105). But it must be added, Trump also behaves as he does so as to advance a relatively unfettered, neoliberal-oriented capitalist system and to protect the interests of the mega-corporations, the rich, and his own family’s wealth.

2020: Trump loses the election according to official and verified counts

Biden won both the popular vote, 81,283,098 to 74,222.957, and the Electoral College vote, 306 to 232 (https://cnn.com/elections/2020/results/president).

Claiming a rigged, fraudulent election

Susan B. Glasser, cited previously, writes that the country “had to brace for an alarming confluence of virus denialism and election denialism between November 3rd and January 20th. As devastating as it is for American democracy, it is no longer news that the President insists, as he did in a tweet the other day, that he is the victim of the ‘greatest Election Fraud in the history of the United States.’” Then, in the days immediately following the election, “Trump said that his goal was to ‘STOP THE COUNT,’ ‘stop the steal,’ or to demand recounts, or to discover evidence of fraud.’” Since then , Glasser reports:

“Trump has escalated and escalated, culminating on Wednesday [Nov 9] with a single-word tweet announcing his new goal: not to win the election but to ‘#OVERTURN’ the results. Even more strikingly, while his allies have lost 59 court cases since the election, Trump has convinced millions of Americans to believe that the election was rigged against him—seventy-seven per cent of Republicans now say mass fraud occurred, according to a new Quinnipiac poll out Thursday [Nov 10]—and enlisted virtually the entire national leadership of the Republican Party in his concerted attack on the legitimacy of the results.”

Glasser offers the following examples of the Republican Party’s support of Trump’s failed presidential candidacy and his baseless claims of electoral fraud. Not only have both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy refused to recognize his win; they both voted against a ceremonial motion of the committee organizing the January 20th handover of power to ‘notify the American people’ of plans to inaugurate Biden. In the immediate aftermath of the election, McConnell said that Trump ‘has every right to look into allegations and request recounts under the law.’ Now that Trump has lost the recounts and lost the lawsuits, now that the results have been certified [by the states’ electors] and Trump is openly talking about overturning them, McConnell has been silent” [or did so until Dec 15].

A rundown of Trump’s misbegotten lawsuits

There are many accounts of these lawsuits. Zoe Tillman provides an informative overview in an article for Buzzfeed News (https://bussfeednews.com/article/zoetillman/trump-election-court-losses-electoral-college). Her key generalization is that “Trump and his allies have lost nearly 60 [59] election fights in court” as of December 14, with more in the pipeline. As of December 17, Trump’s lawsuits continued to claim that the president had only lost the election because ballots for Trump had been intentionally displaced, intentionally disregarded or not counted, while thousands of ballots (or more) for Biden were fraudulent and should not have been counted. Consider some examples.

Since Nov. 3, Tillman writes, “Trump and his allies have lost 59 times in court…according to a running tally on Twitter from Marc Elias, the lawyer leading Democrats’ fight against the GOP’s post-election challenges. On December 11, the Supreme Court issued a one-paragraph rejection of Trump and Texas’ bid to invalidate more than 20 million votes in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

In a Wisconsin case, “US District Judge Brett Ludwig wrote in an opinion on Saturday [Dec. 12], dismissing a Trump campaign lawsuit that accused Wisconsin election officials of violating state law and asking the court to effectively void Biden’s 20,000-vote lead and let the Republican-controlled state legislature decide what to do.” Tillman points out also that Ludwig used the word “extraordinary” three times in his decision to describe what Trump’s lawyers wanted the court to do and concluded that their claim that the system was rigged against them was devoid of evidence. Ludwig stated that the rule of law had been followed.

On December 11, “a state court judge rejected Trump’s appeal of recounts that failed to change Biden’s win in the most racially diverse counties in the state, Milwaukee and Dane counties.” Trump’s lawyers appealed “and the Wisconsin Supreme Court heard arguments on Saturday. On Monday, the state justices issued a 4-3 decision denying the campaign’s challenge, finding Trump and his lawyers had waited far too long to bring challenges to how the state ran absentee voting this year.”

On Saturday, Dec. 12, the “Georgia state Supreme Court on Saturday refused to take up Trump’s statewide election contest. The state justices wrote that they didn’t have jurisdiction to hear the case because the campaign had skipped ahead and filed a petition before there was any lower court decision to appeal. The campaign argued there was ‘significant systemic misconduct, fraud, and other irregularities’ in how Georgia ran the election, but the justices found Trump failed to show that it was ‘one of those extremely rare cases’ that they could take up right away.”

Tillman finds that the Republican Party election challenges have come in roughly two waves after Nov. 3. “The first wave largely focused on objections to specific clusters of ballots or election practices at the city and county level.” For example, in Pennsylvania, “Trump’s campaign and Republicans challenged sets of absentee ballots — ranging from several dozen to several thousand votes — where the voter didn’t include pieces of information on the outside envelope, such as their address or the date. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled those ballots could be counted.” Other cases rejected by the courts claimed “Republican poll watchers were denied access to watch ballots processed at counting sites in Philadelphia and Detroit; that late-arriving absentee ballots were improperly mingled with valid ballots in Chatham County, Georgia; and that election officials in Maricopa County, Arizona, violated state law by using computer software to verify signatures and may have miscounted ballots filled out using Sharpies. Judges rejected those cases, citing a lack of evidence, or the challengers dropped them before a judge ruled.

One of the most reported on cases occurred in Pennsylvania, where a lawsuit led by Rudy Giuliani was found by the court on Nov. 17 to “lack of understanding of basic legal principles and was forced to admit that it was not a voter fraud case — their claims were based on objections to some counties allowing voters to fix or “cure” absentee ballots with defects while others did not and issues with poll watcher access.” The state court ruled against them, following which Giuliani appealed the case to a federal appeals court. Tillman reports what the appeals court decided.

“Free, fair elections are the lifeblood of our democracy. Charges of unfairness are serious. But calling an election unfair does not make it so. Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here,” Judge Stephanos Bibas — one of Trump’s own nominees — wrote in a 3–0 federal appeals court decision upholding a district court judge’s refusal to allow Trump’s campaign to relitigate the case after it was dismissed.

The Trump lawyers did win one insubstantial case, when a judge in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania tossed “out a narrow subset of absentee ballots that arrived during a three-day window after Election Day where the voter failed to provide proof of identification by Nov. 9. The secretary of state’s office hasn’t confirmed how many ballots were affected, but the state had agreed to separate them out while the case was pending, meaning they didn’t contribute to Biden’s 80,000-vote lead in the state.”

In the second wave of suits brought by Trump lawyers, “the legal challenges morphed to increasingly mirror Trump and his allies’ lies about widespread voter fraud and wild theories of a nationwide conspiracy to rig the election for Biden.” One prominent case involved, as Tillman reports, “Sidney Powell, a Texas-based lawyer who had earned Trump’s praise for her TV attacks on the special counsel investigation into Russian election interference and her legal defense work on behalf of Trump’s now-pardoned former national security adviser Michael Flynn…. She filed lawsuits in federal court against election officials in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, and Wisconsin, alleging widespread fraud and asking judges to invalidate the results statewide.” In all four cases, the judges “rejected Powell’s claims for lack of reasonable evidence and that Powell’s “plaintiffs didn’t have standing to sue and that the cases were moot because the states had already certified results” and that Powell had been procedurally inept. The judges also condemned “the effort to have courts decide a presidential election and overrule voters.” Powell has not given up. She “is appealing all of her losses, and has petitioned the US Supreme Court to hear the Georgia case.”

Here are other examples of how Trump lawyers have failed in court from Tillman’s article.

“The Arizona Supreme Court on Dec. 8 rejected an election contest brought by Arizona Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward challenging ballots cast in Maricopa County. An analysis of a random sample of ballots showed an error rate that didn’t “come close” to meeting the threshold for a recount, the court concluded, and there was no evidence of signature forgery or other “misconduct.” Ward filed a petition on Friday asking the US Supreme Court to take the case.

“Another new case was filed in the US Supreme Court on Dec. 8 by L. Lin Wood Jr., a conservative lawyer who repeatedly lost a case he filed in federal court in Georgia challenging the election results there. In a 3–0 decision, a federal appeals court panel that featured two of the court’s more conservative judges, including Judge Barbara Lagoa, another one of Trump’s nominees, agreed with the district court judge that Wood lacked standing to bring the case. Wood has petitioned the US Supreme Court to hear his case as well.

“In Michigan, the Trump campaign recently attempted to revive a case it had lost challenging how officials in Wayne County, which includes Detroit, had managed the election and claiming poll watchers were denied access to observe ballots being processed. A judge had rejected the case on Nov. 5, and the campaign opened a case in the Michigan Court of Appeals the next day but didn’t complete the appeal until Nov. 30 — nearly two weeks after the state certified the election results.

“The appeals court rejected the case as moot on Dec. 4 and wrote that the campaign ‘failed to follow the clear law in Michigan’ that the way to allege fraud after results were certified was to seek a recount. The Michigan Supreme Court on Friday issued an order denying the Trump campaign’s effort to press the case there.”

Meanwhile, the certification of state election results goes forward

Voters do not choose the presidential and vice-presidential candidates directly

In our present complex voting system, presidential elections are not decided by the popular vote but by the uniquely American elector system. Here’s how Wikipedia describes it (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_presidential_election):

“The election of the president and the vice president of the United States is an indirect election in which citizens of the United States who are registered to vote in one of the fifty U.S. states or in Washington, D.C., cast ballots not directly for those offices, but instead for members of the Electoral College.[note 1] These electors then cast direct votes, known as electoral votes, for president, and for vice president. The candidate who receives an absolute majority of electoral votes (at least 270 out of 538, since the Twenty-Third Amendment granted voting rights to citizens of D.C.) is then elected to that office. If no candidate receives an absolute majority of the votes for president, the House of Representatives elects the president; likewise if no one receives an absolute majority of the votes for vice president, then the Senate elects the vice president.

“The Electoral College and its procedure are established in the U.S. Constitution by Article II, Section 1, Clauses 2 and 4; and the Twelfth Amendment (which replaced Clause 3 after its ratification in 1804). Under Clause 2, each state casts as many electoral votes as the total number of its Senators and Representatives in Congress, while (per the Twenty-third Amendment, ratified in 1961) Washington, D.C., casts the same number of electoral votes as the least-represented state, which is three. Also under Clause 2, the manner for choosing electors is determined by each state legislature, not directly by the federal government. Many state legislatures previously selected their electors directly, but over time all switched to using the popular vote to choose electors. Once chosen, electors generally cast their electoral votes for the candidate who won the plurality in their state, but 18 states do not have provisions that specifically address this behavior; those who vote in opposition to the plurality are known as “faithless” or “unpledged” electors.[1] In modern times, faithless and unpledged electors have not affected the ultimate outcome of an election, so the results can generally be determined based on the state-by-state popular vote. In addition, most of the time, the winner of a US presidential election also wins the national popular vote. There were four exceptions since all states had the electoral system we know today. They happened in 1876, 1888, 2000, and 2016 and were all losses of three percentage points or less.”

Safe Harbor day

On December 8, six weeks after the Nov 3 election, is the “generally accepted date by which all state-level election challenges – such as recounts and audits – are supposed to be completed” (https://nytimes.com/2020/12/08/us/politics/election-safe-harbor-deadline.html). By this time, the election results had been certified by attorney generals in all the states and are “considered conclusive.” These certified results will later be tabulated by the US Congress on January 6.  

Jan Wolfe reports that safe harbor day is “a deadline, set by a U.S. law from 1887, for states to certify the results of the presidential election (https://reuters.com/article/usa-election-safe-harbor/explainer-why-safe-harbor-day-spells-trouble-for-trump-legal-bid-to-overturn-election-defeat-idUSKBN2811DN). Continuing, Wolfe writes: “Meeting the deadline is not mandatory but it provides assurance that a state’s results will not be second-guessed by Congress. The safe harbor date falls six days before the meeting of the Electoral College, in which slates of ‘electors’ formally select the presidential nominee who won the popular vote in their home states. A candidate needs at least 270 electoral votes to capture the presidency. Biden had amassed 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232.” After this date, Trump’s chances of overturning the election results become increasingly improbable. Nonetheless, the president has not given up and continues to claim that the election was stolen from him. Trump is now urging congressional Republican legislators in the key swing states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Georgia to come up with an alternative slate of electors to take to the Congress on January 6.

Dec 14: state electors sign off to certify their respective election results

Wikipedia again provides an informative description of this phase of the presidential election(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Electoral_College).

Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 of the Constitution directs each state to appoint a quantity of electors equal to that state’s congressional delegation (members of the House of Representatives plus two Senators). The same clause empowers each state legislature to determine the manner by which that state’s electors are chosen but prohibits federal office holders from being named electors. Following the national presidential election day on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November,[10] each state, and the federal district, selects its electors according to its laws.

“In 48 of the 50 states, state laws mandate the winner of the plurality of its statewide popular vote shall receive all of that state’s electors;[11] in Maine and Nebraska, two electors are assigned in this manner, while the remaining electors are allocated based on the plurality of votes in each of their congressional districts.[12] The federal district, Washington, D.C., allocates its 3 electoral votes to the winner of its single district election. States generally require electors to pledge to vote for that state’s winning ticket; to avoid faithless electors, most states have adopted various laws to enforce the electors’ pledge.[13]

“The electors of each state meet in their respective state capitals on the first Monday after the second Wednesday of December [this year, on Dec 14] to cast their votes, including as well Washington D.C. (3 votes).”

This was accomplished without a hitch.

January 6: The final steps

Scott Bomboy instructs us that “the next public step in the 2020 presidential election will happen on January 6, 2021, when Congress meets to validate the election” (https://constitutioncenter.org/blog/explaining-how-congress-settles-electoral-college-disputes). This final step in the electoral process conforms to a federal law that “requires the states to deliver certified electoral college results to the vice president, serving as president of the Senate, and other parties by December 23.”

Then, as required by the 12th Amendment, there will be a joint meeting of Congress on January 6 “to count the electoral votes and declare the winners of the presidential election.” According to Bomboy, “Any objections at the session must be made in writing by at least one Member each of the Senate and House of Representatives. If an objection meets these requirements, the joint session recesses and the two houses separate and debate the question in their respective chambers for a maximum of two hours,” following a process established by the Electoral Count Act of 1887 and as interpreted by the Congressional Research Service. “The two houses vote separately to accept or reject the objection. They then reassemble in joint session, and announce the results of their respective votes. An objection to a state’s electoral vote must be approved by both houses in order for any contested votes to be excluded.” If legislators from a state present an “alternative” slate of electors, one that is different from the slate already certified by the Electoral College, or if a slate is challenged without an alternative, the vice president, whose role is “to preserve order,” may allow alternative slates or the elimination of slates to be considered. This would require the two houses of the US Congress to meet separately as already described. This eventuality would open up the possibility that the duly certified slate a state’s electors could be replaced by the alternate slate or that a slate of electors from a given state could be eliminated. Either situation would change the overall electoral vote count in ways that could favor Trump. However, this is unlikely to happen, though possible, especially given the time and resources the Trump campaign has put into challenging the election results as fraudulent. 

Senate majority leader McConnell acknowledges Biden’s victory and tells his caucus not to object to the certified election results

Jordain Carney and Alexander Bolton report on McConnell’s “caucus call on Tuesday…and come as House Republicans are eyeing a challenge to the results on Jan. 6 during a joint session of Congress” (https://thehill.com/homenews/senate/530327-mcconnell-urges-gop-senators-not-to-object-to-electoral-college-vote). While “no Senate Republicans indicated during the call that they are currently planning to object,” there is news that there will be objections. On the House side, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) said “he will object as part of next month’s Electoral College count, and is likely to gain support from other Trump allies in the House.”

John Nichols finds Brooks’ threats to be serious, writing: “Brooks has been signaling for several weeks that he plans to lead a drive to object to the Electoral College result when it is formally presented for congressional review on January 6 and quoting him: ‘In my judgment, if only lawful votes by eligible American citizens were cast, Donald Trump won the Electoral College by a significant margin, and Congress’s certification should reflect that. This election was stolen by the socialists engaging in extraordinary voter fraud and election theft measures’ (https://thenation.com/article/politics/biden-electoral-college). It would not be surprising to have other House Republicans join him to challenge the elections when the reach the Congress, reminding the reader that is was only last week that “126 House Republicans, including minority leader Kevin McCarthy, minority whip Steve Scalise, and Republican Policy Committee Chairman Gary Palmer signed on to an amicus brief supporting a lawsuit by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asking the US Supreme Court to block electoral votes from Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Georgia from being cast for Biden.” They are on the same page with Trump and his ongoing claims of how the election was fraudulent. And Brooks has at least two allies in the Senate – “Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Rand Paul of Kentucky—[who] have already indicated that they are open to backing up this political skulduggery.”

Nichols does not think those objecting to the certified state election results will succeed in changing them, as he writes: “The Democratic majority in the House will reject the objection, and it is likely that the Republican-controlled Senate will do the same, as several GOP members (including Utah’s Mitt Romney, Maine’s Susan Collins, and Nebraska’s Ben Sasse) have been bluntly critical of Trump’s efforts to overturn Biden’s victory.” However, they may well make “January 6, 2021, a chaotic day of lies and sore-loser griping from a president who refuses to accept the fact that he will soon be an ex-president.” Therefore: “Congressional Democrats would be wise to prepare, as their job involves more than merely confirming an election result for the nominee of their party. They must defend democracy from an assault by authoritarian zealots who have made it abundantly clear that they intend to use and abuse the process to thwart the will of the people.”

Concluding thoughts

Trump has not and probably will not cease doing harm to our democratic system. Undoubtedly, the society will be better off without him in the White House. But, given the seemingly slavish support of his base and right-wing media, he may still have a huge impact on the Republican Party, do what he can to undermine the efforts of the Biden administration, and continue to stoke the violent segments of his base.

According to Shane Goldmacher and Maggie Haberman, He has already accumulated $250 million from his “loyal supporters” and “with few legal limits on how he can spend it” (https://nytimes.com/2020/12/18/us-politics-trump-money-future.html). Their sources tell them that “more than $60 million of that sum has gone to a new political action committee.” This is money that could be used to “quell rebel factions within the party, reward loyalists, fund his travels and rallies, hire staff, pay legal bills and even lay the groundwork for a far-from-certain 2024 run.” A Republican pollster, John McLaughlin, is quoted: “Right now, he is the Republican Party. “The party knows that virtually every dollar they’ve raised in the last four years, it’s because of Donald Trump.” His coffers have been boosted, as “the Trump political apparatus has taken advantage of the grass-roots energy and excitement over the two runoffs [in Georgia] to juice its own fund-raising. Email and text solicitations have pitched Trump supporters to give to a ‘Georgia Election Fund,’ even though no funds go directly to either Republican senator on the ballot, irritating some Senate G.O.P. strategists.” Rather 75 percent of the donations “go to Mr. Trump’s new PAC, called Save America, with 25 percent to the Republican National Committee.” The fund-raising appeals have shifted recently from “shouting ‘FRAUD’ to “hawking signed hats and opposing socialism.” The point is, whatever his message, that Trump is not leaving the national stage and will likely continue to threaten the political stability and the democratic institutions of the nation.

At the same time, if the Biden administration and the Democrats can make some progress in addressing the pandemic and the economic and climate crises, in restoring the integrity of regulatory agencies, in protecting the rights of all citizens and residents, in being evidence-based and open to public scrutiny and concerns, then there is a chance that Trump and Trumpism will be diminished. It will take the ongoing mobilization of Democratic and progressive groups as well as effective governance.

Trump and right-wing populists dump on democracy

Bob Sheak, Dec 3, 2020

In this post, I consider how Trump contributes to the political disorder and divisions of the society and how his power rests largely on his command of a huge populous base. He did not create it, but he has been decisive in galvanizing it. The devotion of this base is reflected in its continuous support for Trump’s groundless claims that the election was stolen from him by millions of fraudulent votes. But there is more. They go with him because Trump has expressed support for their specific interests and the idea that America is and should be a country dominated by whites, a certain fundamentalist Christian religion, the freedom of individuals to own and carry unlimited weapons, with walls to keep out immigrants, and that Washington elites and bureaucrats should stay out of their lives, for example by not restricting their behavior during the current pandemic. The right-wing populous forces in the society, that have deeply-rooted historical roots and represent the major electoral support for the Republican Party, will continue to make calls for unity, more equality, and social justice contested and hard to realize. The concern is that they could eventually enable an authoritarian leader to ascend to power and end democracy.

Trump compounds political disorder

Four weeks after the election, Trump still claims that he won by millions of votes – that the election was fraudulent, that millions of votes cast for Biden are invalid, that millions of votes for him were not counted, and, absurdly, that Biden must prove to him that the 80 million plus votes he received were indeed valid votes before he concedes. At the same time, Trump received over 73 million votes (the second highest total in US history), while Democrats lost seats in the House, failed to increase Democratic control in state legislatures, and, depending on the outcome of two senatorial elections in Georgia, may not have regained control of the US Senate. In an article published in The New York Times, Will Wilkerson suggests that Democrats did less well than they expected to do because they did not have a compelling message on how to revive the economy during the pandemic (https://nytimes.com/2020/11/27/opinion/trump-democratic-coronavirus.html). Thomas B. Edsall provides numbers of the Democrats’ poor performance, writingIn battleground congressional and statehouse districts, the same pattern appeared over and over again this year. At the top of the ticket, Joe Biden won, often handily. Further down the ticket, in contests for seats in the House and state legislatures, Democratic candidates repeatedly lost…. with Republicans gaining 179 state legislative seats and at least 11 seats in the House of Representatives (https://nytimes.com/2020/12/02/opinion/biden-trump-moderates-progressives.html). This an issue of why the Democrats did not realize their electoral expectations is for another post. The point now is that Trump lost the election, he refuses to concede that he has lost, and he is riling up this huge electoral base to believe that the election was stolen from him.

Not conceding despite the mounting evidence

While Trump has not yet conceded the presidential election, his chances of overturning the election results in contested states is increasingly unlikely. Jessica Corbett reports that even William Barr, Trump’s seemingly compliant Attorney General, says there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud.” She writes:

“Sparking immediate and widespread speculation that he will soon become just the latest top official ousted for publicly countering President Donald Trump, U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Tuesday told the Associated Press that the Justice Department has not found any evidence of voter fraud that would impact the result of the 2020 presidential election.

“‘To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election,’ Barr said of the November 3 contest in which President-elect Joe Biden’s decisive victory denied Trump a second term. In the wake of his defeat, the president and his campaign have made unfounded fraud claims and filed numerous lawsuits even as states have certified their results.

A ruthless and partisan cascade of actions

 In the meantime, Trump is using his last days in the White House to issue pardons, continues to go ahead on the legal front, fires officials in administration and executive branch agencies who have not demonstrated insufficient loyalty, opens up yet more public land to corporate interests, doing as much as he can do to undermine Biden’s presidency, and continuing to claim that he only lost the election because of widespread, systemic fraud. On this last point, how could he do otherwise and still be consistent in what he has continuously told his base since the election. Trump’s base is the main source of his power.  

Of course, when it comes to the larger political situation, there is more to the story than Trump and his steadfast base. There is a Republican Party that is devoted to neoliberal economic policies that favor corporate elites and the rich, that wants to minimize government aid to the poor, that denies or wants to do little or nothing to address the climate crisis, that is content to do offer little relief for those negatively affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. There is a Supreme Court that is ready to provide legal sanctification for right-wing lawsuits. But in the present post, I focus on Trump and his base and how they represent a threat to democracy.

A base of stalwart followers who disregard “evidence”

Richard Heinberg, author of 13 books and a senior fellow at the Post Carbon Institute, maintains that Trump is trying to make Biden’s presidency “ungovernable (https://commondreams.org/views/2020/11/20/real-plan-make-america-ungovernable), writing that “Trump’s claims of election fraud have convinced many Republican voters and he has led his base to reject ‘evidence,’ while simultaneously “Trump & Co. can nevertheless salt the earth with disinformation and with resentment among the Republican voting base, making it impossible for the incoming Biden team to accomplish much.” Heinberg continues: “Claims of election fraudulence may prove highly effective to that end: up to 70 percent of Republicans apparently think the vote was hacked by Democrats, even as there is “no evidence of widespread malfeasance, and Republican lawsuits related to the election are being thrown out by judges in state after state for lack of proof. Still, Trump has spent four years training his followers to regard ‘evidence’ as something you make up on the spot to suit the needs of the moment; for the faithful, mere accusations are sufficiently convincing.”

Noam Chomsky, American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historian, social critic, and political activist, warns us of the “extreme fragility of American Democracy” (https://truthout.org/articles/noam-chomsky-trump-has-revealed-the-extreme-fragility-of-american-democracy). He writes:

I suspect that Trump and associates regard their legal challenges as a success in what seems a plausible strategy: keep the pot boiling and keep the loyal base at fever pitch, furious about the “stolen” election and the efforts of the insidious elites and the ‘deep state’ to remove their savior from office.

According to recent polls, ‘Three-quarters (77%) of Trump backers say Biden’s win was due to fraud’ and ‘The anger among Trump’s base is tied to a belief that the election was stolen.’ Rejection of the legal challenges with ridicule may please liberal circles, but for the base, it may be simply more proof of the Trump thesis: the hated elites will stop at nothing in their machinations.”

“Millions of Trump’s supporters seem to believe that their leader actually won the election. In fact, there have even been signs claiming, ‘World Knows Trump Won.’ In light of this, it seems to me that the contemporary United States is not simply a divided and polarized nation on political and ideological issues alone, but that we also have alternative epistemologies in operation: one segment of the population believes in actual facts and relies on science for an explanation of the world, while another segment of the citizenry is under the spell of falsehoods, disinformation and deception. How do you explain this peculiar phenomenon, especially since we are talking about a very rich and technologically advanced country?”

“It is amazing enough that someone whose malevolent decision to provoke an out-of-control pandemic has just killed tens of thousands of Americans can even run for office, even carry much of the country with him, and that the political party that virtually shines his shoes can win a resounding victory at every level apart from the White House. That’s putting aside Trump’s major “achievements”: driving to near-term environmental catastrophe and sharply increasing the threat of terminal war, crimes that scarcely registered in the electoral process.

“Viewed through the lens of this vile strategy, if the pandemic gets worse, so much the better. Then local officials will try to impose restrictions and even lockdowns to control patriotic Americans — in line with the plans of the supposed ‘Communist-run deep state’ — leading to economic harm and intrusions on normal life. Meanwhile, Trump and his associates could abandon other normal governmental activities so that when Biden establishes what they describe as a ‘fake government’ on inauguration day, the immediate problems will be severe and failure likely.”

The evidence mounts against Trump

Elise Viebeck and Josh Dawsey provide an update for The Washington Post on the failed efforts by Trump’s legal team ((https://washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-pennsylvania-legal-setback/2020/11/25/ba01c3aa-2141-11eb-860d-f7999599cb2_story.html).

They failed to win the support of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to “invalidate more than 2.5 million votes in Pennsylvania, as temporary order blocking further certification of election results.” Biden had won the Pennsylvania vote by 81,000. The Republican plaintiffs were “retroactively challenging the state’s mail-voting system, calling into question virtually every contest that took place there on Nov. 3 and asking for judges to take the unprecedented step of voiding election results across the state.” On November 25, the case was initially put on hold on the certification process by “Commonwealth Court Judge Patricia A. McCullough, who was elected as a Republican in 2009, “pending an evidentiary hearing.”

Later the same day, state officials appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, triggering an automatic stay of McCullough’s order. State officials then asked the state high court to step in and dismiss the case altogether, arguing “that the “Commonwealth Court’s Order threatens to disrupt the certification of every race in the 2020 general election; foreclose the seating of elected representatives; indefinitely postpone the December 1 start of the General Assembly’s term; undermine the will of the voters; and cast a wholly unwarranted cloud over Pennsylvania’s election results,” lawyers for the state wrote in a filing.”

Then, according to an article by Jon Swaine and his colleagues at the Washington Post, Republicans appealed the case to a federal court in the 3rd Circuit, requesting “an emergency injunction to overturn the certification of Pennsylvania’s election results” (https://washingtonpost.com/politics/federal-appeals-court-rejects-trumps-request-for-emergency-injunction-to-overturn-certification-of-pennsylvania-election-results/2020/11/27/556540ba_30d7-11eb-bae0-50bb171226614_story.html)

The federal court denied the request, “delivering another defeat to the president’s attempts to reverse the outcome in a state that has already formalized President-elect Joe Biden’s victory there.” According to Swaine et. Al. “the 3rd Circuit said that the Trump campaign’s challenge of the district court’s decision had ‘no merit,” in an “opinion…written by Judge Stephanos Bibas, who was appointed to the court by Trump.” Moreover, “Bibas was joined by two other Republican-appointed judges in a unanimous vote by the three-member panel.

Viebeck and Dawsey point out that “Republicans have gained no substantive traction across more than two dozen cases trying to undo results favoring Biden since Election Day, and as of Tuesday [Nov. 24], four of six states where President Trump tried to overturn the outcome have certified Biden’s win.”

The election results have not at the time been finalized in Wisconsin, where a recount of votes was underway in the state’s two largest counties of Dane and Milwaukee. Biden had won the state by 20,000 votes and by the end of Tuesday, Trump had gained only 52 votes in the recount. By Friday, the recount in Wisconsin had added 132 votes to Biden.

In Georgia, at the president’s request, a machine recount was underway of the state’s 5 million presidential votes, with the expectation that the final result would be certified on Dec. 2.

In Arizona, the “Republican Party Chairwomen Kelli Ward asked a judge to begin examining ballots and envelopes ahead of what she said would be a formal election contest filed after certification,” which is consistent with an “Arizona law [that] allows any voter to challenge the results of an election on the grounds that illegal votes were cast or that election officials engaged in misconduct. To succeed, Ward would have to show that Trump actually received the most votes in the state, which appears unlikely given that Biden’s margin of victory is greater than 10,000 votes.” As it turns out, as reported by Greg Sargent for the Washington Post on Nov 30, 2020, “Arizona has now certified its election results, making President-elect Joe Biden the official winner of the state. He won by a hair more than 10,000 votes (https://washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/11/30/biden-just-officially-won-arizona-thats-big-deal-democrats).

Yet, Trump doesn’t concede

Trump has sent out confusing messages. On the one hand, he seemed to concede the election to Biden when on Thursday, Nov. 26, he said that “he would leave the White House if the Electoral College formalized Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s election as president” (https://nytimes.com/2020/11/26/us/politics/trump-election-georgia.html). He also seemed to concede implicitly when he allowed the General Services Administration (GSA) to allow Biden team to obtain public funds to run their transition, receive security briefings and

gain access to federal agencies to prepare for the Jan. 20 takeover. On the other hand, he has continued to “reiterate his baseless claims of fraud that he said would make it ‘very hard’ to concede. Then, speaking “in the Diplomatic Room of the White House after a Thanksgiving video conference with members of the American military, the president insisted that ‘shocking’ new evidence about voting problems would surface before Inauguration Day.” The president added: “It’s going to be a very hard thing to concede because we know that there was massive fraud,” that “he had won the vote by a significant margin,” and that “We were robbed. We were robbed. I won that by hundreds of thousands of votes. Everybody knows it.”

Inside a dysfunctional, but dangerous, Trump-led White House

Philip RuckerAshley ParkerJosh Dawsey and Amy Gardner, Washington Post journalists, provide information on what’s going on in the White House

(https://washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-election-overturn/2020/11/28/34f45226-2f47-11eb-96c2-aac3f1662215d-story.html). Their report is based on interviews with 32 senior administration officials, campaign aides and other advisers to the president, as well as other key figures in his legal fight, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to share details about private discussions and to candidly assess the situation.”

As noted, Trump remains unconvinced by the evidence that he has lost the election but the reporters learn more. His behavior in his inner circles has been erratic, disruptive, and confusing.  They write: “Sequestered in the White House and brooding out of public view after his election defeat, rageful and at times delirious in a torrent of private conversations, Trump was, in the telling of one close adviser, like ‘Mad King George, muttering, ‘I won. I won. I won.’” His aides are unwilling to contradict their boss out of fear of his attacks on those who contradict him – and his ability to rile his base into a twitter rage against such people. They put it this way: “Trump empowered loyalists who were willing to tell him what he wanted to hear — that he would have won in a landslide had the election not been rigged and stolen — and then to sacrifice their reputations by waging a campaign in courtrooms and in the media to convince the public of that delusion.”

Trump’s behavior has brought confusion and inaction in the government. Rucker and his colleagues capture the thrust of it all as follows: “The 20 days between the election on Nov. 3 and the greenlighting of Biden’s transition exemplified some of the hallmarks of life in Trump’s White House: a government paralyzed by the president’s fragile emotional state; advisers nourishing his fables; expletive-laden feuds between factions of aides and advisers; and a pernicious blurring of truth and fantasy….Though Trump ultimately failed in his quest to steal the election, his weeks-long jeremiad succeeded in undermining faith in elections and the legitimacy of Biden’s victory.

According to the sources Rucker and his colleagues interviewed, Trump has continued to “reiterate his baseless claims of fraud that he said would make it ‘very hard’ to concede. Then, speaking “in the Diplomatic Room of the White House after a Thanksgiving video conference with members of the American military, the president insisted that ‘shocking’ new evidence about voting problems would surface before Inauguration Day.” The president added: “It’s going to be a very hard thing to concede because we know that there was massive fraud,” that “he had won the vote by a significant margin,” and that “We were robbed. We were robbed. I won that by hundreds of thousands of votes. Everybody knows it.”

Trump’s ranting and assertions resonate beyond the White House. Rucker et. al. write: “Trump’s allegations and the hostility of his rhetoric — and his singular power to persuade and galvanize his followers — generated extraordinary pressure on state and local election officials to embrace his fraud allegations and take steps to block certification of the results. When some of them refused, they accepted security details for protection from the threats they were receiving.” In the final analysis, Trump’s power and bizarre behavior lie in the unquestioning support he gets from his base.

Why the right-wing base adheres to Trump

By virtually all accounts, the massive right-wing “base” will continue to support him, that is, most of the almost 74 million people who voted for him.  If it turns out this way, Biden’s hope for a unified America is little more than wishful thinking, especially when you take into account the likely intransigence of the Republican Party and the interests of corporate/rich America. Withal, the base plans a decisive role. It will ensure that the deep partisanship that now divides the society will continue and be reflected in politics at all levels of the society. The base is ultimately where Trump’s political power lies. It gives Trump the power to continue his dominating influence in the Republican Party and be a critical factor in whether Trump mounts another presidential campaign.

White supremacy

As many have noted, Trump did not create the base but he helped to catalyze and enlarge it. The origins and sustaining conditions are varied. It is reflected in the desire of many whites to consolidate white supremacy as a dominant feature of the society and in the fear that brown and black skinned Americans will in the near future be a majority of the population. While sadly it is alive and well today, the origin of white supremacy – and systemic racism – has a long historical legacy.

In her book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, award-winning author Isabel Wilkerson documents the deeply embedded racism that has existed in the country since the first slaves were brought to his country in 1619. She refers to it as one part of a “caste” system, reflecting the preexisting notions of early settlers to their racial superiority, reinforced by their self-interested interpretation of the Bible, and created a hierarchy of who could do what, who could own what, and who on the top and who was on the bottom and who was in between….the upper-rung people would descend from Europe, with rungs inside that designation, the English Protestants at the very top as their guns and resources would ultimately prevail.” African Americans were at the bottom (p. 23) In one of her most telling paragraphs, she writes about today’s Trump voters as follows.

“Many voters, in fact made an assessment of their circumstances and looked beyond immediate short-term benefits and toward, from their perspective, the larger goals of maintaining dominant-caste status and their survival in the long term. They were willing to lose health insurance now, risk White House instability and government shutdowns, external threats from faraway lands, in order to preserve what their actions say they value most – the benefits they had grown accustomed to as members of the historically ruling caste system.”

They are, in part at least, responding to “[t]he precarity of their lives and the changing demographics of the country [which has] induced a greater need to maintain whatever advantages they had come to expect and to shore up the one immutable characteristic that has held the most weight in the American caste system” (p. 325).

Right-wing religious convictions

Trump’s popularity also grows out of his public willingness to join forces with nationalist-oriented Evangelicals. Wilkerson points out that Trump has made their priorities his priorities – “ending abortion, restricting immigration, protecting gun rights, limiting government, and…the disdain for science and the denial of climate change” (p. 330).  Katherine Stewart has devoted an entire book to the political influence of Evangelicals – The Power of Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism. According to Stewart’s probing and well-documented analysis, Christian nationalists believe, for example, that the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation, that it should be given primacy in politics and all institutional arrangements, that is, there should be no separation between the state and religion, that those chosen to be the country’s leaders should hold Christian beliefs, that public schools should include Christian teachings, the parochial schools should receive public funds and access to public facilities. They are one of Trump’s principal and devoted constituencies. Whether Trump mounts another presidential campaign or not, this is a political force that is, at its core, opposed to progressive values and priorities and will continue, with or without Trump, for years to come. For those of you interested in this topic, I recommend Andrew L. Seidel’s book, The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism is Un-American.

Delving further into Trump’s “populous” base and what it stands for

I have written about the populous base at some length. My point, again, is that it is unlikely that Biden will be able to win the support of this huge right-wing, grass-roots disparate coalition and “unify the nation.”

The multifaceted “populous” base, comprising many of the close to 74 million voters who just case their vote for Trump, representing about 47 percent of all voters. Hacker and Pierson emphasize, in their book, Let Them Eat Tweets: How the Right Rules in an Age of Extreme Inequality, that “America’s version of right-wing populism began to surface well before Trump – in fact, well before the financial crisis.” The appeals for the populous base are in many cases “racially tinged, involve strong identities and strong emotions… that draw a sharp line between ‘us’ and “them” (p. 22) and are ‘best suited to single-issue groups, cultural institutions such as churches, and certain kinds of media” (p. 23).

The power of the president and the Republican party hinges on this electoral base of support as well as support from the rich and powerful. Hence, support has been garnered over time from a variety of right-wing groups, including, those who want unlimited gun ownership, evangelical groups that favor the end of reproductive rights for women and an end to the separation of religion and the state, groups that want a virtual end to most or all categories of immigration, groups that want to preserve white supremacy and reject as myth the racist and discriminatory history that is so central to the dark side of American history. Trump has a friendly relationship with far-right, sometimes armed, groups support the reopening of the economy, who demonstrate for white supremacists’ values or a reactionary concept of “freedom.” But beyond the particular interests, Trump is also viewed by these supporters as having the ability to transform the government in a way that will make “America Great Again,” put an end to the intrusion of government bureaucrats in their lives, and protect their communities from a secular culture.

Fundamentalist evangelicals see support in the plutocracy for their opposition to women’s reproductive rights and to LBGTQ interests and want the plutocrats to select “conservative” judges to the Supreme Court and federal judiciary that favor “the traditional family” and support for white Christian institutions. The National Rifle Association likes the plutocrat’s opposition to any meaningful gun regulation. Among other – or most – right-wing populists, the anti-immigration policies of Trump and his administration are strongly supported. Cutting across such issues is the desire of the right-wing populous base to maintain their “superior” white status at a time when demographic changes threaten their majority position in society. Hacker and Pierson say that “the racism-focused narrative takes various forms.

“Some emphasize contemporary forces: the incessant race-baiting of Donald Trump; white backlash against the nation’s first black president; the anxiety generated by the ongoing shift toward a ‘majority-minority’ nation. Others emphasize the deeper historical roots of white identity. Yet all these accounts suggest that race is the cleavage that defines American politics.” They also emphasize, too, that this cleavage reflects “deep psychological attachments that are easily triggered and highly resistant to change. In this respect, they present a ‘bottom-up’ perspective, emphasizing the underlying resistance of key parts of the white electorate to the shifts in status and power that demographic change entails” (p. 9).

There is a certain antagonism in the right-wing populous base toward government, not because of its economic policies, but because of policies that constrain their non-economic “rights” and/or reduce the advantages of their “whiteness.” There are a host of organizations that represent the various segments of the right-wing populous base and they are major players in educating, mobilizing, and engaging voters in the base to support the Republican Party. On this point, Hacker and Pierson write: “As the GOP embraced plutocratic priorities, it pioneered a set of electoral appeals that were increasingly strident, alarmist, and anti-government extremism, the party outsourced voter mobilization to a set of aggressive and narrow groups: the National Rifle Association, the organized Christian right, the burgeoning industry of right-wing media.

An example: Rural America has been, by and large, for Trump and the Republicans

Robert Wuthnow, professor of social sciences at Princeton University, has studied rural communities in America, one of Trump’s sources of support. He and his assistants have visited hundreds of these communities, “studied their histories, and collected information about them from surveys, election results, exit polls, censuses business statistics, and municipal records” (The Left Behind: Decline and Rage in Small-Town America, p. 3). He points out that “30 million Americans live in small towns with populations of fewer than 25,000 residents.” The US Census tallies 44 to 50 million people in what it labels “rural communities.” Exit polls in the 2016 election “showed that 62 percent of the rural vote went to Donald Trump” (p. 1).

Wuthnow finds that the “moral outrage of rural America is at the basis of support for Trump – and involves a mixture of fear and anger. The fear is that small-town ways of life are disappearing. The anger that they are under siege. The outrage cannot be understood apart from the loyalties that rural Americas feel toward their communities” (p.6). They are concerned about declining populations, school closings, businesses leaving, and jobs disappearing. But it is more importantly about cultural issues. They are angry about government bureaucrats who promote diversity, about “moral decline” reflected in the bank bailouts, the sexual promiscuity available on the Internet, the prevalence of crude language on television, about their opposition to reproductive and LBGTQ rights and immigration. Withal, they will vote for Trump again because they like his patriotic slogans, his militaristic foreign policy, his denigration of the media and liberal elites, his anti-immigrant policies, his Christian/evangelical connections, and the misperception of him as a political outsider. It remains to be seen whether the COVID-19 pandemic, now increasingly affecting rural communities, will change their minds about Trump.

Reactionary Populism gained new life under Trump

Along with all the rest, Trump and the right-wing political forces supporting him have gained strength from the growth of a reactionary populism since the 1990s, including “local militias, Christian fundamentalists, and the Tea Party among them.” Carl Boggs, professor of social sciences at National University in Los Angeles, points to how Trump benefited, as 35 percent of his presidential vote come from evangelical constituencies (Fascism Old and New: American Politics at the Crossroads, pp. 12-13). His presidency has “apparently lent new legitimacy to the evangelical movement, especially the selection of Mike Pence as vice-president and Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. As American society moves ever rightward,” Boggs writes, “evangelicals have grown in numbers, organizations, media presence, and general influence. They work indefatigably through state legislatures, PACs, think tanks, conferences, and medical outlets to carry out ‘God’s work, hoping to Christianize secular institutions, beginning with education, bringing ‘family values’ and patriotism to the forefront.” Boggs thinks that they “could help to solidify a social bloc behind fascistic tendencies….” (p. 13).

Historian Kathleen Belew documents the growth of another source of Trump’s “popular” appeal in the American white power movement in her book, Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America. Here is some of what she found.

“While white power featured a diversity of views and an array of competing leaders, all corners of the movement were inspired by feelings of defeat, emasculation, and betrayal after the Vietnam War and by social and economic changes that seemed to threaten and victimize white men. White power also qualifies as a movement through its central features: the contiguous activity of an inner circle of key figures over two decades, frequent public displays, and development of a wide-reaching social network.

“White power activists used a shared repertoire of actions to assert collectivity. Public displays of uniformed activists chanting slogans and marching in formation aimed to demonstrate worthiness, unity, numbers, and commitment to both members and observers. Activists encouraged dress codes and rules about comportment and featured the presence of mothers with children, Vietnam veterans, and active-duty military personnel. Members showed unity by donning uniforms and by marching and chanting in formation. They made claims about their numbers. They underscored their commitment with pledges to die rather than abandon the fight; preparing to risk their lives for white power; and undertaking acts that put them at legal and physical risk. A regular circulation of people, weapons, funds, images, and rhetoric – as well as intermarriages and other social relationships – bound activists together” (pp. 10-11).

And they thrive.

“The state and public opinion have failed to sufficiently halt white power violence or refute white power belief systems, and failed to present a vision of the future that might address some of their concerns that lie behind the more diffuse, coded, and mainstream manifestations” (p. 239).

The threat of violence

The white power movement, ultra-nationalistic, racist, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, armed, opposed to progressive values and ideas, poses no threat to the power elite. They represent the potential street fighters against those who criticize the existing power structure from progressive and leftist points of view. They have been riled up by Trump’s efforts to delegitimize the presidential election and convince his base that the Democrats stole the election from him. In an article for The Nation, Kali Holloway expresses concern that the president’s inflammatory rhetoric may provoke violence (https://thenation.com/article/politics/trump-election.html). Here’s some of what she writes.

“Democracy maintains domestic peace by ‘the mere fact that the political forces expect to take turns,’ political scientist Adam Przeworski has noted. When people believe their votes literally don’t count, they become more likely to resort to violence. Trump’s supporters, already steeped in white grievance, are predictably receptive to the idea that ‘illegal voters’ have even succeeded in stealing their democracy. Apparently not satisfied with all their ill-gotten political gains from real voter suppression—in the form of voter ID laws, gerrymandered districts, closures of polling sites, and purges of voter rolls—Republicans are now signaling that a Democratic win is itself evidence of fraud. Trump and the GOP used birtherism to delegitimize the first Black president in US history. Now Republicans are casting Black and brown citizens as illegitimate voters to invalidate the Biden presidency.

“The potential for violence here isn’t just theoretical. As ballots were being tabulated in Arizona, Nevada, and Pennsylvania, armed Trump supporters swarmed vote-counting centers, and gun-toting election denialists have gathered at Georgia’s Capitol as the recount proceeds. After thousands of Trumpists, including plenty of white supremacists, marched in Washington, D.C., to protest nonexistent vote theft, members of the Proud Boys allegedly rioted against counterprotesters, and ‘other Trump supporters ripped multiple Black Lives Matters signs off a building before trampling on them,’ according to the Times. An Alabama police captain announced via social media that Biden voters deserve ‘a bullet in their skull for treason,’ and an Arkansas police chief urged his followers to ‘throw water on [Biden voters] at restaurants. Push them off sidewalks. Never let them forget they are traitors and have no right to live in this Republic after what they have done.’ (Both officers resigned after outcries.) Claiming the election had been ‘fraudulently stolen from us,’ a Trump supporter in the New York City borough of Staten Island advocated online for the ‘extermination of anyone that claims to be a democrat.’

“Once out of office, Trump will use every bullhorn at his disposal to spread misinformation and foment violence. His tweets will push debunked election fraud lies, and he’ll portray himself as a martyr slain by a corrupt and unfair electoral system. His rallies will continue—he’s already begun dangling a 2024 run—to keep his fragile ego from shattering and to scare off other GOP contenders. If he launches a conservative digital outlet, as rumored, it will ensure that viewers believe he is the one and only source of political truth. You get the picture: Trump will keep denigrating democracy to elevate himself. Yet again, this president’s selfish gains will be America’s loss.”

And the threat of violence from the right is happening now. Richard Fausset reports that Trump’s ongoing unfounded claims about a fraudulent election is inciting violence action in Georgia, where two seats for the US Senate are still being contested (https://nytimes.com/2020/12/01/us/politics/georgia-election-trump.html). Fausset quotes a statement by Gabriel Sterling, a voting system official in Georgia, who has “harshly criticized the president for failing to condemn threat of violence against people overseeing the election in the state.” Here is what Sterling said.

“It has all gone too far. All of it. Joe diGenova today asked for Chris Krebs, a patriot who ran CISA [Goergia’s Certified Information Systems Auditor], to be shot. A 20-something tech in Gwinnett County today has death threats and a noose put out, saying he should be hung for treason because he was transferring a report on batches from an E.M.S. to a county computer so he could read it. It has to stop. Mr. President, you have not condemned these actions or this language. Senators, you have not condemned this language or these actions. This has to stop. We need you to step up, and if you’re going to take a position of leadership, show some. Death threats, physical threats, intimidation. It’s too much. It’s not right. They’ve lost the moral high ground to claim that it is. This is elections. This is the backbone of democracy. And all of you who have not said a damn word are complicit in this.”

Concluding thoughts

All the evidence at this time indicates that Joseph Biden electoral victory will be confirmed and that Trump will have to leave the presidency on January 20, 2021. Biden and his administration will face a challenging time. Even before Biden takes, office there is a desperate need for US Congress – and Trump – to sign off on a “relief” legislation that would ease some of the economic pain that affects millions of Americans. But, even when Biden takes office, the pandemic will still be raging. There will be continuing a massive problem of unemployment, along with low-wage, no-benefit and insecure jobs. Millions of people will be unable to pay their rents, with a rising number homeless. Fifty million people are already “food insecure.” State and local governments are short of revenues, thus detrimentally affecting public health and education systems. The climate crisis steadily deepens, and Biden will face a Republican Party that will oppose any meaningful steps to address any of it.

Much of what a Biden administration can accomplish will depend on whether Democrats have a majority voting position in the U.S. Senate. Even then, the political calculous will be unpredictable, with some “moderate” Democrats and Republicans playing unconventional roles that depart from party expectations. McConnell will continue to be a highly partisan Republican leader in the Senate and do everything he can to advance his party, regardless of the general societal impacts.

Through it all, the right-wing populous forces will continue to exist. They will be more effective if galvanized by their present leader, Trump, but with or without him (perhaps less cohesive without him), they are a powerful political force that wants an America that disavows a society based on multi-cultural influences and progressive norms, values, and aspirations. Democracy is not one of their priorities.

Democracy on Edge

Democracy on the Edge

Bob Sheak, Nov 13, 2020

As of November 12, according to The New York Times, the official state ballot counts, when aggregated and still rising, Joe Biden has won the popular vote with 77,666,661 votes (50.8%) compared to Donald Trump’s 72,40,365 (47.4%) (https://nystimes.com/interactive/2020/11/03/us/elections/results-presidential.html).

Biden also has enough votes in the Electoral College to nail down the presidency, that is, if the “electors” in the various states follow the law and cast their votes for the presidential candidate who has won the popular vote. A candidate needs 270 votes to win in the Electoral College, and, as of Nov 12, Biden had 290 and Trump had 217.

The vote counts come from state attorneys general who compile the vote tallies from voting precincts. While they are official, and while most of the votes have been counted, there are still votes yet to be counted. For example, as of Nov 11, there were still 1.5 million votes to be counted in California. There are recounts going on in some states. The final state tallies are required under the Electoral Count Act to be complete by December 8, “which is the date by which states are meant to have counted votes, settled disputes, and determined the winner of their electoral college votes” (https://www.cnn.com/2020/11/04/politics/how-long-states-have-to-count-votes/index.html). According to Vote.org, “every state has an official process for certifying results”:

  • The process takes place in the days (and sometimes weeks) after Election Day to make sure every eligible vote is counted.
  • In some states this includes continuing to count absentee ballots; in most states it includes adding any verified provisional ballots to the vote totals; and in every state there is a process called a “canvass” where election officials examine the vote totals to make sure every ballot was counted and there are no clerical errors in the results. Only at the end of this process will we know the “certified results” of the election.
  • Some version of the canvass process happens in every county, in every state, in every election (not just in presidential elections). It is a routine part of making sure every vote is counted (https://vote.org/election-results).

The AP and other news media publish the counts as they become available. News sources also identify, based on the voting evidence available, where in the various states the uncounted votes are located. The news organizations then announce and publish their estimates of who is winning or losing, and decide when it is reasonable to project a likely winner in this or that state and in the electoral college. When a candidate has 270 electoral college votes, a winner is announced. As of November 12, most of the votes had been counted by the various state boards of elections and been made publicly available. There are some in-person, mailed-in ballots, provisional ballots, and overseas ballots still to be counted. And, to complicate matters, the Trump campaign is challenging the counts in five or so swing states, claiming various unsubstantiated irregular technical issues and the illegal discarding of some ballots. Nonetheless, the AP and many other news organizations, even Fox News, found that the vote counts were complete and accurate enough by November 7 to call the election for Joe Biden.

No evidence of voter fraud

In an article published in The New York Times on November 10, Nick Corasanti, Reid J. Epstein and Jim Rutenberg report that they, and others at the paper, had called “election officials in dozens of states representing both political parties [who] said that there was no evidence that fraud or other irregularities played a role in the outcome of the presidential race, amounting to a forceful rebuke of President Trump’s portrait of a fraudulent election” (https://nytimes.com/2020/11/11/us-politics-voting-fraud.html). Indeed, officials in every state were contacted: “The New York Times contacted the offices of the top election officials in every state on Monday and Tuesday to ask whether they suspected or had evidence of illegal voting. Officials in 45 states responded directly to The Times. For four of the remaining states, The Times spoke to other statewide officials or found public comments from secretaries of state; none reported any major voting issues.”

Nonetheless, Trump and Republicans keep up their efforts to de-legitimize the elections in swing states where Biden has been widely acknowledged to have beaten Trump. Corasanti and his colleagues note, though, “Mr. Biden’s margins in the blue wall states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin are all in the tens of thousands. Even in Georgia, where Mr. Biden leads by more than 11,000 votes, it would be hard to uncover enough voting irregularities to change who won.”

David E. Sanger, Matt Stevens and Nicole Pariroth report on a statement issued by the “Elections Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council, which includes top officials from the cybersecurity agency, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission and secretaries of state and state election directors from around the country. The group also includes representatives from the voting machine industry, which has often been accused of being slow to admit to technological shortcomings and resistant to creating paper backups (https://nytimes.com/2020/11/12/us/politics/election-officials-contradict-trump.html). They quote the following from the statement: “‘While we know there are many unfounded claims and opportunities for misinformation about the process of our elections, we can assure you we have the utmost confidence in the security and integrity of our elections, and you should, too,’ the officials added in their statement. ‘When you have questions, turn to elections officials as trusted voices as they administer elections.’”

Dismissive of such evidence, Trump and his Republican allies are going all out to subvert the election. Jesse Wegman gives the following examples in an article titled “The Republican Party is Attacking Democracy” ((https://nytimes.com/opinion/trump-election-concede.html).

“Attorney General Bill Barr, who has repeated the president’s lies that absentee ballots were a source of widespread voter fraud, authorized the Justice Department to look into ‘substantial allegations’ of voting irregularities. In response, the department official who oversees voter-fraud investigations stepped down.

“The rot pervades the administration. The Trump-appointed head of the General Services Administration, Emily W. Murphy, has yet to recognize Mr. Biden as the winner of the election and the president-elect, preventing him from accessing millions of dollars in funds, national-security tools and other essential resources to begin the long and complex task of presidential transition.

“On Monday, Mr. McConnell snidely remarked, ‘Let’s not have any lectures about how the president should immediately, cheerfully accept preliminary election results from the same characters who just spent four years refusing to accept the validity of the last election.’”

Wegman adds: “Of course any election irregularities should be brought to light, if they exist. But what Republicans have brought forth instead is a slurry of unverified allegations and flat-out bogus claims racing around social media, and filing lawsuits that would be sanctionable under normal circumstances. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said, ‘Philadelphia elections are as crooked as a snake,’ without offering any evidence. The new generation of Republican leaders preach and preen about how only ‘legal’ votes should be counted, as though they have discovered some long-lost secret rather than a mundane fact about all elections.” One problem is that the unfounded voter-fraud claims of Trump  reinforce the misguided beliefs of his base.

Biden and Harris greet the nation as victors

Achieving unity may be an illusion

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris gave speeches on the evening of November 7 acknowledging their seemingly incontrovertible victory. Above all else, Biden emphasized he wants to be the president of all Americans, not just those who voted for him, and stressed there is a need for unity in the country and for bipartisanship in the relations between the president and the US Congress. But when he gave examples of what his administration hoped to achieve, one is hard pressed to imagine Mitch-McConnell and Republican Senators or House members entering into serious, give-and-take, negotiations. The Republicans in the Senate and House have opposed most Democratic legislative initiatives over the last 12 years.

Steven Benen provides an impressive analysisof how Republicans did their best to obstruct most policy initiatives by the Obama administration or congressional Democrats during the eight years of Obama’s presidency in his book, The Imposters: How Republicans Quit Governing and Seized American Politics (2020). Their central goal was to undermine Obama’s presidency and to keep the president and congressional Democrats from having any success, except when they gave the Republicans steep concessions. He documents his thesis in chapters on economic policy, health care, climate change and energy policy, foreign policy, immigration policy, the federal budget, gun control, civil rights, reproductive rights, and government shutdowns and debt-ceiling crises.

Benen reflects on Republican obstruction during the Obama years, but his point applies as well to the past 3+ years of during Trump’s reign. Overall, Republican obstructive maneuvers exemplify “a decade of GOP nihilism on economic policy making, which was guided by no discernible governing vision,” except to do what they could to prevent Obama and the congressional Democrats from advancing constructive legislation. He exemplifies his point on the economy as follows. “They executed a plan involving opposition to all forms of economic stimulus, fighting tooth and nail to take capital out of the economy through spending cuts; rejecting simulative social-insurance programs such as extended unemployment benefits; undermining economic confidence through a pointless debt ceiling crisis; deliberately trying to make unemployment worse; prioritizing austerity and deficit reduction over growth; and pleading with the Federal Reserve… to raise interest rates” (pp. 35-36). Though a few Republicans joined Democrats to pass some spending legislation to provide Covid-19 relief, most importantly “The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act” (“Cares” Act), Republicans have continued their opposition to Democratic legislative initiatives to this day.

Republican obstruction will continue

For example, Biden will rely on scientists to guide his policy on the pandemic. He said: “On Monday, I will name a group of leading scientists and experts as transition advisers to help take the Biden-Harris Covid plan and convert it into an action blueprint that will start on January the 20th, 2021.”  But, for months, Republicans have been content to follow Trump as he marginalized and criticized leading scientists and experts, appointed inexperienced loyalists to the coronavirus task force, continuously disregarded safety measures in his meetings and rallies, and left it up to the individual states to cope with the logistics. Biden has proposed a $2 trillion clean-energy plan that Republicans are surely going to oppose. And Biden’s health care plan to build on Obamacare is hardly something Republicans will accept. While Biden wants a decent America where “everybody in this country has a fair shot,” the Republicans stand for an economy dominated by mega corporations, tax cuts, deregulation, anti-unionism, opposition to a minimum wage, and a stripping of the social safety net – a Social Darwinist jungle.

At the same time, Biden’s apparent presidential victory, and even more so if he has a Democratic-controlled Senate, may have helped the country to avoid the worst consequences that would have followed from Trump’s reelection, at least for the next few years. If Trump had been reelected, the country would have become even less democratic than it is, climate change would have run amok, economic stagnation and inequality would have continued, racism and a right-wing social agenda would have been stoked, voter suppression would have grown, and a Trump administration would have expanded and deepened its relations with authoritarian leaders abroad.

What a Biden administration can do, even without the Senate

Biden and the Democrats will face enormous opposition from Trump forces, the Republican Party, his enormous “base.” He will need a Democratically-controlled Senate to make any headway on his legislative program; otherwise, gridlock and Republican obstruction will prevail. Without a Democratic Senate, all is not lost. He will be able take significant initiative through executive orders. However, Biden will probably not be able to deliver on his big promises on climate, “green” jobs, infrastructure, health care, racial justice, the repeal of the big Republican tax cuts, and so much more.

There is, nonetheless, room for action. Matt ViserSeung Min Kim and Annie Linskey write: “President-elect Joe Biden is planning to quickly sign a series of executive orders after being sworn into office on Jan. 20, immediately forecasting that the country’s politics have shifted and that his presidency will be guided by radically different priorities” (https://washingtonpost.com/politics/biden-first-executive-orders-measures/2020/11/07/9fb9c1d0-210b-11eb-b532-05c751cd5ds2_story.html).

According to the journalists, “[h]is top advisers have spent months quietly working on how best to implement his agenda, with hundreds of transition officials preparing to get to work inside various federal agencies. They have assembled a book filled with his campaign commitments to help guide their early decisions.” There are an impressive array of potential initiatives. “He will rejoin the Paris climate…reverse President Trump’s withdrawal from the World Health Organization…. repeal the ban on almost all travel from some Muslim-majority countries…reinstate the program allowing ‘dreamers,’ who were brought to the United States illegally as children, to remain in the country.” As already noted, he will set up a coronavirus task force to plan a coordinated government response to the pandemic and quickly “wants to quickly appoint a supply commander to oversee production and distribution of testing — and, when ready, vaccines — as well as materials such as masks and gowns.” Even “without congressional cooperation, Biden has said that he plans to immediately reverse Trump’s rollback of 100 public health and environmental rules that the Obama administration had in place.” Biden has also pledged to “institute new ethics guidelines at the White House, and he has pledged to sign an executive order the first day in office saying that no member of his administration could influence any Justice Department investigations.”

If the Senate is controlled by Republicans, Max Moran argues “we don’t  have to live in Mitch McConnell’s world” (https://prospect.org/politics/we-dont-have-to-live-in-mitch-mcconnells-world). Here’s what he writes.

“Biden has at least two paths to building a Cabinet without running through the Senate. First, he can aggressively use the Vacancies Act, which allows presidents to temporarily fill the leadership of an executive agency while waiting for a permanent nominee’s confirmation. Biden can either direct someone sitting in a different Senate-confirmed job to fill the duties of a Cabinet secretary, or pick a senior staffer at the agency and temporarily make them the boss.

“You know all of those Trump officials with the word “acting” in their job titles? They got those acting jobs thanks to the Vacancies Act. In other words, Republicans have cheered aggressive use of this law for four years, even when they controlled the chamber needed for full confirmation of these appointees. They are in no position to complain about Biden using it, and when they inevitably complain anyway, they should immediately be discounted as the hypocrites they are.

Democratic commissioners of independent agencies are Senate-confirmed for multiyear terms, meaning they stand ready to fill the duties of the Cabinet as soon as Biden is sworn in. For example, Federal Trade Commissioner and Sen. Elizabeth Warren ally Rohit Chopra would make an incredible secretary of commerce regardless, but under these conditions, he’d be one of the best qualified designees available for the job.

“Who better to steer the ship of government through turbulent times than the dedicated civil servants who survived the Trump era? One of Biden’s first priorities as president must be a thorough review of the executive branch corruption and self-dealing that occurred under Trump. These civil servants know best what happened in their respective agencies, making them ideal under any circumstances to take the reins of the department.

“Biden’s second option for circumventing McConnell is to make appointments in recess. Here, according to legal expert Sy Damle, Biden would need the Speaker of the House to set up a disagreement with McConnell over adjourning, which President Biden can then settle using the Presidential Adjournment Clause in the Constitution. While Congress stands in recess, the president can make temporary appointments which last until the end of the next congressional session.”

 There remains a disconcerting reality

“Trumpism has not been repudiated, not even close”

This quote is from Historian and author Robert Freeman (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2020/11/05/its-far-over). He points out that there many unresolved major issues that will challenge the Biden administration. The Senate may remain in Republican hands. The electoral results did not give Biden an overwhelming mandate. There are divisions within the Democratic Party, pitting moderates against progressives. Without tax increases on corporations and the rich, the Democrats may be fiscally hamstrung. The economy is in bad shape, with tens of millions of unemployed and millions of financially weakened businesses. The Supreme Court is dominated by conservative justices. There are 72+ million voters in Trump’s base and they want a strong leader, if not Trump someone else, to protect and advance their right-wing values and interests.

As the complex of political forces are aligned, a Biden administration may not be able to find ways to deliver on its promises. On this score, Freeman writes that Biden is in danger of being “viciously blamed for every policy failure and the setback of every initiative sincerely intended to repair and heal the country. This will redound, inescapably, to the detriment of the Democratic party and any hopes for a progressive policy agenda for many, many years, likely for decades.” There is one other distressing point, namely, that the majority of states will have Republican-controlled legislatures and again control the congressional redistricting maps in those states, instituting surgically-precise gerrymandering coupled with heightened voter suppression efforts.”

Whither Trump?

Trump got over 72+ million people to vote for him. This “base” of support, which grew by 9 million over 2016, may give Trump the opportunity to maintain his dominance in the Republican Party and to build an organization to influence the 2022 midterm elections and the next presidential election in 2024. Here’s one example of how Trump is already plotting to retain power, according to an article by Michael D. Shear and Adam Liptak (https://nytimes.com/live/2020/11/10/us/joe-biden-trump).

“President Trump is directing money raised through his campaign’s breathless requests to ‘defend the election’ into a new political action committee before his recount fund, a move that allows him greater flexibility to fund his future political endeavors.

“The new group, called Save America, is a federal fund-raising vehicle known as a leadership PAC that has donation limits of $5,000 per donor per year.

“It will be used to underwrite Mr. Trump’s post-presidential activities, tapping into the vast reservoir of small donors that made him a dominant fund-raiser, for a time, in 2020. But it is likely to have far greater significance for a man who is refusing not only to concede the election but remains reluctant to surrender the spotlight. In that sense, his PAC could become a fan-subsidized machine to perpetuate his agenda and plot his next moves.

“In the days since the election, Mr. Trump’s campaign has blitzed supporters with text messages and emails almost hourly, spreading unsubstantiated claims of widespread fraud and asking supporters to give to the ‘official election defense fund.’”

Columnist Michelle Goldberg reports on various views on whether Trump will retain his political influence after losing the election (https://nytimes.com/2020/11/13/opinion/trump-prosecution-lawsuits.html).

On the one hand, she writes, “some political observers and Republican professionals assume he’ll remain a political kingmaker, and will be a favorite for the party’s nomination in 2024.” And, some of Trump’s allies “imagined other Republicans making a pilgrimage to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida seeking his blessing.” Goldberg cites a statement by Senator Marco Rubio who told The Daily Beast’s Sam Brodey, “If he runs in 2024, he’ll certainly be the front-runner, and then he’ll probably be the nominee.” And there is no doubt that he “has a cultlike hold on his millions of worshipers.”

On the other hand, after leaving office Trump will no longer have the august aura and platform of the presidency. And: “Once Trump is no longer president, he is likely to be consumed by lawsuits and criminal investigations. Hundreds of millions of dollars in debt will come due. Lobbyists and foreign dignitaries won’t have much of a reason to patronize Mar-a-Lago or his Washington hotel. Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch could complete the transition from Trump’s enabler to his enemy. And, after four years of cartoonish self-abasement, Republicans with presidential aspirations will have an incentive to help take him down.” In addition, once he is no longer president, he will no longer have the protection of the Bill Barr and the Department of Justice.

Goldberg suggests that, on balance, Trump will not be able to maintain his political power, even if he should want to. “Trump is in for years of scandals and humiliations. We will doubtlessly find out more about official misdeeds he tried to keep secret as president. Republicans who hope to succeed him will have reason to start painting him as a loser instead of a savior. He’ll have to devote much of his energy to trying to stay out of prison.”

Trumps’s populous base remains

The base comprises up to 72+ million supporters, or about 47% of the voting population in November 2020. Hacker and Pierson emphasize that “America’s version of right-wing populism began to surface well before Trump – in fact, well before the financial crisis.” The appeals for the populous base are in many cases “racially tinged, involve strong identities and strong emotions… that draw a sharp line between ‘us’ and “them” ((Let Them Eat Tweets: How the Right Rules in an Age of Extreme Inequality, p. 22) and are ‘best suited to single-issue groups, cultural institutions such as churches, and certain kinds of media” (p. 23). This base of right-wing support existed before Trump and grew during his presidency.

The power of the president and the Republican party has depended on this electoral base of support as well as support from many of the rich and powerful. (For more on this point, see attached my post “Plutocracy v. Democracy,” August 23, 2020 on WordPress).

On the base, support has been garnered over time from a variety of right-wing groups, including, those who want unlimited gun ownership, evangelical groups that favor the end of reproductive rights for women and an end to the separation of religion and the state, groups that want a virtual end to most or all categories of immigration, groups that want to preserve white supremacy and reject as myth the racist and discriminatory history that is so central to the dark side of American history. Trump has a friendly relationship with far-right, sometimes armed, groups support the reopening of the economy, who demonstrate for white supremacists’ values or a reactionary concept of “freedom.” But beyond the particular interests, Trump is also viewed by these supporters as having had the ability to transform the government in a way that will make “America Great Again,” put an end to the intrusion of government bureaucrats in their lives, and protect their communities from a secular culture.

Fundamentalist evangelicals see support from Trump and Republicans for their opposition to women’s reproductive rights and to LBGTQ interests and want “conservative” judges on the Supreme Court and federal judiciary that favor “the traditional family” and public support for white Christian institutions. For a well-documented account of this faction of the “base,” see Katherine Stewart’s in-depth book, The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism.

The National Rifle Association likes the Trump and the Republican opposition to any meaningful gun regulation. The anti-immigration policies of Trump and his administration are strongly supported. Cutting across such issues is the desire of the right-wing populous base to maintain their “superior” white status at a time when demographic changes threaten their majority position in society. Hacker and Pierson say that “the racism-focused narrative takes various forms.

“Some emphasize contemporary forces: the incessant race-baiting of Donald Trump; white backlash against the nation’s first black president; the anxiety generated by the ongoing shift toward a ‘majority-minority’ nation. Others emphasize the deeper historical roots of white identity. Yet all these accounts suggest that race is the cleavage that defines American politics.” They also emphasize, too, that this cleavage reflects “deep psychological attachments that are easily triggered and highly resistant to change. In this respect, they present a ‘bottom-up’ perspective, emphasizing the underlying resistance of key parts of the white electorate to the shifts in status and power that demographic change entails” (p. 9).

There are a host of organizations that represent the various segments of the right-wing populous base and they are major players in educating, mobilizing, and engaging voters in the base to support the Republican Party. On this point, Hacker and Pierson write: “As the GOP embraced plutocratic priorities, it pioneered a set of electoral appeals that were increasingly strident, alarmist, and anti-government extremism, the party outsourced voter mobilization to a set of aggressive and narrow groups: the National Rifle Association, the organized Christian right, the burgeoning industry of right-wing media.”

According to Hacker and Pierson, Trump is “a consequence and recent enabler of the GOP’s long, steady march to the right” (Let Them Eat Tweets: How the Right Rules in an Age of Extreme Inequality, p. 7). The policies of the Republican Party have been unabashedly plutocratic since the election in 1980 of Ronald Reagan. That is, their principal political commitments are to consolidate and advance the interests of the mega-corporations and the business community generally and the rich, especially the super-rich. Most of the rich are connected to the corporations as executive officers or as consultants, or they have investments in corporations of one kind or another. In addition to making tax cuts the centerpiece of their agenda, they have retained their power by loosening regulations and pursuing full-blown deregulation in the economy, by supporting expenditures that benefit the military arms makers, by subsidizing industries and corporations the support the party, by filling policy-making positions in the administration with wealthy corporate backers and executives, by ignoring anti-trust laws, and by reducing funding for programs that benefit or potentially benefit a growing majority of Americans (p. 3). But they need the “base” to do all this.

Historians and constitutional scholars worry

Journalist and political scientist Thomas B. Edsall writes a regular column for The New York Times. In his column on November 11, he reports on the responses of experts to the election and the Trump/Republican refusal to accept the Biden/Harris widely acclaimed victory (https://nytimes.com/2020/11/11/opinion/trump-concession-transition.html). The overall tenor of the responses is that the current electoral situation is highly unusual, though not unprecedented, in US history. They are particularly concerned about Trump’s unwillingness to concede defeat, how he is using the resources of his office to slow down the vote-counting process, undermine the transition preparedness of Biden and his team, and threatening to destroy democratic institutions. Consider the following examples.

Edsall quotes James T. Kloppenberg, a professor of American history at Harvard as follows: “Trump’s refusal to acknowledge defeat is unprecedented. Yet it is consistent with everything he’s done throughout his life, so it should not surprise us. While political scientists often focus on institutions and political practices, democracy, where it exists, rests on deeper cultural predispositions that are harder to see. Unless a culture has internalized the norms of deliberation, pluralism, and above all reciprocity, there is no reason to concede to your worst enemy when he wins an election, nor is there any reason to acknowledge the legitimacy of opponents.”

Sean Wilentz, a professor of history at Princeton, said: “It would be not simply a major departure but a deeply dangerous one were Trump to deny the legitimacy of Biden’s election. It would be a brutal renunciation of American democracy. It would create not simply a fissure but a chasm in the nation’s politics and government, telling his tens of millions of supporters as well as his congressional backers to reject Biden’s presidency. It would be an act of disloyalty unsurpassed in American history except by the southern secession in 1860-61, the ultimate example of Americans refusing to respect the outcome of a presidential election. Trump would be trying to establish a center of power distinct from and antagonistic to the legitimately elected national government — not formally a separate government like the Confederacy but a virtual one, operating not just out in the country but inside the government, above all in Congress.”

Eric Foner, a professor of history at Columbia, expressed how the present situation is so dangerous. “Legally speaking Biden is not officially the victor until mid-December when the electors cast their votes and the states certify them. If Trump plans to fight until then, however, it will certainly poison the political atmosphere for quite a while.” And while “there have not been very many defeated incumbent presidents. John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, William Howard Taft, Herbert Hoover, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush. I don’t believe any of them challenged the legitimacy of the result.”

Concluding thoughts

It can be argued that we have done it before, that is the New Deal, therefore we can do it again. There is no doubt that there are plenty of people on the left who are engaged in movements for change on a wide range of issues. And there are promising and committed people running for congressional seats, many of them women. The question is whether progressives, activists of all stripes, the Democratic Party, democratically-oriented citizens can mobilize and rally enough citizens to vote again for Democrats in 2022 and 2024 and enough to win control of the US Congress as well as the White House. It’s a great challenge and not under the most propitious conditions.

Importantly, getting voters to register and vote and winning the next elections will depend on whether the Biden administration can deliver on its legislative promises and make significant progress toward containing and reversing the pandemic. Executive orders alone will be insufficient to improve the immediate material situations of many Americans.

Biden’s administration will be much better prepared to deal with the pandemic than Trump ever was. However, given what the Trump administration wrought and the current surge of covid-19, the crisis may persist and the economy may not recover for some time, putting a strain on the administration’s time and resources and giving Republicans and their right-wing allies opportunities for legislative obstruction and for the “base” to feel vindicated in its concerns.

The course of Covid-19 will affect how the Biden administration fares

Appearing on “Good Morning America,” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the United States, urged Americans on Thursday to ‘double down’ on basic precautions as coronavirus cases soared across the country and more Covid-19 patients were hospitalized than ever before” (https://nytimes.com/live/2020/11/12/covid-19-coronavirus-updates). Fauci did not think the country needed “a lockdown,” but that it would require much more diligence on the part of Americans with respect to wearing masks, washing hands, social distancing, avoiding indoor gatherings, and contact tracing. He was optimistic about the progress that Pfizer was making in its experimental coronavirus vaccine and said that “officials hope that ‘ordinary citizens should be able’ to get a vaccine in the spring.” However, no coronavirus vaccine has yet been authorized by the U.S. government. Meanwhile, the pandemic is out of control. There is growing concern that the nation’s hospitals and personnel are being stretched beyond capacity.

To provide the government relief that the country needs to assist hospitals, schools, local health departments, the unemployed, those who are unable to pay the rent, along with support for businesses. Without control of the Senate, the Biden administration may have difficulty getting the support of Republicans for a credible relief package.

Nicholas A. Christaki, sociologists and physician at Yale University, interviewed by Judy Woodruff on the PBS News Hour on November 12, offers an even less sanguine view. Christaki is the author of a new book, Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live (https://pbs.org/newshour/show/even-with-a-vaccine-covid-19-will-last-for-years-expert-says). Here are excerpts from the interview.

“Judy Woodruff: When we — we have just learned in the last few days that the vaccine may be available in coming weeks or by the end of the year, early next year. But we’re also hearing this warning from Dr. Fauci and others that it may be with us for a while. What do you think the real timeline is in terms of when life returns to a semblance of normal?

“Nicholas Christakis: I think, even if the vaccine or several vaccines are invented in the next few months, which is likely, we still have challenges. Even with a vaccine, COVID-19 will last for years, manufacturing, distributing and persuading the public to accept the vaccine. And those challenges will take about a year. And, meanwhile, the virus is still spreading, and it will continue to spread until we reach a threshold of about 40 to 50 percent of Americans who are infected. Right now, we’re only at about 10 percent. That threshold is known as the herd immunity threshold. So, that will take us into 2022. So, from my perspective, the first period during which we’re confronting the biological and epidemiological impact of the virus, and we’re living in a changed world, wearing masks, physical distancing, school closures, and so on, will last until sometime in 2022. And then we’re going to begin a second period, when we are recovering from the psychological, social and economic shock of the virus. And this has been seen for thousands of years with other epidemics. And that will take a couple of years for us to rebuild our economy and recover. And so, sometime in 2024, I think, life will slowly begin to return to normal, with some persistent changes.”

Climate change: a threat and an opportunity

The economic, environmental, and human ravages of climate change will have increasing and costly effects on communities across the country, but, as of now, it has not been electorally significant. Indeed, it is problem of global dimensions and, must at some point, have a coordinated global response. Here, the focus is on the US.

Pulitzer Prize winning journalist David Leonhardt anticipates that the Biden administration will have a huge challenge with respect to this growing problem. It will demand more attention and more resources than ever, at a time when the Republican Party denies the existence of a climate crisis or says we can’t afford to deal with it and wants to keep the energy system tied mostly to fossil fuels, the principal sources of global warming (https://nytimes.com/2020/11/13/opinion/joe-biden-climate-change.html).

Leonhardt reminds us that “Climate change is a fantastically complex phenomenon. It does not proceed at a steady pace, and scientists are often unsure precisely what its effects are and which weather patterns are random. But the sum total of the evidence is clear — and terrifying. The earth is continuing to warm, breaking new records as it does, and the destructive effects of climate change are picking up speed. Future damage will almost certainly be worse, maybe much worse.”  While the problem is immense and multifaceted, it also opens up opportunities to address the energy and environmental aspects of the problem while creating millions of jobs in the process. This is precisely what Biden’s $2 trillion on clean energy will do over the next four years, putting people back to work and involving a sum that’s almost 20 times larger than the clean-energy spending in Mr. Obama’s 2009 economic-recovery package. This could turn out to be Biden’s signature issue.

One of the major provisions in Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign platform focuses on climate change and is illucidated in a policy statement titled “The Biden Plan to Build a Modern, Sustainable Infrastructure and an Equitable Clean Energy Future” (https://joebiden.com/clean-energy).The emphasis is on how millions of jobs can be created around programs that are connected to building a more resilient, sustainable economy. He wants to create millions of good jobs around programs that resolve or begin to resolve the climate crisis by cutting greenhouse gas emissions and doing it in a way that pays particular attention to addressing the needs of African Americans, workers, and other groups that have suffered from historic and systemic discrimination. The Biden plan puts it this way. “At this moment of profound crisis, we have the opportunity to build a more resilient, sustainable economy – one that will put the United States on an irreversible path to achieve net-zero emissions, economy-wide, by no later than 2050. Joe Biden will seize that opportunity and, in the process, create millions of good-paying jobs that provide workers with the choice to join a union and bargain collectively with their employers.”

Marianne Lavelle writes on Biden’s record and documents how he is pushed for action to address climate change throughout his career, going back as far as 1986 (https://insideclimatenews.org/news/31082020/candidate-profile-joe-biden-climate-change-election-2020). For example, she notes that Biden was an early proponent for climate change. “In 1986, after testimony by NASA scientist James Hansen on the greenhouse effect, Biden introduced his Global Climate Protection Act,” which was “a bill [that] sought to compel President Ronald Reagan to set up a task force to study the issue, and the Delaware Senator urged Reagan to include climate in the summit talks then underway with then-Soviet Secretary General Mikhail Gorbachev.”

Sophie Austin points out, the Biden plan aims at eradicating carbon pollution from the power sector by 2035 (https://www.politifact.com/article/2020/aug/03/joe-biden-climate-change-plan-explained). The plan calls for spending of $2 trillion over four years. According to Deborah D’Souza, some of Biden’s general tax plan will be used to pay for his climate change plan ((https://www.investopedia.com/comparing-the-economic-plans-of-trump-and-biden-4844340).

But there is a major obstacle, namely, the Republican Party and the reactionary political base. If Biden has congressional support, he will be able to accomplish great things and perhaps lay the groundwork for Democratic electoral victories in 2022 and 2024. If he does not, then, the chances that the Democrats and their allies will hold onto power will be greatly diminished. And waiting in the wings are radical right-wing Republicans and a huge reactionary political base waiting to take the rungs of power back, which would push democracy over the edge as the ecosystem burned, the pandemic reached no heights, among other petrifying developments.

Tom Engelhardt may have it right, unfortunately, when he writes: “Trumpism has split America in two in a way that hasn’t been imaginable since the Civil War. The president and the Senate are likely to be in gridlock, the judicial system a partisan affair of the first order, the national security state a money-gobbling shadow empire, the citizenry armed to the teeth, racism rising, and life everywhere in an increasing state of chaos” (https://thenation.com/article/politics/trump-election-america).

Climate Change: Denier Trump vs Doer Biden

Bob Sheak, Oct 16, 2020

bsheak983@gmail.com

Part 1: The climate change crisis

This post is organized in two interrelated parts. Part 1 presents evidence (again) that we in the US and all of humanity are in a disastrous, rapidly unfolding climate crisis. Part 2 takes up the political question of how Trump (and his allies) have responded to the crisis and what Biden plans to do. Trump has done a terrible job of it. Biden has a plan that shows some promise of addressing the crisis and creating millions of jobs in the process.

The scientific evidence

The International Panel On Climate Change (IPCC) is a UN agency established in 1988, as Robert Pollin says, “to provide policymakers with regular scientific assessments on the current knowledge about climate change” (from Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin, Climate Crisis and the Global New Deal, p. 15). Pollin continues: “The IPCC does not carry out original research but rather serve as a clearinghouse for assessing and synthesizing the relevant literature.” The process includes: “Thousands of scientists contribute to writing and reviewing the IPCC’s reports, which are reviewed by governments.”  For details, see the Union of Concerned Scientists review of the IPCC’s origin, its goals, how it works, and what is has accomplished (https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/ipcc-who-are-they).

In October 2018, the IPCC issued a special report for policymakers, with the assessment that global warming should be limited to 1.5Celsius, a more challenging target than the previously set forth IPCC target of 2.0C (https://www.ipcc.ch/2018/10/08/summary-for-policymakers-of-ipcc-special-report-on-global-warming-of-1-5c-approved-by-goverments). The change in the targeted goal of climate change mitigation is in response to the ongoing acceleration of global warming and the expanding and deepening scope of the effects. The earth’s temperature has risen to 1.1C since the onset of industrialization in the early 19th Century and humanity is already experiencing steadily rising temperatures, increases in severe weather incidents (droughts, floods, more frequent and damaging hurricanes), melting ice and snow cover in the polar regions, an Arctic Ocean free of ice, declining coral reefs, and devastation of the natural environment and more and more coincident harms to humanity. The majority of the problem has occurred since WWII.

The IPCC is recognized as one of the most authoritative sources of scientific information on climate change. The 2018 IPCC report is based on “the dedicated contribution of thousands of expert and government reviewers worldwide” who examined “more than 6,000 scientific references.” On the basis of this assessment, the recommendation is to limit the earth’s temperature to no more than 1.5C. The IPCC scientists and experts recognize that achieving such a goal will require “far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” To achieve this goal, the IPCC assessment says that “Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050. This means that any remaining emissions would need to be balanced by removing CO2 from the air [which could be in part achieved by reforestation and sustainable, soil-enhancing agricultural; see Kristin Ohlson’s book, “the soil will save us”].

In an article for The New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert reports the IPCC is not too hopeful about the future prospects of climate change (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/10/22/what-is-donald-trump-s-response-to-the-un-dire-climate-report).  She writes:

“Even as the I.P.C.C. warned that 1.5 degrees of warming would be calamitous, it also indicated that, for all intents and purposes, such warming has become unavoidable. “There is no documented historical precedent” for the changes needed to prevent it, the group wrote. In addition to transforming the way that electricity is generated and distributed around the world, fundamental changes would be needed in transportation, agriculture, housing, and infrastructure. And much of this would have to be accomplished by the time today’s toddlers hit high school. To have a reasonable chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, the I.P.C.C. said, global CO2 emissions, now running about forty billion tons a year, would need to be halved by 2030 and reduced more or less to zero by 2050. And this would still not be enough. All the scenarios that the I.P.C.C. could come up with to limit warming to 1.5 degrees rely on some kind of “carbon-dioxide removal”: essentially, technologies to suck CO2 out of the air. Such technologies exist, but so far only in the sense that flying cars exist—as expensive-to-produce prototypes. A leaked draft of the report noted that there was a ‘very high risk’ of exceeding 1.5 degrees; although that phrase was removed from the final report, the message is clear.”

The National Space and Aeronautical Agency’s research findings on the effects of climate change

NASA, another major source of information on climate change, summarizes the methods it uses in identifying climate change and identifies nine major effects on critical aspects of the natural world. It does his in a page on its website, “Climate Change: How Do We Know?” (https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence). I also include some additional research findings reported by NASA.

The research methods

“The current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is extremely likely (greater than 95% probability) to be the result of human activity since the mid-20th century and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented over decades to millennia.1

“Earth-orbiting satellites and other technological advances have enabled scientists to see the big picture, collecting many different types of information about our planet and its climate on a global scale. This body of data, collected over many years, reveals the signals of a changing climate.

“The heat-trapping nature of carbon dioxide and other gases was demonstrated in the mid-19th century.2 Their ability to affect the transfer of infrared energy through the atmosphere is the scientific basis of many instruments flown by NASA. There is no question that increased levels of greenhouse gases must cause Earth to warm in response. Ice cores drawn from Greenland, Antarctica, and tropical mountain glaciers show that Earth’s climate responds to changes in greenhouse gas levels. Ancient evidence can also be found in tree rings, ocean sediments, coral reefs, and layers of sedimentary rocks. This ancient, or paleoclimate, evidence reveals that current warming is occurring roughly ten times faster than the average rate of ice-age-recovery warming. Carbon dioxide from human activity is increasing more than 250 times faster than it did from natural sources after the last Ice Age.3

The ocean is warming. “The ocean has absorbed much of this increased heat, with the top 100 meters (about 328 feet) of ocean showing warming of more than 0.6 degrees Fahrenheit (0.33 degrees Celsius) since 1969.Earth stores 90% of the extra energy in the ocean.’

The ice sheets are shrinking. “The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have decreased in mass. Data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment show Greenland lost an average of 279 billion tons of ice per year between 1993 and 2019, while Antarctica lost about 148 billion tons of ice per year.7 In 2020, as reported on Sept 21, 2020, “Arctic sea ice minimum at second lowest on record”  (https://climate.nasa.gov/news/3023/2020-arctic-sea-ice-minimum-at-second-lowest-on-record). NASA’s Pat Brennan reports that a new study finds there was a “record loss of Greenland ice” in 2019”  (https://climate.nasa.gov/news/3010/study-2019-sees-record-loss-of-greenland-ice). Brennan writes: “The large loss – 532 billion tons – is a stark reversal of the more moderate rate of melt seen in the previous two years. And it exceeds Greenland’s previous record of 464 billion tons, set in 2012. The record melt will likely raise average global sea level by 1.5 millimeters. Using a hypothetical comparison, all the water combined would cover the entire state of California in more than 4 feet (1.2 meters) of water.”

There is widespread glacial retreat. Glaciers are retreating almost everywhere around the world — including in the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska, and Africa.8

Sea Level is Rising. “Global sea level rose about 8 inches (20 centimeters) in the last century. The rate in the last two decades, however, is nearly double that of the last century and accelerating slightly every year.10

Declining Arctic Sea Ice. “Both the extent and thickness of Arctic sea ice has declined rapidly over the last several decades.11

The number of extreme weather events is increasing. “The number of record high temperature events in the United States has been increasing, while the number of record low temperature events has been decreasing, since 1950. The U.S. has also witnessed increasing numbers of intense rainfall events.12

Ocean acidification is rising. “Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by about 30%.13,14 This increase is the result of humans emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and hence more being absorbed into the ocean. The ocean has absorbed between 20% and 30% of total anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions in recent decades (7.2 to 10.8 billion metric tons per year).15,16” According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, “Ocean acidification hinders the ability of corals to recover from these bleaching events because it reduces the amount of calcium carbonate available that corals need to grow back to health. A report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change finds that 99 percent of the world’s warm-water coral reefs could disappear if global average temperatures rise 2°C or more above pre-industrial levels (https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/co2-and-ocean-acidification).

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Wikipedia’s summary of the problem

“Climate change includes both the global warming driven by human emissions of greenhouse gases, and the resulting large-scale shifts in weather patterns.[1] Though there have been previous periods of climatic change, since the mid-20th century the rate of human impact on Earth’s climate system and the global scale of that impact have been unprecedented[2]” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climate_change). The Wikipedia account continues.

“That human activity has caused climate change is not disputed by any scientific body of national or international standing.[3] The largest driver has been the emission of greenhouse gases, of which more than 90% are carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane.[4] Fossil fuel burning for energy consumption is the main source of these emissions, with additional contributions from agriculturedeforestation, and industrial processes.[5] Temperature rise is accelerated or tempered by climate feedbacks, such as loss of sunlight-reflecting snow and ice cover, increased water vapour (a greenhouse gas itself), and changes to land and ocean carbon sinks.”

“Observed temperature from NASA versus the 1850–1900 average as a pre-industrial baseline. The main driver for increased global temperatures in the industrial era is human activity, with natural forces adding variability.[6]

“Because land surfaces heat faster than ocean surfaces, deserts are expanding and heat waves and wildfires are more common.[7] Surface temperature rise is greatest in the Arctic, where it has contributed to melting permafrost, and the retreat of glaciers and sea ice.[8] Increasing atmospheric energy and rates of evaporation cause more intense storms and weather extremes, which damage infrastructure and agriculture.[9] Rising temperatures are limiting ocean productivity and harming fish stocks in most parts of the globe.[10] Current and anticipated effects from undernutrition, heat stress and disease have led the World Health Organization to declare climate change the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century.[11] Environmental effects include the extinction or relocation of many species as their ecosystems change, most immediately in coral reefsmountains, and the Arctic.[12] Even if efforts to minimize future warming are successful, some effects will continue for centuries, including rising sea levels, rising ocean temperatures, and ocean acidification from elevated levels of CO2.[13]

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The Economic Impacts

Kimberly Amadeo considers the “causes” and “costs” of climate change in an article for The Balance, updated on June 30, 2020 (https://www.thebalance.com/economic-impact-of-climate-change-3305682). She says that climate change “should be called climate destabilization,” creating “more extreme and frequent blizzards, heat waves, and other forms of extreme weather, such as, tornadoswildfireshurricanes, blizzards, floods and landslides, heat waves, and droughts.” The current destabilizing changes are occurring in decades, whereas “previous changes [in the earth’s vital systems]occurred over millions of years.”

What Causes Climate Change?

The principal cause is the rising of greenhouse gas emissions into the earth’s atmosphere. Amadeo writes: “Global warming is the planet’s response to higher levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. They create a blanket that traps the heat from the sun and sends it back to the planet’s surface. Humans have contributed to the current crisis by burning fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases.  The evidence? “As of May 2020, NASA-recorded carbon dioxide levels were 414 parts per million (ppm).8 The last time levels were this high was 2.6 million years ago during the Pliocene era. Back then, the Arctic was 8 degrees Celsius, or 14 degrees Fahrenheit, warmer in the summer than it is now.9 As a result, it was only frozen during the winter. With greater ice melt, sea levels were about 25 meters higher than today.10 That’s enough [if it happened today] to flood New York, London, Miami, San Francisco, and Shanghai.”

The earth isn’t as hot today as it was then because “the oceans have…absorbed 90% of the heat.” Scientists find that the “top 2,300 feet of the ocean has warmed more than 0.4 degrees since 1969.15 The last time the ocean was this warm was 100,000 years ago. Sea levels were 20 to 30 feet higher.16 The ocean presently is warming as it absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and the warming is accelerating and expanding the ice and snow melts in the polar regions. warmed so fast that there hasn’t been enough time for higher temperatures to melt the arctic ice caps. So, the ocean levels will continue to rise, inch by inch, meter by meter.  

Amadeo refers to the percentage contributions that specific economic sectors of the US economy generate in greenhouse gas emissions. The evidence comes from a 2018 report by the Environmental Protection Agency. Here is the breakdown below.20

SourceFuelPercent
Electricity GenerationCoal, Natural Gas26.9%
TransportationOil, Gasoline28.2%
IndustryOil, Chemicals22.0%
Commercial and ResidentialHeating Oil12.3%
AgricultureLivestock9.9%
ForestryAbsorbs CO2offset 11.6%

Internationally, Amadeo points out that the US is one of the worst contributors to climate change, writing: “On a per-person basis, the U.S. is one of the worst offenders. In 2017, it emitted 14.6 metric tons of CO2 per person. Saudi Arabia, Australia, and Canada led the world in per capita emissions, with 16.1, 15.6, and 14.9 metric tons, respectively. China emitted only 6.5 metric tons per person.21

What’s the Economic Impact of Climate Change?

Amadeo refers to evidence for 1980 to 2019 on how extreme weather has cost $1,775 trillion and gives the example of the effects on Munich Re, one of the world’s largest reinsurance firms, on how insurance rates will rise. For example, the insurance company blame climate change for $24 billion of losses in the California wildfires, which are growing in ferocity and destruction. The rising costs to the insurance companies will lead to higher – prohibitively higher – insurance rates, or not be available at all.

Overall economic activity will be reduced by rising temperatures. She gives the following examples. “Scientists estimated that, if temperatures only rose 2 degrees Celsius, the global gross domesticproduct would fall 15%. If temperatures rose to 3 degrees Celsius, the global GDP would fall 25%. If nothing is done, temperatures will rise by 4 degrees Celsius by 2100.28 29 Global GDP would decline by more than 30% from 2010 levels.30 That’s comparable to the Great Depression, where GDP fell to -26.7%.31 The only difference is that it would be permanent.”

Employment levels will also be affected. “The World Employment and Social Outlook 2018 estimated that climate change threatens 1.2 billion jobs.32” 

The effects of climate change will cause immigration to soar around the world. Here’s what Amadeo tells us: “People are leaving flooded coastlines, drought-stricken farmlands, and areas of extreme natural disasters. Since 2008, events related to climate or weather have displaced 22.5 million people annually, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.3738 Some forecasts predict that by 2050, climate change could cause as many as 1 billion people to emigrate.3940” The pressure to immigrate to the US from Central America and other places will go up.” The World Bank estimates that as many as 3.9 million people in Mexico and Central America will migrate internally by 2050 due to climate impact, and that subsequent deterioration will further exacerbate the movements of these migrants.41 Drought, shifting rain patterns, and extreme weather destroys crops and leads to food insecurity. The World Food Program found that almost half of Central Americans left because there wasn’t enough food.42”

Climate change will also have an impact on “national security.” “Climate change endangers 128 military bases.43 A 2018 Pentagon survey revealed that U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland has experienced storm surge flooding and hurricane damage. The Cape Lisburne Long Range Radar Station in Alaska has lost a seawall from extreme weather.44 In response, Congress asked the Department of Defense to identify the 10 most vulnerable sites and recommend solution strategies.45”  Michael Klare examines in-depth how the US military is attempting to respond to these changes in his book, All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change.

Finally, Amadeo refers to the impact of climate change on “food prices.” Rising temperatures, droughts, floods, pests, will cause food prices to rise. There is a ripple effect. “As America experiences more extremely hot days, food prices are rising. Corn and soybean yields in the U.S. precipitously plummet when temperatures rise above 84 degrees Fahrenheit.46 Those crops feed cattle and other meat sources and create spikes in beef, milk, and poultry prices. Worker productivity declines sharply, particularly for outdoor jobs.47 That further increases the cost of food.” She comments on a 2019 study that found “a warming ocean has pushed global sustainable fish yields down 4% since 1930. That’s 1.4 million metric tons.” She continues: “In the North Sea and Sea of Japan, that decline is 35%. That affects Atlantic cod, haddock, and herring.48 Many species are threatened with extinction. That affects the 3 billion people who rely on fish for their primary source of protein.49 It also affects the $150 billion fishing industry and the 59 million people employed.50 It especially affects the U.S., which imports more than 80% of its seafood.51”

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Part 2: The antithetical differences in the approaches by Trump and by Biden’s approaches to climate change

Trump’s disastrous environmental record exacerbates the climate crisis

Vernon Loeb, Marianne Lavelle, and Stacy Feldman go back through Trump’s record on climate change and other environmental issues and come to the conclusion that it “Has Been a Boon for Oil Companies, and a Threat to the Planet” (http://insideclimatenews.org/news/31082020/candidate-profile-donald-trump-climate-change-election-2020). Trump is a reactionary on these issues and has used his power, buttressed by the Republican Party and other like-minded allies, to not only deny or dismiss such issues but also to weaken pertinent regulations and regulatory agencies, oppose new regulations, appoint like-minded minions to decision-making positions in the agencies, open up public lands to fossil fuel interests, support pipelines regardless of their impacts, withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, promote the policy of US “energy dominance” based on the expansion of oil and gas mining in the US and the export of these fossil fuels abroad, waste resources in attempts to revive the coal industry, reject scientific research on climate change, reverse Obama’s Clean Power Plan, and more. There is no doubt that Trump has used his office to intensify the climate crisis and thus to diminish the chances for the US to contain the growing destructiveness of climate change and its myriad ecological and human effects that accompany it. He is like Nero fiddling away while Rome burned. Here are some examples from this very informative article.

  • “…Trump has scaled back or eliminated over 150 environment measures, expanded Arctic drilling, and denied climate science.”
  • “It had been a busy four years, and a breakneck 2020, as Trump and the former industry executives and lobbyists he’d placed in control of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior raced to rollback auto emissions standards, weaken the nation’s most important environmental law, open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling and reject stronger air pollution standards, even as research showed a link between those pollutants and an increased risk of death from Covid-19.”Bottom of Form
  • “Trump promoted what he called a ‘very dramatic’ series of revisions to the National Environmental Policy Act, the foundation of environmental protection in the United States that had been signed into law by President Richard M. Nixon 50 years ago.” “Environmentalists have used the law to block everything from pipelines to the destruction of natural habitats. Trump has now limited environmental reviews under the act to between one and two years and relieved federal agencies from having to consider a project’s impact on climate change during the review and permitting process.”
  • “He followed up, at the end of March by issuing a sweeping executive order directing all federal agencies to target for elimination any rules that restrict U.S. production of energy. He set guidance to make it more difficult to put future regulations on fossil fuel industries and he moved to discard the use of a rigorous ‘social cost of carbon,’ a regulatory measurement that puts a price on the future damage society will pay for every ton of carbon dioxide emitted.” 
  • “When U.S. government scientists released their latest volume of the National Climate Assessment in November 2018, it revealed much about the robust, sobering scientific consensus on climate change.” “The president rejected the assessment’s central findings—based on thousands of climate studies and involving 13 federal agencies—that emissions of carbon dioxide are caused by human activities, are already causing lasting economic damage and have to be brought rapidly to zero.” His response: “I don’t believe it. No, no, I don’t believe it,” Trump told a reporter after the assessment’s release.” 
  • “One of the administration’s first actions was to order scientists and other employees at EPA and other agencies to halt public communications. Several federal scientists working on climate change have said they were silenced, sidelined or demoted.  The words ‘climate change’ have been purged from government reports and other reports have been buried.” 
  • “In September 2018, the Interior Department finalized a rule that loosens methane requirements for oil and gas operations on federal lands. A month later, the administration proposed a regulation to streamline and expedite oil and gas permits on national forest lands.” 
  • “After countless piecemeal rollbacks during Trump’s first two and a half years in office, the administration in June 2019 launched its long-awaited attack on Obama’s signature plan to tackle climate change. Designed to cut emissions from coal-fired power plants, Obama called it the Clean Power Plan.”
  • “Next came Trump’s rollback of Obama’s 2012 automobile fuel efficiency standards, the single largest step any nation had taken to address global warming by cutting carbon emissions from cars and trucks. The weakened Trump plan will allow automakers to deploy fleets that average just 40 miles per gallon by 2025, instead of 54 mpg.” They note: “If Trump’s standard ultimately survives legal challenges, cars and trucks in the United States would emit nearly a billion tons more carbon dioxide during their lifetimes than they would have under the Obama standards.”
  •  “Finally, in mid-August, Trump proposed the rollback of the methane rules, the last major Obama environmental regulation still standing. Methane, a super-pollutant, is 86 times more potent in warming the planet than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.” This will reverse the “Obama rule [which] required oil and gas companies to monitor methane leaks and fix them. The Trump replacement weakens those requirements….”
  • “In the climate realm, Obama is best known, of course, as the driving force behind the 2015 Paris climate accord.” “Trump first announced in a Rose Garden speech in June 2017 that the U.S. would withdraw from the accord in three years, as soon as the treaty allowed.” “So, right on cue, two years later, on Nov. 4, 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo notified the United Nations of the formal exit of the United States, activating the final one-year waiting period.” “The actual U.S. withdrawal is set for Nov. 4, 2020, one day after the presidential election.”

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The 2020 Republican Party Platform on climate change

The Republican Party is in full accord with Trump on climate change issues (and most other issues). David Frum summarizes the gist of the current Republican platform in one paragraph, noting that the 2020 platform is the same as the 2016 platform (https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/08/new-gop-platform-authoritarianism/615640). Here’s what he writes. “Climate change is a much-overhyped problem. It’s probably not happening. If it is happening, it’s not worth worrying about. If it’s worth worrying about, it’s certainly not worth paying trillions of dollars to amend. To the extent it is real, it will be dealt with in the fullness of time by the technologies of tomorrow. Regulations to protect the environment unnecessarily impede economic growth.”

In an article for The Niskanen Center, Jeffrey Taylor recommends that if “moderate” Republicans want to be taken seriously on the climate change crisis, they should do the following – and they are not (https://www.niskanencenter.org/are-republicans-beginning-to-take-climate-change-seriously-not-yet-but-maybe-someday).

“First, as long as Republicans are denouncing anything that might impose economic costs on anyone, they should not be taken seriously. Innovation fairies will not save us. Only ambitious mitigation will do that, and there’s no way to spare fossil fuel producers some costs. There are ways, however, to spare consumers those costs. For Republicans to pretend otherwise demonstrates that … they are pretending.

“Second, Republicans need to stop attacking climate ‘alarmists’ in the course of their policy work. While it’s an exaggeration to say, as some on the left do, that we only have 12 years to save the planet, there is ample reason to be very alarmed about climate change. Failing to appreciate that is failing to appreciate mainstream climate science and the fundamental need for serious risk management.

“Third, Republicans should be embracing the most ambitious climate responses that political considerations will allow. If some of the excellent carbon tax bills that have been floated by a few House Republicans are too much for them, they should at least take their own innovation rhetoric seriously. That would mean supplementing the legislation they’ve forwarded with much more ambitious initiatives consistent with the demand for deep decarbonization. That means more federal resources need to be marshalled in general, and more attention needs to be paid in particular to long-duration energy storage, carbon-neutral fuels, low-carbon heat sources for industry, and decarbonizing the agricultural sector. 

“Fourth, they should be willing to join with Democrats to pass an infrastructure bill that meaningfully invests in the industries and infrastructures we need to achieve decarbonization” 

Noam Chomsky is worth quoting: “The Republicans have mostly gone off the [political] spectrum. Comparative studies show that they rank alongside the fringe right-wing parties in Europe in their general positions. They are, furthermore, the only major conservative party to reject anthropogenic climate change…a global anomaly” (Climate Change and the Global New Deal, p. 43).

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Biden’s plan

One of the major items in Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign platform focuses on climate change in a policy statement titled “The Biden Plan to Build a Modern, Sustainable Infrastructure and an Equitable Clean Energy Future” (https://joebiden.com/clean-energy).The emphasis is on how millions of jobs can be created around programs that are connected to building a more resilient, sustainable economy. He wants to create millions of good jobs around programs that resolve or begin to resolve the climate crisis by cutting greenhouse gas emissions and doing it in a way that pays particular attention to addressing the needs of African Americans, workers, and other groups that have suffered from historic and systemic discrimination. The Biden plan puts it this way. “At this moment of profound crisis, we have the opportunity to build a more resilient, sustainable economy – one that will put the United States on an irreversible path to achieve net-zero emissions, economy-wide, by no later than 2050. Joe Biden will seize that opportunity and, in the process, create millions of good-paying jobs that provide workers with the choice to join a union and bargain collectively with their employers.”

Marianne Lavelle writes on Biden’s record and documents how he is pushed for action to address climate change throughout his career, going back as far as 1986 (https://insideclimatenews.org/news/31082020/candidate-profile-joe-biden-climate-change-election-2020). For example, she notes that Biden was an early proponent for climate change. “In 1986, after testimony by NASA scientist James Hansen on the greenhouse effect, Biden introduced his Global Climate Protection Act,” which was “a bill [that] sought to compel President Ronald Reagan to set up a task force to study the issue, and the Delaware Senator urged Reagan to include climate in the summit talks then underway with then-Soviet Secretary General Mikhail Gorbachev.”

Sophie Austin points out, the Biden plan aims at eradicating carbon pollution from the power sector by 2035 (https://www.politifact.com/article/2020/aug/03/joe-biden-climate-change-plan-explained). The plan calls for spending of $2 trillion over four years. According to Deborah D’Souza, some of Biden’s general tax plan will be used to pay for his climate change plan ((https://www.investopedia.com/comparing-the-economic-plans-of-trump-and-biden-4844340). D’Souza makes the following points.

 Potential sources of funds

“Biden wants to raise the top income tax rate back to 39.6% from 37% and the top corporate income tax rate to 28% from 21%. If elected, he will apply Social Security taxes to earnings above $400,000, tax capital gains and dividends at ordinary rates for those with annual incomes of more than $1 million and impose 15% minimum tax on book income of large companies. The tax rate on profits earned by foreign subsidiaries of U.S. firms will be doubled to 21%.

“According to the Tax Policy Center, Biden’s tax proposals will increase revenue by $4 trillion between 2021 and 2030. It estimated that 93% of the tax increases would be borne by taxpayers in the top 20% of households by income. The top 1% of households would pay three-quarters of the tax hike”).

There are other pockets of money that could be tapped. Robert Pollin suggests that funds could be transferred out of the military budget, by far the largest in the world (Climate Crisis and The Global New Deal, p. 106). And funds could be raised by ending subsidies to fossil fuels. This is an issue addressed by Clayton Coleman and Emma Dietz (https://www.eesi.org/papers/view/fact-sheet-fossil-fuel-subsidies-a-closer-look-at-the-tax-breaks-and-societal-costs#). They make their point as follows.

“The United States provides a number of tax subsidies to the fossil fuel industry as a means of encouraging domestic energy production. These include both direct subsidies to corporations, as well as other tax benefits to the fossil fuel industry. Conservative estimates put U.S. direct subsidies to the fossil fuel industry at roughly $20 billion per year; with 20 percent currently allocated to coal and 80 percent to natural gas and crude oil. European Union subsidies are estimated to total 55 billion euros annually.

“Historically, subsidies granted to the fossil fuel industry were designed to lower the cost of fossil fuel production and incentivize new domestic energy sources. Today, U.S. taxpayer dollars continue to fund many fossil fuel subsidies that are outdated, but remain embedded within the tax code. At a time when renewable energy technology is increasingly cost-competitive with fossil power generation, and a coordinated strategy must be developed to mitigate climate change, the broader utility of fossil fuel subsidies is being questioned.

“There are many kinds of costs associated with fossil fuel use in the form of greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution resulting from the extraction and burning of fossil fuels. These negative externalities have adverse environmental, climate, and public health impacts, and are estimated to have totaled $5.3 trillion globally in 2015 alone.”

In short, by phasing out fossil fuels, the country eventually saves $20 billion a year in subsidies and many billions a year in cleaning up the environmental devastation wrought by fossil fuel operations.

The health costs of climate change

In an article published in the prestigious medical journal, The Lancet, Howard Frumkin and Samuel S. Myers write: “Climate Change policy provides one of the sharpest distinctions between Trump and Biden” (https://doi.org/10.1016/S1040-6736(20)32038-9). It appeared in Vol. 396 of the Journal, October 10, 2020. In a table, they compare Trump’s record and Biden’s platform on 9 issues, illustrating Trump’s denial of science and the dismantling of climate policy and Biden’s “proposed climate policies [that] would be expected to yield health benefits; mitigation action [that] delivers health co-benefits and adaptation, such as, disaster planning, heatwave preparedness, and planned relocation.” Climate change has extensive health implications through pathways that include severe weather events, infectious disease spread, hunger and reduced nutrition, mental health effects, and forced migration and conflict. The Trump administration’s denial of climate science, withdrawal from the Paris Accords, and dismantling of climate policy increase the risk of these outcomes in the USA and globally. By contrast, Biden’s climate change policies would be expected to yield health benefits; mitigation action delivers health co-benefits and adaptation, such as, disaster planning, heatwave preparedness, and planned relocation, can reduce human suffering.”

Excerpts on the employment goals from the Biden plan

Sustainable, “clean” jobs created in the US

“Biden will immediately invest in engines of sustainable job creation – new industries and re-invigorated regional economies spurred by innovation from our national labs and universities; commercialized into new and better products that can be manufactured and built by American workers; and put together using feedstocks, materials, and parts supplied by small businesses, family farms, and job creators all across our country.”

Employment opportunities for all

“We need millions of construction, skilled trades, and engineering workers to build a new American infrastructure and clean energy economy. These jobs will create pathways for young people and for older workers shifting to new professions, and for people from all backgrounds and all communities. Their work will improve air quality for our children, increase the comfort of our homes, and make our businesses more competitive. The investments will make sure the communities who have suffered the most from pollution are first to benefit — including low-income rural and urban communities, communities of color, and Native communities.”

Support collective bargaining

“And, Biden’s plan will empower workers to organize unions and bargain collectively with their employers as they rebuild the middle class and a more sustainable future. 

A $2 trillion “accelerated investment”

“Biden will make a $2 trillion accelerated investment, with a plan to deploy those resources over his first term, setting us on an irreversible course to meet the ambitious climate progress that science demands.”

The investments will support millions of new jobs in important economic sectors

“Infrastructure: Create millions of good, union jobs rebuilding America’s crumbling infrastructure – from roads and bridges to green spaces and water systems to electricity grids and universal broadband – to lay a new foundation for sustainable growth, compete in the global economy, withstand the impacts of climate change, and improve public health, including access to clean air and clean water.

“Auto Industry: Create 1 million new jobs in the American auto industry, domestic auto supply chains, and auto infrastructure, from parts to materials to electric vehicle charging stations, positioning American auto workers and manufacturers to win the 21st century; and invest in U.S. auto workers to ensure their jobs are good jobs with a choice to join a union.

“Transit: Provide every American city with 100,000 or more residents with high-quality, zero-emissions public transportation options through flexible federal investments with strong labor protections that create good, union jobs and meet the needs of these cities – ranging from light rail networks to improving existing transit and bus lines to installing infrastructure for pedestrians and bicyclists.

“Power Sector: Move ambitiously to generate clean, American-made electricity to achieve a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035. This will enable us to meet the existential threat of climate change while creating millions of jobs with a choice to join a union.

“Buildings: Upgrade 4 million buildings and weatherize 2 million homes over 4 years, creating at least 1 million good-paying jobs with a choice to join a union; and also spur the building retrofit and efficient-appliance manufacturing supply chain by funding direct cash rebates and low-cost financing to upgrade and electrify home appliances and install more efficient windows, which will cut residential energy bills.

“Housing: Spur the construction of 1.5 million sustainable homes and housing units.

“Innovation: Drive dramatic cost reductions in critical clean energy technologies, including battery storage, negative emissions technologies, the next generation of building materials, renewable hydrogen, and advanced nuclear – and rapidly commercialize them, ensuring that those new technologies are made in America.

“Agriculture and Conservation: Create jobs in climate-smart agriculture, resilience, and conservation, including 250,000 jobs plugging abandoned oil and natural gas wells and reclaiming abandoned coal, hardrock, and uranium mines – providing good work with a choice to join or continue membership in a union in hard hit communities, including rural communities, reducing leakage of toxics, and preventing local environmental damage.

“Environmental Justice: Ensure that environmental justice is a key consideration in where, how, and with whom we build – creating good, union, middle-class jobs in communities left behind, righting wrongs in communities that bear the brunt of pollution, and lifting up the best ideas from across our great nation – rural, urban, and tribal.

Special attention on addressing the interests of workers

Strengthening the unionization process

“Biden will include in the economic recovery legislation he sends to Congress a series of policies to build worker power to raise wages and secure stronger benefits. This legislation will make it easier for workers to organize a union and collectively bargain with their employers by including the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, card check, union and bargaining rights for public service workers, and a broad definition of “employee” and tough enforcement to end the misclassification of workers as independent contractors. His bill will also go further than the PRO Act by holding company executives personally liable when they interfere with organizing efforts.

Ensuring livable wages

He will also ensure that all companies benefitting from his infrastructure and clean energy investments meet the labor protections in Senator Merkley’s Good Jobs for 21st Century Energy Act, applying and strictly enforcing Davis-Bacon prevailing wage guidelines, and that those benefiting from transportation investments meet transit labor protections so that new jobs are good-paying jobs with family sustaining benefits. And, as called for in his plan to strengthen worker organizing, collective bargaining, and unions, Biden will require that companies receiving procurement contracts are using taxpayer dollars to support good American jobs, including a commitment to pay at least $15 per hour, provide paid leave, maintain fair overtime and scheduling practices, and guarantee a choice to join a union and bargain collectively.

Ensuring a diverse workforce and strengthening communities

Biden will ensure these jobs are filled by diverse, local, well-trained workers – including women and people of color – by requiring federally funded projects to prioritize Project Labor and Community Workforce Agreements and employ workers trained in registered apprenticeship programs. Biden will make investments in pre-apprenticeship programs and in community-based and proven organizations that help women and people of color access high-quality training and job opportunities. Biden’s proposal will make sure national infrastructure and clean energy investments create millions of middle-class jobs that develop a diverse and local workforce and strengthen communities as we rebuild our physical infrastructure.

Assisting workers in industries being phased out

Biden also reaffirms his commitment to fulfill our obligation to the workers and communities who powered our industrial revolution and decades of economic growth, as outlined in his original climate plan. This includes securing the benefits coal miners and their families have earned, making an unprecedented investment in coal and power plant communities, and establishing a Task Force on Coal and Power Plant Communities, as the Obama-Biden Administration did for Detroit when the auto industry was in turmoil.

The Biden plan further elaborates on its key clean employment goals: the infrastructure example

The plan calls for the creation of “millions of good, union jobs building and upgrading a cleaner, safer, stronger infrastructure – including smart roads, water systems, municipal transit networks, schools, airports, rail, ferries, ports, and universal broadband access – for all Americans, whether they live in rural or urban areas.” The infrastructure will be built so it is “resilient to floods, fires, and other climate threats, not fragile in the face of these increasing risks.” It will be “infrastructure that supports healthy, safe communities, rather than locking in the cumulative impacts of polluted air and poisonous water.” And it will be technologically appropriate, including, for example, “universal broadband, that unleashes innovation and shared economic progress and educational opportunity to every community, rather than slowing it down.”

The jobs will expand the middle class in numerous ways, as it transforms “our crumbling transportation infrastructure – including roads and bridges, rail, aviation, ports, and inland waterways – making the movement of goods and people faster, cheaper, cleaner, and manufactured in America while preserving and growing the union workforce. Biden will also transform the energy sources that power the transportation sector, making it easier for mobility to be powered by electricity and clean fuels, including commuter trains, school and transit buses, ferries, and passenger vehicles. The resulting reduction in air pollution will save thousands of lives and millions in medical costs burdening families.’

The Biden administration will “make sure that America has the cleanest, safest, and fastest rail system in the world — for both passengers and freight. His rail revolution will reduce pollution, connect workers to good union jobs, slash commute times, and spur investment in communities that will now be better linked to major metropolitan areas. To speed that work, Biden will tap existing federal grant and loan programs at the U.S. Department of Transportation, and improve and streamline the loan process. In addition, Biden will work with Amtrak and private freight rail companies to further electrify the rail system, reducing diesel fuel emissions.”

Municipal transit networkers will be “revolutionized.” “Biden will aim to provide all Americans in municipalities of more than 100,000 people with quality public transportation by 2030. He will allocate flexible federal investments with strong labor protections to help cities and towns install light rail networks and improve existing transit and bus lines. He’ll also help them invest in infrastructure for pedestrians, cyclists, and riders of e-scooters and other micro-mobility vehicles and integrate technologies like machine-learning optimized traffic lights. And, Biden will work to make sure that new, fast-growing areas are designed and built with clean and resilient public transit in mind. Specifically, he will create a new program that gives rapidly expanding communities the resources to build in public transit options from the start.”

Every community has a right to clean, safe drinking water. So, investments will be made to repair water pipelines and sewer systems, while replacing lead service pipes, upgrading treatment plants, and integrating efficiency and water quality monitoring technologies. This includes protecting our watersheds and clean water infrastructure from man-made and natural disasters by conserving and restoring wetlands and developing green infrastructure and natural solutions.”

In today’s world, all households need to have access to broadband, or wireless broadband via 5G. “Communities without access cannot leverage the next generation of ‘smart’ infrastructure.” The COVID-19 crisis has revealed that “Americans everywhere need universal, reliable, affordable, and high-speed internet to do their jobs, participate equally in remote school learning and stay connected. This digital divide needs to be closed everywhere, from lower-income urban schools to rural America, to many older Americans as well as those living on tribal lands. Just like rural electrification several generations ago, universal broadband is long overdue and critical to broadly shared economic success.

The plan addresses the issue of reclamation. “Cleaning up and redeveloping abandoned and underused Brownfield properties, old power plants and industrial facilities, landfills, abandoned mines, and other idle community assets that will be transformed into new economic hubs for communities all across America.” Later in the plan, there is a commitment to “completing 4 million retrofits and building 1.5 million new affordable homes” and “creating 1 million jobs upgrading 4 million buildings and weatherizing 2 million homes over 4 years.”

No one left behind. “Biden’s plan will ensure that our infrastructure investments work to address disparities – often along lines of race and class – in access to clean air, clean water, reliable and sustainable transportation, connectivity to high-speed internet, and access to jobs and educational opportunities. This includes ensuring tribes receive the resources and support they need to invest in roads, clean water, wastewater, broadband, and other essential infrastructure needs. It also means funding investments in local and regional strategies to prevent a lack of transportation options in urban, rural, and high-poverty areas from cutting off after-school opportunities for young people and job opportunities for workers seeking better jobs and more economic security for their families.”

Concluding thoughts

Noam Chomsky has long argued that the climate change crisis, along with the growing threat of nuclear war, represents “something new and dire.” He goes on: “History is all too rich in records of horrendous wars, indescribable torture, massacres, and every imaginable abuse of fundamental rights. But the threat of destruction of organized human life in any recognizable or tolerable form – that is entirely new. It can only be overcome by common efforts of the entire world, though of course responsibility is proportional to capacity, and elementary moral principles demand that a special responsibility falls on those who have been primarily responsible for creating the crises over centuries, enriching themselves while creating a grim fate for humanity” (Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal, pp. 1-2). This is a level of unity that appears unlikely in the US part of the world in the foreseeable future. We have a society in which the president, his administration, and the Republican Party, major parts of the corporate community, the wide-reaching right-wing media, and the increasingly right-wing federal judiciary make up powerful forces of climate denial or dismissal. Then, of course, we should not forget the tens of millions of people who make up Trump’s steadfast, unquestioning base, regardless of his lying, hypocrisy, and his plutocratic priorities. Consider the following Pew poll results.

Alec Tyson, an associate director of research at Pew Research Center, analyzes the data from a survey conducted July 27-Aug. 2 (https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/10/06/how-important-is-climate-change-to-voters-in-the-2020-election). He finds, unsurprisingly, that there is a sharp partisan divide on the importance of the issue. While 68 percent of Democrats say that it is a “very important to the vote in 2020,” only 11 percent of Republicans do. Tyson adds: “In fact, climate change ranks last in importance (out of 12 issues tested in a recent survey) for Trump supporters.”

  • “For Biden supporters, climate change is among several high-level issue priorities this election. Although 68% say it is very important to their vote, this ranks behind majorities on issues like health care (84%), the coronavirus outbreak (82%) and racial and ethnic inequality (76%) – and about on par with the level of priority given to economic inequality (65%). Climate change ranks ahead of several other issues for Biden voters, including foreign policy and violent crime.”
  • “Liberal Biden supporters are especially likely to prioritize climate change in their 2020 vote. Nearly eight-in-ten Biden supporters who describe their political views as liberal (79%) say climate change is a very important election issue, compared with a somewhat smaller majority of moderate and conservative Biden voters (60%). – “Climate change ranks higher on the minds of White and Hispanic than Black Biden voters. About half of Black Biden supporters (54%) consider climate change to be very important to their vote; larger shares of Hispanic (75%) and White (71%) Biden supporters say the same. –“Trump voters place low importance on the issue of climate change, but there are some differences in voter priorities by ideology, gender and generation E
  • “Biden and Trump supporters are far apart in how they prioritize the issue of climate change. But a May survey found Republicans and Democrats agree on some policies aimed at reducing the impacts of climate change. For instance, 90% of Democrats and Democratic leaners and 78% of Republicans and those who lean to the GOP say they would favor providing a tax credit to businesses for developing carbon capture and storage technology.” – [an unproven technology].

Biden is not the Knight on the Shining Horse that will save us from the assaults on the environment and the unfolding climate crisis, but he and his supporters will give us a chance – perhaps our last chance – to slow down and eventually stop further environmental destruction and all the harms that accompany it. So much rides on the November election. Most polls find that Biden has a lead over Trump. But there are disturbing questions. Will the Republicans be able to use their voter suppression apparatus to keep Democratic voters from registering to vote, from casting their votes, and/or from having their votes counted? If Biden wins the popular vote, will Trump claim that the election was rigged and refuse to accept the results of the election? Many historians and experts have considered this outrageous, anti-democratic possibility. Check out Lawrence Douglas’ book, Will He Go?: Trump and the Looming Election Meltdown in 2020, or Richard L. Hansen’s book, Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks Distrust, and the Threat to Democracy. Then there is the possibility that, if the process continues beyond the vote count to the undemocratic Electoral College, Trump could win there, as he did in 2016, despite losing the popular vote by close to 3 million votes in 2016 and, given current polling data, losing by 4 or 5 million this year? One thing is virtually certain, that is, if for whatever reason the election ends up in the right-wing stacked Supreme Court, Trump will win.

In the final analysis, we have a fragile “democracy” torn by partisanship and power politics. The questions: Can democracy, as represented by the majority of citizens, prevail despite the obstacles? If Biden and the Democrats are successful in November and end up controlling all branches of the federal government, will they push aggressively to advance the Biden Plan? Will they find ways to overcome Republican obstructionism and corporate power? The fate of democracy and the fate of the earth are at stake. This is not hyperbole. It’s realty based on verifiable facts.

The President passes on his delusion or deception that he has “dominated” the virus and now is the time for the rest of us to do the same

Bob Sheak,

bsheak983@gmail.com

Oct 9, 2020

The country was surprised to learn that Trump has been infected by the Covid-19 virus and was sick enough to be hospitalized. This news has been in the headlines since the public first learned about the president’s illness on Oct 2. Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman were among the journalists who wrote about the incident  (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/02/us/politics/trump-covid.html). Millions of Americans, especially among his stalwart supporters, hope that the president recovers from the illness. However, while many are concerned, there are even more who think about the larger unfolding pandemic that Trump has arguably made worse than it might have otherwise been. Here are just two examples. He has continuously offered deceptive upbeat assessments of the virus’s impact on the American population, promising that it was soon going to disappear. He has often been dismissive of the importance of following CDC guidelines such as wearing a mask and thus set an example to be followed by his millions of supporters. He turned scientific recommendations into a political and divisive issues.

The purpose of this post

Here, for the record, I reconstruct from various sources how the saga of the president’s disease unfolded, the responses to it, and where it stands as of Oct 8, 2020. The relevance of this account is that it has become another example of Trump’s nefarious use of the power of his office and how he can influence public narratives to suit his own often self-aggrandizing purposes, while disregarding or disputing the facts. This is not just about a mentally unstable person, but also about one who is the “leader” of a “plutocratic-populous” alliance (see attached) who threatens to subvert the election in November by rejecting a peaceful transition and invoking a conspiracy theory that the election will be decided by fraudulent mail-in ballots. His mishandling of the pandemic will be a major factor in the November election and perhaps cancel out his false claims about a rigged election against him.

A story of reckless abandonment

In an article published in The Washington Post, David A. Fahrenthold, Josh DawseyCarol D. Leonnig and David Nakamura, give us some background on how reckless and misleading the president has been in his statements to the public about the Covid-19 pandemic (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-seemed-to-defy-the-laws-of-science-and-disease-then-the-virus-caught-up-with-him/2020/10/02/5b4c5232-04bf-11eb-897d-3a6201d6643f_story.html).

They point out that for months the president and “people around him — his aides, his children, even his golf-club members — avoided taking basic steps to prevent the virus’s spread, like wearing masks and avoiding large indoor crowds.” Mask wearing was rare “among Trump’s staff and the Secret Service agents and military service crew aboard Air Force One — even after national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien tested positive in July.” His sons. Donald Jr. and Eric “have spoken to packed audiences in indoor venues.” The journalists add: “And the Trump campaign violated state regulations limiting the size of gatherings in Nevada, earning a public rebuke from the governor after the president addressed thousands at an indoor event there last month.” Topping it off, Trump thought he would never be infected by the virus, as indicated by his response to a question posed by Bob Woodward on whether he was afraid of catching the virus, to which Trump responded: “I don’t know why I’m not,” he said, according to a recording of the interview. “I’m not.” Michell Goldberg provides more information from Woodward’s taped interviews with Trump, as follows:

“Yet in recordings Woodward has released of Trump talking about the coronavirus — excerpts from interviews conducted for Woodward’s new book, “Rage” — the president doesn’t sound ignorant or deluded. Rather, he sounds uncommonly lucid. On Feb. 7, Trump described the virus as airborne and ‘more deadly than even your strenuous flus,’ adding, ‘this is 5 percent versus 1 percent, or less than 1 percent.’ It’s not clear whether Trump thought that Covid-19 had a 5 percent case fatality rate — a number that seemed plausible in February — but he clearly knew that compared with the flu, it was several times more likely to kill.

“And yet he told the country just the opposite. “The percentage for the flu is under 1 percent,” Trump said on March 7. “But this could also be under 1 percent because many of the people that aren’t that sick don’t report.” Despite knowing that the virus was airborne, he mocked mask-wearing and held several large indoor rallies. He told Woodward in March that “plenty of young people” were getting sick, but over the summer would insist that 99 percent of cases were “totally harmless” and that children are “almost immune.”

Goldberg rightly calls his statements a “conscious deception,” as “Trump kept insisting that the virus would disappear.” She adds: “Privately, he told Woodward: “I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”

Fahrenthold writes that presently, given the knowledge of Trump’s infection, many people, “donors, aides, Secret Service agents,” who are in regular contact with the president now worry whether they have been infected. And the president held rallies that brought hundreds or thousands of people together, mostly unmasked and shoulder to shoulder, sometimes indoors. For example, Fahrenthold and his colleagues write: Trump held an indoor rally in Tulsa where 6,000 supporters showed up, far fewer than he had expected.

“With cases spiking in the summer — as the virus spread to states that had been relatively spared in the early months — White House and Trump campaign aides grew alarmed. The president’s public approval ratings had fallen and he was trailing Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in election polling. On July 11, Trump donned a mask for the first time in public during a visit to meet with injured U.S. service members at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

“But since then, Trump has only worn the mask a few times in public, and he quickly resumed rally-style events, held mostly at airport hangars that are at least partially outdoors. Thousands of supporters, most of them barefaced and crammed shoulder-to-shoulder, cheered for the president and his surrogates at events that routinely lasted well over an hour.

In late August, “Trump packed the South Lawn with thousands of supporters — most of whom were not tested ahead of time and did not wear masks — for his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention.”

Discovering the president is infected – an unfolding story

Baker and Haberman reported the following on Oct 2: “President Trump revealed early Friday morning [Oct. 2] that he and the first lady, Melania Trump, had tested positive for the coronavirus, throwing the nation’s leadership into uncertainty and escalating the crisis posed by a pandemic that has already killed more than 207,000 American [now over 212,000, rising over 40,000 a day] and devastated the economy.” They also point out that Mr. Trump, who for months has played down the seriousness of the virus “earlier on Thursday night [Oct 1] told an audience gathered at one of his golf courses in New Jersey that ‘the end of the pandemic is in sight” (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/02/us/politics/trump-covid.html).This was a fundraising event at the president’s golf course facilities near the New Jersey town of Bedminster (https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/white-house/trump-s-reckless-new-jersey-fundraiser-under-state-review-n1242287).

The New York Times editorial board noted that “the president had a high fever on Friday and his blood oxygen levels dropped to the point that he was given supplemental oxygen. To get the situation under control, his medical team is hitting him with, among other measures, steroids and an experimental antibody treatment” (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/04/opinion/trump-coronavirus-news.html).

After the president was found to be infected early on Friday, Oct. 2, the public was told, according to Baker and Haberman, that the president would “quarantine in the White House for an unspecified period of time, forcing him to withdraw at least temporarily from the campaign trail only 32 days before the election on Nov. 3.”

Initially, Baker and Haberman write, “the White House physicians did not say whether the president and first lady were experiencing symptoms. The president’s physician, Dr. Sean Conley, said he could carry out his duties ‘without disruption’ from the Executive Mansion.” There were reassurances from the White House on Friday afternoon, Oct 2, that “Mr. Trump was experiencing only “mild symptoms.” This account by Conley appears to contradict the reports that the President had a fever and had needed supplemental oxygen. Then on Friday evening, the president was flown by helicopter from the White House to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, suggesting the president’s condition was more serious than Conley was saying.

Since then the information from the hospital medical team, as well as from the administration, has been incomplete and confusing. The New York Times editorial board’s argued that “the American people deserve better than to be misled about the health of the president (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/04/opinion/trump-coronavirus-news.html).

The first press briefing from Trump’s medical team – and what is left out

Trump’s physicians held a news briefing on Saturday, Oct 3, “overseen by the White House physician Dr. Sean Conley.” The NYT editorial board described it as an upbeat assessment of the president’s health status and where Conley “dodged questions about testing, Mr. Trump’s symptoms and whether the president had ever received supplemental oxygen.” Conley did “issue a ‘timeline clarification,’ suggesting “the president’s disease had been diagnosed on Wednesday – a day earlier than originally thought.” This is a retrospective diagnosis, meaning that the president may not have known until the diagnosis on Friday, Oct 2, that he was infected with the virus. The problem is that Conley will not reveal to the press or public when the president was last tested “negative” or when he was first tested “positive.”

When was Trump first infected? Spreading the infection in largely mask-free settings

Nonetheless, there is some information. Conley told the public that the president may have been infected as early as Wednesday, Sept. 30. Indeed, the symptoms Trump experienced by Friday – which typically occur only 2-7 days or so after the initial infection – suggest that Trump may have been infected back as far as Saturday, Sept. 26, when he nominated conservative Amy Coney Barrett for a position on the Supreme Court at the White House Rose Garden before a crowd of 150 or so dignitaries and others, most of whom were not wearing a mask. He may have already been infected and spreading the disease when he debated Joe Biden on Tuesday, Sept 29. While he and Biden were supposed to be tested before the debate, Trump arrived late and was not tested. Moreover, the president may have been infected when he appeared at the rallies he held during that week.

But he was definitely infected when he presided over the New Jersey fund raiser on Thursday evening, Oct 1. And he must have known that he may have been infected before holding that event. It was revealed earlier on Thursday that Hope Hicks, one of his close advisers, had come down with the disease. Indeed, according to NYT journalists Annie Karni and Maggie Haberman, “[i]t is not yet clear when and how Mr. Trump contracted the virus. The president and the first lady said they had both tested positive hours after one of his closest aides, Hope Hicks, also tested positive. Ms. Hicks received the diagnosis after she began experiencing symptoms on Wednesday while attending the president’s rally in Minnesota. Mr. Trump kept his appearance there to about 45 minutes, roughly half the length of one of his typical rally speeches” (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/02/us/politics/trump-positive-coronavirus-test.html).

They also point out: “Early Friday morning, it was still unclear how many other aides who had come into close contact with Mr. Trump had tested positive, but the White House said [not verified] its medical unit was conducting contact tracing. Top advisers to the president described themselves as in a state of shock and said they expected a number of additional cases among people in Mr. Trump’s orbit. White House officials had hoped to keep the news about Ms. Hicks from becoming public, to no avail.” Will Feuer writes that by Oct. 8, “The virus has infected ‘34 White House staffers and other contacts” in recent days, according to an internal memo from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that was obtained by ABC News’” (https://www.cnbc.com/2020/10/08/president-trump-says-hes-not-contagious-at-all-days-after-leaving-the-hospital-with-coronavirus.html).

The recent contexts in which Trump may have transmitted the virus

September 26 – Reporting for AP, Colin Woodward and Jill Calvin note that a succession of people among the 150 who gathered on September 26 in the Rose Garden for Trump’s introduction of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, his nominee for the Supreme Court, have since come down with the coronavirus (https://apnews.com/article/virus-outbreak-donald-trump-joe-biden-archive-cleveland). The AP journalists write: “In the days that followed, a succession of attendees reported they had contracted COVID-19, among them Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Thom Tillis of North Carolina and former counselor to the president, Kellyanne Conway. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, seen in an AP photo with his arm around another guest while chatting up several face to face, announced his positive virus test this weekend.”

On Tuesday, Sept 29, Trump and Biden and their supporters traveled to Cleveland for the first presidential debate. Hope Hicks was among Trump’s entourage. They were all supposed “to have been tested in advance and come up negative, the Cleveland Clinic officials who served as the debate’s health advisers said in a statement. ‘We had requirements to maintain a safe environment that align with CDC guidelines — including social distancing, hand sanitizing, temperature checks and masking.’” But the Trump group – “his adult children, senior staff and other VIPs — stripped off their masks for the duration of the debate, violating the rules.” During the debate, Trump mocked Biden for being so fastidious about wearing a mask. According to the AP, “Trump’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien, who attended the debate and helped him prepare with Christie, has tested positive for COVID-19.”

On Wednesday, Sept 30, the AP report continues, “People around Trump are tested daily for the coronavirus and Hicks had her test in the morning, along with the others to be traveling with him for the day [to Minnesota] for a fund raiser and rally. Initially, in Washington D.C., her results were negative. She joined others aboard Marine One for the 15-minute or so flight to Air Force One waiting for them at Joint Base Andrews.” But then, in Minnesota, “Hicks reported feeling unwell.” While “Hicks kept apart from others on the big plane coming back and did not take the crowded Marine One back to the White House once at Andrews,” she had already been in close contact with those in the air and on the ground, including the president.

On Thursday, Oct 1, Hicks got another test on Thursday Morning and it was positive. According to the AP, “[t]he results came not long before the president was set to lift off in Marine One for a fundraiser at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey,” thus affirming “that Trump had been in close proximity to someone infected with the virus.” The AP journalists suggest that Trump was bound to know about Hick’s diagnosis. Normally, the president should have quarantined himself “according to public-health guidelines. But Trump went ahead with the trip. Not only that, but others who had also been around Hicks were not immediately told about her positive test.” At the same time, “[t]he White House worked furiously to swap out staff who had been in close contact with Hicks and replace them with others.” The unmasked guests at the fundraiser were not told about Hick’s infection. It was just hours after the fund-raiser that “Trump publicly confirmed Hicks had tested positive and [also] told Fox News he and his wife had been tested and were prepared to quarantine if necessary.”

On Friday, Oct 2, at 12:54 a.m., Trump tweeted: “Tonight, @FLOTUS and I tested positive for COVID-19. We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately. We will get through this TOGETHER!” Flotus refers to Melania Trump, the first lady, who also has COVID-19.” Hours later, the Trump campaign sent out a letter to “supporters,” writing “We unfortunately write today to notify you that, as you have probably seen, President Trump confirmed late last night that he and the First Lady were tested for COVID-19 and produced positive test results.” The email urged attendees to contact their doctor if they developed symptoms.”

While in the hospital, the president was upbeat about his medical condition

The NYT editorial continues. On Saturday [Oct 3] while in the hospital, Trump himself “issued upbeat comments through Rudy Giuliani, his friend and lawyer. A couple of perky tweets popped up on his Twitter feed. Early Saturday evening, a video of Mr. Trump was posted on Twitter. Wearing a dress shirt and suit jacket, he sat at a table and delivered a four-minute message of reassurance. “I think I’ll be back soon, he predicted, offering thanks for all the good wishes he had received, praising his medical care and even doing a little low-key campaigning.” There is the suspicion that the drugs Trump was taking may have affected his mind and created a sense of euphoria and altered his thinking.

The second press briefing

Then at a second briefing on Sunday, October 4, Dr. Conley provided a bit more detailed account of the president’s condition but “danced around numerous inquiries about precisely how low the president’s blood-oxygen levels had dipped on Friday and then again on Saturday.” Conley said he not to know whether a second round of supplemental oxygen had been administered since Friday but did say “that the president’s oxygenation issues had prompted doctors to start him on a course of dexamethasone, a corticosteroid aimed at reducing inflammation.” At the same time, “he dodged questions about what scans of the president’s lungs showed, saying only that there were ‘expected findings,’” and would not answer questions about when the president last tested negative. This last question is important to answer if there is to be reasonably effective contact tracing.

Oct 5 and 6: Trump gets his way

Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman make three important points in an article published on Oct 5 about Trump leaving the hospital and returning to the White House (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/05/us/politics/trump-leaves-hospital-coronavirus.html).

#1 – Trump pressed doctors to release him from hospital – “Throughout the weekend, Mr. Trump told the small group of aides with him as well as other advisers and allies he spoke with by telephone that he wanted to leave Walter Reed. He felt trapped in the hospital, the type of setting he typically hates, and pushed to be released on Sunday, only to meet resistance from his doctors, according to people familiar with the discussions. Instead, the medical team cleared him to take a brief ride in his armored sport utility vehicle to wave at the crowd of supporters outside the building.”

#2 – The doctors relent and Trump leaves the hospital – “Mr. Trump emerged from Walter Reed around 6:30 p.m. wearing a dark suit, a blue tie and a white face mask and boarded Marine One for the short flight back to the White House. After landing on the South Lawn, the president climbed the steps to the balcony over the Diplomatic Entrance, where four American flags had been placed, took off his mask, flashed two thumbs up and saluted twice for the benefit of television cameras on the ground below.”

#3 – Trump is still at risk himself – “The effect of combining several drugs is not well understood, especially because two of the treatments administered to Mr. Trump — remdesivir and a monoclonal antibody cocktail — are still experimental. Giving patients multiple treatments at once can increase the chance of harmful interactions or reduce their effectiveness, doctors said.”

The grand entrance

Baker and Haberman describe how Trump acted once back at the White House (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/05/us/politics/trump-leaves-hospital-coronavirus.html). After taking off his mask, he entered the building “without immediately putting his mask back on even though staff members were nearby and he could still be contagious, according to medical studies of the virus timeline.” He has some of his behavior filmed, and the video “was quickly uploaded to Twitter.” Then, Baker and Haberman recount, “A separate video, set to triumphal music, showed Marine One’s return and his saluting pose, and was posted online within an hour of his landing.” They continue their account as follows.

“The words and visuals were only the latest ways Mr. Trump has undermined public health experts trying to persuade Americans to take the pandemic seriously. Even afflicted by the disease himself, the president who has wrongly predicted that it would simply disappear appeared unchastened as he pressed America to reopen and made no effort to promote precautions.” In the video, he says:” We’re going back to work. We’re going to be out front. As your leader, I had to do that. I knew there’s danger to it, but I had to do it. I stood out front. I led. Nobody that’s a leader would not do what I did. And I know there’s a risk, there’s a danger, but that’s OK. And now I’m better and maybe I’m immune, I don’t know. But don’t let it dominate your lives.’ THE LEADER!” The message is that nothing can subdue “me.” It was a way to “cast his illness as an act of courage rather than the predictable outcome of recklessness.” So, he again “took no responsibility for repeatedly ignoring public health guidelines by holding campaign rallies and White House events without masks or social distancing, like the Supreme Court announcement at the White House last month that may have infected a wide array of his aides and allies.”They describe it as a “regret-nothing approach.”

Trump is triumphant – but experts worry

Oct 5 – Dr. Kavita K. Patel, an internal medicine physician at Mary’s Center in Washington, D.C, and a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution, writes: The incomplete information that the White House has put out about his health and the obvious deviation from the usual standards of care for covid-19 make it hard to know whether Trump’s treatment is being driven by the best evidence and science — or if decisions are being made based on a political need to project a more upbeat picture that aligns with the president’s blithe message upon returning home from the hospital (and pulling off his mask) Monday: that Americans shouldn’t be afraid of the novel coronavirus and that he felt better than he did 20 years ago” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2020/10/06/trump-doctors-coronavirus-walter-reed).

Patel also raises concerns about the gaps in the presentations by Conley and the medical team about Trump’s condition and treatment.

“As a doctor who’s treated covid-19, the decision to use those three major agents — an antibody cocktail, an antiviral drug and a high dose of steroids — indicated one thing clearly to me: Trump must have been getting sicker in the hospital. Each of the three major drugs used attack a different aspect of the disease; they attack the virus itself as well as the body’s response to the virus. But all the treatments have some potential harms, including damage to organs, and effects that might be more chronic and last beyond the covid-19 illness itself. Implicit in these decisions is the risk/benefit trade-off that occurs when assessing a patient and determining that the course of their illness merits treatments reserved for severely ill patients — a choice which is not taken lightly.”

That is why many doctors who aren’t working on Trump’s case were stunned at the upbeat discharge from the hospital after a four-day stay — which puts the president squarely in the middle of the typical course of illness — of a patient who has clearly merited therapies for ‘severe covid-19 illness.’ Yes, the president’s home has access to a makeshift operating room down the hall if necessary, but the White House is still materially different from a hospital. Typical length of stays for covid-19 patients who are treated the way Trump was can approach weeks, highlighting how tenuous the course of the disease can be even with the highest level of medical attention.”

Oct 7- 8 – Will Feuer reports for CNBC that Trump has announced “that he’s not contagious ‘at all’ days after he was discharged from the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (https://www.cnbc.com/2020/10/08/president-trump-says-hes-not-contagious-at-all-days-after-leaving-the-hospital-with-coronavirus.html). He told this to “Fox Business’s Maria Bartiromo on a call on Thursday morning” (Oct. 8). Of course, Trump doesn’t know if he is in fact no longer contagious free and will not spread the virus to others.

The CDC says that it is appropriate to discontinue “transmission-based precautions” only after “10 days have passed since the symptoms onset, 24 hours have passed since last fever and other symptoms have improved.” The problem is that the public does not know when the president’s first symptoms arose. According to Feuer, Conley said in a memo on Wednesday “that the president had been fever-free for more than four days and free of symptoms for over 24 hours.” Dr. Leana Wen, former Baltimore health commissioner, emergency physician, and public health professor at George Washington University, takes a different view and writes that “the president’s comments are ‘truly unbelievable. Just less than a week ago, the president was in a hospital being treated for severe illness. It’s very likely he’s still shedding virus right now.” If it takes 10 days to be transmission-free, then he should be isolated – but isn’t – until next Sunday or Monday.

Further evidence that Trump has been misleading the public about the pandemic for months

Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Noah Weiland report on an astounding study released on Thursday, October 1, by researchers at Cornell University. The researchers analyzed 38 million English-language articles from around the world about the pandemic and “found that President Trump was the largest driver of the ‘infodemic, or “falsehoods involving the pandemic” (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/30/us/politics/trump-coronavirus-misinformation.html). This “is the first comprehensive examination of coronavirus misinformation in traditional and online media.” The study was spearheaded by The Cornell Alliance for Science, which is “a nonprofit devoted to using science to enhance food security and improve environmental sustainability.” The journalists report: “One of its aims is to promote science-based decision-making.” Dr. Evanega, the director of the Alliance and the lead author of the study, and a Cornell colleague, Mark Lynas, “partnered with media researchers at Cision, a company that performs media analysis, to conduct the study. Dr. Evanega said the study was being peer reviewed by an academic journal, but the process was lengthy and the authors withdrew it because they felt they had compelling public health information to share.”

The researchers “found that of the more than 38 million articles published from Jan. 1 to May 26, more than 1.1 million — or slightly less than 3 percent — contained misinformation.” Stolberg and Weiland quote Evanega: “The biggest surprise was that the president of the United States was the single largest driver of misinformation around Covid” [and] “That’s concerning in that there are real-world dire health implications.” This included misinformation involving “various conspiracy theories, like one that emerged in January suggesting the pandemic was manufactured by Democrats to coincide with Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial, and another that purported to trace the initial outbreak in Wuhan, China, to people who ate bat soup.” However, the most prevalent topic of misinformation “was ‘miracle cures,’ including Mr. Trump’s promotion of anti-malarial drugs and disinfectants as potential treatments for Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.” The journalists write: “The researchers identified more than 11,000 misinformation articles involving Dr. Fauci, as compared with more than 295,000 involving miracle cures. There were more than 40,000 articles that mentioned the purported Democratic hoax, and more than 6,000 mentioning bat soup, which was the topic of a video that made the rounds on social media in the winter.”

One of the main concerns of the Cornell researchers is such misinformation undermines the “clear, concise and accurate information [that] is the foundation of an effective response to an outbreak of infectious disease.” They suggest this may account for how poorly the US has done to contain the spread of the virus.

Timelines and fact-checks document Trump’s many deceptive and inaccurate statements on the coronavirus

A number of writers have compiled Trump’s statements on the pandemic, from the first to the more recent, to demonstrate how misleading, inaccurate, or confusing they have been. For example, see Christian Paz’s extensive report in The Atlantic magazine, titled “All the President’s Lies About the Coronavirus” (https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/10/trumps-lies-about-coronavirus/608647).

Another informative source on such information is provided by Lloyd Doggett, representative in the US Congress of the 35th District of Texas. He has compiled an extensive “Timeline,” including decisions made before Covid-19 was first identified up to the present when the president learns he has been infected by the virus (https://doggett.house.gov/media-center/blog-posts/timeline-trump-s-coronavirus-responses). Doggett’s catalogue covers more detail than other such efforts. It documents Trump’s poor leadership in this unfolding crisis.

The impact of the pandemic reveals the lack of presidential leadership and ineffective national policies

As of Oct 3, 2020, the CDC counted 7,310,625 reported cases and 208,118 deaths, with the number of cases rising over the previous 7 days by 301,539 (https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#cases_totalcases). As widely reported that US leads the world in the number of cases and deaths. On October 1, there were a total of 1,018,793 deaths from the virus worldwide. The US accounted for 20.8% of the total, even though it has only 4.23% of the world’s population.

The numbers are devastating, but they may represent an under-estimation of the full extent of the pandemic’s impacts. What I wrote in my post of May 12, 2020, “COVID-19 remains a pandemic as Trump pushes to reopen the broken economy,” rings as true today.

“However bad the COVID-19 the actual and expected trends, the situation is even worse than they indicate. Most of the data on confirmed cases is limited to those who have had symptoms and have sought treatment, are in work setting that have had outbreaks such as in meat packing plants, nursing homes, long-term facilities, jails and prisons. The data do not include those with the virus who have no symptoms but who can “shed” or spread the virus to others, representing perhaps another 15,000 to 20,000 cases. There are only now some efforts to track down those who have had the disease, shown no symptoms, but may have anti-bodies in their blood. And it has not yet been scientifically established whether people who have had the virus, diagnosed or not, are immune or how long they may be immune. Furthermore, there has been virtually no “contact tracing” to identify those in the population who have had recent associations with people who have been infected and who therefore could also be contagious. There are even questions about the data on documented deaths from the virus. Some unknown number of people have died in their homes of the virus without ever being diagnosed with the disease. In short, the current pandemic is worse than the official and expert estimates, the incidence and prevalence of the disease overall is likely to increase over the next two months. And, if the efforts to limit contact, stay-at-home, social distancing, wearing masks, and personal hygiene are not diligently followed, the experts tell us that the COVID-19 infections will spike upward again.”

In addition, there is now evidence that those who have been counted as “recovered” may suffer ongoing physical and mental problems. Thom Hartmann refers to evidence that some people who are said to have recovered from the infection suffer from such maladies as: damage to the heart, damage to the brain even dementia, the lose of taste and smell for months, chronic fatigue, and damage to toes and fingers  (https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/09/30/a-covid-primer-for-your-trump-loving-friends).

If current trends continue, as they are now, far more people will be infected, health care systems will be stretched to its limits and beyond, and the economic and health problems will escalate and proliferate.

Dr. Anthony Fauci: the pandemic will afflict the society for months to come

According to interviews on CNN with Dr. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984 land perhaps the most trusted source of information on the pandemic, Fauci thinks that the pandemic will continue to impact society until at least the end of 2021 (https://www.cnn.com/world/live-news/coronavirus-pandemic-09-11-12-intl).

He is quoted as follows: “I believe that we will have a vaccine that will be available by the end of this year, the beginning of next year.” But there is a caveat: “By the time you mobilize the distribution of the vaccinations, and you get the majority, or more, of the population vaccinated and protected, that’s likely not going to happen to the mid or end of 2021.”

And in another interview, he told CNN that he disagreed with Trump’s remarks that the US has “rounded the final turn” of the coronavirus pandemic. Fauci replied that he had “to disagree with that,” emphasizing that the “baseline of infections of 40,000 per day” and the “increased test positivity in certain regions of the country — such as the Dakotas and Montana and places like that” puts the country in “a more precarious situation, like the fall and the winter” … “when people will be spending more time indoors, and that’s not good for a respiratory-borne virus.”

Concluding thoughts

As of October 8, Trump appears to be doubling down on his false and misleading statements about his own health and, as he tells the public, we can “dominate” the virus and resume our normal, pre-covid ways of living. He wants to play down the seriousness of the pandemic to enhance his electoral prospects. But his reelection ambitions will be undercut by the mounting evidence of the continuing pandemic. So, we can expect that he will do anything to either promote the notion that cures (however poorly tested) are on the verge of appearing, such as, a vaccine that  would give Americans some reason to hope for a reversal of the trends before the end of the year, or by promoting other issues that distract attention from the coronavirus epidemic (e.g., alleged fraudulent mail-in ballots). What is clear is that Trump and his allies will not give up easily, as they mount and finance a campaign to steal the election whatever the electoral outcome in November. Thus, Americans have only one option to prevent this from happening, that is, voting in huge numbers for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. This will reduce the chances that Trump will steal the election and give the Democrats an opportunity to address the pandemic honestly and forthrightly. Though they’ll need a supportive Senate and House as well.

The Politics of Climate Change and Wildfires

Some Evidence and Assessment

Bob Sheak, September 18, 2020

bsheak983@gmail.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/vitalissues-bobsheak.com

In this post, I return to one of the most existentially-threatening realities facing Americans and all humanity, that is, the human-caused (e.g., the burning of fossil fuels), accelerating, increasingly catastrophic climate change. I have written many times on this disturbing issue. You can see all 64 posts I have written over the past 3 ½ years, including quite a few dealing with climate change at https://wordpress.com/posts/vitalissues-bobsheak.com. In order to cope meaningfully with this vast and deepening problem our society and other societies must radically reduce in the next decade or two the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere (i.e. carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide). The position I have taken is based on scientific evidence and a progressive/leftist perspective. The post I sent out on December 28, 2019 it titled “The realty and challenges of the climate crisis.” The first paragraphs of that post, which follow, provide an appropriate introduction of how dire the problem of this unfolding crisis is. As you probably well know, Trump, the Republican Party and their allies essentially reject the realty of climate change or want to do very little to address the problem. 

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The climate crisis grows, leaving humanity very little time to avoid a terrifying outcome. Recent scientific findings based on systematic field observations, sophisticated computer modeling, meta-analyses of research continue to document how the effects of the climate crisis are accelerating and affecting all parts of the earth.

Bob Berwyn reports for Inside Climate News (12-18-19) that scientists are “confidently saying 2019 was Earth’s second-warmest recorded year on record, capping the warmest decade. Eight of the 10 warmest years since measurements began occurred this decade, and the other two were only a few years earlier” (https://insideclimatenews.org/news/18122019/decade-climate-heat-drought-extreme-storms-arctic-sea-ice-antarctica-greenland).

There were plenty of examples of this rapidly unfolding crisis in 2019. “Arctic sea ice melted faster and took longer to form again in the fall. Big swaths of ocean remained record-warm nearly all year, in some regions spawning horrifically damaging tropical storms that surprised experts with their rapid intensification. Densely populated parts of Europe shattered temperature records amid heat waves blamed for hundreds of deaths, and a huge section of the U.S. breadbasket region was swamped for months by floodwater.” And that wasn’t all. There were deadly heat waves, droughts, and wildfires in many parts of the world.

“…wildfires burned around the globe, starting unusually early in unexpected places like the UK. They blazed across country-size tracts of Siberia, fueled by record heat, flared up in the Arctic and devastated parts of California. Australia ended the decade with thick smoke and flames menacing Sydney and a record-breaking heat wave that sent the continent’s average temperature over 107 degrees Fahrenheit. Again and again, scientists completed near real-time attribution studies showing how global warming is making extremes—including wildfires—more likely.”

Leslie Hook cites evidence from a The UN’s World Meteriological Organization documenting that “global average concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose to 407.8 parts per million in 2018, up from 405.5 parts per million in 2017.” This particularly reflects how the biggest economies of the world continue on energy paths dependent on fossil fuels. Hook quotes Petteri Taalas, Secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization: “There is no sign of a slowdown, let alone a decline, in greenhouse gases concentration in the atmosphere despite all the commitments under the Paris agreement,” [adding] “It is worth recalling that the last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was 3 to 5 million years ago…. Back then, the temperature was 2 to 3°C warmer, and sea level was 10 to 20 meters higher than now.”(https://insideclimatenews.org/news/26112019/unep-emissions-gap-report-paris-climate-greenhouse-gas-peak-2030).

Jake Johnson brings our attention to a study issued by the UN Environmental Program (UNEP) on just the day after the report by the World Meteorological Organization was made public. The UNEP confirmed in its annual Emissions Gap report that levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a record high in 2018.” Johnson also quotes from the report: “It is evident that incremental changes will not be enough and there is a need for rapid and transformational action….By necessity, this will see profound change in how energy, food, and other material-intensive services are demanded and provided by governments, businesses, and markets (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/11/26/science-screaming-un-report-warns-only-rapid-and-transformational-action-can-stave). The UNEP finding that only “profound change” is enough to curtail greenhouse gas emissions has relevance for the 2020 elections. In this context, Bernie Sanders calls for “revolutionary” change, which seems far more appropriate than Democratic candidates who want only incremental change.

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Recent evidence

The growing body of scientifically verifiable evidence on the climate crisis/disaster continues to accumulate.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

NASA appears to be one government source that has not yet been corrupted by the Trump administration. The NASA site can be found at https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence, and is regularly updated, most recently on September 9, 2020. NASA includes pages on the evidence, causes, effects, scientific consensus, and vital signs. With respect to evidence, NASA reports on changes that are altering the earth’s fundamental ecological support systems, including rising temperatures, warming oceans, shrinking ice sheets, retreating glaciers, decreasing snow cover, rising sea levels, declining arctic ice, the increase in extreme weather events, and ocean acidification. According to NASA, “[t]he current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is extremely likely (greater than 95 percent probability) to be the result of human activity since the mid-20th century and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented over decades to millennia.1” The data come from earth-orbiting satellites and other technological advances, ice cores, tree rings, ocean sediments, coral reefs, and layers of sedimentary rocks. They show that the accumulation of carbon dioxide and other gases in the atmosphere, accelerating in the mid-20th Century, are the principal cause.

The Royal Society and US National Academy of Sciences

The Royal Society of England and the US National Academy of Sciences have also published a 2020 updated report of the evidence on global warming (https://royalsociety.org/-/media-Royal_Society_Content/policy/projects/climate-evidence-causes).  The following excerpts from this report captures the gist of their analysis.

“CLIMATE CHANGE IS ONE OF THE DEFINING ISSUES OF OUR TIME. It is now more certain than ever, based on many lines of evidence, that humans are changing Earth’s climate. The atmosphere and oceans have warmed, which has been accompanied by sea level rise, a strong decline in Arctic sea ice, and other climate-related changes. The impacts of climate change on people and nature are increasingly apparent. Unprecedented flooding, heat waves, and wildfires have cost billions in damages. Habitats are undergoing rapid shifts in response to changing temperatures and precipitation patterns. The Royal Society and the US National Academy of Sciences, with their similar missions to promote the use of science to benefit society and to inform critical policy debates, produced the original Climate Change: Evidence and Causes in 2014. It was written and reviewed by a UK-US team of leading climate scientists. This new edition, prepared by the same author team, has been updated with the most recent climate data and scientific analyses, all of which reinforce our understanding of human-caused climate change.”

Wikipedia

The online, open-source encyclopedia Wikipedia says this about “climate change”:

Climate change includes both the global warming driven by human emissions of greenhouse gases, and the resulting large-scale shifts in weather patterns.[1] Though there have been previous periods of climatic change, since the mid-20th century the rate of human impact on Earth’s climate system and the global scale of that impact have been unprecedented.[2]

Observed temperature from NASA[3] vs the 1850–1900 average as a pre-industrial baseline. The main driver for increased global temperatures in the industrial era is human activity, with natural forces adding variability.[4]

“That human activity has caused climate change is not disputed by any scientific body of national or international standing.[5] The largest driver has been the emission of greenhouse gases. Over 90% of these emissions are carbon dioxide (CO
2) and methane, with fossil-fuel burning being the main source, and secondary contributions from agriculture and deforestation. Temperature rise is accelerated or tempered by climate feedbacks, such as loss of sunlight-reflecting snow and ice cover, increased water vapour (a greenhouse gas itself), and changes to land and ocean carbon sinks.

“Because land surfaces heat faster than ocean surfaces, deserts are expanding and heat waves and wildfires are more common.[6] Surface temperature rise is greatest in the Arctic, where it has contributed to melting permafrost, and the retreat of glaciers and sea ice. Increasing atmospheric energy and rates of evaporation cause more intense storms and weather extremes, which damage infrastructure and agriculture.[7] Rising temperatures are limiting ocean productivity and harming fish stocks in most parts of the globe. Current and anticipated effects from undernutrition, heat stress and disease have led the World Health Organization to declare climate change the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century. Environmental effects include the extinction or relocation of many species as their ecosystems change, most immediately in coral reefsmountains, and the Arctic. Even if efforts to minimize future warming are successful, some effects will continue for centuries, including rising sea levels, rising ocean temperatures, and ocean acidification from elevated levels of CO.”
2.

The problem of climate change is steadily getting worse

Bill McKibben writes in The New Yorker on September 3, 2020 that the changes wrought by the climate change/disaster are so great that they are altering the “world each and every day” and “radically remaking the planet, [all] in the course of one lifetime” (https://www.newyorker.com/news/annals-of-a-warming-planet/how-fast-the-climate-changing-its-a-new-world-each-and-every-day). The greenhouse gas emissions from human activity, principally from the combustion of fossil fuels, captures heat in the atmosphere at a level equivalent to “exploding four Hiroshima-sized bombs each second.” And he points to another dramatic realty: “For almost all of human history, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide stuck at about two hundred and seventy-five parts per million, meaning that the planet’s energy balance was essentially unchanged. The physical world worked in predictable ways. But there’s around twenty-five parts per million more CO2 in the air now than there was a decade ago: That’s more change in ten years than over all the millennia from the invention of agriculture to the start of the Industrial Revolution. To think about it this way is to understand why this is a bigger predicament than any we’ve ever faced. Our other dramas—wars, revolutions—have played out against the backdrop of an essentially stable planet. But now that planet has become the main actor in our affairs, and more so every second.”

A majority of the US population takes the climate crisis seriously

Abrahm Lustgarten provides a quick summary of this evidence (https://popularresistance.org/climate-change-will-force-a-new-american-migration). He points to “signs that the message is breaking through” and gives some examples from polling data. “Half of Americans now rank climate as a top political priority, up from roughly one-third in 2016, and 3 out of 4 now describe climate change as either “a crisis” or “a major problem.” This year, Democratic caucus goers in Iowa, where tens of thousands of acres of farmland flooded in 2019, ranked climate second only to health care as an issue. A poll by researchers at Yale and George Mason universities found that even Republicans’ views are shifting: 1 in 3 now thinks climate change should be declared a national emergency.” We must wait to see whether this has an impact on the election. It’s hard to see how it benefits climate-denying Trump, his administration, and the Republican Party, perhaps the only major political party in the world that holds such a degenerate view.

A case study of one major effect of climate change– the western state wildfires

The scope of the wildfires

In an article published online at Inside Climate News, Michael Kodas gives us an idea of how extensive the wildfires are in “the hot, dry West” (https://insideclimatenews.org/news/09092020/wildfires-america-west-climate).

He reports on “80 large, uncontained wildfires” in the western regions of the US, in California, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Montana, Utah, burning millions of acres of woodlands and thousands of homes and buildings. For example: “…on Tuesday evening [Sept. 8], the Glendower Fire, a brush fire that ignited that morning outside Ashland, Oregon, burned up the Interstate 5 corridor into the towns of Talent and Phoenix, where the wildfire turned into an urban firestorm that ripped into Medford,a city of nearly 85,000 residents.” And: “In a news briefing Tuesday, Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington reported that 330,000 acres burned across the state on Monday alone—more than in any of the previous 12 fire seasons.” The Creek fire in the Cascadel Woods area of unincorporated Madera County, California, “helped California break its annual record for the amount of land burning in one year of wildfires, with 2.2 million acres scorched by Labor Day [up to 2.8 million by some estimates]. But the state’s most deadly and destructive months for wildfires are still to come.” And the fires are likely to keep up. Kodas points out that “the Creek Fire is pushing into mountain forests where 163 million trees have died since 2010 due to drought and insect infestation, providing ample fuel for the new fires” and the usual peak fire season has yet to start.

The controversy over the causes

Climate change and/or forest management

President Trump, self-styled expert on everything, asserts that the fires are not due to global warming but rather to poor forest management by the impacted states. His version of appropriate forest management is to have the for-profit lumber companies cut down, or harvest, trees at will, thus, in his mind, a really good thing because it reduces the fuel for fires, generates profits for some, and pleases his plutocratic supporters.

Lindsay Whitehurst and Sara Kline, AP journalists, report on Trump’s first trip to the wildfire-devastated states, comparing the president’s explanation with the science-based explanation of the affected-state governors. On this difference, they write: “The Democratic governors say the fires are a consequence of climate change, while the Trump administration has blamed poor forest management for the flames that have raced through the region and made the air in places like Portland, Oregon, Seattle and San Francisco some of the worst in the world” (https://searchandnews.com/news/read/article/the_associated_press-fires_raise_fight_over_climate_change_before_trump_ap/category/news). “Scientists say,” the journalists point out, “that the wildfires are all but inevitable, but that the main drivers are plants and trees drying out due to climate change and more people living closer to areas that burn. Forest thinning and controlled burns have proven challenging to implement on the scale needed to combat those threats.” They refer to a statement by Greg Jones, a professor and research climatologist at Linfield University in McMinnville, Oregon, who says that it “isn’t clear if global warming caused the dry, windy conditions that have fed the fires in the Pacific Northwest, but a warmer world can increase the likelihood of extreme events and contribute to their severity.”

Sonali Kolhatkar points that lightning, in the context of the conditions created by climate change, is another proximate cause of the wildfires. She writes: “In California’s Bay area, more than 10,000 lightning strikes triggered hundreds of fires in August” (https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/09/17/fighting-fire-with-fire-what-tribal-people-know-about-forest-ecosystems).

Climate change must be addressed

Democracy Now devoted a major part of their online program on Sept. 15 to the wildfires, focusing on the causes (https://www.democracynow.org/2020/9/15/california_wildfires_indegenous_land_stewardship).

Hosts Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez quote California Governor Gavin Newsom, who addressed Trump’s persistence in blaming the fires on poor forest management. The governor makes two points about the wildfires. (1) “We obviously feel very strongly that the hots are getting hotter, the dries are getting drier. When we’re having heat domes the likes of which we’ve never seen in our history, the hottest August ever in the history of the state, the ferocity of these fires, the drought five-plus years, losing 163 million trees to that drought, something has happened to the plumbing of the world. And we come from a perspective, humbly, where we submit the science is in, and observed evidence is self-evident, that climate change is real, and that is exacerbating this.” (2) The federal government and private owners have much more responsibility for the lack of forest management than the states: “57% of California’s forests are on federal land, compared to just 3% that is owned by California, the rest privately owned.”

In an article published in The Washington Post on Sept. 16, Sarah Kaplan and Juliet Eilperin consider the argument that climate change is the fundamental cause of the increasing frequency and lethality of wildfires (https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2020/09/16/fires-climate-change).

In this case, they report, fires and climate are linked by basic physics. The describe the link as follows. “Human greenhouse gas emissions have warmed the planet. Higher temperatures trap more water in the atmosphere, drying out vegetation and making it more likely to ignite. In the American West — where temperatures are already as much as 4 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than in the preindustrial era — landscapes are burning in fundamentally different and more destructive ways.” The wildfire problem grows as the temperature rises, but even scientists underestimated how rapidly the fires would increase and become so destructive. They write: “A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that human-caused climate change doubled the amount of forest burned between 1984 and 2015. California’s own climate assessment in 2018 predicted that higher temperatures would cause 2.5 million acres to burn annually — the models just did not expect it to happen until 2050….The scale of this year’s fires have horrified even those who saw them coming. As of Tuesday, 3.2 million acres in California have been incinerated — almost double the previous record of 1.9 million, set in 2018. In Oregon, blazes have erupted in parts of the wet Western Cascades that have not burned in years. On a single day last week, red-flag warnings on fire weather stretched along the entire West Coast from the U.S. border with Mexico to Canada.” They add: “The intensity of the blazes creates towering plumes of heat called pyrocumulus clouds, which in turn trigger lightning storms and swirling fire tornadoes. Powerful winds push fires farther and faster than firefighters are used to. Embers carried far ahead of the main front enable fires to travel dozens of miles in a single day.”

Forest management – little being done

Kaplan and Eilperin report that as temperatures rise and wildfires multiply, “the federal government is supporting less research into the issue. The budget for the Joint Fire Science Program, which is funded through the Interior and Agriculture departments and produces research on the best practices for fire prevention and management, has steadily declined since the mid-2000s. In a 2017 budget deal approved before the current administration, the program’s funding was reduced from $12.9 million to $8.9 million. In 2018 and 2019, the White House sought to eliminate it entirely. The program now receives $6 million a year.”

Forest management ala Trump focus on logging that has exacerbated the problem. Trump signed “a 2019 executive order,” calling “on the secretaries of Agriculture and Interior to consider harvesting 4.4. million board feet of timber from public lands as a means to reduce wildfire risk,” which would be up from 3 billion board feet annually. But, unlike the helter-skelter logging by the for-profit logging companies, the thinning of forests must be nuanced, taking into account the types of trees, topography, ecology, and wildlife. Even then, however, Kaplan and Eilperin refer to research by Chris Dunn, a forester at Oregon State University who worked as a firefighter for eight years. He “found the most intensively managed industrial forests experienced more severe fire than untouched old growth — even when huge amounts of debris had accumulated on the ‘untreated’ forest floor. This is because younger trees planted for harvest are less resilient and fire spreads easily between them.”

But unfortunately, the rising temperatures accompanying uncontrolled climate change may stifle any approach. The journalists quote Monica Turner, fire ecologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who told Kaplan and Eilperin that (paraphrasing her) “[r]esearch also shows that climate change is making forests so hot and dry that almost no intervention can keep them from igniting. Just look at this year’s fires. They are burning through tree plantations and wild forests. They have consumed fire breaks and jumped rivers.

“When the climate conditions are as extreme as they are now, it doesn’t matter how you’re managing it,” she said. “The fires will burn across anything.” Turner also said we can reduce the risk of wildfires by “stopping greenhouse gas emissions. According to Turner, “United Nation scientists reported that the world would need to start cutting emissions 7.6 percent annually to limit warming to a ‘tolerable’ 1.5 degrees Celsius. At that point, fires would likely be even worse than they are now – but not nearly as bad as they might otherwise become.”

Tribal forestry

There may be one way to manage forests that does help to reduce the extent and intensity of the wildfires now occurring. Given the level of catastrophic climate change, it is probably something less than a total solution, but it may, if implemented well, have some positive effects. In an article for Counter Punch, Sonali Kolhatkar refers to “tribal forestry” as an approach that can contribute to managing forests in a way that may help reduce somewhat the extent and intensity of the wildfires now occurring (https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/09/17/fighting-fire-with-fire-what-tribal-people-know-about-forest-ecosystems).

Her source for this information is Ali Meders-Knight, a Mechoopda tribal member from Chico in the northern part of California, who “[f]or more than 20 years …has practiced what is now called Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and has worked as a liaison for tribal forestry programs addressing precisely the problem of California’s mismanaged land and fuel that end up giving rise to out-of-control deadly fires.”

In an interview, she explained to Kolhatkar that “The plants and the land are adapted to fire. [The area is] used to fire; it wants fire.” Meders-Knight explained further “that the optimal days for controlled fire burns are hard to predict weeks or months in advance, which means that the state’s permitting process needs to be far more flexible. And firefighters, whose job it is to put out every fire during the hottest months of the year, could be trained as ‘fire technicians’ to manage fire in other months—thereby making their jobs less dangerous and overwhelming than they are now. She sees this as a ‘workforce development initiative’ that could be part of a ‘green jobs’ project in the state, especially at a time of mass unemployment and a housing crisis. Prison inmates who are recruited to fight California’s fires could also benefit from such a program.”

Kolhatkar also cites a New York Times article to add credence to the idea of tribal forestry. She writes: “an Aboriginal burning program started seven years ago has cut hot and destructive wildfires in half and reduced carbon emissions by more than 40 percent….in Australia, fire was a crucial tool in managing the land before the arrival of Europeans.”

Bear in mind that well-managed forest management has not been a priority for the Trump administration or the private sector. Indeed, both favor a mostly unregulated market to solve economic problems and both have been steadfast climate-deniers or have dismissed the problem is too economically costly and have used their economic and political clout to maximize the primacy of fossil fuels in federal energy policy and unregulated access of lumber companies to forests. Sen. Mitch McConnell has just admitted that human-caused global warming exists, but he doesn’t have a climate plan and has no plans to have the Senate consider this earth-altering issue (https://insideclimattenews.org/news/03092020/kentucky-2020-senate-climate-change-election-mitch-mcconnell-amy-mcgrath).

When communities burn: Living amid the forests or leaving

Even if a new administration in the White House begins supports major programs to support renewables and phase out fossil fuels, the effects of such efforts would take decades to stem global warming and reduce the excessive carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere. Nonetheless, government officials, scientists, experts, and various community and environmental groups believe there is a role for well-conceived forest management.

Spencer Bokat-Lindell throws some light on the causes of wildfires and what can be done with respect of forest management (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/15/opinion/california-wildfires-climate-change.html). He refers to an analysis by the former Times climate reporter, Kendra Pierre-Louis, who “wrote in 2018, many of the deadliest and costliest fires start not in the heart of isolated forests but at the wildland-urban interface, where developed and undeveloped land meet.” Continuing: “About 44 million houses, equivalent to one in every three in the country, are in these zones, and the number is rising particularly fast in California. Wildfires already pose the greatest danger to people in the wildland-urban interface, and their presence there tends to increase the number of fires that start in the first place.”

Bokat-Lindell says that experts tell us that “governments “could impose regulations to make housing developments more resilient, including stipulations for fire-resistant building materials and moats of cleared vegetation known as defensible space. California adopted many of these standards, some of the strictest in the country, in 2008. One analysis of the devastating Camp Fire that killed 85 people in 2018 determined that about 51 percent of the 350 single-family homes built to the new codes escaped damage, compared with just 18 percent of the 12,100 homes built earlier.”

However, “there are considerable obstacles to making such fire-resistant homes and communities. In many states, developers have resisted new regulations. Retrofitting the millions of houses already built can be prohibitively expensive. And in the aftermath of a fire, the pressure to rebuild often wins out over safety considerations.” Bokat-Lindell quotes Max Moritz, a wildfire expert affiliated with the University of California, Santa Barbara, who said: “At this point we’ve learned a lot about how to engineer homes and communities so that they can be more survivable. But these lessons aren’t being implemented fast enough.”

Others, including the Los Angeles Times editorial board to which Bokat-Lindell refers, call for a “managed retreat” away from the forests, or relocating threatened homes. This is the kind of proposal that has also been applied or proposed to communities facing coastal erosion or flooding. Such proposals have not gained momentum, the editorial board notes. People are locating in such areas for economic reasons “driven in part by soaring housing prices that have pushed people out of cities. Prohibitions against building in fire-prone areas would therefore entail building denser, affordable housing in urban economic centers.” Presently, many people communities affected by the fires want to rebuild the same sort of houses in the same locations. At some point, this tendency may be interrupted by insurance companies that stop offering home insurance policies.

Other causes and responses to wildfires

There are other causes of wildfires. Some fires are caused by “negligent utility companies and natural causes, most are caused, intentionally or unintentionally, by people,” according to Bokat-Lindell’s reporting. “In Washington State, for example, people have started more than 1,300 fires so far this year. The Seattle Times editorial board argues that climate change has only increased the need to cultivate a more rigorous ethic of fire prevention among the public.”

“Vigilance about fire safety must be an everyday concern. From cigarette butts tossed on the roadside to campfires and fire pits, each outdoor spark is a threat to bucolic wild lands, property and life during these long parched weeks,” the board writes. “Every Washington resident and business shares this responsibility. Schools and public-safety bulletins should urgently spread this gospel. The message must be amplified each summer.”

In the final analysis, forest management does not go far enough

There is no doubt that there are constructive proposals on what can be done to reduce the proximate causes of wildfires. The list includes: education about safe practices by people when they are camping or engaged in other activities in forests, or using more resilient materials in housing construction, or giving people affordable housing options outside of fire-prone forest areas, or better regulation of and better practices by utility companies, tribal forestry, or limiting and regulating the practices of lumber companies. But they leave aside the fundamental causes, namely, the extended droughts, rising temperatures, and other conditions that stem from global warming.

Facing the prospect of a massive new American migration

Abrahm Lustgarten provides an in-depth analysis of the increasingly limited options available to people, communities and investors in locations more and more affected by wildfires in the West, by hurricanes in the East, and be droughts and flood damage throughout the nation (https://popularresistance.org/climate-change-will-force-a-new-american-migration). He elaborates as follows. “This summer has seen more fires, more heat, more storms — all of it making life increasingly untenable in larger areas of the nation. Already, droughts regularly threaten food crops across the West, while destructive floods inundate towns and fields from the Dakotas to Maryland, collapsing dams in Michigan and raising the shorelines of the Great Lakes. Rising seas and increasingly violent hurricanes are making thousands of miles of American shoreline nearly uninhabitable. As California burned, Hurricane Laura pounded the Louisiana coast with 150-mile-an-hour winds, killing at least 25 people; it was the 12th named storm to form by that point in 2020, another record. Phoenix, meanwhile, endured 53 days of 110-degree heat — 20 more days than the previous record.”

Lustgarten’s sources are wide-ranging. He “interviewed more than four dozen experts: economists and demographers, climate scientists and insurance executives, architects and urban planners, and ProPublica mapped out the danger zones that will close in on Americans over the next 30 years. The maps for the first time combined exclusive climate data from the Rhodium Group, an independent data-analytics firm; wildfire projections modeled by United States Forest Service researchers and others; and data about America’s shifting climate niches, an evolution of work first published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last spring. (A detailed analysis of the maps is available here.)”

His data reveal “a nation on the cusp of a great transformation.” Specifically: “Across the United States, some 162 million people — nearly 1 in 2 — will most likely experience a decline in the quality of their environment, namely more heat and less water. For 93 million of them, the changes could be particularly severe, and by 2070, our analysis suggests, if carbon emissions rise at extreme levels, at least 4 million Americans could find themselves living at the fringe, in places decidedly outside the ideal niche for human life. The cost of resisting the new climate reality is mounting. Florida officials have already acknowledged that defending some roadways against the sea will be unaffordable. And the nation’s federal flood-insurance program is for the first time requiring that some of its payouts be used to retreat from climate threats across the country. It will soon prove too expensive to maintain the status quo.”

Other victims of wildfires

In an article for The New York Times, Mike Baker and his colleagues report that :[t]he fast-moving fires that swept through Western United States have wiped out critical populations of endangered species and incinerated native habitats that may take years to recover, if they recover at all” (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/16/us/fires-oregon-california-washington.html). Yes, “tens of thousands of people forced to flee their homes, possessions and livelihoods destroyed, and state and federal fire fighting resources have been stretched beyond the limit.” But the devastating effects on wildlife is equally significant.

They quote Davia Palmeri, policy coordinator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, who says: “We now have to think about climate change when managing wildlife.” Additionally: “Several endangered and threatened species, including the northern spotted owl and the weasel-like pine marten, depend on the mature mountain forests that bore the brunt of the fires.” In Washington state, “Fire that raced through the sagebrush steppe country of central Washington this month destroyed several state wildlife areas, leaving little more than bare ground. The flames killed about half of the state’s endangered population of pygmy rabbits, leaving only about 50 of the palm-sized rabbits in the wild there.” Thirty to seventy percent of the endangered sage grouse and sharp-tailed ground have been wiped out the fires and their critical breeding grounds of been burnt to the ground. Ranchers in Douglas County, Wash., “were unable to get cattle out of the way and many died. On the range they found deer and other wildlife staggering around, severely burned.” And: “The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is bracing for winter rains that could wash ash and silt into local streams and impact endangered salmon.”

Unlike Trump, Joe Biden takes climate change seriously.

Audrey McNamara reports for CBS News, Sept 16, 2020, on how Biden and Trump responses to the wildfires are antithetical. In short, Trump refuses to accept the realty of climate change, while Biden believes it “poses an existential threat” (https://www.cbsnews.com/news/biden-trump-climate-change-western-wildfire-response).

Trump’s position was revealed again at a briefing with government officials in California on Monday, Sept 14 at the McClellan Airport in Sacramento. In what McNamara describes as a striking exchange, the head of California’s Natural Resource Agency, Wade Crowfoot, pleaded with Trump for “cooperation in addressing climate change.” Crawfoot said: “We want to work with you to really recognize the changing climate and what it means to our forest, and actually work together with that science — that science is going to be key.” Trump “dismissed Crowfoot’s plea, “suggesting that global warming will somehow reverse itself. ‘It will start getting cooler. You just watch,’ he said. Crowfoot, an expert in climate and sustainability issues, replied, ‘I wish science agreed with you.’ To which the president said, ‘I don’t think science knows actually.’”

Given his stand on climate change, it is likely if reelected that Trump will continue to advance maximalist-fossil-fuel energy and deregulation policies as long as there are profits to be made and he is able to wield authoritarian power. Indeed, “Trump has called climate change a ‘hoax,’ and rolled back numerous policies put in place to protect the natural environment. Despite his record, the president recently declared himself the greatest environmentalist since President Theodore Roosevelt, who helped protect 230 million acres of public land.” Contrariwise, Trump has increased the amount of public land available to mining, logging and other private interests. Jim Robbins offers some information that conflicts with Trump’s claim ((https://e360.yale.edu/features/open-for-business-the-trump-revolution-on-public-lands). Here’s what he writes.

“Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon coined the term “deconstruction of the administrative state,” to describe efforts to take power away from the federal government and allow business a freer hand in development. Nowhere is that policy being carried out more systematically than in the Trump administration’s actions on public lands, where the businesses seeking that freer hand are primarily the oil and gas extraction, logging, and mining industries.

“There are hundreds of millions of acres of publically owned lands across the West and Alaska, including National Forests, Bureau of Land Management lands, National Parks and National Monuments. They include some of the nation’s most iconic landscapes, and they are also critical to state and local economies. As a percentage of each Western state, federal ownership ranges from 29 percent of Montana to 79 percent of Nevada.

“According to a study in the journal Science, the Trump administration is responsible for the largest reduction of protected public lands in history. Three months after taking office, Trump issued an executive order that led to dramatic reductions in the size of two national monuments in Utah — Bears Ears National Monument, shrunk by 85 percent, and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, shrunk by 51 percent”

McNamara reminds us that it was only two years ago, when “the administration’s own National Climate Assessment — a peer-reviewed assessment mandated by Congress — warned in 2018 that ‘more frequent and intense extreme weather and climate-related events, as well as changes in average climate conditions, are expected to continue to damage infrastructure, ecosystems, and social systems that provide essential benefits to communities.’” To repeat what many others have said,  Trump cares little about facts and evidence and much about winning, supporting his powerful and rich constituencies,  and holding together his large, fact-avoidance, right-wing coalition, including tens of millions of voters who seemingly support him whatever he says or does.

What about Biden’s positions on the wildfires and global warming? McNamara points to Biden’s campaign website, featuring the candidate’s climate change plan, which stresses that it threatens not just the environment, but also ‘our health, our communities, our national security, and our economic well-being.’” Biden “endorses [a version of] the “Green New Deal, noting that it ‘captures two basic truths’  at the core of his climate change plan: ‘(1) the United States urgently needs to embrace greater ambition on an epic scale to meet the scope of this challenge, and (2) our environment and our economy are completely and totally connected.’ His plan sets a goal for a 100% clean energy economy and net-zero emissions by 2050.” As the president traveled to California, “Biden told supporters in Delaware, “We need a president who respects science…. Who understands that the damage from climate change is already here. Unless we take urgent action, it’ll soon be more catastrophic.”

Biden’s Green Energy Plan – Is it up to the challenge?

Bident’s plan “for a clean energy revolution and environmental justice” can be accessed at: https://joebiden.com/climate-plan. It is referred to it as the “Green New Deal.” Biden’s plan will “address the climate emergency and lead through the power of example” and it will ensure “the U.S. achieves a 100% clean energy economy no later than 2050.” When he is elected, Biden will in the first year of his presidency “demand that Congress enacts legislation…that: (1) establishes an enforcement mechanism that includes milestone targets no later than the end of his first term in 2025, (2) makes a historic investment in clean energy and climate research and innovation, (3) incentivizes the rapid deployment of clean energy innovations across the economy, especially in communities most impacted by climate change.”

The provisions of the plan make it clear that it accepts the accumulating scientific evidence on climate change, that human activities, especially the fossil-fuel sector, are the principal causes of rising temperatures and their myriad effects, and that the problems is so serious that we must institute countervailing changes as soon as we can. Here I quote from a few sections of the plan to give you a sense of how positively different Biden’s plan is from Trump’s environmental utterly destructive views and policies. There are questions about whether a Biden administration will be able to accomplish enough to curtail and then reverse the climate crisis and its many devastating effects as it is confronted by opposition from Republicans in the U.S. Congress, widespread corporate opposition, Trump-appointed judges in the federal judiciary, a continuing massive disinformation messaging from right-wing media, and base of tens of millions, including armed milita. Withal, the Biden climate plan articulates overall a path that addresses the real, pressing problems of existential importance.

Beginning on his first day in the White House, he “will make smart infrastructure investments to rebuild the nation and to ensure that our buildings, water, transportation, and energy infrastructure can withstand the impacts of climate change.” He will authorize the development of “regional climate resilience plans, in partnership with local universities and national labs, for local access to the most relevant science, data, information, tools, and training.” The climate plan also has an international dimension. Biden will “recommit the United States to the Paris Agreement on climate” and go further in supporting efforts to “get every major country to ramp up the ambition of their domestic climate targets,” and make sure that these “commitments are transparent and enforceable.” Moreover, he will “take action against fossil fuel companies and other polluters who put profit over people and knowingly harm our environment.” Specifically, on day one of his administration, Biden plan tells us his administration will begin to act as follows.

  • Require “aggressive methane pollution limits for new and existing oil and gas operations”
  • Use “the Federal government procurement system – which spends $500 billion every year – to drive toward 100% clean energy and zero-emissions vehicles”
  • Ensure “all U.S. government installations, buildings, and facilities are more efficient and climate-ready, harnessing the purchasing power and supply chains to drive innovation”
  • Reduce “greenhouse gas emissions from transportation – the fastest growing source of U.S. climate pollution – by preserving and implementing the existing Clean Air Act, and developing rigorous new fuel economy standards aimed at ensuring 100% of new sales for light-l and medium-duty vehicles will be electrified and annual improvements for heavy duty vehicles”
  • Double “down on the liquid fuels of the future, which make agriculture a key part of the solution to climate change. Advanced biofuels are now closer than ever as we begin to build the first plants for biofuels, creating jobs and new solutions to reduce emissions in planes, ocean-going vessels, and more.”
  • Save “consumers money and reduce emissions through new, aggressive appliance- and building-efficiency standards.”
  • Require “public companies to disclose climate risks and the greenhouse gas emissions in their operations.”
  • Protect “biodiversity, slowing extinction rates and helping leverage natural climate solutions by conserving 30% of America’s lands and waters.”
  • Protect “America’s natural treasure by permanently protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other areas impacted by President Trump’s attack on federal lands and waters, establishing national parks and monuments that reflect America’s natural heritage, banning new oil and gas permitting on public lands and water, modifying royalties to account for climate costs, and establishing targeted programs to enhance reforestation and develop renewables on federal lands and waters with the goal of doubling offshore wind by 2030.”

The Biden plan also includes language on how the plan will be funded. Here’s what it says. “The Biden plan will be paid for by reversing the excesses of the Trump tax cuts for corporations, reducing incentives for tax havens, evasion, and outsourcing, ensuring corporations pay their fair share, closing other loopholes in our tax code that reward wealth not work, and ending subsidies for fossil fuels.”

Concluding thoughts

We must await the outcome of the November elections. If Trump and the Republicans manage to steel the elections, then we can expect the climate crisis to worsen and, among other dire effects, for wildfires to proliferate. If Biden and the Democrats prevail, we can hope that the promises embedded in the climate plan will be actually pushed forward – and that there will be strong public support behind it. There is, though, little time to avoid the worst outcomes.

The Trump/Republican Economy: A Realty Check

Bob Sheak

Sept 9, 2020

Trump has long claimed that he inherited a wrecked economy from Obama. But then he says he overcame this and, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, made the US economy the “greatest” it has ever been. While it has been, in his view, temporarily derailed by the coronavirus pandemic, the economy, under his management, will bounce back even greater once the virus is defeated or we learn to live with it – “it is what it is.”

Trump’s narrative also plainly says that “he” is responsible for whatever is good about the economy and “others” are responsible for what is bad. Trump’s claims about his alleged impact on the US economy are central to his reelection campaign. It’s important to emphasize that his economic policies are grounded in neoliberal assumptions and practices that go back to the efforts of the Republican Party over the last forty or more years to shrink selectively much of what the federal government does through tax cuts, unprecedented deregulation, the appointment of pro-Trump people to decision-making positions in all parts of the executive branch, and advancing policy through executive action.

Despite Trump’s claims, the evidence does not support his views on the economy in the post-Great-Recession years of the Obama administration.

ONE: The economic policies of Trump and the Republicans prior to the pandemic

This post disputes three of Trump’s central economic claims. One, the economy that Trump inherited from Obama was a “mess”? Two, assessing the economy under Trump prior to the pandemic reveals serious problems? Three, Trump and his right-wing allies made the economic problems accompanying the Covid-19 pandemic worse they might have been.

Obama inherited the worst economic recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s

Josh Bivens provides an apt summary.

“In February 2009, the first full month of the Obama administration, the economy had been in recession for 13 months, and the severity of the economic crisis was accelerating. In the six months ending in February 2009, the economy lost 650,000 jobs each month on average.

“In short, the Obama administration inherited the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Even if it had been the most effective and wage-focused administration in history, the actual performance of wage growth over the following years would have still likely been sub-par.” As it turns out, it was better than this.

“The political context is equally important. A concrete example makes the point best: while the administration inherited a horrible recession, the recovery from the recession, even years and years after it ended, was historically slow. How much of this is the fault of the administration? Not much. The cause of the agonizingly slow recovery is clear as day: fiscal austerity at all levels of government. This austerity was the result of state-level decisions that were out of the administration’s hands, as well as demands for steep spending cuts issued by congressional Republicans as a condition for increasing the nation’s statutory debt ceiling in the summer of 2011. The annual budget proposals issued by the Obama administration routinely called for far more fiscal stimulus than a Republican-controlled Congress ever ended up passing. Could the administration have played the politics better and gotten different policy outcomes? Possibly. But, their publicly-stated policy preference (more fiscal support for recovery) would have worked, and that’s what they should get credit or blame for.”

Republican obstruction in Congress during the Obama presidency

Steven Benen provides an impressive analysis in his book The Imposters: How Republicans Quit Governing and Seized American Politics of how Republicans did their best to obstruct most policy initiatives by the Obama administration or congressional Democrats during the eight years of Obama’s presidency. Their central goal was to undermine Obama’s presidency and to keep the president and congressional Democrats from having any success, except when they gave the Republicans steep concessions. He documents his thesis in chapters on economic policy, health care, climate change and energy policy, foreign policy, immigration policy, the federal budget, gun control, civil rights, reproductive rights, and government shutdowns and debt-ceiling crises. Here, I’ll focus on some of what he writes about economic policy.

Overcoming opposition to the “Recovery Act” During the Great Recession

In November, 2008, the month Obama was elected, “the American economy lost 727,000 jobs” (p. 21). In January, 2009, the economy lost another 783,000 jobs. The seeds of the economic collapse of the 2007-2009 Great Recession were planted by the Bush administration and Republicans in the US Congress, and caused by tax cuts, illegal and costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the lack of regulation of the financial sector. In response to this economic calamity, on the sixth day of Obama’s presidency, House Democrats “introduced economic-stimulus legislation called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, or simply the Recovery Act, calling for $1 trillion of spending. The new president reached out to the Republicans, “organizing a series of policy discussions intended to secure broad backing, only to find that the Republican economic agenda amounted to little more than demanding tax breaks and opposing government investment of any kind. The Democrats controlled the House and Senate, but, in the Senate, “Republicans not only opposed the economic recovery plan for reasons they strained to explain, but they also refused to allow the majority to even vote on the Recovery Act unless Democrats could overcome a legislative filibuster.” Benen notes: “Obama’s party had fifty-seven votes in the hundred-member chamber at the time, but they’d need sixty in order to put the rescue plan into effect” (p.22).

Eventually “three GOP centrists ultimately agreed to support the White House’s economic plan,” though only when they were given significant concessions, such as, reducing the budget for the legislation to $800 million, an arbitrary number never explained (p. 23). Nevertheless, the reduced Recovery Act had an almost immediate and positive economic impact: “economic growth and hiring improved nationwide, and the Great Recession officially ended four months after Obama put the plan into action.” Benen continues: “By early 2010, the domestic economy was adding jobs again, and the longest economic recovery in US history got under way.” A 2011 report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office “found that this one piece of legislation delivered what the nation needed when it needed it, creating up to 4.6 million jobs and adding as much as 3.1 percent to American’s overall economic growth rate” (p. 28). Another benefit: “the deficit shrank significantly during the Obama presidency” (p. 29). There were problems with this legislation. For example, it didn’t reduce the power of the banking sector or offer assistance to many people who had lost their homes due to fraudulent mortgages. Of course, Trump and the Republicans have little interest in rectifying these problems, as was true all along.

Saving the auto industry

Benen writes that “Obama tapped funds from the Bush administration’s Wall Street bailout to restructure General Motors and Chrysler.” Republicans opposed this initiative. In the end, however, “Obama’s policy worked beautifully, salvaged the industry, and, as a bonus, turned a tidy $15 billion profit for American taxpayers, just six years after the initial investment” (p. 30). Moreover: “The Big Three automakers turned a profit in 2011, the first time since 2004 (p. 31). Even so, Republicans continued to condemn it. Benen gives a quote from GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell that “US automakers ‘should have been allowed to reorganize or fail’ without the benefit of federal intervention.” At the same time, this was a missed opportunity for Obama and the Democrats to insist on a re-purposing of the industry to focus on manufacturing solar panels, and wind generators. The Republicans would, of course, have opposed such an option.

The American Jobs Act

With the unemployment was down from the 10 percent rate in October of 2009, but still high at 9 percent in September 2011, Obama “unveiled a $450 billion plan to boost domestic hiring with a policy blue-print he called the American Jobs Act.” The Congressional Budget Office “concluded that the Democratic plan would sharply improve employment, and, thanks to a proposed modest surtax on millionaires and billionaires, the plan actually would have reduced the deficit.” There were other “independent economic analyses” that found that “White House’s blueprint would create nearly two million jobs and shave a full percentage point off the nation’s unemployment rate fairly quickly (p. 33).

Republicans in the Senate then unveiled a Republican Alternative, the Jobs Through Growth Act, “a combination of unspecified spending cuts and deregulation ideas, eliminating the Affordable Care Act, and a constitutional amendment to prohibit deficits. They said that the legislation would create five million jobs, but “made no effort to explain how they arrived at the figure” and “never submitted [it] for an independent analysis.” They would not compromise (p. 34). So, when “Democrats pushed a stripped-down measure – a $35 billion proposal to save or create roughly four hundred thousand jobs for teachers, police officers, and fire fighters – the GOP killed that, too”

The implications of the Republican obstructions

Benen considers other examples as well as they ones above. Overall, they exemplify “a decade of GOP nihilism on economic policy making, which was guided by no discernible governing vision,” except to do what they could to prevent Obama and the congressional Democrats from advancing constructive legislation. He elaborates his point as follows. “They executed a plan involving opposition to all forms of economic stimulus, fighting tooth and nail to take capital out of the economy through spending cuts; rejecting simulative social-insurance programs such as extended unemployment benefits; undermining economic confidence through a pointless debt ceiling crisis; deliberately trying to make unemployment worse; prioritizing austerity and deficit reduction over growth; and pleading with the Federal Reserve… to raise interest rates” (pp. 35-36).

Nonetheless, the economy grew during the Obama years

Benen provides this striking examples. “In realty, quarterly economic growth [in some quarters] topped 3 percent in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, and 2015” (p. 41). Brooks Jackson offers a look at “Obama’s Final Numbers,” in an article on FactCheck.org (https://www.factcheck.org/2017/09/obamas-final-numbers). Here’s one: “The economy gained a net 11.6 million jobs. The unemployment rate dropped to below the historical norm.” Christian E. Weiler and Brendan Duke off the following summary.

“The economy improved markedly under former President Barack Obama, from the start of 2009 through the end of 2016. Faced with the specter of another Great Depression in winter 2009, President Obama enacted a series of policies that helped the economy avoid that fate. The economy was growing again by the second half of 2009, and jobs followed suit by early 2010. Economic growth continued apace for the rest of President Obama’s time in office, and job growth logged its longest expansion on record by early 2017, dating back to 1939.1 Employment opportunities improved, the unemployment rate fell…and household debt dropped sharply” (https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/economy/reports/2017/06/01/432923/obamas-legacy-economy-anything-mess).

Two – The Trump/Republican economic policies and their effects prior to the pandemic

Trump’s pre-Covid-19 years (the first three years) evinced the continuing decline of the officially estimated unemployment rate, a slow rise in average wages, a stock market trending up, a huge tax cut, large increases in the military budget, and a revised trade agreement with Canada and Mexico. However, there were problems. Inequality soared, corporate CEOs and the rich captured a disproportionate share of the tax-cut benefits, from the CARES Act, from the Federal Reserve, and from a rising stock market, little of which trickled down to most Americans.

In-depth analyses of even the employment data painted a much less impressive picture of the job situation for many workers. Trump’s specific promises to improve the nation’s infrastructure went unfulfilled. Few good-paying manufacturing jobs returned from abroad. His energy policy, which focused on maximizing the growth of fossil fuels, was fraught with contradictions and with little regard for the increasingly dire environmental effects. Moreover, he and the Republicans in the US Congress failed to replace Obama’s Affordable Health Care program or offer an alternative health care plan, failed to keep health care costs or prescription drug prices from rising, and let the number of Americans without health insurance increase year by year.

A mixed appraisal

In an article for the Washington Post printed on February 4, 2020, prior to the impact of Covid-19, Heather Long addressed Trump’s touting of “his economy as ‘the best it has ever been,’ but stresses that the data did not support the president’s claim (https://washingtonpost.com/business/2020/02/04/trump-touts-his-economy-best-ever-is-more-mixed). In his State of the Union address, Trump “had a lengthy section celebrating the U.S. economy as suddenly improving. However, as pointed out above, the economy had been growing since 2009.

Long agrees with Trump “in a number of ways,” writing: “the current economy [prior to February 2020] is [in some ways] the best the nation has seen since the late 1990s. Unemployment is at a 50-year low, economic growth is steady, inflation is tame, and consumer confidence is high. This situation is helping many Americans get jobs and pay raises after years of struggles. Any president would be touting an economy like this, with record low unemployment rates for African AmericansHispanics and people with less than a high school diploma.” Average wages did not rise under Obama,, but they began to rise in 2018, climbing for nonsupervisory workers “as high as 3.6 percent in October, a level not seen since the crisis, according to the Labor Department, though the rate has since fallen.”

According a Gallup poll cited by Long, consumer confidence had risen considerably from 46 percent of Americans who expressed satisfaction with the state of the economy in January 2017 to 68 percent in January 2020. Long explains this increase to a “combination of higher wage gains in recent month and Trump’s tax cuts [that] have helped most Americans feel richer, even though many still worry about how to pay for health care, child care, and college.”

However, Long disagrees that “this economy is the best ever.” Trump goes too far when he asserts that he inherited a wrecked economy from Obama. His tax cuts may have helped to keep the economy growing but it “also inflected pain.” On his trade policy, Trump’s “tariffs have hurt U.S. manufacturing and agriculture. Long illustrates her point on tariffs: “The tariffs caused companies to drastically scale back spending and pushed U.S. manufacturing into a mild recession in 2019. The tariffs have hit the hardest on parts used to make cars, washing machines and other products, raising costs for U.S. companies. A widely watched gauge of the health of the manufacturing sector — a survey of purchasing managers from the Institute for Supply Management — fell in December to its lowest level since the Great Recession.”

And, moreover, Trump’s tax cuts and increased government spending have added substantially to the national debt.” In addition, the US economy grew 2.3 percent in 2019, which is “well below the 4 percent level Trump promised. In the pre-pandemic years of Trump’s administration, Trump’s term, economic growth averaged 2.5 percent. That’s higher than under Presidents Barack Obama or George W. Bush, but much slower than the averages for Clinton and Ronald Reagan.”

The Republican/Trump tax cut had little positive effect on economic trends

Annie Lowrey takes up this issue in a February 2020 article printed in the Atlantic Monthly magazine. She argues that “the low unemployment rate, decent wage growth, and solid corporate earnings are all artifacts of a long expansion, not signs that the [self-proclaimed] very stable genius in the White House has unleashed American enterprise” (https://theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/02/trump-didnt-make-this-economy/606115).

Reporting on Trump’s 2020 State of the Union address, she quotes Trump’s triumphant claims: “Three years ago, we launched the great American comeback. Tonight, I stand before you to share the incredible results. The years of economic decay are over.” The economy “is the best it has ever been.” And it is all happening thanks to Republicans.

From Lowrey’s viewpoint, “The White House had far less control over the economy than generally assumed. And Trump’s signature economic legislation, the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), has not provided anything like the economic ‘rocket fuel’ the Republican White House promised, particularly not for blue-collar workers in the heartland.”

Indeed, the economy remained on pretty much the exact same growth path it had taken for the past decade: There was no inflection point around the time of the 2016 election or the late-2017 passage of the TCJA, or any inflection point at all. Growth has plodded along at 2.5 percent a year, give or take. The unemployment rate has been falling consistently. Not much has changed. Lowrey reminds us that that tax cuts were aimed at the wealthy and did “so little that most households did not notice the effect.” And, citing the right-of-center American Enterprise, the tax cuts produced “no discernible break in trend” in business investment” and that “[m]any economists think that the TCJA provided only a minor boost to the economy, a boost that seems to have already faded.”

Moreover, manufacturing had not much revived, as Trump promised. Lowrey writes: “In the past year [2019], employment gains in construction and manufacturing have slowed down, with mining firms actually shedding jobs. The White House’s trade war has hit blue-collar firms hard, leading to layoffs, farm closures, and the need for billions of dollars in bailouts. Factory activity has hit the lowest point in a decade. Rural areas continue to lag high-cost cities in terms of job creation, productivity gains, and wealth creation.”

More on Failing to bring back manufacturing jobs

Economist Dean Baker takes up this issue (https://counterpunch.org/2020/08/28/the-comeback-of-manufacturing-jobs-maga-land-and-the-real-world). When Trump campaigned in Midwestern swing states in 2016, states that “had been hard hit by the loss of manufacturing jobs due to trade,” Trump “insisted that he would bring back these jobs as a result of his great skills as a deal maker. He would negotiate new trade deals so that we would get back the jobs we had lost.”

Baker cites evidence that Trump failed in this regard. He considers the “picture as of January 2020,” prior to when “the pandemic began to have an impact on the economy.” He focuses on five states: Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin and compares the manufacturing job numbers for the last three years of the Obama administration with the first three years of Trump’s.

Baker’s general finding is that there were more manufacturing jobs created in Michigan, Minnesota, and Ohio during the Obama years than during the relevant Trump years. For example, he writes: “The largest difference by far is in Michigan, where the state added 59,800 manufacturing jobs in the last three years of the Obama administration, compared to 11,600 jobs in the first three years of the Trump administration.” The opposite is true in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin: “Pennsylvania lost 5,800 manufacturing jobs in the last three years of the Obama administration but gained 13,100 manufacturing jobs in the first three years of the Trump administration. In Wisconsin, the performance under Trump is 15,500 new manufacturing jobs, compared to 5,000 manufacturing jobs in the last three years of the Obama administration.” The gains in these two states, though, hardly made up for the 308,000 manufacturing jobs lost in Pennsylvania between 2000 and 2010, or the 172,000 manufacturing jobs lost in Wisconsin.

Baker concludes: “The basic story is that Trump may have rebuilt our manufacturing base and brought back the jobs lost to trade in his head, but he did not do it in the real world.”

The rising trade deficits

Jake Johnson helps us recollect that Trump “pledged to eliminate the trade deficit and end job outsourcing” during his presidential campaign in 2016 and he would do this rapidly and better than any previous president” (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/09/04/trump-fraud-exhibit-one-billion-trade-deficit-soars-12-year-high-despite-presidents).

Johnson points out that the most recent figures for July 2020 from the Commerce Department “show that the trade deficit soared to a 12-year high in July due in large part to a surge in imports, bringing the total negative trade balance in the first seven months of 2020 to $340 billion.” In addition, the Labor Department “has certified more than 300,000 American jobs were lost to outsourcing and imports during his presidency.” The large growth in the trade deficit is especially notable, according to Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, “given that trade flows have declined overall because of the global Covid-19 crisis.”

Johnson cites other sources. He refers to an Associated Press article published on Thursday, September 3, reporting that “the new Commerce Department statistics show that ‘despite a number of high-profile trade battles and a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, America’s trade deficits have remained stubbornly high’ throughout Trump’s presidency.” The AP report also notes that in July 2020, “the deficit with China in goods totaled $31.6 billion, an 11.5% increase from the June imbalance,” while the “goods deficit with Mexico hit a record high of $10.6 in July… The United States ran a deficit in goods trade of $80.1 billion in July, the highest on record.”

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) reports that despite Trump’s repeated vows to “bring back” U.S. manufacturing jobs, the president’s first-term trade agenda and disastrous handling of the coronavirus pandemic have “wiped out much of the last decade’s job gains in U.S. manufacturing.” Robert Scott, senior economist and director of trade and manufacturing research at EPI, said: “”Nearly 1,800 factories have disappeared under Trump between 2016 and 2018,” and rose significantly in 2019. This is before the emergence of Covid-19 and includes the first three years of Trump’s administration. Scott added that the trade deficits reduced economic growth “by roughly 0.25% annually over the past three years.”

Three – Dealing with the economic chaos accompanying the pandemic

The Republicans kill the CARES Act (the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act)

One of Trump’s most repeated claims is that, under his leadership, the economy will generate more good jobs than ever. Of course, this was hardly the case after the Covid-19 pandemic spread. We should remember that his mishandling of the rise and spread of Covid-19 made the economic effects as well as the health effects worse than they could have been.

One beneficial, though short-lived, government action – “Trump Had One Good Response to Covid-19. His Party Killed It.”

Economist Paul Krugman draws our attention to the passage of the CARES Act in March by Congress and signed by Trump (https://nytimes.com/2020/08/31/opinion/trump-coronavirus-economy.html).

He considers “that in important ways [it] was just what America needed” and “something for almost everyone.” For example: “Small businesses got loans that they could convert into grants if they used the money to maintain payrolls. Big businesses got loans, too. Most adults got stimulus checks, typically $1,200, in the hope that they would spend the money and hence support consumer demand…. But the really crucial element of the CARES Act was expanded aid to the unemployed. Benefits were expanded to people like gig workers who had previously fallen through the cracks, and everyone receiving benefits got an extra $600 a week…. This expansion of aid to the unemployed did double duty. It alleviated hardship, letting laid-off workers continue to pay rent and put food on the table. And it supported overall spending much more effectively than those stimulus checks, most of which were probably just saved.”

However, there is an important detail that is usually overlooked. Krugman observes that the “crucial unemployment provisions” in the CARES Act “were devised largely by Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, and the most you can say about [Steven] Mnuchin [Treasury Secretary] and Trump is that “they didn’t reject Democratic demands that these provisions be included.” Republicans came to hate that $600 supplement, “insisting – with no evidence – that it discouraged workers from taking jobs.” McConnell and the Republicans in the Senate and the House refused to extend this aid “or make a good-faith counteroffer. Consequently the supplement expired at the end of July, “even though we’re still down 13 million jobs from where we were in February.”

Trump’s executive action to offer $300 for some workers for a few weeks is not the answer. In the meantime, Krugman expects some hard times for millions of Americans, writing:  “It may take some time before we see the full effects of this abandonment of American workers, but it’s a good bet that we’ll see slowing growth, a surge in evictions and, in general, the kind of mass suffering we managed to avoid in the first round of the Covid-19 crisis.”

The Unemployed –

Limited assistance

Jessica Corbett reports on the effects of the GOP’s failure to continue the $600 per-week boost to federal unemployment insurance benefits that ended at the end of July. She cites a poll by Morning Consult that found that, as a consequence, the “number of unemployed people struggling to cover basic needs has doubled” by the end of August, involving 8.3 million Americans and up from 27 percent in July(https://commondreams.org/news/2020/09/01/poll-shows-number-unemployed-people-struggling-cover-basic-needs-has-already-doubled).

The $600 supplement was included as one part of the Covid-19 relief package, which Congress passed and Trump signed this spring, as the number of people losing jobs or out of work soared. However, as Corbett reports, “Republican lawmakers and the president have resisted attempts by Democrats to continue the expansion—clinging to their debunked claim that the temporary relief was deterring people from returning to work.” Corbett notes as well that “the GOP-controlled Senate [refused] to vote on the House-approved Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (HEROES) Act, despite millions of Americans struggling to afford housing, utilities, food, healthcare, and other essentials during the pandemic.”

Amid the Republican-created impasse, “Trump took [tepid] executive action in August to use [existing] disaster relief money to increase UI benefits by $300 per week—with states contributing another $100,” though “funds are limited and the rollout has been slow.” Corbett cites the statement made by Heidi Shierholz, senior economist and director of policy at the Economic Policy Institute: “The president’s executive memorandum is a nothing burger and a false promise that actually does more harm than good because it diverts attention from the desperate need for the real relief that can only come through legislation.” Meanwhile, “new polling from Gallup and West Health revealed that 50% of Americans are concerned a major health event could lead to bankruptcy, a five-point increase from a survey last year.”

The situation is dire for tens of millions of Americans. Corbett quotes Michael Linden, Groundwork Collaborative executive director, who says: “Not only is it unconscionable that the Trump administration cut the incomes of 30 million unemployed workers during a pandemic and eliminated key lifelines and support for families across the country…but over the past month we’ve seen the impact of his inaction ripple through the already-fragile economy and make this crisis so much worse than it needed to be.” There is a real danger that the recession will become a full-blown depression.

The August report on unemployment

Ben Casselman reports for The New York Times that “unemployment fell to 8.4% in August, but the gain of 1.4 million jobs was the weakest in months” (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/04/business/economy/jobs-report.html).

Additionally, the end of federal aid programs is casting a shadow.” He writes:

“All told, less than half of the 22 million jobs lost early in the pandemic have been recovered. But the unemployment rate has fallen much faster than most forecasters expected, from 10.2 percent in July and 14.7 percent in April. And the labor force grew in August, an indication that jobless workers are not yet giving up their searches as many did during the last recession a decade ago. Some sectors that were dealt a blow by the pandemic, such as the retail industry, continued to post strong job gains.” Gains in real estate were strong, but not so much in other sectors.

Casselman also reports: “Economists said the slowdown was a worrying sign that the low-hanging fruit of the recovery — the rehiring of millions of furloughed restaurant, hotel and entertainment workers — could be largely gone….“Just 174,000 jobs were added last month in leisure and hospitality, a disappointing gain for an industry that lost more than eight million to the pandemic and has recovered only half. And as companies reopen, many are discovering that with demand still weak, they don’t need or can’t afford as many workers as before the pandemic.”

There is also concern about the future jobs situation, given that the federal unemployment supplement and other aid programs are gone.” Casselman cites “Julia Pollak, a labor economist for the employment site ZipRecruiter, [who] said many businesses were facing similar decisions heading into the winter season, which is a challenge for many small businesses in the best of times….[and] “Widespread business failures, Ms. Pollak said, ‘could have a cascading effect on those local economies.’ That is especially true of Black neighborhoods that often struggle to draw investment from large corporations.”

———————

Also reporting in The New York Times, Eduardo Porter writes: “With 11.5 million jobs lost since February and the government’s monthly report Friday [August 4] showing a slowdown in hiring, stories like this have become painfully common. When companies dispatched office staff to work remotely from home, cut business trips and canceled business lunches, they also eliminated the jobs cleaning their offices and hotel rooms, driving them around town and serving them meals…. For this army of service workers across urban America, the pandemic risks becoming more than a short-term economic shock. If white-collar America doesn’t return to the office, service workers will be left with nobody to serve” (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/04/business/economy/service-economy-workers.html).

Porter continues: “The worry is particularly acute in cities, which for decades have sustained tens of millions of jobs for workers without a college education. Now remote work is adding to other pressures that have stunted opportunities. The collapse of retailers like J.C. Penney and Neiman Marcus has wiped out many low-wage jobs. The implosion of tourism in cities like New York and San Francisco will end many more.’

She includes specific examples in the article to highlight her report, including the following ones. “Consider Nike’s decision in the spring to allow most employees at its headquarters in the Portland area to work remotely. Aramark, which runs the cafeteria and catering at Nike, furloughed many of its workers. With no need for full services anticipated “for an undefined period,” Aramark says, 378 employees — waiters, cooks, cashiers and others — now face permanent layoff on Sept. 25….The question is whether dislocations like this will be only temporary. About one-fifth of adults of working age who do not have a college degree live in the biggest metropolitan areas — in the top quarter by population density — according to estimates by David Autor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Most are in service industries that cater to the needs of an affluent class of “knowledge workers” who have flocked to cities in search of cool amenities and high pay.” Additionally: “Jonathan Dingel and Brent Neiman of the University of Chicago have calculated that 37 percent of jobs can be done entirely from home. Those jobs tend to be highly paid, in fields like legal services, computer programming and financial services. And they tend to concentrate in affluent areas like San Francisco; Stamford, Conn.; and Raleigh, N.C.”

Other examples. Intel, headquartered in Portland, Oregon, “employs 20,000 mostly well-paid people there. It is a pillar of a high-tech cluster known as the Silicon Forest stretching between Hillsboro and Beaverton on the western edge of the city. And it supports a network of contractors and subcontractors whose income trickles down through the area’s economy…. Only about 40 percent of Intel’s employees are working on site — those indispensable to its vast chip-making plants — and remote work is set to continue until at least next June. Even after that, said Darcy Ortiz, Intel’s vice president for corporate services, ‘there will be more flexibility in the way we work’…. For businesses that rely on Intel’s footprint, that may not be great news. ‘Intel has sustained us,’ said Rick Van Beveren, a member of the Hillsboro City Council who owns a cafe and a catering business that remain mostly shuttered. ‘We cater to a constellation of businesses around Intel.’”

“The same type of decision is being made around the country. Scott Rechler, chief executive of RXR Realty, which owns over 20 million square feet of office space in New York City, estimates that every office worker sustains five service jobs, from the shoeshine booth to the coffee shop. Yet only about 12 percent of his tenants are in the office.”

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The headline of Aimee Picchi’s article for CBS News is eye-catching: “Labor Day celebrates workers. But this year, 1 in 5 are unemployed” (http://www.cbsnews.com/news/american-workforce-unemployed-economy-labor-day-weekend-2020).

“Although 11 million people have since been rehired as states reopened their economies, the progress has tapered off, economists say. Notably, there are still 11.5 million fewer jobs now than prior to the pandemic…. That’s a staggering reversal of fortune from February, when the nation’s workers were enjoying one of the best job markets in history. That helped boost wages as well as bolstered the efforts of union-backed labor movements such as the Fight for $15. But much of that momentum has since vanished, with 28 million workers — one in five — currently drawing unemployment benefits….’The state of the labor market is an F,’ said Heidi Shierholz, senior economist at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute and the former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor. ‘We have fewer jobs than we had at any time during the Great Recession. There is no way you could give this economy a passing grade.’” 

The road to recovery is likely to be measured in years, not months. “Federal Reserve of Chicago President Charles Evans said in a speech this week that he doesn’t expect the economy to recover to pre-pandemic levels until late 2022.” “On Friday [August 4], the Labor Department said the unemployment rate fell below 10% for the first time since March. But the rate of hiring is slowing, with employers adding fewer workers to their payrolls for each successive month this summer.” In the meantime, “28 million workers are receiving unemployment benefits — that’s 1 out of every 5 people in the workforce.”

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Robbing the Social Security system to win votes – while potentially bankrupting it

Trump promised to protect Social Security during his presidential campaign. So much for another of his whimsical, insincere promises. Now, in desperation, he is about the undermine this very popular and long-standing program by signing “a memorandum that,” as Igor Derysh reports, “would temporarily stop the collection of payroll taxes, which is a 12.4% tax split evenly between employees and employers that funds the Social Security and Medicare trust funds” (https://truthout.org/articles/social-security-would-be-depleted-in-3-years-if-trump-kills-the-payroll-tax).

Trump is gambling that by reducing the Social Security wage tax and putting some extra money in the pockets of workers he will win some of their votes.

Derysh reminds us that the president cannot cut taxes, which means that any payroll tax savings would “have to be repaid by next year’s deadline – though Trump says, if reelected, he will “push to forgive the deferred taxes.” Then the president “went a step further earlier this month, vowing not just to forgive this year’s payroll tax but eliminate it entirely.” This is what Trump said during a news conference at his Bedminster, N.J., golf course: “If I’m victorious on November 3rd, I plan to forgive these taxes and make permanent cuts to the payroll tax. I’m going to make them all permanent,” he said during a news conference at his Bedminster, N.J. golf course. “…In other words, I’ll extend beyond the end of the year and terminate the tax. And so we’ll see what happens.”

 Democrats in the Senate and House oppose such actions. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, responded as follows: “The Social Security Administration has made it clear: eliminating the payroll tax, as Trump has proposed, would bankrupt Social Security and prevent seniors and people with disabilities from receiving the benefits they have earned. Defunding Social Security may make sense to the billionaires at President Trump’s country club, but it makes zero sense to me. Instead of dismantling Social Security, we must expand it so that every senior can retire with the dignity they deserve.” Even Republicans in the Congress are opposed to Trump’s initiative. Derysh refers to a NBC News report in July that found that a “majority of Senate Republicans didn’t want a payroll tax cut.” 

In line with his practice, Trump paid little attention to how his proposal would be implemented. His “memorandum called for the Treasury Department to start deferring taxes starting on September 1, but that appears highly unlikely since the department has not produced guidelines for employers or payroll processors to defer the taxes.”

Tony Romm reports on the lack of clarity in Trump’s proposal and that it is meeting with confusion among tax experts and resistance from some big employers (https://www.washingtonpost/com/us-policy/2020/08/28/trump-payroll-tax-irs). He writes:

“The administration’s guidance perplexed tax experts, who said it could frustrate workers and add to the burden facing businesses, which may be deterred from implementing Trump’s order at all. Last week, automakers, restaurateurs, retailers and a torrent of top employers signaled that possibility, when they joined with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in calling the president’s plan “unworkable.” Their opposition means that many workers may see no change to their pay — and the economy may see few of the gains Trump has touted.”

“Businesses fretted about the difficulties they’d face updating their payroll systems on a short time frame, and tax experts felt workers might struggle to repay the sums they owe, which could reach into the thousands of dollars depending on their incomes. Many, however, feared the future effects on Social Security and Medicare, particularly as Trump vowed to “terminate” the tax. AARP, the powerful senior’s lobby, sharply rebuked the White House earlier this month out of concern that the president’s plan could threaten future benefits, even as senior administration officials promised to protect retirees.”

In an article for Common Dreams, Nancy J. Altman, considers the potential consequences of Trump’s rash actions (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2020/09/07/labor-day-social-security-future-hangs-balance). Altman is president of Social Security Works and chair of the Strengthen Social Security coalition. She has a 40-year background in the areas of Social Security and private pensions. Her latest book is The Truth About Social Security. She is also the author of The Battle for Social Security and co-author of Social Security Works! She refers to a letter released by Stephen Goss, “the independent Chief Actuary of Social Security’ on “Trump’s plan to ‘terminate’ Social Security’s dedicated funding if he is reelected.” In the letter, “Goss states that if Social Security’s funding were terminated, the Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Fund would be exhausted by 2021 and the Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund would be exhausted by 2023 ‘with no ability to pay benefits thereafter.’”

If this should happen, “one out of two seniors would be left impoverished. So would millions of people with disabilities and millions of children who have lost parents.” The big deal is that, without Social Security, one out of two seniors would be left impoverished. So would millions of people with disabilities and millions of children who have lost parents. Like the military, the free press, our fair elections, and our postal service, Social Security is a vital institution. The choice this election could not be clearer.”

She points out that, in contrast, “Joe Biden wants to protect and expand Social Security” and “understands that expanding Social Security’s modest benefits is a solution.” Altman continues: “It is a solution to our nation’s looming retirement income crisis, where too many of today’s workers will not be able to retire without a drastic decline in their standards of living. It is a solution to rising income and wealth inequality, made worse by the pandemic. He supports expanding Social Security while requiring those earning over $400,000 to pay more.” Biden is also “championing a proposal—originally from Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Ron Wyden (D-OR)—to increase Social Security benefits by $200 a month for the duration of the crisis.”

The stock market – no trickle down to most Americans

“Stocks Are Soaring. So Is Misery.” This is the thrust of Paul Krugman’s argument in a column for The New York Times (https://nytimes.com/2020/08/20/opinion/stock-market-unemployment.html). The crux of his article is captured in his following sentences. “On Tuesday, the S&P 500 stock index hit a record high. The next day, Apple became the first U.S. company in history to be valued at more than $2 trillion. Donald Trump is, of course, touting the stock market as proof that the economy has recovered from the coronavirus; too bad about those 173,000 dead Americans [up to 188,000 by Sept. 4 and rising] – but as he says, “It is what it is.” Krugman elaborates on the rising “misery that “is.”

Millions of workers have not gotten their jobs back and have now seen their unemployment benefits slashed. Food insecurity is increasing and “the number of parents reporting that they were having trouble giving their children enough to eat was rising rapidly.” Krugman expects “to see a huge surge in national misery.”

Moreover, the conditions of most Americans, who have no or very little investments in the stock market, has nothing to do with the stock market. He writes: “The truth is that stock prices have never been closely tied to the state of the economy. As an old economists’ joke has it, the market has predicted nine of the last five recessions.” Investors in stocks are counting on gains in the future and will, if they are lucky, benefit from low taxes on the capital gains they get when they  cash in their stocks. Investors care about profiting on their investments, not on what’s happening to most people. But that’s where the rising misery is.” In short, a rising stock market does not readily translate into economic well-being for most Americans.

Concluding thoughts

Trump’s basic assumption is that the rich and powerful will save the economy if they are unimpeded by government politics and bureaucrats. In the event that this morally hollow, win-at-whatever-the-costs, man is re-elected, the outcome will be dire. He has provided inconsistent and weak leadership on the Covid-19 pandemic. His actions have demonstrated that he much favors opening the economy without safeguards whatever the health consequences. And, to twist the dagger, deeply flawed economic policies.

If Trump is re-elected as a result of vast voter suppression, the gutting of the US Postal Service, and disinformation, a majority of Americans will suffer, the economy will become ever more unequal, democracy will shrivel, the “culture” will be dominated by far-right “populous” values and interests, including the impact of extreme evangelical influence, along with the consolidation of influence of white supremacist, racist, xenophobic, homophobic, anti-abortion groups. And, without a doubt, the Trump/Republican climate deniers will squelch scientific voices on the existential climate crisis and its myriad effects and do their utmost to advance fossil-fuel interests and sideline solar and wind energy.

The alternative? No one know whether Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will win in November or whether there will be a “blue” wave of victories in races for the Senate, House, and state offices around the country. However, Biden has put out his plans for job creation with environmental concerns taken into account. He has a detailed plan for creating “10 million clean energy jobs” (https://joebiden.com/climate-labor-fact-sheet), a plan for “building a modern, sustainable infrastructure” (https://joebiden.com/clean-energy), a “buy American” plan (https://www.cnbc.com/2020/07/09/biden-proposes-a-700-plus-buy-american-campaign.html), and promises to create 3 million jobs in caregiving and early education (https://abcnews.com/Politics/biden-launch-3rd-pillar-economic-plan-touting-million/story?id=71889055).

There will be opposition from the rich and powerful, from the extreme right-wing base, from FoxNews and the right-wing media, but Biden and the Democrats give democracy a chance to survive if not thrive and give the economy an opportunity to become more responsive to the needs and interests of the majority of Americans, whereas Trump and his enablers and supporters do the opposite.

Plutocracy v Democracy: A showdown of existential significance

Bob Sheak – August 23, 2020

The “leader”

We all know by this time that Trump is unstable, maliciously narcissistic, and vengeful, that he spews hate and lies continuously, and that his own take on issues can change from day to day, confusing the public about what to expect from the government. We know that he will do anything to stay in power, encouraging voter suppression of the democratic majority, undermining the US postal service through his appointments and false rhetoric, and failing, out of incompetence and caprice, to address the society’s major crises, from the pandemic and economic depression, to levels of rising inequality that have not been seen since the Gilded Age of the late 19th century, to an existentially-threatening climate crisis, to systemic racism, and more.

He is not alone in such misbegotten endeavors. He promotes a hyper partisan pro-corporate, pro-rich agenda that has little concern for protecting the environment or workers or the poor or social justice, while also encouraging and performing for a broad “populous” base on non-economic issues. Political scientists Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson argue that there is a plutocratic-populous alliance that underlies the power of Trump and that is cultivated and nourished by the president (Let Them Eat Tweets: How the Right Rules in an Age of Extreme Inequality).

There are fascist tendencies reflected in Trump’s governance that are not challenged by the plutocratic-alliance. Federico Finchelstein, professor of history at the New School of Social Research, posits that the leader in a fascist movement or state represents what many people at a given time and place yearn for. He writes in his book A Brief History of Fascist Lies: “the reality that their fundamentally authoritarian lies and racist fantasies about the world become constantly normalized and supported by a wide segment of the population, as well as major party figures. Most pointedly, Finchelstein writes the following about Trump: “He does not lie because he is a crazy cheater; he lies because he belongs to a political tradition that proposes an alternative notion of truth that emanates from the sacred infallibility of the leader” (p. 104). He continues: “…Trumpism represents an extreme form of… antiliberal, and often anti-constitutional, authoritarian democracy with a political rationale of its own. This is a political formation with a mythical notion of the truth,” so he replaces “historical truth with fake ideas about the glorious past that their leaders promise to revive,” with expressions such as “Make America Great Again.” For his tens of millions of followers, he promises to restore to life “a past that never existed” (p. 105). But it must be added, Trump also behaves as he does so as to advance a relatively unfettered, neoliberal-oriented capitalist system and to protect the interests of the mega-corporations, the rich, and his own family’s wealth.

There is little doubt that Trump and the Republicans must be defeated at the polls in November if any semblance of authentic democracy is to be saved. This will take a massive outpouring of democratic voters and a margin of victory that cannot be fuddled with or contested. However, given the corporate-dominated economy, the huge political clout of economic elites and the plethora of radical-right groups, some very extreme in their goals and willing to use violent tactics to achieve their ends, the US political system is unlikely to be without serious tensions and conflict whatever the outcome of the elections. The worst-case outcome, though, occurs if Trump wins, in which the fragile democracy that exists may further wither away.

The plutocratic-populous alliance

Hacker and Pierson describe “plutocratic populism” as the Republican Party’s “bitter brew of reactionary economic priorities and right-wing cultural and racial appeals,” a “hybrid” that “emerged after 1980” with the election of Ronald Reagan (p. 5). Trump is the public face of this alliance, its cheerleader, and, with his hand-picked advisers and officials, its facilitator. The Alliance has three parts.

The Plutocracy

One part is represented by the increasing economic, financial and political power of the mega corporations and the rich and their interests to maximize profits with little taxation or regulation. Another is represented by the Republican Party and by the ascendance of Trump and his domination of the party. The principal agendas of Trump and the Republican Party are to protect and advance the interests of the corporate elites and the super-rich. Together they constitute a plutocracy, which political scientists Jacob S. Hacker define as “government of, by, and for the rich” (Let Them Eat Tweets: How the Right Rules in an Age of Extreme Inequality, p. 1). The third part is the “populous,” or the multifaceted base of the party, where the interests of right-wing groups are advanced. I’ll discuss this populous base later in the article.

The benefits to the powerful and rich from supporting a right-wing government

Higher Incomes

Hacker and Pierson give the following examples. From 1980 to 2016, “the share of income accruing to the richest 1 percent doubled, increasing from 10 percent to more than 20 percent. Over the same period, the share of national income accruing to the bottom half of households declined by half, from (roughly) 20 percent to 10 percent.’ “Most of the top 1 percent’s rising share has in fact accrued to those in the top 0.1 percent (the richest 1 in 1,000 Americans)” and most are corporate and financial executives (p. 45) – “Over the four decades between 1979 and 2016, the share of national wealth held by the richest 0.1 percent of Americans increased from 7 percent to roughly 20 percent…. the top 0.1 percent (fewer than 200,000 families) now holds almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent of Americans combined (about 110 million households)” (p. 57). And more evidence:

From 1980 to 2016, “the share of income accruing to the richest 1 percent doubled, increasing from 10 percent to more than 20 percent. Over the same period, the share of national income accruing to the bottom half of households declined by half, from (roughly) 20 percent to 10 percent.’ – “Most of the top 1 percent’s rising share has in fact accrued to those in the top 0.1 percent (the richest 1 in 1,000 Americans)” – most are corporate and financial executives (p. 45) – “Over the four decades between 1979 and 2016, the share of national wealth held by the richest 0.1 percent of Americans increased from 7 percent to roughly 20 percent…. the top 0.1 percent (fewer than 200,000 families) now holds almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent of Americans combined (about 110 million households)” (p. 57).

Lower Taxes

Hacker and Pierson point out that the 2001 Bush tax cuts “gave 40 percent of their benefits to the richest 1 percent” (p.3). Trump delivered an even bigger tax reward. The “tax cuts of 2017…delivered more than 80 percent of their largess to the top 1 percent” (p. 4). Overall, the trend in tax cuts for the powerful and rich has fallen steadily, even before Trump.

They write: “For the richest 400 households, local, state, and federal taxes were over 70 percent of income at the end of World War II and still more than 50 percent as late as 1970. They fell to 40 percent by 1995 and again to 30 percent by 2005. (By 2018, the effective tax rate of the top 400 families was 23 percent)” (p 65).

Wealth

The richest 0.1 percent of Americans saw their share of national wealth increase from 7 percent in 1979 to “roughly 20 percent” in 2016 (Hacker and Pierson, pp. 56-57).

Deregulation

Fossil fuel companies benefit as well from the anti-environmental and policies of the administration, along with policies that open up public land to drilling and support the extension of oil and natural pipelines. The big auto companies benefit from low federal fuel standards, the government’s purchase of gas-guzzling vehicles, and from the massive inter-state infrastructure of roads and bridges across the country. Companies in the military arms industry benefit from the huge increases of the military budget and the administration’s support of the industry’s export of weapons. Pharmaceutical companies benefit from government research on new drugs, the virtual absence of price controls, and the failure to create public companies that produce and distribute drugs as well as create them. Wall Street banks benefit from the Federal Reserve’s extraordinary support of low-interest rates and government low-interest lending policies. Agribusiness benefits from subsidies and little regulation of practices that devastate the soil or prevent toxic runoff of fertilizer and herbicides into groundwater and other waterways. 

Corporations and the private-sector generally have additionally benefitted from weak or non-enforcement of the National Labor Relations Act that have eviscerated unions and failed to enforce OSHA regulations. On top of all this, Trump and the Republican Party have carried on the right-wing tradition of opposition to social-welfare programs designed to assist those who experience poverty, the working class, students, the elderly, the physically or mentally disabled, and others who don’t have the resources at points in their lives to acquire the basic necessities of life. Trump threatens to support steps that would lead to the bankruptcy of Social Security and to the partial or total privatization of this essential, very popular, social insurance program, a program that has lifted or kept millions of elderly, disabled, and survivors out of poverty since the 1940s. From the perspective of the White House and Wall Street, such an eventuality would open up vast opportunities for Wall Street, increasing costs to recipients and making them vulnerable to the machinations and volatility of the market. As Hacker and Pierson put it, “Wall Street saw the prospect of managing millions of new retirement accounts,” a prospect that, by the way, the public opposes (p. 66).

Recent examples of the Trump government “letting big corporations get away with whatever they want.”

This is the title of an article by Ralph Nader (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2020/05/16/trump-letting-big-corporations-get-away-whatever-they-want). He makes his basic argument as follows. “Throughout his presidency, Donald Trump has allowed large corporations to run rampant, exploit people, and get away with it. Trump considers himself above the law, boldly claiming, ‘I have an Article 2, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president.’” Nader views Trump’s presidential record as one that “embraces American-style fascism and nepotism.” He makes five points in documenting his argument.

One: “In 2017, Trump betrayed his own voters by giving the corporate rich a nearly two trillion-dollar tax cut instead of fulfilling his promise to invest in repairing infrastructure and expanding well-paid-job opportunities.” As widely reported, the “tax cuts for the rich and big corporations, which benefited the Trump family, ran up the deficit for our children and were largely used to give executives bonuses and let CEOs waste money on stock buybacks. In short, the corporate bosses lied to the Congress, saying they wanted these tax cuts to invest and create jobs, but actually used them to enrich themselves.”

Two: Trump has gone a spree of gutting health and safety law enforcement, with resultant “harm to workers, consumers, and defenseless communities. He refers in documentation of this point to a New York Times article that  reported 98 lifesaving regulations were revoked, suspended, or simply replaced with weaker versions. What remains on the books is not enforced.” He notes, further, that “Trump has worked to further punish student borrowers; diminish workplace and auto safety; and remove safeguards against banking, credit, and payday loan rackets.” And: “With vicious madness, Trump pushes for federal deregulation of nursing homes where residents are dying from Covid-19. He pursues court cases in attempts to end Obamacare, the result of which would be throwing 20 million Americans off their insurance during a lethal pandemic. He is cravenly freeing corporate emitters of life-destroying mercury and coal ash in our air, condemned pesticides and toxins in drinking water, and whatever else is on the deadly wish list given to him by his corporate paymasters.”

Three: Trump has given his corporate allies “more loopholes for tax escapes ($170 billion buried in the $2.2 trillion relief/bailout legislation).” He elaborates: “Big companies such as banks, insurance companies, real estate behemoths, and Silicon Valley giants have so many tax escapes and cuts that they’re moving toward tax-exempt status.”

Four: Trump and his Republican allies in the Congress want legislation “giving big companies immunity from lawsuits by victims for their negligently harmful products and services.” For example, Nader writes: “Trump’s agencies actually announced that they’re putting their law enforcers on the shelf. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) astonishingly told foreign importers of food and medicine that inspections overseas are suspended. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) signaled similar retreats, as have other enforcement agencies. Why would the Trumpsters signal green lights for corporate crooks? Especially since corporate scams and other corporate crimes—some crude, others sophisticated—are exploding as trillions pour out of Washington.”

Five: There has been under Trump a steep decline in the number of corporate prosecutions and fines. Nader writes: “A year ago, Public Citizen reported a steep decline in corporate prosecutions and fines under Trump. Now, compared to the size of the previous corporate crime wave, they’ve fallen off a cliff. You can ignore the stern warnings by Attorney General William Barr. He is a phony. He has neither allocated nor asked Congress for a budget that will provide the Department of Justice the capacity to crackdown.”

Removing federal government regulations on businesses

There is now wholesale deregulation under the Trump administration. Jake Johnson reports on how “Trump’s corporate-friendly executive orders aimed at rolling back even more regulations that protect the public is just the latest sign that his solution to the pandemic is the opposite of what the public needs”  (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/05/20/corruption-full-display-trumps-executive-order-directs-all-agencies-gut-business).

On Tuesday, May 20, Trump “signed an executive order directing the heads of every federal agency to ‘waive, suspend, and eliminate’ all regulations that they consider unnecessary obstacles to economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis.” This means more pollution from fossil fuel corporations, more drilling on public land, less regulation of toxic chemicals, less safety on the job for American workers, less protection for consumers, fewer drug regulations. Johnson quotes Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen to capture the essential thrust of Trump’s executive order, namely: that “instead of real, direct help for the tens of millions of Americans struggling financially due to the pandemic, or a real plan to reopen the economy safely based on the best public health expertise, Trump wants to keep giving handouts to corporate interests.”

Not all corporate oligarchs and the rich are on the plutocratic bandwagon, but most are

Not all the rich and corporate oligarchs are supporters of the plutocratic policies of Trump and the Republican Party. Hacker and Pierson put it this way: “neither Trump’s tariffs or his immigration policies are popular in moneyed circles.” They continue: “It is also true that precincts of the business community, such as Silicon Valley, find the president downright detestable, and that plenty of very wealthy people support the Democratic Party and style themselves progressives.”

At the same time, they write: “most of the superrich are broadly aligned with the core Republican economic agenda. Few among the fabulously wealthy speak openly about these priorities, and many of the most public plutocrats (think Tom Steyer and George Soros). But in those rare instances when political scientists successfully survey the views of the very wealthy, those views turn out to be much more conservative than commonly believed. For example, a 2011 poll of rich Americans – average wealth of respondents: $14 million – found that just 17 percent of those wealthy citizens said they’d support high taxes on the rich to reduce inequality, a position endorsed by over half of the general public” (p. 8). Overall, Hacker and Pierson find that “The wealthy are much more conservative on average: more anti-tax, more anti-regulation, more opposed to unions, more concerned about deficits, and less supportive of programs like Social Security” (p. 58).

Hacker and Pierson also refer to other evidence to substantiate the view the powerful and rich are supportive of plutocratic government. Consider the following examples. “Of the 100 richest Americans on the Forbes’ famous wealth list, according to a recent study, roughly two-thirds contributed mainly or exclusively to Republicans or conservative causes, and their spending outweighed the spending of those in the top 100 who gave to Democrats or liberal causes by a ratio of three to one” (p. 57). “When you look at the ultra-wealthy activists who are spending fortunes to remake American politics – especially through their huge outlays of ‘dark money’ encouraged by the ongoing decimation of campaign finance limits – you see one that’s even more conservative.’ “In 1982, less than 10 percent of campaign dollars came from the top 0.1 percent of donors. By 2018, nearly half (46 percent) did, with almost (22 percent) coming from just 400 mega-donors.” Furthermore: “Much of the money is channeled through nonprofit ‘trade’ or ‘social welfare’ associations – tax-exempt organizations empowered by the conservative majority on the Supreme Court in the 2010 Citizens’ United decision. Those groups are not required to disclose their donors and most don’t” (p. 68; also see examples of dark money donors on p 68).

They additionally substantiate their analysis as follows. “When you look at the stances and investments of the political organizations that magnify the influence of corporations and the superrich, you see one that’s more conservative still. The most effective groups representing economic elites – the Koch Network, the US Chamber of Commerce, the American Legislative Exchange Council – range from the hard right to the even harder right” (p.8). “Charles and his brother David (who died in 2019) had long supported conservative think tanks and public intellectuals. In the 2000s, however, they emerged as the nation’s leading benefactors and coordinators of organizations and donors espousing a hard-right philosophy” (p 67). The Kochs had two key goals: “ramping up political spending by the conservative wealthy and building organizations to push the GOP further to the right (and, after 2008, to fight President Obama)” (p. 67). The central hub of the Kochs’ political efforts is the Americans for Prosperity, with an “annual budget of $150 million, more than 500 paid directors, and nearly 3 million activists,” and drawing heavily on Tea Party volunteers (p. 70).

Would Trump, the plutocrats, corporate elites and the rich rather see the end of democracy than to give up power and wealth?

In an email I wrote to Jacob Hacker on August 13, I posed the following questions. “Are US plutocrats so obsessed with maintaining their power and wealth that they would rather be dead – have civilization collapse from the accelerating ravages of climate change – than give up any power and wealth? Or are they in the grip of larger forces over which they have little control?” Jacob answered: “Unfortunately, I think the answer is mostly yes to your first question – at least with regard the (large) portion of the plutocracy aligned with the GOP. As Paul and I point out in our book, “Let Them Eat Tweets,” the GOP is far and away the most climate-change-denying major party in the world, and it’s hard to believe it would be so if there wasn’t so much money on the side of denialism.”

Trump and the Republican Party have done their best to subvert our democracy, obstruct Democratic legislative initiatives in the US Senate, advance a neoliberal agenda designed to benefit the mega-corporations and the rich, and also rallied an electoral base of right-wing and extreme groups that includes fundamentalist evangelicals, gun rights absolutists, anti-immigration advocates, white supremacists and racists, those who distrust the federal government, and those who espouse a variety of conspiracy theories (e.g., see Jeet Heer’s article on the QAnon movement and its influence in the Republican Party at: https://thenation.com/article/poltics/ganon-future-republican-party). The Southern Poverty Law Center keeps track of far-right groups. In an email sent out to supporters on August 22, the organization refers to its new report (August 10, 2020) that “documented 125 rallies, marches, and protests organized and attended by far-right extremists, including white nationalists, neo-Nazis, Klansmen, the ‘alt-right,’ and right-wing reactionaries during” the last three years (https://splcenter.org). Many do not support Trump because they find his policies insufficiently radical. The SPLC’s report includes the following observation.

“The overwhelming emotion among white supremacists now is rage. Many of these white supremacists feel cheated by a president whom they see as failing to fulfill his most authoritarian promises. They face intense scrutiny and resistance whey they try to organized in the streets and find themselves being deplatformed from online spaces that initially helped them amplify their messages.”

It is important to note that Trump does little or nothing to discourage the populous base that is so important to his power, and avoids criticizing the far right generally. He saves his venom for protest movements on the left.

The Conservative (plutocratic) dilemma

Hacker and Pierson refer to Daniel Ziblatt’s concept “the conservative dilemma,” which means: “To participate in democratic politics, conservative politicians had to get and maintain voters’ backing even as their elite allies sought, in Ziblatt’s words, ‘to preserve their world, their interests and power” (p. 21). However, the Republican Party, Trump and their corporate allies and benefactors are faced with a political dilemma. Their economic and regulatory policies that favor the powerful and rich alienate and/or do harm to the majority of the electorate. Trump’s handling of the pandemic and resultant economic disruptions makes the challenge of prioritizing the interests of  plutocracy even greater than before.

To retain power, Trump, the Republican Party and their power and rich allies must not only find ways to keep both the corporate and populist wings of the coalition together and politically engaged, but also, even then, to find ways to win elections with less than a majority of the votes. Plutocratic populism brings together two forces that share little in common except their distrust of democracy and their investment in the GOP. Plutocrats fear democracy because they see it as imperiling their economic standing and narrowly defined priorities. Right-wing populists fear democracy because they see it as imperiling their electoral standing and their narrowly defined community” (p. 12).

There are two keys to their possible success. One, they need to hold onto the “populous” electoral base. Two, they need to suppress the vote of those, representing a majority of the electorate, who are opposed to the policies of Trump and the Republican Party. Given how states have been gerrymandered by Republican Parties, Trump could lose the popular vote, as he did in 2016, and still win in the Electoral College.

If in November the right-wing alliance is successful, they will likely only win if they succeed in suppressing or discouraging democratic party supporters from voting or, as in 2016, winning in the un-democratic Electoral College. If that should happen, Trump and the Republican Party will little or no interest in seriously addressing the major crises besetting society.

The populous base

The third part of the right-wing plutocratic-populous alliance is the multifaceted “populous” base, comprising perhaps 60 million voters, or about 40 percent of those intending to vote in November 2020. Hacker and Pierson emphasize that “America’s version of right-wing populism began to surface well before Trump – in fact, well before the financial crisis.” The appeals for the populous base are in many cases “racially tinged, involve strong identities and strong emotions… that draw a sharp line between ‘us’ and “them” (p. 22) and are ‘best suited to single-issue groups, cultural institutions such as churches, and certain kinds of media” (p. 23).

The power of the president and the Republican party hinges on an electoral base of support as well as support for their plutocratic agenda. Hence, support has been garnered over time from a variety of right-wing groups, including, those who want unlimited gun ownership, evangelical groups that favor the end of reproductive rights for women and an end to the separation of religion and the state, groups that want a virtual end to most or all categories of immigration, groups that want to preserve white supremacy and reject as myth the racist and discriminatory history that is so central to the dark side of American history. Trump has a friendly relationship with far-right, sometimes armed, groups support the reopening of the economy, who demonstrate for white supremacists’ values or a reactionary concept of “freedom.” But beyond the particular interests, Trump is also viewed by these supporters as having the ability to transform the government in a way that will make “America Great Again,” put an end to the intrusion of government bureaucrats in their lives, and protect their communities from a secular culture.

Fundamentalist evangelicals see support in the plutocracy for their opposition to women’s reproductive rights and to LBGTQ interests and want the plutocrats to select “conservative” judges to the Supreme Court and federal judiciary that favor “the traditional family” and support for white Christian institutions. The National Rifle Association likes the plutocrat’s opposition to any meaningful gun regulation. Among other – or most – right-wing populists, the anti-immigration policies of Trump and his administration are strongly supported. Cutting across such issues is the desire of the right-wing populous base to maintain their “superior” white status at a time when demographic changes threaten their majority position in society. Hacker and Pierson say that “the racism-focused narrative takes various forms.

“Some emphasize contemporary forces: the incessant race-baiting of Donald Trump; white backlash against the nation’s first black president; the anxiety generated by the ongoing shift toward a ‘majority-minority’ nation. Others emphasize the deeper historical roots of white identity. Yet all these accounts suggest that race is the cleavage that defines American politics.” They also emphasize, too, that this cleavage reflects “deep psychological attachments that are easily triggered and highly resistant to change. In this respect, they present a ‘bottom-up’ perspective, emphasizing the underlying resistance of key parts of the white electorate to the shifts in status and power that demographic change entails” (p. 9).

There is a certain antagonism in the right-wing populous base toward government, not because of its economic policies, but because of policies that constrain their non-economic “rights” and/or reduce the advantages of their “whiteness.” There are a host of organizations that represent the various segments of the right-wing populous base and they are major players in educating, mobilizing, and engaging voters in the base to support the Republican Party. On this point, Hacker and Pierson write: “As the GOP embraced plutocratic priorities, it pioneered a set of electoral appeals that were increasingly strident, alarmist, and anti-government extremism, the party outsourced voter mobilization to a set of aggressive and narrow groups: the National Rifle Association, the organized Christian right, the burgeoning industry of right-wing media.

According to Hacker and Pierson, Trump is “a consequence and recent enabler of the GOP’s long, steady march to the right” (Let Them Eat Tweets: How the Right Rules in an Age of Extreme Inequality, p. 7). The policies of the Republican Party have been unabashedly plutocratic since the election in 1980 of Ronald Reagan. That is, their principal political commitments are to consolidate and advance the interests of the mega-corporations and the business community generally and the rich, especially the super-rich. Most of the rich are connected to the corporations as executive officers or as consultants, or they have investments in corporations of one kind or another. In addition to making tax cuts the centerpiece of their agenda, they have retained their power by loosening regulations and pursuing full-blown deregulation in the economy, by supporting expenditures that benefit the military arms makers, by subsidizing industries and corporations the support the party, by filling policy-making positions in the administration with wealthy corporate backers and executives, by ignoring anti-trust laws, and by reducing funding for programs that benefit or potentially benefit a growing majority of Americans (p. 3).

Examples of the right-wing base

Rural America has been, by and large, for Trump and the Republicans

Robert Wuthnow, professor of social sciences at Princeton University, has studied rural communities in America, one of Trump’s sources of support. He and his assistants have visited hundreds of these communities, “studied their histories, and collected information about them from surveys, election results, exit polls, censuses business statistics, and municipal records” (The Left Behind: Decline and Rage in Small-Town America, p. 3). He points out that “30 million Americans live in small towns with populations of fewer than 25,000 residents.” The US Census tallies 44 to 50 million people in what it labels “rural communities.” Exit polls in the 2016 election “showed that 62 percent of the rural vote went to Donald Trump” (p. 1).

Wuthnow finds that the “moral outrage of rural America is at the basis of support for Trump – and involves a mixture of fear and anger. The fear is that small-town ways of life are disappearing. The anger that they are under siege. The outrage cannot be understood apart from the loyalties that rural Americas feel toward their communities” (p.6). They are concerned about declining populations, school closings, businesses leaving, and jobs disappearing. But it is more importantly about cultural issues. They are angry about government bureaucrats who promote diversity, about “moral decline” reflected in the bank bailouts, the sexual promiscuity available on the Internet, the prevalence of crude language on television, about their opposition to reproductive and LBGTQ rights and immigration. Withal, they will vote for Trump again because they like his patriotic slogans, his militaristic foreign policy, his denigration of the media and liberal elites, his anti-immigrant policies, his Christian/evangelical connections, and the misperception of him as a political outsider. It remains to be seen whether the COVID-19 pandemic, now increasingly affecting rural communities, will change their minds about Trump.

Reactionary Populism gains new life under Trump

Along with all the rest, Trump and the right-wing political forces supporting him have gained strength from the growth of a reactionary populism since the 1990s, including “local militias, Christian fundamentalists, and the Tea Party among them.” Carl Boggs, professor of social sciences at National University in Los Angeles, points to how Trump benefited, as 35 percent of his presidential vote come from evangelical constituencies (Fascism Old and New: American Politics at the Crossroads, pp. 12-13). His presidency has “apparently lent new legitimacy to the evangelical movement, especially the selection of Mike Pence as vice-president and Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. As American society moves ever rightward,” Boggs writes, “evangelicals have grown in numbers, organizations, media presence, and general influence. They work indefatigably through state legislatures, PACs, think tanks, conferences, and medical outlets to carry out ‘God’s work, hoping to Christianize secular institutions, beginning with education, bringing ‘family values’ and patriotism to the forefront.” Boggs thinks that they “could help to solidify a social bloc behind fascistic tendencies….” (p. 13).

Historian Kathleen Belew documents the growth of another source of Trump’s “popular” appeal in the American white power movement in her book, Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America. Here is some of what she found.

“While white power featured a diversity of views and an array of competing leaders, all corners of the movement were inspired by feelings of defeat, emasculation, and betrayal after the Vietnam War and by social and economic changes that seemed to threaten and victimize white men. White power also qualifies as a movement through its central features: the contiguous activity of an inner circle of key figures over two decades, frequent public displays, and development of a wide-reaching social network.

“White power activists used a shared repertoire of actions to assert collectivity. Public displays of uniformed activists chanting slogans and marching in formation aimed to demonstrate worthiness, unity, numbers, and commitment to both members and observers. Activists encouraged dress codes and rules about comportment and featured the presence of mothers with children, Vietnam veterans, and active-duty military personnel. Members showed unity by donning uniforms and by marching and chanting in formation. They made claims about their numbers. They underscored their commitment with pledges to die rather than abandon the fight; preparing to risk their lives for white power; and undertaking acts that put them at legal and physical risk. A regular circulation of people, weapons, funds, images, and rhetoric – as well as intermarriages and other social relationships – bound activists together” (pp. 10-11).

And they thrive.

“The state and public opinion have failed to sufficiently halt white power violence or refute white power belief systems, and failed to present a vision of the future that might address some of their concerns that lie behind the more diffuse, coded, and mainstream manifestations” (p. 239).

The white power movement, ultra-nationalistic, racist, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, armed, opposed to progressive values and ideas, poses no threat to the power elite. They represent the potential street fighters against those who criticize the existing power structure from progressive and leftist points of view.

Staying in power undemocratically?

The Trump/Republican strategy

Faced with the prospect that a majority of voters will vote for Joe Biden and the Democratic ticket in the November election, Trump, the Republicans, and their allies are pouring money into the president’s campaign, organizing a massive mobilization of their base, spreading disinformation and attacking their Democratic opponents on right-wing media, expecting Republicans running for the US Congress to win in their gerrymandered states, and escalating their efforts to suppress the vote, not the least of which is to subvert the option of mail-in voting by withdrawing resources from an already strapped US Postal Service.

Trump and the plutocratic alliance cannot stay in power and win the elections in November unless they have the support of the “populous” base and unless they can limit the votes of those supporting the Democratic Party, that is, rigging the elections. Much of the corporate community and the populous base appear to be unyielding in their support of Trump and the Republicans. Therefore, the Republican Party has over the years devoted time and vast resources at the state level to gerrymandering congressional districts and to suppressing the Democratic vote, through purges of the voting rolls, limiting early voting, requiring voter IDs that many potential voters don’t have, limiting the number of polling places, changing the location of polling places, sending out false information about when and where to vote, hiring poll watchers to intimidate voters, making it illegal or difficult for those with felony records to vote, discarding some ballots. Additionally, Trump has being doing his utmost to subvert the voting-by-mail option during this pandemic by reducing the resources of the US Postal Service.

The prospects of the Democrats

Despite these un-democratic obstacles, Joe Biden has a lead over Trump in the polls. Kamala Harris brings diversity and a strong black woman to the ticket. The two major wings of the Democratic Party, the moderates and the progressives, have seemingly united in their goal of defeating Trump. E. J. Dionne’s book, Code Red: How Progressives and Moderates Can Unite to Save Our Country, analyzes how they can be facilitated. The Democrats are running strong candidates for the Senate that give them a chance of winning control of it. The party is well funded. Large numbers of people have already been organized around state and local Democratic parties and around progressive movements like Blacks Lives Matter. There are major voter registration drives. Trump’s efforts to subvert the US Postal Service are being contested in the courts and challenged by Democrats in the US Congress.

There are many proposals that now and in the future identify and challenge the voter-suppression tactics of the Trump-plutocratic-populous alliance. At the end of his book, How Trump Stole 2020, renown investigative journalist Greg Palast ten goals for making the voting process fair and inclusive: no more purges; no more push-and-pray [paperless voting] machines; no registration, or second best, make same day registration universal; no ID requirement; make early voting a right; no gerrymandering of polling stations; restore and expand the Voting Rights Act; enforce Section 2A of the 14the Amendment [Equal Protection Clause]; ban required proof of citizenship to vote; let voter intent rule [when counting ballots]; mail-in voting; end open primaries; imprison fraudulent voters; hack-free elections [ban elected partisans from the office of Secretary of State and from election boards].

In his new book, Downfall: The Demise of a President and His Party, political scientist Andrew Hacker is optimist about the prospects of the Democrats. He writes: “This November’s ballots will show how the nation assesses the president’s postures on economics and immigration, the state of the planet and social policy, and his hostility to alliances and interventions abroad. His rallies vouch [or did vouch] that his stalwarts are still on his side. November will hear from less boisterous Americans.” Still: “All told, the Republicans’ candidates have placed second in six of the last seven presidential races Indeed, the most recent year that their choice won in 2004, when George W. Bush attained a second term. (Two years later, he completely lost the House and the Senate.) In politics, a lot is possible. Two upsets were Harry Truman reelection and Donald Trump’s bombshell four years ago. The prime reason for the latter was so many Democrats stayed home. If 2018 signaled anything, it was their remorse. They showed up for those midterms in numbers only matched back in 1932. This November, they’ll be out in force again, no matter who their party nominees. Indeed, the margins will be so high that even an Electoral College end-run won’t work. Every indicator in this book shows…that there aren’t enough Americans two give Donald John Trump a second term” (p. 176). Here’s a sample of why Hacker is optimist about the prospects of Democrats in November.

“To win again, Donald Trump will have to add to the 62,692,411 total he attained in 2016. The reason is that this time, any Democrat will finish with considerably more than Hillary Clinton’s 65,666,168. Up upward 70 million is not implausible. This add-on will obviate an Electoral College debacle. The president’s difficulty is his combined unwillingness and incapacity to appeal to citizens outside his immediate orbit.”

“Gauged by Republican votes in 2018’s House races, his following was down to 50,467,181. Earlier chapters, on midterms and special elections, showed that large numbers of his 2016 supporters were staying home. In 2020, he will need to bring out at least every single one of the 12,225,230 who skipped 2018.

“That said, his challenge will be finding additional supporters. It strains the mind to wonder where they might come from. Unlike other presidents, Trump has no sought to construe his constituency as nationwide.” Rather he fires up his base through Twitter – “by casting his opponents in the grossest of terms” (pp. 174-175).

Trump may try to disregard or postpone the election

However strong and successful the Democratic electoral efforts, there is a dark shadow that threatens our democracy. Trump has said that he may stay in office regardless of the will of the majority. If many mail-in votes have not been counted on election day and if the final tally may take some days or weeks to be completed, Trump may assert that this means that the election process is broken and, to avoid chaos, he must remain in power until there is some solution. He may declare that the election is rigged and decided with fraudulent mail-in ballots.

Even if the tally of votes is completed efficiently, he may still declare that many of the ballots are fraudulent and that the election is rigged against him, using such claims as a justification for remaining in the White House. Then there is recourse for him to declare a national emergency. He and his administration could precipitate a war with, say, Iran, and postpone or call off the election. He could do the same if there was a major terrorist attack in the US, or if a combination of the pandemic and a down economy required, in his estimation, necessitated an authoritarian response. The main point is that we can’t trust Trump not to find a way to stay in office even if he loses the election or is about to lose it.

Concluding thoughts.

Trump and the plutocratic-populous alliance pose an unprecedented challenge to US democracy. Trump has a chance of winning the 2020 election with a minority of the electorate, though the Democrats appear unified and strong in their goal of unseating him. It all hinges on some unknowns. Electorally, it depends on whether the Democrats can overcome the voter suppression tactics of the Trump and his right-wing allies and bring a huge number of their supporters to the polls. It is unlikely that the Democrats have much hope of taking votes from the right’s populous base. An electoral victory by Trump and the plutocratic-populous alliance would mean a further evisceration of American democracy and perhaps, in the worst case, the onset of a authoritarian, if not a fascist, administration and social-political order?

Faced with the prospect that a majority of voters will vote for Joe Biden and the Democratic ticket in the November election, Trump, the Republicans, and their allies are pouring money into the president’s campaign, organizing a massive mobilization of their base, spreading disinformation and attacking their Democratic opponents on right-wing media, expecting Republicans running for the US Congress to win in their gerrymandered states, and escalating their efforts to suppress the vote, not the least of which is to subvert the option of mail-in voting by withdrawing resources from an already strapped US Postal Service. 

Nonetheless, the Biden/Harris ticket has a chance of winning the election if not being subverted. It is likely they will do so without the support of the corporate/rich wings of the plutocracy. In such a likely eventuality, this could make it challenging for a Democratic administration, even with majorities in the House and Senate (where the filibuster may be misused], to raise taxes on the corporate and the rich, to support meaningful regulations, or gain the support in Congress for a sustainable energy alternative while phasing out fossil fuels, or expand the Affordable Health Care Act, or attempting to increase funding for education, housing, social justice, science and research, public health, and other programs that are essential to the well-being and fairness of the American people.

Would the mega-corporations and the rich go along with such policies, or would they – could they – use their vast power to stifle such action? In other words, what are the limits of reform in our corporate-dominated, neo-liberal-oriented capitalist system, in which there are deep partisan divisions in the population? But then these are unprecedented times. What difference does it make, for example, that there are growing existential crises (e.g., the climate crisis) that threaten to steadily destroy the ecosystem and any semblance of “civilization” as we have known it? Check out Ian Angus’s book, facing the anthropocene: fossil capitalism and the crisis of the earth system, for documentation of the accelerating and increasingly cataclysmic climate crisis. Will greed and a flight from reality take precedence over survival or will we as a society find the will and imagination to surmount these dark times?

The nuclear bailout scam in Ohio diverts attention and resources from the need to build a sustainable energy system

Bob Sheak, August 3, 2020

A devious, criminal plan to bailout two uncompetitive nuclear plants at the expense of taxpayers

On July 22, 2020, the public learned that federal agents had arrested one of the most powerful officials in Ohio state government, Larry Householder the Republican House speaker, along with a former state Republican Party chairman and three other people, with other charges pending. They were said to be involved in what is described as a $60 million scheme to bail out a foundering energy company, Energy Harbor, formerly First Energy Solutions. The federal criminal complaint appears to focus on the former parent corporation, First Energy Corp, or, in the affidavit, “Company A.” The specific “offense” is “Conspiracy to Participate, Directly or Indirectly, in the Conduct of an Enterprise’s Affairs through a Pattern of Racketeering Activity.” Racketeering includes:

“(A) [A]ny act or threat involving…bribery[,]…which is chargeable under State law and punishable by imprisonment for more than one year; (B) any act which is indictable under…title 18, United States Code: …section 1343 (relating to wire fraud)…section 1951 (relating to interference with commerce, robbery or extortion), section1952 (relating to racketeering)….section 1956 (relating to engaging in monetary instruments), section 1957 (relating to engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specified unlawful activity)…”

First Energy is “a public utility holding company for its subsidiaries.” As such, it “directs and controls the various subsidiary entities” under its control. Over a three-year period, from March 2017 to March 2020, the company is alleged to have channeled $60,866,835.86 in secret payments directly to a 501(c) 4 entity, called Generation Now, a dark-money entity controlled by Larry householder. On February 6, 2017 or thereabouts, Generation Now was “registered with the IRS as a 501(c) 4, which is an IRS designation for a tax-exempt, social welfare organization,” in which the names and addresses of contributors are secret. This money and money from other corporations and entities was used to support efforts by Householder and his co-conspirators to develop and implement a scheme to have taxpayers pay higher utility rates to keep two aging, noncompetitive, and unprofitable Ohio nuclear power plants, Besse-Davis and Perry from being shut down. The two plants were under the management of  First Energy Solutions, a subsidiary of First Energy. The subsidiary filed for bankruptcy in 2018 and was divested from Company A in February 2020 and in the process changed its name to Energy Harbor.

Giulia McDonnell Nieto Del Rio quotes David M. Devillers, the FBI attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, who at a news conference on July 22 characterized the conspiracy as  “likely the largest bribery, money-laundering scheme ever perpetrated against the people of the state of Ohio” (https://nytimes.com/2020/07/21/us/larry-householder-ohio-speaker-arrested.html). The 82-page “criminal complaint”was brought against “Larry Householder, Jeffrey Longstreth, Neil Clark, Matthew Borges, Juan Cespedes, and Generation Now,” the principal conduit for the money.

According to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, “In the politics of the United Statesdark money refers to political spending by nonprofit organizations — for example, 501(c)(4) (social welfare) 501(c)(5) (unions) and 501(c)(6) (trade association) groups — that are not required to disclose their donors.[3][4] Such organizations can receive unlimited donations from corporations, individuals and unions. In this way, their donors can spend funds to influence elections, without voters knowing where the money came from.”

Mark Kovac, Randy Ludlow, and Rick Rouan report that “Householder, 61, R-Glenford, is charged by the FBI in an alleged racketeering conspiracy [and the others] involved in the funneling of energy company funds through Generation Now, a dark money group formed by a longtime associate. Additionally: “Some of the proceeds allegedly were used to back the campaigns of legislative candidates supportive of Householder’s run for speaker and to personally enrich Householder.” If Householder is eventually found to be guilty, “The felony carries a potential sentence of up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine” (https://dispatch.com/news/20200721/ohio-house-speaker-larry-householder-arrested-in-60-million-bribery-case).

Nieto del Rio reports “Energy Harbor [First Energy?] the source of the $60 million, said in a statement on Tuesday [July 22] that it had received subpoenas ‘in connection with the investigation surrounding Ohio House Bill 6,’ and intended to cooperate with investigators” but had not been charged with any crime (https://nytimes.com/2020/07/21/us/larry-householder-ohio-speaker-arrested.html).

The heart of the conspiracy

There were two key groups involved in the conspiracy.  One, the “foundering energy” company is Energy Harbor [was known as First Energy Solutions] And, two, Larry Householder and his co-conspirators. The goal around which the two became linked was how to get the public and the Ohio legislature to support a $1 billion dollar bailout ($1.3 billion) for First Energy Solutions’ two aging, accident-prone, uncompetitive nuclear power plants. Larry Householder came to be identified by the company as the crucial link in this process. The money from Company A was funneled directly and through various intermediary entities to advance Householder’s political career, help him become Speaker of the House, influence with bribes some 20 or so members of  the Ohio House of Representatives to vote for the bailout bill, mislead the Ohio public on why they should support a bailout of First Energy Solutions nuclear power plants, and then later to use various media and hired “blockers” to stymie and ultimately destroy the opposition’s efforts to repeal HB6 through an initiative ballot.

The dark money

While Householder and his co-conspirators have been charged with criminal conduct, First Energy has not, even though, according to Nieto del Rio and many others, it is the source of the over $60 million that was funneled through the dark money group, Generation Now, to support the efforts of Householder and his co-conspirators to pass bailout legislation and then later to defeat a 2019 referendum to repeal the bailout law. The money was, Nieto del Rio writes, “not regulated, not reported, not subject to public scrutiny.”  (https://nytimes.com/2020/07/21/us/larry-householder-ohio-speaker-arrested.html).

Del Rio quotes Dave Anderson, the policy and communications manger for the Energy and Policy Institute, a nonprofit organization that supports clean energy. Anderson said that “FirstEnergy Solutions (now Energy Harbor) needed Mr. Householder’s help because its coal and nuclear plants could not generate electricity cheaply enough to compete with newer and cleaner forms of energy. The bailout legislation, House Bill 6, helped support two of the company’s nuclear plants and several coal plants.” Then, “once he was elected, he made passing this bill a top priority of his.”

Dark money flowed from other sources to support Householder’s quest for the bailout legislation

There were other corporate-connected groups that also contributed money to support the passage of HB6, mostly through dark money conduits. Here are two examples.

Randy Ludlow links American Electric Power to the bailout efforts (https://dispatch.com/news/20200725/columbus-utlity-giant-aep-funded-dark-money-spending-in-hb-6-campaign).

He refers to an investigation by the Columbus Dispatch  that “a dark-money group wholly funded by House Bill 6 beneficiary and Columbus utility giant American Electric Power contributed $350,000 toward the campaigns now at the center of a racketeering and bribery case that ensnared House Speaker Larry Householder.” Ludlow continues: “Empowering Ohio’s Economy Inc., a nonprofit operated solely with AEP funds, gave $150,000 to Generation Now, another dark-money group that received $60 million from First Energy-related interests to ensure passage and survival of a $1 billion ratepayer bailout of a subsidiary’s pair of nuclear power plants.” [And] “Empowering Ohio, AEP’s super-Pac and the conduit for “dark money” also gave $200,000 to the Coalition for Opportunity & Growth. The FBI’s “criminal complaint” refers to “spending of $350,000 by an unidentified ‘interest group that was funded exclusively by $13 million from another energy company that supported HB 6.’” Ludlow information comes from a “source close to the investigation… that the energy company is American Electric Power, a publicly traded company that serves 5.5 million customers in 11 states.”

Jackie Borchardt and Randy Ludlow report additionally on the involvement of Ohio coal giant Murray Energy Corp, now bankrupt, which channeled “$100,000in ‘dark money’ involved in the alleged racketeering and bribery scheme that ensnared former House Speaker Larry Householder and four others.” The dark money group, Hardworking Ohioans Inc., “spent nearly $1.5 million to support Householder’s Republican candidates in the 2018 general election” (https://dispatch.com/20200731/ohio-coal-giant-murray-energy-is-100k-dark-money-donor-rsquocompay-brsquo-in-federal-probe).

Ultimately, the efforts by the conspirators were successful, as HB6 was passed the Republican-dominated house on May 29, 2019, a month and a half later the Senate passed the bill with amendments, then the House approved this version of the bill on July 23, 2019. Governor DeWine signed it on the same day. A campaign to overturn the legislation began immediately but was defeated by an onslaught of dark money financed activities by October 21, 2019.

Nuclear plants as a financial albatross on the corporate owners

FirstEnergy Solutions was a subsidiary of FirstEnergy Corp. until the spring of 2018. All along, FirstEnergy Solutions (FES), which operates generating facilities in several states, had the responsibility of operating the two nuclear plants and a coal plant in Ohio. During this time, FirstEnergy Corp. and FES agreed to a “restructuring” plan to have FES become an independent company and to cut all ties with each other. At the same time,  FES, already highly indebted, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on  March 31, 2018 (https://www.utilitydive.com/news/firstenergy-solutions-files-for-bankruptcy-after-pushing-for-doe-energy/520371; and “on March 28, 2018, FES filed notice with PJM Interconnection LLC (PJM), the regional transmission organization, that the three nuclear facilities [two in Ohio and another one in Pennsylvania] would be deactivated or sold during the next three years. In the meantime, the company assured its customers that “all of the plants will continue current operations” (https://www.fes.com/content/fes/home/restructuring.html).

The coincidence of the restructuring plan and the bankruptcy proceeding reflects the interests of FirstEnergy Corp. It seem obvious that FirstEnergy wanted to get rid of this subsidiary, because it was not only unprofitable and encumbered with large debt but had little prospect of becoming competitive.

Anya Litvak offers some support for this analysis in an article published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (https://wwww.post-gazette.com/business/powersource/2019/03/19/Who-s-afraid-of-FirstEnergy-Solutions-restructuring-plan-Every-government-agency-that-has-seen-it/stories/201903180113). According to Litvak, the restructuring plan cuts “virtually all ties between First Energy and FirstEnergy solutions, freeing the former “from any liability going forward.” Litvak notes that “FirstEnergy Corp. has been trying to separate from its unprofitable, non-utility power generating division for several years, after low natural gas prices, slow economic growth and other factors conspired to push older coal and nuclear plants out of the money.” There are creditors and government regulators that had to be satisfied with the creation of this new company. But the restructuring plan went ahead. As part of the deal, FirstEnergy agreed to transfer “about $1 billion in value” to FirstEnergy Solutions and “waive any claims against it,” or about “$2.1 billion in claims (https://www.cleveland.com/politics/2019/04/firstenergy-solutions-banruptcy-plan-rejected-by-federal-judge.html). And to sweeten the restructuring plan for FirstEnergy Corp, the company was given “absolution for potential crimes of the past.”

According to Litvak’s investigation, regulators were “shut out of the process.” Government agency officials complained that FirstEnergy provided no information “about the extent of environmental contamination at the sites and that the restructuring plan was “so vague about what rights creditors are forfeiting…they can’t even make a decision whether it’s a reasonable trade.” FirstEnergy Corp apparently will go to great lengths to remove FES from its corporation.

Prior to the bailout in 2019, First Energy Solutions was saddled, as it is now, with two aging, accident-prone, uncompetitive nuclear plants in Ohio. It had been losing markets to lower-cost natural gas, much of it from environmentally-destructive hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. The only way that it could stay in business and avoid closing the nuclear power plants was by getting substantial financial support from the Ohio taxpayers. A plan unfolded as to how to influence the Republican-dominated state legislature to support a billion-dollar bailout of the company and we are now learning that Larry Householder was a crucial player in bringing the bailout plan to fruition..

 The nuclear plants in Ohio

 The Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Plant is one of these plants. Journalist Sandy Mitchell writes that Davis-Besse “is located on 954-acre site 10 miles north of Oak Harbor, Ohio, and 21 miles east of Toledo (https://www.tripsavvy.com/ohio-nuclear-power-plants-753093). The plant opened in 1978, making it the first in Ohio and the 57th commercial nuclear power plant in the United States. It was originally co-owned by Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company and Toledo Edison and is named for the chairmen of both companies, John K. Davis and Ralph M. Besse.”. Subsequently, First Energy Corp became the owner. Mitchell adds, “Davis-Besse is [has] a pressurized water reactor and produces 40 percent of the electricity used in northwestern Ohio” [and] “The plant contributes over $10 million a year in local and state taxes. Its original 40-year license to operate ran from 1977 until 2017 and then was extended by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for another 20 years to 2037, despite its record of accidents and the unsolved, ever-growing nuclear waste problem.

Gar Smith, author of Nuclear Roulette: The Truth About the Most Dangerous Energy Source on Earth (published 2012),writes that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission recognized “Davis-Besse as one of the most dangerous reactors in the United States and that “Between 1969 and 2005 this single plant experienced six out of the 34 reported ‘significant accident sequence precursors’ – triple the rate reported at any other U.S. nuclear plant” (p. 147). There have been at least another six accidents at the Davis-Besse plant since 2005, according to Sandy Mitchell investigation ((https://www.tripsavvy.com/ohio-nuclear-power-plants-75309). Wikipedia has a summary of information on the “Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station,” including the following notorious example.

“On March 5, 2002, maintenance workers discovered that corrosion had eaten a football-sized hole into the reactor vessel head of the Davis–Besse plant. Although the corrosion did not lead to an accident, this was considered to be a serious nuclear safety incident.[2][3] The Nuclear Regulatory Commission kept Davis–Besse shut down until March 2004, so that FirstEnergy was able to perform all the necessary maintenance for safe operations. The NRC imposed its largest fine ever—more than $5 million—against FirstEnergy for the actions that led to the corrosion. The company paid an additional $28 million in fines under a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice.[2] (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Davis%E2%80%93Besse_Nuclear_Power_Stations).”

You can see further details on this near-catastrophic event in Helen Calicott’s book, Nuclear Power is Not the Answer (pages 81-83), or in James Mahaffey’s Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters: From the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima (pp. 337-341).

The other FirstEnergy Solutions’ nuclear power plant is “The Perry Nuclear Power Plant.” It is notable because it has one of the largest “boiling water reactors in the U.S.” The Perry plant “sits on 1100 acres in North Perry, Ohio, about 40 miles northeast of Cleveland.” When the plant opened in 1987, it “was the 100th power reactor to be built in the US.” While there have been accidents at Perry and while it is unprofitable and in debt, and while the NRC has included it in a list of “27 reactors most at risk from earthquakes” (Gar Smith, p. 79).

 The proponents’ justifications for the bailout

How do they justify the bailout? John Seewar reports on April 20, 2019 for U.S. News and World Report” on the views of Dave Griffing, vice president of government affairs for FirstEnergy Solutions (https://www.usanews.com/news/best-states/ohio/articles/2019-04-20/nuclear-operator-closing-plants-would-be-felt-around-ohio).

Griffings says the company needs HB6 to be passed to make the electricity generation playing field equal, because solar and wind sources of non-polluting electricity get energy efficiency and renewable energy incentives while nuclear plants don’t. HB6 will help to make up for this past inequity, Griffing is arguing. Note that Republicans have been trying to undermine the renewable incentives since they were introduced. Griffing claims that there have been upgrades at the nuclear plants that “now allow them to operate more efficiently,” implying they are now competitive in the electricity marketplace. The company does not provide any evidence of what the “upgrades” are or that any of its policies have improved its competitiveness. Griffing strongest arguments are based on what the state will lose if the nuclear plants are shut down. Tax revenues will be lost in the communities where the plants are located, affecting “schools, safety services and programs for children and seniors.”1,400 workers plus suppliers and contractors will be thrown out of work, though Seewar notes there are no job guarantees in HB6. And he contends that electricity rates will go up as supply from the plants vanishes and utilities are forced to import electricity from other states. And, as we’ll see, HB 6 does little to strengthen the wind and solar sectors of the Ohio economy.

Thomas Suddes adds to this discussion in an article headlined “Politics, not dirty-air concerns, drive Ohio House GOP’s Green New Deal” (https://www.dispatch.com/opinion/20190421/column-politics-not-dirty-air-concerns-drive-ohio-house-gops-green-new-deal).

While it is dubbed a “clean-air plan” that will be “a fair deal for homeowners and renters” who pay FirstEnergy Solutions for electricity, the passage of HB 6 carries a heavy price and in significant ways is just the opposite of a “clean air” bill. The company had no remedy for the nuclear waste accumulating at the two nuclear plants. Clean air credits (cash) would go to any “Ohio electricity producer (whether generating with nuclear fuel, natural gas, coal, wind or the sun) if its plant, or plants, emit no or reduced amounts of carbon dioxide).” But, as already pointed out, coal and natural gas power plants are the biggest emitters of carbon dioxide. It threatened to cancel the $4.39 monthly renewable-energy and electricity demand charges designed to encourage the development of solar and wind power generation. And the proponents of HB6 warned that if the two Ohio nuclear plants are closed, as FirstEnergy Solutions threatens to do, then 4,000-plus jobs will be directly and indirectly lost, many of them union jobs. Suddes suggests this is a bit hypocritical, pointing out that Republican legislators have not shown “the same degree of urgency for Ohioans in Trumbull (Warren) and Mahoning (Youngstown) counties thrown out of work thanks to General Motors’ Lordstown shutdown. (FYI, total 2018 compensation of Mary T. Barra, General Motors’ board chair and CEO, was $21,870,450.)” When all is said and done, this is a partisan bill that will benefit some Republican contributors.

According to a report by Jim Siegel and Mark Williams, Supporters of the bill highlight that the plants generate about 90% of the state’s carbon dioxide-free power and support about 4,000 workers directly and indirectly, while the plants’ taxes are important to local communities and schools. About 15% of the state’s electricity production comes from nuclear sources, according to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. FirstEnergy Solutions warns that electric bills will go up if the plants close. PJM, which coordinates the wholesale movement of electricity in 13 states, says closing the plants is not expected to hurt electricity reliability in the region. However, closures would require the state to import more power generated elsewhere” and thus be vulnerable to market fluctuations (https://www.disptach.com/news/20190506/what-you-need-to-know-about-ohio-houses-energy-bill).

Enter Larry Householder, et al

Drawing on the 82-page FBI complaint and their own reporting, Mark Kovac, Randy Ludlow, and Rick Rouan provide details on this aspect of the charges brought by the FBI against Householder and four co-conspirators (https://dispatch.com/news/20200721/ohio-house-speaker-larry-householder-arrested-in-60-million-bribery-case). “Redacted court documents unsealed Tuesday afternoon [July 22] did not specifically name energy companies involved, though they noted that “Company A entities [Energy Harbor] paid Householder’s enterprise $60,886,835.86 in secret payments over the approximately three-year period in exchange for the billion-dollar-bailout. The enterprise, widely believed to be Generation Now, concealed the payments … to receive the bribe money and then transferring the payments internally to a web of related entities and accounts.” The nefarious activities occurred “from March 2017 through earlier this year.” No one from the company has yet been charged with involvement in the conspiracy.

On July 22, Householder and four of his co-conspirators were arrested and charged with a criminal conspiracy. The co-conspirators include “Matthew Borges, 48, of Bexley, the former chairman of the Ohio Republican Party and a lobbyist…. Jeffrey Longstreth, 44, of Columbus, a longtime campaign and political strategist for Householder,” Juan Cespedes, a lobbyist also close to Mr. Householder; and Neil Clark, a lobbyist. Householder and Clark were arrested at their homes. “It is unclear, Kovac et. al. write, “where the arrests of Longstreth and Cespedes took place.” After being charged, they were “released from custody… with travel restrictions and prohibitions on contact with others involved in the case.” More arrests are expected.

Householder, the kingpin and dark money

“Householder, 61, R-Glenford, is charged by the FBI in an alleged racketeering conspiracy involving the funneling of energy company funds through Generation Now, a dark money group formed by a longtime associate.” According to the Columbus Dispatch journalists, Generation Now, a so-called social welfare entity, was incorporated by Longstreth in early 2017, but federal officials say they have a recording that shows it secretly was controlled by Householder. Federal officials have a recorded conversation of Clark saying ‘Generation Now is the Speaker’s….’” According to the reporting, “JPL & Associates, a Columbus political consulting firm, was listed as president of Generation Now.” “Jeff Longstreth, a principal in the firm.” As a social welfare entity, Generation Now did not have to disclose its donors.

How the money was spent

The FBI’s 82-page affidavit goes into great detail describing how First Energy funneled tens of millions of dollars to Generation Now, how Generation Now was controlled by Household and operated by his co-conspirators, how they in turn sent out money to a host of dark-money entities as well as to Householder and the other defendants, all with the goal of supporting the bailout legislation and then, later, defeating the opposition that emerged after HB6 was signed into law.

“Some of the proceeds allegedly were used to back the campaigns of 21 candidates for state office in the 2018 and 2019 primary and general elections, including Householder’s earlier  run for a legislative spot and then for Speaker of the House. Nieta del Rio notes that “the energy company helped finance the election of the House speaker, Larry Householder, in 2018.” Nieto del Rio points out that all but one of the 21 candidates, most of whom won their races, “would eventually support Householder’s election as Speaker.” Randy Ludlow reports that the FBI’s criminal complaint found that “First Energy, whose subsidiary [First Energy Solutions] owned the two facilities [the two nuclear plants], “had wired $9.5 million to Generation Now, a nonprofit authorities say was controlled by Householder and run by Jeff Longstreth, to pay for a media blitz and provide ‘cover’ for reluctant House members” (https://dispatch.com/news/20200730/meet-representative-3rsquo-who-benefited-from-larry-householder-cover-campaign).

“More than $1 million was spent on negative ads against those candidates’ opponents, with additional funds paying for Householder’s campaign staff, according to documents.” Householder spent some of the millions on his own personal interests, according to Nieta del Rio.

“The defendants … paid themselves personally millions of dollars in Company A bribe payments, funneled through Generation Now and other entities controlled by the enterprise.” “Householder received $400,000-plus in personal benefits, including funds to settle a personal lawsuit, to pay off credit card debt and for costs associated with his home in Florida, according to documents.”

The FBI investigation found that some of the money was spent on bribes and money laundering that “included dinners and meetings between undercover federal agents and Householder and Clark where the men made incriminating statements about illegal activity and bribes.” Some of it were spent on ads to support the bailout proposal and smear the opposition and some of it, $1.9 million, was spent on blocking a ballot initiative to overturn the legislation”….Generation Now spent “$9 million on TV ads to fight the ultimately failed referendum [initiative] seeking to repeal the bill.” None of it was spent to facilitate fair and open elections or legislative processes or reasoned arguments about what is best in the public interest.

The opposition, called “Ballot Campaign” submitted their ballot proposal language on July 29, 2019, revised it to satisfy the Ohio Attorney General on August 29, 2019, then had until October 21, 2019  to collect 265,000 signatures, all to be validated by the Ohio Secretary of State, in order to get their “referendum” on the ballot. The Householder group mobilized to defeat the ballot initiative, spending millions of dollars in dark money from Generation Now to flood the airways with television and radio ads supporting HB6, for direct mail, for billboards, for petition-signature activities, for putting pressure on lawmakers. And they were successful.

Democrats did offer an alternative to HB6: “The Ohio Clean Jobs Plan”

Kristin Boggs (D-Columbus), a member of the Ohio House Energy Generation subcommittee, provides some details on this Democratic alternative “clean energy” bill on her government website https://www.ohiohouse.gov/kristin-boggs/press/boggs-dem-lawmakers-propose-ohio-clean-energy-jobs-plan).

It differs from the Republican versions of the bill mainly by emphasizing the need to encourage and develop renewable energy companies that “protect and grow good jobs across the state, improve the health of Ohioans and avoid rate hikes on consumer utility bills.” With respect to jobs, the emphasis is on restoring the promise of “better jobs and brighter futures, and gives the next generation of Ohio workers the opportunity to lead again – in advanced, clean energy jobs that will power our state into the future.” The implication is that these jobs will be in energy sectors such as solar, wind, energy efficiency, not jobs in nuclear power plants.

The alternative clean energy plan of the subcommittee Democrats also includes a priority for non-nuclear clean energy when it calls for the establishment of  “a 50-percent renewable energy portfolio standard by 2050, fix setback requirements to encourage large-scale wind turbine investment, and require a 50 percent in-state preference for new wind and solar projects. And there’s more. The Democratic bill wants to “strengthen Ohio’s renewable and energy efficiency benchmarks and re-envisions the state’s Advanced Energy Standards (AES) to save consumers money and grow emerging sectors of Ohio’s clean energy economy.” Boggs refers to a report that “Ohioans could realize $3.5 billion in additional economic value under updated efficiency standards” [while] “Nuclear power will not save Ohioans money on their electric bills.”

The message of the Democratic alternative is muddled, because along with the strong emphasis on solar, wind, and energy efficiency,  the bill seems to include support for some sort of bailout for the nuclear plants, as suggested by the following language: “The plan would re-envision and modernize Ohio’s AES to support nuclear technology as part of the state’s energy future and create Advanced Energy Credits to maintain a 15 percent baseline generation capacity from emissions-free nuclear power.”

 Concluding thoughts

As of now, August 3, 2020, it appears that Householder and his co-conspirators will be tried and convicted of criminal activities. Governor Mike DeWine, a supporter of the bailout, wants the now tainted law to be repealed and then replaced by a similar law, in which case the nuclear plants would continue to be subsidized by Ohio taxpayers. There is a good chance that the Republican-dominated legislature will go along with the Governor’s wishes – and for the same dubious and opportunistic reasons it did the first time. It seems that the only way that the bailout can be finally ended is for Ohio citizens to vote for anti-bailout Democrats in November. But this is unlikely to prove successful, given how the Ohio political map is so gerrymandered in favor of Republicans and how Ohio is among the dubious leaders in the nation in voter suppression. The Republican legislators are on record as being supporters of the bailout.

In his new book, How Trump Stole 2020, Greg Palast writes that by mid-2020, Ohio had already purged 432,000 Ohioans from the voter rolls (p. 23). Palast refer to the Supreme Court case, Husted v. APRI (the A. Philip Randolph Institute). Jon Husted, Republican Secretary of State in Ohio, “had removed half a million voters from the rolls in the 2016 election cycle because they’d supposedly moved their residences based on the ‘evidence’ that they did not vote in two federal elections” (p. 49). This ruling conflicts with the National Voting Registration Act of 1993, which states that a purge program “shall not result in the removal of the name of any person from the [rolls] by reason of the person’s failure to vote” (p. 50). But Husted went even further. According to Palast, Husted instituted a rule that, if the Post Office successfully delivers a card to your registration address, and you simply didn’t mail it back, properly filled out, then obviously, says Husted, you’ve moved” (p. 54).

Furthermore, Republicans appear to have no interest in eliminating “dark money” in politics. This means that as the Ohio Republican legislature moves to replace HB6 with a similar bailout measure, we can anticipate that millions of dollars will flow into the political process (e.g., lobbying, campaign donations, faux grassroots operations) and into pro-bailout media to support it. In an opinion piece in The Columbus Dispatch, John Pudnet presents a case for banning dark money in politics, though it will hardly have an impact on the Republican legislators (https://dispatch.com/opinion/20200731/column-speaker-householderrsquos-arrest-emphasizes-need-to-ban-dark-money-from-politics).

Sadly, the focus on the Householder swindle and all the corrupt politics surrounding it also distracts from the larger issues of energy policy and the crucial and pressing question of how to create an energy system that does not fuel increasingly disruptive and accelerating climate change. The two Ohio nuclear plants (and the coal plant) that the original HB6 gave renewed life have grave environmental effects. In an email sent out to Sierra Club email-lists on April 20, 2019, Harvey Wasserman offered a “preliminary draft talking points for this week’s Ohio nuke bailout hearings [April 24] (solartopia@GMAIL.COM). He listed his talking points into four categories of reasons for opposing the bailout and generally for opposing nuclear energy, but also reasons for supporting wind and solar energy.

#1 -The first category is on the “physical status” of the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear plants, which Wasserman says “literally crumbling.” He elaborates with this example: “The shield building at Davis-Besse is swiss cheese…pock-marked with holes caused by moisture getting into cracks, then expanding in cold weather, then melting in thaws. It could easily drop heavy chunks onto vital components.” Though it came into operation in 1978, based on a 1960’s design, there “has never been a comprehensive inspection of DB in its over 40 years of operation by an independent agency to check for cracking, embrittlement, incomplete maintenance.”

#2 – Wasserman’s second category is about the negative “health impacts” of nuclear power. He gives three examples that apply to nuclear plants generally and, by implication to Davis-Besse as well. In his email, he writes that “All nukes emit deadly radiation,” refers to “downwind infant death rates rise when a nuke opens,” and refers to the cataclysmic nuclear accidents and their massive ecological and health effects at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. In another article, Wasserman point to how Davis-Besse continuously “dumps its waste water into Lake Erie between Toldao and Cleveland” (https://www.opednews.com/article/America-s-Hole-in-the-head-by-Harvey-Wasserman-Cuomo_Energy_Nukes_Radiation-10419.997.html). In his book, Nuclear Roulette, Gar Smith offers the following example of how the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been negligent in enforcing safety standards at nuclear power facilities, a contributing factor in the accidents, and, implicitly, to make the point that nuclear facilities are inherently unsafe, accidents compound the problem, and poor regulation further exacerbates both safety and health.

#3 – The third category identified by Wasserman is about “environmental impacts. He makes three points. One, the “Cooling towers at Perry and Davis-Besse kill far more birds than modern industrial wing turbines, solar panels, batteries or LED/efficiency.” Two, “Heat emissions from steam and hot water [from the reactors] ‘kill trillions of marine creatures and unbalance Lake Erie’s eco-system; renewables emit no such heat.” Three, “All reactors create both low and high radioactive waste – [and there is] no realistic management plan.”

#4 – Number 4 is about the problematic “economics” of nuclear-generated electricity. Wasserman maintains that state regulation that has deterred investment in Ohio’s wind. On this, he writes: “The Legislature’s senseless anti-wind setback is purely Luddite, stopping $4 billion in private investment ready to build northern Ohio wind farms that would quickly and cleanly provide the power now produced by nukes.” The conditions in that part of the state are propitious for wind farms. The land is flat and there is plenty of wind. The farmers on whose land wind turbines would be located “want the income.” Wind farms can be up and running in two years and keep going for 30 years. Investment in renewables will create jobs: “More than a quarter-million Americans now work in the solar industry; more than 100,000 in wind, far more than in coal, oil, or nuclear.

Why are there so few new nuclear reactors being built?

Peter Fairley addressed this question in an article for MIT’s Technology Review on May 28, 2015 (https://www.technologyreview.com/537816/why-dont-we-have-more-nuclear-power). His bottom line is that “it’s just too expensive.” There other concerns as well. The accidents at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima added to the worries about nuclear power. The “economics” of the nuclear power plants remains have gone from poor to worse. Fairley refers to a report by the International Energy Agency and the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency that found equipment costs had risen 20 percent from 2010 to 2014. He cites evidence from the financial advisory firm Lazard that the costs of generating power from solar and onshore wind had fallen below the costs of nuclear.

While there are four new nuclear reactors under construction in Georgia and South Carolina, only loan guarantees from the federal government and additional financing support from state regulators made that feasible. For a rebound to occur, Fairly maintains, the nuclear industry will have “to demonstrate that it can build the enhanced-safety reactors that regulators are mandating, on time and on budget.” There is no indication that this is going to happen, at least when it comes to the construction of the large conventional nuclear reactors. The new reactors being built are “now years late and billions of dollars over budget.” The U.S. Department of Energy and other proponents of nuclear-powered energy have hope that work on the construction of small modular reactors will sooner or later become available and will be a boost the nuclear power industry. On this point, however, Fairley found that “the most mature designs have yet to attract buyers.” He continues this point: “Several leading developers, including Babcock & Wilcox and Westinghouse, have recently scaled back their programs.”