What Would You Have Done?

What Would You Have Done?

Imagine a fictional 2012 America. Barack Obama is running for his second term against Donald Trump, who many people feel is a mentally unstable white supremacist wannabe dictator. At every campaign rally, Obama says that he’s hearing that Republicans are going to cheat and steal the election. On election night, Obama thankfully appears to be well ahead of Trump, but by morning, Trump is suddenly leading Obama and wins. Obama does not concede. Instead, he says that there were significant voting irregularities and even tampering with voting machines, and without those, he would have won by a landslide, as it looked like he would on election night.

Fox News and Alex Jones assure everyone that the election was perfectly fair and nothing underhanded happened, but the news outlets that you go to for information repeat Obama’s claims of an election that was very questionable and may in fact have been stolen. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer say that the election raised serious questions that need to be looked into. Your friends say the same, and send you videos and articles that they say show clear evidence of ballots being changed, batches of Obama votes being thrown out, batches of Trump votes being brought out from under tables, vote counters keeping observers at a remote distance, and voting machines being reprogrammed. Some states hold recounts at Obama’s request, but Obama raises questions about how the votes were recounted and who did the counting.

Despite the videos and the constant questions that you’re hearing on the news, from politicians, from your friends, and from the President whom you’ve trusted for four years, things keep moving forward to inaugurate Donald Trump. You fear the totalitarian government that Obama has repeatedly said that Trump will impose. Obama announces, with affirmation from some Democratic Senators and Representatives, that there is one chance to save America from a Trump Presidency: during an obscure ceremony that has normally barely been noticed, the Vice President can call into question the vote counts from some states, and if he does so, it will allow for the possibility of Obama rightfully serving a second term.

Obama posts on social media and sends out emails encouraging Americans who want to see him remain President to come to Washington DC for a “Save America” rally on the day of that ceremony, to encourage the Vice President to “do the right thing.” Obama says that it’s going to be a wild time. You care about your country. You believe that America’s democracy is about to be stolen, and you want to protect your country from the fascist regime that you are certain will come if Trump becomes President. You buy a plane ticket, book a hotel room, and attend the rally. You hear Obama, less than 75 feet away from you, say that the future of the country is at stake, that you have to fight to save it or you won’t have a country left, that Republicans have done unprecedentedly criminal things to thwart his legitimate and rightful election. He ends the emotional rally encouraging you and the rest of the crowd to march on the Capitol.

What would your mental state have been at that point? Having started marching from the “Save America” rally, would you believe that you were headed to the Capitol to save your country? Might you see it as your patriotic duty to take action to prevent a Trump Presidency? If people around you at the Capitol became unruly, would you leave immediately, or might you possibly start thinking of the founding of America that you had learned about in school, and see this moment on the Capitol steps as a time that you need to be a patriotic hero for your country in a battle just as important as that waged by people 250 years ago who fought for our nation’s independence? How far would you be justified in going against a government that was ignoring your concerns about democracy and was instead bulldozing forward installing an illegitimately elected fascist?

To be certain, there were opportunistic neo-Nazis and white supremacists in the crowd on January 6, 2021, just as there are often violent antifa and anarchist elements among protests of the left. But it is doubtful that they were anything more than a small minority among the rioters. Most of the Capitol crowd saw themselves and the situation through the lens of standing patriotically against an election stolen by people who want to see America become another China. Yes, this was completely divorced from reality, but it was what they believed. California State Assemblyman Randy Voepel said of the riots “This is Lexington and Concord. First shots fired against tyranny. Tyranny will follow in the aftermath of the Biden swear in on January 20th.” One rioter going through the halls of the Capitol shouted “This is 1776!”

This is in no way to justify their actions, but merely to explain them. The people who stormed America’s Capitol on January 6 have been called terrorists, insurgents, insurrectionists, seditionists, rioters, a mob attempting a coup. From the world of objective, factual reality, all of those are accurate and appropriate descriptions of their actions. The rioters who broke into the Capitol Building are now being arrested, and many will likely face years in prison, as they should. They are America’s Taliban. The ones who planted bombs and plotted kidnappings are America’s al-Qaeda. They are a threat to America and deserve long prison sentences.

But it is too simplistic to just dismiss them as nut jobs and walk away. It is important – not to them, but to the rest of us – that we recognize that the source of their terroristic act was the delusion that they were defending the U.S. Constitution from a coup via a fraudulent election. That belief is very real to them, and to many others who were not at the Capitol. That belief persists, and will last long past the Inauguration of Joe Biden. It is dangerous to allow that belief to simply be smothered without being addressed. Among Republicans, 35% blame Joe Biden for the events of January 6 – a leap of logic that would not even have occurred to most Americans – and the majority of Republicans would like to see Trump able to run for President again.

The most unifying thing that Biden can do for our country is to have a thorough investigation of all the election fraud allegations, conducted by a team of investigators from the reality-based community working together with a team of investigators chosen by Trump supporters and Q-Anon believers who Trump supporters see as legitimate. The purpose of the investigation would be to uncover the truth, a thorough report on which would begin to help Trump supporters see that they were lied to about election fraud. The truth is almost certainly that America had a legitimate election with about as many irregularities as we have in every election, and no grand scheme to change votes, manufacture votes, or destroy votes. However, the people who most need to be convinced of that currently believe something very sinister. It is vital to America’s future that we whittle away at the cult of Trump, and such an investigation would be an excellent first step.

– rob rünt

Right Wing Media Circle the Wagons

Right Wing Media Circle the Wagons

One might be comforted hearing Lindsey Any-Way-the-Wind-Blows Graham on the Senate floor admitting that Joe Biden won a fair election and saying  “it’s over,” or hearing Chris Christie on ABC saying that Trump’s actions Wednesday were “absolutely impeachable,” or hearing Mick Mulvaney trying to slither away at the 11th hour by laughably claiming that Trump “has become a different man” from the sober-minded, reasoned President that he’s known. Seeing the violent storming of the U.S. Capitol, the deaths of five people (including a police officer), the bombs planted, and the angry mob roaming the halls of Congress looking to overturn a legitimate election, execute Nancy Pelosi and hang Mike Pence, one might think that Wednesday’s events might have finally brought about the come-to-Jesus moment that so many of us had expected time after time for Republican Party leadership, where they would finally renounce Donald Trump.

But right wing media, which sets the tone for that leadership, has now found their safe space of indignation, and it does not include a repudiation of Trumpism. The basic lines being repeated now on Fox News are:

  1. The violence at the Capitol was absolutely wrong and unacceptable, and those who did it need to be held accountable;
  2. It is infuriating to hear people on the left lecturing Trump supporters about rioting when those same Democrats were either silent or sympathetic during the summer of riots, looting and fires following George Floyd’s death;
  3. Throughout the summer, numerous Democrats and mainstream media quoted MLK that rioting is “the language of the unheard.” Why aren’t they applying that same quote here?
  4. White Democrats see this riot as different because white Democrats are elites, and nothing scares them more than seeing an uprising from the less fortunate “proles” who look like them;
  5. It is ridiculous to suggest that Donald Trump should be removed from office for inciting the riot. He is not responsible for the 5 deaths, any more than Nancy Pelosi is responsible for the riots over the summer where 30 people died after she said that she didn’t see why people weren’t rioting in the streets, or when Maxine Waters said to “get up in the face” of Republican politicians: the rioters were responsible their own decisions;
  6. The left is now trying to paint all Trump supporters with the violence at the Capitol, when in reality most Trump supporters were aghast at what happened and in no way support it;
  7. The left is cynically using the Capitol riot as a distraction from “legitimate questions” about the integrity of the election, hoping that those questions will now simply go away;
  8. Big tech is siding with the Democrats censoring the President – and by extension all Republicans – by kicking him off of Twitter and Facebook, and by wanting Parler to set standards regarding content that includes plans for violence: people on the right are victims once again, and this is yet another example of “cancel culture” where the left stifles free speech.

For what it’s worth, I actually agree with points 1, 2, 3, and 6, and wish that we could occasionally look inside and grant the “other side” some credence when they point out our flaws. Rioting is unacceptable no matter who is doing it, and it is also an understandable expression of indignation over an injustice that the rioters feel has been ignored. In the case of the summer’s riots, it was the injustice of decades of oppressive violence and unwarranted suspicion by a segment of police toward people of color. In the case of Wednesday’s riots, it was the manufactured injustice of an election that the President, his sycophants, right wing media, and the social media echo chamber had all proclaimed was deeply fraudulent, yet which was poised to move forward unchallenged.

I keep hoping for an inflection point in all this – something where right wing media see an excuse to pull of the highway of crazy disinformation that they’ve been on for so long. When Fox News had the audacity to refer to Joe Biden as the President-elect after all the votes had been counted the first time – losing many viewers to NewsMax in the process – I thought that perhaps the day had arrived for them to start pulling back from their steady stream of insanity. Hours into the storming of the Capitol, when Bret Baier said that he was getting messages from government officials around the world saying that what they were seeing was the kind of thing that the U.S. used to lecture them about, I was optimistic that Fox was indeed changing course for the better. But somehow, the Tucker Carlsons, Sean Hannitys and Laura Ingrahams have won out – if only to try to claw back that lost share of viewership – and the narrative of an atrocious event that should unify all Americans has once again become polarized along political lines.  I fear that we are in for a bumpy ride ahead.

– rob rünt

How Donald Trump – and America – Lost the 2020 Election

How Donald Trump – and America – Lost the 2020 Election

“We’re all victims…. every one of you,” said Donald Trump at a Georgia rally on December 5, over a month after he lost the 2020 Election. This is the Republican Party of Donald Trump. The party that once laid claim to values like rugged independence, stoicism, morality, and personal responsibility has been led by a lying trust fund baby off the cliff of self-respect to become the party of self-pitying victims.

During his 2020 campaign, Trump announced at many of his rallies that the coming election would be fraudulent. He had said this during his 2016 campaign as well, but after winning that election, the fraud that he was convinced of apparently no longer mattered to him, and the 2016 Election became “the Sacred Election.” In 2020, he had the power of the Presidency as he warned of a “rigged election.” If he honestly knew of some coming election fraud, months in advance, he could have had the Department of Justice take action to stop it. But he did not do so, because in reality, he had no clairvoyant knowledge of widespread election fraud. He was repeatedly declaring impending fraud because he knew that there was a good chance that he would lose. Raging narcissist that he is, that outcome would be intolerable, so he wanted to sow the seeds of doubt to delegitimize the result in advance if it went against him.

Amid a deadly and poorly controlled pandemic, voting by mail – a perfectly legitimate voting method that the President himself often uses – was a far safer option than in-person voting. Rather than encouraging this, however, the President proclaimed that voting by mail was inherently fraudulent, and that that was how the coming fraud would occur (he even knew the method of fraud in advance, yet chose not to stop it). His supporters, hearing this, certainly didn’t want to participate in a fraud that would harm the President, so many Trump voters chose instead to cast their votes in person on Election Day. Democrats, on the other hand, tended to be much more cautious about the virus, and chose to vote early or by mail, rather than risking exposure potentially waiting for hours in long lines. Some other Democrats voted on Election Day as well, ultimately resulting in more votes for Biden.

Some of Trump’s supporters saw the President’s massive campaign rallies packed with thousands of people, and Joe Biden’s socially distanced rallies with a relatively tiny number of people, and equated crowd size with expected number of votes, rather than with judgment about acceptable risk during a pandemic. They were likely unaware that in the 2000 Election, Green Party Presidential candidate Ralph Nader was holding rallies with 10,000-12,000 people (all of whom had to buy tickets) in city after city, while the (free) rallies of Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush rarely topped 3,000. However, Trump supporters would likely recall that Bush and Gore both got dramatically more votes than Nader. Rally crowd size is absolutely an indication of the enthusiasm of a group of people. It is not an indication of likely vote count, and during a deadly pandemic that one candidate’s supporters take seriously, crowd size is an even weaker predictor of votes.

The biggest evidence of electoral fraud that Trump supporters point to came when the election results were counted on Election Night. Early on, the President had a strong lead in the vote count, and Trump supporters went to bed snug in the confidence of four more years of the best President ever. But they woke up to see Biden pulling ahead – significantly, and his lead only increased from then on. How could this have happened unless there was fraud?

Many states count Election Day ballots first, and have laws that don’t allow them to begin counting mail-in ballots until all Election Day votes have been cast. Mail-in ballots take longer to count, because each ballot needs to be removed from two envelopes, and there are numerous verifications that need to be done for each mail-in vote before adding it to the count. That means that the results from mail-in votes tend to come in after most Election Day votes. As mentioned previously, Trump supporters leaned toward voting in person on Election Day, so their votes were counted first. Biden supporters leaned toward voting by mail, so their votes came in later and took longer to count.

Without a doubt, there were voting irregularities and individual instances of voter fraud in the 2020 Election, as there are in every election. However, the best witnesses to a more grand conspiracy, such as Rudy Guiliani’s star witness in Michigan, were deemed not credible by judges and by Republican politicians. 

After over a week of Trump denouncing a legitimate American election as fraudulent, America’s head of election cybersecurity, Christopher Krebs (a Trump appointee), stated that “There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised” and that 2020 was the most secure election in American history – a verbal offense for which he was promptly fired.

Republican Governors and Secretaries of State confirmed the legitimacy of the election, and stated that it was dangerous for the President to continue claiming otherwise. States did audits and recounts (sometimes more than one recount), which continued to affirm the election results. Trump’s loyal Attorney General Bill Barr publicly stated that there was no evidence of widespread election fraud that could have impacted the end result. Dozens of lawsuits by the Trump Campaign and its surrogates were dropped or thrown out for lack of evidence – sometimes by Republican judges. Most recently, the big case that Trump had pinned his hopes on, wherein 20 State Attorneys General petitioned the Republican-majority Supreme Court to nullify the votes of Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia, and Pennsylvania, was rejected by the Supreme Court, including the by three Trump-appointed Justices. On Monday, the electors will cast their official votes, solidifying the fact that Biden won and Trump lost.

One would hope that this would be the end of all this nonsense, but it will not. On Saturday, Trump posted “WE HAVE JUST BEGUN TO FIGHT!!!” Believe him. Anyone waiting for that magical moment when he will begrudgingly concede the election, or at least for the moment when Republican leaders will stop sycophantically going along with the fantasies of this whiny man-baby, will be sorely disappointed. Every lie that Trump tells is a loyalty test, and once a politician goes along with it, they have made a commitment – to the lie and to Trump. Stepping back from the lie is to publicly admit their own weak-kneed, craven dishonesty, to risk fierce condemnation from Trump, and to suffer instant rejection from Trump’s base of voters. Few Republican politicians seem courageous or honest enough to take that chance.

The charade will not stop. America will continue to endure a day’s worth of 9/11s every day from COVID-19 for the rest of Trump’s term, while he pats himself on the back for the fabulous job he’s done on that and every other issue. Trump will leave office still claiming that the election was illegitimate and that he would have won if the Democrats hadn’t cheated, and more Americans’ view of their own democracy will be diminished. Trump will continue to be highly influential in American politics as a sought-after conservative media star, where he will regularly attack those who acknowledge any reality other than his, and who thereby “betray” him (and by extension, betray America). He will hold regular rallies for his 2024 Presidential run, partly because his delicate, insatiable ego can’t handle giving up those cult-like festivals of idolatry, and partly because the rallies will give him another platform to continue claiming that he won the 2020 Election, stoking a false grievance among his supporters. He will use social media daily to undermine every action of Joe Biden – a milk toast, middle-of-the-road Democrat – whose most moderate proposals will be instantly branded as wild-eyed socialism aimed at turning America into the mirror image of communist China. Republican Senators and Representatives, tremblingly fearful of an angry Trump tweet, will all fall in line, denouncing offensive Biden proposals like infrastructure investments, economic stimulus, and efficient vaccine distribution. In short, Trump will continue on as a shadow President, and the only real change from his actual Presidency is that he will no longer be able to activate the nuclear codes or to sign executive orders and legislation. We will count ourselves fortunate if, in the coming years, he doesn’t egg on his most rabid followers from the sidelines into pursuing an all out armed civil war in the United States.

This will be the ongoing legacy of Donald Trump, victim, the “man” who lost the 2020 Election, and who has made America great again.

– rob rünt

Electing Joe Biden was the Easy Part

Electing Joe Biden was the Easy Part

As many of us breathe a collective sigh of relief that Donald Trump will likely soon be out of office, it is important to take a sober look at where we are and America’s path forward. The citizens who voted for Joe Biden have a monumental task ahead.

Donald Trump tapped into existing divisions in our country, and amplified and egged them on daily for the last five years. The toxicity of this behavior for America cannot be underestimated. If some right wing blogs and pundits are to be believed, as we wait to see if an emotionally immature narcissist will accept the election results, our nation is at the brink of civil war. A civil war – in 2020 America. Like what we’ve seen in Ethiopia, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, South Sudan. That’s us, right now, with just the slightest extra spark.

Joe Biden campaigned on a message of unity. If his election was any kind of mandate beyond being “I’m not Trump,” it was that. But there were times during the past Administration when Trump also proclaimed that it was time for everybody to come together, and as empty as those words sounded at the time to Democrats, we need to realize that that’s how hollow Joe Biden’s words sound to Trump voters. A united nation does not come about because its leader snaps their fingers and demands it. Unity is an individual choice to be made by each of us.

As the winning “side” in the election, the burden of working toward unity falls most heavily on Democrats. That will be no easy task. There are many obstacles to success, and we need to be fully conscious of those roadblocks in order to overcome them.

Probably the greatest obstacle is Donald Trump himself. He may leave the White House, but he will not go away. He will continue to seek power, attention, and adulation. Whether that is through his own TV network, ongoing rallies promoting a 2024 Presidential run, appearances at Republican events, or simply his Twitter feed, Donald Trump will continue to have the same degree of influence over his followers, with the likely added grievance of an ongoing claim that the 2020 election was “stolen” from him because Democrats “cheated” (how else could he have lost?).

His supporters will also continue to get information from what I believe to be fact-resistant sources like OAN, Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh, and NewsMax (where Donald Trump currently has not lost the election), as well as Trump allies on Fox News like Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson. That ongoing diet of grievance-driven misinformation will cause conversations about basic facts to continue to be as heated as disagreements about policy once were.

It is also quite possible that potential criminal activity by Donald Trump – tax evasion, tax fraud, bank fraud, insurance fraud, violations of the Emoluments Clause, the obstruction of justice for which he was impeached but could not be prosecuted as President – may result in him being brought to court in the next two years. There will no doubt be months of cries of “witch hunt.” While Trump’s past behavior catching up to him is virtually inevitable, there is no good outcome for it. If Biden pardons him, it sends the wholly unacceptable message that even the most egregious, remorseless, and widespread criminal behavior is fine if it is committed by someone who has been President. If Trump is successfully prosecuted, he becomes a martyr who his followers will believe was unjustly targeted and destroyed for “standing up against the Deep State to fight for working people,” resulting in one more major grievance being added to the pile.

Then there are the general environmental obstacles to unity within our country. We will no doubt be neck-deep in COVID cases by the time Biden is inaugurated. Any measures to get the virus down to a manageable level – a mask mandate, another shutdown – will be seen by some as an infringement on American freedom – not the best first step toward unity even if it does save thousands of lives.

Recalling the rocky exit of George W. Bush and the general financial history of Donald Trump, it is quite possible that Joe Biden will walk into an economy on the verge of collapse and with no financial reserves to address it. The resulting, chaos, unrest and outrage could be significant, and some will blame Biden, further hampering his efforts at unity.

Most importantly, Democrats need to look with humility at their own actions, or actions that have been done in their name over the past five years, try to see them through the eyes of Trump supporters, and realize that we each may owe some amends, or at least some explanations. From a Trump supporter’s perspective:

  • Acknowledging support for Trump resulted in others assuming that you were stupid, racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, and generally backwards.
  • People treated Trump supporters as second-class citizens, sometimes shutting them down in mid-sentence and refusing to hear what they had to say.
  • Being viewed as inferior could also have real-world consequences: losing friends, being alienated from family, losing a job, being doxed, being verbally or physically assaulted in public, being asked to leave a store or restaurant.
  • This was done by people who self-righteously boasted of being all about “love” and against “hate.”
  • People on the left at times behaved in ways that were more crude, vulgar, hostile, and immature than Trump.
  • Kathy Griffin held up an effigy of Trump’s severed head, a performance of “Julius Caesar” in Central Park depicted Trump’s assassination, Robert De Niro got a standing ovation for yelling “F*ck Trump” at the Tony Awards, and a Democrat shot Republican U.S. Rep Steve Scalise, a staffer, a lobbyist, and two police officers on a baseball field; on a smaller scale, profanity and middle fingers became a staple at left-wing protest rallies.
  • People on the left engaged in rioting and looting after the killing of George Floyd. Those who didn’t do so obviously supported it, because they stood by and watched it happen and didn’t denounce it.
  • Democrats never accepted Donald Trump as President.

We also need to get a general understanding of how the events of past five years have looked to Trump supporters. From their perspective:

  • Duly elected President Donald Trump was met with massive protests the day after his inauguration – before he had even enacted any policies – reflecting an immature left that simply couldn’t accept the loss of Hillary Clinton.
  • The Russia probe was a complete hoax manufactured to prevent Trump from getting anything accomplished.
  • The Mueller Investigation proved once and for all that there was “no collusion, no obstruction” (it proved neither), and any renewed interest in Trump-Russia is a rehash of something already settled by a years-long, multi-million-dollar, independent investigation.
  • The House impeachment of Donald Trump was meaningless, because it was a partisan attack that was not supported by the Senate.
  • Donald Trump fought every day of his Presidency for working people, and all of his policies were designed to benefit the working class and correct past injustices against American workers.
  • Obama and Biden illegally spied on Trump’s 2016 campaign.
  • The press has been very unfair to Trump because with few exceptions, they covered him negatively (apparently there were positive ways to cover taking children from their parents, insulting our allies, ignoring Russian bounties on our troops, and betraying the Kurds).
  • Nothing reported by a mainstream news outlet should be trusted.
  • Trump’s response to the coronavirus was the best that anyone could do, and Democrats have been too hard on him.
  • The media went easy on Joe Biden throughout the campaign, rarely asking him challenging questions while they mercilessly grilled Trump.
  • Democrats committed widespread voter fraud to elect Joe Biden, who will be controlled by socialists and will take away everybody’s guns and turn America into an unrecognizable Marxist hellscape where individual freedoms no longer exist.

There is much work to be done to reunite the country, and that work is not optional. The alternative at best is permanently torn families and friendships and an endless cycle of each “side” stewing in resentment for years as they scheme to “take their country back.” At worst, America can devolve into another Somalia. Anyone believing that such a fate is not possible has not been paying attention for the past five years.

As someone trained in conflict resolution, I cannot begin to tackle the full scope of America’s divisions, but I can suggest some first steps. We need to understand each other – not agree with each other, but understand each other. Engaging in conversations right now is probably not wise, as emotions are high. But we can begin laying the foundations for understanding by incorporating right-wing news sources into our daily information diet. This is not to suggest that we will get facts from these sources, but rather, we will better understand what people we disagree with believe are the facts. Yes, we will hear outrageous opinions that will make us mad, and we will hear stories that sound absolutely absurd to us, but if we are too sensitive to handle even this, we fully deserve the “snowflake” label that the right has given us.

Once we have absorbed a couple months or so of right-wing media, we should at least have the beginnings of a foundation to understand some perspectives of Trump supporters. From there, we can do simple and non-confrontational things like semi-random acts of kindness for the neighbor who had a Trump sign in their yard. Or if we feel capable, we can do tougher things like reaching out to friends or family members that we excommunicated in the heat of our outrage at Trump. Such an effort should be made with the full understanding that we will not see eye to eye, and we should absolutely maintain our own values. Rather than debating facts or asserting our opinions, we should seek to listen, and hear, humbly, focusing less on the details of what is being said than on the feelings behind them. There will likely be no agreement, no middle ground to be found, no clear path forward. But if we can connect again simply as human beings, that is a good start.

All of this is much easier said than done, but I still fully agree with the words of Michelle Obama: “When they go low, we go high,” and I also embrace the guidance offered by the Prayer of St. Francis (please translate to whatever spiritual or faith system works for you):

Lord, make me a channel of thy peace,
that where there is hatred, I may bring love;
that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness;
that where there is discord, I may bring harmony;
that where there is error, I may bring truth;
that where there is doubt, I may bring faith;
that where there is despair, I may bring hope;
that where there are shadows, I may bring light;
that where there is sadness, I may bring joy.
Lord grant that I may seek rather
to comfort than to be comforted;
to understand than to be understood;
to love than to be loved.
For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.
It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.
It is by dying that one awakens to Eternal Life.

– rob rünt

Dear Trump Supporters

Dear Trump Supporters

Dear Trump Supporters,

     It’s been a wild four years, hasn’t it? Lots of ups and downs. It’s been great to see your values implemented in our country. Among the highlights:

  • American taxpayers paid to build a wall.
  • Federal deficits grew by $666 billion during Trump’s first year, and have now grown by nearly $4 trillion from when he took office. It takes a real businessman to know how to spend money like that.
  • America’s national debt has gone from $20 trillion to $26 trillion since Trump became President – think how much bigger he can make it with 4 more years.
  • America is now viewed globally with concern and pity – nobody’s laughing at us anymore.
  • Worldwide, people trust the President of the United States less than Russia’s Vladimir Putin or China’s Xi Jinping.
  • The pain to America’s farmers from the China trade war has been graciously softened by giving farmers the dignity of billions in government handouts.
  • The government has failed to locate the parents of 545 children separated at the border, a childhood trauma consistent with your family values.
  • Your fellow citizens, and more importantly, your own children, have been provided a daily demonstration of the importance of character.
  • Republicans will likely gain a comfortable 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court with the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett, albeit using situationally shifting Senate rules (but why would consistently applying the rules be important in confirming a Supreme Court Justice?).
  • Coal industry jobs have decreased over the past 4 years under Trump, but at least coal miners aren’t being trained for jobs in renewable energy.
  • Americans’ taxpayer dollars have unprecedentedly gone directly into Trump’s personal businesses to cover food and lodging for his security and staff whenever he stays at one of his many commercial properties.
  • The Washington swamp has been largely drained and replaced by the best people, although many of the best people ended up in prison, which happens with every President’s associates.
  • There has been unusually high turnover among Trump’s staff and Cabinet, because the best people sometimes turn out to be losers, nobodies, opportunists – people like Dan Coats, John Bolton, Jim Mattis, John Kelly, HR McMaster, Nikki Haley, and Rex Tillerson.
  • I hate to even mention the c-word, but there’s also COVID-19 – aren’t you sick of people bringing that up? Only 225,000 Americans have died so far – far more per 100,000 people than in most other countries. That’s a figure that can be hard to justify when you’re “pro-life.” But the President has made clear that we would have had 2 million deaths if we had done absolutely nothing – an approach that no experts were advocating. 2 MILLION! It could have happened! And as the President said just recently, America is rounding the corner on coronavirus – with over 85,000 new cases yesterday (the highest number on record for us), it should be over any day now.

     But the Trump Presidency hasn’t been all fun and games for you. Probably most unpleasant has been having to explain your support for him. You wish that he’d stop his annoying tweeting, you know that he’s rude and obnoxious and immature and an egomaniac, and you wish that he’d denounce white supremacists more forcefully and clearly, and without having to be prompted to do it. You spent the early part of his Presidency defending yourself, as if your support for him was somehow a reflection of your own character. You’d tell people that you aren’t a racist, or dumb, or a gullible mark who fell for a slick con man selling snake oil. But no justification was ever good enough for them, and they finally just stopped talking to you, instead just looking at you as if they actually did think that you were racist or dumb or gullible. It’s been tiring – exhausting really – and it’s frankly offensive that anyone would actually think that of you. And yet every day, the President says or does something new that brings up the whole thing all over again. YOU ARE NOT DONALD TRUMP – you just voted for him. Why can’t people get that straight?

     Despite the prospect of four more years of this tediousness and occasional outright hostility, it’s desperately important not to let Joe Biden get elected. Trump has repeatedly said that Biden spent 40 years in Washington and got nothing done, but that 40-year track record of doing nothing will surely dramatically change now. And his modesty, compassion and decency are all just an act that fooled even his friends like Lindsey Graham for decades. Rest assured, Joe Biden is a foaming-at-the-mouth communist who secretly strangles puppies and tortures kittens for fun.

     By voting for Donald Trump, you have a chance once more to completely own the libs! The glee that you experience from that vote, that vengeful poke in the eye to the people you can’t stand, may result in a brain drain from the U.S. as many suburbanites on the left flee what they are concerned is a nation swirling the drain into authoritarianism and economic/social collapse. But your vote can make America great as it rounds the corner to something like nobody’s ever seen before. And when America comes away deeply diminished from its dalliance with Donald Trump, his words will offer you comfort: you knew he was a snake before you took him in.

rob rünt

Why Social Distancing Doesn’t Seem to be Working

Why Social Distancing Doesn’t Seem to be Working

Why Social Distancing Doesn’t Seem to be Working

Short answer: it is.

On Monday, March 23, 2020, President Trump tweeted:

Tweet

The tweet appeared to indicate impatience with the effectiveness of social distancing. The President elaborated in his press conference that he was eager to see Americans get back to work, and was looking into ways to make that happen immediately after the 15 days of social distancing. His message contradicted nearly every medical expert in the country, many of whom believe that we may need to continue this for 8 weeks or even longer.

Because hundreds of thousands of people apparently agreed with the President’s tweet, it seems important to explain why our “new normal” of self-isolation is unlikely to show any noticeable effect during the rest of March, and why, as we watch the numbers go up dramatically and hear more and more tragic stories of hospital workers pushed beyond their limits, social distancing is nonetheless working and essential.

To understand this, we need to understand how this virus works. The current medical thinking is that coronavirus is spread by touching infected surfaces and then touching the mouth, eyes or nose. However, it is also spread by breathing exhaled microdroplets from an infected person. That is why it is so important to keep a distance of 6′ from others and assume that anyone could be infected.

Coronavirus has a median incubation period (you’ve caught it, show no symptoms, and are contagious) of 5.1 days. Some cases have a longer incubation period – up to 15.6 days. During that time, it is estimated that an infected person will spread the virus to 2-3 people. During their incubation periods, those people will also spread the virus to 2-3 people, and so on. Once each person begins to show symptoms, they will not immediately be added to the government statistics of “confirmed cases.” Most will wait for several days trying to decide if it is worth getting tested, especially given the limited number of tests that we have available in the United States. Those who get tested will likely have a 2-3 day wait before their test results come in, at which point, they will be added to the government statistics if they are infected.

This delay in data is why the President’s main adviser on this pandemic, Dr. Fauci, says that “if you think you’re in line with the outbreak, you’re already 3 weeks behind.” The effects of our lax attitude toward the virus will still be with us in 2-3 weeks, and similarly the effects of our actions to contain the virus will only begin to show up in 2 weeks at the earliest.

On March 16, the President released his plan for “15 Days to Slow the Spread.” While the plan is far less strict than it needs to be, it is America’s first real effort to contain the spread of the virus. Its effects will likely not become visible until April. In the meantime, the graph below shows what the rest of March is likely to look like in America, based on a spread rate of 32% per day, 20% of cases requiring hospitalization, a 35% increase in deaths per day, and 45,000 ventilators nationwide.

Chart
(Data recorded at 6pm ET each day from ncov2019.live/data)

This is possibly the worst situation for America to have an impulsive President whose life experience has been guided by easy solutions and instant gratification, and whose closest aides charitably describe his personality as “childlike.” The consequences of ending social distancing early would be severe and crippling for our country. Hopefully our governors will have more sense than the President and will increase, rather than decrease, measures to contain the spread.

There is good news and bad news for April if social distancing remains in effect. The good news is that the rate of spread will likely begin to slow in early April. Italy has finally had its first day of single-digit increases in the number of people needing hospitalization.

The bad news is that America’s hospital system will have already become overwhelmed by then. Particularly critical in this dynamic is the shortage of N95 masks that our hospital workers have experienced thus far. Nurses have been told to reuse masks, create their own masks, use bandanas, etc. As a result, they have been inadequately protected from the virus, and while masks finally seem to have begun to be made available, it may be too late for some of our nurses. This means that not only is their own health now at risk, but also that these nurses will be unable to continue working as they recover or need treatment themselves – all at a time when our hospitals are being pushed beyond their capacity.

The best thing that Americans can do to limit the spread of this virus and eventually get it under control is to continue social distancing measures and ideally to take precautions that are one or two steps more extreme than we think are reasonable at the moment.

We should also note that as China began practicing social distancing, they saw the virus begin to take hold in family clusters. If one person in the family had become infected before their confinement or while out getting supplies, they would spread the virus to other family members. If someone in the home shows symptoms (fever, dry cough), they need to be isolated in a room away from other family members, one family member needs to be assigned to care for them, and that caregiver needs to have limited exposure, wear whatever protective gear that they can when providing care, and take measures to sanitize themselves and exposed objects immediately after each incident of providing care.

China’s eventual solution involved many extreme steps, including taking people’s temperature at the entrances to public places like grocery stores, isolating the infected in stadiums and sectioned-off hospital wings until they recovered or died, and other steps that were even more severe. For our President to look at that and think that America’s trajectory will magically be different from China or Italy if we end social distancing after 15 days and “get back to work” is folly. If the projection above is accurate, by March 26, America will have far surpassed the total number of cases that China has had during the entire outbreak.

– rob rünt

30 Days in the Life of Coronavirus

30 Days in the Life of Coronavirus

30 Days in the Life of Coronavirus

The other day, I posted info on Facebook about how to avoid spreading coronavirus. A friend asserted that this was all just politically driven hysteria, and pointed out that during Obama’s Presidency, H1N1 killed over 12,000 Americans in a single year. The day that he wrote that, the American death toll from coronavirus was in the 40s.

While I countered that the coronavirus is highly contagious, I was still bothered by the stark contrast in the numbers, and began to wonder if perhaps my friend had a point about things being blown out of proportion.

To test the theory, I looked at the numbers and put together a model based on those numbers. What I found was alarming, and yet quickly appeared to underestimate the scope of what is coming. It should be a wakeup call to every American about the need to practice social distancing and all other CDC recommendations NOW.

The issue is not so much the number of people who will die, although the number is likely to be large. But the greater issue is the strain that will soon be placed on our country’s medical system. Due to inadequate measures taken thus far by our government and our fellow citizens, America may well be in for a crisis far eclipsing that of Italy. If you are not familiar with what is happening there, you need to be. There is little time left for us to avoid such a catastrophe. We need to dramatically alter what we are doing NOW.

To create the model, I relied on a few basic facts:

  • On 3/11, the number of confirmed cases in the U.S. was 1,267
  • On 3/14, the number of confirmed cases in the U..S. was 2,657
  • That equates to a daily increase of 28%
  • The death toll on 3/14 was 50 which would imply an approximate death rate of 1.88%
  • A study by the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) determined that the maximum incubation period for the virus (no symptoms, but contagious) is 15.6 days
  • CIDRAP’s study determined that the median incubation period for the virus (no symptoms, but contagious) is 5.1 days
  • The CDC estimates that hospitalization will be needed for 20% of cases
  • Much of that hospitalization will require ventilators
  • America has approximately 45,000 intensive care units (ICUs) with ventilators

Below is the model, which assumes no significant change in behavior by Americans and no cure or vaccine available within the next month:

CoronavirusChart

Today was the first day of new data to compare with the model. As of this writing on 3/15, the number of cases in America is 3,552, and the number of deaths is 65 – both higher numbers than predicted in the model above.

The model is also graphed as the main image for this article, but is, of course, cut off at the top. Below is the full graph. The fact that it stops at April 12 was an arbitrary decision on my part to limit the data to 30 days: in reality, of course, the disease may continue to spread beyond that.

CoronavirusGraph-02

To summarize, the difference between H1N1 and coronavirus in terms of spread is that, without drastic measures, it is likely to kill more Americans by April 6 than H1N1 killed in an entire year. The calls for social distancing (6′), hand washing, avoiding touching the face, avoiding crowds, etc. are not hysterical hype, but rather are crucial and sensible measures that we all must take NOW.

The purpose of this piece is to raise public awareness in hopes of changing public behavior in time to prevent crippling or even collapsing our nation’s hospital system. We have little time left.

Sources:

Ncov2019.live/data

U.S. Center for Disease Control

Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy

Politifact

Vox

 

–  rob rünt

Gratitude.

Gratitude.

As the coronavirus continues to spread through our country, I want to express my deepest gratitude to all the people who will likely still need to work even when everyone else goes on lockdown:

  • Doctors, Nurses and Paramedics, all of whom have been, are currently, and will continue to be on the front lines treating those hit hardest and risking exposure to the virus themselves. They will be the ones dealing with the worst of what this brings us. I pray that they do not have to experience the kind of overwhelming tidal wave of patients that medical professionals in Italy and Iran are currently dealing with, but our country’s belated response indicates that our medical workers may be in for an extremely rough time.
  • Pharmacy Workers, who will still need to provide medications, not just to those with the virus, but to people with all other conditions that occur every day – including chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, HIV, and mental illness.
  • 911 Operators, who will still need to process and route our emergency calls.
  • Firefighters, who will still have to put out fires, help people having heart attacks and other medical crises, and will likely be called out to help some of the 20% of people who experience severe symptoms from the virus.
  • Police, who will still be called to address criminal activity, domestic disputes, and other situations that will continue to some degree regardless of what else is going on in our country.
  • Grocery Store Employees, who will still need to provide vital food and other goods to the public.
  • Truckers, who will still need to transport food, gasoline, medical supplies, and other goods across the country.
  • Dock Workers, who will still need to receive food, medical supplies, and other goods at our ports.
  • Gas Station Workers, who will still need to provide gasoline.
  • Trash Collectors, who will still need to collect our garbage, which never ends.
  • Utility Workers, who will still need to ensure continued electricity, natural gas, water, and phone service.
  • Postal Workers, who will still need to facilitate communications and the delivery of life essentials like Social Security checks.

These people, and many whom I’ve probably left out, are my heroes during this time, because while their contributions are often simply assumed to always be there, it is because of them always being there that they will be the people most vital to keeping our country running.

I am also grateful for the Americans who are voluntarily taking steps now to lessen the coming impact of the virus on our country:

  • People who are following the CDC guidelines to limit spread of the virus: their efforts now will reduce the stress on our medical system in the coming weeks.
  • People who are taking the time to seek out credible sources to learn about the virus and how it is spread.
  • Employers who provide paid sick leave so that their workers don’t feel pressure to come to work sick.
  • Employers who acknowledge the reality that people can have this virus with no symptoms for well over a week and still be contagious, and employers who are therefore allowing their employees to work from home when possible to reduce transmission.
  • Employees who stay home from work when they are sick, thereby keeping their coworkers from getting whatever they have
  • Landlords who are willing to be flexible with tenants who may miss one or more paychecks and therefore may not be able to pay their rent: these landlords’ compassion will reduce the degree to which homelessness ends up a side impact of this virus.
  • Bankers who are willing to be flexible with mortgage payments, and who can therefore have a similarly positive impact on our country.
  • School districts that are closing down and finding alternative ways to continue teaching kids at home.
  • Teachers who stay home when they are sick, and whose jobs may currently require them to be around sick kids all day.
  • Parents who keep their kids home when they are sick.

These people also deserve recognition for helping keep this virus as manageable as possible. Thank you.

– rob rünt

Funeral for a Friend

Funeral for a Friend

The acquittal of Donald Trump was an outrage – one of many over the past three years. But this one was different.

It’s not just that Republican Senators voted against hearing key witnesses like John Bolton who had important new testimony. It’s not that, with the exception of Mitt Romney, they voted to give the President no consequences, despite many of them privately saying that he was guilty, and despite some even admitting that what he did was impeachable. It’s not even the frightening new legal precedent that their vote ushered in, that a President can wrap his own reelection campaign into official U.S. policy – even if it diverges from publicly known official U.S. policy, even if it involves coercing another country to interfere in a U.S. election – if he believes that his own reelection is in the “public interest.”

Of course, it’s all of those things.

But it’s also the sheer brazenness of it all. Those Senators looked their country in the eye, looked at the Constitution, and said “all of this matters less to us than continuing to enable Donald Trump.”

In a moving and heartfelt speech before the Senate, Adam Schiff said, “If right doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter how good the Constitution is. It doesn’t matter how brilliant the Framers were. Doesn’t matter how good or bad our advocacy in this trial is. Doesn’t matter how well written the oath of impartiality is. If right doesn’t matter, we’re lost. If the truth doesn’t matter, we’re lost.”

Those Senators made their statement loud and clear: to them, right doesn’t matter, truth doesn’t matter. Trump matters.

In an odd way, it was liberating. Many of us on the left have said over the past three years that there just has to come a time when Donald Trump will go too far, when Republican lawmakers will be shocked into a reawakening of what they once said their values were, when they will stop and say “my God, look what we have become – this is not us,” when they will finally serve as a moral bulwark and a check on this President’s power.

Their vote on Thursday made it crystal clear: for the vast majority of Republicans, that moment will never come. Nothing will be too much, too far, too grotesque to abandon Donald Trump and look elsewhere for leadership. They will not change. Trump will not change. He will not face consequences. He will only continuously avoid consequences, laugh at our outrage, and become further emboldened by it all. The moment of introspection and moral conscience that we have expected and hoped for from Republicans will not happen. It is a fantasy and a waste of mental energy. This is what we have.

It is sad, like the death of a loved one after years of hoping and praying that they would pull through from a long-lingering illness. But it is also freeing. There is no longer any need to waste time puzzling over what’s behind their actions – cult of personality, support for policy, blackmail, bribery, fear, political calculation, power grab. It doesn’t matter. They are what they are. They’re doing what they’re doing. It doesn’t matter why they’re burning down the house. What matters is that they’re doing it, water is desperately needed, and sitting around trying to figure out the cause of the fire or trying to reason with it wastes time while the house gets further engulfed in flames.

From here on, the course forward is clear, and the obstacles are clear. Donald Trump and the Republicans will do what they’re going to do, and it will be awful. Beyond policy, there will be voter suppression, cheating, foreign interference on a level that we have never experienced, deepfake videos and audio, and some of the ugliest campaign tactics that this country has seen.

But our energies must be focused on overcoming all of that to defeat Trump in November and to get as many Democrats elected as possible – it’s time for pissed off pragmatism. Some tools:

  • GET OFF SOCIAL MEDIA. You’re preaching to the converted.
  • Vote in the Primaries/Caucuses to have a say in who the Democrats’ Presidential nominee is.
  • Accept that our first choice may not be the Democrats’ final nominee, and we need to work our butts off for them anyway.
  • Volunteer for and donate to campaigns for House and Senate.
  • Spend our weekends registering nonvoters, who outnumber those who voted for either Clinton or Trump in 2016. Organizations that do this include the League of Women Voters.
  • Get involved in organizations like the Payback Project who are working specifically to defeat Republican Senators.
  • Take Election Day off work to drive voters to and from the polls all day.
  • Vote.

If all our efforts still don’t make a difference, we have a much bigger problem, but we have to do all that we can to ensure we do not face four more years of Donald Trump: America cannot survive it.

– rob rünt

 

 

Impeachment Trial: Choose Your Poison, America

Impeachment Trial: Choose Your Poison, America

The Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump has left America on the brink of a decision between two horrible choices. We can empower a corrupt, amoral President to cheat in the 2020 Election without consequence, or we can enable a partisan Legislative Branch to embroil future Presidents in endless impeachments over non-impeachable acts. Neither is a good outcome.

The issue is not whether the President did what he is accused of. The issue is not even whether his actions were impeachable. Even some Republican Senators privately admit that Trump’s actions were wrong and impeachable.

The issues are our country’s highly unusual present circumstances, the flaws in the legal arguments by both sides, and the fact that supporting those flawed arguments without condition – on either side – establishes a perilous legal precedent that extends well beyond the Ukraine episode.

 

Unusual Circumstances

One unusual circumstance is simply the rarity of impeachment in our nation’s history, leaving us with little experience on which to base our thoughts about it.

Another is America’s current hyper-partisanship. Our nation’s Founders never anticipated 24/7 cable news and an internet that could allow every citizen to continuously marinate themselves in the reality of their choice – potentially to the exclusion of real facts. These separate realities keep us from truly hearing each others’ opinions even during face-to-face arguments: our ideas are not only competing on the grounds of differing logic and values, but on entirely differing “factual histories” regarding what has led up to the arguments in the first place.

Donald Trump himself adds to our unusual circumstances. He holds a sway over Republican lawmakers that is truly inexplicable. Even factoring in fear of tweets, the survival instinct of politicians, and a steady diet of Fox News, the fidelity and subservience to this President is bizarre.

As an example, in 2016, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) suggested that Trump had mafia ties, called him a “serial philanderer,” a “narcissist,” a “pathological liar,” and said that “morality doesn’t exist” for Trump. Now Cruz is an eager and aggressive defender of Trump.

Similarly, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) once believed that Donald Trump was a “kook,” “crazy,” and “unfit for office.” Now another Trump sycophant, Graham recently said that he was not interested in even hearing evidence or testimony against the President. This is the atmosphere in which the impeachment trial in the Senate is taking place.

Trump’s own behavior has added to the unprecedented political atmosphere. He has doubled down on his requests for foreign governments to interfere in America’s 2020 Election. He announced during a 6/16/19 interview with George Stephanopoulos that he would be open to hearing dirt that foreign governments might offer him on his opponents – something which the head of the FEC quickly pointed out would be illegal. And when his Ukraine activities were exposed, he publicly called on China to also investigate the Bidens during a 10/3/19 press conference. Perhaps committing a crime out in the open in broad daylight seems less criminal.

The President has also recently made a huge fundraising push for Senators who are jurors in his impeachment trial. He is believed to be using other behind-the-scenes “carrots and sticks” to ensure the votes of Republican Senators in his trial as well.

Lastly, the proximity of the 2020 Election – now just over nine months away – has also created an unusual situation. It added unique urgency for the House to move forward quickly with impeachment proceedings to prevent the President from engaging in further solicitation of interference by foreign governments before it was too late.

But Trump used that urgency to his advantage. He refused to comply with any House Democrats’ subpoenas for witnesses and documents, instead sending them off to be tied up in the courts for months or years. He then issued a blanket order that nobody in the Executive Branch was to cooperate with the investigation, potentially leaving the House without any key witnesses until past the 2020 Election, and allowing the President to continue soliciting help for his campaign from foreign governments. So the House chose not to wait for the courts, instead conducting impeachment hearings with the few witnesses and documents that they were able to get, so that they could move the issue on to the Senate for trial.

The resulting lack of key witnesses, however, enabled Trump’s defense team to say that the House had come to the impeachment trial “unprepared” because they did not have all of the witnesses and documents that they had subpoenaed, and had not waited for the court system (likely to be delayed further by numerous appeals) to compel them.

 

The Democrats’ Legal Flaw

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) argued passionately, skillfully and powerfully before the Senate for the President’s removal from office, making a strong case that Trump’s corruption, placement of self before country, and lack of judgment make him a danger to the nation that he leads. While Schiff’s case was strong, the wording of the Articles of Impeachment themselves gave Trump’s defense team a legitimate counter-argument.

The language of the Constitution is unclear regarding the level of criminal activity required to remove a President from office. The first Article of Impeachment from the House accuses Trump of “abuse of power.” While it is clear that the President did abuse his power, and it is undeniable that the Founders did not want a President to be able to abuse power, the wording of this charge is so vague and subjective that it could allow future Congresses to impeach based on simple policy disputes.

The President’s actions would fall under the specific crime of bribery, a crime which the Founders did specify as warranting removal from office. But Trump’s defense seized on the technicality of the “abuse of power” language to argue that the President should stay in office.

This is outrageous, leaving America with a dangerously corrupt President, but the legal precedent set by removing him from office for a vague “abuse of power” would also be dangerous to our country. Especially in our partisan political environment, the opposing political party will often consider disagreeable acts or policies by the President to be abuses of power. Making “abuse of power” impeachable could easily lead to impeachment and removal becoming a standard part of holding the office of President. Under such criteria for removal from office, for example, President Obama would likely have been impeached and removed for pushing forward the Affordable Care Act or other Executive Orders that the GOP viewed as abuses of power.

 

The Trump Team’s Legal Flaws

Trump’s legal team presented numerous arguments for the President: that we cannot know for certain what Trump’s thoughts and motives were when he pressured the Ukrainian President, that no new evidence or witness testimony should be allowed because the House should not have gone to trial without all the witnesses and documents, that the House had no key witnesses and therefore had a weak case, that removing Trump from office would overturn the American people’s 2016 vote (any impeachment and removal, by definition, overturns a vote).

But perhaps the most staggering argument about Trump’s coercion of the Ukrainian President was made by attorney Alan Dershowitz, who proclaimed “Every public official that I know believes that his election is in the public interest…. If a President does something which he believes would help him get elected, in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.”

Accepting this argument by acquitting Trump means that Trump’s political campaign activities can legitimately be wrapped into official U.S. foreign policy. So what will it be? A trade deal more favorable to China in exchange for an investigation into the Bidens? Inviting Russia to help America with election security issues in 2020? All good. Given this President’s particular penchant for pushing boundaries, it is almost certain that he will engage in more such acts – and probably more aggressively than he has until now – if acquitted.

While Dershowitz’s argument is a stunning deviation from our traditional understanding of the Constitution and Presidential power, the implications of it are all the more horrifying for America’s future when one considers that if the President is acquitted (as seems likely), the argument goes into the legal record as part of why he was acquitted. In other words, it becomes legal precedent. From then on, such Presidential misconduct is no longer even worthy of the Legislative Branch’s attention. It will already have been established that using the power of the Presidency for personal campaign activities is acceptable conduct.

Another argument put forward by Trump’s defense is that, with the election coming up in just nine months, it would be wrong to remove Trump from office. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) summed it up the day before he voted not to allow new evidence or witnesses: “There is no need for more evidence to prove something that has already been proven…. The question then is not whether the president did it, but whether the United States Senate or the American people should decide what to do about what he did.”

This might be a reasonable and defensible position under most questions about Presidential misconduct. But what Alexander said has been proven is that Trump used his Presidential power to pursue his own personal campaign advantage in the upcoming 2020 Election – an election whose outcome can easily be impacted by further misbehavior. So acquitting Trump also establishes the nonsensical legal precedent that a President cannot be removed from office during an election year, even for engaging in illegal activity to change the outcome of that election.

 

A Possible Solution

The House impeachment managers and the Trump defense team have both made their cases clearly and have had plenty of time to do so, given the Senate’s refusal to hear from new witnesses as damning new revelations coming out daily. The damage to the country by accepting either side’s arguments should be clear. Yet in our current political climate, where dire predictions have become commonplace, the warnings seem like hyperbole, and the predictions may fall on deaf ears with Senators. They are not hyperbole.

A small and unlikely hope exists for avoiding either of the potential Constitutional catastrophes. If Supreme Court Justice Roberts, who has been presiding over the trial, recognizes the perilous place that our Constitution is in as we teeter on the edge of either of two bad outcomes, he can step in. He is the one participant who has the potential to be objective, and presumably has the judicial wisdom to offer a solution.

One possibility is that he could allow the decision to proceed, but could weigh in on how the prosecution and defense arguments have diverged from the Constitution as we have known it. This would give those arguments less legal weight as precedent for handling future instances of Presidential misconduct.

Another possibility is that Justice Roberts could offer an alternative that is neither removal nor acquittal: censure. This would put on record and establish as precedent what many Republican Senators have acknowledged privately – that what the President did was wrong and unacceptable. It is not the degree of consequence that many Democrats think the President’s actions deserve, but it could alleviate some of the danger of simply acquitting the President, which Fox News commentators are already saying would mean that Trump should be seen as completely innocent.

Sadly, Roberts seems pained to intercede in the trial in any way, for fear of creating the perception that the Judicial Branch is just as biased and partisan as the Executive and Legislative Branches. Unfortunately, his courage is desperately needed right now. Without it, the best that we can likely say is that the U.S. Constitution had a pretty good 244-year run.

– rob rünt