Category Archives: The Nation

John Glenn always gave his country 110 percent

astronaut_john_glenn_in_a_state_of_weightlessness_during_friendship_-_gpn-2002-000075

See how I didn’t use, “Godspeed, John Glenn?” I wanted to, but I figured everyone else would…

John Glenn was one of my heroes, but that says nothing special about me, except that I was a kid when the Mercury Seven — of which he was the most illustrious, the most conspicuous — were wowing the nation with their exploits. I remember being herded into the auditorium with the rest of my 3rd-grade class to watch him orbit the Earth, as it happened, on a medium-sized black-and-white TV that had been wheeled in for the occasion.800px-colonel_john_glenn_official_photo

Later, The Right Stuff made me admire him all the more, even though Wolfe made it clear how low the astronauts were on the Test Pilot Pyramid (“A monkey’s gonna make the first flight!”). When he ran for president in 1984, he was the guy I wanted to see take it all. I couldn’t believe he did no better than he did; I chalked it up to a decline in the national character.

An anecdote that illustrates Glenn as an exemplar of old-fashioned virtues: In the book, Tom Wolfe really played up Glenn’s status as the most gung-ho, straight-shooting, hard-working, unapologetic advocate of duty and clean living in the astronaut corps. One small example of how meticulously conscientious he was: Whenever he went on a goodwill tour of one of the factories that were building the components of the Mercury rockets and capsules, within days he would send hand-written thank-you notes to everybody he had met at the plant.

I never met Glenn myself, but early in 1984, his daughter made a visit to Jackson, Tenn., where I was the news editor of the local paper. She came by the paper and met with us, advocating for her dad, and before she left, I put on another hat and asked her whether there was any chance of getting John himself to come speak at the banquet of Leadership Jackson, of which I was the rising president.

In the mail a few days later, I received a card from her in which she went on at length about her efforts to follow up on my request.

So, in addition to being our foremost Single-Combat Warrior Challenging the Godless Commies for Dominance of the Heavens, he was a pretty-good Dad as well, passing on his own relentless habits of following through, of being dutiful even in small things.

OK, I’m going to say it: Godspeed, John Glenn

The bad news: Our $206 Trillion Fiscal Gap

Laurence Kotlikoff, Joseph Von Nessen and Doug Woodward.

Laurence Kotlikoff, Joseph Von Nessen and Doug Woodward.

There was good news and bad news today at USC’s 36th Annual Economic Conference.

To be more specific, there was mildly, moderately good news, and really Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad news.

I’ll start with the good, which is on the local level. USC economists Doug Woodward and Joseph Von Nessen said that while growth has sort of leveled off in South Carolina, we’re in for a fairly good 2017. Advanced manufacturing remains strong, and things are going really well in construction — particularly along the coast — and retail. Merchants should have a good Christmas. If there’s a concern, it’s that employers are now having trouble finding qualified employees, particularly ones who are up to the challenges of automation — humans who can work with robots, basically.

On the other hand, we’re basically doomed.

That’s the message I got from the conference’s keynote speaker, Laurence Kotlikoff of Boston University, who started out noting that few Americans seem to have a clue what a fiscal hole we’re really in. Political leaders don’t speak of it, he said, pausing to complain about the “content-free election season” we just experienced. (Of course, you’d expect him to be dissatisfied with that, since he actually ran for president — unsuccessfully, he added dryly.) Oh, sure, they might speak of the $20 trillion national debt — which he noted isn’t really that, since the Fed has bought back $5 or 6 trillion of it — but they ignore the bigger problem.

That’s the true Fiscal Gap, as he calls it, which includes the liabilities that have been kept off the books. You know, Social Security, Medicare and the like — liabilities that aren’t acknowledged in the federal budget, but which are obligations every bit as binding as if the future recipients held Treasury bonds.

That adds up to $206 trillion.

There’s more bad news.

If we think in terms of what it would take for the nation to deal with that liability, our government is currently 53 percent underfinanced. That means that to meet these obligations, we’d have to have 53 percent across-the-board tax increases.

It gets worse.

If we don’t raise taxes by 53 percent now (or make drastic cuts to current and future spending that might somewhat reduce that need), then they’ll have to be raised a lot more on our children and grandchildren.

Dr. Kotlikoff has been raising the alarm about this for years. Here’s an oped piece he wrote for The New York Times in 2014. As he concluded that piece:

What we confront is not just an economics problem. It’s a moral issue. Will we continue to hide most of the bills we are bequeathing our children? Or will we, at long last, systematically measure all the bills and set about reducing them?

For now, we blithely sail on. But prospects aren’t good. None of the three economists, who spoke at a press conference before the event, had anything good to say about incoming political leadership on the national level. In fact, quite a bit of concern was expressed about 3 a.m. Tweets, any one of which could trigger a trade war with China before the day is out.

I came away feeling a bit like Damocles — or rather, like the nation is Damocles, since the sword fell on my head sometime back. And we just elected a guy who thinks he’s a national hero because he interfered with one business that was going to send some jobs out of the country (an interference in the market that none of the economists think was a good idea).

I’m not holding my breath for any leadership on closing the Fiscal Gap. (Nor would I be had the Democrats swept the elections.) Are you?

"What's THAT hanging up there?" "Oh, that? I call it the Fiscal Gap..."

“What’s THAT hanging up there?” “Oh, that? I call it the Fiscal Gap…”

Pearl Harbor coverage, as it would have looked had there been iPad apps in 1941

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I enjoyed this thing that The Wall Street Journal did this morning.

They did a mock home page for their app consisting of actual stories that ran in the paper on Dec. 8, 1941.

Here are links to a couple of the stories:

War With Japan: Washington Sees Fight on 2 Oceans and 3 Continents

All Consumption Curbs Due To Be Stiffened; Scarcity List Will Grow

I’m struck by how matter-of-factly these developments were accepted at the time. The stock market opened as usual the next morning? And can you imagine what a conniption the Journal would have today (on the editorial page, at least) over “consumption curbs?” The government, interfering with the holy marketplace? Good God, Lemon!

Below is an image of the actual front page from that date.

I thought that was pretty cool. But then I’m both a journalist, and a history geek…

original-page

Electors, your nation needs you to be ‘unfaithful’

Kathleen Parker has a good column that points to a way out of the madness for America.

And based on the president-elect’s behavior in the last few days (not to mention the preceding 70 years), we desperately need one:

A movement headed by a mostly Democratic group calling itself Hamilton Electors is trying to persuade Republican electors to defect — not to cede the election to Hillary Clinton but to join with Democrats in selecting a compromise candidate, such as Mitt Romney or John Kasich. It wouldn’t be that hard to do.

Mathematically, only 37 of Trump’s 306 electors are needed to bring his number down to 269, one less than the 270 needed to secure the presidency.

On the Hamilton Electors’ Facebook page, elector Bret Chiafalo, a Democrat from Washington, explains the purpose of the electoral college. If you haven’t previously been a fan of the electoral system, you might become one.

Bottom line: The Founding Fathers didn’t fully trust democracy, fearing mob rule, and so created a republic. They correctly worried that a pure democracy could result in the election of a demagogue (ahem), or a charismatic autocrat (ahem), or someone under foreign influence (ditto), hence the rule that a president must have been born in the United States. We know how seriously Trump takes the latter.

Most important among the founders’ criteria for a president was that he (or now she) be qualified. Thus, the electoral college was created as a braking system that would, if necessary, save the country from an individual such as, frankly, Trump…

Amen to that!

As the courageous Mr. Chiafalo says in the above video, “This is the moment that Hamilton and Madison warned us about. This is the emergency they built the Electoral College for. And if it our constitutional duty, and our moral responsibility, to put the emergency measures into action.”

Bret Chiafalo

Bret Chiafalo

There is no question whatsoever that he is right. This may not be what electors bargained for when they signed on, but their duty is clear. Each day provides us with startling new evidence of Donald Trump’s utter unsuitability for this office. The man is unhinged, and the Electoral College is our one remaining defense against him.

Yep, there are state laws binding electors to slavishly follow the choice made by the thing our founders rightly feared — mob rule, a.k.a. direct democracy. But the electors have a higher duty to the Constitution, and must follow it. I will gladly lead a fund-raising campaign to pay any fines levied against them. (And if something more than fines is involved, we need to have an urgent conversation about that.)

Electors who break with the popular vote are called “faithless.” That’s an Orwellian label if ever I’ve heard one. True faith with the nation, as set out in our Constitution, requires that electors be “faithless” in this national crisis.

Yep, Trump’s supporters will go nuts, because they won’t understand this. They’ll say the system is fixed. Well, it is. At least, it’s supposed to be. Hamilton promised us, in selling the Constitution as “Publius,” that “The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.”

And that’s true, if the College steps up and does its job.

Do your duty, electors. Don’t throw away your shot. If you live 100 years, it’s unlikely you will ever have such an opportunity to serve your country, and such an obligation to do so, as you have right now.

Tony thinks we’ll be OK. Let’s hope he’s right, as usual

Tony has always been one to feel our pain.

Our pal Tony has always been one to feel our pain.

Bryan calls my attention to the fact that while my main man Tony Blair is very concerned about the state of liberal democracy in Europe, he thinks his American friends will weather the Trump crisis:

WASHINGTON — Former British prime minister Tony Blair warns that political upheaval from Great Britain’s Brexit vote in June to the collapse of the Italian government on Sunday signals the most dangerous time for Western democracies in decades….

It has been a year of unexpected victories by populist and nationalistic forces that are challenging the establishment: passage of the referendum pulling Britain from the European Union, the election of Donald Trump as president in the United States, defeat of a measure in Italy that prompted the prime minister to announce his resignation.

And in the Austrian election Sunday, the candidate representing the party founded by former Nazis lost — but after commanding 46% of the vote….

“I’m less worried about America than I am about Europe; I’ll be very frank with you,” he said. “America is such a strong country and you’ve got so many checks-and-balances and you’ve got such resilience in your economy and so on; you guys will do fine, I’m sure. In Europe, we have systems that are at a point of fragility that troubles me.”…

Tony’s almost always right. Here’s hoping he is this time. Although for once, I doubt him. Rome thought it was big enough and strong enough and had checks and balances, too…

NO! The problem is NOT that the election was ‘divisive’

I’m getting sick of people saying this, so I need to speak up.

A story today in The Washington Post by the eminent Dan Balz, headlined “Raw emotions persist as Donald Trump prepares for his presidency,” repeats a fallacy that needs to be countered:

But everyone knew or should have known that the wounds from an election that was as raw and divisive and negative as campaign 2016 would not be quickly healed…

No, no, NO!

The problem is not that the election was “divisive,” or even “negative.” Those factors have been givens in American politics in recent decades. We’ve had negative campaigns across the country since the early 1980s, when the old guideline that a candidate would damage himself if he “went negative” died and was buried. Lee Atwater rose during those days, but the rule was being broken by others, such as Robin Beard, who used creative, negative ads against Jim Sasser in the 1982 Senate race in Tennessee (where I was at the time), gaining national attention but failing to win the election (which briefly seemed to confirm the old commandment against negativity).

As for divisive — well, it’s been pretty awful ever since the election of 1992, when bumper stickers that said “Don’t Blame Me — I Voted Republican” appeared on cars even before Clinton was inaugurated in January 1993. Since then, the parties have not been satisfied merely to disagree, but have increasingly regarded leaders of the opposite party to be illegitimate and utterly beyond the pale.

So it is that the terms “divisive” and “negative” say nothing about the recent election; they do not in any way distinguish the presidential election of 2016 from any contest that preceded it.

And yet we all know that this election was different from every one that preceded it in American history, right? So how do we describe that difference?

THIS is the difference, folks.

THIS is the difference, folks.

Well, it’s really not all that hard — although describing the underlying causes is more difficult. The difference is Donald Trump.

This was an election between a relatively normal, reasonably qualified candidate, and a grotesquely unfit one — a crude, rude, petty, childish, ignorant, unstable man who had done nothing in his life that in any way prepared him for the job.

You can complicate it if you wish. Feminists want to characterize Hillary Clinton as a groundbreaking candidate of historic proportions — which is silly. She was as conventional as can be: As a former senator and secretary of state, you don’t even have to mention her time as first lady to describe her qualifications. She was Establishment; she was a centrist (center-left if you prefer); she was someone completely at home in the consensus about the role of the United States in the world that has prevailed since Harry Truman. The main thing is, she was qualified.

Yes, she was the second most-hated major party nominee (second to the man who beat her) in the history of keeping track of such things, which is an important reason she lost. Some people who should have known better hated her so much that they were able to rationalize voting for the astonishingly unfit Trump in order to stop her, so that was definitely a factor. But aside from that, she was a normal candidate, from the usual mold, a person who people who knew what they were about — such as Republican foreign-policy experts — were comfortable voting for, knowing the nation would be in reasonably safe hands.

She was business-as-usual (which also helped sink her, as we know), while Trump was a complete departure from anything that had ever before risen its ugly, bizarrely-coiffed head to this level in American politics. It wasn’t just a matter of resume. This man got up very early every morning to start making statements — by Twitter before others rose, out loud later in the day — that absolutely screamed of his unfitness. A rational employer would not hire someone that unstable to do anything, much less to become the most powerful man in the world.

I need not provide a list of his outrages, right? You all remember the election we just went through, right?

TRUMP is what distinguishes this election from all others. TRUMP is what people are trying to get over — which we can’t, of course, because he’s now with us for the next four years. I ran into a former Republican lawmaker yesterday — a member of the revolutionary class of 1994, the original Angry White Male revolt — who expressed his utter bewilderment and sense of unreality that has been with him daily since the election. To him, as to me, the fact that Trump won the election can’t possibly BE a fact. Nothing in our lives prior to this prepared us for such a bizarre eventuality.

Yes, there are complicating factors — the populist impulse that has swept the West recently, which sometimes seemed would prevent Hillary Clinton from winning her own party’s nomination, despite her socialist opponent’s clear unsuitability and the fact that it was understood in her party that it was Her Turn. The roots of that are difficult to plumb. As is the fact that the GOP was bound and determined to reject all qualified candidates and nominate someone completely unsuitable — if not Trump, it would have been Ted Cruz, whom tout le monde despised. Both factors can be attributed to the populist obsession, but contain important differences.

So yes, there was a force abroad in the land (and in the lands of our chief allies) that was determined to sweep aside qualifications, good sense and known quantities in favor of the outlandish. And that helped produce Trump.

But still, particularly if you look directly at what happened on Nov. 8, the difference is Trump himself.

And that MUST be faced by anyone attempting to explain what has happened.

Ever since he started closing in on the nomination, I’ve been begging everyone in the commentariat and beyond to resist the lazy temptation to normalize Trump, to write or speak as though this were just another quadrennial contest between Democrat and Republican, to be spoken of in the usual terms. I was hardly alone. Plenty of others wrote in similar terms about the danger of pretending this election was in any way like any other.

And now, we still have that battle to fight, as veteran (and novice) scribes seek to describe the transition to a (shudder) Trump administration in the usual terms, even though some have admirably noted the stark difference. (I particularly appreciated the Post piece yesterday accurately explaining the similarities between this unique transition and Reality TV. — which is another new thing, folks, as we slouch toward Idiocracy.)

It’s a battle that must be fought every day, until — four years from now, or eight, or however many years it takes (assuming our nation even can recover from this fall, which is in doubt) — a normal, qualified person is elected president.

Is this really where the light of liberal democracy grows dim?

In a comment earlier I wrote about how concerned I am about the course of my country — and of the world. More so than I’ve ever been in my more than six decades on this planet.

It’s not just Trump — he’s just a glaring, ugly sign of it. Take a step back, and reflect: Who came in second in the GOP primaries? The only guy who gave Trump any kind of a run for his money as the worst candidate ever — Ted Cruz. All the better-suited candidates were stuck in single digits. And the Democrats have nothing to brag about — they put forward the second-most (second to Trump) despised candidate in the history of such things being measured. And she had trouble putting away a cranky old socialist to get that far.

How can I blame Trump when the real problem is that millions of people voted for him? I actually almost feel sorry for this bizarre figure, because he truly had zero reason to expect that he’d actually end up in this position.

I mean seriously: If you don’t even go deeper than his hair, you can tell at a glance that the country’s really, really in trouble. This is what will lead us?krauthammer

And the rest of the world, too. As Charles Krauthammer wrote today, “After a mere 25 years, the triumph of the West is over.” The promise of 1991, with the Soviet Union finally collapsing and the U.S. leading a broad coalition against Saddam in Kuwait — the New World Order in which Civilization, led by the City on a Hill, would enforce its values against aggressors — is behind us.

The United States is pulling back, and the bad guys just can’t wait to flow into the vacuum. In fact, they haven’t been waiting — in Syria, Iraq, Ukraine or the South China Sea. Or even in our own backyard.

He sums it up this way, blaming BOTH Obama and Trump:

Donald Trump wants to continue the pullback, though for entirely different reasons. Obama ordered retreat because he’s always felt the U.S. was not good enough for the world, too flawed to have earned the moral right to be the world hegemon. Trump would follow suit, disdaining allies and avoiding conflict, because the world is not good enough for us — undeserving, ungrateful, parasitic foreigners living safely under our protection and off our sacrifices. Time to look after our own American interests.

I think he’s trying a little too hard at false equivalence there, but at the same time, while Obama’s a smart guy who knows how to say the right things (unlike, you know, the other guy), there has been a noticeable tinge of “Oh, this country isn’t all that special” in his stance toward the world. A tinge that some of you agree with, and with which I couldn’t disagree more. But if you’re right, if the United States isn’t all that special — if it can’t be relied upon as the chief champion of liberal democracy — then the world doesn’t stand much of a chance. Because there’s always somebody wanting to be the hegemon, and the leading candidates running to take our place are pretty much a nightmare.

ISIS is a wannabe and never-was on that score. Russia wants to be a contender again, instead of bum, Charlie. But my money has long been on the oppressive authoritarians of the world’s largest country, China.

One of the first editorials I wrote for The State — maybe the first — when I joined the editorial board in 1994 was about the disturbing signs I saw of the Chinese buying friends and influencing people right here in our hemisphere, the long-forgotten Monroe Doctrine notwithstanding. I was worried that nobody else in this country seemed to see it, thanks to the fact that few of my fellow Americans ever took a moment to think about what happens to the south of us. (Side note: We wrote a lot about international affairs when I joined the editorial board; when I became editor, we would focus far more closely on South Carolina, which needed the scrutiny.)

Well, more people have noticed it since then. But not enough people. And not enough of the ones who have noticed care. President Obama, to his credit, started his “pivot” to focus on the Pacific Rim. That was the smart thing to do for this country’s long-term interests, and those of liberal democracy in general. China needs to be countered, with both soft power and, when necessary, hard.

Probably the most chilling paragraph in Krauthammer’s column is this one:

As for China, the other great challenger to the post-Cold War order, the administration’s “pivot” has turned into an abject failure. The Philippines openly defected to the Chinese side. Malaysia then followed. And the rest of our Asian allies are beginning to hedge their bets. When the president of China addressed the Pacific Rim countries in Peru last month, he suggested that China was prepared to pick up the pieces of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, now abandoned by both political parties in the United States….

TPP was smart policy, encouraging our allies in the region to join with us in confidence, tying themselves more closely with U.S. interests in the face of the Chinese challenge. And this year, neither party was willing to stand up for it — even though one of the nominees (the one who lost, of course) knew better. If she’d been elected, at least we’d have had the chance of her breaking that bad campaign promise.

We painstakingly fashioned that strategic instrument, then dropped it like a hot potato when the populists began howling. And China is preparing to pick it up. And maybe you don’t, but I feel the Earth’s center of gravity shifting in the wrong direction.

Oh, but hey, Carrier’s not moving a plant to Mexico — at least, not completely. So everything’s OK, right? We’ve entered the era of short-term, inwardly focused international goals. Or something…

A post in which you can talk about Gen. Mattis

gen_james_n_mattis

Bryan Caskey complains via email, “We gonna talk foreign policy and military stuff on your blog about Mattis, or what?”

Alright, alright, already! Here’s a post about that. And here’s a story about Mattis.

Frankly, I don’t have a strong opinion on this nomination, but here are some thoughts:

  • With a complete ignoramus as commander in chief, it’s more important than ever that there be competent Cabinet members, who can keep the ship of state on some kind of rational course, at least when the White House leaves them alone to do so. This is particularly true on the national security team. And Trump’s decision to make Gen. Michael “Lock Her Up!” Flynn his national security adviser already has us in the hole on that score.
  • Mattis would seem to fit that bill. He’s a guy whose resume demonstrates that he would fully understand the missions of the Defense Department and act accordingly.
  • Then there’s the problem that Congress would have to grant an exemption that it has not granted until it did so for George C. Marshall. The law they’d have to waive arises from concerns about maintaining civilian control of the military. As y’all know, I’m not one of these post-Vietnam liberals who hyperventilate at the sight of a military uniform, fearing a real-life “Seven Days in May.” The Constitution sets the president as commander in chief, and that would seem sufficient. Well, it would under normal circumstances. Having a SecDef who is a recent general and is able to think rings around the president on military matters and foreign affairs could be a cause of concern on the fussy point of civilian control — but I personally would sleep better if I knew Mattis was calling the shots rather than the president-elect.
  • Mattis is far less trusting of Iran than President Obama. I think that is probably a healthy thing, but as Bryan would say, and this post is after all for Bryan, your mileage may vary.
  • I think it’s a very good thing that he has differed in the past from Trump on the idea of our allies getting a “free ride” on the back of U.S. power. He argued with a similar comment from President Obama once.
  • My guys John McCain and Lindsey Graham are on board, which makes me like him better. Graham finds him “an outstanding choice,” and McCain says “He is without a doubt of one of finest military officers of his generation and an extraordinary leader who inspires a rare and special admiration of his troops.”

Your thoughts?

‘Ridiculously loyal’ Clyburn re-elected, in case you were in suspense

I’m looking at this release from Jim Cyburn yesterday:

CLYBURN RE-ELECTED ASSISTANT DEMOCRATIC LEADER

Congressman James E. Clyburn released the following statement after the House Democratic Caucus elected him by acclamation to another term as Assistant Democratic Leader:

“I thank all my House Democratic colleagues for the faith and confidence they have expressed in me to serve as Assistant Democratic Leader in the 115th Congress. I am deeply honored to have the unanimous support of our Caucus and humbly accept this Leadership position with clear eyes and understanding of the challenges and opportunities ahead.clyburn

“As I said to my colleagues today, our experiences are what make us who and what we are. Our diversity – of experiences, backgrounds, ethnicities and constituencies – remains our greatest strength. As the only Member of elected Leadership from a deep red state and largely rural district, I will work tirelessly to stay connected to all of our Caucuses and regions and to give voice to the concerns of our diverse communities.

“Looking forward, I want my grandchildren to grow up in a world where they do not have to fear the next decision of the Supreme Court of the United States for the impact it could have on their lives and communities. I want them to grow up where people in elected office are people they can look up to and emulate. Together, we can do something about that.”

Clyburn was nominated to be the Assistant Democratic Leader by Congressman Cedric Richmond (LA-02) and seconded by Congresswoman Grace Meng (NY-06), Congressman Pete Aguilar (CA-31) and Congressman Peter Welch (VT-At Large).

– 30 –

… and I find myself wondering to whom it matters, other than Clyburn himself.

To the extent that I give any thought whatsoever to the House Democrats’ re-election of the usual suspects — which is practically not at all — it seems to me that the minority are saying they don’t care much one way or the other.

They have no intention of changing anything, and they intend to go on their merry way, congratulating themselves on how “diverse” they are, patting each other on the backs for being right-thinking, and just continuing blithely down the road to irrelevance.

Or am I missing something here?

If I were a Democrat, I’d be really ticked off at the spectacle of complacency that the House caucus seems to represent. I’d demand to know what these people planned to do about translating our shared ideology into action. But since I’m not, I’m even less interested than these members themselves seem to be.

Oh, but wait! The State reports that there were “whispers” about replacing Clyburn and the rest. But before you get all excited, let me tell you that they came to nothing. Why? Because Clyburn is “ridiculously loyal,” as one member put it.

Now there’s an accolade for you…

Nothing against Clyburn personally, mind you. No one else seems to have any great ideas for changing their party’s fortunes, either. Or for doing much of anything. I just find that whole crowd rather underwhelming, don’t you?

Guess who wants to eliminate the Electoral College?

Yep, it’s my old Tennessee buddy*, Al Gore.

But in fairness, he says this is a new position for him. He notes that after he won the popular vote but lost the election in 2000 (and yes, my Democratic friends, he did lose; it was not “handed to Bush” illegitimately by the Court), he still supported keeping the Electoral College.

Now, he makes these points along the way to explaining his change of mind (not all of these points are relevant; I just found them interesting):

  • He recognizes that such a move is “not without peril,” and there are good arguments both ways. He says it’s “a balancing act,” but the balance has changed in favor of popular election.
  • He says “I think it would stimulate public participation in the democratic process like nothing else we could possibly do.”
  • He uses the cliche, “the wisdom of crowds” — which seems ironic, given what just happened. Even if the election had been by popular vote, the number of people who voted for Trump would have been scary.
  • Acknowledges that “the Internet age is filled with all this junk,” which is fun to hear given the popular meme that follows him.
  • He sees popular election as one of “three or four things” — another is getting money out of the process — that could revitalize our democracy.

* No, he’s not really my buddy, but we did know each other when he was a senator and I was an editor at the paper in Jackson, TN. Given the season, here’s a favorite story related to that. Al’s uncle or cousin (I was never clear on the relationship) lived down the street from us in Jackson. He was older, shorter and rounder than Al. One Christmas Eve (having checked with us first), he came to our house in his Santa costume to chat briefly with our kids. They were about 7, 5 and 3 at the time, and it totally blew their minds. He was, needless to say, a more gregarious guy than his famous kinsman. He also used to host an annual game supper/political gathering that I attended once, and it was the only time I ever tasted venison.

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Nikki Haley, ambassador to the United Nations

haley-waving

Late on election night, the folks on PBS (Judy Woodruff, David Brooks, Mark Shields, and others), utterly flabbergasted and in desperate search for something to say, somehow got on the subject of “Whither the Republican Party?” Or something like that. I forget exactly how they got on the topic, but they got to talking about who might be waiting in the wings in the party — which is odd; it seems more like they’d have been asking that about the Democrats.

And maybe they did. My memory is cloudy because I was in shock, too. But here’s my point: Somehow the name that came up — and I think it was the first name, perhaps the only one — was that of Nikki Haley.

Which was… surprising. But national media have long thought a lot of her. As a young, presentable, female, nonwhite Republican, she plays well nationally, certainly in the Identity Politics sense. And she is very personable. She makes a great first, second and third impression. And her time in office has brought her greater poise, while she has moved somewhat away from the Tea Party fringe that elected her. And she truly became the leader of this state when she stepped out on the flag last year.

So now, after she had the good sense to distance herself from him during the primaries, she is Donald Trump’s choice to be U.N. ambassador. And it’s playing as a good decision in national coverage.

First let me say, I’m far happier with her as U.N. ambassador than I am with Donald Trump as president — no question. But let’s just say that’s not a high bar.

And… we can discuss this more later… I feel pretty good about Henry McMaster as governor. He was the best candidate for that office in the GOP primary in 2010, and the only thing I can think of to say against him is that he backed Trump in the primary.

But let’s discuss that later. Back to Nikki Haley…

I just have to say this, as a guy who cares deeply about this country’s dealings with the rest of the world: What qualifications does she have for the position? Aside from being as I said personable, which can be helpful in diplomacy, I cannot think of any at all.

Today, The Washington Post is saying:

Haley, a former Trump rival, is generally considered a mainstream Republican, with views on military and national security matters that fall within the GOP’s hawkish mainstream. She has little foreign policy experience.

First, let’s correct the second sentence — to my knowledge, she does not have ANY foreign policy experience. (And no, a few industrial recruitment trips selling South Carolina abroad do not count as foreign policy experience of the U.N. Security Council sort.)

As for the first experience — where are they getting that? Yeah, she has gravitated from a Tea Party candidate who couldn’t wait to make the Establishment miserable to a more neutral position (where I frankly think she is more comfortable). And bless her, she went with Rubio on the primary. But what “views on military and national security matters” are they referring to? Aside from being proud of her husband’s service in the National Guard, I cannot think of any that she has expressed. Not that she needed to; she’s never had a job that called upon her to do so.

(And is the GOP mainstream still hawkish? Are Lindsey Graham and John McCain, who well represent where the party has mostly been since 1945, still the gravitational center? We can discuss that another time, too.)

As U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley is a tabula rasa, as she was when she first ran for the House. The best thing that can be said is that she has no bad foreign policy habits to unlearn. If everyone in the GOP who knows anything about geopolitics had not run screaming from Donald Trump and all who sail in him, I suppose we could hope for her to be strenuously tutored — but who’s going to do it now? Trump?

And is U.N. ambassador actually the place where you go to get your feet wet in international relations? No. It does not come with training wheels, to the best of my knowledge. Of course, I’m a child of the Cold War, and grew up on such cultural references as “Failsafe” (and now, with Trump as president-elect, feel like I’m living in “Dr. Strangelove”). I see the U.N. Security Council as a deadly serious, high-stakes kind of thing, to say the least. Growing up with those references, I took what comfort I could from the notion that the people representing us around those conference tables in a crisis knew a lot more about this stuff than I did. And I wonder — back when Trump was asked about the nuclear triad and found wanting, how would our governor have answered the same question?

As y’all know, I’ve had frequent occasions to praise Gov. Haley in the last year or so; I’ve really felt that she was growing in the job, and I will always praise her to the skies for her leadership on getting the Confederate flag down. That was amazing, and wonderful, and stunning. It made her a heroine in my eyes.

But does any of that, or her calm, visible leadership during weather crises — for which I also honor her — qualify her for this?

Please tell me it does, and explain why, because I really want to feel better about this…

All the bad guys in the world are THRILLED at prospect of a diminished United States under Trump

On a previous post, our own Phillip Bush said he’s concerned about the Trump administration being “Bush/Cheney redux.”

We’re not going to be so lucky. There’s little chance of having an administration that is anything like Bush’s — or Obama’s, or Clinton’s, or Reagan’s, or Carter’s, or Nixon’s, or Johnson’s, or Kennedy’s, or Eisenhower’s, or Truman’s.

Yeah, I get why Phillip said that — John Bolton is a hard case, and some call him a “neocon,” although he really doesn’t fit the description. Neocons are liberals who deserted the left after Vietnam. Bolton has always been a conservative — he backed Goldwater in 1964.

But forget Bolton — in fact, I am little interested in who will hold this or that position. None of these appointments are as bad, or as consequential, as what has already happened — the election of Donald Trump, a man who just by being president will diminish the influence of the United States in the world.

You’ve probably read that most world leaders — particularly our friends — are deeply dismayed by what happened last week, and very worried about what happens next. They’re perhaps as upset as I am, and for some of the same reasons — my greatest worry about a Trump victory was its effect on international relations. You probably also know that this is exactly what Russia and China wanted — a clueless goofball at the helm of the United States, leaving the vacuum that they are eager to fill.

But others were cheering last week, too. And still are. The Guardian bothered to chronicle some of the reactions from a rogue’s gallery of extremists — mostly right-wing, populist nationalists: Marine Le Pen’s far-right Front National in France; Viktor Orbán, the hardline nationalist leader of Hungary; Frauke Petry, the lead of Germany’s rightwing populist Alternative für Deutschland; Greece’s Golden Dawn, the party seen as Europe’s most virulent far-right force; Heinz-Christian Strache, the leader of Austria’s rightwing populist Freedom party; the Dutch far-right leader and MP Geert Wilders; Beppe Grillo, the former comedian and the leader of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement in Italy; and of course Nigel Farage in Britain.

Fareed Zakaria looked beyond Europe, at some of the other bullies, tyrants and loonies who are happy that a man who neither understands or believes in America’s role in the postwar order will be in charge:

Duterte

Duterte

Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad called Trump a “natural ally.” Rodrigo Duterte, the authoritarian leader of the Philippines, said of him, “We both like to swear . . . we’re the same.” Duterte has been hostile to the United States because Washington has criticized the extrajudicial killings and human rights abuses that have marked his tenure. Robert Mugabe, who has clung to power in Zimbabwe for 36 years while destroying that nation’s economy and liberties, has been similarly hopeful. A full-page editorial in a state-run paper there hailed the election of “the mighty Trump,” and the 92-year-old dictator has reportedly described Trump as a “friend.” No doubt Duterte and Mugabe hope that a Trump administration will go easy on them….

All over the world, separatists and nationalists, thugs and bullies of all stripes are ecstatic over Trump’s victory. Why? Because they see this as the end of the internationalist consensus that we’ve had since Truman, an unprecedented era of peace among major powers, largely led and guaranteed by an engaged United States.

Zakaria explains what’s at stake, in a simple, Geopolitics 101 manner:

But what is this globalism to which these people are so opposed? After 1945, after the Great Depression and two world wars, Western nations established an international system characterized by rules that honored national sovereignty, allowed for the flourishing of global commerce, and encouraged respect for human rights and liberties. This order resulted in the longest period of peace among the world’s major powers, marked by broad-based economic growth that created large middle classes in the West, the revival of Europe, growth in poor countries that lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and the spread of freedom across the globe.

The U.S. role in all this was pivotal. It set the agenda and provided security, which was about more than just deterring the Soviet Union and other aggressive powers. Radek Sikorski, Poland’s former foreign minister, said, “America’s influence and its commitments have been our security blanket. They have allowed Europe’s national rivalries to stay dormant. If you take away those guarantees, Europe could get very unstable.” And remember, the European Union is the world’s biggest market and the United States’ largest trading partner.

For the United States, “globalism” has produced enormous advantages. With 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States dominates the global economy, in technology, education, finance and clean energy. One in five U.S. jobsis a result of trade, and that number is growing fast. The United States maintains the world’s reserve currency, giving it a huge economic advantage.

The benefits of growth and globalization have not been shared equally, and the pace of change causes anxiety everywhere. But these are reasons to invest in people, upgrade their skills and better integrate communities. They are not reasons to destroy the most peaceful and productive international system ever devised in human history….

Of course, some of my friends — Doug and others — would like to see the United States be a smaller, humbler country confined to its own borders. But my libertarian and my post-Vietnam liberal friends will find themselves in some ugly company in cheering a diminished United States.

This is a very bad moment for liberal democracy around the world.

Lindsey Graham on possible Trump nominations

Since I haven’t had time to write a real post today, I’ll share this from Lindsey Graham. It might prompt some discussion:

Graham Statements on Possible Trump Cabinet Appointments and Supreme Court

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) made these statements today about former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) and Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

Ø  On Rudy Giuliani or John Bolton as Possible Nominees for Secretary of State:

“The overwhelming majority of Republican senators have the utmost respect for Rudy Giuliani.  He led the nation and New York through 9/11.  He’s a citizen of the world who is eminently qualified to serve as Secretary of State.

“As for John Bolton, he was United Nations Ambassador under President Bush.  He is a reformer who would turn the State Department upside down and make it work better.  He understands who our friends and enemies are.  We see the world in very similar ways.   

“I believe an overwhelming majority of Republican senators would support either candidate and some Democrats would too.  You will never convince me that Giuliani and Bolton are not qualified to serve at this level.”  

Ø  On Senator Rand Paul’s Threat to Filibuster Giuliani or Bolton:

“You could put the number of Republicans who will follow Rand Paul’s advice on national security in a very small car.  Rand is my friend but he’s a libertarian and an outlier in the party on these issues.  The fact that Senator Paul opposes Bolton and Giuliani will not keep them from serving.” 

Ø  On South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley as Possible Secretary of State:

“She’s done a good job as Governor of South Carolina.  She’s talented, capable and would do a good job in any assignment given to her.  I think Nikki is a traditional Republican when it comes to foreign policy – more like Ronald Reagan than Rand Paul.  I like her a lot.  I would certainly support her.”   

Ø  On Ted Cruz for the Supreme Court:

“We are replacing Justice Scalia, who was probably the most conservative justice on the Supreme Court.  Ted Cruz is a constitutional conservative in the mold of Justice Scalia.  If you are looking for a Scalia-type figure, Ted Cruz fits the bill.  We have had our differences, but even his worst critics cannot say Ted Cruz is not one of the smartest, most gifted lawyers in the country.  If you are looking for someone like Justice Scalia to serve on the Supreme Court, take a look at Ted Cruz.”

#####

Graham and McCain won’t stand idly by while Trump cozies up to Putin

Who might step out of the crowd to stand up to Russia?

Who might step out of the crowd to stand up to Russia?

One of the seemingly less alarming headlines in the days right after the election was this one:

Trump, Putin agree in phone call to improve ‘unsatisfactory’ relations between their countries, Kremlin says

And what’s wrong with that? We might even applaud it, were Trump a normal POTUS-elect. Of course one chats with foreign leaders after winning the election, and of course one expresses hope for good international relations, even “resets.” Kumbaya, and all that.

But since we had ample evidence during the election that Trump is putty in Putin’s hands, and since Putin’s international goals include expanding his territory toward more Evil-Empirelike boundaries and propping up Bashar al-Assad in Syria, it’s quite natural to be creeped out by such an otherwise vanilla headline, because it tells you that it’s already begun.

Fortunately, people who know better than Trump are serving notice they won’t stand idly by while this bromance develops.

First there was this:

Sen. John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, sent his first shot across the bow of President-elect Donald Trump’s national security plans Tuesday, saying that any attempt to “reset” relations with Russia is unacceptable.

“With the U.S. presidential transition underway, Vladi­mir Putin has said in recent days that he wants to improve relations with the United States,” McCain (R-Ariz.) said in a statement released by his office.

“We should place as much faith in such statements as any other made by a former KGB agent who has plunged his country into tyranny, murdered his political opponents, invaded his neighbors, threatened America’s allies and attempted to undermine America’s elections,” he said….

Then, McCain’s pal Lindsey Graham weighed in:

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Tuesday said he wants Senate hearings to investigate whether Russian President Vladimir Putin interfered in the U.S. election, casting doubts on President-elect Donald Trump’s desire to improve relations with Russia.

“Assuming for a moment that we do believe that the Russian government was controlling outside organizations that hacked into our election, they should be punished,” Graham told reporters on Capitol Hill. “Putin should be punished.”…

They are hardly alone, as the House demonstrated yesterday:

On Tuesday, the House passed a bill imposing mandatory sanctions on anyone that financially, economically, or technologically supports Syria’s government in the civil war there – a category that chiefly includes Russia and Iran. Trump’s supporters didn’t stand in the way, and the measure was passed unanimously.

“Regardless of perspectives on Syria, there’s some unanimity of opinion in sending a message on this kind of conduct,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said prior to the vote….

Here’s the part where we find out whether we should have believed all those reassurances we heard from Republicans about how our checks and balances would rein in the inevitable foolishness of a Trump administration…

Fareed Zakaria on ‘The two sins that defined this election’

fareed_zakaria_peabody_awards_2012_croppedHere’s another thing I recommend if you’re looking for good commentary on the election.

I complained yesterday that I found most of what I was reading unsatisfactory. Perhaps the best, most helpful piece I’ve read yet was this one by Fareed Zakaria, headlined “The two sins that defined this election.”

By way of spoiler, the two sins are:

  1. The utter disdain in which elites held Trump voters.
  2. The real racism that was at work in support for Trump.

So, as you see, he has criticism for both sides.

You should read the whole thing. An excerpt:

Over the past three or four decades, the United States has sorted itself into a highly efficient meritocracy, where people from all economic walks of life can move up the ladder of achievement and income (usually ending up in cities). It is better than using race, gender or bloodlines as the key to wealth and power, but it does create its own problems. As in any system, some people won’t ascend to the top, and because it is a meritocracy, it is easy to believe that that’s justified.

A meritocracy can be blind to the fact that some people don’t make it because they have been unlucky in some way. More profoundly, it can be morally blind. Even those who score poorly on tests or have bad work habits are human beings deserving of attention and respect. The Republicans’ great success in rural communities has been that even though they often champion economic policies that would not help these people — indeed, policies that often hurt them — they demonstrate respect, by identifying with them culturally, religiously and emotionally….

 

Please share your reports from the polls

There's no one in the L-Z line! It's good to be the W.

There’s no one in the L-Z line! It’s good to be the W.

Sorry not to have posted earlier. Technical problems on the blog. Here’s hoping they’re fixed now. I’m sure it was just a probing cyberattack by the Russians.

Well, I went and I voted, and it went fine, although there was a tiny glitch, no doubt also the work of the Russians. (Yes, those of you new to the blog; I’m kidding. I think…)

My wife got up just before 7, and was out the door before I could get ready. She returned in maybe 40 minutes, reporting that the lines at the Quail Hollow polling place weren’t bad, but the traffic getting in and out was horrible. Here’s the problem: We vote at Saluda River Baptist Church, which is at 3459 Sunset Blvd — across Sunset from our neighborhood. It’s in a section of Sunset where the hordes of people heading into town can actually get up a bit of speed — like, 55 or 60 mph — and this was rush hour. The driveway into the church is just below the crest of a hill. So basically, you can’t see the oncoming traffic until it’s on top of you.

So, I waited a bit, for rush hour to pass, then went to vote. And there was no line, for those of us with names in the L-Z range. The A-K people did have a short line to wait in, which is right and proper. It’s good to be the W.

Not only that, but I remembered my photo ID this time!

But then, when my neighbor who was working the poll took my little pink card and slipped that cassette thing into my machine to activate it… nothing happened. She was about to move on to try another machine when she noticed that the one next to this one still had a screen with candidates on it showing, and the voter had left. And here’s where we get into the whole voting-as-a-community thing.

That was Mr. So-and-So, she said, and he just lost one of his best friends last week, and has a lot on his mind. She ran after him, turning me over to another poll worker. The man returned, apologizing to all, and finished voting.

When I was done — this machine worked fine — she said she had told the man no problem, and that she supposed he was thinking about his friend who had died, and he said yes, he had been.

I learned one other thing — a bit earlier, the line had been out the door. So my timing was perfect.

How did it go for y’all? What are you seeing out there?

Donald closes as nominee of Occupy Wall Street; Hillary goes for Reassuring Grandma

Or, as NPR had it, “In Closing Ads, Trump Goes Dark While Clinton Goes Cozy.”

These are the final ads of the two campaigns.

global-power-structure

Some members of the “global power structure” that Trump says is out to get us.

Trump’s is a deeply, profoundly, sweepingly paranoid view of our world. Apparently, we are all the victims of an enormous conspiracy that involves not only the corporations and billionayuhs Bernie was on about, but the leadership of every major country in the world, all engaged in a “global power structure” aimed at keeping us — or, at least, Trump’s base — down.

Hillary Clinton, who seems to be again clothed in what Alexandra Petri termed her “Saruman the White” look, goes for the approach of sitting us down, looking us in the eye and having a comforting heart-to-heart with us about the values that have always informed our country, and which make us great now, not in some distant past. In her view as presented here, we’re good enough, we’re smart enough, and doggone it; people like us.

It’s a pretty stark contrast. Either we’re all doomed, or we’ve got a pretty good thing going in this country, and have had all along.

And now we have to decide which makes sense to us.

What IS the deal with Comey?

This business of the FBI director’s letter last week has a lot of puzzling aspects that we could discuss.

james-comey

Comey’s official FBI portrait. I almost don’t recognize him, smiling.

I almost did a post yesterday based on a couple of headlines out there, one of which was this: “Did FBI Director James Comey’s Email Announcement Break The Law?” To that, I could only say, Who cares? What if it did? Sure he could be prosecuted, fined, jailed, whatever — it wouldn’t affect what he has done to this election, whatever that is. The damage can’t be undone. If his actions result in the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States, keelhauling him might make a lot of us feel avenged, but it wouldn’t save the country.

Another headline — which I can’t seem to find now — said he may have a report on what is found in the new emails before the election. To which I could only say, whoop-te-frickin’-do. When would that be? Election eve? So if the news is detrimental to Hillary Clinton, or merely leaves a cloud over her, that could be the finishing stroke. And if it clears her of any further culpability, Republicans will charge to the polls in a fine lather, willing even to vote for Trump to express their ire.

There’s a lot more this morning. I was intrigued by an interview I heard on public radio this morning with Donald Ayer, deputy U.S. attorney general under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush between 1989 and 1990. He made a fascinating point. He said that when Comey had his announcement/speech back in the summer, everybody kind of went, OK, so Hillary did some irresponsible stuff, but it didn’t rise to the level of being prosecutable. Republicans were outraged and Democrats relieved, but everyone went on with their lives.

And, Mr. Ayer said, no one stopped to think just how wildly inappropriate it was for someone with prosecutorial power to make a lengthy speech about the merits of a case he was deciding not to prosecute.

Anyway, the point was that that error set up this one. Having told Congress and tout le monde that he was done investigating and there was nothing to prosecute, he felt honor-bound to say last week, Uh, fellas, I found something else we need to take a look at….

(Being bound by honor is a very fine thing and all too rare these days. But I confess I’m on the verge of losing patience with Mr. Comey’s delicate sensibilities…)

So now we have this situation in which everybody’s mad at him — Democrats for possibly throwing the election to Trump, and Republicans for not telling us all right now just how much these emails damn Hillary.

Here’s another interesting wrinkle: “Comey was concerned publicly blaming Russia for hacks of Democrats could appear too political in run-up to elections.”

Yeah, right? He had his excuses for why he was concerned about the FBI’s purity in that case and not this one (and you should read the story), but still…

Finally… As y’all know, Bret Stephens, deputy editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal, has written some extraordinary columns lately damning Trump and all-but-endorsing Hillary. Today, he had one simply headlined, “Resign, Mr. Comey.” An excerpt:

These aren’t partisan acts. They are self-regarding ones. Mr. Comey is a familiar Washington type—the putative saint—whose career is a study in reputation management. He went after investment banker Frank Quattrone. He threatened to resign from the Bush administration over its warrantless wiretap program. He vouchsafed the case against Steven J. Hatfill, the virologist accused of the 2001 anthrax mail attacks, in internal White House deliberations. He appointed his close friend Patrick Fitzgerald to investigate the leak of CIA analyst Valerie Plame’s name.

One common thread in these cases is that Mr. Comey was always on the right side of Beltway conventional wisdom. The second is that he was consistently on the wrong side of justice….

FBI directors are supposed to be above politics, not in them. President Obama has the authority to fire Mr. Comey but will be hard-pressed to do so politically. That goes double if Mrs. Clinton is elected. Who knows what a President Trump would do.

All the more reason for Mr. Comey to do the right thing. He has lost the trust of his political masters, his congressional overseers and the American people. Wanting to spend more time with family is the usual excuse.

Mr. Stephens is understandably ticked.

One wonders where Mr. Comey’s conscience will take us next. Although what it’s done so far is quite enough…

 

I don’t have the luxury of making a gesture with my vote

I was glad he was going to lose, but wanted to make a statement about Nixon.

I was glad he was going to lose, but wanted to make a statement about Nixon.

In my morning reading today, I ran across two things that impressed me. Both were from Republicans trying to explain just what a nightmare Trump is. Bret Stephens, deputy editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal, had another strong column headlined “My Former Republican Party.” An excerpt:

Foreign policy: In 1947 Harry Truman asked Arthur Vandenberg, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to support his efforts to shore up the governments in Greece and Turkey against Soviet aggression. Vandenberg agreed, marking his—and the GOP’s—turn from isolationism to internationalism.

Since then, six Republican presidents have never wavered in their view that a robust system of treaty alliances such as NATO are critical for defending the international liberal order, or that the U.S. should dissuade faraway allies such as South Korea and Saudi Arabia from seeking nuclear weapons, or that states such as Russia should be kept out of regions such as the Middle East.

Where, amid Mr. Trump’s routine denunciations of our allegedly freeloading allies, or Newt Gingrich’s public doubts about defending NATO member Estonia against Russian aggression, or the alt-right’s attacks on “globalism,” or Sean Hannity’s newfound championship of WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, is that Republican Party today?…

Then there was the piece from Jennifer Rubin, The Washington Post‘s duty conservative, headlined “The Republicans who want to beat Trump by as much as possible.” An excerpt:

Trump and the mind-set of slavish Republicans who follow him deserve repudiation. Some Republicans think the party can be disinfected after the Trump experience and some want to start all over. (“These are generational problems. So maybe over time, over a number of decades, these changes can be made, but the reality is the conservative movement doesn’t have time for that,” said McMullin in defense of the latter approach. “And if the Republican Party can’t make the changes, as wasn’t able to do after 2012, the conservative movement will need a new political vehicle.”)

Either way, McMullin and others who want wholesale change on the right are rooting for Trump’s annihilation and his flacks’ and bully boys’ humiliation. The bigger the margin by which he loses, the more preposterous Trump’s claim that the election is fixed. Indeed, it’s more important for Republicans — if they want to get back their party — to vote against Trump than it is for Democrats. “By taking the leap to Clinton, these Republicans have set an example for all Americans to shed the home-team culture and put country before party,” Stubbs said. Maybe if they can recover some self-respect and devotion to principle by repudiating Trump, they will be prepared to create something superior to replace the GOP.

Absolutely. Republicans who care at all about their party and what it supposedly stands for have far more reason to want to see Trump utterly crushed than Democrats do. If you’re a partisan Democrat, you’re happy for Hillary to just squeak by, giving you more of an excuse to spend the next four years raising money to help you stop those horrid Republicans.

That is, if you’re the blinder sort of partisan Democrat. But whatever your party affiliation or lack thereof, if you understand the situation and care about the country we share, you want to see Trumpism crushed so that it slinks away and is never heard from again.

Which is why I, as a voter who cares, have no choice but to vote for Hillary Clinton. The same goes for you, if you can see it. She’s the only person on the planet who can defeat him, and just squeaking by won’t be enough.

We’ve had some terrific arguments here on the blog about that. And I still run into otherwise reasonable people who think an adequate response to Trump is to vote for neither of them. But that is NOT an adequate response.

Yeah, I understand the concept of using your vote to make a gesture, independent of any consideration of whether the candidate you vote for can win. I’ve done it myself — but only in rare circumstances when I had the luxury to do so. Or thought I did, anyway.

In 1972, my first election, I stood in the booth for awhile, undecided still. But in the end, I decided this: I voted for McGovern. I voted for him purely as a protest. I did it even though I thought he’d be a disaster as president. If the election had been close, if there’d been any chance of my vote deciding the outcome, I’d have voted for Nixon, because I trusted him more to have the judgment and abilities to run the country. But there was NO danger of McGovern winning, and even though I saw Nixon as more competent, I had a big problem with what I was sensing (but did not yet fully know) about Watergate.

So it was a protest vote, pure and simple.

I did the same thing in 1996, although the positions of the parties were reversed (which matters not at all to me, but I realize does to some people). On a personal level, I preferred Dole to Clinton. I thought Dole was the better man. But the abysmal campaign he had run had utterly persuaded me that he would be a disaster as president. He simply lacked the political skills to be effective. Had the election been so close that my vote could conceivably decide it, I’d have voted for Clinton, as the more competent leader between the two. But I had a lot of problems with Clinton by this time, and there was no way my vote would make a difference — South Carolina would go for Dole, and the country would go for Clinton; that was clear by the end. So I expressed my distaste for Clinton by casting my vote for Dole.

Another pure protest, without any intended practical effect.

Silly, really, in both cases. What good is a protest if no one even knows you’re making it? And no one did know (apart from a few intimates), until now. In each case, I was just making a gesture, for my own, private satisfaction. It was childish, in a way — I’m so mad at you I’m going to vote for this guy I don’t even think should win!

In both cases, I thought I had that luxury. This year, I absolutely don’t.

Oh, I could make a private gesture expressing my dissatisfaction with both candidates by, I don’t know, voting for Evan McMullin, or someone else who doesn’t have a chance.

But I can’t. Either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is going to be president, and it is my duty as a citizen to do whatever I can to affect which way it goes. And whatever else I think or feel about Hillary Clinton (I’m not going to waste time here going through a list of her shortcomings, because they are beside the point in light of Trump), she is a person with the skills, experience and understanding to do the job. Donald Trump absolutely does not possess those qualities, and is a walking, talking negation of what this country stands for.

Yeah, she’s probably going to beat him, but that’s by no means certain. (Remember, as Trump keeps reminding us, Brexit was supposed to lose.) And that’s not enough. Trump must lose badly (or “bigly,” if you prefer), as Ms. Rubin suggests.

So I really don’t have the luxury this time to make a gesture with my vote. It matters too much this time.

How could a guy who ran such an awful campaign run the government?

How could a guy who ran such an awful campaign run the government?

Finally taking the time to get into Hamilton

07hamilton-slide-dr5r-superjumbo

Roughly ten years ago, I was sitting at my desk in my office at The State, talking on the phone with Fritz Hollings. This was shortly after he had left office, and we frequently had occasion to talk. I don’t know what we were talking about, or who had called whom. It might have been about one of several op-ed pieces he wrote for us in that period — he was still having trouble letting go of policymaking. Maybe it was the conversation in which I called him to ask a favor — his good friend Joe Biden was going to be in town, and I wanted him to drop by the office if he had time so we could get acquainted, before he ran again for national office (Fritz came through on that).

Anyway, we got off the subject, whatever it was. Fritz had just read Ron Chernow’s book, Alexander Hamilton, and he started singing its praises, saying I must read it. I took his advice — almost. I put the book on my list for family members looking for gift ideas for my birthday or Christmas, and someone promptly gave it to me. And… it has sat on my shelf ever since, until this weekend.alexander-hamilton

I really, truly, meant to read it. I’d always been interested in the Founders. On my way to sort of inadvertently getting a second major in history, I concentrated to a certain extent on that period. And I came away convinced that had I been alive and in politics at the time, I’d have been a Federalist. That was the party Hamilton had founded, and I knew he was brilliant, and that he provided most of the arguments that sold the Constitution to the country among other startling achievements, but… I was less attracted to him than to the others, and I knew that as a result I had neglected him. Which is why I had dutifully put the book on my list. But still, I kept my distance. Maybe I had absorbed some of the propaganda put out about him by Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans, but it seemed to me that there was a reason why Hamilton wasn’t ever president, and I thought that if I was a Federalist, I was more of an Adams Federalist than a Hamiltonian. I mean, the guy was so into money and all…

So there the book sat. And during the years that I failed to read it, a young man named Lin-Manuel Miranda picked it up, and it set his mind on fire. He was inspired to write a musical based on the book, and it became the biggest hit on Broadway in a generation.

So, I missed a big opportunity there.

I kept hearing about the play, and seeing video clips from it, and I thought it was really exciting that someone had made a hit out of one of the Founders (and, to my mind, the Founder least likely to inspire a hit musical), but I had some Clueless White Guy questions: What did hip-hop have to do with the guy who had founded banks and our whole financial system? And why were most of the actors on the stage black — or at least, seemingly nonAnglo-Saxon? I didn’t object to them being black — I just wondered why. It seemed that there was a point being made, but I didn’t understand what the point was. I wondered whether it had to do with Hamilton’s obscure origins. All I knew (thanks to Jefferson’s folks) was that Hamilton was a bastard out of the West Indies. Was Miranda saying that, coming out of the ethnic richness of the Caribbean, he was of mixed race, so it was fitting to have actors of color fill the stage?

Well, on Friday night, I saw “Hamilton’s America,” the fascinating documentary about the creation of this play, and suddenly I got it. I saw what people were so enchanted with. I understood why, when Manuel was reading Chernow’s book on vacation, he thought, “This is a rap!” And I was deeply impressed by how everyone involved in the production was thoroughly immersed in Hamilton and the other Founders and what they were all about, and why they are important today — and not just to pasty-faced people of English extraction.

I was really impressed by that part. Decades ago, when I did some community theater back in Tennessee, I met a lot of talented people. And I was shocked to find that people who were brilliant musicians — something I could never be — and really gifted amateur actors were nevertheless… how shall I put this… not well read. They might do a play based on history — say, “The Lion In Winter,” which I acted in — and they’d get their lines and the intonations perfectly, but they wouldn’t really know the history or the cultural context of what they were pretending to be.

In this documentary, not only Miranda was able to speak fluently and inspiringly about Hamilton and his world, but the other actors as well. They went on and on about it, and you could learn a lot by listening to them.

And as I listened, I — who was last attracted to musical theater when Andrew Lloyd Webber came out with “Evita” (another sort of history I sorta kinda concentrated on in college was Latin American) — started really, really getting into the music. And that’s really, really saying something, since the only rap numbers I’m familiar with and like are the ones from “Office Space.”

So here’s the irony: Hip-hop helped get those young actors into history. And now history is getting me into hip-hop. As I type this, I’m nodding my head to “I am not throwing away my… shot!

OK, OK, Lin-Manuel! You got me! I finally picked up the book yesterday, and started reading. Slow reader that I am (the book’s 800-plus pages of small type pushed me away as much as anything), I’m on the third chapter now, and wow! He was right: This is a rap. I’m still in young Alexander’s shockingly difficult childhood in the Indies, and there’s nobody who ever came from meaner streets than he did. What a story.

So I’m really into it now. Fritz was right. So was Lin, who gave me the swift kick I needed…