As I was finishing the rough draft of this post, news of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death broke. She devoted her life to defending and expanding true democratic rights for all Americans. Her record on women’s rights and racial justice issues is legend. Her death would be a tragedy in any time, but it comes at a particularly dark moment. If we wish to honor her life, we must fight on for our democracy. (Plan Your Vote resources at end of post.)
Pop Quiz: Who is “He” in the following statements?
1. He completely mishandled the coronavirus pandemic.
2. His country’s economy is in shambles.
3. He positioned special forces to arrest protestors in the days before his re-election.
TheRUMP? (Sound of buzzer) Sorry, no free vacation cruise to Turks and Caicos for you. The subject of these charges is actually Belarus dictator President Lukashenko. But they could just as easily—and honestly—have been penned about America’s own dictator-wannabe.
Frequently described as authoritarian, corrupt, and incompetent (ring any bells?), Lukashenko has ruled over Belarus for more than a quarter century, since the office of president was established in 1994. He claims to have won his recent August 9th election with over 80% of the vote. But everyone knows he stole it—and not for the first time.
Having declared such an amazing (and I’m guessing, statistically improbable) blow-out win, was Lukashenko content to ignore the “rabble” in the street, maybe even toss them a bone—say, less draconian sentences for nonviolent drug-users, or an easing of a law that forces media outlets to report the names of those who submit comments, and their content, to the government? Maybe he could just toss them free rolls of paper towels.
But the thing is, dictators never cede ground. And they tend to view “the people” as their enemy. In the aftermath of his rigged election, Lukashenko waged war on protestors, employing armed security forces to silence his opposition. According to the New York Times, the last prominent protest leader was kidnapped by masked government thugs on September 7.
We would be wise to take note.
The Dizzying Damage Done to Our Democracy
It’s shocking, isn’t it, how much has gone up in flames in such a short time. Four years ago, could we have imagined a president who would speak about grabbing women by their pussies? Who would appoint an Attorney General to do his—often corrupt and illegal—bidding, damn the law? Who would separate children—even infants—from their parents? Who would brag about being able to murder someone on a public street and get away with it—and who would then send unidentified thugs into Black Lives Matter protests to arrest people without explanation or cause, and stuff them into unmarked cars?
A president who would gut EPA protections and renege on the Paris Climate Accords. Who would scrap the Iran Nuclear Deal, initiate our withdrawal from the World Health Organization in the midst of a pandemic, and scuttle Obama’s plans for managing just such a pandemic. A president who would tell the states of our supposedly United States that they were on their own when it came to testing, PPE, and life-saving ventilators. Who would threaten government whistleblowers and fire inspectors general, including the one appointed by Congress to oversee the dispersal of COVID funds, after which he would freely deal to his corporate pals $$$ intended to help American small business owners. A president who would be ridiculed and distrusted by all our allies (because he mocked and betrayed them). A president who would stand at the grave of a soldier killed in Afghanistan, and say to his father (General John Kelly), “I don’t get it. What’s in it for them?”
A president who would threaten to withhold funds from the states who didn’t vote for him. Who would defend a 17-year-old charged with first degree intentional homicide in the fatal shooting of two Black Lives Matter protesters. Who would champion the openly racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Islamic QAnon candidate for a House seat from Georgia, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and generally applaud this internet conspiracy group whom the FBI has labeled a potential domestic terrorist threat. Who would look on the COVID deaths of over 200,000 Americans and say, “It is what it is.”
Yet, here we are. And that’s the short list. The long list is exhausting. The Guardian noted that TheRUMP hit 20,000 false/misleading claims (on the WaPo’s Fact Checker) in a “tsunami of untruths” on July 9, delivering 62 of them on that day alone
The emotional cost, the mental strain, the ruin of lives. The desecration of the environment, the flouting of the rule of law, the disregard for the separation of powers that is intended to provide a system of checks and balances, preventing the concentration of power in any one branch—say, a dictatorial president.
And the brutality, the ugliness, it seeps down. When three-time cancer survivor, Bev Veals, called Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), worried her job-related healthcare would be cut, she was told that if she couldn’t afford care, she couldn’t have it. “Yeah,” a Tillis staffer said, “just like if I want to go to the store and buy a new dress shirt. If I can’t afford that dress shirt, I don’t get to get it.” When Veals protested that everyone needs healthcare, especially people with cancer, the staffer replied, “Sounds like something you’re going to have to figure it out.”
Hogging the Headlines…
Since TheRUMP’s 2017 inauguration, my e-mails have skyrocketed from 150-200 a day to more than 800. As the election draws closer, COVID deaths top 200,000 and the West Coast burns, that number exceeds 1,000 at times. Petitions to save public lands, public schools, endangered species, healthcare. Petitions to stop Arctic drilling, family separations at the border, police violence. Fundraisers for lawsuits to halt TheRUMP’s atrocities—to protect our laws, our rights—and newsletters detailing those atrocities.
This president, it has been duly noted, sucks all the air from the room, wherever he is, even—and maybe especially—when he’s tweeting. “Social media is the way to go,” he told reporters in 2017. “I’ve got over 100 million people watching. [It’s] a fast way of getting the word out.”
But the tweets, like TheRUMP himself, are mercurial, ill-considered (if considered at all), and frequently dangerous. His flirtations with military actions against Iran put the world on nuclear threat watch, and his announcement in December 2018 that the U.S. would withdraw its troops from Syria because “ISIS had been defeated” shocked everyone—“Trump simply doesn’t understand the extent of the Iranian military presence in the region,” an Israeli official said—but no one was more devastated than the Kurds, who had believed the U.S. to be trusted allies and now found themselves threatened with wholesale slaughter by Turkey.
Efforts to sorta partway walk back this off-the-rails policy u-turn resulted in John Bolton seeking some kind of protection for the Kurds from Turkey. It did not go down well with President Erdogan. Despite our Tweeter-in-Chief’s attempt to paint a rosy picture of the situation last November, claiming Erdogan has “a great relationship with the Kurds,” Turkey’s president continues to show his “affection” by setting Kurdish farmers’ fields on fire, shelling their settlements, and shutting off water supplies, despite the ceasefire called for by the UN during the pandemic.
Policy, both foreign and domestic, is lives. The highly intricate task of statecraft deserves more consideration than the character limit of a tweet fired off at 2 a.m. by a psychopath who’s just inhaled three MickeyD burgers. But our fearless leader tweets on, oblivious to the fallout as long as he’s got center stage.
… And Obscuring the Truth
All these tweets and wild pronouncements—You can cure COVID by injecting disinfectants [deadly false!]—serve not only to keep all attention focused on him, but to distract us from the less fizz!pop!bang! but more dangerous dismantling of our democracy and its institutions taking place daily beneath the LOOK AT ME! LISTEN TO ME! headlines.
1. The decimation of the EPA. Since 2017, one environmental protection after another has vanished, wholesale and without consideration of the impact, to boost the profits of fossil fuel companies. Offshore drilling safety regs—gone. Restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions for coal power plants—history. Habitat protections for endangered species—who cares? Prosecution of EPA violations—very few. Increased logging on federal lands, miles of new oil and gas pipelines, drilling in the Arctic? A green light for all!
And now, with wildfires raging over much of the far west, the rule that required oil and gas companies to detect and repair methane leaks has been lifted. Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is a global warming nightmare. Oddly enough, it’s the EPA themselves who estimate the change in this rule will increase planet-damaging methane in our atmosphere by 850,000 tons in the next decade.
And what happens to all those victims of climate-related disasters—the hurricanes, fires, floods? Whole towns are washed away or burned to the ground. Forests of animals die. I feel fairly certain there is mass trauma in the wake of these tragedies, but … silence.
2. Equally alarming in the midst of our pandemic is the silencing of the CDC, which I first wrote about in June. Since then, things have gone the direction all things Trumpian go: downhill. In July, our Dear Leader shifted control of key COVID info from the CDC to the more White House-friendly Department of Health and Human Services. Hospitals must now report all COVID-related data directly to HHS—vital info the CDC needs for their National Healthcare Safety Network, the country’s most prominent infection tracking system.
This side-lining of the CDC worries scientists and medical experts. “Placing medical data collection outside of the leadership of public health experts could severely weaken the quality and availability of data, burden already overwhelmed hospitals, and add a new challenge to the U.S. pandemic response,” Thomas File Jr., president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, said. Many health experts view these moves to muzzle the CDC as yet another attempt by TheRUMP to squelch any blame for his lackadaisical response to the pandemic. And the 200,000+ Americans who have died as a result.
3. Despite a court order and a 2018 wink-wink, nudge-nudge desist order from the White House, the emotional devastation and lifelong psychological damage that is the ICE (Homeland Security—ha-ha) policy of separating children from their parents at the border and tossing them into locked warehouses, converted big box stores, and privately-run “family” prisons continues, only now it comes with a slice of COVID.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has written a concise, if hair-raising, history of this heinous policy. Efforts to re-unite families by orgs like the ACLU have only enjoyed partial success because: 1) the kids were scattered across more than 100 Office of Refugee Resettlement shelters, and 2) DHS never created any kind of tracking system to make reunification possible. Amnesty International reported that Customs Border Protection separated over 6,000 families in the four months between April and August 2018. Thousands before. Thousands since.
In January of this year, Judge Dana M. Sabraw—the judge who ordered an injunction against taking kids from their parents in 2018—refused to issue new limits on separating families at the border, choosing to let CBP do as they like. Moral indifference? Whispers from TheRUMP’s lapdog AG—you, too, can be replaced? Sweeteners?
4. It’s been called “the third rail,” an issue so electric, so volatile, that the GOP, though they would like to either privatize it for profit or drown it in a bathtub, does not want to talk about it at election time: Social Security. But TheRUMP talks about it. He proposed cutting Social Security Disability Insurance in his 2018 budget—a move that would have hurt some 10 million Americans. He demanded cuts of $1 trillion-plus from Medicare over the next decade and $26 billion from Social Security in his 2020 budget. His 2021 budget again hammers for long-term cuts to Medicare, but now he’s switched tactics on Social Security, seeking to starve a program that provides 50% to 100% of income for half of all senior Americans.
Let’s be clear. Social Security is taken from American workers’ earnings. We pay for it. Almost all elderly Americans receive it. In June 2020, the average benefit amounted to $18,170 a year. Hardly a king’s ransom—TheRUMP wouldn’t cross the street to pick it up. Yet, he wants to kill it, and the first step is the “holiday on payroll tax” (which funds Social Security and Medicare) he ordered this summer to boost his re-election by putting dollars back in voters’ pockets. There’s a catch—of course. The money, $76.50, on a weekly paycheck of $1,000, will have to be paid back in the new year by employees, leading to a doubling of that amount deducted from their paychecks once the “holiday” ends.
The only thing saving Social Security at this point is the Tweetmaster’s complete and utter ignorance of how things actually work. His plan—rolled out by Treasury Secretary Mnuchin—is so nuts, so confusingly impossible to implement, it’s even been criticized by the conservative U.S. Chamber of Commerce. TheRUMP says he will scotch the 2021 repayments if re-elected, and end these payroll tax deductions permanently, a move WHO says would run the fund dry by 2023, leaving some 64 million people in the lurch. As it stands, only Congress can eliminate payroll deductions, but a GOP Senate won’t stop him, and with Billy Barr at his side, a re-elected TheRUMP will do what he’s been doing—ride roughshod over the House and the Constitution.
5. TheRUMP’s Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, works tirelessly to further starve our already-underfunded public schools, siphoning off every dollar she can to private and religious education. When the CARES Act money became available, she wasted no time in creating a $180- million voucher program for these non-public institutions from public funds.
Lawmakers from both side of the aisle countered that distribution of the aid was intended to reflect the number of vulnerable, low-income students within a district. Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of the School Superintendents Association (AASA), called the new rule “an opportunistic money grab, using the pandemic environment to advance the privatization agenda.” DeVos ignored them, ordering states to redistribute their CARES $$$ as she instructed. A Washington state federal judge temporarily blocked that order from being executed (Washington Post, 8/23/20), but that didn’t stop DeVos. It took a second federal judge and a U.S. district judge to say “No means NO,” as in: This is against the law.
6. On August 29, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) informed the House and Senate Select Committees on Intelligence they would no longer be given in-person briefings on election security issues. This abrupt and dangerous policy shift prevents members of Congress from being able to ask questions about the ODNI’s findings—especially worrisome in the wake of warnings that interference from Russia is occurring.
Less than two weeks later, Brian Murphy, an intelligence analyst at the Department of Homeland Security, filed a whistleblower complaint, saying he has been pressured to tamp down the threat of Russian interference in the election because it “made the president look bad.” Murphy said he was also demoted for refusing to alter reports on many other subjects including white supremacist groups, and directed to re-spin intelligence assessments on left-wing groups to “ensure they matched up with the public comments by President Trump.”
The True Moral High Ground
In 2008 and 2012, America elected Barack Obama, a man who gave us the Affordable Care Act, who brokered the Iran Nuclear Deal and the Paris Climate Agreement. A president whose tenure included the legalization of gay marriage and the resuscitation of an economy the Bush admin had tanked. In 2016, we elected a heartless pathological white-supremacist thug, characterized perfectly in the title of Rick Wilson’s 2018 book: Everything Trump Touches Dies.
How did we fall so catastrophically far so frighteningly fast?
We failed to turn out. It’s really that simple. Four million 2012 Obama voters sat out the dance entirely, a margin it is believed could have elected Hillary Clinton, especially if you add in the additional 1.5 million former Obama voters who went with Jill Stein (Green Party). In Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, for example, Clinton lost by under a percentage point. In all three states, the votes for Stein would have more than covered her loss and she would have won the election.
Yes, we faced increasing GOP voter suppression in 2016—new voter ID laws that did not favor people of color or college students. Yes, the Supreme Court had hammered a hole in the heart of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, but overarching everything is the undeniable fact: 4,000,000 left-leaning voters failed to show up. And now we have a fascist madman in the White House.
Yes, I know Hillary wasn’t that exciting for many. Too centrist. Too corporate. Too Pantsuit. But—and I say this as a lifelong Progressive who backed Sanders in 2016 and Warren (then Sanders) in 2020—if Hillary had won, she would never have scrapped Obama’s pandemic plan; she would never have destroyed children by taking them from their parents at the border; she would never have told state governors “you’re on your own”, or fired inspectors general so she could give the CARES Act money to her billionaire buddies. And she would never have sued to destroy the ACA. Healthcare was one of her passions.
The true moral high ground in 2020 resides not in sitting out the election until what we regard as the perfect candidate rides into town on her/his steed. The true moral high ground in 2020 is about saving lives. At least 140,000 of the 200,000 lives lost to COVID could have been saved if we had had a coordinated national response dictated by science and not politics, said Dr. Vin Gupta, a Harvard-trained lung specialist who works worldwide with organizations such as WHO, the CDC, Harvard Global Health Institute, and others, to improve public health [The Last Word, 9/22/2020].
The true moral high ground is about justice for ALL Americans and stopping the violence against people of color. Demilitarization of police and serious police reform is NOT going to happen under TheRUMP. We’ll just get more unidentifiable goons, picking up people off the street and stuffing them into unmarked cars, bound for god knows where. Portland was only a test case. A preview of a second term for Donald J. Putin-wannabe.
The true moral high ground is about saving the planet. Literally. There has been some lower court pushback against completely gutting all EPA standards, but with a 6-3 Supreme Court in a second TheRUMP term, all resistance will be crushed.
To anyone wavering about voting in this election because they were hoping for someone more progressive than Joe Biden, I can only say if you sit this one out, millions will suffer. This is not a six of one, half a dozen of the other situation.
Biden co-sponsored the Violence Against Women Act of 1994. He convinced Barack Obama that gay marriage needed to be made legal. He favors expanding the ACA to include everyone. He welcomed the input of Bernie Sanders, and is now running on the Unity Task Force recommendations they both identified and addressed. It’s a pretty impressive document.
In one month, we are facing the referendum of a lifetime: Are we committed to saving our democracy, with its rule of law, separate but co-equal branches of government, freedom of speech, freedom of the press and Internet, the right to protest? Are we determined to achieve racial justice, engage in a sustained effort to save the planet, protect and extend healthcare for everyone, preserve Social Security/Medicare, and promote quality public education from pre-K through college for all children? Are we dedicated to fighting this pandemic with science? Not bleach, not wishful thinking or irresponsible orders to re-open and damn the consequences. Science.
If the answer is yes to any or all of the above, then we must VOTE, and do whatever we can to make sure everyone has access to the ballot box. Join letter-writing campaigns. Call or text voters in swing states. Volunteer to be a poll worker in your community. Chip in $5 or $10, if you can, to groups dedicated to registering new Democrat voters. And PLAN YOUR VOTE.
Links for all of these are listed at the end of this post.
2020 and Beyond: Democracy or Dictatorship?
My husband Ed wore his new VOTE mask recently for a trek about the neighborhood. People he encountered cheered the sentiment. They understood it meant he was supporting Biden. “This mask is a partisan issue, who knew?” Ed said.
But voting is always a partisan issue.
Enfranchisement came slowly for many Americans—women, people of color—and was threatened anew with each advance. The GOP has worked to suppress the vote for decades. Aside from SCOTUS dismembering the Voting Rights Act of 1965, over 17 million voters have been purged from the rolls in conservative-led states, often on the flimsiest of pretexts, but always because if they voted, they would likely vote Democrat. Polling stations have dwindled alarmingly in neighborhoods of color. Presidential appointee, Louis DeJoy, has removed and trashed hundreds of USPS sorting machines and local mailboxes to prevent mail-in ballots from reaching their destination on time. And now TheRUMP is openly declaring that if the election doesn’t appear to be going his way, the Supreme Court—with his newly appointed far-right judge to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg—can decide the question.
To riff on Jonathan Kozol’s brilliant observation about the role of public schools in preserving the status quo (The Night is Dark and I am Far From Home, 1975): It’s not that TheRUMP’s autocratic fascist power grab doesn’t work, but that it works so spectacularly—dismantling our democracy, burning the planet, sacrificing American lives for power—leaving us totally screwed.
While writing my World War II novel, The Sticking Place, I was moved many times by how Britain hung on, alone, for almost two years until, first the Russians, then the United States joined the fight to defeat Hitler. The world owes an unbelievable debt to those Britons. If they had caved…
But no one is coming to save us now—TheRUMP has burned every bridge. We must save ourselves.
VOTE. VOTE. VOTE. Whatever it takes: VOTE.
Because the present regime is killing us.
PLAN Your Vote:
1. nbcnews.com/plan your vote: Everything you need to know about mail-in and early in-person voting, including the first day you can cast your ballot in the 2020 election.
2. FiveThirtyEight: How To Vote In The 2020 Election (A state-by-state guide to voting in the age of COVID-19).
3. Iwillvote.com (English and Spanish instructions available)
4. National Education Association: Make a Plan to Vote.
5. Represent Justice: If you or a loved one has been impacted by the justice system, this is a great site. Voting rights for formerly-incarcerated people can be confusing because every state has different policies.
LET’S GET OUT THE VOTE
Help Staff the Polls:
Volunteer to be a poll worker in your community. Sign up with SumOfUs, a global non-profit advocacy organization committed to human rights and curbing the growing power of corporations.
Help Register New Voters:
Rock the Vote offers a one-stop all you need to know to vote site: You can help register new voters here—a key strategy to winning in 2020—and check your own voter registration status, register to vote, apply for an absentee ballot, or find your polling place.
Your donation to March On will help register voters across the country. And no matter where you live, you can directly support the work of organizers, volunteers, and candidates in the six key battleground states that will be a must in delivering a progressive majority in 2020. Just pick a state, sign up, and March On will get you everything you need to make a big difference this November.
Write Letters/Send Texts:
Vote Forward and Daily Kos have teamed up to increase civic participation by sending letters to voters. Studies show this personal connection is one of the most effective ways to get infrequent Democratic voters to the polls.
Join Sierra Club’s Mobile Action Network: Text, call, or write letters to energize voters.