The gaslighting lamp is now off

Here is a thought I hope we all agree with:

“Free, fair elections are the lifeblood of our democracy. Charges of unfairness are serious. But calling an election unfair does not make it so. Charges require specific allegations and then proof.”

If your response was to say, “Wait, who said that?” then I would argue you’re missing the point.  Is there any set of circumstances in which that sentiment would not be correct?

As far as the current election for president is concerned, I am thankful that there are fewer and fewer steps left on the road to us not having to listen to any more of Donald Trump’s fact-free claims that massive voter fraud cost him re-election.  Yesterday a federal appeals court rejected the Trump campaign’s latest effort to overturn the vote in Pennsylvania.  Decisively, succinctly, and leaving no apparent room for reasonable rebuttal.  And for those who believe this matters—or matters most—all three judges on the panel who returned this unanimous decision were nominated to this court by Republican presidents; the one who wrote this opinion was nominated by Donald Trump.  The summary is elegant in its clarity:

“Free, fair elections are the lifeblood of our democracy. Charges of unfairness are serious. But calling an election unfair does not make it so. Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here.” (emphasis added)

It’s the same story in most of the dozens of lawsuits: the campaign has provided no evidence of the widespread fraud it claims has taken place.  But it continues to make the claims, perhaps hopeful to eventually run into a judge who isn’t too particular about evidence of a crime.  Classic Trump: it’s true because I say it is true, and how dare you question me!

This ruling came a day after the president made his first appearance since the election at which he responded to reporters’36195502-8995371-image-a-10_1606540742101 questions.  The headline out of that was his response when asked if he would leave the White House if the Electoral College votes for Joe Biden; he said he would, and “you know that.”  The fact is, we know nothing of the sort, and we still don’t know it just because he said it.  Because (as I have mentioned from time to time) Donald Trump lies.  About everything.  People who should know better—by which I mean, everybody—saw that performance and came away saying, whew, finally, Trump has promised a peaceful transition of power.  Huh?  Why would you take Trump at his word about this now?

(More broadly, I still don’t get why so many Americans trust him on anything, and are so militant in their defense of him when someone points out a clear falsehood.  The evidence of their own eyes and ears and nose and fingers and memory doesn’t matter to the believers: they stare straight at a patch of black color that Trump has said is white, and they will proclaim without hesitation that it is white…and not, mind you, that they see it to be white, but that it IS white, that there is no wiggle room about it nor any possibility that the color in question could be anything but the color that Trump said it is.  What happened to these people, that they would reflexively support a man who so demonstrably does not support them, and who in his own life does not live up to the personal standards these people have so loudly proclaimed are absolutely necessary for a president?)

I think we need to focus on a point Brian Klaas made yesterday:

“It’s not up to him.”  It’s up to the voters, and they made it pretty clear who they want to be the next president.  Yes, Trump won an historic total of popular votes…but Biden won more, more than 6 million more (and counting), and Biden has won a clear majority of the electoral votes, too—the same number that Trump won four years ago to secure that election.

It was one thing for Trump to win a first term, primarily (I believe) on the votes of people who were not thrilled with him but could not stomach voting for his Democratic opponent.  I’m much more troubled for America’s future when I realize that 74 million Americans voted for Trump this time, knowing what he’s done during the last four years!  The Nobel laureate Paul Krugman has been considering the question, and he generated some thoughtful replies (read the thread):

…voting for a corrupt, dishonest, incompetent guy who barely conceals his contempt for his own supporters.” I honestly have no idea how we’re supposed to deal with this. To say that many Trump supporters basically engaged in a massive self-own sounds condescending; yet what could be more condescending than pretending that this isn’t exactly what happened?  Again, I have no answer to all of this. I don’t think there are magic words that will make all this resentment disappear; policies that help working Americans might help, but should be done mainly bc they’re the right thing to do. Anyway, I don’t know the answers; all I can suggest is to be honest and promote good policies, knowing full well that the political rewards may be elusive.

Or is it, maybe, as simple as this:

2020 vision

If we were to treat this like a “regular” election between “regular” candidates, it would be sensible to compare the candidates’ core beliefs and positions on important issues.  The problem with that, in this case, is not only that Donald Trump is not a regular candidate, he has no core beliefs or strong positions on any issues.

Very important to remember (and I’ve been harping on this, I know): Trump lies.  About everything.  Virtually every word out of his mouth.  There is no good reason to believe anything he says.  The Washington Post Fact Checker documented 20,000 lies by Trump as president, and that was back in July.  (As they say, the hits just keep on coming.)   If in any moment Trump needs his audience to think that he believes A, because he thinks the audience members believe A, he will say he believes A.  If in another moment he needs another audience to think he believes not-A, he will say he believes not-A.  It doesn’t matter to him whether he really does like A or actually prefers not-A, or if he’s even given the whole A/not-A dichotomy any real consideration: he will say anything if he wants it to be true in that moment.  What’s more, he thinks we are too stupid to realize that he has taken both the position of A and not-A at one time or another.

Also important to remember is that Trump has demonstrated he is not good at presidenting.  I mean being president of the USA—don’t even talk about his record of business bankruptcies.  He touts his handling of the economy, but he denies that he took office with an economy that was in pretty good shape and managed not to screw it up.  (By the way, the stock market is not “the economy.”)  He quickly reminds you about passing a tax cut bill…one that primarily benefitted the already-wealthy, AND which he doesn’t want you to remember is only temporary, AND WHICH was contributing to a big increase in government debt even before pandemic relief.

Oh yeah, the pandemic.  Any government effort to protect Americans from an insidious virus that was spreading across the country and killing thousands of people a week would have started by asking people to isolate themselves, and that was what forced so many businesses to temporarily close and shocked the U.S. economy back in the spring.  Once medical researchers identified the transmission path AND a simple and efficient way to block it—yes, the mask—a good president (and governors and mayors) would have been working like hell to get people to voluntarily help themselves and their neighbors by wearing the damn mask.  Other countries did, and they did not suffer the rates of infection and death that America has; they have not suffered the economic hardships that we have.  Trump’s willful mismanagement of the government’s response to COVID-19 is likely to be his legacy: his public denial of the problem, which contributed to the expansion of the problem, which led to more than 9 million infections and the deaths of more than 213,000 Americans (so far) along with the prolonged weakening of the economy.  You’ve probably heard: a third wave is already underway.

(Recently I read a woman’s complaint about wearing the mask; she feels she should not have to do that because “they have already taken so much away from us.”  Honest to god, lady: no one set out to take anything away from you.  There is an attack against our country underway right now, and our best response to the threat—which will help protect you, your children, your neighbors—calls for you to make a tiny sacrifice.  Why is this a problem?  It almost couldn’t be any easier.  Also: who is “they?”)

Very important to keep in mind—maybe most important—is that Trump does not believe in America, or its Constitution, or the rule of law, or our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, or in racial or gender equality, or supporting the sacrifices of our fellow citizens in the armed forces, or in any type of service to country.  He doesn’t believe in Truth, or Justice, or the American Way.  He says he does, but he doesn’t.  (Remember, Trump lies.)

He ran for president as a publicity stunt, and was as surprised as anyone when he (barely) won.  He has used the office to enrich himself and his businesses, he’s alienated our allies, and he’s used the government itself to attack protesters and political enemies—he was impeached for doing that!  He wasn’t removed from office for it because he has also, somehow, managed to drag the Republican Party and a lot/many/most (?) of its leaders down to his level.  They talked themselves into believing that protecting Trump is what “real Americans” want them to do, because…why again?  Because with Trump as president they will get judges who will incorporate their political and religious beliefs into American law?

There was an ad on television the other day (please, Jesus, end the TV ads!) in which the candidate looked sincerely into the camera and told me “this election is about getting our economy moving again.”  No; no, it’s not.  I understand why you say that, and that would be a very good thing to get the economy back up to speed…also, to be able to go to a restaurant or a ballgame again, or even back to the office.  But no, that’s not what this election is about.

This election is about saving the United States of America from the chaos and fascism and authoritarianism that is undoubtedly right around the corner if Donald Trump wins re-election.  Even if Joe Biden is not everything you want in a president, he is one thing you need in a president: he is not Donald Trump.  He is a patriot, and he will govern with the best interests of this country at heart.  Just ask these Republicans:

You could also ask yourself, when was the last time I remember a president promising me that the next election was going to be rigged…unless he wins?  The last time a president running for re-election, and his political party, spent so much time making it harder for people to vote, and laying the groundwork to overturn the results?

He’s a clown…a cartoon.

Vote him out of office next week.  Do it for America.  A landslide may not be enough—let’s make it an avalanche that will also defeat whatever nonsense he pulls to try to ignore our votes and hold onto office (and stay out of jail).  That will make America great again.

Five weeks

The job of president of the United States was meant to be a manager who would lead the executive branch to efficiently carry out the business of the nation’s government.  It still is that, but it’s also become a symbol of the battle between competing claims to exercise a moral imperative: on one side, those who want government to enforce upon the rest of us their idea of the one right way Americans should live their lives, and on the other those who have a broader view of the meaning of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  The situation is tedious, and divisive, and destructive of our ability to get along with those of our fellow citizens who have different opinions of the proper role of government in our lives.  What’s worse is, the campaign for the job never stops—thank you, sir, may I have another!

Right now, five weeks before the election, is when we should be starting the campaign.  That’s time enough to review information about the candidates, time for reflection…and after election day it would be time to go back to regular life, where if you choose to you could escape the obsession with the daily minutiae of politics.  Time enough to make a reasoned decision, and move on.

The two major party candidates for president have their first side-by-side appearance tomorrow night (I’ll be surprised if they actually engage in debate), to talk about issues and make the case why we should give him the responsibility of managing—just for starters—our national defense; our response to global pandemics and natural disasters; our relationships with our allies and with our enemies; the delivery of our mail!  Someone we can trust to look out for our country’s best interests, and to obey its laws.

So, I’ll watch the debate tomorrow and I’ll think, which of these guys do I want representing us…me…for the next four years?  Will it be the guy who

(There are plenty more where those came from.)

No, it will not be that guy.

You get to make your own choice, and you’re pretty smart, and there are five weeks left to think it over…before you get to make a secret choice, and no one will ever know who you voted for unless you tell them.  Just sayin’…

Telework Journal: What we have learned

Whether out of productive curiosity or an early onset of ennui bureaucratique, the people leading teleconferences and remote-by-video meetings I’ve been on in the past week are kicking the responsibility for meeting content over to the crowd.  The most common kick-off lately, as we finished our first four weeks of special circumstances, has been the question, “what have you learned so far from teleworking” that could conceivably be of value to others.

If that’s value to others who are teleworking, I don’t have too much to offer besides “get a comfortable chair.”  I think my biggest problem with teleworking is figuring out a new routine for how and when things are to be done, and that routine is going to be particular to me.  Whatever I finally figure out for myself is unlikely to be of too much help to you…I’m kinda quirky in how I work, and I don’t want to visit that on you.

The great philosopher Lawrence P. Berra once noted (or probably, more than once), “You can observe a lot by just watching.”  What I’ve been watching in the past week seems to be something of a steadying of our reaction to this great disruption in our lives.  Not that Americans are happy about being asked to put their lives on hold and stay inside; I think we get why that’s necessary, and we’ve started to look to the next level and the one after that, to try to make sense of this whole situation.  It appears that what more and more people are coming to realize is that America’s handling of the novel coronavirus outbreak could have been so much better.  And to identify those responsible.

That the pandemic occurred is not [Donald] Trump’s fault. The utter unpreparedness of the United States for a pandemic is Trump’s fault. The loss of stockpiled respirators to breakage because the federal government let maintenance contracts lapse in 2018 is Trump’s fault. The failure to store sufficient protective medical gear in the national arsenal is Trump’s fault. That states are bidding against other states for equipment, paying many multiples of the precrisis price for ventilators, is Trump’s fault. Air travelers summoned home and forced to stand for hours in dense airport crowds alongside infected people? That was Trump’s fault too. Ten weeks of insisting that the coronavirus is a harmless flu that would miraculously go away on its own? Trump’s fault again. The refusal of red-state governors to act promptly, the failure to close Florida and Gulf Coast beaches until late March? That fault is more widely shared, but again, responsibility rests with Trump: He could have stopped it, and he did not.

The lying about the coronavirus by hosts on Fox News and conservative talk radio is Trump’s fault: They did it to protect him. The false hope of instant cures and nonexistent vaccines is Trump’s fault, because he told those lies to cover up his failure to act in time. The severity of the economic crisis is Trump’s fault; things would have been less bad if he had acted faster instead of sending out his chief economic adviser and his son Eric to assure Americans that the first stock-market dips were buying opportunities. The firing of a Navy captain for speaking truthfully about the virus’s threat to his crew? Trump’s fault. The fact that so many key government jobs were either empty or filled by mediocrities? Trump’s fault. The insertion of Trump’s arrogant and incompetent son-in-law as commander in chief of the national medical supply chain? Trump’s fault.

For three years, Trump has blathered and bluffed and bullied his way through an office for which he is utterly inadequate. But sooner or later, every president must face a supreme test, a test that cannot be evaded by blather and bluff and bullying. That test has overwhelmed Trump.

Trump failed. He is failing. He will continue to fail. And Americans are paying for his failures.

If you’re sitting at home trying to get smarter about how we got here—more cases of COVID-19 and more deaths from the disease than any other country in the world, still not enough testing capability to truly get a handle on how and where the virus is spreading so we can marshal our efforts to fight it more effectively, sending our first-line medical care providers into the fight without enough of the right weapons—David Frum’s article is a very good place to start.   David Remnick’s story in The New Yorker is another.

And here we are, playing a tragic game of catch-up against a virus that has killed thousands and left millions unemployed. At Trump’s State of the Union address on February 4th, he pledged, “My Administration will take all necessary steps to safeguard our citizens from this threat.” Three weeks later, Kayleigh McEnany, a loud promoter of birtherism and of Trump talking points during the 2016 campaign, cheerfully told the Fox Business audience, “We will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here, we will not see terrorism come here, and isn’t that refreshing when contrasting it with the awful Presidency of President Obama?” Now McEnany is the President’s press secretary.

The coronavirus has inflicted a level of pain that is deep and global. And yet many nations, from South Korea to Germany, have done far better at responding to it than the United States has. The reasons for the American failing include a lack of preparation, delayed mobilization, insufficient testing, and a reluctance to halt travel. The Administration, from its start, has waged war on science and expertise and on what Trump’s former adviser Steve Bannon called “the administrative state.” The results are all around us. Trump has made sure that a great nation is peculiarly vulnerable to a foreseeable public-health calamity.

Just how deeply and profoundly does Trump not get it?  His smug response to criticism that he’s not doing all he could is to point out that the TV ratings of the daily White House briefings—the ones he commandeered from his vice president after seeing that people were paying attention but not to him—are so very high.  Even a lot of Trump’s loyal defenders can’t sit still for that level off ignorance.

As for his insistence that the blame lies with the way things were left for him by the Obama Administration…

…or the hearty chestnut that the whole thing is a hoax:

What have we learned after four weeks of national semi-lockdown?  Doctors and nurses in a pandemic, and the people who keep their hospitals and offices running including the people who keep them supplied with the vital materials that make me better when I’m sick, are as brave or braver than anyone.  TV broadcasts that traffic in easy emotional manipulation and call it “news” should always be shunned.  Those who insist that human activity is not impacting global climate should have a quick look at the images taken from space that show dramatic changes on the planet—changes for the better—after just a few weeks of reduced driving and factory operations.  When working from home it takes longer to do things than it does when we’re at the office, at least until we figure out how to do things when we’re working from home.

And, we’ve done a sufficient job of coming to grips with a very necessary and dramatic change in our way of life, in a comparatively short period of just weeks, that we’re starting to be able to shift focus from our individual needs and see the bigger picture.  To assess the reasons why we are where we are.  To make rational choices about what we should do next.

Telework Journal: Two realities

It turns out that getting a better chair wasn’t the whole answer.

Two weeks ago I wrote about getting a new desk chair to ease my ability to work from home since my employer and the surrounding cities and counties had ordered those who were able to do so to start right away in order to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus.  That first order expired last Friday; they have all been extended.  This isn’t going away like I thought it would.

At first, subconsciously, I think many of us in the Houston area treated the stay-at-home orders as a direction to do what we do when a hurricane comes: get your house ready, lay in supplies if you’re not going to evacuate, stay alert.  That might explain the inexplicable run on water and meat and soft drinks and toilet paper at every grocery store, drug store, convenience store and purveyor of paper products all across God’s creation.  When we lost electricity during Hurricane Ike it took three long days to get it restored here, but I have friends for whom it took three weeks, or longer.  In the meantime we all assessed the damage and made repairs, or started to, and life was returning to normal.

No hurricane lasts this long.  I think we didn’t really understand what we were in for when this started three weeks ago.

I work in television production for NASA’s Johnson Space Center, and we’d been directed to come to the office if that’s what was necessary to keep making the products we make.  Since I do a weekly live television broadcast, I would have to come to the office, at least on that day, because that’s how you do these things.  Well, we did that once, although we put me in a studio by myself instead of the International Space Station flight control room, as usual, to support a plan to protect the flight controllers who fly the station from exposure to the virus.  By the following Monday our boss directed us all to figure out how to do the show without anyone having to come on site; we weren’t able to meet that goal, but we did scale it down to just one person and that wasn’t me—hence, the first episode ever in which America got to see a slice of my entry hallway at house.

It wasn’t that we couldn’t figure out how to do our jobs differently, it was that—at least for me—I didn’t get that I would have to.  Now I do.  And I have realized that, had this happened a few years ago, the technology that’s necessary would not have been available to us.  It wasn’t that long ago that most of America wouldn’t have had easy access to the audio and video conferencing hardware and software that we’re using all day every day right now.  The Houston Chronicle’s technology editor Dwight Silverman has a great story in today’s paper making the case that “Working from home, learning from home and getting your entertainment at home will become the newer normal when this is over”.

Within my own family there’s an instructive cross-section of how America is dealing with COVID-19, which at this point does not include anyone who has become sick.  There is a communications consultant, an accountant, a corporate manager, a salesman, and a customer service support specialist who, like me, are mostly doing their jobs routinely from home.  There are a couple of elementary school teachers who are learning how to teach their classes online, and other parents who are teaching their own kids at home.   The ones who work in restaurants and in-home child care are at work as usual, as are the banker and the computer chip manufacturer supervisor and the school district police officers and the owner-operator long-haul truck driver, and the one who has breast cancer finished her chemotherapy right on schedule.  The dental assistants have reduced hours because their bosses are only handling emergencies, and the real estate agent says “work for me has come to an almost complete standstill,” as it has for her son who she recently brought into the business.  Those who are retired are trying to adjust to not having the house to themselves any more.

I’m not complaining; for most of us, so far, this is an inconvenience.  Honestly, I’m having some cognitive dissonance trying to reconcile my experience with the one I’m reading and hearing about across the rest of the country and the world.  Three times as many dead in the New York City area as were lost on September 11; more than 9000 dead across the U.S. so far and nearly 70,000 across the world; more than 10 million people in the U.S. have filed for unemployment assistance with concerns of revisiting jobless levels not seen since the Great Depression; Queen Elizabeth addresses the United Kingdom on television for only the fifth time in 68 years (not counting Christmas addresses); no baseball or basketball or golf tournaments.

It was no surprise, sadly, to read this morning’s Washington Post story that lays out the damning timeline of how the Trump Administration has bungled the response to the threat of this virus right from the start.

By the time Donald Trump proclaimed himself a wartime president — and the coronavirus the enemy — the United States was already on course to see more of its people die than in the wars of Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq combined.

The country has adopted an array of wartime measures never employed collectively in U.S. history — banning incoming travelers from two continents, bringing commerce to a near-halt, enlisting industry to make emergency medical gear, and confining 230 million Americans to their homes in a desperate bid to survive an attack by an unseen adversary.

Despite these and other extreme steps, the United States will likely go down as the country that was supposedly best prepared to fight a pandemic but ended up catastrophically overmatched by the novel coronavirus, sustaining heavier casualties than any other nation.

It did not have to happen this way. Though not perfectly prepared, the United States had more expertise, resources, plans and epidemiological experience than dozens of countries that ultimately fared far better in fending off the virus.

The failure has echoes of the period leading up to 9/11: Warnings were sounded, including at the highest levels of government, but the president was deaf to them until the enemy had already struck.

The Trump administration received its first formal notification of the outbreak of the coronavirus in China on Jan. 3. Within days, U.S. spy agencies were signaling the seriousness of the threat to Trump by including a warning about the coronavirus — the first of many — in the President’s Daily Brief.

And yet, it took 70 days from that initial notification for Trump to treat the coronavirus not as a distant threat or harmless flu strain well under control, but as a lethal force that had outflanked America’s defenses and was poised to kill tens of thousands of citizens. That more-than-two-month stretch now stands as critical time that was squandered.

What could have been done in 70 days?  Read the story, remember the details: the leaders of our government ignored the warnings and refused to take the actions that very likely would have saved lives.  Thousands of lives.  Thousands of American lives.  The Trump Administration did not cause the virus, and shouldn’t have been expected to stop it from entering this country.  But hoping it would just go away on its own was not the right answer.

A week on his HBO show, John Oliver had a good summary of how I feel today. (Start at 15:16)

We can all do our part to help, if only by keeping our distance from each other.  As Oliver said, what we do out here to fight the spread of this virus will have an impact inside the hospitals where real heroes are at work fighting to save the tens of thousands of people who have been infected.  Since they don’t (yet) have the medicine and the hardware they really need to keep those people alive, the best thing we can do to help them is to try to keep more patients from flooding in.  Let’s do what we can.