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Wednesday, November 24, 2021

It’s Hard to Be an Optimist About the Future of Our Country, Isn’t It?

This is an expanded version of the column published Nov. 25, 2021, in the Denver Post’s YourHub section.

First of all, I realize this column is appearing on Thanksgiving Day. New readers need to know that “Talking Turkey” is not a food column. The name originated when I ran for mayor of New York in 1981 against Ed Koch and published a campaign newspaper by the same name.

In this week’s “Real Estate Today” column, I wrote about what I’m thankful for. I didn’t mention, as I could have, that I’m thankful (indeed, blessed) to have been born in America, which, for most of my life, has been a beacon of democracy. Unfortunately, that beacon is fading, as recently documented by International IDEA in a report on “The Global State of Democracy” which put it this way: “The United States, the bastion of global democracy, fell victim to authoritarian tendencies itself, and was knocked down a significant number of steps on the democratic scale.” 

Unfortunately, because the rest of the world has always looked to the United States as model, we have witnessed anti-democratic forces emboldened worldwide during the Trump administration. This is similar to how Donald Trump himself emboldened alt-right and white supremacist organizations to come out from the shadows, most notably in Charlottesville’s “Unite the Right” rally.

Remember how Michelle Obama was lambasted following her husband’s election in 2008 when she said, “For the first time in my adult life, I’m really proud of my country.” She, as a black woman, had good reason to make that statement, but right wingers were happy to use it against her.

Well, for the first time as an adult, I can say that I am no longer proud of my country. It may have survived the attempted coup of January 6th, but the ground work is being laid to “elect” Donald Trump or some other fascist wannabe in 2024 regardless of the popular or Electoral College vote.

     That’s right. Maybe you have heard about the John Eastman memo which laid out how Republican-controlled legislatures could, in accordance with the Constitution, declare their popular votes for president invalid and send their own slate of electors to Congress for approval. Failing that, the Constitution allows for the presidential vote to be thrown to the House of Representatives if the Electoral College fails to produce a decisive vote as a result of those contested slates of electors. Each state gets one vote, regardless of population, and there are 25 states with a majority Republican delegation, possibly more after the 2022 mid-terms, to cast their one vote for the Republican.

The recipe for overturning a presidential election failed in 2020 only because it was conceived too late — no Republican controlled state had acted in time to send a competing slate of Trump electors to the Electoral College. That recipe could, however, work for the 2024 election, so the groundwork is being laid now.

Aggressive gerrymandering by those Republican-controlled legislatures is part of that groundwork. Currently, 32 state senates are controlled by Republicans (red states in map below), compared to 18 by Democrats. The breakdown in state houses is similar: 29 to 19, with one state, Alaska, sharing power. (The total is 49, because Nebraska has only a senate, not a house.)


We are truly in a downward spiral toward a takeover of our country by followers of Donald Trump. This could spell the end of The American Experiment — the title of a recent best-seller by David M. Rubenstein, which I am now reading and heartily recommend.

Republicans have learned that they can’t win an election in which voting is facilitated in multiple ways, including mail-in voting. They know that’s what turned Colorado blue. So their strategy is to restrict easy access to the ballot.

As an anti-Trumper, I took heart in the fact that the former president, at his best, rarely exceeded the low-40s approval rating Joe Biden has right now, and was never over 49%. (See Gallup chart below.) The majority of Americans disapproved of him and it showed when Trump was voted out in 2020.


The way things are heading, however, it will no longer matter who gets the most votes.

This downward spiral toward right-wing, anti-democratic control of our government should concern every citizen who loves democracy and respects the rule of law.

By now we should all know the hypocrisy of Donald Trump’s labeling the mainstream media “fake news” and “the enemy of the people.” The real purveyors of fake news are their media outlets, and the #1 “enemy of the people” nowadays is Tucker Carlson, closely followed by Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham.

The right-wing takeover of our country began in earnest when Donald Trump was elected and wholesale nomination and confirmation of arch-conservative federal judges was undertaken by Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. I use the word “wholesale” on purpose. The nominees, all but eight with connections to the right-wing Federalist Society, were so numerous that they were bundled in Senate voting, not voted on individually. Several of those judges received “not qualified” ratings by the American Bar Association, but that didn’t matter. They passed the Federalist Society’s litmus tests for conservative opinions. Here's a link to a May 2020 New York Times analysis of Trump’s appointees — very revealing in its detail. By that date, a quarter of the judges on the appellate bench (last stop before cases go to the Supreme Court), were Trump appointees. Their political background was key to their nomination by Trump. Read that New York Times article.

Yes, the conservative shift in the Supreme Court is worrisome to liberals like myself, but the shift in the lower courts is just as worrisome. We are seeing gun rights expanded and abortion rights restricted. Voting rights are being severely restricted in Republican-controlled states, and there’s little hope that they will be invalidated by the courts.

Not surprisingly, Republicans are unapologetic about these developments. It’s not the party of my Republican parents, or probably yours.

Equally disturbing is the way in which our Democratic president is going against his own values for political reasons. As a Democrat, I’m confident that he would like to promote the New Green Deal, Medicare-for-All, and other issues voiced primarily by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the other members of “The Squad.” But he can’t afford to be in the crosshairs of the right-wing, given its huge cable TV, talk-radio, and other megaphones.

All these developments have eaten away at my past optimism about continued forward movement on policies and issues which are important to me.

   Moreover, I’m not satisfied with how competent the Democrats and President Biden in particular are at countering the lies and distortions of the right wing. I admired Pete Buttigieg for his regular appearance on Fox News, including at least one Town Hall-type broadcast. I think both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris should offer themselves up to Fox News for a town hall broadcast. There’s no oother way that the Fox News audience will hear a response to the lies and distortions they hear from both the news side of that network and from their evening fear-mongers.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

 

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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Prof. Heather Cox Richardson's history lesson for today is a must-read

If you don't subscribe to her free newsletter, you really should consider it.  For $5 per month, you can support it as I do.  

Last night's "Letter from an American" really put our existential fight for democracy over autocracy in historical context.  I consider it a must-read.  Here's the link:

https://heathercoxrichardson.substack.com/p/october-26-2021/


Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Trump’s #1 Legacy Will Be His Subversion of Our Democratic Republic

   A couple weeks ago, I made the point that our Constitution guarantees that the United States will never be a true democracy. Several readers correctly pointed out that the United States is not a democracy but rather a republic. I responded that we are supposed to be a democratic republic, and the Constitution in effect guarantees that can’t happen.

 But moving on, let’s talk about the ongoing subversion of our democratic republic by Donald Trump and his minions. A recent article by Prof. Robert A. Pape of the University of Chicago reported on that university’s Project on Security and Threats, which has been tracking insurrectionist sentiments in U.S. adults. Their latest survey in June 2021 found that 47 million American adults agree with the statement that “the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump, and Joe Biden is an illegitimate president.” Since 74 million Americans voted for Donald Trump in 2020, perhaps we can take comfort that only 63% of them accept the “Big Lie,” but still it’s shocking.  More shocking, however, is the 21 million of those Americans who believe the election was stolen agree that “the use of force is justified to restore Donald Trump to the presidency.” Fur-ther, “At least 7 million of them already own a gun, and at least 3 million have served in the U.S. military and so have lethal skills. Of those 21 million, 6 million said they supported right-wing militias and extremist groups, and 1 million said they are themselves or personally know a member of such a group, including the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys.”

I can’t help but thinking that we’re in this situation due only to Donald Trump’s refusal to concede, as Al Gore did when the Supreme Court named George W. Bush the winner of the closer 2000 election. A concession by Trump now could end this nightmare.

We thought the presidency had a lot of power, but this one private citizen is singularly responsible for a massive constitutional crisis, a loss of confidence in the electoral process (that was never doubted previously), and an unprecedented loss of confidence in the mainstream media.

I’m reminded of that famous quote from Trump that he could shoot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue and not lose any voters.  Well, here we are: he has, in broad daylight, shot a possibly fatal bullet into the heart of America, and he’s not losing any (or perhaps enough) voters. That’s what should scare all of us who want to see American democracy live for another day, much less another century.

Here’s an email  typical of ones I get from members of Cult-45. This writer never signs his name. I know him only as nierdav@yahoo.com:

You are horrified by a Ted Koppel segment? You are an idiot. The fake news media will show you what you want to see, lies. However, I am horrified by what you and your fellow “voters,” have done to this country. YOU have fraudulently ‘elected’ a non-human, demented old man, who has no clue where he is, and is handled by the scum of the earth traitors to this country, and are destroying it right before your eyes. And you still spout your filthy lies.

You and your fellow traitors are responsible for this.

And you are a despicable person.

Our grandchildren will have to deal with your deeds to destroy this country, and I’m confident they will.

Also in my inbox from a friend, this quote from Thomas Paine:

“Arguing with a person who has no reason is like giving medicine to a dead person.”

Such is my life nowadays. I’m reminded of my May 24, 2020, column lamenting that Trump supporters are “simply unreachable.” Given how unreachable they are, and despite my love of writing, I have concluded that there is little to gain from continuing this column. I may be inspired to revive it later, but for now I’ve decided to take a break from “talking turkey.”

Thank you, everyone who has supported my writing both financially and emotionally, and especially those who have given me business because of our shared opinions. Writing this column has been a great experience.

All 57 of these columns remain archived at www.TalkingTurkey.online.  I stand by all of them.

 


Friday, September 24, 2021

Here's a Must-Read Email I Got from Dave Nelson, a True-Blue Trumper

 This man emails me at least twice a week to rant about my "Talking Turkey" column.  Usually, he just forwards some anti-Biden trash that he found online or got by email, but this time he used his own words. It's truly disturbing but important to see how these members of Cult-45 have embodied the Trump/MAGA playbook. Here's what I got from Mr. Nelson on Sept. 22nd. As is often the case, it was copied to the letters editor of the Denver Post:

This addresses your weekly column paid for by you about CULT 45! You lie as much as the non-human occupant of the WH.

Let's look... Thank you for calling me part of CULT-45. Yes, we are a cult. A cult of sensible patriots ready to FIGHT to save this country. Your fools support 'BLM', not a cult- a terrorist organization!

You blame this CULT-45 movement on "culprits" like Tucker, Hannity, Ingraham, FOX, etc. You even name OAN, and Newsmax... but you say you have never watched OAM and Newsmax. Sounds about right. You have never watched them, but you know they are "nurturing" CULT-45. You must have seen that on cnn, msdnc, abc, cbs, nbc, and brian williams, lemooooon, anderson, tapper. Need I go on. ALL of those idiots are liars! JUST LIKE YOU!

Some of your readers have told you that they don't support President Trump anymore. Well, that is 3 out of 75 million! Not a good barometer.

You call President Trump an "insecure, monomaniacal, psychopathic man". I would choose that man everyday over a dementia-riddled, 78 yr old, 45 year career politician-who accomplished zero, can't remember his name most of the time, is afraid of his staff, and lies at every turn, although I believe he doesn't know he is lying... because he doesn't know-(anything).

You talk about 'unaffiliated' voters. I changed my registration to that so I could vote in the dems primary, and try to get the worst candidate into the race, I know thousands of us did the same.

I could go on and on, as you do-when you say nothing of any value-and lies... but I will end with the most blatant treasonous act of you and the person your occupant of the WH appointed attorney general. Garland told all lawyers in the country to ignore the supreme court's decision and to go after-(block)-any landlord who evicts a tenant. Just ignore the highest court in the land. And this comes from the leader of the department of justice!

Then you show your true colors-pun intended. You said, "America needs to come to terms with the kind of racism"-(a word that means nothing anymore)-"epitomized by"-(PRESIDENT)-"Donald Trump's immigration policy. We need to appreciate those who walk hundreds of miles or more to enter America to make a living and support our economy."

So your idea of America is to have open borders, let everyone come in from shithole countries, get free everything, and have us-(Trumpers)- pay for it. So you just want to ignore immigration law, and the US Constitution, because you are such a caring soul. That sounds about like your kind... TRAITORS who need a one-way ticket to one of those shithole countries!

You are THE idiot, not the Governor of Florida.

 


Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Aren't Trump & His Supporters the Real RINOs (Republicans in Name Only)?

It’s common for Donald Trump and his supporters to label any Republic (like Rep. Liz Cheney) who doesn’t blindly support him a “RINO,” which amuses me, because Donald Trump himself is the ultimate RINO — previously a Democrat who supported abortion rights and donated to prior campaigns of both Biden and Harris. He only became a Republican and adopted anti-abortion, anti-immigrant and pro-gun positions as the easiest path to electoral success. Those positions have something important in common — they don’t require much intellectual effort to garner supporters. They are gut issues, much easier for a self-obsessed psychopath like Trump to spout.

Remember when Donald Trump first announced his candidacy in front of an audience of paid extras? (It’s now known that each person that day got $50 to be in the atrium of Trump Tower applauding him.) Almost immediately the majority of Republican leaders identified themselves as “Never Trumpers.”

One of the best known Republicans, Sen. Lindsey Graham, said at the time, I don't think he’s a Republican, I don’t think he’s a conservative, I think his campaign is built on xenophobia, race-baiting and religious bigotry. I think he’d be a disaster for our party, and [although] Senator Cruz would not be my first choice, I think he is a Republican conservative whom I could support.”

Even after Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee in May 2016, Sen. Graham said, “I cannot, in good conscience, support Donald Trump because I do not believe he is a reliable Republican conservative, nor has he displayed the judgment and temperament to serve as Commander in Chief.”

If you Google the term “Never Trump,” you’ll find an impressively long list of Republican governors, senators, representatives, and other elected officials, past and present, who publicly opposed Donald Trump in 2016, usually including in their criticism that he was not a true Republican. Many of them resisted the temptation to endorse Trump after they saw his pull on the Republican base and on the formerly Democratic middle class who felt ignored by the Democratic Party. But many of those Never Trumpers realized that by supporting Trump they would benefit electorally, and they fell in line.

The term RINO was born in the early 1900s and was revived through the years as an insult wielded within the party, but it was typically wielded against Republicans who supported Democratic policies. It was Donald Trump who turned it into an insult wielded solely based on not supporting an individual. For example, hard core Republicans like Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Georgia Governor Brian Kemp were labeled RINOs by Trump solely for their refusal to go along with the Big Lie about massive voter fraud.

We have learned the hard way that among Trump’s supporters are people who would resort to violence against anyone who Trump identified as his enemy, which can quickly turn someone who defies Trump into a supporter, if only to protect his/her own life and that of family members. A useful statistic we’ll never see is how many Trump supporters privately despise the man but can’t afford to say so for reasons of (1) personal safety and (2) electoral survival. One or two Republicans have been quoted along that line and probably regretted having that sentiment revealed.

Where does all this lead? I was horrified by a Ted Koppel segment on CBS Sunday Morning this week in which a busload of ordinary citizens he interviewed in Mt. Airy, NC, were almost universally Trump fans and repeated as truth multiple lies spouted by Trump such as the press being the enemy of the people, the 2020 election being stolen, and more.

 

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Our Constitution Guarantees America Will Never Be a True Democracy

  Never has it been clearer than it is today that America can never be a true democracy, because the U.S.  Constitution prevents that.

It starts with the U.S. Senate, which gives two votes to every state regardless of population. Public policy scholars Michael Ettlinger and Jordan Hensley figure that in the current Senate, “41 Republican senators representing as few as 75 million people can block most legislation from even coming to a vote — thwarting the will of a group of Democratic and Republican senators representing as many as 270 million Americans.”

The Constitution did not arise from a consensus of like-minded founding fathers. Rather it was a compromise between the highly populated northern states, which wanted a democratically represented Senate, and the lesser populated southern states, which wanted equal power in the Senate. We are stuck with that situation because amending the Constitution itself takes a 2/3rds vote in both houses of Congress then ratification by three quarters of the states — something entirely unlikely for such a change.

    We’re lucky that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Reynolds v. Sims in 1964 that the 14th Amendment’s principle of equal protection required state legislatures to be based on one person-one vote. Prior to then, for example, Los Angeles County’s 6 million residents had the same representation in the California Senate as did the 400 people of Alpine County. Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote the majority opinion which has led to the practice of reapportioning both chambers of state legislatures based on population. Unfortunately, the Court could not make the same ruling for the U.S. Senate, in which Wyoming has the same representation as the states of California and New York.

This anti-democratic distribution of political power wasn’t so bad when men and women of goodwill were elected to the U.S. Senate, but today we have such conscious and conscientious ill-will  practiced primarily by the right wing representatives of the less populated states against the interests of the bigger states, that it’s totally disheartening.

Is this how the “American Experiment” ends? Is this how democracy dies in our country?  It’s hard to see any solution to what is essentially a structural flaw in our governance.

Meanwhile, back at the state level, gerrymandering has made it possible by ill-intentioned, power-hungry Republicans to solidify their control of state legislatures, such that in Texas, for example, the majority of the population can vote for Democratic candidates, but the majority of candidates elected in the same election are Republicans.

Michael Scherer of the Washington Post calculated that the Michigan legislature has a Republican majority although Democrats have won a majority of the popular vote there for a decade. In North Carolina in 2018, Democrats won 51% of the popular vote but got only 45% of the seats.

Not satisfied with the domination they created through gerrymandering, Republican-dominated legislatures in Georgia, Texas, and Florida, and other states with majority Democratic populations have worked aggressively to restrict voting rights. More than a dozen Republican-controlled states have enacted more than 30 new laws to suppress votes among heavily Democratic populations. They get away with it for one reason — because they can, pure and simple. In those states which have fraudulently created Republican control of their legislatures, the legislatures themselves manage the decennial reapportionment, guaranteeing continued gerrymandering and continued anti-democratic government.

It has been said that the arc of history bends toward justice,” but it clearly bends against democratic rule. Sad but true.

 

Monday, September 6, 2021

How Russia Seeks to Hurt America (aka The Trump/MAGA Playbook)

  Vladimir Putin’s playbook for destroying western democracy found a useful idiot in Donald Trump, because that’s exactly what the “Make America Great Again” theme is all about.

That’s a bold statement, and I realize it will annoy the disgraced president’s fan base, so  let me spell it out for them.

I was a student of Russian and of the Soviet Union for several years in the 1960s. As such I even subscribed to Izvestia for a year, and I visited the Soviet Union four times — once as a tourist with an MIT alumni group in 1978 and three times as a “citizen diplomat” with the Center for Soviet-American Dialogue in the Gorbachev era of the late 1980s.

“Disinformation” didn’t appear in English dictionaries until the late 1980s, but I first learned that term in the early 1960s as the Russian word дезинформация. It is indeed a Soviet concept introduced and perfected by the KGB and one of its premiere chiefs, Vladimir Putin.

The United States is not the only western democracy in which disinformation has been, and continues to be, deployed by the Russians. It played a big and successful role in the Brexit campaign, since breaking up the European Union is as much a goal of Vladimir Putin as is the creating of chaos and irreparable partisanship in the United States.  And this Monday, a news item caught my attention that Russia is mounting a similar effort in Germany to support the election of an anti-EU candidate to succeed Angela Merkel.

“America First” is just what Putin wanted, which is why he mobilized multiple social media channels in the United States to turn public opinion against his arch-enemy Hillary Clinton toward electing Donald Trump.

At first Putin merely sought revenge against Clinton, who, as Secretary of State, had attacked Putin’s own election victory as corrupt, but the election of a president, Doanld Trump, who would balk at supporting NATO and who also publicly supported Brexit, was a dream come true for him.

As I wrote in my Nov. 15, 2018, page 3 column, “Yes, the Russians Wanted Trump Over Hillary, But Their Real Goal Is to Divide Americans.” You can download it at www.JimSmithColumns.com. Also check out my Feb. 27, 2020, column, “Why Wouldn’t the Russians Want Trump Re-Elected? Look at His Accomplishments.”

I’ve also written previously that the MAGA playbook is also inspired by the playbook of fascism, in that it includes the concerted effort to reduce trust in the country’s electoral system, in the free press, and in the university system. I also wrote in my April 9, 2020, “Talking Turkey” column (see it at www.TalkingTurkey.online) about how Donald Trump’s mentor and legal counsel, Roy Cohn, taught Trump the key rules to be followed by an aspiring autocrat: 1) Never settle or admit anything, never admit a mistake; 2) If someone hits you, hit back harder and never stop; 3) Even when you lose, claim victory; 4) Tell a lie long enough and people will think it’s the truth. 5) Use lawsuits like machine gun bullets; and 6) Take no prisoners.

Creating distrust in the free media and university professors is essential for success, because they are the ones who know the history I outlined above and are going to educate the public about it, so they must be labeled as “fake news” or “elites.” Throw in “socialist” and “communist” and repeat, repeat, repeat until believed.

We still don’t know the reason that Donald Trump would never say a negative word about Putin. We know that even during the 2016 campaign (which he thought he’d lose), he had his “fixer” Michael Cohen trying to secure from Putin a Trump Tower in Moscow, but what was exchanged during his secret solitary meeting with Putin in Helsinki, following which he confiscated his interpreter’s notes?  Was he just a “useful idiot” or was something more sinister going on?