October 10, 2020

The Strangest Week in American History

by Hal Gershowitz

Comments Below

Well, certainly in Presidential History.

 President Trump’s behavior this week has been all but incomprehensible. Perhaps, it’s the steroid, Dexamethasone, that the doctors at Walter Reed reportedly prescribed to aid the President in his recovery from COVID-19. Small wonder he says he feels the best he has felt in twenty years. He may feel that way, but he certainly doesn’t act that way. The common side-effects of this drug, according to the Mayo Clinic, are Mood Changes (highs and lows), Aggression, Agitation, Anxiety, Irritability, Depression, and Nervousness.  His judgment, following the COVID-19 super-spreader White House reception for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, is to rush into additional possible super-spreader events taking place at the White House, and rallies in Florida and Pennsylvania. Good luck to all concerned.

President Trump’s petulant, temporary abandonment of pandemic relief negotiations with Congress was nonsensical. He tells the American people that if they want the $1.6 trillion relief bill he supports they’ll first have to reelect him to office. That left the Democrats offering $2.4 trillion if the people elect their guys instead of President Trump and his guys. He quickly walked back his walkout. Someone, perhaps Ivanka or Jared, must have shouted to him, “what in the world were you thinking?”

And, speaking of what were you thinking, what kind of reasoning could have possibly motivated the President to turn in a debate performance that was beneath what a reasonably mature ninth grade debater would turn in. It was breathtaking. The President accomplished absolutely nothing in the debate with Biden other than to substantially elevate the former Vice President. That is exactly what one doesn’t want to do in a political debate.

The President’s angry and ridiculous excuses for refusing to participate in a virtual debate with Biden next week, only bolster the notion that if he can’t rant he can’t debate. Actually, the severe limitations on large gatherings and cheering at the debates make them pretty virtual exercises anyway.  

The President’s contention that Biden would sit behind a desk with computerized cheating assistance is lame, and it bolsters the feeling by many that he, the no-nonsense, tough guy, is afraid to face Biden again. And he may be. Sarcasm, name calling and crude interruptions are a technique that has served Trump well for decades. But it has run its course. People have grown weary of it. The novelty has worn off. And to a great extent, so has the novelty of President Trump.

And, many are asking, why is the President refusing to release the date of his last COVID–19 test before he became symptomatic. He is fueling speculation that he may have knowingly already tested positive before flying off to a fundraising event in New Jersey and then going off to debate Joe Biden last week.

The school-yard name-calling directed at both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris is far beneath his office. Indeed, it is far beneath the norms expected of reasonably mature teenagers. And yet his tantrums continue unabated. The President and his Party are serving up an enormous smokescreen about nearly non-existent mail-voting fraud while engaging in a concerted, muscular effort to legally suppress voting in areas of the country where likely Democratic voters reside.

Anyone who is politically savvy knows that suppression of opposition voters is, and has long been, a major tactic in political strategy and that voter fraud is minuscule by comparison. Nonetheless, President Trump has made it clear that he is prepared to allege voter fraud in order to cloud the outcome of the election should it not go his way. He has also made it clear that he expects the election to be decided by the Supreme Court. He knows the nation is stressed, and he seems determined to keep it that way.

Meanwhile, several states are engaging in quite blatant voter suppression shenanigans, and it has become de rigeur Republican election strategy in many areas of the country. It is particularly true in those areas with large non-white voting populations. It is an insidious practice and often escapes widespread public attention. Worse, it is usually legal.

For example, Greg Abbott, the Republican Governor of Texas, ordered all Texas counties to close absentee voting drop boxes as long as there is one site per county left. The strategy would have voters among the nearly five million residents of Harris County (think Houston) converging on the same drop-box if they wish to cast an absentee ballot in person. That might make sense for Loving County, Texas, with a population of 169 souls. Still, the decision makes no sense for large Texas counties, such as Harris County, where, coincidentally, seventy percent of the residents are non-white. Texas has been an aggressive closer of voting precincts. This year Texas closed down nearly 600 voting precincts, ninety percent of which were in areas with majority African American and Latino voters. About these outrages, President Trump and the Republicans are conspicuously silent.

Kentucky reduced polling locations from 3700  to under 200 during the primaries this year, and Jefferson County which hosts the state’s largest Black population was left with only one polling station.

Sadly, I could go on for many more pages. Voter suppression is an attractive and frequently legal means to tip the balance of an election. When politicians and their consultants review campaign strategies, voter suppression is often on the table. In recent decades, the practice seems to be overwhelmingly utilized by Republicans, just as it was a mainstay of Democratic strategy throughout the south well past the middle of the twentieth century. Underrepresented, or poorly represented, minorities are invariably the target. Voter suppression is a common strategy when contemplating available alternatives for influencing elections. It is an effective strategy, and it is outrageous. That the President fumes every day about mail-in voter fraud, which is demonstrably rare, while remaining silent about carefully conceived plans to suppress voting is equally outrageous.

None of this is surprising. The President is in serious trouble, but by no means is an election victory totally out of reach. However, the path back to the White House has grown very narrow for Trump, much more limited than in 2016. The reality compounds his problem. What worked for him four years ago will not work again. He cannot bluster his way back into the White House. Indeed, to win he has to present an aura of confidence and cool-headed control. Instead, he is projecting panic, mean-spiritedness, and a shocking lack of candor.

Many people believe, deep down inside, that his lack of candor and priority of self over country has cost tens of thousands of American lives. His anger may appeal to those who are primarily motivated by anger. Still, most Americans know this combat that pits everyone on one side of center against everyone on the other side of center is a disaster for the country. Most understand that. The President doesn’t.  

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15 responses to “The Strangest Week in American History”

  1. Marc says:

    Hal, unfortunately you are very dead on in your commentary. I wished Trump would be act like a leader and exude some class. Some one gave him very bad advice in terms of his debate strategy. If he had let Biden speak, he probably would have come out the winner. I have always been amazed at how great business leaders listen. Take my uncle, my mentor. He listened far more than he spoke. It’s a fantastic trait if one can master it. If Trump could shut up for 5 minutes, he would probably be ok. But we know that this is not possible. If Bidden/Harris win, then Trump is solely responsible.

  2. Thomasin Savaiano says:

    “Priority of self over country” as you put it so well, is the exact root cause of his clear unsuitability to the job description. It is not about him, but he has never understood that. It is a bad hire. Time to terminate the contract and move on to someone who at least understands that fundamental requirement.

  3. susan duman says:

    I am appreciative that you described Trump’s behavior. You are much too wise to give a diagnosis and it doesn’t even matter.
    You informed me of the voter suppression that is currently happening in my home state of Kentucky. I knew back then I had to leave. Now I can articulate why.

  4. Barbara says:

    Marc is right! If Trump had let Biden speak intelligent and open minded Americans would have seen how incompetent Biden is.

  5. Robert J. Fraiman says:

    Famous last words, “It is what it is”

  6. James Fisher says:

    Hal – As always, you describe your dissatisfaction with President Trump in a very clear and compelling manner.

    Can you be equally clear and compelling in expressing the reasons you favor a Biden/Harris administration which will undoubtedly seek to:

    Pack the Supreme Court – going against a 150-year tradition;
    Add Puerto Rico and Washington D.C. as States to gain 4 Senate seats;
    Increase income taxes across the board;
    Rejoin the Paris Climate Accord;
    Re-establish the Iran Nuclear Treaty;
    Implement the terms of the Green New Deal….

    And the list goes on – not to mention the extremely high likelihood of a totally unqualified President Kamala Harris taking over for Biden during his first term.

    • Response to Mr. Fisher As usual, Mr. Fisher asks fair and relevant questions. The clear and compelling way in which Mr. Fisher says I describe my dissatisfaction with President Trump is, of course, why I will vote for the Biden-Harris ticket. I would be somewhat surprised if Biden-Harris rushed to advocate adding additional judges to the Supreme Court. While the size of the court has changed seven times in the past with as few as five justices and as many as ten, Biden and Harris know perfectly well that the last time a President (Franklin Roosevelt) tried to change the size of the court, congress, including their own Party bolted. They also know that Supreme Court judges
      often do not always walk in lockstep on critical issues. Chief Justice Roberts, former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Justice Gorsuch, and even Republican former Chief Justice Earl Warren, and many other justices, have demonstrated that they were quite capable of making decisions that did not comport with partisan expectations.
      As I have written recently, I believe the government will have to raise revenue regardless of who wins the election. President Trump was at the $1Trillion budget deficit level before COVID-19 struck. Also, the Biden-Harris tax proposals are far from across-the-board tax measures, but I believe taxes are certain to increase (regardless of who is in the White House). Given that citizens of DC and Puerto Rico pay taxes to the US and, during a draft send their boys to war, it is hard to object to statehood, other than to object to how they might vote. I personally would have no problem with the United States joining the Paris Accords or the Pacific Partnership on Trade. I did not support the Iran nuclear deal. While I believe a Biden-Harris Administration will take global warming much more seriously than has the Trump Administration, I do not believe they will throw caution to the wind by embracing radical initiatives. I believe a Biden-Harris Administration will be more circumspect than their opponents assume.

  7. Irwin yablans says:

    Trying to explain the sins and malfeasance of this administration to the Trump faithful reminds me of the proverbial pious Jew leaving written offerings at the temple.
    It’s like talking to a wall.

  8. LWY says:

    Hal, why are you trying to use this platform to convince everyone to vote like you vs. sharing a balanced perspective that can be a basis for rational discussion of various views and opinions?

    Yes, Trump has a narcissus personality and a big ego. But think of some of our most productive leaders in business and government. Many had similar abrasive personalities (e.g. General Patton, August Busch, Chuck knight, etc.), but they got things done and were winners. Were they well liked – NO. Did they get results – YES.

    If you want to talk about he election then be balanced. Jim Fischer has just shared with you some of Biden’s views. I can add, the Bidens’ personal economic relationship with China and Burisma, that he was against Trump banning flights from China until 3/18, 3 weeks after Trump made the decision, calling Antifa an idea not an organization, etc. etc. The point being, if you are going to criticize Trump for his blunders then do the same for Biden.

    As for the debate. You are right. It was an embarrassment. But Biden didn’t do too well either. He lost his cool, by telling our president to “Shut Up” and calling him other names as well. It was a bad showing on both parts.

    So you criticize Trump’s personality. How about talking about his accomplishments: average earnings of working class people going up by $4,000, the most ever, having the lowest unemployment (including Black, Latinos, and Asians) ever, ending the Iran deal where Obama gave $1.5 billion in Currency to enter this crazy deal, ending ISIS and killing its leaders, finally moving our Israeli embassy to Jeruslum, instituting several trade deals around the world and getting rid of NAFTA which costs many jobs lost in the U.S, and requiring NATO to live up to its signed commitment to spend what it is supposed to spend for military support.

    You comment on the COVID relief plan. The Democrats put forward a $3.5 trillion plan, now reduced to $2.4, which includes such things as significant state and local government relief so they can fix their unfunded pension liabilities and to reinstate state and local tax deductions so the most wealthiest individuals in New York, California and Illinois can pay less income taxes. What does this have to do with COVID relief?

    Then you talk about voter suppression and drop off boxes in Texas. I lived in Texas and voted absentee on many occasions. I never had a problem. That’s all you have to do is put on a 55cent stamp and put it in t he mail. Done.

    You criticize Trump on his COVID policies. All leaders have to make quick decisions in dealing with a crisis. It is easy to be a Monday morning quarterback and criticize after the fact. But Trump did make a lot of good decisions. He fixed our PP&E problem in which the prior administration left him nothing, he blocked travel from China and Europe and he formed a committee headed by the VP with the help of some of our best doctors. The result is the % of deaths have gone way down. The press may want to talk about the number of new cases, but the most important thing is the number of hospitalizations and the % of deaths. The press doesn’t like to talk about that.

    And, finally speaking of the press, they seem to be all like you. Trump could find a cure for Cancer and they would still criticize him. When the Nazi’s took over, Goebbels took over the press and radio. Today do you honestly think that the NY Times, Washington Post, ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, etc. etc. presents balanced factual coverage? Is this any different than what the German people heard from their press in the 1930’s?

    In summary, if you are going to write discussion papers than be balanced. Don’t try to convince us to vote like you.

  9. Paul lLubar says:

    Sounds like you are going to vote for candidates assuming they will not do much of what is in their platform or spoken positions.
    BTW, Section 1, Article 8, Clause 17 of The Constitution gives Congress authority over DC meaning, unlike territories, it would require a Constitutional amendment rather than a majority vote of Congress to confer statehood.

  10. Barbara says:

    In reply to Irwin: When a Jew is facing the Kottel ( the Wall) in our beloved Jerusalem he his sending his prayers to G-d, via the Wall. We have been fortunate to have had a President who has been a loyal and devoted friend to Israel. As a Jew we must all realize how important Israel is to our well being.

  11. Steve Prover says:

    Response to James Fisher: Well James you’ve convinced me. Biden/Harris policies are exactly what this country desperately needs. Keep up the good work.

  12. Robert borns says:

    Hal’s strong essay and the equally strong comments have made this one of the most enjoyable reads of the series. However on a scale of 1to10 I for quality I give the Democrats a 2 and I give the Republicans an 8. The demos in congress are a weak mediocre dangerous group and the republicans are much much better for our future. Biden Harris are dangerous to our future survival. At least with trump and his crew they do what they said they would do generally. Would you like bernie and aoc and her posse setting policy. And if something happened to trump I would feel secure with pence. I know him and he is a clear thinker and a great person. If trump wins this one he deserves the luckiest person ever medal.

  13. Marc J. Belgrad says:

    Hal, thanks as usual for your clearheaded and reliable recitation of facts that should be known and recognized by all, e.g., voter suppression.

    I have one bone to pick, however. I have taught high school students for a dozen years now. Most are well-behaved but, from time to time, some ninth-graders have not yet developed the requisite maturity to participate in learning. At the worst, though, their conduct has demonstrated considerably more self-discipline and maturity than does our President, in general, and, in particular during the debate. If a student behaved like that, after a couple of conversations and attempts at redirection I would have to direct him/her to the dean. The behavior is more reminiscent of seventh-eighth grade boys when the hormones have begun to flow and the do not know what the heck to do about it.

    I can say that, after four years of such redirecting, we proudly graduate our seniors with confidence that they will conduct themselves well in college or work, with far more maturity and skill at rational contemplation and discourse than does the president.

  14. Irwin yablans says:

    My dear Barbara, it is indeed like talking to a wall.

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