Lost Villages

No Sift next week. The next new articles will appear on December 7.

I spent all weekend triple checking that there is *not* a lost, enchanted village in Pennsylvania with 90,000 Trump voters that we forgot to count.

Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman

This week’s featured post is “Can I Get Over Donald Trump?

This week everybody was still talking about the loser of the presidential election

Today we’ll get a reading on how long it’s going to take to quell the Trump coup. Michigan’s four member election board meets today to certify the election results saying that Biden won. One of the two Republican members says he’ll vote against certification until an audit is done, and if the other Republican agrees, the courts will have to step in.

The problem with [the board member’s] request, which mirrors that of the RNC and the Michigan Republican Party in their recent letter to the board, is an audit or investigation into election results cannot be done until election results are certified. On top of that, asking for an audit is outside the purview of the board, whose only role is to canvass and certify election results.

So we’re waiting to find out if a second board member will use authority the board doesn’t have to attempt to overturn an election Biden won by 154,000 votes, without evidence of any wrongdoing whatsoever.

Trump’s lawsuits continue to get thrown out of court. This ruling by a federal court in Pennsylvania is about as amusing as judicial rulings ever get. It reads like the comments that a very patient professor writes on a first-year law student’s essay that he has given a D.

Again and again, the judge goes back to basic legal definitions (what is “standing”, for example), and explains why the Trump complaint falls apart. There is no need to have a hearing on evidence, because the Trump campaign has not stated a case that evidence could prove.

Even Chris Christie is calling Trump’s legal team “a national embarrassment”. Trump ought to be ashamed of stuff like this, but of course he never is.

The Republican solidarity behind Trump’s coup attempt is starting to erode. But the extent to which it still holds together is frightening. We used to have two parties that both supported American democracy. Now we just have one.

How much longer do we have to keep this up?

Jimmy Fallon’s people put together a Trump concession speech.

Chris Hayes points to the longer game Trump might be playing:

Apropos of nothing, the Confederacy’s refusal to actually accept defeat and instead embrace a Lost Cause narrative of betrayal was a key aspect of its successful efforts to wrench back one-party totalitarian control of the South, which it did both through violence and propaganda.

and the virus

Covid-19 continues to spread out of control, with new records being set just about every day. Two weeks ago I wrote:

It’s a reasonable guess that by next month we’ll be hitting 2,000 deaths in a day.

That happened Thursday. This week we’ll probably see our first 200,000-new-case day.

At The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal and Whet Moser look at the relatively inflexible relationship between cases and deaths: At first, improvements in treatment lowered the percentage of infected people who died, but that progress has just about stopped.

The U.S. health-care system has not reduced the deadliness of the coronavirus since July, according to a new estimate by a prominent COVID-19 researcher, which accounts for the lags in public reporting of cases and deaths. Instead, the virus has, with ruthless regularity, killed at least 1.5 percent of all Americans diagnosed with COVID-19 over the past four months. …

Because the case-fatality rate has stayed fixed for so long and there are now so many reported cases, predicting the virus’s death toll in the near term has become a matter of brutal arithmetic: 150,000 cases a day, times 1.5 percent, will lead to 2,250 daily deaths. In the spring, the seven-day average of daily deaths rose to its highest point ever on April 21, when it reached 2,116 deaths. With cases rising as fast as they are, the U.S. could cross the threshold of 2,000 daily deaths within a month. Without a miraculous improvement in care, the United States is about to face the darkest period of the pandemic so far.

The researcher estimates the lag between case numbers and death numbers to be about 22 days. So even if cases leveled off today, we can expect deaths to continue going up for at least the next 22 days.

Beating this surge is not rocket science, it’s a question of political will. CNN reports:

The [United States] is now in the same situation that France, Belgium and the Czech Republic were last month, when rapidly rising infections put their health care systems within weeks of failure. But these countries have managed to avert, for now, the worst-case scenario, in which people die because hospitals are full and they can’t access the care they need to survive. They slowed down the epidemics by imposing lockdowns and strict mask mandates. Despite the clear evidence from Europe, the White House is still opposing new restrictions.

It’s easy to believe that Covid can be conquered by authoritarian governments like China. But Stephanie Nolen reports from the not-so-distant, not-so-exotic city of Halifax.

This morning, my children went to school — school, in an old brick building, where they lined up to go in the scuffed front doors. I went to work out at the gym, the real gym, where I huffed and puffed in a sweaty group class. And a few days ago, my partner and I hosted a dinner party, gathering eight friends around the dining room table for a boisterous night that went too late. Remember those?

Where I’m living, we gather without fear. Life is unfolding much as it did a year ago. This magical, virus-free world is just one long day’s drive away from the Empire State Building — in a parallel dimension called Nova Scotia.

How did they manage that?

Our coronavirus lockdown began swiftly in March and was all-encompassing. The provincial borders were slammed shut. In Nova Scotia, even public hiking trails were closed, a big deal for a population used to the freedom to head into the wilderness at will. …

Public health officials, not politicians, set the policy here about what opens. And people (mostly) follow the rules on closures and gatherings and masks. “The message has been that we need to do it to keep each other safe,” [Nova Scotia’s public health chief Robert Strang] told me. “I think there’s something about our culture, our collective ethic, if you will, that means people accept that.”

Collective ethic? Keeping each other safe? It’s that damn socialism!

It’s also maintaining a long-term view: By accepting some harsh restrictions early, the Nova Scotians achieved far more freedom than we have now.

From the other side of the socialist/capitalist divide, Sarah Jones writes about her grandfather’s Covid death.

Sick, in and out of hospitals, and possessed of limited means, my grandfather belonged to a sacrificial category of person in America. This category has always existed, but the pandemic has exposed it and expanded its borders. It has become so difficult to pretend that American free-market capitalism is anything but brutal that conservatives have largely given up trying. … Some conservatives, including Trump, may consider this an acceptable sacrifice to make on behalf of the economy. But I don’t believe anyone benefits from mass death and suffering, or that the elderly and infirm should be made to feel like detritus while they are still alive, as my grandfather was.

and Thanksgiving

This has gotten truly crazy. I’m used to conservatives refusing to take the virus seriously and responding like spoiled children to any suggestion that they shouldn’t do whatever they want. But now the idea is out there that liberals are against Thanksgiving, and you have to “save” Thanksgiving by having as big an indoor, maskless get-together as you can manage.

The “liberals” in question are mainly at the CDC, which is urging Americans to stay home for the holiday.

The White House, meanwhile, is referring to such Thanksgiving advice as “Orwellian”. Scott Atlas, the unqualified doctor who somehow has gotten control of the Coronavirus Task Force,

mocked the idea that older relatives would be put at risk over the holiday weekend, although there is ample medical evidence that seniors are much more likely to become ill if they are exposed to the virus and to die if they become sick.

“This kind of isolation is one of the unspoken tragedies of the elderly, who are now being told, ‘Don’t see your family at Thanksgiving,’” Dr. Atlas said. “For many people, this is their final Thanksgiving, believe it or not.”

Of course, if we do all have big Thanksgiving get-togethers, it will be the final Thanksgiving for a lot more people.

The White House itself announced plans for large in-person Christmas and Hanukkah events.

But the most over-the-top message came from conservative podcaster Charlie Kirk:

The Left has always hated Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving can be interpreted as a religious holiday, if you believe in giving thanks to a Creator. But they hate Thanksgiving because they believe there is nothing you should be thankful for in America. This is an awful place. It is cancerous, rotten to the core. Tear it all down. Burn it from within. And why would you be thankful?

To be fair, there is a discussion among people with a sense of history and justice — does that necessarily make them liberals? — about whether the fundamental dishonesty of the “First Thanksgiving” myth (in view of the ensuing Native American genocide) poisons the whole holiday. But I’ve never heard anybody of any political persuasion find fault with the idea of encouraging gratitude. Whether you believe in a Creator or not, it seems healthy to take a day to reflect on the good things in our lives and acknowledge that we didn’t make all of them ourselves.

In fact, the person who I think would be most likely to object to such a holiday is the Great Orange Menace: Why should a Creator get any of the credit for the marvelous life he has built for himself?

which got me thinking about Covid Carols

The thought of Thanksgiving at home without visitors, followed by Christmas at home without visitors, filled me with a resentment that had to be let out somehow. I have Facebook friends who apparently feel the same way, so we’ve been collaborating on Covid Carols. The group is getting real close to a presentable version of “The 12 Days of Covid”.

Sadly, caroling in the ICU will not be possible this year. Maybe we can do one of those Zoom-choir things.

Having worked on a carol, I had to google the idea. It turns out we’re not the first the think of it. And while the Center for Congregational Song’s completed carols are more polished than the ones we’re developing, there’s something very satisfying about writing your own, especially in long-distance collaboration. The impropriety of it is a giant fuck-you to the whole situation.

So anyway, I happened to notice that the traditional carol “Do You Hear What I Hear?” traces the spread of information from one person the next. That makes it an ideal vehicle for a Covid carol. Like this:

Have You Caught What I’ve Caught?

Said the tourist to the Uber man:
“Have you caught what I’ve caught?
(Have you caught what I’ve caught?)
In a distant land, Uber man.
Have you caught what I’ve caught?
A wheeze, a sneeze,
symptoms of disease,
And I don’t know quite what it is.
I still don’t know quite what it is.”

Said the Uber man to the CEO:
“Have you caught what I’ve caught?
(Have you caught what I’ve caught?)
I’ve begun to sweat, CEO.
Have you caught what I’ve caught?
I ache, I bake,
no matter what I take.
And I really should head for home.
Yes, I really should be at home.”

Said the CEO to a vendor’s rep:
“Have you caught what I’ve caught?
(Have you caught what I’ve caught?)
Sniff this coffee for me, vendor’s rep.
Have you caught what I’ve caught?
A taste, a smell,
I really cannot tell.
It is all just the same to me.
The whole world smells the same to me.”

Said the vendor’s rep to his mother dear:
“You can’t catch what I’ve caught.
(Cannot catch what I’ve caught.)
I feel just fine, mother dear.
Worry not what I’ve caught.
A test, a test,
says I’m not my best.
But I know that it’s a mistake.
I am sure it’s all a mistake.”

Rasped the old woman in the ICU:
“Please don’t catch what I’ve caught.
(Please don’t catch what I’ve caught.)
Cinch your masks tighter, wear your gloves.
Please don’t catch what I’ve caught.
You serve, you give,
so I want you to live.
And I pray this all ends with me.
Let us pray this all ends with me.

and you also might be interested in …

This week’s discovery: the cartoons of @twisteddoodles.

Josh Marshall describes this as “a harmonic convergence of half the bad things in our society”.

Va. AG Mark Herring announces he will fight a lawsuit seeking an exemption to covid-19 restrictions so an indoor gun show with as many as 25,000 attendees can go forward at Dulles Expo Center this weekend. Group claims restrictions violate right to bear arms in Va.

The Atlantic examines the waning of America’s global influence and prestige, which Biden will have a hard time reversing.

During a week that Trump spent tweeting election conspiracy theories, 15 Asia-Pacific countries signed on to a regional trade deal spearheaded by China. Not so very long ago, the Obama administration proposed the creation of a U.S.-led transpacific trade partnership that would have bound the region to a different vision. When Trump trashed that agreement, the door was left open for Beijing.

My annual dose of humility: The NYT’s 100 notable books of the year. Given how little hanging out at bookstores I got to do this year, my totals are below even my usual anemic standards. I’ve read only one of the books, the completion of Hillary Mantel’s Cromwell trilogy, The Mirror and the Light. I’m in the middle of Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste, and I’ll almost certainly read Barack Obama’s A Promised Land and Rick Perlstein’s Reaganland eventually.

As for the rest, well, I’m imagining singing “96 Notable Books on the Shelf” to the tune of “99 Bottles of Beer”.

and let’s close with something racy

Can I Get Over Donald Trump?

Maybe the healing America needs should start with me.

This week, the third one since the presidential election, I — like almost everybody else in America — spent more time thinking about the loser of that election than the winner.

If you don’t remember previous transition periods, it’s hard to get across just how strange that is. At this point in his administration, every previous one-term president in my lifetime — Bush the First, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, LBJ — was already starting to fade into history. Even exiting two-term presidents — Barack Obama, Bush the Second, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan — were planning their moves back to wherever and leafing through proposals for their presidential libraries.

As for media coverage, it’s supposed to be like the Eagles’ song:

Where you been lately?
There’s a new kid in town.

All previous presidential transitions brought in lots of new kids. People from the victorious campaign, veterans from previous administrations, and prominent governors or members of Congress were either getting new positions or maneuvering for them. Remember Mitt Romney going to Trump Tower in hopes of becoming Secretary of State? That’s the kind of story that usually makes headlines in the weeks after an election.

Even the members of your party most skeptical of your candidacy come around like Flatnose Curry after Butch Cassidy wins the knife fight: “I was really rootin’ for you, Butch.”

And Joe Biden is playing his part. He has named his Covid-19 task force and his chief of staff. Cabinet nominations are due to start rolling out this week. Reportedly, the foreign policy team is already chosen: Antony Blinken will be secretary of state Linda Thomas-Greenfield ambassador to the UN, and Jake Sullivan national security advisor. (You remember, that’s Mike Flynn’s old job.) A treasury secretary is coming soon — quite possibly the first woman ever to play that role.

And yet, what are we talking about? Trump.

Why won’t he concede? Will he ever let the Biden transition officially begin? What’s going on with all these absurd lawsuits, rolled out by people who ought to be in asylums (Sidney Powell ) or in jail (Rudy Giuliani)? Is he staging a coup? Can it possibly work? (No.) Why is he calling local election officials and meeting with Republican legislators in states Biden won? Why is he replacing the leadership in the Pentagon?

Now, it’s hard to claim we shouldn’t pay attention. Trump is breaking the norms of democracy, sabotaging the next administration, and just generally putting his own interests ahead of the country’s — like he always does. If nobody paid attention to his coup attempt, it might even work.

These three weeks have been a microcosm of the last four years. Nobody wanted to read stories about the American government ripping children away from their parents and stashing them in cages, or about our President standing on a stage with an enemy dictator and siding with the dictator against our own intelligence services, or about that President’s even-handed assessment of Nazis and anti-Nazis.

This really happened.

But we felt we had to pay attention; public pressure was the only tool we had to set things right — or at least keep them from getting worse. Arguably, the reason the administration still hasn’t found the parents of hundreds of the children it kidnapped is that we let ourselves lose focus; after Trump’s people announced that the policy had been reversed, we moved on.

I feel the same way about covering Trump’s inept coup: People do need to pay attention to this, and to appreciate the disregard for American democracy it demonstrates.

And yet, when I introspect, I can tell that there’s more going on inside me than just the public interest. The news about Trump is intense. It makes me feel things — anger, frustration, fear. I don’t think he can overthrow democracy, but what if I’m wrong?

The Biden news, by contrast, seems flat. His Covid team consists of doctors and public health experts, without a charlatan in sight. He’s not going to be taking his advice from a radiologist or the My Pillow guy. Nobody’s pushing quack cures. They’re trying to get you to wear a mask and wash your hands, like experts have been saying for months and months. Nobody is telling you to inject bleach or lying about the death statistics or promising that the virus will go away like magic.

That’s all very sensible, but what should I feel about it?

Similarly, Biden’s foreign policy team is made up of foreign-policy types. They believe in alliances and treaties and international law. None of them have been making public appearances with Vladimir Putin or taking money from Turkey. They don’t come from corporations that stand to make billions if Russian sanctions get relaxed.

How does any of that keep my adrenaline pumping?

For four years now, I — and I think a lot of my readers as well — have been stuck in a relationship with the President of the United States that has not just been dysfunctional, it’s been downright abusive. Day after day, I have approached my news sources by armoring myself against attack. I have expected that each day I will somehow be insulted by my President, or that he will do or say something that will make me feel ashamed of a country I used to take pride in. He will involve me in sins that I can never make right.

Day after day, I’ve had to overcome a sense of “He can’t do that.” Again and again, I’ve been surprised as he disregarded some norm of democracy and good government that I had come to take for granted. He can’t ignore Hatch Act violations up and down his government. (Oh yes he can.) He can’t make a deal to commute Roger Stone’s sentence in exchange for Stone’s continued silence about collusion with Russia. (Oh yes he can.) He can’t dangle a pardon in front of Paul Manafort to induce him not to cooperate with the Mueller investigation. (Oh yes he can.) He can’t get the Justice Department to defend him in a lawsuit filed by a woman he raped. (Oh yes he can, but a judge can turn DOJ away.) He can’t ruin the careers of government officials in revenge for their role in exposing Russia’s effort to get him elected or his Ukraine extortion scheme. (Oh yes he can.)

As a result, I’ve walked around with a sense of dread. What else can he do that I have thought was impossible?

It will be a great relief to be rid of that dread, which I’m sure has pushed down my mood even when I wasn’t consciously thinking about it.

And yet … those strong emotions are so addictive. It’s typical not to know what to do with yourself when you first come out of an abusive relationship. If you’re lucky enough to form a new relationship with somebody sane and sensible and good-hearted (like Joe Biden), it’s hard to take it seriously. If you don’t cry over your relationship at least once a week, are you really in love? If nothing you do makes your partner crazy enough to send you to the emergency room, does he really care about you?

After that dysfunctional intensity, sane relationships seem flat. That could be why victims of abuse so often go back and give their abusers another chance. Or why ex-members of cults feel themselves being drawn back in.

I remember how it felt when my wife’s nine-month breast cancer treatment program drew to a close, and it started to look like she might beat this thing. (That was more than 20 years ago, and she’s doing fine.) For most of a year, we had lived with the constant awareness that some test we were waiting for could come back with a death sentence, or that some treatment could induce a disastrous side effect. And then suddenly there were no more tests and no more treatments. “Come back in six months.”

Normal life, long periods of time without life-and-death questions to answer — what do you do with that?

Soldiers return from war to confront a world where nobody will die if they make a mistake. A “bad day” means you got stuck in a traffic jam, or the team you root for lost a playoff game, or the report that was due Friday won’t actually come out until Monday. What do you do with that?

After four years of wondering whether we were living through the end of American democracy, can we really return to normal politics? If TV networks have to go back to discussing deficits and interest rates and cost overruns on the new weapons system, will anybody watch?

Matt Yglesias makes fun of the difficulties he faces as he starts a new for-money blog in the post-Trump era:

Tomorrow’s post is going to defy the woke censors and speak some plain truths about interest rate policy from five years ago. Trigger warning: Will feature some discussion of the difference between core and headline PCE inflation.

Joe Biden has begun his transition to the presidency by talking about healing. Most of us have jumped to the conclusion that healing has to start with attempts to make peace with the 70+-million Americans who voted for continuing the march towards fascism. Maybe Biden should seek peace by pardoning Trump like Ford pardoned Nixon. (Or maybe that’s a horrible mistake.)

Maybe we need another round of reporters visiting small-town diners and talking to Trump’s faithful, or more books like Hillbilly Elegy. Maybe we need to see that Trump voters are not deluded cultists brainwashed by Q-Anon, but thoughtful people whose interests and points of view we aren’t properly appreciating.

Here’s what I think: The very violence of my feelings about those questions tells me that healing really needs to start somewhere else. It needs to start with me, and maybe with you also.

The first step I can take towards healing America is to get over Trump. I need to stop looking to him for my political intensity, and stop looking for some new source of intensity to replace him.

I’ll be healed when I can begin a day without feeling an overhang of dread, without anticipating some new insult or threat or shame coming to me from the White House. I’ll be healed when I can appreciate the lack of intensity in our politics, and not experience it as a flatness or an eerie moment before the storm. I’ll be healed when a news cycle that doesn’t demand my immediate emotional response feels open and free rather than dull. I’ll be healed when I look forward to such days and think about how I want to shape them, now that I am not being constantly trolled and my feelings are truly my own.

When that day comes, then I’ll be able to look outward and think sanely about the next steps in healing America. But until then, I suspect that all my efforts will be contaminated by my continued entanglement in Trump

So I’d better start working on that.

The Monday Morning Teaser

For five years or so now, we’ve been looking at Trump, first as a candidate and then as president, and recognizing that something truly abnormal was going on. In an ordinary candidacy or an ordinary administration, this wouldn’t be happening. There’s a whole genre of what-would-a-typical-administration-be-doing-now articles, to which I have contributed my share.

Well, I can’t help myself, I’m doing it again. This week I have to call attention to the fact that nearly three weeks after an election, nearly all our attention is focused on the loser rather than the winner. That’s really weird.

In an ordinary administration, we’d still be talking about the outgoing president a little, but mainly about how he’ll ride off into the sunset. What’s his legacy? How will history judge him? Where will his presidential library get built?

Instead, Biden’s cabinet announcements are barely causing a ripple while we focus on Trump’s desperate attempts to stay in power in spite of the voters and at the cost of American democracy. In some sense we should be focused on that, because it’s horrible and really unusual, and we need to make sure it doesn’t work.

But there’s also something else at play, and that’s what I’ll be discussing in the featured post: The whole country is coming out of a dysfunctional and even abusive relationship with Donald Trump. One defining trait of such relationships is their intensity. Even after you escape, your attention keeps being drawn back, because normal life seems so flat by comparison.

So Biden is out there being nice to people and talking about healing. He’s appointing doctors and public health experts to his Covid-fighting team rather than charlatans, and talking about sensible things like masks and hygiene rather than quack cures. His foreign-policy team is made up of, well, foreign-policy people. He’s about to appoint a treasury secretary, and all the names being thrown around are folks who know something about money and finance.

How dull. If I talk about that kind of stuff, who’s going to share my post? How do I get my own adrenaline pumping? What is there to be outraged about? Where’s the threat to our whole way of life?

Intensity is addictive. Even when the intense experience was unpleasant, people tend to get drawn back towards it. Abused spouses often give their abusers a second chance. Ex-members of cults get drawn back in.

So the point of the featured post is that the place for America’s healing to start is with me, and maybe with you. We need to get over Trump. We need to prepare ourselves to once again have a healthy relationship with the news and with the government.

I still have some work to do on that post, so let’s predict it to appear around 11 EST.

The weekly summary covers both the antics of the outgoing clown and the new President’s attempt to assemble a government. Meanwhile, the long-predicted fall surge in the virus is here and is setting records. A big chunk of the population is still in denial about it and treating public health measures like some kind of oppression that they need to resist. So the post-Thanksgiving period is set up to be apocalyptic.

Dark humor seems especially cathartic to me right now, so I’ll discuss Covid carols, including one I wrote myself. And I’ll close with a funny video making mask removal a kind of strip tease.

Sofa Heroes

Our sofa was our front and our patience was our weapon. … This is how we became heroes, back then, during that coronavirus winter of 2020.

– translated from a German Covid ad

This week’s featured post is “The Electoral College, the Trump Coup Attempt, the Georgia Run-offs, and Other Post-Election Reflections“.

This week everybody was still reacting the election

I combined all my election reflections into the featured post. It’s not the well-organized essay I usually intend to write, but is more like a weekly summary devoted to a single topic.

Now that Trump will be leaving office, be sure to plan your virtual visit to the Donald J. Trump Library. Visit the Covid Memorial. Examine the Wall of Criminality (the only wall Mexico paid for).

Somebody put an enormous amount of work into this project, and it shows.

and talking about the exploding virus

Way back in the spring, doctors warned us that there could be another coronavirus wave in the fall. Well, here it is. Three weeks ago we were horrified that daily new-case numbers were reaching the previous records of around 75,000. Friday, we had more than double that number: 177,246. The trend line is still racing upwards, with no signs of a peak.

Hospitalizations are also at record levels. Hospitalizations tend to lag a week or so behind new cases, and they don’t depend on the number of tests, which is the usual denialist excuse for why new-case numbers are surging. in general, you get hospitalized because at-home care can’t stabilize your fever and/or blood-oxygen levels. It’s a serious thing, far from the “sniffles” Trump talks about.

Deaths, which lag about a week behind hospitalizations, are rising more slowly. The current daily average is around 1,200. (That’s like four or five major airline crashes every day.) The last two weeks’ surge in the new-case numbers wouldn’t have shown up in death totals yet. So we’re probably on our way to 2,000 deaths per day.

And Thanksgiving is coming. Large numbers of people will travel, spend hours indoors with friends and relatives, and then travel again. If you wanted to spread the virus, you could hardly design something better. By the time we get into the Christmas season, we might be seeing 3 or 4 thousand deaths every day.

Don’t do it.

Health officials are warning people to be careful this Thanksgiving, and for the most part that just means DON’T. Don’t do whatever it is you usually do.

The archetypal Thanksgiving — smiling faces packed tightly around a table in a warm and cozy dining room, with the family patriarch and matriarch at the center of attention and grandchildren arriving from every corner of the country — is exactly what you shouldn’t do if you want everybody to survive until next Thanksgiving.

The responsible thing is to cancel your plans. My wife and I just told the friends we have spent Christmas with for decades that we can’t make the 1,500-mile drive this year. It was hard and depressing, but it was necessary.

and credit/blame for the election outcome

Democratic centrists and progressives are arguing about how to split the credit and/or blame for the election results. This seems to me to be a particularly unproductive way to spend our time.

Here’s what I observed myself: Being a Michigan State alum, I spent many hours of the election’s final weeks watching Big 10 football on the conference’s BTN network. In spite of BTN having national reach, the ads were often aimed at local races in the states whose teams were playing. So I saw a lot of the GOP’s closing arguments in states like Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

Those ads did indeed target the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, and tried to associate moderate Democratic candidates like Iowa’s Theresa Greenfield and Michigan’s Gary Peters with progressive leaders like AOC and progressive policies like defunding the police and Medicare for All. (I don’t remember what they called MfA; probably a more pejorative name.) Clearly, Republicans believed that it was good for them (and not for Greenfield or Peters) if voters associated all Democrats with AOC and the progressive agenda.

So I get where moderates like Conor Lamb are coming from when they say that the outspokenness of progressives made their races harder.

And yet …

Imagine for a moment that AOC, Bernie Sanders, and the Squad never existed. No one ever said “Defund the Police” or “Ban Fracking” or proposed any trillion-dollar programs. Do I believe that in such a world, Republican attack ads would have nothing to say? They wouldn’t dream up some other policies they believed to be unpopular and claim Greenfield and Peters and Lamb supported them? They wouldn’t find some other public figure to demonize and hang around moderate Democrats’ necks in purple districts? (The ads I saw, in fact, did demonize Nancy Pelosi. I think she’s more progressive than many on the left give her credit for, but she’s no AOC.)

Lamb et al seem to be assuming that if other Democrats only behaved “better”, Republicans would have no way to distort their views. I doubt that.

and the Biden administration

Politico makes its best guesses about a Biden cabinet. It’s a distinguished cast, and lacks any of the I-play-an-expert-on-TV types Trump was fond of.

The question is whether Mitch McConnell’s Senate (assuming Republicans win at least one of the Georgia run-offs) will let Biden have a cabinet. If I were Biden, I’d be tempted to stretch the Overton window by making one or two nominations Republicans will absolutely hate — say, Hillary Clinton as attorney general or Al Gore as head of the EPA. McConnell could lead a charge against them and do a victory dance when their nominations didn’t reach the floor, but Biden’s other nominees would seem tame by comparison and might slide through.

The NYT draws attention to a looming problem: Just as career government officials in the State Department, Justice, the EPA, and several other agencies — the so-called “Deep State” — stood against Trump and sometimes frustrated his initiatives, Joe Biden may face resistance from Homeland Security.

To the extent that it’s more than just a conspiracy theory, the Deep State consists of career government workers who are more loyal to the mission of their agency (as they understand it) than to their ultimate boss in the White House. So, no matter what orders they get, generals at the Pentagon will drag their feet if they believe those orders endanger national security, public health officials like Dr. Fauci will resist policies that promote disease, NOAA won’t lie about the path of a hurricane, and so on.

Well, the Trump Homeland Security Department has accumulated people who believe the southern border is out of control. Many are hostile to asylum-seekers, and for four years their cruelty has been given free rein. That genie is going to be hard to get back into its bottle.

and “religious liberty”

Thursday, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito gave a virtual address to a Federalist Society meeting. Most of the media coverage of the speech centered on his statements about the Covid lockdowns, like: “The pandemic has resulted in previously unimaginable restrictions on individual liberty.” I think people who lived through rationing, blackouts, and the Japanese internment during World War II might debate that. So might Black people who remember Jim Crow and sundown towns. Or Native Americans who had their children taken away to Indian Residential Schools. But historical myopia and white self-centeredness are not what I want to talk about.

Alito also used Covid restrictions as examples of our problematic emergency laws, and yet somehow managed to ignore the most egregious recent abuse of emergency law: Trump’s fake southern-border emergency that allowed him to seize money to build his wall. But that’s not what I want to talk about either.

No, Alito spent a big chunk of his speech talking about an entirely phony issue: the threat to “religious liberty” in America. This is something I wrote about in 2013: “‘Religious Freedom’ means Christian Passive-Agressive Domination“.

I expect to come back to this issue sometime soon, but let me just say this: All of the cases he mentions — Little Sisters of the Poor, Ralph’s Pharmacy, Masterpiece Cakeshop — are examples of Christian passive aggression; there was no threat to actual religious liberty.

Passive aggression is when someone exaggerates a weakness or sensitivity in order to manipulate others and gain power over their choices and actions. Again and again in recent years, conservative Christians have constructed a greatly exaggerated notion of purity, and have used it to insist on an ever-greater distance between themselves and anyone who is doing something they don’t like. And the inconvenience this exaggerated purity causes should fall not on the Christian, but on whoever they object to.

Take Masterpiece Cakeshop, for example. There is no tradition in America in which a wedding cake has the slightest religious significance. A baker who refuses to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple is not in any way practicing his Christian religion. He is just acting out his bigotry. Alito complains:

For many today, religious liberty is not a cherished freedom. It’s often just an excuse for bigotry.

But in what way is that opinion wrong? Isn’t “religious liberty” the primary excuse for bigotry today?

and you also might be interested in …

Artist Robin French offers this response to the question: “What have you achieved in 2020?”

Michelle Goldberg is less than optimistic about Trump’s post-presidency prospects, and outlines the legal troubles he might face.

This week I discovered Blaire Erskine, who has done a series of hilarious wife-of-somebody-famous videos. In this one, she is the wife of Corey Lewandowski, reacting to him getting a Covid infection. A few months ago, she was the daughter of Jerry Falwell Jr., reacting to her parents’ sex scandal.

If you repost one, make sure to emphasize that she isn’t really who she’s claiming to be, because the Lewandowski one is so funny your friends will want to believe it’s genuine.

and let’s close with a message from the future

An elderly German man recalls how in his younger days, he became one of the heroes of 2020 by staying home and doing nothing.

The Electoral College, the Trump Coup Attempt, the Georgia run-offs, and Other Post-Election Reflections

The results. Georgia and Arizona finally got called, completing the map of the 2020 presidential election. Joe Biden is the winner, 306-232, the exact same margin Trump won by in 2016.

All the Senate races have also been called, with the two Georgia races resulting in run-offs. The make-up of the new Senate is 50-48, pending those two Georgia races.

A few House races are still being determined, but the shape of the outcome is clear: Democrats will retain control, but with a slightly smaller majority.

Measuring the bias built in to the Electoral College. Since 2016 and 2020 resulted in exactly the same 306-232 split in the Electoral College, we can see just how big a Republican bias that system has compared to the popular vote. Trump was able to get his 306 electoral votes while losing the popular vote by 2.8 million. In order to get his 306 EVs, Biden had to win by a margin that so far is 5.6 million and continues to grow as the final votes are tallied.

In each case, a relatively small number of votes in a few states determined the outcome. Hillary Clinton would have won in 2016 if she had gotten 10,705 more votes in Michigan, 44,293 in Pennsylvania, and 22,749 in Wisconsin, for a total of 77,747.

Using the currently available returns, Trump would have won this year if he had gotten 10,378 more votes in Arizona, 14,173 in Georgia, and 20,547 in Wisconsin, a total of 45,098. (That would have resulted in a 269-269 Electoral College tie, which would have thrown the decision into the House. Each state gets one vote in the House, and Republicans control 26 House delegations, so Trump would have been chosen.)

Think about that: If Trump had gotten those 45K votes, he still would have lost nationally by at least 5.5 million, and probably quite a bit more. But he would be president for four more years.

Admittedly, though, a scenario where a candidate gets exactly the votes he needs in exactly the states where he needs them is far-fetched. So here’s a more plausible variation: What if Biden’s margin were just 3/4% smaller across the board?

Biden won nationally 50.9%-47.3%, a 3.6% margin. But he won Wisconsin by .7%, Arizona by .3%, and Georgia by .3%. So in my 3/4%-less scenario, Biden carries the country 50.525%-47.675%, a margin of 2.85% or 4.4-million votes. He still has a popular-vote majority — not just a plurality — but he loses all three of the closest states, so Trump gets a second term.

I don’t see any way to justify that outcome. The Electoral College has to go.

Trump’s coup attempt. Just because it isn’t working doesn’t mean that it isn’t a coup. This week, Trump has been trying to create the conditions for him to hang onto power in spite of being rejected by the voters. For the most part, the Republican Party has been cooperating with his effort to overthrow American democracy.

Going into the election, various observers were laying out what Trump might do to subvert an election defeat. Here’s Barton Gellman in The Atlantic from September:

The worst case, however, is not that Trump rejects the election outcome. The worst case is that he uses his power to prevent a decisive outcome against him. If Trump sheds all restraint, and if his Republican allies play the parts he assigns them, he could obstruct the emergence of a legally unambiguous victory for Biden in the Electoral College and then in Congress. He could prevent the formation of consensus about whether there is any outcome at all. He could seize on that un­certainty to hold on to power.

Gellman detailed the plan: deny the validity of mail-in ballots, tie the vote-count up in litigation, delay resolution until Republican state legislatures in Pennsylvania or Wisconsin feel justified in appointing their own pro-Trump electors. Make Congress or the Supreme Court — not the voters — decide who the real electors are. (Vox’ Andrew Prokop points out all the obstacles in the way of this scenario.)

So far, Trump has been carrying out that plan, and the majority of elected Republicans have been playing along with him. Fortunately for American democracy, Election Day went relatively smoothly and Biden’s win is not that close, so Trump’s litigation strategy has little to work with and a lot to accomplish: He needs to overturn — or at least cast doubt on — margins in the tens of thousands in at least three states.

He also needs to reverse the public perception that Biden won. This is why Fox News projecting a Biden victory and referring to him as the President-elect has so outraged Trump. He needs his followers to believe that the election is still undetermined.

It’s not working, and it’s not going to work — judges need to see some kind of evidence before they block certification of the election results, and Trump has none — but Trump and the Republicans should get no credit for that. They’ve been trying to overthrow American democracy; they just haven’t succeeded.

The non-transition. No one really expected Trump to make a gracious concession speech, as all previous losing candidates have done for the last century or so. Fundamentally, Trump is still that fragile-ego kid you knew in first grade: the one who never admitted a mistake and couldn’t lose at anything without claiming that the winner cheated.

(John McCain not only gave a very gracious speech in 2008, he joked about his loss later, claiming that after his election-night concession, he went to bed “and I slept like a baby. I woke up screaming every two hours.”)

But Trump has pushed his innate immaturity several steps down the road to assholery: He’s refusing to let his administration face the reality that Biden won the election and needs to get ready to take control of the government. This would be a problem in the best of times, but given that Trump is leaving Biden a broken economy and a plague running out of control, his petulance is becoming unpatriotic.

And so, the General Services Administration has not yet issued the ascertainment memo that releases funds for the transition process, providing office space and government resources like computers and email accounts. For comparison, the Obama White House issued a detailed transition memo on November 10, 2016, two days after the election.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Trump administration is refusing to meet with Biden’s people until GSA gives its OK. Biden is also not getting access to current intelligence reports like the Presidential Daily Brief. CNN reports:

Less than 10 weeks before Biden will take office, his team is locked out of crucial Covid-19 pandemic data and government agency contacts, which threatens to hamper the federal response amid peaking coronavirus cases and the expected mass distribution of a vaccine.

Again comparisons are in order: Bill Clinton began sharing PDBs with George W. Bush while the Florida recount was ongoing, “just in case” he happened to win. There is no downside to this, unless you suspect the possible next president of being a security risk.

Promoting unrest. Saturday, pro-Trump demonstrators came to Washington to join in the fantasy that Biden is stealing the election. Journalism Professor Jay Rosen used the WaPo’s coverage as an example of what not to do:

On stark display in the nation’s capital were two irreconcilable versions of America, each refusing to accept what the other considered to be undeniable fact.

What’s wrong here? The Post is acting as if actual reality is unknowable; we just have different groups saying different things. Rosen suggests saying this instead:

A militant faction had come to the nation’s capital to march for a fantasy, and to reject any institution that disallowed it, including for now Fox News.

The ongoing scam. Meanwhile, convincing the Trump personality cult that he still has a chance opens a new opportunity to scam them.

I’ve been on the Trump/Pence email list since 2016, but I’d never clicked one of the “Contribute” buttons until Thursday. That got me to a page with the following disclaimer in the fine print at the bottom:

Contributions to TMAGAC made by an Individual/Federal Multicandidate Political Committee will be allocated according to the following formula: 60% of each contribution first to Save America, up to $5,000/$5,000, then to DJTP’s Recount Account, up to a maximum of $2,800/$5,000. 40% of each contribution to the RNC’s Operating account, up to a maximum of $35,500/$15,000. Any additional funds will go to the RNC for deposit in the RNC’s Legal Proceedings account or Headquarters account, up to a maximum of $213,000/$90,000.

The marketing is all about election fraud; the email was asking me to contribute to Trump’s “Official Election Defense Fund”. But that’s not where the money would go until after $5,000 had gone to Save America and another big sum to the RNC. If I’m giving less than $8,000, none of my money would go towards funding recounts and/or lawsuits.

So what is Save America? It’s a “leadership PAC”, which means Trump has wide latitude on how to spend it. Open Secrets says:

Leadership PACs are used to fund expenses that are ineligible to be paid by campaign committees or congressional offices. Those costs can include travel to raise a politician’s profile, for instance. … Politicians often use their PACs to donate to other candidates because they are considering seeking a leadership position in Congress, a higher office, or leverage within their own party as they show off their fundraising ability.

So basically Trump is using his “election fraud” scam as a way to raise money so that he can continue to fly around the country having rallies, while continuing to skim large chunks of cash into Trump Organization properties.

BTW: Trump’s “voter fraud hotline” has shut down due to prank calls.

Georgia and the Senate. Georgia election law requires a Senate race to be decided by a majority: If nobody gets a majority, the top two candidates meet in a run-off. So both of this year’s races are going to a run-off on January 5. Incumbent Senator David Perdue will face Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff in one race, and Republican Kelly Loeffler (who was appointed to fill out the term of Republican Senator Johnny Isakson, who retired for health reasons) and Democrat Raphael Warnock are running in the other.

If Democrats win both races, the Senate is split 50-50, leaving new Vice President Kamala Harris to break the tie in the Democrats’ favor. That would mean that Chuck Schumer becomes majority leader. But if either Republican wins, Mitch McConnell stays in power.

Predicting what will happen here is beyond me. Biden narrowly won Georgia, while Perdue narrowly outpolled Ossoff. Warnock got more votes than Loeffler, but was far away from a majority (33%) in a multi-candidate race, and the third-place candidate was a Republican.

Given what we’ve just seen, it’s hard to trust polls. The contests will come down to turnout, which is also hard to guess: Will voters motivated by love or hate of Trump turn out when Trump isn’t on the ballot? With Biden headed to the White House, will voters want a Republican Senate to block him? Or will they vote against gridlock and give Biden a chance to govern? As reality dawns on the Trump personality cult, will they be angry and vote or depressed and stay home?

In Democrats’ favor, I think the Ossoff/Warnock combination works well: Warnock should get Black voters in Atlanta to turn out, while Ossoff should attract suburban women. But the temptation to be “independent” by voting for one Republican and one Democrat works against them.

What’s at stake in Georgia. It’s important to get the significance of the Georgia run-offs right, because the the Right will try to distort it.

A Mitch McConnell Senate will block virtually everything the Biden administration tries to do, including cabinet nominations. No new judges will get appointed. Every budget will be a brinksmanship drama, with a countdown to a government shutdown. Worse, McConnell will sabotage the Biden economy the same way he sabotaged the Obama economy, by forcing an inappropriately restrictive austerity. You can already see this happening in McConnell’s unwillingness to back any kind of pandemic stimulus.

But a 50-50 Senate will not be a nest incubating liberal overreach. VP Harris will break ties, but in practice the swing vote will be the 50th Democrat, who will usually be West Virginia’s Joe Manchin. If Manchin’s not for it, it’s not passing. So: no defunding the police, no government takeover of healthcare, no amnesty for illegal immigrants, no packing the Supreme Court, and no whatever else Fox News is rattling its viewers’ chains about.

In particular, a Manchin-centered Senate probably doesn’t end the filibuster, which means McConnell will retain a lot of blocking power. So the choice is whether the Senate will be mildly dysfunctional or totally dysfunctional.

Choose well, Georgia.

The Monday Morning Teaser

This week I don’t really have a featured post. I’ve gathered a bunch of post-election reflections together and called it a featured post, but there’s no central theme that unites it into an essay. It should be out around 9 EST.

The reason I don’t have a featured post is that I can tell I haven’t really adjusted to the post-Trump world yet. It’s time to start thinking about how the new administration should govern and how people with liberal values should try to influence it to govern better. But I find myself still stuck in a reactive why-is-all-this-horrible-shit-happening mindset.

For example, I thought about responding at length to Justice Alito’s speech to the Federalist Society, and in general to the right-wing attempt to turn “religious liberty” into a wedge issue. But I was writing from a place of resentment, and that’s not where I want to be. So I’ll mention Alito in the weekly summary, but I won’t focus on him.

I think I might be typical in this respect: A lot of us have psychological work to do before we’re ready to move beyond Trump. We’re coming out of an abusive relationship. For a time, a day when we’re not insulted or outraged or psychologically assaulted will seem … dull, like a quiet moment on the battlefield while we wait for the next attack.

In the meantime, when I can tell that I’m still Trump-centered in a dysfunctional way, I’ll try not to pass it on. My PTSD shouldn’t trigger your PTSD.

So: featured post (sort of) around 9, weekly summary before noon. Try to stay sane out there.

Hard Looks

I think Biden will win. I also think the problem in this election is not the polling industry getting it wrong, it’s the fact that this many Americans took a hard look at Trump and determined “yeah, I want four more years of that”

Ben Rhodes, 8:30 a.m. Wednesday

This week’s featured post is “Sitting With the Weirdness“.

This week everybody was talking about the election

Most of what I have to say about the election is in the featured post: This was a genuinely weird election that doesn’t fit anybody’s model. I think if we force-fit it into our prior beliefs, we’ll miss a chance to learn something.

While I am relieved that Trump will be out in January (and he will be), I’m disappointed to learn that 70 million Americans would be happy to keep marching towards fascism. Paul Waldman made that point at more length:

If Biden becomes president, as it looks like he will, we can let out a sigh of relief. At least the daily horrors emanating from the Trump administration will cease, and at least we won’t have to care what Trump himself is thinking and tweeting from hour to hour.

But if you believed Biden when he so often responded to some new misdeed by pleading, “This is not who we are. We’re better than this,” you were wrong. This is who we are. We are not better than this. And we won’t be for a long time to come, if ever.

To no one’s surprise, Trump is not going gracefully. Rather than conceding, he has launched a barrage of baseless lawsuits, for the purpose of creating enough delay and fog to allow Republican legislatures in states like Pennsylvania to award him their electoral votes in defiance of the electorate.

Again and again, for example, Trump has been claiming that Republicans were not allowed to observe vote counting. This is just false.

There have been no reports of systematic irregularities with poll watchers anywhere in the US. There is no evidence supporting the President’s claims that GOP poll watchers were shut out of the process, and Trump’s campaign still hasn’t backed up this broad claim in court.

CNN has reporters across the country following developments at polling places on Election Day and the ongoing vote-counting process, and saw nothing resembling Trump’s allegations.

Ezra Klein points out that if this were happening in a third-world country, we’d have no trouble calling it an attempted coup.

That this coup probably will not work — that it is being carried out farcically, erratically, ineffectively — does not mean it is not happening, or that it will not have consequences. … This is, to borrow Hungarian sociologist Bálint Magyar’s framework, “an autocratic attempt.” That’s the stage in the transition toward autocracy in which the would-be autocrat is trying to sever his power from electoral check. If he’s successful, autocratic breakthrough follows, and then autocratic consolidation occurs. In this case, the would-be autocrat stands little chance of being successful. But he will not entirely fail, either. What Trump is trying to form is something akin to an autocracy-in-exile, an alternative America in which he is the rightful leader, and he — and the public he claims to represent — has been robbed of power by corrupt elites.

He will not keep Biden from taking office. But he will make it much harder for Republicans to cooperate with the new administration. To do so, they will have to leave the Trump alternate reality, and so be seen as disloyal by the Trump base.

So far, thank God, none of Trump’s inflammatory lies have led to violence.

Fox News has had a split personality this week: The daytime journalists are playing it fairly straight, reporting Trump’s accusations of vote-counting fraud while clearly stating they have seen no evidence to support those claims. Meanwhile, the nightshift propagandists have been all but called for an uprising.

Trump’s shenanigans are already monkey-wrenching the transition.

This week, all eyes are on the Trump-appointed General Services Administration administrator, Emily W. Murphy, to recognize Joe Biden as the president-elect and release funds to the Biden transition team through a process called ascertainment. This would mark the first formal acknowledgment from the Trump administration that Biden has in fact won the election, and would unlock access to national security tools to streamline background checks and additional funds to pay for training and incoming staff.But nearly 48 hours after the race was called by numerous news organizations, Murphy has not yet signed off. A GSA spokesperson declined to provide a specific timeline for when ascertainment would take place, a clear signal the agency won’t get ahead of the President.

Best meme I’ve seen:

and the virus is truly out of control now

Remember how everybody was going to quit talking about “Covid, Covid, Covid” after the election? I don’t think so.

Cases had been rising since a mid-September low of around 25K new infections per day. But this week showed an abrupt rise: We’ve now had five consecutive days over 100K. Deaths always lag cases by about a month, but we also had five consecutive days over 1,000 deaths, after getting down to about 700 per day in mid-October. It’s a reasonable guess that by next month we’ll be hitting 2,000 deaths in a day.

But there is good news on the vaccine front: Pfizer reports that its vaccine is 90% effective — far higher than previously expected. That’s from an interim analysis of its Phase 3 trials, which are not finished. The company plans to ask the FDA for emergency use authorization in about two weeks.

That doesn’t mean you can get vaccinated by Thanksgiving. Production and distribution is still a huge logistical problem. But it is good news.

The Onion captures the absurdity of anti-mask protests: “Anti-Jacketers Rally Outside Burlington Coat Factory To Protest Liberal Cold Weather Conspiracy“.

and we have to think about what happens next

One big decision that has to happen in the next few months: Should federal prosecutors enforce the laws that Trump and his minions have been violating? Or should the new administration declare bygones in hopes of bringing the country together?

I’m firmly in the enforce-the-law camp. It’s still debatable whether President Ford’s decision to pardon Nixon was correct, but that was a very different situation: Nixon had resigned after Republican senators told him they could no longer defend him. In other words, he was in disgrace and would never make a comeback. Also, he was seen as an anomaly. Post-pardon, we could implement reforms to keep his abuses from happening again, and otherwise stop thinking about him.

But Trump still has his party behind him and has admitted nothing. If the facts against him are never presented to a court, he will claim that all the accusations against him were political. And he’ll be back in 2024.

I’m also hearing a lot of talk about dialog with the 70 million Trump voters, to find out who they are and what they want. I’m not very optimistic about that dialog, though, because I don’t see any indication that they want to talk to or understand us.

After 2016, there was a small industry of books about rural whites and Southern Evangelicals. News organizations sent a steady stream of reporters to hang out in diners in Ohio and Indiana to find out how the locals viewed the world.

Does anybody expect Fox or NewsMax reporters to start hanging with black women in Atlanta? Is Barrio Elegy going to rise up the bestseller lists? Will Liberty University researchers study the folks who frequent public libraries and science museums? I don’t think so. They don’t want a dialog, and until they do, I don’t see much hope for one.

and you also might be interested in …

Puerto Rico passed a referendum in favor of statehood. There is no precedent in American history for governing this many people as a territory for this long. Statehood would be a no-brainer but for two considerations: Republicans don’t want to admit a state that will probably vote Democratic, and white supremacists don’t want a state full of brown people who speak Spanish.

If these were English-speaking white people with Republican sensibilities, they’d have been a state a long time ago.

With a Democrat in the White House, the budget deficit will be back on center stage. For four years, it was like the debt never existed, but now it will become an existential threat to the nation again.

and let’s close with something delightfully nasty

I usually keep politics out of the closings, but this one is hilarious. (And yes, I know they misspelled Führer.) A clip from the last-days-of-Hitler movie Downfall has had its German subtitles replaced by Trump-loses-the-election lines. I’ve seen this clip labeled Donfall.

Sitting With the Weirdness

If you want to learn something from this election,
don’t be too quick to explain it.

Every election is followed by a spate of what-it-all-means commentary, and usually what it means is that the commentator was right from the beginning: I saw this coming. I warned everybody. If people had just listened to me it all would have turned out better.

So I want to start this post out by saying clearly that I did not see this coming, I did not warn everybody, and I’m still not sure what we all could have done better. I think a lot of genuinely weird things happened in this election, and I don’t want to explain them away too quickly. Instead, I want to sit with the weirdness for a while and see if there’s something to learn.

Because I don’t have a this-explains-everything interpretation of this election, I’m going to wander a bit. So let me start with a quick list of the surprises I want to think about:

  • Donald Trump is not as unpopular as I thought, or as I think he ought to be.
  • The highest-turnout election in living memory did not result in a Democratic landslide.
  • Polling still had the problems that pollsters thought they had fixed since 2016.

Trump should be unpopular. My view coming in to this election was that Trump’s 2016 win was a fluke: He faced an unpopular opponent in a low-turnout election during a news cycle that was breaking against her. He got only 46% of the vote, but it was perfectly distributed to give him an Electoral College win, despite losing the popular vote by 2.8 million.

Since taking office, it seemed to me that he had done nothing to appeal to the 54% who hadn’t voted for him, and several things to alienate some of the 46% who had. His job-approval had stayed consistently low, though it never reached the depths that Richard Nixon or George W. Bush hit by the end of their presidencies.

The Trump administration has been marked by incidents and practices sharply at variance with what I saw as traditional American values: taking children away from parents who committed no crime other than coming to our border legally seeking asylum; siding with a hostile foreign dictator against our own intelligence services; lumping Nazi and anti-Nazi demonstrators together, even after the right-wingers killed someone; demanding that the attorney general arrest his political opponents, while protecting his own henchmen from the legal consequences of their actions; abusing his power to extort a personal political favor from Ukraine; showing zero empathy as nearly a quarter million Americans died of the pandemic.

His administration has been a failure not just by my standards, but by its own. Not much of his wall has been built, it’s costing more than he said it would, and Mexico has not paid a dime of it. ObamaCare has not been repealed or replaced; despite repeated promises, no replacement plan has even been announced. America’s international prestige has plummeted. Even before the pandemic, economic growth chugged along at the Obama-era pace, with no acceleration. Fewer people have jobs now than when he took office. GDP is at the same level as 2018. The trade deficit has gone up. The budget deficit Trump inherited from Obama had nearly doubled before the pandemic, and the 2020 deficit by itself is larger than the total deficit from Obama’s second term.

Trump had a disastrous performance in the first debate, and in general ran a terrible campaign. He never presented a second-term vision, to the point of not even bothering to produce a 2020 GOP platform. He mismanaged money, and wound up getting outspent down the stretch. His Hunter Biden conspiracy theories never got traction.

Going into the election, the news cycle was breaking against him. The third Covid wave was hitting, and his plan for dealing with it was for us all to go back to normal life, as if thousands of Americans weren’t dying week after week with no end in sight. Worse, he was going around the country actively spreading the disease by drawing his supporters together for big maskless rallies.

So the polls that showed him down by double digits seemed very credible to me. Sure, some of the people who supported him in 2016 will never admit they were wrong, but given all that has happened, why wouldn’t he lose in a historic rout?

Well, he didn’t.

Trump didn’t just increase his vote total (from 63 million to 71 million counted so far) he got more votes than Barack Obama did in his 2008 landslide. Wednesday, Ben Rhodes put his finger on something important:

I think Biden will win. I also think the problem in this election is not the polling industry getting it wrong, it’s the fact that this many Americans took a hard look at Trump and determined “yeah, I want four more years of that”

This is one of the mysteries I still need to wrap my head around. Trump attracted millions of millions of voters who didn’t vote for him in 2016. If you consider the number of votes still uncounted and how many of his older voters have died since 2016, he probably got 10 million or more new votes.

What did they see? What are they thinking?

I had hoped for a result that killed Trumpism forever. Instead, Republicans can attribute their loss to bad luck: If only the pandemic had waited until 2021 to show up, Trump might be set up for a second term.

Who killed the Blue Wave? Don’t get me wrong. Biden did fine. If you had promised me during the primaries that some Democratic candidate could hold all the Clinton states, win back Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, and add Arizona and Georgia, I’d have been been happy to see that person get the nomination. Biden got an outright majority of the popular vote, has a 4.4 million vote margin so far, and (with so much of California and New York still to be totaled) his ultimate margin is likely to be in the 5-6 million range. The turnout was historically high, so his vote total is the largest ever recorded.

But the October polls had me hoping for more: For Florida, North Carolina, and maybe Texas or Ohio. For a 10-point win that would demonstrate to Republicans that Trumpism is a dead end, and send them looking for a new paradigm. No Trump 2024. No passing the torch to Don Jr. or Jared or Ivanka. No Trump 2.0 like Tom Cotton or Tucker Carlson.

The polls had me hoping for a Senate majority that even had a little slack, so that we could fix the structural problems with our democracy: end the filibuster, admit D.C. and Puerto Rico as states, pass voting rights legislation, end gerrymandering, and perhaps even add justices to the Supreme Court.

Now, none of that is going to happen.

The final polls had a Biden margin of around 8%, and that gap had not been particularly volatile. Instead, Biden is winning by about 3% nationwide. In Wisconsin, where he had an 8.3% polling lead, he won by less than 1%. He had a 2.5% polling lead in Florida, and lost by 3.4%. (On the other hand, polls accurately predicted narrow Biden wins in Georgia and Arizona.)

In spite of efforts to fix the polling mistakes of 2016, the error in Trump’s favor grew, and showed up in precisely the same places.

I think we need to resist the temptation to read this as some kind of Biden failure or Democratic failure. The hoped-for Blue Wave didn’t collapse, it was never really there. Looking backwards, I think we have to reevaluate everything we thought we knew about public opinion. Those four years of Trump’s low approval ratings — why should we trust them? Maybe Trump was never as unpopular as we thought.

Ditto for those polls about the popularity of Medicare for All or any other policy. Why should we believe them?

I think Democrats need to resist the urge to point fingers at each other. Centrist and Progressive Democrats are like heirs who discover Grandpa’s estate isn’t nearly as big as they expected. The problem isn’t that one or the other of them took the money, it’s that the old guy wasn’t as rich as he appeared to be.

Sit with the weirdness, progressive version. My social-media universe skews left, so I’m seeing a lot of articles claiming that a candidate with a more progressive message would have done better than Biden. I’m skeptical. The post-2016 version of that argument was that Hillary’s centrist message failed to inspire the turnout Democrats needed to win. This year we got the big turnout, just not the landslide that was supposed to go with it. And I’m not buying that Medicare-for-All supporters showed up at the polls and voted for Trump because Biden would only propose adding a public option to ObamaCare.

I’m still waiting for progressive versions of Doug Jones and Joe Manchin and Claire McCaskill: candidates who have won elections in places where Democrats aren’t supposed to win. If the progressive theory of the electorate is true, such examples should be everywhere, but they’re not.

And I’m not satisfied with conspiracy theories about the DNC. The RNC didn’t like Trump either. But he turned out voters, so they had to accept him.

Progressives have proved that they can raise money, so lack of support from the big donors is not the problem either. If they can run candidates in purple-to-red districts and win, the Establishment will take notice. But if they can’t, it won’t.

Sit with the weirdness, centrist version. One big failure of this election was that Biden’s Republican endorsements didn’t turn into any sizeable number of Republican votes. I loved all those Lincoln Project ads, but who did they convince?

The biggest loser of this cycle is the old GOP Establishment. The huge Trump turnout indicates that there is no appetite for a Jeb Bush comeback, and no buyer’s remorse over Trump. If Trump is healthy and still not in jail in 2024, he’ll be on the ballot again. (My politically savvy nephew predicts that Don Jr. will be his VP. You heard it here first.)

In short, there is no pool of disaffected Republicans waiting for a conservative-enough Democrat to win them over. The 20th-century notion of a bell-curve electorate, which can be captured by shifting left or right to chase the peak, really seems obsolete. I don’t know what replaces it.

Just as I’m skeptical of Bernie-would-have-won-bigger articles, I’m also skeptical of articles that villainize progressives. Jill Stein and Bernie-or-Bust were just not a thing this year. Progressives came through for a candidate who wasn’t their first choice; they deserve some gratitude.

In short, the two wings of the Democratic Party both need to sit with the weirdness of these results, rather than repeat the same points they made in the primaries.

The problem with polling. The upshot of these persistent polling errors is that some segment of the population appears to be unpollable. We can’t know where they are or what they think until they show up to vote.

The assumption at the root of all polling is that you can assemble representative samples. If you ask 1500 people what they think, the differences between those people and everybody else are supposed to be random. 1500 other people might not give you exactly the same results, but the outcomes from different samples should follow the laws of statistics.

And so, if your sample doesn’t include enough Hispanics or non-college whites or people named Fred, you can adjust the weighting of that subsample. The Freds who responded, you assume, are like the Freds who didn’t; you just didn’t happen to find enough of them.

Instead, it appears that people who respond to polls are different from people who don’t. You can’t fix that with statistical weighting.

I think I know where this is going, and I don’t like it: If the issue that makes your polling sample unrepresentative is consent — consenting voters are fundamentally different than non-consenting voters — then you need to stop asking for consent. Rather than calling people up and saying, “I’m from Gallup, would you like to answer my questions?” you root through the involuntary data trove of Google or Twitter until you are confident you know how your chosen person will vote. Maybe Facebook plants stories in people’s news streams to see who likes them or comments on them, or maybe it does network analysis on Friend lists. Proprietary algorithms chug through that data until they spit out an accurate — but completely opaque — prediction of the vote.

The Monday Morning Teaser

This week I was optimistic and then terrified and then sort of relieved.

In the end, this election has been like a Christmas movie where Santa is eventually rescued, but he’s still not bringing me the pony I wanted: Trump will leave office, so the triumph of fascism will at least be delayed for another four years. At the same time, without the Senate, Democrats will not be able to fix the structural problems in American democracy. So the GOP’s minority-rule strategy looks viable for at least another two years. With McConnell blocking everything for the foreseeable future, more Americans will lose faith in the viability of government in general and our democratic system in particular.

In this week’s featured post, I urge everyone to appreciate just how strange and unexpected this week’s results have been. They don’t fit anybody’s theory, so we should all resist the urge to just repeat the points we were making in the spring. That post is called “Sitting With the Weirdness”, and I hope to get it out by 10 EST.

The weekly summary will also have election discussion, but also covers the alarming jump in Covid cases this week, and a few other stories that might have slipped under your radar. That should be out by 1.

Civic Faith

This is in fact the most powerful message to remember amid the worst year of my lifetime. It doesn’t have to be this way. Better things are possible. … That’s really what it’s about. We are masters of our own fate. We control our destiny collectively as a democracy and we can make things better than they are. And that’s the civic faith we all have to keep.

– Chris Hayes,
It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way

If Democrats win the fight to make America a democracy, the Republican Party will have to transform itself into a party capable of winning majorities in a country that is becoming more diverse and more secular. … But if Democrats lose the next few elections, they may lose democracy itself to a conservative Supreme Court and an anti-democratic Republican Party.

– Ezra Klein,
The Fight is for Democracy

This week’s featured post is “What Happens Tomorrow?“.

This week everybody was talking about the election

Most of what I have to say about that is in the featured post.

I wonder how many people share the glitch I noticed in my intuition about probability: Improbable events seem more likely if I break them up into pieces. So a whole long series of things needs to happen if Trump is going to win the election. If I think about them individually, they’re not that unlikely — like Trump winning Florida or Arizona or Texas. So I start to imagine that the whole series happening together isn’t that unlikely.

It’s like thinking that 1-1-1 is easier to roll if you throw the dice one at a time.

Mainly, I just want this to be over. I wish it were like a too-tense football game, where I can tape the rest and not watch until I know who won.

He did the early voting and then wanted to be cryogenically frozen until Inauguration Day.

I’ve done a bad job keeping track of the ballot initiatives around the country. But I voted for Ranked Choice Voting here in Massachusetts.

meanwhile the Trump corruption stories keep coming

In spite of right-wing-media’s attempt to gin up some kind of something about the Biden family, this week there really were impressive new corruption stories — about the Trump administration.

Wednesday, The New York Times had yet another Trump-corruption expose, the kind of story that would have been the #1 scandal in just about any previous administration: the bizarre story of the Justice Department’s treatment of the corrupt Turkish bank Halkbank.

That’s a long article, but Steve Benen summarizes it for people with short attention spans:

a foreign dictator asked Donald Trump to corrupt his own country’s justice system, and the Republican president gladly said yes.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan made similar requests of the Obama administration, and was turned down. I have to wonder if the difference is Trump Tower Istanbul and the millions of dollars Trump has made in Turkey. Or maybe it’s the hundreds of thousands Turkey paid in lobbying fees to Michael Flynn and Rudy Giuliani.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was on the board of a Chinese/American joint venture until 2019, two years after he became Commerce Secretary and began overseeing Trump’s trade war with China. Ross claims he resigned from the position in 2017, in a letter to his US company WL Ross.

But Chinese corporate law experts consulted by Foreign Policy say that under Chinese law, writing a private letter to a U.S. parent company does not remove one from Chinese corporate boards.

Did he know that, or not? That’s one of many questions it would be interesting to hear him answer under oath to Congress.

Ross has had a number of ethics violations during his term.

Ross only sold his shares in Invesco in December 2017—nearly a year into his tenure as commerce secretary. He was supposed to sell his shares, valued between $10 million and $50 million, before the end of May 2017. But the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity found that, because Invesco’s stock rose in the meantime, the delay netted Ross between $1.2 million and $6 million.

The attempt to smear Hunter Biden continues to be a comedy of errors. Thursday NBC revealed that a 64-page anti-Hunter document widely distributed on right-wing social media, including by “close associates of President Donald Trump” was written by a fake intelligence firm and was authored by a non-existent Swiss security researcher.

The author of the document, a self-identified Swiss security analyst named Martin Aspen, is a fabricated identity, according to analysis by disinformation researchers, who also concluded that Aspen’s profile picture was created with an artificial intelligence face generator. The intelligence firm that Aspen lists as his previous employer said that no one by that name had ever worked for the company and that no one by that name lives in Switzerland, according to public records and social media searches.

Try to imagine something similar happening to Democrats: discovering, say, that Christopher Steele never existed and was never employed by MI-6.

The Economist sums up the problem with the Hunter Biden conspiracy theories:

To work, dumps of hacked email need a juicy target and credulous institutions. This one had neither.

and the virus

Another week, another new record for Covid-19 cases. Different media outlets collect data differently, but everyone seems to agree that we got over 90K cases in a day last week. There’s no sign this is slowing down, so we’ll almost certainly top 100K later this week.

The numbers out of the Dakotas are becoming astronomical. Nationally, we are averaging about 20-21 new cases per day, which is bad enough. But North Dakota is up to 139 and South Dakota 134.

I’ve previously estimated (using Canada as a control country) that the Trump administration’s bungling of the government response to Covid is responsible for about 130K American deaths. But what about the deaths Trump is personally responsible for?

Researchers looked at 18 Trump rallies held between June 20 and Sept. 22 and analyzed Covid-19 data the weeks following each event. They compared the counties where the events were held to other counties that had a similar trajectory of confirmed Covid-19 cases prior to the rally date. Out of the 18 rallies analyzed, only three were indoors, according to the research.

The researchers found that the rallies ultimately resulted in more than 30,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19. They also concluded that the rallies likely led to more than 700 deaths, though not necessarily among attendees.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy released a report on the “significant investments, accomplishments, policies and other actions undertaken by President Trump to advance science and technology”. The associated press release quotes WHOSTP Director Dr. Kevin Droegemaier:

The highlights in this report represent just a fraction of the achievements made by the Trump administration on behalf of the American people. We have achieved a proud record of results, and under President Trump’s leadership, science and technology will continue to inspire us, unite us, and guide us to ever greater progress.

“What achievements?” you might ask. Well, the first highlight the press release mentions is “Ending the COVID-19 Pandemic”. Of course you didn’t know about that, because the fake news media continues to hide the fact that the pandemic has ended, pretending instead that nearly 100,000 Americans get infected in a single day, and often more than 1,000 die.

Every “highlight” gets a paragraph in the press release, and each one contains the word “Trump”. It’s like the old Soviet research journals, where even the driest most technical article would begin by explaining that none of this would be possible without the historic insights of Marx and Lenin.

and disenfranchising Americans

For years, Republicans have been doing their best to make it hard to vote. We see the evidence in every election, in those long lines that voters (usually Black voters, for some strange reason) have to endure if they want to cast a ballot. (In the mostly white neighborhoods where I’ve lived, voting seldom takes more than a few minutes.)

This year, the pandemic has made voting more dangerous, especially for seniors and younger people with complicating conditions like diabetes or asthma. Across the country, Democrats have put forward ways to make voting easier and safer, which Republicans have blocked wherever they hold power.

When they haven’t been able to block easier voting methods through the political process, Republicans have gone to court, taking advantage of the huge number of judges Trump and McConnell have managed to install in the last four years.

With election day approaching, the Republican legal strategy has shifted from making voting harder to disqualifying ballots already legally cast. Here are the most outrageous cases so far.

  • In Texas, conservative activists are suing to throw out 127,000 ballots cast in drive-through polling places in Houston. The Texas Supreme Court threw the suit out, but a federal court is considering it today.
  • In Minnesota, a federal appellate court ruled that mail-in ballots received after election day must be sequestered, in case they have to be declared invalid later. Instructions mailed with the ballots say they will be counted as long as they are postmarked by election day, in accordance with a consent decree issued in state court.

Imagine, just for a moment, an America where both parties believe that voting is a good thing, and that every ballot cast in good faith should be counted. Idyllic, isn’t it?

and what’s up with that dystopian version of the American flag?

Right about the time that NASCAR and a bunch of other organizations banned Confederate flags, the popularity of a new flag started growing in the just-this-side-of-fascist segment of the citizenry: the thin-blue-line flag. Below, we see a Trump rally where it has essentially replaced the American flag.

I’m reminded of the color-shifted Superman costume in the dystopian graphic novel Kingdom Come; black replaced brighter colors.

This flag is supposed to be pro-police, building on the image that the police are the “thin blue line” between civilization and anarchy. It’s sometimes referred to as the Back the Blue or Blue Lives Matter or anti-Black-Lives-Matter flag.

In practice, and especially now that it has merged into Trump’s vision of “law and order”, the flag now stands for what Jeff Sharlet calls “police nationalism” and defines as “identity founded on fetishization of an explicitly brutal & implicitly racist idea of policing.”

Implicit in the slogan “Back the Blue” when used by police nationalists is the fantasy of a coming conflict (which aligns neatly with QAnon’s idea of a “storm”) in which “backing the Blue” will mean choosing a side in a civil war not so much feared as anticipated.

It would be one thing if Back the Blue was a spontaneous expression of support for public servants in a dangerous and difficult profession. But coming at this particular moment, as Blue Lives Matter, making support for police a response to Black Lives Matter, sends another message entirely: “Go ahead and kill all the Black people you want, officers. We’ve got your back.”

and you also might be interested in …

Remember when a hurricane striking Louisiana would have dominated the news for a week or more?

If the election goes well, I’m going to start focusing on ideas for fixing American democracy, which has come way too close to self-destructing.

The most interesting ideas, because they might actually happen, are the ones that don’t require changing the Constitution. Here’s one I never thought of before: Change the number of representatives in Congress. We got to 435 via the Reapportionment Act of 1929, but there’s nothing sacred about that number.

One proposal I find intesting: The state with the least population (currently Wyoming at around 579K) gets one representative, and then every other state would get representatives based on how many Wyomings they have, instead of making one representative for every 759K, as you’d have to in order to keep the House down to 435.

The effect is to take disproportionate power away from small states, both in Congress and in the Electoral College. The more representatives, the more electoral votes — which devalues the two the each state gets from its senators.

Poland has imposed one of the world’s most draconian abortion bans. This weekend a few people decided to protest.

It’s striking that the first thing Amy Coney Barrett did after being confirmed to the Supreme Court was to let Trump turn her swearing-in ceremony into a campaign event at the White House.

Compare this extravaganza with Sonia Sotomayor’s swearing-in, which happened in a private ceremony at the Supreme Court.

Only the chief justice, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, Justice Sotomayor’s immediate family, Judge Robert Katzmann of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, members of the chief justice’s staff and a court photographer attended this ceremony. Her mother, Celina Sotomayor, held a Bible for the ritual.

Similarly, only a “small gathering of Elena Kagan’s family and friends” witnessed her swearing-in. In each case, President Obama recognized that his role in the process had ended, and the new justice was now independent of his administration. Whether Barrett retains her independence, or even wants to, remains to be seen.

and let’s close with something astounding

What better way to Rocky the Vote than to get Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and a number of other notables to make cameo appearances in a “Time Warp” video?