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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 10/30/20

Good morning,


I believe much about what Mr. Trump and his electoral victory represent tells us more about us than about him. I believe there are several undercurrents in our society that help explain his success:

  • The attraction of authoritarianism. I’m not suggesting he’s a dictator—but he is a tough-talking, brash, “tell it like it is” politician. While comparisons with historic dictators is not founded, it is precisely this type of behavior—and the promise of short-term economic success and national pride—that propelled Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, and lesser despots like Ortega, Maduro, and Castro. Rarely in history has it ended well. Here’s a fascinating article about how authoritarianism may be at the heart of much of the President’s support: I don’t think most people love authoritarians. But I do believe people are looking for “quick fixes”—what pill do I take—what thing do I buy—quickly, to make my life better. I also believe people really are happier not accepting responsibility for their actions. At heart, I think passing the buck to someone else who maintains “only they” can solve the problem, is comforting. Knowing that there is someone with a steady hand at the helm might seem desirable but, of course, it depends on whose hand and the motivation of that hand.

  • Inability to connect the consequences of voting with the anger felt at the voting booth. There is a new book out now called What Were We Thinking, by Carlos Lozada. In it, he suggests that We have become a society “that has forgotten its civics lessons or, remembering them still, has decided they don’t matter.” Indeed, an dwindling percentages of Millennials and GenXers support the idea of democracy. This obviously is cause for concern. Lozada excoriates everyone in this calm dissertation. In his analysis of the literature about Trump, Lozada maintains that “Never Trumpers” also are “Only Trumpers,” in that it took Trump for them to emerge and stand for something. In his review of the book, Joe Klein writes that 

“we have spent the past 50 years undermining the basic institutions of society—not just our sense of common purpose and identity, but also normative values like truth and duty and expertise. The politics of consumerism—and grievance—have overwhelmed the politics of unity and responsibility.”

  • We have allowed ourselves to become atomized into a series of communities unconnected with each other. This started with Bowling Alone. We engage less with our neighbors and each other. There seems to be no more “civic good” or “we’re all in this together.” Society is a series of seemingly unmixable societies of right and left, Trump versus science, religious and heathenistic. The “other” is vilified and must be destroyed.

  • Americans have allowed themselves to be manipulated. Russian interference in our elections doesn’t continue because it doesn’t work. It continues because it does. A former CNN executive explained to me last week that when CNN attempted to plow a middle ground as true journalists, it was routed by MSNBC and Fox. The people don’t WANT journalism. They want their views spouted back. And they don’t care about fact checking in the media. They willingly sign on to the manipulation of what they are fed and what they should think. Facebook and Twitter manipulate the information people receive on those platforms because it works. We want manipulation. We want conspiracy theories. We want to believe there is a bogeyman that explains why the other side is wrong, even in the face of data that should give us pause. We are torn apart because we have allowed it to happen.


Yes, I receive letters. Here is an email I received after yesterday’s Musings from a dear friend. He is a Trump supporter and lifelong Republican. When he has something to say, I listen:

"What do you make of the fact that every police union in the country has endorsed Trump? Just about everyone of your musings has a gaping hole of pertinent facts that represent an alternative point of view other than that of liberals / leftist.  The musings read very much from a lawyer making closing arguments selectively highlighting points that advance a specific narrative rather than an attempt to look at all of the facts and analyze what’s actually taking place. Wish I had the time to point on a daily basis all the pertinent facts you’ve overlooked or deliberately omitted.

I appreciated your reference to Malthus, but was disappointed by your failure to understand the economic laws of supply of demand and why the Malthusian theory has been proven wrong time and time again.  I also like your discussions about humility.  However, in the event that Trump and the Republicans hopefully win the election will you and other Democrats show humility and accept a Trump victory?"


  1. It is not surprising that police unions are concerned about the Biden-Harris ticket that is addressing police reforms. I’m sure you also are aware of the vast numbers of Republicans/conservatives who have come out in support of Biden. These include (a) many high-ranking former military, (b) announced today, another 20 Republican U.S. attorneys, (c) a large number of former Republican cabinet members and intelligence officials, and (d) more than 2000 former prosecutors and DOJ officials. I wouldn’t hang my hat on police unions.

  2. I really don’t think I have a gaping hole of pertinent facts, but am prepared to address those facts you believe I’ve omitted. But when I do, will you also acknowledge any of my concerns about our huge deficits, declining standing in the world, abandonment of pacts and commitments abroad, troop drawdowns in key hot spots, executive overreach in removing scientists from key positions, willfully reducing testing in order to reduce COVID numbers, the gross mismanagement of the pandemic, the repeated lies about vaccines, therapies and “just about to turn the corner,” [long list of more unmentionables] and the fake narrative of a “fixed” or “fraudulent” election that tears at our democracy…?

  3. I actually think I do understand the economic laws of supply and demand. I also think I understand why Malthusian theory has been proven wrong time and again. Please reread what I wrote. The added variable, however, is I believe it possible that we’ve reached the carrying capacity of the earth and there is a limit to the arable land and energy we can generate.

  4. Thank you for the comment about humility. I believe we all need a little more. And I don’t think for a minute that I’m always right, just as I don’t think you’re always wrong. I allow my decisions to evolve and am always willing to be persuaded otherwise. At this point, I see little to commend Mr. Trump to another term.

  5. You call me a Democrat. I am not. I am an Independent. But I’ve always been a centrist. I was a registered Republican for much of my life. But in the “good old days” the party would actually stand for principle and not become toadies to, and sycophants of, this carnival barker of a liar and bully, who is unfit for office. He poses the greatest threat to American democracy in our lifetimes. Many of his former aides think that, several former senators think that. When those closest to him have little positive to say, one should be very concerned.

  6. If Trump wins, I shall be disappointed beyond words, as I fear we will fall deeper into this authoritarian trap from which it will take decades, likely exceeding my remaining years on this earth, to extricate ourselves—if even possible. More importantly, even before the election has been held, the president’s theme has been that there is no way he can lose unless there is fraud. Will you and the Republican faithful accept the victory that I expect Mr. Biden to achieve? As is, we will have to rely upon a landslide to simply eke out a win, as conservative legislatures and courts are working overtime to disallow counting ballots that arrive after election day (even though in many states, that is de riguer. In fact, in California, it takes 17 days). We shall see next week whether you and the president are humble enough to accept a Biden victory. That said, if Mr. Trump wins after absentee votes are counted then, yes, the people will have spoken.  Warmly, Glenn


Sadly one of the victims of the pandemic is the strange ritual of trick or treat. This pagan celebration of spooky stuff was a big deal to our kids. No one loved spooky stuff as much as Brad, and no one was as strategic at maximizing territory and booty as Lauren, but today’s anecdote is of Jake. When we did our trick or treating, I stayed at the sidewalk when the kids walked to the door. But this time, Jake came back to me and told me I had to come to the door with him. Jake and I shared an appreciation of baseball. Frank Robinson, the only player to win the Most Valuable Player award in both leagues, lived in our neighborhood and was handing out candy. It was a great Halloween present...

Halloween was a big tradition when I grew. Pasadena may have the Rose Parade and New York may have the Thanksgiving Parade, but Anaheim had the “Fall Festival and Halloween Parade.” I suppose that was the only holiday left without a major parade (although “major” would be a stretch). Babe Ruth was its first Grand Marshal, in 1924. Through the 60s people from around the State descended on the city in the midst of all the orange groves, with the parade boasting crowds in the tens of thousands. It declined in popularity in the 70s and 80s (well, except for kids!) but now is experiencing something of a renaissance.


Karl Sussman asks me each week when I’m going to talk about football in the Musings. The answer, Karl, is that the season will begin when the Trojans, Bruins, Bears and Cardinal take the field. And not a day before. The long wait will be over next weekend. In the meantime, can someone please answer the following simple questions:

  • In what universe can the opening of football season be justified when classrooms in medicine and law remain closed at the same universities?

  • In what universe is football, with the most contact (breathing, spitting, bleeding) of any sport, be okay in the age of COVID?

  • In what universe is college football, where there is at least some remaining vestige of in loco parentis persists, okay?

  • And, with the question that still baffles millions, how exactly does it make sense that the Heisman was stripped from Reggie Bush but not from O.J. Simpson? And explain why number #32 continues to grace the peristyle end of the Coliseum, while Reggi’s #5 is hidden in infamy?

  • Finally, how did Indiana manage to beat Penn State

Have a great day,


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