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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 11/5/20

“THIS IS WHERE WE STAND NOW…” Greetings and happy Thursday, Wow, that was fun, wasn’t it? It’s Wednesday afternoon and I’m exhausted. I decided to stay up last night until the wee hours, bearing witness. It’s much like a person fearful of flying stays alert because they can somehow help the plane make it to its destination. Both of us are way in the back with no control, but obsessively focused. You should thank me for being attentive—I think I was able to influence the Wisconsin vote…That said, and here we are, still riveted to John King and his "magic board," constantly refreshing our browsers and pondering the potentials of the Fulton County and Maricopa County counts. At this point, I feel I know some of the folks on the news pretty well, and I have questions/concerns:

  • I’m worried that John King may have put on a few pounds since the 2016 election

  • I’m trying to figure out Chuck Todd’s long-term hair plan

  • I’m curious if, as the host of the Today Show, whether Savannah Guthrie has ever been up this late (and does she go to hair and makeup all over again at 5:00 a.m.?)

  • How can Chris Christie, a man so apparently smart and insightful, have made so many bad career choices (bridge-gate, glomming on to the Supreme Leader)?

  • Does Rick Santorum know what the eponymous urban dictionary definition is of his name? And is he capable of thoughtful analysis, or just his partisan spin?

  • Has Van Jones concluded that it doesn’t matter if you’re smart if no one’s paying attention?

But let’s be clear, as much fun (?) as it is staying up to the wee hours, there were major issues at play last night. All of us have lots of opinions (and will be fed more by pundits through the coming weeks and months). Here are a few of my emerging thoughts:

  • When complete distrust of institutions takes hold, bad results must follow. Our institutions are worthy of rebuke, but not contempt. Government has failed us in many respects, but not so much as to warrant the far-right repudiation of the good that it does. More importantly, and perhaps more dangerously, some 45% of the country voted for Donald Trump, notwithstanding the repeated correct reporting by the media over his serial incompetence, missteps, lies, interference with the impeding of the government’s proper functioning, and myriad other things. If they followed the obvious coverage of the media and believes even a little of it, they could not have concluded this man has earned a second term.

  • People talk a good game about the national good; but they vote their self-interest. What else explains the vote of those who lost their jobs, or caught COVID because of the administration’s incompetence an mendacity, or Cuban-Americans voting “against Communism” or wealthy voting their pocketbook, or people voting simply because “he dares to speak his mind”?

  • Polling simply doesn’t work. Did we not learn anything from the 2016 election? Polling methods are flawed and the endless data they spew is untrustworthy. First, how many people even answer their land lines? And how many are willing to sit on a phone for 20 minutes answering questions? Current methodology cannot possibly create a broad enough spectrum of dependable, willing participants to make the sample meaningful. Those who answer polls are by definition a self-identified subset with time on their hands and more patience than I possess. I have never agreed to sit and be polled—and I’m betting most of you haven’t either.

  • The Republicans will not miss Trump. He has been a necessary evil that they must embrace in order not to antagonize the base. When there is another standard-bearer, they will be happier. Let’s remember that there is no love lost behind closed doors.

  • The Democratic Party still has not learned how to speak to middle America. Again, the party of the “working man” has missed the boat. One cannot continue to have a coalition dominated by the coastal elites, the educated, and the successful. The party must figure out how to speak to the middle.

  • The cultural elites cannot continue to think of Trump supporters as “intolerables.” They’re people and, like it or not, they represent nearly half of the country.

  • The cultural war on the right will never stop; but the cultural war from the left must. Many Trump voters are “one issue” voters. They will vote for the Second Amendment or against abortion rights no matter what. But the left has a big problem with its messaging. I think many of the Trump voters (and many of the Democratic middle) resent the constant need to identify people as fundamentally and irretrievably racist, or that they use the wrong semantics (“it’s not homeless—it’s houseless”). And they certainly don’t appreciate the squelching of free speech on college campuses and the excesses of the left on missions that are hardly important. Did the University of Wisconsin student government really need to vote to take down an iconic statue of Abraham Lincoln because he wasn’t woke enough for them? These skirmishes dilute the message and divert from the core concerns of racial and social justice.

  • The sunbelt will never be the same. Previously solid-red states like Arizona, Texas, and Georgia were in play. People are mobile and they're moving from large blue states to smaller red states, and bringing their politics and values with them.

  • We are two countries that need to understand each other soon. And we haven't done a good job at this in a while. We need to redefine "winning" away from party victories but as the victory of our society to address and overcome the great issues.

  • Social media must be regulated. It’s a big problem and it isn’t abating, notwithstanding Twitter’s noble attempts to try to label inaccurate political posts. Just as the New York Times has editors, so must these platforms.


I just don’t think we’ve had enough of politics yet! Here is the second installment of books on presidencies generally considered to have been failures, together with my assessment of their presidency and their character. Many of these are great books I highly recommend:

  • Warren G. Harding. Unimportant presidency. I include this because John W. Dean wrote the biography Warren G. Harding (yes, that John Dean). He shares distinction with Franklin Pierce of being perceived as extraordinarily good looking (you know, like David Lash or Ron Stern—that good). Some decent international treaties reducing armaments (perhaps to the detriment of the U.S. before WWII). But Teapot Dome and other scandals led to his political demise, followed by his actual demise and Calvin Coolidge’s ascendancy to the presidency.

  • Richard Nixon. Successful presidency; bad guy. So much written about Nixon, his personality, his insecurities, his enemy lists, the end of the Vietnam War (after unnecessarily prolonging it), the opening of China, and the expansion of the social safety net. Some great books on the Nixon era include All the President’s Men, RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon, the Stephen E. Ambrose great three volumes of Nixon (especially the last, subtitled “Ruin and Recovery”, Roger Morris’s Richard Milhous Nixon; The Rise of An American Politician, Elizabeth Drew’s Richard Nixon, and Richard Reeves’s President Nixon; Alone in the White House. Henry Kissinger’s memoirs also offer insight into this successful and yet troubled and, ultimately, destructive presidency.

  • Jimmy Carter. Failed presidency; decent guy. There is a new book, reviewed last week by the New York Times, entitled: His Very Best, Jimmy Carter, a Life, by Jonathan Alter. Also, he wrote a readable memoir, Keeping the Faith.

Have a great day, Glenn

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