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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 12/4/20

Good morning, THE PANDEMIC GRINDS ON There is some great news out there. Several vaccines are in the process of receiving their final approvals to be administered broadly. Side effects range from minor to non-existent. Large quantities of vaccines are already been distributed nationally, so that inoculations can begin later this month, starting with health care workers and elderly in congregate care. Protocols are being established to ensure a (reasonably) fair and (reasonably) orderly distribution of the vaccines. The verification that several safe vaccines will be available is, of course, great news. There is now a light at the end of the tunnel—and we can see it! The danger now, of course, is that simply because there is a light, it does not mean there isn’t danger between now and then. As the above cartoon notes, there are real dangers of contracting this virus out there in the world. It sounds trite but if there ever were a time to step up compliance, this would be it. We have been through nearly nine months of the pandemic. We only have to wait a few months longer. But there are big problems:

  • The health care system is near capacity and health care workers are starting to feel the strain.

  • We are still experiencing greater cases and numbers of deaths. This likely will continue for several more weeks. We will be near 350,000 dead before year end.

  • We still have colleges and student travel to and from college to deal with

  • We still have a significant minority of “rugged individualists” and resisters to government guidance who refuse to practice social distancing and wear masks

  • We still have people cheating with weddings and other large gatherings

  • But we can help in our daily lives. It remains contrary to human nature to be anti-social but in some sense this is precisely what we’re being asked to do. Every time we say “but these people are being careful” we are making a public health determination and taking unnecessary risks. We really have to try to be better citizens and do what we can to stem further outbreaks.


While there are significant economic, health care, climate, racial injustice, and other issues the administration will have to face, there are a number of nagging smaller concerns President-elect Biden will have to address when he takes office. Devoting too much energy to any of these would be a mistake:

  • Trump will pardon many around him, probably including himself. Rather than incurring the wrath of the Republicans by challenging a self-pardon or the wrath of the left by accepting the pardon, President Biden will do neither. By saying innocuous things like “this is for courts to decide” and not encouraging the Justice Department to act, he keeps his powder dry and doesn’t allow a protracted legal battle to detract from the broader agenda.

  • Unfortunately, the Senate will hold hearings about Hunter Biden. There is nothing anyone can do to prevent the Senate from satisfying the Trump base, which hungers for the “payback” of a distracting investigation into Hunter Biden. I suspect they will be short-lived and unnerving, but uneventful.

  • The New York State legal process will continue. What happens in New York will happen. Mr. Trump will be quite busy defending whatever comes out of the New York State Attorney General’s office, figuring out how to pay his debts, and defending against the many civil cases—contractual, for fraud and for sexual harassment. He will rail on and on but without his bully pulpit.

  • Giving credence to the claims of "widespread voter fraud" would be a mistake. So, no investigation of the just completed election should proceed (and I don't think McConnell wants any part of it either). Instead, there should be a commission established to look forward at what additionally can be done to protect our elections. It should make recommendations of best practices to ensure systems aren’t vulnerable to cyber-attack and propose a “Model Election Code” to the States. Remember that the States are each responsible for their own election processes. But a Model Election Code could help create standards that States could feel comfortable adopting. Such a standard might include:

  • Agree on early counting a week ahead of election day

  • Allow for counting ballots received within x days of the election day

  • Propose a threshold for automatic recount

  • Suggest standard counting procedures and appropriate permitted oversight in number/distance, etc.

  • Propose a requirement that the popular vote must be dispositive in designation of electors. This would obviate the politicking of canvassing boards, election officials and state legislators for delegates. This year we have seen how this politicking creates a dangerous environment and threatens democratic elections.

  • Require that the General Services Administration proceed with transition processes for all candidates that achieve, say, at least 200 electoral votes and have demonstrated a reasonable chance that he/she could win enough electoral votes to reach 270.

LAST MINUTE APPOINTMENTS—ONE EXAMPLE Mr. Trump is rushing climate-damaging regulations, leasing of the Arctic Refuge, and shutting down programs that the Fed acknowledges are necessary, all in a scorched-earth strategy to maximize his imprint on the future as he leaves office. Part of this is appointing everyone he can to every open commission possible in during the waning days of this administration. One such troubling appointment is that of Darren Beattie to the Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad. At first blush, this hardly sounds terribly important. The commission is charged, according to The New York Times, with “identifying and preserving cemeteries and historic buildings in Europe, including sites used to kill primarily Jews during the Holocaust.” Mr. Beattie, a former Trump speechwriter, was dismissed several years ago from a position with the administration because he participated in a gathering of white nationalists. As is the case with a number of other commissions and judgeships that Mr. Trump will appoint in the coming 60 days, this appointment will outlast his administration… Happy weekend, Glenn

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