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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 3/2/21

Good morning! Let’s start today with a quote: “Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil.” -- Eric Hoffer, The True Believer (1951) That says it all and makes me think about the times we’re in. True to human behavior it feels like people aren’t entering into alliances around what they believe in as much as what it is (or, sadly, who it is) they hate…or fear… The violence at the Capitol in January was not motivated by a positive policy agenda; rather, it was propelled by animus toward the "other." The anger was a manifestation that there indeed are devils out there. This was not an insurrection founded in policy but one based in anger against an enemy apparently set to destroy a perceived "American way of life," enemies that were seeking to "replace people." The fear seemed to be that to acknowledge legitimate defeat at the ballot box would spell the rise of some hated enemy and as-yet ill-defined, yet feared, policy agenda from the “other team.” GROUNDS FOR IMPEACHMENT I keep coming back to the impeachment for perspective on what the president's words and actions really represented. During the second impeachment trial, I believe the case had been made that Mr. Trump knowingly incited a crowd to riot. Having said that, I had a hard time understanding why evidence of the lack of a presidential response to the riot supported the article of impeachment. Adam Torson has helped me better understand this. There really are three separate and distinct failures by Mr. Trump, all of which supported the article of impeachment.

  • The incitement on the morning of January 6. I think most reasonable listeners could conclude that, in the context of growing mob fed by repeated misinformation regarding the election, the president's words could reasonably be seen as incitement of others toward lawlessness.

  • The phone call with Kevin McCarthy. At first, I felt this was proof only of Mr. Trump’s indifference to the suffering of others, but as Adam points out, “the McCarthy call is a game changer.” It is a game changer because his reaction to the violence supports the intent of his incitement and his expectation of the results brought on by his incitement. Although the conversation would initially appear to be post hoc, it in fact goes to the intent and expectation of the president when he spoke that morning. Things were proceeding as planned.

  • Then there is his indifference to the violence. Much has been made of his repeated refusal to take action against those attacking the Capitol, actions that endangered lives—his unwillingness to act, his watching events unfold on TV. This actually is an additional independent grounds for impeachment. As Adam points out, it is “an unequivocal failure to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.”

All of this is important stuff. What it suggests is that Donald Trump was—and is—a clear and present danger to our democracy and our public safety. That he remains the odds-on favorite for the 2024 Republican party nomination is startling. That the CPAC convention of this past weekend seemed to be a ratification of his behaviors and his movement is disturbing. That the lies can be repeated and endorsed by our elected leaders, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, suggests our leaders aren't leaders at all. It is, of course, a long way until then and many, many lawsuits for Trump to face before then. DISTURBING FINANCIAL NEWS We all know the pandemic has had a profound effect on the economy. Unemployment is up and the number of people employed or looking for jobs (and, hence, included in these numbers) is down. This means the unemployment number doesn’t tell the whole story. Another tidbit: Nearly 1/3 of all Americans withdrew money from their retirement accounts this past year. Nearly 2/3 did so to pay for living expenses. Sobering and disturbing news. The only “good news,” if there is any, is that the rising stock market likely has helped some of the public pension funds recoup some of the shortfalls they are experiencing. Most disturbing, of course, is that the pandemic has changed the ways in which we live, work and shop. Some of these trends were a long time in happening, but the pandemic accelerated these trends. I fear that globalization, technology, artificial intelligence, and the ease of conducting business from home will increase unemployment for years to come. Even after the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror, a long period of economic challenge, some very tough policy choices, and pain lie ahead. SELF-REFLECTION IN ISOLATION Beyond the angst associated with the election, the pandemic and the economic calamity that will take years to resolve itself, the relative isolation within which we are living has allowed us to look inward. Beyond the book groups, learning to play canasta, picking up an instrument (often one sitting in the garage from high school), doing puzzles, or working on the golf handicap is the opportunity for self-reflection. I have been thinking about greatest regrets from my life. While each of us no doubt has a fair number of things we would do differently if given a chance, I’m not really focused on a particular individual career choice or decision but a chronic bad habit I can try to correct. In writing these Musings and reconnecting with people, I am reminded that I have had a spotty history of staying in touch with people who have meant a lot to me earlier in my life. There are the notable exceptions—relationships that have stood the test of time and that I hold dear. And there are the renewed reacquaintances that the pandemic has allowed. But then there are those that are lost to time… Sure, it takes two to tango. Often the other person has been as much responsible for a failure of communication—after all, life gets in the way. But that’s not really a good excuse. Nor is it a good excuse that there was a spat or misunderstanding years ago. How quickly we can find ourselves allowing a single perceived injustice, an apparent lack of interest, or a social faux pas to torpedo a relationship that took years to develop and moments to ruin. So if people start getting calls from me “after all these years,” it’s because I’d like to reconnect with them to show that I care, that they have meant something to me, and that I want to touch that part of my past and theirs in a way that hopefully will explain our present and inform our future. Have a great day, Glenn

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