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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 6/4/20

Friends,

Good morning. This one’s long, emotional and bears a political message. TRIGGER WARNING to those continuing to support the President, maybe better to skip this one and come back tomorrow.

In every election cycle someone invariably says, “this is the most consequential election in our lifetimes.” It’s been said so many times that this statement may have lost much of its impact; however, this time it may well be true.

When it seemed that the nation couldn’t descend much further from its abysmal failure to address the COVID-19 virus effectively, thumbing its nose at our allies and environmental quality, the lack of a coherent national strategy for opening the economy, the massive unemployment, and the absence of a moral voice at the helm providing the comfort, coherence and unity we need, the response to the murder of George Floyd sent us into a tailspin.

We waited for the leadership to point us toward healing, to condemn this plague of deaths and injustice, and to demand improvements in our policing practices and other institutional racism. What we got instead were angry tweets, alarmist statements about being the “law and order president,” assertion of second amendment rights to bear arms and the violent, totally unnecessary attacks on people protesting peacefully in front of the White House. Just so the president could walk to a church and hold a bible for a photo-op. He is threatening to deploy the military to pacify our cities, relying upon the 1807 Insurrection Act. He has lectured Governors on being weaklings and not being tough enough. He is unable to separate peaceful demonstrations from the ancillary looting and property damage committed by an opportunistic few.

Has the case finally been made that this man is not qualified and poses a danger to our country?

 

THE CASE FOR CHANGE HAS BEEN MADE


Most Trump supporters I know are smart people. Most begrudgingly support him based upon a single issue or two, even though that support is lukewarm. I’m trying to understand why they still support him. Part of it is the “tribalism” that pervades our political discourse. That said, even among Mr. Trump’s political allies, there are a number of objective realities that people will acknowledge, even as they support him, acknowledging that:


• He is vile, crass, and bullying

• He lies. Supporters say that all politicians lie and/or we should look at his actions rather than his words. His supporters give him a “get of jail free card” because it’s just his nature to speak in hyperbole or exaggeration. “Don’t trust his words—just intuit his intent.”

• He is non-curious and ill-informed about American or World history and science

• He often was unscrupulous in business and cruel to employees and contractors

• He has gone so far as to accuse people of murder—people who were on the other side of the continent at the time

• He mocks those with physical and mental disabilities and those with whom he disagrees

• His response to COVID-19 was at first dismissive and then delayed and continues to lack a strategy

• He has recommended medications and procedures that could be harmful to the users thereof

• He has turned America from a dependable leader on the global stage into an undependable ally and a foe of little concern.


I could go on. Those who support him do so not so much because he warrants reelection, but out of a fear of the alternative. His supporters fear what a Democratic president might do (even though Biden historically has worked across the aisle). Even though Trump’s actions may be damaging, counter-productive, ill-defined, incorrect, or costly, their argument is “well, at least he’s doing something.”

Here's what the American Conservative says:

“Saying ‘Trump is bad, but the Democrats would be worse’ may be true, but at some point, that ceases to work as a rationalization for a president who does not know how to do his job.”

And then there are noted Conservatives David Frum, Bill Kristol, Max Boot and George Will, all of whom have come out against the reelection of a Republican president. Perhaps we should be listening. How about Prime Minister Trudeau’s 22 seconds of silence? Finally, General Mattis, former Defense Secretary under Donald Trump, has come out against his ill-advised and inflammatory rhetoric to deploy troops on our own citizens.

While the case against Trump has been made, and even internalized by many of his followers, the case to vote for Biden has not yet been made to the satisfaction of some. Biden is seen, rightly or wrongly, as a man of all of his 78 years—a little slower, a little less focused, a little more prone to gaffes. He has not yet shown that he is not going to kowtow to the more extreme views of the far left and has not yet made the case for why his presidency would be transformative. It can be and it is up to him to show us how.

 

THE CASE CAN BE MADE

Thomas Friedman wrote in the New York Times a few weeks ago proposing that Biden, in addition to announcing his running mate, should announce the individuals he would tap for key cabinet positions. Then he went on to name those people he’d propose, the premise being that it’s time for a “national unity” cabinet that contains a multitude of different voices, ready to roll-up their sleeves.

The national leadership we need is one that sets lofty goals and says, “we choose to do these things not because they’re easy, but because they’re hard.” The kind of leadership that suggests, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” The kind of leadership that tells us we’re in for a great trial—involving sacrifice from all—but that all we have to fear is fear itself.

What we need at this inflection point in our history is a true “national unity government.” This might disappoint those on the far ends of the political spectrum but, in the end, is precisely what can get us through to a better place.

 

JOE, THIS IS THE SPEECH I WOULD DELIVER

Joe should say something like this (Trump also could say this, but he hasn’t and he won’t):

“Friends, we are at a tough time. Not only are we facing a pandemic that has brought the world to its knees, but an economic crisis of far-reaching consequence and a reckoning with racial injustice in this country. These issues are made more difficult to overcome because, not since the Civil War have Americans been so intransigent, so unwilling to compromise, and so suspicious of others who hold different opinions than their own.

We have become insured to senseless violence and inequities in our society. We often succumb to fringe theories. We aren’t listening to each other and we haven’t been particularly kind to each other. This has all been amplified by partisan media looking for higher ratings, fringe one-issue groups stoking our fears, foreign agents seeking to disrupt our elections and way of life, and faceless algorithms that feed us what big tech thinks we want to hear. But the blame for this is ours as well, for being so haughty, so lacking in humility, so untrusting in the possibility that our fellow Americans might be well-intentioned, and that they deserve to be heard. We need to start assuming the best in each other.

My cabinet is going to reflect diversity of background, philosophy, and opinion. I’m from the center-left and will govern from that vantage point. But I will be listening to everyone and will consider all reasonable proposals. My administration will have the likes of Mitt Romney sitting side by side with Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg seated across from Cory Booker, Jeff Flake in conversation with Amy Klobuchar. My cabinet will debate and disagree and turn the best ideas into policy. We will deal with the tough issues, like immigration reform, and the easier ones where there is consensus, like infrastructure investment.

We will invest in setting federal standards for policing that will serve as a template for localities. We will work to eliminate the institutional impediments that keep many of our citizens unfairly treated, fearful of their safety, without clear paths to achieve the American dream.

We will find a place in the American story for the undocumented immigrants living, raising families, and working here, while tightening our borders and holding people accountable for the choices they make. We will address the tax code—not in a confiscatory way, but in a fair way—to eliminate the slews of loopholes and corporate welfare, and reset rates to where they were when Ronald Reagan was President. We’re going to improve our social safety net and rid ourselves of the paternalism of the current patchwork of dehumanizing programs. We will encourage the construction of more affordable housing. We are going to deal with the problems of mass incarceration, while keeping people safe.

This is going to be hard. I promise not to tweet. I promise to work hard. I promise to listen and I promise to act. We are in this together.”

Warm regards. Stay safe,

Glenn

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