Sunday, November 8, 2020


Weekend Roundup

Table of contents:

Last week I collected a number of links meant to help readers understand how votes were likely to be counted over time from Tuesday evening into the next day(s). However, on Tuesday evening I found myself with little interest in checking, let alone following, the returns. Nor did my wife, who is much more the news junkie, somewhat more partisan, and definitely more full of dread. So we watched a movie instead (Ford vs. Ferrari, based on a story I followed closely when I was 15) and some stream TV I can't recall -- maybe the Australian series, Mystery Road? I googled election returns before going to bed: Biden was leading in popular vote, but it was closer than expected, with Trump still holding leads in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, but Arizona called for Biden. I saw some Kansas returns, and knew that Barbara Bollier had lost her Senate bid. I spent the rest of the week never going deeper than Google's AP widget, which currently gives Biden a 290-214 lead, a margin of a bit over 4.5 million votes (with Biden at 50.7%), with three states still uncalled: Biden leads narrowly in Georgia, Trump leads a bit more in North Carolina, and much more in slow-returning Alaska.

I had hoped the Democrats would win more impressively, especially in the Senate races. (One piece which explains why is Joseph Fishkin: Please let it not be close: Who 2020 prez outcome probably won't be decided in court. But also Republican obstruction and rule has cost us 10 years of "opportunity costs" as Washington has ignored critical problems.) As it is, Democrats picked up two seats (Arizona and Colorado), lost one (Alabama), are trailing in North Carolina and Alaska, and face two difficult runoffs in Georgia, so it is very likely that the Republicans will control the Senate: leverage they could use not just to prevent Democrats from delivering on any of their legislative goals but totally sandbag the Biden administration: rejecting any or all nominations (judges, even cabinet members), even failing to pass a budget, appropriation bills, and resolutions allowing the government to extend its credit limit. They could, in short, shut the federal government down for the next two years. I wouldn't put any of that past them.

Democrats also lost a few seats in the House, but retain control there. I stil haven't looked at detailed returns for down ballot races. I haven't had much interest in reading people's opinions about why the votes broke as they did, or what it means for the future. Nonetheless, I do have a few opinions:

  1. I doubt that nominating a more progressive ticket would have helped the Democrats much. In particular, I doubt that Bernie Sanders would have inspired more young people to come out to vote Democratic than he would have lost among anti-left Democrats, independents, and anti-Trump Republicans. I also doubt that he would have done much worse (except perhaps at fundraising, which appears to be very overrated this year). And he might have made up some ground by articulating a sharper attack on Trump and/or by promising greater return value for votes.
  2. Biden, like Clinton in 2016, put a lot of effort into wooing Republican crossover votes, which undermined Democrats in down ballot races (especially in Maine, where Republicans won a Senate seat that polls had shown them losing all year; the failed campaign to defeat Susan Collins was the year's biggest disappointment). Biden should have made it clear that he needed a Democratic Congress not just to deliver on his promises but to govern at all.
  3. Biden put way too much emphasis on nebulous ideas like "soul of America" and "saving democracy," and not nearly enough on pocket book issues, like raising the minimum wage, encouraging unions, cutting drug and medical costs, keeping the economy going during pandemic. I'm reminded that in 1860, Republicans didn't campaign on generalities like limiting slavery and preserving the union. Their campaign pitch was direct: "Vote yourself a farm! Vote yourself a tariff!" Sure, both of those points worked to undermine the Slave Power, but they required nothing more from voters than a sense of self-interest. Trump and the Republicans were vulnerable of every front (except arguably taxes, but even there they clearly favored the rich). Democrats could honest have argued that the economy would be much worse without their insistence that the CARES act provide extra money for unemployment compensation and small businesses, and that the only reason it hasn't been extended has been Republican obstruction.
  4. Republicans retained a remarkable degree of unity up and down the ticket, possibly because their charges against Democrats were so outrageous and indiscriminate. Republican Senate candidates won everywhere Trump did (plus Maine), limiting Democratic gains to states Biden carried (less Maine). In many cases, Democratic Senate candidates polled better than Biden, only to lose out. Republicans are brutally efficient at getting their voters out, as they've been for quite some time. One corollary is that it doesn't seem to matter whether the Democratic candidate is left, liberal, moderate, or conservative.
  5. I think the main reason Trump exceeded his polls this time was that he moved some late-breaking voters on pandemic lockdowns. His handling of the pandemic was disastrous, but his ultimate embrace of the disease made him look tough and vigorous, and it aligned with the business interests of potential swing voters. Biden backed away from endorsing more lockdowns, but had a harder time convincing voters that his more cautious approach would be better for the economy. (Note that I'm not endorsing Trump's stance, which is stupid and callous, but it helps explain the small shift at the end.)
  6. Republican control of the Senate will certainly suit some of Biden's richest backers (e.g., Michael Bloomberg, whose money is one of the grossest blemishes on the 2020 elections). It will give him a good excuse not to nominate anyone from what Howard Dean memorably dubbed "the democratic wing of the Democratic Party." (Even if Democrats had won control, their efforts would be checked by the most conservative Democrats in the Senate -- much as Joe Lieberman and James Exon killed the ACA public option.)
  7. The Georgia runoff elections offer an opportunity for Democrats to get a redo, albeit on unfavorable terrain. The Democrats need to run as a team, and beg Georgians to give Biden a chance to work for America. Republicans are already arguing that winning those races is "America's last chance to stop socialism," so they're not going to lose gracefully.

Here's a related Steve M tweet:

Republicans have successfully nationalized every election by linking everything that scares center and right voters to every Democrat. Someone torches a police station? Implicitly the local Dem's fault! Dems never do this to the GOP, which is why Susan Collins won.


The Elections

Josh Barro: Smile, Democrats. Trump lost. You won.

Jerusalem Demsas: Why Georgia has runoff elections: Well, you know, racism, same as in other Southern states that use runoffs to a black person doesn't win a plurality against a divided mix of white candidates. It matters this year because both Senate elections will be going to runoffs. And most likely, the runoff election will draw fewer voters than the presidential, and that will help the Republicans sweep both seats, giving them a slim majority in the Senate, the the ability to sabotage any appointments or other initiatives Democrats push.

Liza Featherstone: There was actually a lot of good news for the left on election day.

Natalie Fertig/Mona Zhang: 1 in 3 Americans now lives in a state where recreational marijuana is legal: "New Jersey, Arizona and Montana passed measures to legalize adult-use marijuana. South Dakota became the first state to authorize both medical and recreational sales at the same time." Mississippi voters approved medical marijuana. Every state that offered voters the chance to weigh in passed the measures.

Matt Ford: Election day was peaceful -- then Trump opened his mouth.

Murtaza Hussein: Nonwhite voters are not immune to the appeal of right-wing populism.

Ezra Klein:

  • How Joe Biden, the ultimate insider, defeated Donald Trump, the ultimate outsider: "The lessons of Biden's unusual campaign."

  • Trump is attempting a coup in plain sight. Not a coup. I doubt there are any institutions in America that could or would launch a coup, either to depose an inconvenient president, or in this case to preserve one who lost an election. It's not just that it's never been done before, or that there's little public support for taking contempt for American democracy to that level. Sure,the courts can (as they did in 2000) tilt the scales a bit. And if the electoral college split ended at 270-268 (as seemed possible before Biden won Pennsylvania), some sort of backroom deal (as happened in 1876 with Hayes-Tilden) might steal the election (although the Supreme Court ruled against "faithless electors" earlier this year). But neither of those disgraceful scenarios would really be a coup. What Trump is doing is everything he can to discredit an election that he clearly lost. He may not understand that he's really discredited himself in the bargain.

Michael Kruse:

  • Donald Trump confronts a new label: loser. By the way, Greg Magarian commented:

    This piece is utterly vicious simply because it's accurate and thorough. I disagree with people who think Trump was a singularly damaging president; in terms of the harm he did, he's just another disastrous conservative, the logical heir of Nixon, Reagan, and the Bushes, all of whom slaughtered more people around the world. But Trump is certainly the worst person ever to hold the office, and I'm reveling in his debasement and humiliation. He deserves every drop in the tsunami of suffering that's headed his way.

  • How misfortune -- and stunning luck -- brought Joe Biden to the presidency.

Anita Kumar:

Peter Maass: As Trump is defeated, the Murdochs try to dodge backlash for Fox News. One thing I'll add is that Fox never needed to build a Republican majority to make money. Indeed, their interests favor keeping their audience extremely agitated, even if it's merely a sizable minority. Also, it kind of cramps their style having to defend a Republican establishment, certainly compared to how freewheeling they can get in attacking Democrats. That said, Trump was ideal for them: for one thing, he was living testament to their power and reach; for another, he never tried to be less crazy than they were. But Fox never needed Trump like Trump needed Fox. More on Trump and Fox:

Ian MacDougall: If Trump tries to sue his way to election victory, here's what happens.

Dylan Matthews: Joe Biden has won. Here's what comes next.

Laura McGann: Anderson Cooper described Trump as "an obese turtle on his back flailing in the hot sun".

David Nakamura: Trump's bid to discredit election raises fear that he will undermine a smooth transfer of power.

John Nichols:

  • The Biden-Harris victory brings 'an outpouring of joy, hope, renewed faith': "In cities nationwide, a spontaneous celebration erupts as Trup is defeated and voters usher in 'a new day for America.'" I must admit this took me by surprise, probably because I was bummed by how close the election was, and by the failure to rout Republicans down ballot, leaving Congress divided and ensuring that very little of the Biden-Harris platform stands a chance of getting implemented (at least for two years, but mid-term elections almost always go against the sitting president's party, and Democrats have blown mandates after both Clinton and Obama won with more impressive margins). On the other hand, had Trump actually won a second term after the most appalling record ever, in one of the worst years this country has ever suffered, it would have felt like the end of the world. Dodge that and yeah, joy makes sense. [By the way, Wichita also had a celebration, despite not contributing much to the win. We didn't attend, not least because Sedgwick County is regularly breaking records for new Covid-19 cases.] More celebrations:

  • Georgia voters can put an end to Mitch McConnell's grim reaping: By electing Democrats to two Senate seats subject to runoff. Yeah, but they probably won't. Georgia Republicans do everything they can to make voting difficult, and they're very efficient at winning low-turnout elections.

Ella Nilsen: House Democrats will keep their majority for two more years.

Alice Miranda Ollstein/Megan Cassella: 'A dreaded two years': Biden, allies gear up to face a GOP Senate.

Gabby Orr: Trump faces divided family and friends as calls out for a concession.

Lili Pike: Why so many young people showed up on Election Day.

Max Read: Time has never moved as slowly as it did this week.

Aaron Rupar:

Nate Silver: Biden won -- pretty convincingly in the end.

Still, this brings up one last point: This is the seventh election out of the past eight in which Democrats have won the popular vote for president. If American elections were contested on the basis of the popular vote, this race could probably have been called fairly early on Tuesday night, and we could all have gotten a lot more sleep the past few days. But don't let bleary eyes obscure Biden's accomplishment.

The one election the Republican won the most votes in was 2004, when GW Bush used his minority win in 2000 to start a war in Iraq, and was barely able to rally the nation behind its hapless Commander in Chief, and a thick veil of smoke and mirrors to hide how poorly the war was going. By 2008, Bush was even more unpopular than Trump this year. You can read 538's election blog here: Biden is projected to be the President-Elect. Here's how it all went down.

Emily Stewart: Trump spent years worrying about the stock market only to discover Wall Street doesn't care if he loses.

Asawin Suebsaeng/Sam Stein/William Bredderman: Trump orders advisers to 'go down fighting'.

Libby Watson: The futility of the Democrats' record-breaking war chest: "Liberals lined the campaigns of Senate hopefuls with mountainous piles of campaign loot, only to watch it all burn up on election night."

Matthew Yglesias:

  • Trump's gains with Hispanic voters should prompt some progressive rethinking.

  • 3 winners and 4 losers from a very long Election "Day": Winners: Joe Biden; Congressional Republicans ("Congressional Republicans escape from the Trump years with a tax cut, a stocked federal judiciary, an absolute stranglehold on the Supreme Court, and almost certainly a majority in the US Senate. They did lose the House in 2018 and didn't win it back in 2020, but Democrats' majority is now slim. And Republicans will dominate the redistricting process next year, setting themselves up nicely to make a big run at the majority in 2022."); Poll workers; Losers: Democratic small donors; Blue Texas, Martha McSally; The polls.

Li Zhou: Kamala Harris makes history as the first woman to become vice president. Lots of articles in this vein, as if it matters. At this stage, anyone who has a problem with her race and/or sex needs to get over it. What matters more (and most Republicans will emphasize this) is that she's significantly more progressive than Biden. Of course, that may be a consequence of her experiences given her background. Or she may just be smarter and more respectful and responsible than your average American. More on Harris:

After the Election

Dean Baker:

Jedediah Britton-Purdy: Donald Trump was a monster forged by the American free market.

Thomas Frank: Ding-dong, the jerk is gone. But read this before you sing the Hallelujah Chorus. Fine with me if you sing first, even dance a little. Plenty of time for disappointment later.

Biden can't take us back to the happy assumptions of the centrist era even if he wants to, because so many of its celebrated policy achievements lie in ruins. Not even Paul Krugman enthuses about Nafta-style trade agreements any longer. Bill Clinton's welfare reform initiative was in fact a capitulation to racist tropes and brought about an explosion in extreme poverty. The great prison crackdown of 1994 was another step in cementing the New Jim Crow. And the biggest shortcoming of Obama's Affordable Care Act -- leaving people's health insurance tied to their employer -- has become painfully obvious in this era of mass unemployment and mass infection.

But the biggest consequence of the Democrats' shabby experiment is one we have yet to reckon with: it has coincided with a period of ever more conservative governance. It turns out that when the party of the left abandons its populist traditions for high-minded white-collar rectitude, the road is cleared for a particularly poisonous species of rightwing demagoguery. It is no coincidence that, as Democrats pursued their professional-class "third way," Republicans became ever bolder in their preposterous claim to be a "workers' party" representing the aspirations of ordinary people.

Michael Grunwald: America votes to make politics boring again.

Fred Kaplan: Even without the Senate, Biden can get an awful lot done: "The executive branch is powerful and has only become more so in recent years."

First, there are executive orders. Obama signed 270 of them in the eight years of his presidency (that's almost three per month); Trump signed 176 in his one term (with, perhaps, more orders to come in his remaining two-and-a-half months). Biden could, and probably will, follow suit. (One thing he'll almost certainly do is repeal many of Trump's executive orders, just as Trump repealed many of Obama's.) Some of his predecessors' orders were challenged, and even overturned, in the courts, but not that many. Besides, presidents have other tools of unilateral power at their disposal: administrative orders, federal regulations, and national security decision directives, few of which can be challenged, many of which are deeply buried in bureaucratic documents, some of which are highly classified.

Second, presidents have enormous leeway in foreign policy (a privilege that, for better or worse, Congress and the courts rarely restrict). Biden will almost certainly reenter the Paris Agreement on climate change (which was signed within a United Nations framework, so the Senate would have no say), extend the New START nuclear arms treaty with the Russians (a provision allowed under the treaty itself, which the Senate ratified under Obama), and at least try to revive the nuclear arms deal with Iran (which was a multilateral agreement, not a treaty, and so never required Senate ratification). He won't be able to enter the Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty without Senate approval (he would face obstacles with many Democrats as well as Republicans). But he can enter into lots of negotiations with other countries that, in some way, involve trade and regional security.

Kevin M Kruse: Why a Biden administration shouldn't turn the page on the Trump era: "The Obama-Biden administration wanted to move forward rather than hold Wall Street bankers and CIA torturers accountable. If elected, Biden should follow FDR's playbook and expose his predecessor's corruption and mismanagement instead."

Matt McManus: How to avoid another Trump. "Trump was able to divert attention from the profound structural inequities of our time toward an agnostic politics where 'giving the middle finger' to liberals would serve as an ideological substitute for change."

Osita Nwanevu: Will the Democrats ever make sense of this week? "They're more likely to take the wrong lessons from Biden's win and the down-ballot losses."

Alex Pareene: What if Democrats' message just doesn't matter? "Florida voters backed a $15 minimum wage. So did Joe Biden -- and he lost the state. There are important lessons here for the party."

Yanis Varoufakis: Hoping for a return to normal after Trump? That's the last thing we need.

The Pandemic Is Still With Us

Katelyn Burns: The White House is dealing with another Covid-19 outbreak: "Five people have tested positive, including chief of staff Mark Meadows, as the US sees record daily case counts."

Umair Irfan/Julia Belluz/Brian Resnick: The US Covid-19 epidemic hit a deadly new milestone, and help isn't on the way: "More than 120,000 new Covid-19 cases in a single day."

A Odysseus Patrick: Australia has almost eliminated the coronavirus -- by putting faith in science.

Melody Schreiber: Trump is still the president, and the pandemic is getting worse.

David Waltner-Toews: The wisdom of pandemics: "Virus are active agents, existing within rich lifeworlds. A safe future depends on understanding this evolutionary story."

Still More on Donald Trump

Daniel Block: Donald Trup's return to TV would not be easy.

A Trump-controlled network would have an even greater chance of failure. It took Turner and Murdoch years to turn CNN and Fox into behemoths. Both did so when the cable television market was larger and less consolidated than it is today. Conservative media is particularly tricky. The target demographic -- middle-aged-to-elderly white men -- is becoming a smaller proportion of the U.S. They already have Fox.

And Trump is not a talented businessman. His companies have declared bankruptcy six times. His properties bleed cash. And his experience as chief executive of the federal government isn't exactly inspiring. The United States has had one of the worst responses to the COVID-19 pandemic thanks to Trump's dithering and denial. He could delegate the network's management to better hands, but, once again, it's hard to see him not micromanaging.

"Do you really want to help me build a channel for Donald Trump that targets old white guys?" the senior executive said. "I don't think so."

That doesn't mean networks or investors won't work with Trump. In fact, they likely will. Perhaps Fox will give him an enormous contract to call in as a commentator, buying him off without the risks of having to host a Trump show. (Whether Trump, with his massive ego, would settle for anything less than a dedicated prime-time audience is unclear.) Maybe Sinclair will decide partnering with Trump is worth the risk. Someone, somewhere, will pay him for his brand. Indeed, even the most spectacular possible failure -- creating a new channel, only to have it sputter -- could still be a financial win. Al Gore's Current TV never really caught on with viewers. Yet when he sold it to Al Jazeera, he made out with $100 million.

Katelyn Burns: The Trump legal team's failed Four Seasons press conference, explained. More:

Nancy Cook: Trump prepares to launch a second term early, even without winning: "He ay fire department heads like the FBI's Chris Wray and Pentagon chief Mark Esper. He could sign base-pleasing executive orders. He might resume travel."

Emily Dreyfuss: Trump's tweeting isn't crazy. It's strategic, typos and all. I'd rather just think of him as an illiterate moron, but could that just be his personal touch added to devious coaching?

Amy Gulick: The majestic Alaskan rain forest in Trump's crosshairs: Tongass National Forest.

The Intercept: Part Seven: Climate change: "Trump has stacked his anti-science administration with corporate polluters, gutted environmental regulations, and opened protected land for extraction." Most recent installment in a series, American Mythology. Previous parts:

Sarah Jones: Say good-bye to Trump's lesser ghouls: The roll call profiled here: Seema Verma (as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, "approved drastic cuts to Medicaid that left thousands of needy Americans without health care"); Sonny Perdue (Secretary of Agriculture, issued rules to allow states to cut SNAP); Eugene Scalia (Secretary of Labor, name no coincidence, undermined OSHA among other things); Gina Haspel (CIA Director, torture supervisor); Julia Hahn (White House speechwriter, with white nationalist credentials to rival the more infamous Stephen Miller); Robert Wilkie (VA head, union buster, Confederate monument fetishist); Paula White (White House "spiritual adviser"); Alyssa Farah (White House communications director); Russ Vought (Director of Office of Budget and Management, "task is to reshape the executive branch according to Trump's whims"); William Perry Pendley (acting director Bureau of Land Management).

Nick Pinto: Across the US, Trump used ICE to crack down on immigration activists. This is part of a larger series on The war on immigrants.

Jon Schwarz: During the Trump Era, everyone and everything in America failed: "The possibilities in front of us are real, but we should not deceive ourselves about what we learned during the Time of Trump." Schwarz doesn't limit his list of failures to Trump and the Republicans; also indicted are: Biden, Democrats, and The Corporate Media. Nonetheless, Trump leads:

Before Trump, it seemed obvious that fascists were filled with vigor, always available for a mass torch-lit rally at midnight. Trump clearly has the instincts of a fascist: a lust for power, cruelty toward out-groups, and romanticization of a past that never existed. But he also can't execute any plan that requires more than five seconds of effort. Are you a fascist if you vaguely want to be Supreme Leader, but that seems like a ton of work, and your top priority is getting through all the hours of "Fox & Friends" on your DVR? . . .

It's true the Trump administration has managed to implement policies that blighted the lives of many, many people. But this has been on issues where Trump himself just had to sign papers put in front of him by the small number of his underlings who are minimally competent.

All that said, there is one area where Trump did not fail. Everyone has a mental map of the world inside their head. Mentally healthy people adjust their interior map when they see it doesn't match reality. Mentally unhealthy people try to force reality to change to match what's inside them. Trump, who is pullulating with hate and fear, has successfully devoted himself to multiplying the amount of hate and fear in the world outside of his head.

The most terrifying part of the Trump presidency has not been Trump himself, but the slavish support other GOP politicians have given his every action. We now know for sure that there's nothing a Republican president can do that's so grotesque that the rest of the party won't fall in line behind it.

Supreme Court and Other Injustices

Ian Millhiser:

Benjamin Weiser/Michael S Schmidt/William K Rashbaum: Steve Bannon loses lawyer after suggesting beheading of Fauci: "Mr Bannon, the former adviser to President Trump, said the heads of the FBI director and Dr Anthony Fauci should be put on pikes, leading Twitter to ban one of his accounts."

Around the World

Laura Gottesdiener: The children of Fallujah: The medical mystery at the heart of the Iraq War: "Since the 2003 invasion, doctors in Fallujah have been reporting a sharp rise in birth defects among the city's children -- and to this day, no one knows why."

Murtaza Hussain: Trump, the war president, leaves a trail of civilians dead in Yemen: "A new report sheds light on Donald Trump's bloody continuation -- and intensification -- of the brutality of US foreign policy."

Marissa J Lang: Mexico is poised to legalize marijuana, but advocates don't like the details.

Sharon Lerner: US military responsible for widespread PFAS pollution in Japan: "A new book by Jon Mitchell exposes 'countless' releases of PFAS chemicals by the US military in Japan." Interview with Mitchell, whose book is Poisoning the Pacific: The US Military's Dumping of Plutonium, Chemical Weapons, and Agent Orange.

Timothy McLaughlin: America still thinks it's the election police: "After the 2020 election, who would bother to listen to the US about how to run a vote?"

Other Matters

Harry Browne: Robert Fisk was a reporter who brought the wars home and shaped the thinking of a generation. Fisk died last week. His books Pity the Nation (on civil war in Lebanon, although it also includes important reporting on Syria) and The Great War for Civilisation (on Bush's "War on Terror") were major, but mostly we depended on him for day-to-day journalism.

Matthew Cappuci/Andrew Freedman: Tropical Storm Eta nears Florida with flood threat, hurricane warnings: "The storm's swipe at Florida is part of the second incarnation of Eta, which killed dozens in Central America last week after striking Nicaragua on Tuesday as a devastating Category 4 storm."

David Harvey: Socialists must be the champions of freedom.

Anatol Lieven: US strategists lost empathy, along with their wars.

Paul R Pillar: The global nuclear bargain. Eighty-four nations have signed, and fifty have now ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. You may recall that the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) back in 1970 promised that if nations agreed not to develop nuclear weapons, the states that previously had them would disarm. The US and others have failed to do so, hence the need for a new treaty.

Jeffrey St Clair: Roaming charges: The fog of bores.