America — a nation without a leader

“Trump is doing harm and spreading misinformation while working for his own partisan political benefit — a naked attempt to portray himself as a wartime president bravely leading the nation through a tumultuous time, the FDR of the 21st century.”

That’s the Washington Post media correspondent and commentator Margaret Sullivan, who pleads with American television networks to stop live broadcasting the White House daily coronavirus briefings, usually led by President Trump.

That’s where we are today in America. We are a nation without a leader, where 472 Americans have now died, one here where we live in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts, a state with over seven million inhabitants, where schools are already closed and where all non-essential businesses today were ordered closed by Governor Charlie Baker.

 

America is still not ready for a woman President

It is now, officially, a two-man race for the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate, and it is clear that America is still not ready for a woman president.

As Massachusetts Senator, Elizabeth Warren, today dropped out of the presidential race, she joined her Senate colleagues, New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand, California’s Kamala Harris, and Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar, who all had bowed out earlier. They were white, black; experienced; well-qualified; progressive; moderate; articulate, tough, energetic.

It did not help.

Four years after Hillary Clinton came so close to victory and lost in spite of getting almost three million more votes than Trump, writes Paul Waldman in the Washington Post, “we had a presidential field full of talented and accomplished women, and surely, so many of us thought, one of them might prevail. Yet they fell, one after another, until only the most talented and accomplished (Warren) among them was left. And in the end, she too was judged inadequate.  So, our more than 200-year-long streak of electing only men to the presidency will continue. Perhaps we shouldn’t have expected anything different.”

Left now are Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, two white men, one of whom will face Donald Trump, another white man, in November. What does that say about gender equality in America? Well, that it is still a much more conservative country than the democracies of Europe and that gender equality lags far behind those European allies, where women for years have served as their countries’ political leaders.

Back in 1984, and way ahead of his time, Minnesota’s Walter Mondale became the Democratic party’s presidential nominee and chose a woman, Geraldine Ferraro, as his vice-presidential running mate. They lost, and lost big, to Ronald Reagan, who was reelected by winning every state except Minnesota and the District of Columbia. It took until 2016 for another woman, Hillary Clinton, to once again be part of presidential ticket, and that did not end well, either, which Washington Post’s columnist, Jennifer Rubin, touches upon when she writes how  “commentary posited from the get-go that Hillary Clinton lost; ergo, women are too risky. The country is not ready. The race is too important to risk the nomination on a woman. There was zero evidence for the proposition that gender alone explained Clinton’s loss…To the contrary, women had won in overwhelming numbers in 2018, in large part by attracting female voters. Nevertheless, the narrative persisted, fueled by the mainstream media insistence that the failure to win white, working-class men in 2016 meant Democrats needed a white man to attract those voters this time around.”

Still, many believe that whoever finally wins the nomination – Biden or Sanders – there has to be a woman on the ticket. Biden is now the overwhelming favorite to win and Minnesota’s Klobuchar is politically closest to Biden. She is also from the Midwest, an important part of the country to capture for the Democrats. But Biden could also choose Warren to build the important bridge to the party’s progressive wing and keep the party united, or Harris, thereby having both a woman and an African American on the ticket.

So, November’s election could still be historic, although not quite to the degree it would have been with a woman at the top of the ticket. And that still seems a long way off.

 

With dizzying speed, Joe Biden races to the front

Events in the American presidential election campaign are overtaking each other with dizzying speed. What was conventional wisdom just a week ago – before the South Carolina primary on February 29 – has after Super Tuesday been completely trashed.

Almost counted out, Joe Biden is now in the lead. The front runner, Bernie Sanders, stumbled badly, and the field got thinner, a lot thinner — out is Tom Steyer; out is Pete Buttigieg; out is Amy Klobuchar; and out is Michael Bloomberg.

Only Elizabeth Warren remains, but her days are clearly numbered. After a series of third and even worse finishes, she did not even manage yesterday to win her home state, Massachusetts, coming in third after Biden 33 percent, Sanders 26, Warren 21, and Bloomberg 11. In my hometown, Great Barrington, in the western part of the state, with a population of a little over seven thousand, Sanders won with 691 votes, followed by Biden 606, Warren 515, and Bloomberg 180.

Biden surprised all evening as the results came in, from east to west, and ended up winning ten of the fourteen states. His huge victory in Virginia stunned observers and set the tone for the evening. And what followed surprised even more, when, in the North, he captured Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Maine. And his victory in Texas was truly mind-boggling – no one saw that coming. His support, just like in South Carolina, among the African American voters, continued to be solid, 60 to 70 percent. But he also made big inroads among white suburban voters, who, in many places, went to the polls in larger numbers than 2016 and even than 2008, when Barack Obama captured the presidency. That bodes well for November.

Sanders, on the other hand, failed to expand his support, and, writes professor Larry Sabato at the University of Virginia, “it’s clearer than ever now that at least some of his support in 2016 was simply a function of being the alternative to Hillary Clinton. Matched up with Biden more directly now, it’s unclear whether he’ll be able to match his 2016 achievements.” Momentum is now with Biden. Still, Sabato adds, the race for the Democratic party’s presidential nominee might change again. “Certainly, Biden is going to be under renewed scrutiny, and his campaign performances have been shaky at best.”

The consequences of Biden’s weaknesses, when the Democrats do not have “an awesome” candidate, as Tom Friedman writes in today’s New York Times. the party needs to have an “awesome coalition.”  “That means a party that is united as much as possible – from left to center to right – so it can bolster the nominee against what will be a vicious, united and well-funded Trump/GOP campaign.”

Right now, that unity does not exist, although it took a big step forward with Biden’s former rivals, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Bloomberg, with his billions, all endorsing Biden and, thereby, the moderate wing of the party against Sanders’ left-wing progressivism, his “democratic socialism.” Biden, should he win the nomination, needs Sanders and his young supporters to win in November. On the day after Super Tuesday, Sanders showed no indications that he is ready to play ball, at least not yet.  And, so, the race goes on, to the next Tuesday and maybe the Tuesdays after that, all the way to June and then the convention in Milwaukee in July. For the Democrats that is a dark scenario indeed.

 

Impeached! And Trump will find it harder to get reelected

And, so, Donald J. Trump has been impeached, and rightly so.

It’s a big thing in this country, where only three previous presidents have met with a similar fate. It’s history.

Trump, said a somber Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was an “ongoing threat” to national security, and he “gave us no choice.”

The outcome in the House of Representatives was never really in doubt, although the votes followed strict party lines, with only four Democrats declining to approve the two articles of impeachment – abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

All eight Democrats from my home state — Massachusetts – voted to impeach, led by my Congressman, Richard Neal, chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

“His (Trump) actions,” said Richard Neal, “are so far beyond the pale that they have left us with no remaining recourse except impeachment. And so we will impeach.”

No Republican broke ranks and, so, the die is cast for partisan warfare to a degree not experienced in decades as we near the New Year and next November’s presidential election. Trump will seek reelection after the Republican majority in the Senate exonerates him by voting down the House’s impeachment articles. By then, there is no longer any doubt: the Republican Party has become Trump’s party. He leads it, he controls it. But that also means that the Republican Party will win or lose with Trump. Its fate now exclusively rests with Donald Trump.

Now, I will venture to say that I believe that impeachment will harm Trump’s reelection chances while further motivating the Democrats to turnout and vote, as maybe never before, to recapture the White House for whomever is chosen to lead the party next November.

Tonight, seven of the Democratic candidates will debate on national television. The race is still wide open. It’s been a ridiculously long process already with still no clear frontrunner. No one has caught on, no one has taken charge. Up and down. Some have fallen by the wayside, while others have seen themselves called upon and joined the race. It’s a mess. But, does it matter? I would argue, not so much. The main goal among Democrats is to defeat Trump. Their vote is, mainly, an anti-Trump vote, so choose a candidate who has the best chance to do that, and that will be the reason for many to go to the polls next November. It is going to be a referendum on Trump, a verdict on Trump. Nothing else matters.

In this light, being impeached cannot be seen as an asset for Trump and the Republicans. On the contrary. Yes, it might cement his support in his base and among his most loyal voters, but it will turn off even more of those independents and more traditional Republican who just cannot stomach him and hat he stands for.

“Patriotism and the survival of our nation in the face of crimes, corruption, and corrosive nature of Donald Trump are a higher calling than mere politics,” write some prominent Republican strategists in the New York Times today, who have founded the Lincoln Project to defeat Trump by rallying fellow Republicans, conservatives and independents. “Our shared fidelity to the Constitution dictates a common effort” even if this means a Democratic victory next November.

As we all know by now, Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 by nearly three million votes but narrowly, and surprisingly, captured three key states – Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania – where Democrats had won in a previous string of elections. Trump won Michigan by 11,000 of 4,6 million total votes cast, Pennsylvania by 34,000 of 6 million total votes and Wisconsin by 23,000 of 2,8 million total votes. That’s a total, narrow, winning margin of 68,000 votes, which somehow turned out to be enough for him to win the Electoral College and capture the presidency. Can Trump be so lucky again in 2020? I doubt it. In addition, he needs to find new voters, but he has not expanded his base in his three years in the White House, and now, with “impeached” forever associated with his name, his chances of doing so have likely diminished considerably.

A static base facing a highly motivated and expanded opposition does not bode well for Donald Trump in 2020.

 

 

My hometown paper has it right!

My hometown paper, The Berkshire Eagle, the New England & Press Association Newspaper of the Year, is an added attraction to any resident of Western Massachusetts, the kind of local news one likes to support: ambitious, enlightened, engaged.

Today, its editorial weighed in heavily and rightly on Trump and his racist remarks about the four female members of Congress, one from the city of Boston. Criticizing the Republicans, including Maine’s senator Susan Collins, for their failure to “locate its (the party’s) spine and criticize the president’s shameful words,” only Massachusetts Republican governor, Charlie Baker, who had called Trumps tweets “shameful and racist,” was spared in the editorial. His comments, it said, “speak well for the state.”

The country has many serious problems but finds itself led by a “bigoted bully with an affection for dictators.” But by uniting to deplore “the president’s indefensible statements and actions, it may be that the nation can address these problems,” the editorial concluded.

 

Moving on…to the blue Berkshires

I have moved. Again! My friends say.

Yes, I have moved many times during my years in America, mainly from coast to coast and back again, except for many months once in the Upper Midwest, more precisely in Minnesota, when I researched my book about the Scandinavian immigrants’ role and influence on Minnesota politics.

Now, after many years in Maryland just outside Washington, DC, and after a year and a half in Los Angeles, my new home is the little town of Great Barrington in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts, in New England, America’s northeast corner, up towards Canada.

Moving is part of being American. People move for many reasons; one is politics, maybe more so today than ever in this politically divided nation. Politics played a role when my wife and I decided to move to Massachusetts. It mattered that this is a blue state, just like Maryland, although both have Republican governors, and just like solidly Democratic Los Angeles. Our congressmen, whose names and political ideology have become more important since we became U.S. citizens with the right to vote, have come to reflect our politics — in Maryland’s Montgomery County through the leading progressive Jamie Raskin; in Los Angeles, through Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee after the sweeping democratic election victory in 2018; and here in the Berkshires, through Richard Neal, for whom the election thrust him into the chairmanship of the important Ways and Means Committee and a leading role in the fight to obtain Donald Trump’s tax returns.

The Berkshires is not an economically rich area with a median house hold in come of $39,000 per year. It’s rural, but unlike many other rural areas around America, its 131,000 residents are Democrats — Hillary Clinton captured over 67 percent of the vote here in the 2016. But, also here, Donald Trump is ever present, well covered in the excellent local paper, the Berkshire Eagle, and dinner conversations, just like elsewhere in this country, are often dominated by the man in the White House. The fact that Massachusetts has three presidential candidates, two Democrats – senator Elizabeth Warren and congressman Seth Moulton — and one Republican, former governor William Weld, has contributed to the heightened political debate in the Berkshires and in the state as a whole. No other state disapproves as much of Trump as Massachusetts, so it’s really no wonder that his only, at least so far, challenger for the Republican nomination has come from here.

In Great Barrington this time of the year, as in all the little towns among the rolling hills of the Berkshires, the residents have gathered to debate and vote on local issues in a sort of unique direct democracy. At my first Annual Town Meeting the residents filled the local high school’s auditorium in an impressive showing of political participation. Still, the 468 who came was only a small percentage of the town’s 4,746 registered voters of whom 1,235, or 26 percent, actually voted in the local office elections a week later. Not so impressive…

The local issues even required an extra evening of debate to resolve. They included the town’s budget, schools and libraries, roads and bridges, and many zoning issues. We gave the town’s middle school a new name, W.E.B. Du Bois, after the legendary African American scholar and civil rights leaders, who was born and raised here; we upheld a ban for the second time on small plastic bottles; and we debated, just like all the other Berkshire towns the issue of pot – marijuana – now legal in Massachusetts.

We already have a shop that sells recreational marijuana and most days, actually every day, there is a long line of buyers, many from neighboring New York and Connecticut, where pot is not, at least not yet, legal. Four more shops have been approved and are set to open. A possible new, big marijuana growing facility is being discussed up the road. Other surrounding towns have turned out to be more skeptical and have voted no to any pot businesses. Now, the residents of Great Barrington seem to be getting a bit nervous and, maybe, we should limit the number of marijuana establishments? Let’s look into that, the Town Meeting decided.

This is the first time I live in a small town. It’s exciting, in a low-key kind of way. Spring is finally here, with lush, green leaves on the trees in our back yard down to the quick little river that flows by. Winter, to which I should be used after growing up in Sweden, was a bit rougher than I had anticipated, especially after the previous so-called winter in Los Angeles.

And summer is rapidly approaching, with all of Berkshires cultural attractions waiting: the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood; art exhibits and concerts at MASS MoCA celebrating its 20th anniversary with Annie Lennox; August Renoir will be at the Clark Institute; the Norman Rockwell Museum turns 50; Herman Melville turns 200. There are exciting new plays at Shakespeare & Company and Barrington Stage; bluesman Buddy Guy is coming to town, and Arlo Guthrie is at his Guthrie Center at the Old Trinity Church, of Alice’s Restaurant fame, just across the street from our new home; and on and on…

It’s almost exhausting. And if the weather holds and you want to get away from it all, it’s easy to go hiking or swimming or canoeing or just sit by the river and listen to the water flowing by, quickly.