America on trial

We’re on the brink of what might be the election to end all elections.


This election is a referendum on democracy and a whole lot more

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. So help me God.”

~Oath of Office of the President of the United States

Elections in America normally focus on problems we face as a nation, the character and appeal of candidates who ask for our votes, and whether the Republican or Democratic party is best suited to lead the nation in war and peace. In years when the presidency is being contested, the personality of the standard bearer—the party’s nominee—is all-important. If he or she messes up, the party can expect to be punished at the polls.

But we are not living in normal times. The federal government is opening up millions of acres of pristine woodlands in Alaska  to logging and road construction this week, for example. The tree slated for logging constitute the nation’s largest national forest, but so what? As Coral Davenport notes in the New York Times:

Scientists and environmentalists have said that lifting protections on the Tongass effectively ignores the government’s own scientific findings about the value of the land, which is the world’s largest temperate rainforest and a major “carbon sink,” sucking up and storing climate-warming carbon dioxide pollution.

Who cares? Certainly not Donald Trump or Mitch McConnell. What matters is pleasing guys like David Koch. And Big Oil. And what plays well in Pennsylvania and Texas on the eve of Election Day. Never mind the damage to wildlife and the natural order:

The move [to open the Tongass National Forest to logging] comes as President Trump wraps up a first term in which he rolled back or weakened more than 100 environmental regulations and is part of his broader push to remove protections across Alaska’s wilderness.

The administration has also opened up the 19-million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling, and this year proposed to open almost all of the National Petroleum Reserve, far to the west of the refuge, to additional drilling.

Donald Trump does not operate according to established norms. He is not normal in any sense of the word. His presidential style has been a study in abnormal behavior bordering on lunacy. He openly admires authoritarian leaders who are essentially political bosses, especially Vladimir Putin who has used his all-powerful position at the head of the Russian state to amass great personal wealth. 

He frequently crosses that border with his incessant, adolescent tweets. There’s one that stands out on the eve of the 2020 election. Tweeted on 27 November 2016, it  looks ominous, like a dire warning of things to come:

ne of Donald Trump's tweets on the popular vote

One norm Trump has violated openly, brazenly, and with impunity is not only a norm, it’s a law. The kind of law that even Congress can’t change—the kind that would require a constitutional amendment to change. 

Unlike the red line in the U.S. Constitution, Trump draws no clear line between his public role as chief executive officer of the federal government and his private role as owner-operator of a real-estate business (“The Trump Organization”). It’s a widely reported fact that Trump profits directly from federal employees (Secret Service and others in his entourage) and foreign delegations who stay at hotels he owns. The one in DC, for example, has reportedly been a major cash cow. 

What’s been made public at this point may well be just the tip of the iceberg. If he loses and no longer has Bill Barr to protect him, expect a lot of information about his use of the Oval Office in violation of the “emoluments clause” (Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8).

A stunning recent article in the Washington Post—“Ballrooms, candles and luxury cottages: During Trump’s term, millions of government and GOP dollars have flowed to his properties” (10/27/2020)—is very likely a foretaste of things to come:

Since his first month in office, Trump has used his power to direct millions from U.S. taxpayers — and from his political supporters — into his own businesses. The Washington Post has sought to compile examples of this spending through open records requests and a lawsuit.

In all, he has received at least $8.1 million from these two sources since he took office, those documents and publicly available records show.

The charges included $3.00 for a glass of water! This sort of thing is a reminder that diplomacy has no place in Trump’s foreign policy. Our careers foreign service officer and diplomats are faced with the Sisyphean task of putting a good face on Trump’s often insulting, at best, clumsy, at worst, offensive remarks about other countries and cultures, our allies and trade partners, and, of course, China, Iran, and virtually the entire southern hemisphere (you know, those “s*#%hole countries).  

Meanwhile, Trump’s heartless, brainless, and feckless reply to the COVID-19 pandemic has caused 228,669 deaths and counting in this country. With a mere 4% of the world’s population, the U.S. has suffered 22% of COVID-19 deaths on the planet. As German Lopez at VOX has noted:

Over at the New York Times, columnist David Leonhardt compared the US’s coronavirus death toll to that of the rest of the world. . . So how many lives would be saved if those numbers were even? Leonhardt calculated: “about 145,000.”

President Trump took an oath to protect and defend the American people. In placing the health of the economy above the health of the people, he has violated that oath. 

In November 2019 Trump declared the U.S. was pulling out of the Paris Agreement on greenhouse gas emissions designed to combat heat waves and chronic droughts. That left America as “the only country on Earth outside the accord.” 

Climate change imperils life on Planet Earth. There were—and still are—reasons to take issue with the Paris accord. Many signatories have failed to act in good faith, failed to regulate emissions and punish violators. Meanwhile, guess who’s not in a position to point fingers:

The United States is the world’s second-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind only China, and is by far the largest cumulative greenhouse gas emitter in history. . . .With the United States abdicating any responsibility for curbing emissions, it will be that much tougher to convince China, India, and other growing sources of greenhouse gases that they have to do more. 

But, hey, since when do little things like diplomacy or soft power or leadership matter in world politics? It’s one thing to  confront China over trade and human rights violations. But what is the point of calling it COVID-19 the  “China virus” and “kung flu”? While it may delight Trump’s rabid fans, it has put bilateral ties, and any possibility of fruitful talks, with the PRC on hold and recklessly endangered Asian-Americans:

Researchers found an 85 percent increase in anti-Asian rhetoric and conspiracy theories on the platform in the 12 hours following the announcement, many blaming China.

The surge in bigoted tweets also occurred shortly after Trump said the pandemic is “China’s fault” during the first presidential debate and further referred to the virus as the “China plague.”

Bottom line: Donald Trump does not care if his tweets  damage the national interest or hurt the very people he has taken an oath to protect and defend. His presidency represents a disastrous divorce of diplomacy and foreign policy, of politics and moral decency.

He-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed thinks he can bully countries the way he bullies his staff and the press and women who dare to criticize him. As a result the United States has lost the respect of the world, lost it’s leadership role, alienated our trade partners Mexico and Canada, weakened our alliances, and coddled the world’s worst autocrats.

Whatever happens, the 2020 election will be historic. For the minority Republic party that has lost faith with the people in this pandemic, it’s a do-or-die situation, an election to end all elections, not least because they have used every trick in the books to suppress the vote, sought to destroy public trust in the process, and deny citizens the fundamental right that defines a republic. 

As voters who constitute a clear majority of the citizenry, we can no longer allow faceless “electors” to vote for us or unelected judges and justices to make a mockery of free and fair elections. This negation of democracy has to stop. We have to demand no less. 

In a country founded on the principle of liberty and equality, where a few multibillionaires now have more wealth than the bottom 50 percent of the population, the only real equality left is a political right that’s highlighted on Election Day. The one day in the life of America when we are all equal, when the vote of every citizen, rich and poor alike, counts the same. 


The U.S. will officially pull out of the Paris agreement on November 4, 2020, one day after the election. But here’s the good news: the United States can get right back in if Joe Biden wins the election and is allowed to take the oath of office next January. 

That failing, the world will bear witness to another terrible miscarriage of justice, a mortal blow to popular sovereignty. And the death of democracy in America.  


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