That Sense of Decency

No one was changing their mind about anything at all. There was never a chance that anyone would. But everyone had to have their say, for no particular reason, so they did:

In their final appeals in President Trump’s impeachment trial, House Democrats argued on Monday that he had corrupted the presidency and would continue to put American interests at risk if the Senate failed to remove him from office. Mr. Trump’s defenders, denouncing the case against him, said he had done nothing wrong and should be judged by voters.

Making their closing arguments from the well of the Senate, the House managers, and the president’s lawyers, invoked history and the 2020 presidential campaign as Democrats and Republicans prepared to take the fight over Mr. Trump’s fate to the broader public arena. Neither side expected to change the outcome of the final vote on Wednesday, when the Senate is all but certain to acquit the president, largely along party lines.

So this was pointless, but lively:

The Democratic impeachment managers, led by Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, warned that Mr. Trump had tried to rig the 2020 election in his favor – by withholding military aid from Ukraine in an effort to pressure the country to investigate his political rivals – and had put a blot on the presidency that would stain those who failed to stand up to him. Calling the president “a man without character or ethical compass,” Mr. Schiff insisted that now was the time for members of his own party to choose between normalizing corruption or removing it.

“Truth matters to you. Right matters to you,” Mr. Schiff said, making a case aimed at Republicans. “You are decent. He is not who you are.”

The answer was that those issues were moot. Yes, there is truth and decency, but there is the express will of the people:

Casting the impeachment managers’ case as shoddily constructed, the president’s defense team issued a scathing indictment of the House Democrats’ argument, contending that removing Mr. Trump from office would subvert the will of the electorate and fundamentally alter the functioning of the separation of powers…

Sixty-three million people voted for this man, and that is the will of the electorate. Yes, sixty-five million people voted for the other person, but Congress cannot ignore those sixty-three million people. And this is not Congress’ business anyway. Congress cannot determine any election was a mistake. That’s what impeachment implies. How could those men who wrote the constitution have been so stupid about this? And this is the wrong time for this anyway:

“This is an effort to overturn the results of one election and to try to interfere in the coming election that begins today in Iowa,” said Pat A. Cipollone, the White House counsel, speaking only hours before voting began in the caucuses there. “The only appropriate result here is to acquit the president and to leave it to the voters to choose their president.”

So, if he did commit these crimes or now commits a whole lot of major crimes, and everyone knows it, if they reelect him that means that they kind of like that about him. As they say out here in Hollywood script meetings, everyone loves an outlaw – or a rebel – or a prankster. Hollywood knows America, and maybe the Republicans do too.

The only compromise here was this:

One moderate Democrat, Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, broached the idea on Monday of censuring Mr. Trump after the trial concludes, a largely symbolic gesture that he said could attract bipartisan support.

“His behavior cannot go unchecked by the Senate,” Mr. Manchin said, “and censure would allow a bipartisan statement condemning his unacceptable behavior in the strongest terms.”

But given the stark polarization in the chamber – where most Republicans are reluctant to criticize Mr. Trump and Democrats are almost uniformly in agreement that he should be removed for his behavior – there was no serious discussion of that option.

And of course a bipartisan statement condemning President Trump’s unacceptable behavior in the strongest terms is worthless. But it is symbolic. It symbolizes whining incompetence and total impotency. We really didn’t like what you did!

Yeah, well, so what? And there was this:

Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, another potential swing vote, announced that she would vote to acquit Mr. Trump, while also taking jabs at both parties for devolving in a partisan brawl and calling the president’s conduct “shameful and wrong.”

“His personal interests do not take precedent over those of this great nation,” Ms. Murkowski said. But, she added, “The response to the president’s behavior is not to disenfranchise nearly 63 million Americans and remove him from the ballot.”

The president’s conduct was “shameful and wrong” but sixty-three million people can’t be wrong!

And that’s that, except for what Gabriel Sherman reports here:

With Senate Republicans on track to acquit Donald Trump on Wednesday, Washington is bracing for what an unshackled Trump does next. Republicans briefed on Trump’s thinking believe that the president is out for revenge against his adversaries. “It’s payback time,” a prominent Republican told me last week. “He has an enemies list that is growing by the day,” another source said. Names that came up in my conversations with Republicans included Adam Schiff, Jerry Nadler, Mitt Romney, and John Bolton. “Trump’s playbook is simple: go after people who crossed him during impeachment.”

But one guy goes down first:

Several sources said Bolton is at the top of the list. Trump’s relationship with Bolton was badly damaged by the time Bolton left the White House in September. Trump has since blamed his former national security adviser for leaking details of his forthcoming memoir that nearly derailed the impeachment trial by pressuring Republicans to call witnesses. In the book Bolton reportedly alleges Trump told him directly that Ukraine aid was tied to Ukraine announcing investigations into the Bidens (Bolton has denied being a source of the leak).

Whatever, just do it:

The campaign against Bolton has already begun. On January 23, the White House sent a cease and desist letter to Bolton’s lawyer demanding that Bolton’s publisher, Simon & Schuster, not release the book in March without removal of certain information. Trump intends to ratchet up the pressure, and some Republicans close to the White House fear how far Trump will take things after he’s gotten off for a second time (Trump famously made his July 25 call to Volodymyr Zelensky the day after Robert Mueller testified before Congress.) “Trump has been calling people and telling them to go after Bolton,” a source briefed on the private conversations said. The source added that Trump wants Bolton to be criminally investigated. A person familiar with Trump’s thinking said Trump believes Bolton might have mishandled classified information.

Trump will have his revenge, and a side of fries, and this time Trump is not going away. The Democrats’ push to choose just the right person to take down Trump started off with a disaster:

Results from the Iowa caucuses were significantly delayed on Monday night, with campaigns expressing frustration at the lack of results and the state Democratic Party admitting that it was experiencing delays because of “quality control” checks on the data. The party is also releasing three new sets of data as part of the results, instead of the final delegate count, which could contribute to the wait times.

But there was nothing:

Around 10:30 p.m. Eastern time, the state party called a representative from each campaign to come to its headquarters, where the party would update them on the delays.

A spokeswoman for the state party said about 25 percent of the results had been reported as of about 11 p.m.

“We have experienced a delay in the results due to quality checks and the fact that the IDP is reporting out three data sets for the first time,” said Mandy McClure, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Democratic Party.

Soon the talk was about when they’d have results – another day – another week – another month – never? Who knows? They’re Democrats. And someone sold them bad software, or someone sabotaged them:

Reports from multiple county chairs said that they were struggling to use a new app that was commissioned to tabulate and report results, and were experiencing hold delays of up to an hour when calling into a phone hotline the party has used for decades.

The Floyd County chair said that he had three precincts completely unable to report results, trying both the app and the hotline. The caucus secretary for a precinct in Story County said he had been on hold for over an hour to report the results.

The software didn’t work at all and the hotline crashed when everyone called in at once:

Earlier on Monday, reports that Iowa precinct chairs were struggling to use the app fueled conspiracy theories on social media and raised questions about how smoothly the high-stakes nominating contest would unfold.

Someone wrote some bad code and that might have been one of Bernie’s people, or one of Biden’s people. Yes, it could have been nonpartisan apolitical incompetence, and likely was, but what fun is that? So there was this:

Doubts over the app on social media began to surface last week, when news reports revealed that the app had been shared with precincts across Iowa. With little other information to go on, some candidates’ supporters began circulating rumors on Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms falsely claiming that the app was a ruse to allow the Democratic Party to secretly boost its candidate of choice.

Tweets claiming that results from certain districts, or for certain candidates, would be erased from the app were quickly shared, despite being debunked.

Democratic officials have struggled to contain other viral claims of voter fraud in the Iowa caucuses.

A widely disputed tweet and video by the nonprofit conservative group Judicial Watch claimed that eight Iowa counties had more caucus-goers registered to vote than actual caucus-goers in their districts. The tweet and video were dismissed by Paul Pate, the Iowa secretary of state, who posted a link to the county-by-county voter registration guide.

“They are updated monthly and available online for everyone to see,” he wrote on Twitter.

Someone was trolling them, but they’d get no help with that:

Facebook said it would not remove the video, but referred it to fact checkers. Neither Twitter nor YouTube responded to a request for comment, but as of Monday evening the video was available on all three social media platforms and had been viewed tens of thousands of times.

Social media companies have largely taken the position that they will only remove content that tries to suppress voters, such as by giving a false date or location for voting.

And there was this too:

Twitter will not require President Trump’s top political allies to delete tweets claiming that the Democratic caucus in Iowa is “rigged,” the tech company confirmed, raising fresh questions about its policies around voting.

With official results delayed due to apparent technical troubles, Trump’s top supporters shared a series of tweets late Monday questioning the integrity of the voting process itself. Brad Parscale, Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, and Eric Trump, the president’s son, both questioned whether there had been some manipulation of the first-in-the-nation vote, without citing specific evidence for their claims.

“Quality control = rigged?” tweeted Parscale, citing Democrats’ earlier justification for the delay. His tweet already has roughly 3,000 retweets.

He floated the idea that this was the work of Hillary, trying to ruin Bernie once again. She is so very evil, and she’s still out there, and now there’s a way to make sure everyone knows that as if it were some sort of actual fact:

Twitter said the comment – and others like it – did not violate its policy against voter suppression – a category some experts say should include social-media content that casts doubt on the legitimacy of an election. Earlier Monday, Twitter also declined to take down tweets from right-leaning users that suggested a different kind of electoral fraud.

Trump wins one here, and there was this too:

The Biden campaign on Monday night emailed Iowa Democratic Party Chair Troy Price and Executive Director Kevin Geiken raising concerns about “considerable flaws” in the caucus’s reporting system tonight.

“The app that was intended to relay Caucus results to the Party failed; the Party’s back-up telephonic reporting system likewise has failed,” the campaign wrote in an email, obtained by The Washington Post. “Now, we understand that Caucus Chairs are attempting to – and, in many cases, failing to – report results telephonically to the Party. These acute failures are occurring statewide.”

The Biden campaign requested state party leaders provide “full explanations and relevant information regarding the methods of quality control you are employing, and an opportunity to respond, before any official results are released.”

That could take weeks or months, which is fine with Biden, because his campaign needs more time to make his once unusual point:

Meanwhile, Biden rallied his supporters with an anti-Trump speech amid the delay in results Monday night, telling the crowd that “character is on the ballot,” and that Democrats must bring “compassion over cruelty” and “truth over lies.”

No one else is saying that in quite the same way, and Frank Bruni finds that compelling:

I’ve heard Joe Biden speak twice in Iowa over recent days. Both times, I walked away barely able to remember a single issue he mentioned. I had to check my notes. Ah, yes, guns: He touched on that. Climate change, too. That flitted by.

But Biden’s closing argument in Iowa, whose caucuses Monday night provide the first meaningful measure of the traction that the various Democratic candidates have found, doesn’t hinge on any of those. That’s because his bid for his party’s presidential nomination doesn’t, either. Maybe more than any campaign I’ve observed over the past quarter century, it’s about character – his and the country’s.

It’s about honesty, decency, empathy, humanity.

And that makes it about Trump:

For reasons we’ll be plumbing for many years to come, America in 2016 elected a president bereft of those traits, and the country ever since has been in a moral free fall. So Biden is waging a “battle for the soul of the nation.” It says so in big letters on the side of the bus that has been carrying him through this state. He’s running to reconnect America with the best of itself.

At a crowded, spirited rally here in Des Moines late Sunday afternoon, he recited and railed against examples of Donald Trump’s cruelty, his voice thick with disgust.

Speaking to hundreds of voters in Waukee, Iowa, on Thursday morning, he asked: “Does it matter if a president has no moral compass?” It was a rhetorical question and the core of his message.

It was also powerful, much more so than I expected.

Does it matter if a president has no moral compass? That’s what Adam Schiff was asking earlier in the day back in Washington, but Biden got there first, and can make it sound plausible:

In debates and television interviews since he formally entered the race for the Democratic nomination last April, Biden, 77, has been unimpressive, his energy palpably diminished, his sentences wobbling toward some destination other than the initially intended one.

On the stump, though, he has vigor. He has something else, too: an aura of overarching goodness that’s a tonic in the context of Donald Trump. I found myself quaffing it greedily, parched from the past few weeks, when Trump’s Senate trial confirmed how unbound the president is and how completely Republican lawmakers have surrendered their integrity to him.

Will Iowans find Biden as consoling as I do? Can “consoling” drive people to the polls?

Others have said no:

Recent voter surveys give the edge in the caucuses to Bernie Sanders, who also leads in New Hampshire, could wind up winning the first two Democratic contests and has a profoundly different vibe. He’s about fighting fire with fire. Biden is about dousing the flames with compassion. And for many voters, that’s “a nostalgia act whose well-worn slogans about middle-class uplift and national unity are out of sync in this season of outrage,” as Molly Ball wrote in Time magazine last week. Biden was on the cover.

That’s that, but Bruni sees three options left for the Democrats now:

There’s revolution, which is what Sanders expressly urges – “revolution” is his mantra – and which Warren less bluntly promotes, calling for “big structural change” and vowing to “take our government back.”

There’s rejuvenation: Buttigieg, 38, leans on the fact that his three main rivals are all 70 or older to stress the importance of a fresh set of eyes and the need to give a new generation of politicians a chance.

And there’s restoration. That’s Biden, the country’s vice president from January 2009 to January 2017. He weaves many references to President Barack Obama into his remarks, mentioning “our administration,” and in a 60-second video that he shows at the start of his events, Obama’s face appears before his does and pops up another two times.

What Biden is promising, though, isn’t so much a return of personnel or policies as of propriety. He wants to make America normal again. He told the crowd that in Trump’s world, “Up is down, lies are the truth, allies are enemies. Everything is through the looking glass.”

He’s going to rescue us from that wicked wonderland. And he’s going to do it by being a really nice guy.

That may sound stupid, but not to Bruni:

It’s a mature pitch, too, implicitly acknowledging that none of the grand plans that the Democratic candidates describe are likely to be enacted as is. What voters should choose, then, is someone with values and a temperament they trust.

That seems to be Biden:

The potency of Biden’s appeal as the smile to Trump’s scowl, the calm to his storm and the rectitude to his dissoluteness may be underrated.

Trump has a cameo in a sixty-second Biden video, which shows him in mid-scream. It ends with an image of the Oval Office and these words: “Character matters – maybe here more than anywhere.”

Every Democratic candidate would agree with that. Only Biden is putting all of his chips there.

Sure, but everyone loves an outlaw, a real bastard, but their bastard. “You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

Nope. Deal with it. And now all of us must deal with that.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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