The New Longest Day

The story is legend out here in Hollywood. Darryl F. Zanuck saved 20th Century Fox from economic collapse and total bankruptcy with The Longest Day – his massive D-Day epic that made a ton of money. The studio had bet it all in 1963 on Joseph L. Mankiewicz and his Cleopatra with Liz Taylor and Richard Burton. There were massive cost overruns and production troubles, changes in director and cast, a change of filming locale, to the other side of Rome, sets that had to be constructed twice, no firm shooting script, and that scandal with Taylor and Burton openly cheating on their respective spouses that made the cover of every magazine in the world. It was the most expensive film ever made at that time. The box office couldn’t cover a tenth of that. The studio faced ruin. The plodding three-hour-long war movie – the film’s title became a running joke – had made fifty million dollars. That saved the studio. Liz Taylor was sexy as hell. Slow and tedious and careful and somewhat boring saved the day.

That may save the nation now. This year’s Election Day never ended. Nothing was decided. They were still counting votes the next day. Election Day was becoming the longest day, with Wednesday ending with this:

Democratic nominee Joe Biden is projected by Edison Research to win Michigan, picking up another state flipped by Donald Trump in 2016 and putting the former vice president 17 electoral votes from a victory in the electoral college. Alaska, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona, and Nevada remain uncalled.

The projection comes as President Trump’s reelection campaign attempted to halt vote-counting in Pennsylvania and Michigan, sought a recount in Wisconsin and challenged the handling of ballots in Georgia.

That was dramatic, but slow and tedious and careful and somewhat boring was the law in these states:

There are still millions of votes left to be counted in the 2020 election, particularly in Pennsylvania, Arizona and Georgia. The outstanding votes that ultimately will decide the presidency, Senate and House races are primarily in Democratic-leaning areas.

It is typical for ballots to be counted for days after election night. In fact, it happens every year.

Close races often take days or weeks to settle. In most states, vote counts aren’t official until weeks after Election Day. But this year, the delays in counting have been amplified by unprecedented levels of mail-in voting expanded during the coronavirus pandemic.

But that doesn’t matter:

Each state sets its own laws for processing and handling mail ballots and provisional ballots, although almost all have at least a week to finish counting. Pennsylvania has until Nov. 11. Florida has two weeks. Michigan has almost three. Here’s what we know so far about the key states that are still counting.

Arizona: Counties continue to count, with more than 300,000 ballots left to process and count. Maricopa, the state’s biggest county, plans to release more votes around 1 a.m. Eastern.

Georgia: Trump’s lead has narrowed to roughly 40,000 Wednesday night as the state’s most populous and Democratic counties tally their remaining votes.

Nevada: Updated vote totals won’t be released until noon Eastern on Thursday, officials said.

North Carolina: Just 117,000 outstanding ballots remained Wednesday, revealing the challenge for Biden to overcome Trump’s lead in the state.

Pennsylvania: More than 1 million ballots were still to be counted as of 2:30 p.m.

That was more than twenty-four hours after the polls closed. Biden seemed to have won Arizona, but Trump might catch up. Trump thought he won Georgia and North Carolina, but Biden may catch up. Biden may catch him in Pennsylvania too. Biden might win it all. Biden will probably win it all. But he might not. No one knows. This could go on for days. This will go on for days. This is the political version of that endless Darryl Zanuck war movie, but tedious plodding won that war after all.

But there was drama:

More than 100 protesters – many with pro-Trump flags and signs – gathered Wednesday night outside the ballot-counting center in Arizona’s biggest county, which has been live-streaming its process.

They chanted “let us in!” and “count the votes” and “we love Trump.” They also shouted “stop the steal,” referring to Trump’s baseless claims about the vote-counting process.

A smaller group of people, upset over claims emphatically denied by election officials that Republican ballots completed with Sharpie pens had been rejected, had gathered at the Maricopa County tabulation and election center not long before, at one point entering the building. Officials eventually got them back outside.

They left and then returned just before 8 p.m. in much greater numbers, prompting those inside the center to close the doors.

“This is about a fair and honest election,” a man at the center of the crowd declared, later saying that people would be back every day.

“We’re not going to break in. We just want to watch you count the ballots,” someone shouted at one point.

Why? That’s tedious stuff. The police made them go home. But that was okay. The New York Times reported that Donald Trump had directed Attorney General Barr to send in his guys with guns to scare the shit out those meek anonymous people doing the counting:

The Justice Department told federal prosecutors in an email early on Wednesday that the law allowed them to send armed federal officers to ballot-counting locations around the country to investigate potential voter fraud, according to three people who described the message.

The email created the specter of the federal government intimidating local election officials or otherwise intervening in vote tallying amid calls by President Trump to end the tabulating in states where he was trailing in the presidential race, former officials said.

A law prohibits the stationing of armed federal officers at polls on Election Day. But a top official told prosecutors that the department interpreted the statute to mean that they could send armed federal officers to polling stations and locations where ballots were being counted any time after that.

Some saw that as banana-republic stuff:

One state election official vowed to resist any interference or intimidation efforts by federal officials.

“Elections are a state matter, and we have authority as state officials over anyone trying to enter locations where ballots are being counted,” said Attorney General Maura Healey of Massachusetts. “Anything else is a radical reinterpretation of the law. States can handle elections, and we will ensure the people decide the outcome.”

Maura Healey could end up spending the rest of her life in Guantanamo if she keeps talking like that – but no, no one said that. There will just be guys with guns watching every move by every one of those meek anonymous people doing the counting. Trump does no want to lose this:

Attorney General William P. Barr spent the months leading up to Election Day echoing the president’s dark warnings, claiming without evidence that the wave of mail-in ballots would lead to an unprecedented amount of voter fraud.

He cited one example of 1,700 falsified ballots that The Washington Post found to be false. A department spokeswoman blamed an inaccurate memo from an aide.

The new legal interpretation about armed officials at vote-counting locations appeared to be another example of the attorney general mirroring Mr. Trump’s public posture, former Justice Department officials said.

Barr’s his man. Think of Darth Vader. The Imperial Stormtroopers will be watching, and they have blasters. But nothing is that simple:

President Trump and Fox News have a complicated relationship. Election Day did not help.

The cable news channel that kick-started Donald J. Trump’s political career was suddenly in the position of signaling its potential end. The network’s early call of Arizona on Tuesday night for Joseph R. Biden Jr. infuriated Mr. Trump and his aides, who reached out publicly and behind the scenes to Fox News executives about the call.

The network held firm – even as two of its biggest stars, Laura Ingraham and Jeanine Pirro, attended Mr. Trump’s defiant early-morning speech in the East Room of the White House.

The election-night split screen underscored the fine line that Fox News’s anchors and opinion hosts have walked in the past 24 hours. By Wednesday night, Fox News was the closest of any major network to calling the presidential race for Mr. Biden – not the outcome that many fans of its pro-Trump programming may have wanted.

Maybe they know something. Maybe they’re hedging their bets. Maybe they know a loser when they see one:

Fox News was also the only major cable network to carry a news conference on Wednesday held by the president’s lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, who was making baseless claims of election fraud. But the channel promptly cut away to announce a major development: It projected a win in Michigan for Mr. Biden, placing him at the doorstep of the presidency, according to Fox’s projections.

And shortly after Bret Baier, the network’s chief political anchor, emphasized to viewers on Wednesday that Mr. Trump’s threatened litigation could throw the race into doubt – even if Mr. Biden was projected to win 270 electoral votes – Fox News’s politics editor, Chris Stirewalt, threw cold water on some of the Trump campaign’s baseless claims.

“Lawsuits, schmawsuits,” Mr. Stirewalt said. “We haven’t seen any evidence yet that there’s anything wrong.”

They’re walking away from Donald Trump as if this is all over and he doesn’t matter anymore, but Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman suggest that’s a mistake:

If President Trump loses his bid for re-election, as looked increasingly likely on Wednesday, it would be the first defeat of an incumbent president in 28 years. But one thing seemed certain: Win or lose, he will not go quietly away.

Trailing former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Mr. Trump spent the day trying to discredit the election based on invented fraud claims, hoping either to hang onto power or explain away a loss. He could find a narrow path to re-election among states still counting, but he has made clear that he would not shrink from the scene should he lose.

At the very least, he has 76 days left in office to use his power as he sees fit and to seek revenge on some of his perceived adversaries. Angry at a defeat, he may fire or sideline a variety of senior officials who failed to carry out his wishes as he saw it, including Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director, and Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious diseases specialist in the middle of a pandemic.

And consider this from Donald Trump’s current point of view:

He received at least 68 million votes, or five million more than he did in 2016, and commanded about 48 percent of the popular vote, meaning he retained the support of nearly half of the public despite four years of scandal, setbacks, impeachment and the brutal coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 233,000 Americans.

That gives him a power base to play a role that other defeated one-term presidents like Jimmy Carter and George Bush have not played. Mr. Trump has long toyed with starting his own television network to compete with Fox News, and in private lately he has broached the idea of running again in 2024, although he would be 78 by then. Even if his own days as a candidate are over, his 88-million-strong Twitter following gives him a bullhorn to be an influential voice on the right, potentially making him a kingmaker among rising Republicans.

This would be Celebrity Apprentice all over again:

Even from out of office, he could try to pressure Republican senators who preserved their majority to resist Mr. Biden at every turn, forcing them to choose between conciliation or crossing his political base.

Until a new generation of Republicans steps forward, Mr. Trump could position himself as the de facto leader of the party, wielding an extraordinary database of information about his supporters that future candidates would love to rent or otherwise access. Allies imagined other Republicans making a pilgrimage to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida seeking his blessing.

Expect that:

He has been, for millions, a symbol of gold-gilded aspiration and wealth. He was the star of a popular television series for 14 seasons, one that introduced him to the country long before he ran for office. And once he did, his boisterous rallies bonded his supporters to him in a way that underscored how much of a cultural phenomenon he is.

For months, as his chances of being re-elected dwindled, Mr. Trump told advisers – sometimes joking, sometimes not – that should he lose he would promptly announce that he was running again in 2024. Two advisers said they anticipate he will make good on that declaration if his legal challenges fail and is defeated, a move that if nothing else would allow him to raise money to finance the rallies that sustain him.

In short, he’s not going away, ever. Fred Kaplan sees that:

During the campaign, Biden and many of his surrogates, including former President Barack Obama, one of the most popular men in public life, would recount a few of Trump’s inadequacies and say, “This isn’t who we are.” Well, maybe in fact, it is.

The conventional wisdom is that Hillary Clinton lost because she was unpopular and ran a bad campaign, because the Russians meddled with social media, and because FBI Director James Comey reopened the probe into her emails just days before the election. All of this is probably true. But we now also see a simpler reason: a lot of Americans really like Trump – and this remains true even in the absence of Hillary or (as far as we know) outside interference.

The fact is we are, perhaps more than any time since the late 1850s, a divided country – divided not only by ideology and policy preferences (that’s normal; its what elections are supposed to decide) but also by the way we see the world. The two sides seem to occupy different universes. One universe observes facts, respects science, and values at least the goals of democracy and civility; the other universe does not. And the two view each other with seething contempt. Trump may wind up defeated, but Trumpism very much endures.

That’s because Trump is us, or at least part of us:

In the current issue of the New York Review of Books, the playwright and essayist Wallace Shawn recalled that, when he was growing up, in the 20 years after World War II (the same time Joe Biden came of age), American politicians won votes by promising to help people in need. “Americans seemed addicted to the feeling that their country represented goodness, decency, and kindness in a world where evil had almost prevailed,” Shawn wrote. As he learned later, from books, travels, and talking with people, America had also long perpetrated “unspeakable massacres” from the country’s very beginnings. But still, the legacy of our values restrained us from lurching deep into the dark side and even prodded us into doing many genuinely good things. What’s new about Trump is that he has discarded the entire myth, and, Shawn writes, many Americans “seem to feel a great sense of relief.”

Shawn says this:

The fact that the leader of one of our two parties was not ashamed to reveal his own selfishness, was not ashamed to reveal his own indifference to the suffering of others, was not even ashamed to reveal his own cheerful enjoyment of cruelty… all of this helped people to feel that they no longer needed to be ashamed of those qualities in themselves either. They didn’t need to feel bad because they didn’t care about other people… In a world in which the rich want permission to take as much as they can get without feeling any shame, and many of the not-rich are so worried about their own sinking fortunes that they find it hard to worry about the misery of anyone else, Trump is the priest who grants absolution. In a way, he seems to be telling his followers that perhaps compassion is just one more value of the elite culture that he and they hate, like speaking in long sentences and listening to classical music.

Kaplan says this:

A half century ago, some academic leftists, especially in Britain, coined the term “actually existing socialism” to describe the countries of the Soviet empire, especially East Germany. The idea was to distinguish these sclerotic, oppressive regimes, which they saw as distortions of socialism, from the ideology’s original ideals. In much the same way, it may now be useful to refer to our current politics as “actually existing America.”

This is who we are; it’s just not who many of us feel we’re supposed to be.

Tom Nichols carries that further:

No matter how this election concludes, America is now a different country. Nearly half of the voters have seen Trump in all of his splendor – his infantile tirades, his disastrous and lethal policies, his contempt for democracy in all its forms – and they decided that they wanted more of it. His voters can no longer hide behind excuses about the corruption of Hillary Clinton or their willingness to take a chance on an unproven political novice. They cannot feign ignorance about how Trump would rule. They know, and they have embraced him.

Sadly, the voters who said in 2016 that they chose Trump because they thought he was “just like them” turned out to be right. Now, by picking him again, those voters are showing that they are just like him: angry, spoiled, racially resentful, aggrieved, and willing to die rather than ever admit that they were wrong.

This is nearly half of us, and Nichols adds this:

I never expected a Biden landslide in a country as polarized as the United States. I was a wet blanket even among my Never Trump comrades, holding out only the modest hope that Biden would recapture the states Clinton lost in 2016, and possibly flip Arizona. But I expected the margins in all of those states – and especially in Biden’s birth state of Pennsylvania – to be higher. I suspected that Biden had no real chance in places such as Texas or Georgia or even North Carolina, all states in the Trumpist grip.

Nor was I among the progressives who believed America would repudiate Trump’s policies. For one thing, I am a conservative – and I know my former tribe.

But this isn’t them:

Trump voters don’t care about policy. They didn’t care about it in 2016, and they don’t care about it now. The party of national security, fiscal austerity, and personal responsibility supports a president who is in the pocket of the Russians, has exploded the national deficit, and refuses to take responsibility for anything. I had hoped, at the least, that people who once insisted on the importance of presidential character would vote for basic decency after living under the most indecent president in American history.

It’s clear now that far too many of Trump’s voters don’t care about policy, decency, or saving our democracy.

But they do care:

They care about power. Although Trump appears to have received a small uptick in votes from Black men and Latinos, the overwhelming share of his supporters are white. The politics of cultural resentment, the obsessions of white anxiety, are so intense that his voters are determined not only to preserve minority rule but to leave a dangerous sociopath in the Oval Office. Even the candidacy of a man who was both a political centrist and a decent human being could not overcome this sullen commitment to authoritarianism.

And that leaves this:

If the vote plays out as it seems it will at this point, Biden will become our 46th president. But Americans can take very little pride in the overall vote and what it reveals about nearly half of our electorate.

American voters, including those who didn’t show up or who voted third-party in 2016, are now like drunks who have been bailed out of jail in the morning, full of relief as their lawyers explain that the police aren’t pressing charges. If Biden wins, we will have a second chance to keep our democracy intact. Some of us will have a moment of clarity. Most of us will just want to go home, throw up, change our clothes, and hope for the best.

But many millions, eyes dimming and livers failing, are still reaching for the bottle.

But it’s not over yet. This is the new Longest Day. And once again, slow and tedious and careful and somewhat boring may save the day this time too.

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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