After Thanks

Before everything closed down, here in Hollywood, the Hooters across the street from the Chinese Theater had that sign in the window – this was Steelers Headquarters out here. And down in San Pedro, at the harbor, there was Iron City – a Pittsburgh bar that did serve Iron City Beer. That may be shut down now too. Those of us from Pittsburgh who somehow, like Gene Kelly and Henry Mancini and all the others, ended up out here, were out of luck. But it was Thanksgiving. There was football. Each year it’s always the Detroit Lions. They lost. And then Dallas lost a crap-game to Washington. They’re both awful this year. But the undefeated Steelers were to play the nasty Baltimore Ravens in the third game, in prime time, in Pittsburgh. That would be cool. And then they called it off – maybe half of the Ravens team has tested positive for the Covid virus. Those of us from Pittsburgh had a bad Thanksgiving.

No, everyone had a bad Thanksgiving. The Washington Post captured that well enough:

Americans endured a gloomy Thanksgiving on Thursday, as coronavirus cases continued to surge while questions swirled about how to interpret results from a top vaccine candidate.

Despite pleas from top government leaders and scientists for Americans to scale back Thanksgiving gatherings this year, it appeared that a large number still tried to gather with loved ones.

The Transportation Security Administration reported that nearly 1.1 million people passed through airport security checkpoints Wednesday, the agency’s highest screening volume since March 16.

And no good will come of that:

As many as 50 million Americans will have been on the move by the end of the weekend, raising concerns that coronavirus cases will continue to flare in the coming weeks.

With some states and big cities suspending reporting of new cases for the holiday, many medical experts predict that the country will not know until next week just how rapidly the virus is spreading. By Thursday evening, however, the United States had already reported more than 127,000 new cases and more than 1,300 additional deaths from those locations that continued to report data.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the nation topped 2,000 deaths for the first time since May 6. Wednesday was the 33rd consecutive day the United States set a record in its seven-day average of reported cases, according to data compiled by The Washington Post. Nearly 90,000 people are in hospitals with COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, another record.

In many cities there are now no ICU beds available for anyone. Don’t have a heart attack. And this will get worse. And then there are our leaders:

President Trump mostly kept quiet amid the deepening crisis on Thanksgiving, except to applaud the 5-to-4 Supreme Court decision that blocked limits on religious worship services in coronavirus hot spots that had been imposed by New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D).

“HAPPY THANKSGIVING,” Trump wrote on Twitter early Thursday while referencing the court decision, which was reached after new Justice Amy Coney Barrett sided with four other conservative justices.

That was for his base. Evangelicals love this. No public health orders apply to them now. They can jam hundreds of their folks into small halls for hours and forbid that anyone wear a mask or any of that stuff. They have their religious freedom to do that and Trump made that possible, with his third judge just for them. Now no one can tell them what they can or cannot do. The ruling was narrower than that but they gave thanks anyway, and the rest was just Trump being Trump:

Later in the day, Trump issued a Thanksgiving proclamation that compared Americans’ battle against the virus to adversity that European settlers faced 400 years ago.

“We have leveraged our strengths to make significant breakthroughs that will end this crisis,” the White House statement said, referring to “groundbreaking therapeutics and life-saving vaccines.”

We won this! The other guy disagreed:

President-elect Joe Biden, meanwhile, released a video in which he and his wife, Jill, called on Americans to stick close to home during the holiday. The Bidens also called on the nation to remember the more than 262,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19.

“We might not be able to join our hands around a table with our loved ones, but we can come together as a nation,” the president-elect said. “I know better days are coming.”

But on Thursday, confusion and new questions persisted about the vaccine that pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca is developing with the University of Oxford, which is viewed as one of three early candidates for FDA approval.

AstraZeneca may have to start their safety and effectiveness trials all over again. It’s complicated, but the situation isn’t complicated:

One model used by the CDC projects a death toll of more than 3,000 people a day by the third week of December, when the nation is likely to eclipse 300,000 total deaths since the pandemic began.

The nation’s governors have cited the rising death toll – and concerns about a critical shortage of hospital intensive care beds – as one reason they are issuing new orders to try to slow the spread of the virus.

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) took the unusual step of shutting down liquor sales in bars and restaurants the night before Thanksgiving, effectively eliminating one of the biggest bar nights of the year.

And this isn’t over:

On Thursday morning, Cuomo blasted the Supreme Court’s new conservative majority for ruling against his restrictions on religious gatherings, even as he stressed that the ruling is not a final legal decision because the matter will be passed down to an appeals court.

“I think this was really just an opportunity for the court to express its philosophy and politics. It doesn’t have any practical effect,” Cuomo said. “I fully respect religion, and if there’s a time in life when we need it, the time is now, but we want to make sure we keep people safe at the same time.”

That may be the only issue now:

The annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was broadcast nationally, although the parade was confined to just one block and some of the show was taped beforehand.

There were no visible spectators, but the parade ended with the traditional arrival of Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus.

Santa did not wear a mask, while Mrs. Claus waved to the camera while wearing a face covering.

And then Thanksgiving was over. The president moved on. He actually appeared in public. He actually answered questions. The New York Times’ Michael Crowley covered that:

President Trump said on Thursday that he would leave the White House if the Electoral College formalized Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s election as president, even as he reiterated baseless claims of fraud that he said would make it “very hard” to concede.

Taking questions from reporters for the first time since Election Day, Mr. Trump also threw himself into the battle for Senate control, saying he would soon travel to Georgia to support Republican candidates in two runoff elections scheduled there on Jan. 5.

When asked whether he would leave office in January after the Electoral College cast its votes for Mr. Biden on Dec. 14 as expected, Mr. Trump replied: “Certainly I will. Certainly, I will.”

He will? That was the big news. But maybe he didn’t really mean that:

Speaking in the Diplomatic Room of the White House after a Thanksgiving video conference with members of the American military, the president insisted that “shocking” new evidence about voting problems would surface before Inauguration Day. “It’s going to be a very hard thing to concede,” he said, “because we know that there was massive fraud.”

But even as he continued to deny the reality of his defeat, Mr. Trump also seemed to acknowledge that his days as president were numbered.

“Time is not on our side,” he said, in a rare admission of weakness.

Ah, okay, it’s all up in the air, but do NOT interrupt his musings and ask for clarification:

The president was also strikingly testy at one point, lashing out at a reporter who interjected during one of several of his rambling statements about the supposedly fraudulent election.

“You’re just a lightweight,” Mr. Trump snapped, raising his voice and pointing a finger in anger. “Don’t talk to me that – don’t talk – I’m the president of the United States. Don’t ever talk to the president that way.”

Yes, meditative and humble Thanksgiving was over, and he had Georgia on his mind:

It is unclear how helpful Mr. Trump’s appearances would be for the two embattled Republican incumbents. After a hand recount of a close vote, Georgia declared Mr. Biden the winner there on Nov. 19 by a margin of 12,284 votes. Mr. Biden is the first Democrat to carry the state in a presidential election since Bill Clinton in 1992.

Mr. Trump insisted on Thursday that he had won the vote by a significant margin. “We were robbed. We were robbed,” he said. “I won that by hundreds of thousands of votes. Everybody knows it.”

They do? Where are these people who know that? He may be referring to Vladimir Putin, the only world leader who says Trump might win this thing yet, and probably will. Remember Helsinki. He trusts Putin’s judgment, but even if he loses, he can still sneer at Biden:

Asked whether he would attend Mr. Biden’s inauguration, as is customary for a departing president, Mr. Trump was coy.

“I don’t want to say that yet,” the president said, adding, “I know the answer, but I just don’t want to say.”

But he would say this:

At times, Mr. Trump shifted his explanation of his defeat from claims of fraud to complaints that the political battlefield had been slanted against him, casting the news media and technology companies as his enemies.

“If the media were honest and big tech was fair, it wouldn’t even be a contest,” he said. “And I would have won by a tremendous amount.”

After seeming to concede reality, Mr. Trump quickly caught himself and revised his conditional statement.

“And I did win by a tremendous amount,” he added.

He’s a having a rough time with this, and Politico reports on how his rough time is screwing things up in Georgia:

President Donald Trump’s demonization of mail-in voting may have cost him votes in the recent election. Now, his demonization of Georgia’s entire electoral system is hurting his party’s chances at keeping the Senate.

Driven by Trump’s insistence that Georgia’s elections are indelibly rife with fraud, conspiratorial MAGA figures are calling for a boycott of the two Senate runoff races, slated for Jan. 5, that will determine which party controls the upper chamber.

Their reason: The two GOP candidates, Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, are not only insufficiently pro-Trump, they may be complicit in Georgia’s electoral fraud.

They took his anger and ran with it:

On Twitter and its less-restrictive alternative Parler, Trump’s more hardline followers have linked the duo to the president’s favorite – and untrue – voter-fraud theories. Hashtags like #CrookedPerdue and #CrookedKelly are flying around. The two lawmakers’ Parler accounts are brimming with posts accusing them of being secret “liberal DemoRats.”

And if that’s what Loeffler and Perdue are, these Trump people will hand the Senate to the Democrats for at least the next two years:

Although Trump pledged Thursday to visit the state in early December, the tensions symbolize the broader fights likely to erupt as Trump’s presidency dwindles. Trump was always an insurgent figure who grafted his loyal base onto the GOP. Once Trump is no longer the top elected Republican, that base may simply follow him wherever he goes – attacking anyone who shows daylight with Trump, spinning up “evidence” for Trump’s preferred conspiracies and, as in Georgia, boycotting the political system as punishment for betraying their leader.

Democrats everywhere were smiling, and the Washington Post adds more detail:

Sen. David Perdue was encouraging a crowd at a gun club south of Atlanta to support him and fellow Republican Kelly Loeffler in their bids for Georgia’s Senate seats, which he called the only thing standing between America and “a radical socialist agenda.”

But five minutes into the senator’s speech, a man interrupted.

“What are you doing to help Donald Trump and this fraud case?” the man screamed, as one woman said “Amen” and the crowd applauded. “What are you doing to stop what’s been going on here and this election fraud?”

Trump really has screwed this up:

Trump and his allies have repeatedly, and falsely, accused Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Gov. Brian Kemp, both Republicans, of presiding over a fraudulent election. Trump has pushed the baseless claim that the Dominion Voting Systems machines used in Georgia were rigged as part of a global conspiracy, and Perdue and Loeffler have called for Raffensperger’s resignation.

But therein lies the conundrum: Perdue and Loeffler are traveling the state pleading with Republican voters to turn out on Jan. 5 – effectively asking Trump supporters to put their faith in the same voting system their president claims was manipulated to engineer his defeat.

The only thing now is to hope Trump becomes the forgotten man:

Republican strategists say they hope some of tensions will fade in the weeks before the runoff, giving the party time to air enough attacks to tarnish the Democrats. They say Georgia remains a conservative state with a history of runoff campaigns going the GOP’s way. And the absence of Trump on the ballot could help win back suburban voters who rejected his style but still want to support conservatives.

That’s possible, but for the Trump Hard Core. They will always be a problem now. Maybe they were always a problem. This may be structural. David Brooks address that, citing the work of Jonathan Rauch, and offering this:

Every society has an epistemic regime, a marketplace of ideas where people collectively hammer out what’s real. In democratic, non-theocratic societies, this regime is a decentralized ecosystem of academics, clergy members, teachers, journalists and others who disagree about a lot but agree on a shared system of rules for weighing evidence and building knowledge.

Cool, but that has been split in two:

Over the past decades the information age has created a lot more people who make their living working with ideas, who are professional members of this epistemic process. The information economy has increasingly rewarded them with money and status. It has increasingly concentrated them in ever more prosperous metro areas.

While these cities have been prospering, places where fewer people have college degrees have been spiraling down: flatter incomes, decimated families, dissolved communities.

And that’s asking for trouble:

People need a secure order to feel safe. Deprived of that, people legitimately feel cynicism and distrust, alienation and anomie. This precarity has created, in nation after nation, intense populist backlashes against the highly educated folks who have migrated to the cities and accrued significant economic, cultural and political power…

In the fervor of this enmity, millions of people have come to detest those who populate the epistemic regime, who are so distant, who appear to have it so easy, who have such different values, who can be so condescending. Millions not only distrust everything the “fake news” people say, but also the so-called rules they use to say them.

People in this precarious state are going to demand stories that will both explain their distrust back to them and also enclose them within a safe community of believers. The evangelists of distrust, from Donald Trump to Alex Jones to the followers of QAnon, rose up to give them those stories and provide that community.

These people found a voice, or many voices, and now the trouble is here:

For those awash in anxiety and alienation, who feel that everything is spinning out of control, conspiracy theories are extremely effective emotional tools. For those in low status groups, they provide a sense of superiority: I possess important information most people do not have. For those who feel powerless, they provide agency: I have the power to reject “experts” and expose hidden cabals. As Cass Sunstein of Harvard Law School points out, they provide liberation: If I imagine my foes are completely malevolent, then I can use any tactic I want.

What to do? You can’t argue people out of paranoia. If you try to point out factual errors, you only entrench false belief.

What to do? Brooks suggests “reducing the social chasm between the members of the epistemic regime and those who feel so alienated from it.” How? He doesn’t say. He does say that “making life more secure for those without a college degree” might help. Rebuilding trust might help but admits that’s the work of a generation. Trump will be gone sooner or later, but he won’t be gone anytime soon.

That’s how Trump set things up. Adam Liptak explains that:

A few minutes before midnight on Wednesday, the nation got its first glimpse of how profoundly President Trump had transformed the Supreme Court.

Just months ago, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. was at the peak of his power, holding the controlling vote in closely divided cases and almost never finding himself in dissent. But the arrival of Justice Amy Coney Barrett late last month, which put a staunch conservative in the seat formerly held by the liberal mainstay, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, meant that it was only a matter of time before the chief justice’s leadership would be tested.

On Wednesday, Justice Barrett dealt the chief justice a body blow. She cast the decisive vote in a 5-to-4 ruling that rejected restrictions on religious services in New York imposed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to combat the coronavirus, shoving the chief justice into dissent with the court’s three remaining liberals.

Those awash in anxiety and alienation got what they wanted:

The ruling was at odds with earlier ones in cases from California and Nevada issued before Justice Ginsburg’s death in September. Those decisions upheld restrictions on church services by 5-to-4 votes, with Chief Justice Roberts in the majority. The New York decision said that Mr. Cuomo’s strict virus limits – capping attendance at religious services at 10 people in “red zones” where risk was highest, and at 25 in slightly less dangerous “orange zones” – violated the First Amendment’s protection of the free exercise of religion.

And then virus limits were gone, for a start:

Wednesday’s ruling was almost certainly a taste of things to come. While Justice Ginsburg was alive, Chief Justice Roberts voted with the court’s four-member liberal wing in cases striking down a restrictive Louisiana abortion law, blocking a Trump administration initiative that would have rolled back protections for young immigrants known as Dreamers, refusing to allow a question on citizenship to be added to the census and saving the Affordable Care Act.

Had Justice Barrett rather than Justice Ginsburg been on the court when those cases were decided, the results might well have flipped. In coming cases, too, Justice Barrett will almost certainly play a decisive role. Her support for claims of religious freedom, a subject of questioning at her confirmation hearings and a theme in her appellate decisions, will almost certainly play a prominent role.

Those awash in anxiety and alienation have captured the Supreme Court:

Chief Justice Roberts is fundamentally conservative, and his liberal votes have been rare. But they reinforced his frequent statements that the court is not a political body. The court’s new and solid conservative majority may send a different message.

That is just what it did:

The decision represented something of a Thanksgiving gift for Catholic and Orthodox Jewish leaders, who had blasted Mr. Cuomo’s rules as a profound and unfair restriction on the freedom of religion.

“I have said from the beginning the restrictions imposed by Governor Cuomo were an overreach that did not take into account the size of our churches or the safety protocols that have kept parishioners safe,” Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn said on Thursday morning, noting that Catholics had adhered to coronavirus safety protocols at Mass since the virus first emerged in New York in March.

Which coronavirus safety protocols? Any safety protocols that his administration offers Trump says are useless. And safety protocols that any state offers Trump says are tyranny – people should “take back” their states and his folks show up with guns.

But maybe it doesn’t matter:

Mr. Cuomo insisted that the decision “doesn’t have any practical effect” because the restrictions on religious services in Brooklyn, as well as similar ones in Queens and the city’s northern suburbs, were eased after positive test rates in those areas declined.

The case’s immediate impact was narrow, setting aside two specific restrictions on attendance at houses of worship – regardless of denomination – that Mr. Cuomo enacted in early October. Those rules were put in place after a surge of cases in several Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn, Queens and two suburban counties.

Mr. Cuomo maintains that those outbreaks have since been brought under control, in large part by the measures that the court struck down.

But those awash in anxiety and alienation will never believe that. You can’t argue people out of paranoia. You can’t argue people out of anything now. Thanksgiving really was over. There may never be another.

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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1 Response to After Thanks

  1. Rick says:

    Okay, I’m no lawyer, and please don’t judge me, but after having now read the Supreme Court opinion, plus Roberts’ separate opinion, I find myself more or less (gasp!) siding with the Republican majority!

    Except that I don’t think the dispute really has much of anything to do with religion at all — although if it’s not about religion, it shouldn’t be in the Supreme Court, right?

    I suppose maybe the justices wanted to weigh in on this, but couldn’t do that without arguing that it involved the Constitution? I think they thought they couldn’t argue that these churches and synagogues can’t be treated worse than bars and restaurants without pointing out that those other places aren’t mentioned in the Constitution.

    I don’t know. As I say, I’m not a lawyer. Whatever.

    This case really seems to be just a question of whether churches and synagogues should be treated pretty much like everyone else, including “essential” and “non-essential” businesses alike — and from the looks of it, they’re not. In fact, some businesses seem to have no restrictions at all.

    Also, I assume some huge church building that could normally accommodate thousands should be able to have more than ten (red zone) or twenty-five (orange zone) congregants in it at a time.

    Plus, the dissenters’ argument — that the question is moot now because Cuomo has since relabeled the districts these institutions are in from orange down to yellow (no more than 50% capacity) — is silly, since that same color-coded system is still in effect, which means a district might still be flipped back in the other direction at a moment’s notice, and then we’re back to square one, but since this subject has now been breached, the justices might just as well deal with it now, when they have it, rather than later, after circumstances change back.

    What I think should happen is Governor Cuomo should go back to the drawing board and see if he can find a way to design a more “equitable” system that loosens the restrictions, where all businesses (and please let’s not pretend religious institutions aren’t businesses!) are roughly on a level playing field, but without increasing the risk of even one more case of COVID than these institutions have already been racking up — which apparently is absolutely none (although that could be thanks to Cuomo’s help, for all we know.)

    On the other hand, by the way, the reason I put “equitable” in quotes, above, brings up one more absurdity that gets hardly any mention in all this:

    Pandemic restrictions shouldn’t be viewed as unfair treatment of some venue, they should be seen as necessary steps taken to keep human beings from getting sick and, in some cases, dying, not to forget passing the disease on, which would help to create a gargantuan third wave of cases and deaths to levels that tend to shock the rest of the world.

    In other words, it’s not about some state governor dissing Catholics or Orthodox Jews, it has more to do with Americans everywhere hiding in their homes and keeping their kids out of school, just to keep the family healthy and safe, and to keep this virus stuff from ruining our lives and economy for another two or three years or more.

    The aim here should not be whether churches are being treated as fairly as hardware stores, the aim should be to make sure nobody, no matter if they’re singing praises to their god or purchasing a phillips screwdriver, catches a disease that not only could kill them but could endanger a member of their family or a friend or a stranger on the subway, who will then pass sickness and possible death on to others, ad infinitum.

    But in fact, I see the court didn’t actually rule on whether the first amendment allows governments to tell religious institutions how to conduct themselves at all! In fact, if anything, it seemed to confirm that, yes, governments can do that, but that they just need to be sure they’re “fair” about it when they do.

    And while I did argue this decision isn’t about religion, the court itself might disagree with that, and I suppose may come back some day to revisit the question of whether of not we should be a theocracy after all, with governments being prohibited from even speaking to religious organizations at all, much less telling them they must obey our federal and local laws, just like everyone else.

    At that point, I will rue the day that Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed, which was the day that conservative Republicans — who represent a minority of Americans, I must remind you! — finally took control over our nation’s highest court, which is discussed in a recent issue of New York Times Magazine:

    “Republican dominance over the court is itself counter-majoritarian. Including Amy Barrett, the party has picked six of the last 10 justices although it has lost the popular vote in six of the last seven presidential elections, and during this period represented a majority of Americans in the Senate only between 1997 and 1998…”

    If you’re interested in ideas of what we can do to fix the court, you should check out that article.

    No, I’m not sure I’m in favor of “packing” the Supreme Court with my kind of judges — which could be undone in the time it would take the next president to snap his (or her) fingers — but I do think we are now at a point where we have to look into changing its structure and operation in a way that allows no one party to overwhelm the other, at the very least.

    If we can’t do something like that, along I suppose with a bunch of other things, this American ship might just find itself dead in the water.

    But step one for Biden getting anything done next year might be for someone to pay Mitch McConnell a bucket of money to just go back home and leave America alone.


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