One Week Later

It was time to get back to this. Where were we? The same place. Donald Trump has tried to ruin democracy here – the certified vote count should have never been certified, and his people in Arizona would prove that, and other states, inspired by the awesome work of the Cyber Ninjas there, would do the same, and he would be reinstalled as president, in August, and that would be that. Perhaps he’d never have to leave office ever again. But if that doesn’t work, every state with a Republican legislature has now passed laws to give that legislature the full authority to toss out the popular votes and name the election winner themselves. He’s got this covered. If he’s not reinstalled as president in August, then he wins the presidency in 2024 no matter what the popular vote. Every state with a Republican legislature awards him all of that state’s Electoral College votes, no matter what that state’s popular vote, because that’s the law there now. It’s a plan! And if that doesn’t work, every state with a Republican legislature has now passed laws to make it as hard as possible for minorities and the poor and gay folks and, in general the wrong sort of people, to vote. They can’t be denied the right to vote, that would be going too far, but it will now be damned hard for them to vote.

Okay. That was the situation a week ago. That’s the situation now. The only thing that has changed is this:

Attorney General Merrick Garland pledged Friday to double the size of the Justice Department’s voting rights enforcement staff to combat efforts to restrict ballot access and prosecute those who threaten or harm election workers.

In an expansive speech that invoked the nation’s long and, at times, faltering progress toward ensuring every American’s right to vote, Garland likened the fight against efforts to curtail ballot access to past campaigns enshrining voting rights for Black Americans in the Constitution and the seminal Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Garland said the additional trial attorneys, which he plans to hire over the coming 30 days, will scrutinize new laws and existing practices across the nation for potential discrimination against Americans of color, including in new measures GOP state lawmakers are pushing. They will enforce provisions of the Voting Rights Act by challenging such laws or practices in court — and prosecute anyone found to intimidate or threaten violence against election officials.

The expanded unit will also monitor the growing number of post-election ballot reviews being called for around the country by supporters of former president Donald Trump in search of signs of violations of federal laws, Garland said, and will watch over upcoming redistricting efforts to call out discriminatory practices.

All of these cases then go to court. You can’t do that! Yes, we can!

And then all of this will finally go to the Supreme Court, with Trump’s three appointees creating a sort of Trump Majority there now. He will say they owe him. So will Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity and all the rest. That may offend his justices. They will insist that they are not his personal justices! But the full court will probably kick this back to Congress to work out with the states, saying they don’t touch political stuff. They won’t touch this. And then Trump wins everything anyway. Merrick Garland lost this battle long ago.

Has nothing changed? Why is this Trump guy still around? The New York Times’ Frank Bruni points to Joshua Green’s portrait of Donald Trump’s post-presidential days and says this:

There are anecdotes of Trump being not only “bathed in adulation,” to quote Green, but also perfumed with it. One voter’s despot is another voter’s dreamboat. Trump still makes many Americans’ hearts go pitter-patter.

But that wasn’t my main impression or the moral I took away from the story, which was published in Bloomberg. I stopped at, and dwelled on, this passage: “He’ll show up to anything. In recent weeks, Trump has popped into engagement parties and memorial services. A Mar-a-Lago member who recently attended a club gathering for a deceased friend was surprised when Trump sauntered in to deliver remarks and then hung around.”

Bruni finds that telling:

American presidents are all parables – they either come that way, which explains our fascination with them, or we turn them into archetypes, avatars and allegories. We need that from our highest-ranking political figures. We don’t have a royal family.

And Trump’s is a tale of how much a man will do to be noticed, how much he can do with that notice and – the current chapter – what happens when that notice ebbs. Yes, he personifies the American obsessions with wealth and with power. But more than that, he personifies the American obsession with fame.

It’s an obsession now starved. Facebook revoked Trump’s access. Twitter, too. He no longer leads the news every hour on CNN and MSNBC, and there are now newspaper front pages aplenty without his name in any headline.

So he sates himself with funerals. And he fumes.

And he’s dangerous:

Just as Trump’s presidency was like none before it, his ex-presidency is a singular production.

Other presidents left the White House and, for a short or long while, savored the disappearance of the press corps and the dimming of the spotlight. Maybe right away, maybe later, they burnished their legacies with philanthropic deeds. Meanwhile, they issued pro forma statements of support for their successors or, in accordance with longstanding etiquette, zipped their lips. They behaved.

Trump hasn’t. And – let’s be honest – he won’t.

That’s because he just knows that he will be president again:

He has taken to announcing the states he plans to visit before the actual venues and dates have been arranged. In his head he can probably already hear that magic MAGA applause. It’s stuck there like the chorus of a Top 40 song, but he wants it performed live, in an arena as mammoth as his neediness.

The substitute for that applause? Deference. He demands it every bit as much as he ever did and arguably grows more furious than before when he’s denied it. That’s where the personal and political narratives intersect. His demonization of Liz Cheney for crossing him, his denunciation of Paul Ryan for dissing him and his savaging of any Republican who challenges the Big Lie reflect a ruinous petulance that is bound to wax, not wane, as his exile grinds on.

And that ruinous petulance may end democracy in America, but we actually do have official and certified president at the moment, a real one, and he’s not petulant at all:

President Joe Biden declared that “America is back at the table” Sunday as he concluded his first Group of Seven summit on his first overseas trip as president and prepared to head for Brussels for another round of talks with top allies at a NATO summit.

“America’s back in the business of leading the world alongside nations who share our most deeply held values,” Biden said during a press conference at the conclusion of the G-7 summit.

“I think we’ve made some progress in re-establishing American credibility among our closest friends,” Biden continued, in an indirect reference to his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, who rattled traditional multilateral alliances during his presidency with his “America First” approach to foreign policy.

Biden didn’t threaten to quit NATO or call Macron and Merkle and Trudeau wimps and fools, not strong leaders like Putin or Kim or like him. He didn’t ask why Putin wasn’t invited to rejoin the group. He grabbed Crimea. So what? That’s what strong leaders do! Two years ago, in Canada, Trump refused to sign a joint statement at the end of this summit. They were all fools and thieves. Last year the United States was supposed to host this summit and didn’t. He insisted on inviting Putin. The other nations balked. His administration announced that the summit would be held at his Doral resort in Florida. The other nations balked. They weren’t going to line his pockets staying there and meeting there, paying premium rates to his organization, to make him even richer. But then the covid pandemic made all that moot. There was no summit. There weren’t even any Zoom meetings. Trump didn’t want to talk to them. They didn’t want to talk to him. His base cheered. They were all fools and thieves. Trust Putin. Trust Kim.

This year was a bit different:

At the summit’s conclusion Sunday, the member nations issued a joint communique in which they expressed broad agreement and a shared commitment to action on pressing issues, including a commitment to share 1 billion vaccinations with the world, endorsing a global minimum corporate tax rate of 15% and affirming a shared commitment to tackling the climate-change crisis.

Trump would have been furious at all that, but Trump wasn’t there:

As Biden continues his trip at the NATO summit in Brussels, Biden is set to continue to draw a contrast with his predecessor, who questioned the utility of the security alliance. “We do not view NATO as a sort of protection racket. We believe that NATO is vital to our ability to maintain American security for the remainder of the century,” Biden said. “I want them to know, unlike whether they doubted whether we believe NATO and Section 5 is a sacred obligation.”

Biden went on to make the case of NATO’s direct security interest to the U.S. in reminding reporters that the alliance’s Article 5 has only once been activated and that was in defense of the United States in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

They really did come to our defense that year, and in the years that followed. Biden said we’d come to the defense any  of the others when the time came. Trump had refused to say that. Maybe, if they paid up first, we might come to their defense, maybe. But he wanted his money – which wasn’t his anyway. He wanted America’s money. But they hadn’t been paying us. He just wanted them to spend more of their own money on what NATO did – Obama had too, as had Bush, as had Clinton and the Bush before him – but Trump never put it that way. They were thieves! This was most unpleasant.

But that’s over now:

Following his time in Brussels, which will also include a summit between the European Union and U.S., the president will continue on to his much-anticipated sit-down with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva.

While the president has made clear he won’t hold back in confronting Putin on areas of conflict, he has also said he is not seeking conflict but is instead hoping the in-person meeting can help to stabilize the relationship between the two nations, which both Putin and Biden have said is at a “low point.”

An absence of impulsive buffoonery might help this time:

The two leaders are set to have two meetings Wednesday – one with an expanded delegation from each country and a second, more intimate meeting. They will each hold separate press conferences after.

Asked Sunday why not hold a joint press conference with Putin, Biden said this summit is “not a contest” and wants the focus of the summit to be on the substance of the closed-door meetings not diverted by efforts to prove dominance in front of cameras.

“This is not a contest about who can do better in front of a press conference or try to embarrass each other. It’s about making myself very clear what the conditions are to get a better relationship with Russia,” he said. “I don’t want to get into being diverted by, did they shake hands? How far did they – who talked the most and all the rest? He can say what he said the meeting was about and I will say what I think the meeting was about. That’s how I’m going to handle it.”

We have our positions. Biden will lay them out. Putin has his positions and will do the same. So, what’s possible here? Let’s talk. This is normal diplomacy. No one will miss Trump’s sneering and posturing, except Donald Trump. Impulsive bullshit really isn’t useful in these things – both Biden and Putin know that – so it’s back to work. The party’s over.

That’s a relief. Things really have changed:

The United States is back as a cooperative leader of the free world under President Joe Biden, France’s Emmanuel Macron said on Saturday, illustrating the relief felt by many key U.S. allies that the tumult of Donald Trump’s presidency is over.

Macron’s remark echoes that of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson who hailed Biden on Thursday as “a big breath of fresh air”.

Neither Macron nor Johnson drew an explicit parallel between Biden and Trump, though both praised Biden’s distinctly cooperative tone and officials said there was relief after Trump at times shocked and bewildered many European allies.

No one is bewildered now:

Biden, asked by a reporter if America was back, turned to Macron and gestured with his sunglasses towards the French president that he should answer that question.

“Yes definitely,” Macron said. “It’s great to have a U.S. president who’s part of the club and very willing to cooperate.”

“What you demonstrate is that leadership is partnership,” Macron told Biden as they sat on an outdoor terrace with a sweeping view of the turquoise sea behind them.

Cool. Cool but not cool enough. Reuters reports this:

In 2017 the president of the United States shocked Washington’s Western allies during his first European trip, scolding them for failing to pay their “fair share” on defense, physically shoving aside one prime minister, and white-knuckling another leader in a public handshake.

After four tumultuous years for the transatlantic relationship under Donald Trump, his Democratic successor Joe Biden’s words of friendship and promise that “America is back” as he meets Western allies this week and next are a welcome relief.

But they’re not enough, diplomats and foreign policy experts say.

Biden faces lingering doubts about America’s reliability as a partner. Leaders from the Group of Seven advanced economies, NATO and the European Union are worried about the pendulum of U.S. politics swinging yet again, and are looking for concrete action, not words after the shock of the Trump years.

Immediate concrete action would be nice, before Trump has his way and voting means nothing in America ever again:

“Is this an interregnum between Trump 1.0 and Trump 2.0? Nobody knows,” said David O’Sullivan, a former European Union ambassador to Washington. “I think most people are of the view that we should seize the opportunity with this administration to strengthen the relationship and hope that this can survive beyond the midterms and 2024.”

In short, get what you can now, before America is gone again, and maybe forever, and maybe it’s gone already:

Biden said all U.S. troops would be leaving Afghanistan by Sept. 11, a key date marking the start of America’s longest war two decades ago. U.S. officials have said they will complete the withdrawal before then.

The timeline sent allies scrambling to keep up, several Western diplomats said, adding that they saw the move as designed for domestic consumption.

Both Biden and his top diplomat, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, have repeatedly said U.S. foreign policy first and foremost should benefit America’s middle class.

For many European governments, that sounds like a euphemism for Trump’s isolationist “America First” motto. “America first will remain, no doubt,” one Western diplomatic source said.

A senior European diplomat said the most important factor was again having someone to work with in Washington: “After the past four years, that really matters.”

That’s not much, but it will have to do. Things look dim to our European allies:

A major underlying concern for many foreign allies is a fundamental one, many experts say – their faith in American democracy is shaken.

Trump for months peddled false claims that he won the Nov. 3 election and on Jan. 6 encouraged his supporters to march to the U.S. Capitol while lawmakers were certifying Biden’s victory.

The riot, which led to the evacuation of the building and five deaths, stunned world leaders.

Jamie Shea, a former senior NATO official now at the Friends of Europe think tank in Brussels, told Reuters he was concerned that the next U.S. president could be another Trump-style leader.

“So I believe that we have four years,” he said, “we have a limited period of time with this pro-European administration, to cement a solid transatlantic economic and security partnership.”

But that might make no difference at all. A Republican congress could blow up all of it in 2022 or Trump, put in office by the new state laws that override the popular vote, could blow up all of it in 2024 – or this August when he’s reinstalled, perhaps as President for Life.

So, is America back? Or is it Trump forever? The New York Times’ David Harbinger tells a parallel story:

He came to power like some conqueror from a distant land called Philadelphia.

Educated in the United States, speaking flawless East Coast English, warning in pungent sound bites about the threats posed by Islamic terrorism and a nuclear Iran, the Benjamin Netanyahu who stormed into Israeli politics in the 1990s was like no other politician the country had seen.

Before long, he would capture the prime minister’s office, lose it, then seize it again a decade later, becoming Israel’s longest-serving leader and inspiring such admiration that supporters likened him to the biblical King David. His political agility got him out of so many tight spots that even his detractors called him a magician.

He presided over an extraordinary economic turnaround, kept the perennially embattled country out of major wars and kept casualty tolls to historic lows. He feuded with Democratic American presidents, then capitalized on a symbiosis with the Trump administration to cement historic gains, including the opening of a U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.

He compartmentalized the Palestinian conflict, snubbing the endless peace talks that had stymied his predecessors, unilaterally expanding the Jewish presence in the occupied West Bank and treating Palestinians largely as a security threat to be contained.

And then it was over:

Mr. Netanyahu – who was ousted as prime minister on Sunday – has been a deeply polarizing figure, governing from the right, branding adversaries as traitors, anti-Israel or anti-Semitic, obsessed with power and comfortable deploying street-fighter tactics to retain it.

The intuitive media savvy that sped his rise to power curdled in time into an almost narcissistic obsession. His efforts to control his image, including allegations that he bribed media executives for favorable news coverage, led to criminal charges that haunted his final years in office.

And that was that. This is the opening of an eight-thousand-word assessment of Benjamin Netanyahu, now gone. He didn’t go quietly. He didn’t go easily. But he went. These things happen. Maybe they’ll happen here one day. Republicans might want their party back. But not just yet. The next four years will be difficult. Yep, take a week off and nothing changes.

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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