December 31, 2020

Farewell to 2020. Happy New Year

After the American Century

A year ago no one had heard of COVID-19, and 2020 looked like it might be a good year. Like all new years, it had the benefit of the doubt. It was more than disappointing. Some good results. Donald Trump was defeated, even if he refused to believe it himself and constructed fantasy explanations. But he did a great deal of damage to the United States, the world's climate, and the credibility of democracy.

The pandemic has kept me in my house most of the year, starting in March. I completed one book and wrote another one. Both will appear in 2021. The work was my escape from tedium, from the haunting news stories of suffering, and from the mostly rainy weather. But compared to many people I was fine, and I appreciate that. 

2020 was a year to savor small pleasures and to grab the small opportunities for adventure that came along. The high point for me in this regard was an unexpected invitation to help a friend move a boat from Århus to Fåborg, a two day journey. As it turned out, these two days in June were the best two of the summer, in terms of sunshine and gentle winds. They were also two of the longest days of sunlight. My friend had just bought a small fiberglass sail boat, used, which had a motor that pushed us along at 5 knots, since there was little wind. There was a small area below where we kept some food and drink, and it could sleep two people. 

Sailing toward the Lillebælt Bridge, June, 2020

We did not spend the night, however, but put the boat in the Middelfart marina and went to our separate homes. The boat needed to be cleaned a bit and fitted up before it would be pleasant to spend the night. But it moved smoothly through the water, and I saw a few seals and two small whales. There were many islands that I had only seen on maps. A god bit of the time I held the tiller, but taking directions from my friend, as he has sailed these waters for decades. Those two days also stand out, because due to the lockdown my wife and I could not take our vacation in the US, and no other good options were available for the days she had off. 

The two day adventure on the sailboat turns out to be my most pleasant outdoor memory of 2020. But there were other good days, too, short rides and long walks in the local countryside. There was the pleasure of both working in the same place again, on different floors of the house, because my wife's employer was ordered to send everyone to work at home. This meant coffee breaks and lunch together for a change. I also walked around, 10,000 steps a day, all over town, avoiding the commercial areas, and often in the evenings during the long twilight of spring and summer. If it had not been for the pandemic, it would have been OK. 

Posting this on the last day of 2020, we can look forward to vaccination sometime in the spring. I might even get outside the country, if it is safe to travel. But in 2020 I learned to live within more narrow limits.

December 09, 2020

Five Proposed Amendments to the Constitution of the United States

After the American Century

The conduct of the Trump presidency has revealed the need for amendments to the US Constitution. The precise wording will require some fine-tuning, but here are my suggestions.

(1) The prompt and orderly transfer of power after an election being a paramount necessity for the preservation of public order and the practice of diplomacy with foreign governments, the declaration of who has won a presidential election shall not rest in the hands of the incumbent president, nor in those of a person appointed by that chief executive. Rather, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court shall determine who has prevailed in the contest, and thereafter the successful candidate shall immediately have access to all the information necessary to prepare to take office, together with office space, a budget to pay the transition staff, and all other forms of assistance that can reasonably be necessary.

(2) If a president chooses to replace any member of the cabinet, a new appointee must appear within 60 days before the Senate to be examined and evaluated. In the meantime, an acting secretary may be appointed, but this person must already be a member of that department of government, and he or she cannot be a candidate for the position. An Acting Secretary shall always be identified by that title and cannot use the title of Secretary during the temporary period of his or her appointment.

(3) To ensure fairness and minimize outside interference in cases of impeachment that concern any person in the Executive Branch, in such cases the Department of Justice's investigation shall be funded and overseen not by the president but by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. 

(4) On the use of the presidential pardon. The President  cannot pardon himself nor members of his or her family, nor use the power of the pardon in cases that involve treason, espionage or tampering with an election, nor may the president pardon persons who worked for his or her political campaign or on the White House staff. 

(5) Trust in the electoral system being essential to any democracy, no candidate for federal office shall claim that an election was not properly conducted, "stolen," or otherwise compromised except when such statements are made in writing and under oath before a federal judge, together with substantiating evidence of the charges made. False or misleading statements about election officials or about the conduct of an election must be investigated by the Department of Justice and are subject to prosecution under the laws of perjury and slander. 

November 20, 2020

Protest! Time for all Americans to use their First Amendment Rights
After the American Century

By his recent actions, President Trump has lost all credibility. It is utter nonsense for him to claim he won the 2020 election. He has lost touch with reality, and he is intentionally subverting the democratic election process. 

It is time for ordinary citizens to use all of their First Amendment rights to protest Trump's bizarre attempt to subvert the election.

It is time to protest his refusal to fight the coronavirus pandemic.  Two thousand Americans died yesterday in that pandemic. Almost certainly 2,000 more will die tomorrow. Trump has done nothing for months, and his task force has done almost nothing.

I protest the continual lies and exaggerated statements made by President un-elect Trump. He will be remembered as the first president to refuse to accept an election loss, and as a man without honor who refused to help with an orderly transition of power.

I protest the media who repeat barefaced lies and encourage citizens to believe them, Fox News in particular. 

I protest the silence of the Republican Senators and many other Republican elected officials regarding Trump's behavior. It is time for the Republican Party to realize that their silence is consent. Every elected official who does nothing now is guilty of letting the government of the United States spin out of control. Bravo, Mitt Romney, for standing up almost alone and making his voice heard.

I protest the misuse of social media to slander the officials who conducted the election, and to spread false statements about the conduct and the results of the election. Social media need to be regulated and to prevent lies and slander from flourishing on their websites.

Lincoln in 1858

Abraham Lincoln declared in 1858 that "A house divided against itself cannot stand." Republicans are dividing the American house, and it cannot indefinitely survive if politics continue as they are now, At this moment, because of their refusal to cooperate on combatting the coronavirus, more than thousands of people are dying every day.  If American politicians cannot manage such an obvious crisis, what chance is there that they will come together to solve more complex social and economic problems? 

The Republicans are playing with fire. Already, it appears certain that the United States will emerge from the Trump years weaker and more divided than it was in 2016. Trump said he would "make American great again,." He has done just the opposite.  

The Trump Denial Regime
After the American Century

It seems possible that President Trump has had a mental breakdown. Who can offer a rational explanation for his behavior since he lost the election? He is hiding from the press and public, while sending out odd messages on Twitter. He really seems to believe that he won the election that he lost.  He appears to be in the grip of a conspiracy theory that seems to be a paranoid misreading of reality. He lost the popular vote by more than 5 million votes and he lost the electoral vote as well. Some commentators have said that he is "in denial," as if this is all right. 

It is not all right for the commander in chief to sulk for weeks after losing an election. 
It is not all right for him to mislead millions of Americans with claims of election fraud that are unsubstantiated by any evidence. He has lost all the court cases brought so far, and most of the lawyers who worked on them have withdrawn their services. Presumably, they realized that they were being used as part of a vast deception. 

It certainly is not all right to pretend that Trump is in his right mind. Millions of Americans are not at all certain that Mr. Trump is now rational or capable of making complex decisions. He gives no indication that he is performing his job as president. Quite the contrary. He is spending time playing golf but otherwise doing little more than repeating endlessly - obsessively - that he won the election. 

Meanwhile, more than 1,000 people are dying every day from the coronavirus. The President endlessly told the public that this is not a serious illness, that is was largely fake news, a bogus crisis.  Even after he got the coronavirus himself, he told his followers that it was nothing to worry about. It would cease to be a news story the day after the election, or so he said. Trump has led the public down that false road of denial, too.

The number who have died from the coronavirus in the US has already topped the death toll for the Korean War and the Vietnam War combined. The majority of these deaths could have been avoided, had the US had leadership as competent as in New Zealand, in Norway, in South Korea, or in Taiwan, all of which have had far lower death rates. But the Trump White House did not take a leadership role, it did not coordinate a national response, and it did not even give accurate information about the situation much of the time,  The Trump White House is responsible for the majority of these deaths.

In any other job, a person behaving irresponsibly would be sent to a psychological examination, and he would be relieved of his duties until he was well again. Amendment 25 of the Constitution sets forth the possibility that a president can be treated in a similar manner. In that case, the Vice President would assume the duties of the President.

Amendment 25 is not likely to be invoked, however, because the president has infected those around him with his fantasies. The White House and the Republican leadership seem to be collectively deluded in a way that is common in religious cults. No one wants to upset or offend Trump. This is the Republican Party that refused to call a single witness at the sham impeachment proceedings, in which the Senate did not allow a trial to take place. Trump the untouchable.

The Washington Post has kept a record of Trump's lies and exaggerations and has been unable to keep up with him, because he repeats the lies so often, at a rate of more than 25 a day. They estimate that he has lied 25,000 times during his 4 years in office. It seems doubtful that Trump and his millions of followers have much of a grip on reality any longer. They have heard the lies so often that they believe them all.

This paranoid president is self-absorbed, with little interest in the pandemic raging on his watch. This Republican Party is unable to separate itself from his delusions, and instead helps to spread them, creating a bubble of conspiracy theories and false accusations of fraud. The real fraud is the Republican leadership itself.  

The Republican Party will not live down this dark period for at least a generation. The United States will not regain respect on the world stage for years, either, assuming it manages to escape from this self-inflicted crisis of government. 

Who benefits from this chaos? Russia, China, and terrorists. The crisis allows all of them to construct a plausible sounding narrative, in which the United States is not really a democracy. This is the narrative of electoral fraud that Trump is selling and that the Republican Party seems unable to reject. 

May 08, 2020

The Capricious Rule of Trump

The Capricious Rule of Trump: 

The Flynn case and the destruction of the rule of law

After the American Century

First, the Russians interfered in the 2016 election. This is not a debatable point, as it has been exhaustively established by a special prosecutor investigation.

Second, Michael Flynn had secret conversations with Russian diplomats before the Trump Administration took office. His phone conversations were recorded, because the FBI was tapping the Russian's phone. This also is a fact and not debatable.

Third, Flynn lied about these conversations, first to the Vice President and then to the FBI. This is also undeniably the fact.

Fourth, Flynn confessed that he lied.  He made a legally binding admission of guilt.

Fifth, after years of legal maneuvering, Flynn has just escaped any punishment because the Justice Department suddenly decided to drop the case. The Acting Attorney General, Mr. Barr appears to have interfered in the case in several ways. For details, see the lead story in the New York Times for May 8, 2020.

Sixth, the President of the United States declares that Flynn was innocent, and attacks the Justice Department lawyers who took him to court, calling them "scum." As reported by the Times, his words were They’re scum — and I say it a lot, they’re scum, they’re human scum."  

The Trump Administration has politicized the Justice Department and turned it into his political tool. How it is possible that Flynn confesses his guilt, agrees to cooperate with the enquiry in exchange for leniency in punishment, but then manages to get the government to DROP the case?

There is no (American) precedent for such a thing. Confess guilt and then have the case dropped? What kind of legal system has Trump created? This resembles the way dictatorships operate.  Get your buddies off unpunished, and attack the Justice Department lawyers for trying to protect the United States from Russian interference.

Trump is not making American great, as he promised, but destroying the rule of law.  As for Mr. Flynn, he confessed that he was guilty of perjury, but that is not the main point. He was involved with the same foreign power that interfered with the 2016 elections, and the American people deserve to know the details of what Flynn's conversations were about. Note, too, that it is highly irregular to conduct foreign policy, if that was what one can call it, before one takes office - apparently in an effort to undermine the Obama Administration's foreign policy.  Some might call that treason.

But instead of getting to the bottom of Flynn's dealings with an enemy of the United States, he is walking away, unpunished.

Instead of the rule of law, we have the capricious rule of Trump.