A second Trump term would instantly plunge the country into a constitutional crisis more terrible than anything seen since the Civil War. Even in the turmoil of the 1960s, even during the Great Depression, the country had a functional government with the president as its head. But the government cannot function with an indicted or convicted criminal as its head. The president would be an outlaw, or on his way to becoming an outlaw. For his own survival, he would have to destroy the rule of law.
Other Atlantic writers deal with the many ways that Trump and his supporters are planning to destroy American democracy: remaking the Department of Justice to go after his enemies; abandoning NATO; packing the federal bureaucracy with loyalists who’ll carry out Trump’s orders; what will happen to core issues such as climate change, immigration and civil rights; and the many challenges faced by journalism.
A TRUMP DICTATORSHIP IS INCREASINGLY INEVITABLE. WE SHOULD STOP PRETENDING.
For many months now, we have been living in a world of self-delusion, rich with imagined possibilities.
Such hopeful speculation has allowed us to drift along passively, conducting business as usual, taking no dramatic action to change course, in the hope and expectation that something will happen.
Like people on a riverboat, we have long known there is a waterfall ahead but assume we will somehow find our way to shore before we go over the edge.”
HOW TRUMP AND HIS ALLIES PLAN TO WIELD POWER OF 2025
Since launching his 2024 presidential campaign, Donald J. Trump has said the “termination” of the Constitution would have been justified to overturn the 2020 election, told followers “I am your retribution” and vowed to use the Justice Department to prosecute his adversaries — starting with President Biden and his family.
Beneath these public threats is a series of plans by Mr. Trump and his allies that would upend core elements of American governance, democracy, foreign policy and the rule of law if he regained the White House.
Since leaving office, Mr. Trump’s advisers and allies at a network of well-funded groups have advanced policies, created lists of potential personnel and started shaping new legal scaffolding — laying the groundwork for a second Trump presidency they hope will commence on Jan. 20, 2025.
Mr. Trump is planning an assault on immigration on a scale unseen in modern American history. Millions of undocumented immigrants would be barred from the country or uprooted from it years or even decades after settling here.
Bolstered by agents reassigned from other federal law enforcement agencies and state police and the National Guard, officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement would carry out sweeping raids aimed at deporting millions of people each year.
Military funds would be used to erect sprawling camps to hold undocumented detainees. A public-health emergency law would be invoked to shut down asylum requests by people arriving at the border. And the government would try to end birthright citizenship for babies born on U.S. soil to undocumented parents.
TRUMP TOUTS AUTHORITARIAN VISION FOR SECOND TERM: 'I AM YOUR JUSTICE.
Mandatory stop-and-frisk. Deploying the military to fight street crime, break up gangs and deport immigrants. Purging the federal workforce and charging leakers.
Former president Donald Trump has steadily begun outlining his vision for a second-term agenda, focusing on unfinished business from his time in the White House and an expansive vision for how he would wield federal power. In online videos and stump speeches, Trump is pledging to pick up where his first term left off and push even further.
Trump himself has added to these the grim forecasts. Campaigning in Claremont, New Hampshire last month, he made this widely quoted declaration, which some experts compared to the kind of language used by authoritarian leaders, the Post reported on Nov. 12:
TRUMP CALLS POLITICAL ENEMIES 'VERMIN,'ECHOING DICTATORS HITLER, MUSSOLINI
Former president Donald Trump denigrated his domestic opponents and critics during a Veterans Day speech Saturday, calling those on the other side of the aisle “vermin” and suggesting that they pose a greater threat to the United States than countries such as Russia, China or North Korea. That language is drawing rebuke from historians, who compared it to that of authoritarian leaders.
"We pledge to you that we will root out the communists, Marxists, fascists and the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country that lie and steal and cheat on elections,” Trump said toward the end of his speech, repeating his false claims that the 2020 election was stolen. "They’ll do anything, whether legally or illegally, to destroy America and to destroy the American Dream."
The Times cited 69 quotes. Here’s a sampling:
I doubt that the barrage of news and opinion articles will change the minds of Trump cultists. Indeed, the wording is so apocalyptic that many will dismiss it as confirmation that a liberal media is indeed is partisan and biased.
But I’m guessing that it will help put the election in its proper perspective, emphasizing that Trump is hardly just another candidate, but instead he's a figure that could change the course of national and world history, putting the country into a downward, irreversible slide into authoritarianism.
This has not an easy call for editors and leaders of these news organizations, who remain uncomfortable with finally having to tell it like it is.
Jeffrey Goldberg, editor of The Atlantic, explained the magazine’s decision, to devote an entire edition about the consequences of a Trump victory in an article headlined: A WARNING:
The Atlantic, as our loyal readers know, is deliberately not a partisan magazine. “Of no party or clique” is our original 1857 motto, and it is true today. Our concern with Trump is not that he is a Republican, or that he embraces—when convenient—certain conservative ideas. We believe that a democracy needs, among other things, a strong liberal party and a strong conservative party in order to flourish. Our concern is that the Republican Party has mortgaged itself to an antidemocratic demagogue, one who is completely devoid of decency.
Earlier this week, a former Trump advisor, Kash Patel, who could have a role in a second administration, said on a podcast that the media would be a principal target, the Associated Press reported Dec. 5:
A SECOND TRUMP ADMINISTRATION WILL 'COME AFTER' PEOPLE IN THE MEDIA IN THE COURTS, AN ALLY SAYS
Kash Patel, who was also chief of staff in the Defense Department and held a role on the National Security Council, made the comment on Steve Bannon’s podcast. He said that, in a second Trump administration, “We will go out and find the conspirators not just in government, but in the media,” over the 2020 election, which Trump lost to Democrat Joe Biden.
“We will go out and find the conspirators, not just in government but in the media,” Patel said. “Yes, we’re going to come after the people in the media who lied about American citizens, who helped Joe Biden rig presidential elections — we’re going to come after you."
I say up front, openly, and proudly, that when I WIN the Presidency of the United States, they and others of the LameStream Media will be thoroughly scrutinized for their knowingly dishonest and corrupt coverage of people, things, and events. Why should NBC, or any other of the corrupt & dishonest media companies, be entitled to use the very valuable Airwaves of the USA, FREE? They are a true threat to Democracy and are, in fact, THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE! The Fake News Media should pay a big price for what they have done to our once great Country!
To which I say: Good.
It’s about time the press realized that it’s likely to be among the first targets of a dictatorship, as has been the case historically when authoritarians take control.
So, yes, the media’s increased focus on the election's outcome may be as much about its own survival as it is concern for the future of the country.
Which does not make its warnings less true.
My concern is that the media will back away from these explicit warnings, saying that “We covered that back in December,” rather than making the alarms a regular feature of campaign coverage.
This is an election that we should all take personally. A dictatorship will attack every aspect of society – schools, business, the environment, agriculture, science, health care, entertainment.
No one will be spared. Everything will be worse.
Every single American is at risk in a Trump dictatorship.
This is an election in which we all need to vote as if our lives depend on it.
Because that’s the fact.
A PRESIDENT WHO DOESN’T SEEM TO BE THERE, ACTUALLY IS
It's possible that some voters wonder whether the president is alive, much less hard at work, reasoning that if either of those were true, you’d hear more about it.
It’s a complaint even by people who like the president. I’ve heard Democratic pundits complain that Joe just isn’t doing enough to grab the attention of voters, that he’s not “out there.”
So, what does President Joe do all day?
I figured I could get a hint by reading press releases the White House churns out every day. And by following the "pool" reports filed by White House correspondents who keep tabs on the president.
So, the other day, I signed up for the White House press office’s feed that emails reporters news releases, along with the correspondents' reports.
(WARNING: Anyone can sign up for this stuff at this link, but I don’t recommend it. Your email inbox will quickly be drowned in memorandums, reports, transcripts, schedules and promotional news releases, along with the the pool reports, which, not without reason, have a self-pitying tone.)
It's hardly a comprehensive look. The White House shows you want it wants, which isn't a lot.
But what the heck. I picked one day, Monday, Nov. 13, 2023, and printed out every email and correspondents' dispatches, more than 45 items, a half-inch high stack of paper.
The day’s schedule was outlined in a press office memo sent to reporters the previous evening; it started at Biden’s home in Delaware.
“The president receives the Presidential Daily Briefing,” the schedule said, meaning a review by intelligence officials of the major terrible things going on in the world, some of which we know about, like the conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza, and others we’ll never hear about. The press office notes that this is “Closed Press.”
The pool reports then pick up the “action.” A word about the "pools." Since there are too many reporters who'd like to be in the Oval Office on the occasions when the media is allowed in, or to follow the president outside the White House, a small number of correspondents are assigned to pools, and these "poolers" pass along to their colleagues what they see and hear – or, more often, what they don’t hear and see.
(The times below are when I received emails):
From Danny Kemp, a reporter for Agence France-Presse (AFP), representing the “out-of-town” pool: “Good morning from a bright and cold Wilmington. Motorcade is rolling from President Biden’s house. Pool as not yet laid eyes on POTUS (President of the United State).”
Kemp. “President Biden could be seen leaving a SUV and boarded M1 (the president’s Marine One helicopter) at 9.00. He was too far away for questions. Pool then loaded onto Osprey (another aircraft) and didn’t see M1 lift.”
Christian Datoc, of the Washington Examiner, for the “in-town pool” - “M1 touched down on the South Lawn at 9:58 am. At 10:00am POTUS, wearing a dark coat over a navy suit, hopped off the heli and walked toward the Oval Office. POTUS did not stop for shouted questions on the Middle East, vetoing the CR and potentially retooling his campaign.”
Peter Gold of Fuji TV, for the “foreign pool” – “Marine One touched down at 959am with the President alighting shortly thereafter at 1000. The First Lady followed behind him and they held hands as they descended the short stairway. They took a few steps away from the helicopter, kissed, and then separated, with the President walking towards the Oval Office and the First Lady walking towards the residence. The president entered the Oval Office at 1002 with the doors closing behind him. Question(s), which your pooler could not hear over the whirs ... of the rotors, were shouted but the President was too far away from the pool to hear them and did not even react, let alone respond.”
“SPECTRUM” - An announcement - certain to be the talk of kitchen tables and barrooms across the America – that the “Biden-Harris Administration” is moving to update the country’s “spectrum” policies.
“Spectrum?” It’s the availability of radio frequencies used in wireless technology, not just for cell phones, but for “precision agriculture,” unmanned aircraft, and missions to the moon.
Turns out there’s not enough spectrum, so the effort is to update policies rationing a scarce resource, including sharing existing frequencies, developing new technology, training a specialized workforce, and, of course, figuring out how to resolve turf wars between federal agencies.
CAMPAIGN TALK - The press office sends an 11-page transcript of a campaign talk by Biden four days earlier, on Nov. 9, at a campaign reception at Ignite Glass Studios in Chicago.
Speaking at 5:02 p.m. CST, Biden was taking victory laps following the Nov. 7 elections:
“Just a few days ago, despite all the predictions, except ours, Democrats had an incredible night once again....”
Rhode Island readers may be interested that Biden mentioned a race of local interest:
“A young man, Gabe Amo, who worked in my administration, became the first Black member of Congress from the state of Rhode Island (applause).”
And he slammed Donald Trump:
“Folks, the same man who said we should terminate the rules and regulations and articles of the Constitution – these are things he said – is now running on a plan to end democracy as we know it.”
VETERANS DAY SPEECH – A transcript of Biden’s Veterans Day speech two days earlier, Nov. 11, at Arlington National Cemetery.
THE VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS meet Biden. For the sports-impaired, which includes me, the Knights are a Las Vegas hockey team that won a championship called the Stanley Cup on June 13, defeating the Florida Panthers.
Presidents relish the reflected glory of winners, and a chance to show they're everyday folks, interested in more than politics. The in-town pool reports that “POTUS strode into the East Room at 11:23 a.m."
“Look, just six years ago, the idea of a championship team playing on ice, in the Vega desert – Vegas desert – I mean, think about this (laughter), who would’ve’ – who would’ve thunk of it, as they say?” Biden says.
Biden praises the team’s work with people who are homeless, at food drives and other charitable initiatives, and also for helping Las Vegas through the trauma of the 2017 mass shooting that killed.
Biden says team Captain Mark Stone is “my kind of guy.”
“Two back surgeries – two back surgeries in a year. Missing the second half of the season. Returns for game one of the playoffs and scores a hat trick in game five to win a Stanley Cup (applause).”
Stone says that appearing in the White House is an honor, and adds that “It’s a lot easier playing hockey in front of 20,000 than this.”
The in-town pool reports: “POTUS exited the East room at 11:36 a.m., without taking questions from the press.” The foreign pool reports: “No foreign news.”
KOREAN VETERANS – A White House press release says that Biden has signed the “Korean American Vietnam Allies Long Overdue for Relief Act,” also known as the “Korean American VALOR Act,” making some veterans’ benefits available. I can’t figure out more from the brief release.
BRIEFING ON “UPCOMING BILATERAL ENGAGEMENT." The press office sends out a transcript of a teleconference briefing for reporters that was held Nov. 9, embargoed until the next day, now emailed three days after that.
"Senior administration officials" provide background on the meeting between Biden and China’s president, Xi Jinping scheduled in two days, Nov. 15 in San Francisco, an event that will probably dwarf anything Biden does today.
WOMEN’S HEALTH RESEARCH. At a ceremony in the Oval Office, Biden signs a memorandum establishing “the first-ever” White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research.
“Women make up more than half the population,” Biden says. “But for too long, they’ve been underrepresented when it comes to health research and the money spent on that research. That’s going to change today.”
The initiative, led by Jill Biden, requires various federal agencies to report what they’ve been doing about research into women’s health, and suggest what they could do in the future.
Mrs. Biden credits Maria Shriver with championing the idea. Shriver, a former TV anchor and reporter, was once married to former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and founded the Women’s Alzheimer Movement.
As the is ending about 2:23, the poolers are in for a surprise: they ask questions - and Biden answers them.
Is he concerned about a possible government shutdown? He says House leaders are working on a solution, so he’ll wait to see what they do. Will he veto one of the funding approaches being discussed? He’ll decide when there’s an actual proposal.
Has the president expressed concerns to Israeli leaders about continued bombing affecting Gazan hospitals?
"Well, as we know, I have not been reluctant expressing my concerns with what's going on,” Biden says. “And it is my hope and expectation is that there will be less intrusive action relative to the hospital. We’re in contact, and we’re – with - with the Israelis. Also, there is an effort to get this pause to deal with the release of prisoners, and that's being negotiated as well- with the Qataris are engaged and – So, I remain somewhat hopeful. But the hospital must be protected."
MEETING WITH INDONESIAN PRESIDENT – This is supposed to be the day’s Big Moment, a well-orchestrated meeting between Biden and Joko Widodo, president of Indonesia.
I had to look up some of this on Wikipedia: Indonesia is BIG. It’s the world’s fourth most populous country, with 279-million people. It’s made up of 17,000 islands and is the world’s largest Muslim country.
Indonesia is the object of a tug-of-war between China and the U.S. over economic and military influence in its neck of the woods.
The motorcade with Widodo arrives at the White House at 4:18 p.m., according to the poolers, and Biden walks out to greet him, placing his hand on Widodo’s back as they go into the West Wing.
“Today, we’re talking about taking our relationship to launching the highest possible level of cooperation,” Biden says.
Widodo says: “The U.S. is one of the most important partners of Indonesia, and we agreed to elevate our partnership into (a) comprehensive strategic partnership.”
Widodo presses the United States to intervene in the Israeli-Hamas conflict: “I appeal to the U.S. to do more to stop the atrocities in Gaza and have a cease fire, for the sake of humanity.”
Biden jokes that he and Widodo had “an important discussion on climate” when they met outside the White House, saying that Widodo told him: “I’m cold.” Biden replied: “I can take care of that immediately,” by taking him inside.
The White House follows up with two releases, totaling 13 pages, summarizing agreements worked out prior to the event.
Folks, let me be honest: I do not have enough spectrum to digest all of that.
- Diversifying the Global Semiconductor Ecosystem.
- Increasing Digital Connectivity in Rural Indonesia.
- Partnering on Sustainable Energy and Minerals.
- Bolstering Maritime Security Restoring Indonesia’s National Museum.
DRUG POLICY. In a news release, the White House says that a new National Survey on Drug Use and Health has found that 48 million people were affected last year. The release notes Biden has asked for $1.55 billion for treatment and recovery, plus $1.2 billion to combat drug trafficking.
BIDEN TO MEET ANOTHER FOREIGN LEADER. Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre announces that Biden will meet with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador “on the sidelines” of the Nov. 17 conference where Biden will confer with China’s president.
The in-town pool says its watch ended at 5:25 p.m.
The press office issues a schedule for the next day. It includes the morning intelligence briefing, an address by Biden at the White House about “the climate crisis,” his flight to San Francisco and a West Coast campaign reception that evening.
So, I didn't find out most of what Biden did Nov 13.
Even so, it seemed a lot.
He had his morning intelligence briefing – a terrible way to start any day. He flew in a helicopter; kissed his wife; walked in and out of the White House; snubbed the press; palled around with hockey stars; hosted, with his wife, an announcement about women’s health; made unscripted comments to White House reporters; met with a major world leader.
Meanwhile, his public relations machine churned out press releases some current, some not. But they made me realize that a president, at least one who takes his job seriously, operates not just in the moment, but is always looking back and ahead.
Listen, folks, I didn’t fall off the turnip truck. Much of what we “saw” was done by other people who really are invisible. Just like Biden doesn’t mow the White House lawn, or vacuum the Oval Office rugs, he doesn’t write position papers on spectrum rationing or remind people about what he’s asked Congress to spend on drug policy.
Let me be clear about this. Most of the things that we know he did Nov. 13, were not widely reported, at least as I looked through major on-line sites like the New York Times and the Washington Post.
The Times did publish a story the next day on his meeting with Joko Widodo - on Page 9. The Associated Press did stories on the other major events, but I couldn’t find them easily on its website. His Gaza comment was widely quoted.
I’m not arguing that news outlets should have done or promoted more of the stories that the press office was pushing – spectrum policy isn’t breathtaking news.
But heading into his 81st birthday on Nov. 20, Biden was anything but invisible.
To the contrary, he could be seen doing what we hired him to do and most of that was no fun.
Folks, somebody has to worry about whether there’s enough spectrum, and to be there to give Indonesia's president a pat on the back. He's there alright, and we're lucky that he is.
ONE YEAR TO GO:
THE NEWS FOR BIDEN IS BAD. AND TERRIFYING FOR THE REST OF US
The nation’s news organizations marked the occasion with a slew of stories more frightening than anything you can experience at a movie or any other fictional horror production.
Every one of the political stories I saw this morning indicates that voters will betray their nation and the world by sending Donald Trump – an insurrectionist, a criminal, a business and tax cheat, a rapist, a vengeful psychopath – back to the White House.
Joe Biden, on the other hand, who as been among the best of U.S. presidents – flawed but competent, rational, experienced, skilled and at his core, compassionate - likely will be an ex-president.
It seems incredible that our nation would consider handing the nuclear codes and the other levers of presidential power to Trump- that even such a possibility could be anything but the daydream of a murderous cult.
But today’s headlines uniformly point to just that.
Let’s start with the most terrifying story of the bunch, from the New York Times, which says that if Nov. 5 next year is like Nov. 5 this year, Donald Trump will be president:
"President Biden is trailing Donald J. Trump in five of the six most important battleground states one year before the 2024 election, suffering from enormous doubts about his age and deep dissatisfaction over his handling of the economy and a host of other issues, new polls by the New York Times and Siena College have found.
The results show Mr. Biden losing to Mr. Trump, his likeliest Republican rival, by margins of three to 10 percentage points among registered voters in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada and Pennsylvania. Mr. Biden is ahead only in Wisconsin, by two percentage points, the poll found.
Discontent pulsates throughout the Times/Siena poll, with a majority of voters saying Mr. Biden’s policies have personally hurt them. The survey also reveals the extent to which the multiracial and multigenerational coalition that elected Mr. Biden is fraying. Demographic groups that backed Mr. Biden by landslide margins in 2020 are now far more closely contested, as two-thirds of the electorate sees the country moving in the wrong direction.
The Times’ rival newspaper, the Washington Post, tells us what Trump will do as his first order of business in a second term: impose an authoritarian government, especially converting the the Department of Justice into a Department of Revenge, going after his rivals, including Biden and former members of his administration who turned on him.
And in case you are planning to take to the streets in protest, the plotters are studying the Insurrection Act, which hope will enable the military to quash protests, something Trump and his folks have dreamed of since the Black Lives Matter protests.
"Donald Trump and his allies have begun mapping out specific plans for using the federal government to punish critics and opponents should he win a second term, with the former president naming individuals he wants to investigate or prosecute and his associates drafting plans to potentially invoke the Insurrection Act on his first day in office to allow him to deploy the military against civil demonstrations.
In private, Trump has told advisers and friends in recent months that he wants the Justice Department to investigate onetime officials and allies who have become critical of his time in office, including his former chief of staff, John Kelly, and former attorney general William P. Barr, as well as his ex-attorney Ty Cobb and former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Mark A. Milley, according to people who have talked to him, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations. Trump has also talked of prosecuting officials at the FBI and Justice Department, a person familiar with the matter said.
One of the most effective attacks on Biden by his Republican acolytes has been to define Joe Biden as a criminal, linking him to his son Hunter Biden, who has contended with drug addiction and traded on his father’s name. The message: all politicians are corrupt.
This is preposterous. Trump is facing scores of charges in four different courts, the most serious of which is his multi-pronged attempt to overthrow the 2020 election, including spawning the violent attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Politico, the online news organization, throws another log onto the Hunter fire by finding that Biden’s statements distancing himself from his son's activities have not been as truthful as they seem. No finding that President Joe is corrupt, just that he's not been as forthright as he should be. But it continues the "Biden's dirty as Trump" falsehood.
"A POLITICO review of recent congressional testimony and exhibits, along with court filings and media reports, casts doubt on several statements made by Biden and his representatives.
They include the president’s claim that he has never discussed his relatives’ business dealings with anyone and his suggestion that the appearance of emails apparently belonging to his son was the result of a Russian plot, as well as Biden’s denials that his son made money from China and that his relatives have profited off of the Biden name.
The latest international disaster – the Israel-Hamas war – has created huge divides throughout the world, no more so than in the United States. Some Democrats and members the Left are highly critical of Biden’s full-voiced support of Israel; the criticism has grown deeper since Israel’s air attacks on the Gaza Strip, killing thousands, many of them children.
Of course, Hamas’ Oct. 7 strike against Israel was unconscionably savage. But as Hamas may have hoped, Israel's response has unleashed a surge of antisemitism, the fury of which has not been seen for decades.
Biden and his secretary of state, Antony Blinken, have tried – without success – to get Israel to protect civilians in Gaza. Nonetheless, Biden is losing support among Leftists, which the Times poll shows he can hardly afford to forfeit.
Here’s what the news site, Axios, had to say about all of that today:
"No issue threatens to break President Biden's fragile Democratic coalition like Israel's response to the Hamas terrorist attack.
Why it matters: Infighting is spreading, slowly but meaningfully, at every layer of the Democratic Party over Biden's full throated support of Israel. It runs much deeper than college campus protests or caustic comments from elected officials.
Step back and survey the split:
Many liberal Jews are furious that so many progressive Democrats aren't more outraged by the slaughter of family and friends back in Israel. Some are threatening to leave the party.
Pro-Palestinian Democrats are outraged at the rising death tolls in Gaza made possible by Biden's posture.
But look as hard as you might, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any stories, 365 days before the election, that provide optimism for a Biden victory.
If you are fan of Joe Biden, as I am, this collection of stories indicates that the electorate is turning against the president.
He is an able president. The economy is doing relatively well – it’s never, in the best of times, been kind to the middle class or those in poverty.
Biden has made good on pledges to fight global warming – not as much or as successfully as is necessary to reverse the potential doom to the planet.
Mostly, he has restored a sense of order and competence to government, and moved the nation towards its historic, though elusive, aspirations of fairness and inclusiveness.
We owe Joe Biden our respect and thanks. Instead, our neighbors, our fellow voters, seem bent on an irrational and ultimately self-defeating betrayal of the man, and exchange him for a man you would not want near your children.
I don’t blame the media for the stories I’ve cited - they are doing what they are supposed to. Except on one point.
If an asteroid were heading toward earth and threatening to destroy the planet, the news stories would not only discuss the technical details, but describe the catastrophe that will result.
What’s missing in most of the negative stories today is a sense of alarm as to what a Trump second term will mean, the exception being the Washington Post piece.
Even weather stories do better on this front. Any story about about an impending hurricane, tornado, or flood, also raises an alarm of the storm's consequences.
Today's roundup of Biden-is-toast stories, and those going forward, should not just report the facts outlined in the polls and other reporting, they should also warn us of the destruction that will result from an approaching political calamity.
Tomorrow, there will be just 364 days until the election.
THE PARK'S FLAG WAS AT HALF-MAST. BUT WHY?
In any case, the temperature reached an amazing 75 degrees, and the TV forecasters said that this would truly be the final, final day before winter dug its claws into New England. A goodly number of visitors, dog walkers and parents and grandparents pushing baby carriages heeded the forecast. Two huge cruise ships were anchored in the harbor between the park and the more than two-mile arc of the Newport Bridge; sail boats of all configurations darted up and down Narragansett Bay, on their way to or returning from the Atlantic Ocean.
The world seemed at rest at the giant fortress itself – a massive stone structure whose military claim to fame is that it was never actually engaged in military action since its creation in the 1850s as a guardian of the Bay.
Instead, since its transfer in 1965 to the state, the 105-acre park has served as the very definition of a swords-into-plowshares conversion. It’s now home to the Newport Folk and Jazz Festivals, sailing clubs, rugby and soccer matches, weddings, dog shelter fundraisers, antique car shows, shore fishing and mainly a magnet for anyone craving a walk in the park.
I glanced up at the fort’s huge American flag against the backdrop of an all blue sky, and noticed that the flag was at half-mast.
A FLAG AT HALF-MAST means something awful has happened. The symbolism is as frightening as it is mysterious. There’s never a message, a sign or loudspeaker to explain why the flag has been dropped to the halfway point.
There could be so many reasons.
Was it the tragedy in Israel and the Gaza Strip? On Oct.7, the terrorist organization, Hamas, had attacked Israel in the most savage ways imaginable, brutally killing mostly civilians, and capturing hundreds as hostages to become cruel bargaining tokens in week and months to come.
Was the flag lowered in sorrow for the thousands of Gazans, mostly civilians, killed and wounded in Israels punishing air strikes and now by a much feared ground attack?
Had Fort Adams’ flag been lowered, not in support or opposition to either side, but in protest of war itself?
Another possibility: maybe the flag was lowered in sorrow and sympathy for what had recently taken place in tiny Rhode Island’s giant northern New England neighbor, where a crazed gunman had slaughtered 18 people in Lewiston, Maine in the latest Big-Number-Murder-by-Gun episode?
Was the flag lowered because, following the shootings, some terrified Maine residents went on a buying spree, rushing to gun stores so that they’d have something to fight back with?
Was the flag lowered here in Rhode Island, the birthplace of religious freedom, because Speaker Johnson seemed eager to impose his faith on the rest of the nation. Or because, speaking of the Lewiston massacre with Sean Hannity on Fox News, Johnson had spewed nonsense:
“The end of the day, it’s — the problem is the human heart,” Johnson had said. “It’s not guns, it’s not the weapons. At the end of the day, we have to protect the right of the citizens to protect themselves and that’s the Second Amendment, and that’s why our party stands so strongly for that.”
Was the flag lowered because Speaker Johnson and his fellow insurrectionists would just as soon turn over Ukraine to the invading Russians?
Was it dropped because of the accelerating pace of man-made global warming that will make the earth uninhabitable?
Had the Fort Adams flag been lowered to acknowledge the relentless peril facing our democracy, because Donald Trump, a would-be dictator, dressed for Halloween as a clown, stands a realistic chance of winning a second term?
FACT IS, that the flag could be lowered for any hundreds of reasons. That is the peril in which we all live every day, but which we mostly ignore, mistakenly thinking that, as a country, we are immune from all of these multiple catastrophes, and that every day is just a walk in the park.
For the record, when I got home, I looked on the state’s website, and found that R.I. Gov. Dan McKee on Oct. 26 had ordered flags lowered at state facilities, and to “remain at half-staff until sunset on October 30, 2023 in memory of the victims of the horrific mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine.”
Made sense, I suppose.
AT A RHODE ISLAND STREET FAIR,
THE HAMAS TERROR SEEMED CLOSE
It was just a week ago in Israel - on a previous Saturday that none of us cannot stop thinking about – that the Hamas terrorist organization, which rules the Palestinian ghetto known as the Gaza Strip, conducted one of the most savage atrocities of our lifetime.
So, as I took pictures of Jonathan and his mother; and as Judy and I walked around the fair, then listened to the band, I reimagined one of the most horrible events that had occurred last week, the attack on the “rave,” in which hundreds of concertgoers were slaughtered.
What would it have been like if terrorists today swept into Newport’s Broadway on hang gliders, pickups and motorcycles and began machine-gunning people lined up at the food stands, taking my wife hostage as she was getting a gigantic ice cream cone at the Ben & Jerry’s tent, turning their guns on Jonathan and the other We Own Landers, butchering the small children running around to the music in front of the stage?
One thing that I cannot get my mind around is how each Hamas terrorist, one by one, individually, could bring himself to do such things, to shoot innocents, burn their houses, hunt and destroy babies?
I know that people do such things. Americans slaughtered its indigenous peoples, lynched and otherwise murdered Blacks, tortured and killed gay people; that it’s true that many, maybe most of us, can and do become savages, given the right circumstances. American soldiers in every war commit atrocities, police who are supposed to protect us, shoot citizens in the back and choke them to death while the cameras roll.
Still, I ask: Why didn’t you, individually, say, “No, this I won’t do.”
It’s a question asked throughout history, certainly after the Holocaust and World War II. And there are lots of answers, none of the satisfactory. We were attacked; we were mistreated; we were indoctrinated; we were impoverish; our mothers wanted us to; we are patriots; we were ordered to; we had no alternatives.
The Hamas assault on Israel will stand in history as an unforgettable, inexcusable horrific outrage.
As a white Protestant, who grew up in Vermont, I have no lifetime insight into what it is like to be a Jew; what it means to be among the most attacked people in history; and I have no real understanding intellectually, emotionally, of what it means to Jews anywhere to have finally established a nation-sanctuary in Israel.
Certainly, as the son of an Episcopal minister, I was not raised in the tradition of Jewish religion or culture. There is some suspicion in my family that my maternal grandfather may have had Jewish origins. But he had no impact on my life, any more than did my paternal grandmother, who had German roots, and who, my parents hinted, was an anti-Semite.
Growing up, I was thrilled by the establishment of Israel. It took a while for me to learn that it was not as clear cut as saying that the tiny bit of geography that became Israel was “a land without people, for a people without land.” That, a man who’d served as a tank commander in the Israeli army before becoming a non-violence worker in Rhode Island, was a myth.
Still, I cheer that Israel exists; and that as a young nation, after it was attacked by its neighbors, who wanted it and every Jew in it, destroyed, fought back, making good on the post-Holocaust pledge of “Never again.” I regard Israel as a place of hope, and believe that its democratic traditions mirror our own severely flawed democratic aspirations.
I also believe that Israel’s democracy has soured – as has our own – and that its right-wing government dishonors the idealism of the younger Israel. The treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is one of oppression, allowing its people no real rights, leaving them increasingly without hope; the settlement movement blatantly snatches away territory, undermining a realistic promise of a Palestinian homeland.
None of which excuses what Hamas did a week ago. It remains the very definition of a war crime, especially its brutal attack on civilians and the taking of hostages.
Maybe, as a ordinary person trying to fathom evil, imagining the what-ifs as I attended that Newport street fair and concert; and perhaps as a nominal taxpayer of Israel’s greatest champion, the United States.
But I’m concerned about what seems - at least to me - our country’s lop-sided approach to what the hideously persistent Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has outlined as a response to the Hamas war crime: Bomb the smithereens out of Gaza; shut off its electricity; turn off its water; starve the Gazans; “warn” them to leave their homes, pending an imminent land invasion to exterminate Hamas, without offering them a practical way to relocate.
What Netanyahu is orchestrating is also a war crime.
I have no idea what the “appropriate” Israeli response should be. As President Biden says, the country has a right to defend itself. If Israel does nothing, it surely will perish. And every attempt at “peace” can be foiled by terrorists who can do so much damage with just a bit of advance planning. There are Palestinians who absolutely hate Jews, and Jews who absolutely hate Palestinians. And young men can and will do unspeakable things.
I’m stuck with this belief:
One war crime can’t be cured by a second one.
There is always a third way. I just don’t know what it is.
All that I know is that today I went to a street fair, and I couldn’t get the Hamas evil out of my head, or the fear that Israel means to do something, perhaps on a larger scale.
We left our son’s performance and the street fair early. Not because machine-gunners arrived by hang gliders, pickups and motorcycles, but because it had started to rain.
VACATIONING IN A TINY PLACE
WHERE THE LANDSCAPE HAS BEEN SAVED
AND DEMOCRACY IS ON THE AGENDA
Luckily for us, the Block Island town council (legally, the New Shoreham council) was meeting on the second evening of our one-week stay on what is a spectacular, tiny chunk of rock and sand 12 miles off the Rhode Island mainland.
We made sure that we had an early supper, so as not to be tardy; in fact, part of our adventures earlier in the day had been to check out the parking situation at town hall, ensuring there’d be sufficient room for a car arriving with two off-islanders.
Everything went as planned, and when the meeting ended – it SEEMED like two hours later - some of the council members cheerfully quizzed us as to whom we were and why we were there. In a town of some 1,000 year-round residents, strangers at a council meeting warrants an investigation.
We told them that’s just what we do on vacation.
What we didn’t tell them was that this year the story was more complex, and had everything to do with Donald Trump, who had spent HIS day in a New York courtroom, insulting the judge and prosecutors who would determine to what degree he has been a business cheat.
It would have taken too much time to explain the connection between Defendant Trump and the Block Island council, and even if we’d tried, it would have sounded as batty as the desperate, deranged times in which we all are trapped.
* * *
THE MEETING ITSELF, to put it mildly, was insufferably routine, especially given recent dramatic happenings on a island where extraordinarily generous landowners and philanthropists have conserved nearly half of the island’s stunning landscape as forever-open-space, but where, for the most part, only the Superrich can afford homes that run into the millions of dollars.
A big event had happened Aug. 18, when one of the town’s landmarks, the Harborside Inn, was destroyed by a fire so fierce that crews and equipment from mainland departments had to be brought by ferry to assist island firefighters. No one was killed, and nearby wooden buildings were largely spared. The cause may have been connected with grease buildup in the kitchen exhaust system, and there was controversy about whether the place was appropriately inspected.
And the week before we got there, ferry service to and from the island was suspended for several days because of rough water caused by an ocean storm most of us weren’t paying attention to – a disruption that was especially difficult for island businesses dependent on tourism and for which every summer day counts on the bottom lines of their fragile balance sheets.
None of which was discussed at the particular town council meeting we attended Oct. 2.
Nope. The agenda was spectacularly mind-numbing, of the sort that makes you wonder why five presumably sensible men and women would want to serve on the council in the first place, much less seek reelection once they got a of taste of what local government is really about.
The Block Island town hall is a modernistic, squeaky clean building, and the council chambers are comfortable but spare, the council members seated behind a long desk at the front, facing rows of chairs for the audience, reminding me of the profound simplicity of early New England meeting houses. An ultra-modern addition is a giant TV screen on one wall, so that much of council business can be conducted remotely over the Internet, a holdover benefit of the Covid years.
Indeed, much of the “action” this evening included on-screen presentations from consultants, who might have been on Mars, advising the town about reconstruction of its school building and an ongoing upgrade of the municipal website.
The town planner, who could have been on the moon, explained the convoluted process of harmonizing town zoning ordinances with recently enacted state laws.
A big chunk of discussion had to do with Agenda Item 11 , labeled: “Discussion and act on requesting the Recreation Board and Staff to create a short and long term recreation strategy/plan regarding new and potentially retrofitted assets (courts, fields, etc.) on town land.”
As it turned out, what this was really about was pickleball, in part whether the town’s sole outdoor basketball court, and one or two of its tennis courts, might be converted into pickleball courts. I’m guessing here that that the obscure wording of the agenda item, whether deliberately or not, avoided the tiny town council chambers from being overrun by pickleball fanatics, tennis and basketball players worried they might be shoved aside by the pickleballers, and neighbors panicked by the prospect, real or imagined, of noise, traffic and parking conflicts. No decisions were made, other than to have the town staff look into present and future recreational needs in a place where land and resources are finite and precious.
Toward the end of the agenda was something I thought might provoke some controversy. When I used to cover local town councils and school committee as a newspaper reporter, I always hoped some end-of-the-meeting subjects might result in an outbreak of “trouble,” a commodity otherwise known in the trade as news.
In this case, the town manager was proposing that a long-serving lieutenant be named interim chief of the police department following the sudden resignation of the former chief. I wondered whether such an appointment might stir up debate, given the sensitivity of the post in a town often swarmed by alcohol-infused tourists, plus the possibility that an interim appointment might lead to a permanent one, much to the chagrin of other chief-hopefuls. Nope. Both the council and the lieutenant were delighted with the idea and the meeting quickly came to a close.
* * *
SO WHY DID A FUN COUPLE from off-island spend a precious evening of a short vacation at the New Shoreham R.I. town hall?
In previous vacations, we’d found that sitting in on a town council meeting is a way to get a flavor of the place we’re visiting. We did so once at the West Tisbury select board’s meeting on Martha’s Vineyard, although it was so long ago that I don’t remember what exactly we learned.
Many years ago, during another Block Island visit, we went to a council hearing on a proposal to build a wind turbine at the town rubbish transfer station, an attempt to cut notoriously high electricity costs for municipal buildings. It was the first time we got a taste of how controversial wind power can be. Indeed, the proposal failed, although ironically, five giant turbines later were installed off Block Island, setting the stage for larger offshore projects off New England.
But the reason this year’s vacation visit to a town hall was different: it was both personal and emotional.
Donald Trump, the most evil and vile president in U.S. history – a racist, liar, a rapist, insurrectionist, defendant in numerous court cases and a would-be autocrat – stands a real chance of regaining his office in an election just 12 months from now, an event which will mean a catastrophic collapse of democracy in every corner of America.
So, what better way to spend part of our vacation than in a place where democracy is practiced in its most primal and immediate form?
Don’t get me wrong, small town governments are far from perfect. Cheating, stealing and ineptness are as alive and well at the grassroots as they are in state and national capitals.
But most men and women who work at the town level give up big chunks of their lives to make their communities work. They worry about limited recreation “assets” in the face of a national pickleball craze, and whether the municipal website can be improved to give the public a better idea of what they do. They care about the quality of construction at their kids’ school. And whether a man who has given 20 of his best years as a police officer might finish his career as his department’s leader.
All of which may disappear in an election now just a year away.
But last night it felt good to be in a beautiful place, where democracy was in full swing and was the most important item on the agenda.
LET'S NOT WAKE UP NOV. 6, 2024 SAYING:
'WE DITCHED JOE BIDEN AS BEING TOO OLD'
This is what I don’t want to be saying on Nov. 6, 2024, the morning after.
“What a fool I was.”
Realizing that we had a winning candidate, but that we threw him overboard. His name was Joe Biden. We convinced ourselves that he was “too old” to be president, and so we abandoned him.
I admit it. I was one of millions of Americans, who, all through the spring, summer and fall of 2023, were talking ourselves out of putting Joe Biden – arguably the best president of our lifetime - back in the White House.
We wanted someone else.
There were lots of someone-elses, all younger.
My favorite was Gretchen Whitmer, the 52-year-old governor of Michigan.
She knew how to run a big, complicated state. She was the object of a kidnap plot, so she knew about the Dark Side. And it was way time to elect a woman president, especially when medical care was being curtailed for women.
Experienced, smart, qualified, gifted.
For example, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro, 50, who got that Route 95 bridge fixed and fast. Gavin Newsom, 56, the feisty, combative Democrat who ran a liberal state with an economy bigger than many countries.
And those were just a few of the many attractive Democrats who were outright invisible to the average American voter.
Which is what made it so obvious that Whitmer, or someone just like her, was going to lose the most important election in American history, thereby plunging the United States into madness.
Why didn’t I see that?
How could I, and lots of other Democrats and friendly Independents, be so stupid not to see that Joe Biden was the only man or woman who could possibly beat Donald Trump?
I’ll tell you why I spent so much time arguing that we needed someone new, someone younger: I was – and remain – an old fool.
I MEAN THAT LITERALLY. I’m just five months older than Joe Biden. He’s a mere 80 years old today and will stay that way for the rest of the fall, catching up to me on Nov. 20, when he finally turns 81.
Anyway, because I know a thing or two about Absolute Old Age, I’ve been arguing that when humans reach our 80s, we have crossed into treacherous territory.
Terrible things happen to some people, and eventually, to everyone. Nothing gets better.
We get sick. My wife has driven me to our local emergency room too often this year (kidney stones). Sometimes in our 80s, chronic illnesses start to catch up with us (I’m diabetic, who, in clinical terms, is “well controlled,” but you never know when it’s going to cripple or blind).
My brain, never a stellar performer, doesn’t work as well as I would like. It takes me a minute or two – and sometimes months – to remember the word or the name I want to say. I don’t think I’m demented yet – but really, you shouldn't take my word for that, for obvious reasons.
I nap a lot. I turn up the heat in the house when it’s not winter. On any sidewalk, on any day, I will be the slowest pedestrian, and that includes small people clinging to their fathers’ hands, folks with canes or who are pushing baby carriages.
Were it not for Social Security, pensions and some savings, my wife and I would be on the street, or worse, banging on the doors of our adult children and their offspring.
“Mom! Baba and Deda are here, and they have suitcases.”
I no longer work in the career that gave me so much joy and my life such meaning, as a reporter. I simply cannot do such stressful, demanding work; can't do it to pay the taxes on the house, put gas in the car, not to save my life.
Our friends are dying, and, as it turns out, they're in their 80s. In some months, it has seemed like the only professional-grade writing I do is for my friends' obituaries.
It should be said that my wife (who, like Joe, will reach the 81-mark in November) and I are the lucky ones. We’ve survived the scary sounding illnesses like cancer and cardiac defects, even avoided Covid, so that, at the moment, life is pretty much as it has been for big parts of two centuries.
But well off as we are today, my experience with Absolute Old Age is not an argument about qualifying for any paid job, to say nothing of providing resume material for something as demanding as commander-in-chief, leader of the free world, chief economist, climate change crusader, champion of civil rights and national problem solver.
We are all different. Joe Biden seems to be a more active and competent 80-year-old than I was. On the other hand, he has someone to cut the grass, vacuum the house and change the kitty litter.
Fact is, I'm an expert only on an older me, not Joe Biden.
In the past, I’ve argued there is still time for an alternate candidate to get publicized, recognized and endorsed by most voters. That’s just wrong. Lot’s of Americans don’t pay close attention to elections and politics. That’s not a good thing; but it’s reality. Jared Polis; J.B. Pritzker. Do you recognize their names? Anyone?
Let’s praise Joe Biden. He, in his own words, rescued “the soul of America.” He returned the nation to normal. He is a decent man – as decent as possible for someone with that amount of power.
Instead of running him down as an Old Man, let’s celebrate the fact that he regularly rides a bicycle, not a golf cart. Maybe, exiting Air Force One, he should ride his bike down the ramp, finishing up with a couple of wheelies on the tarmac. Mainly, let’s show some enthusiasm for all the stuff he can do and will do in the future.
And let’s not focus on the nonsense that “when he leaves office, he’ll be 86.”
What counts most of all is what he does in the next 15 months.
The Democratic nominee will be just 81 for the majority of the campaign. As a happy warrior-style candidate, he’ll do both jobs – president and presidential candidate – better than anyone else.
Let’s think of ourselves as looking back in 2024 on the day after the Nov. 5 election.
Will we look back in sorrow and shame?
Or will we look back in joy, having put a democrat – not an autocrat – back in the White House?
A 'CONE OF UNCERTAINTY'
- THE POLITICAL VERSION
The Cone is a blob-like caricature, with an ever-expanding head, since the farther away storms are in time, the more places that notoriously erratic hurricanes might end up.
The weather service sometimes refers to this graphic as the “Cone of Uncertainty,” which makes sense, since it’s a composite of weather experts’ best guesstimates of where a storm could strike.
As I thought about it, “The Cone of Uncertainty” is an apt phrase for not only the danger of a catastrophic weather event, but the devastating possibility that Donald J. Trump once again could be president of the United States.
The difference is that it’s possible to recover from and even prevent some effects of devastating hurricanes, horrific wildfires and terrible floods. But once a country becomes a dictatorship – especially in a technological age – it’s unlikely we can return to a democratic normal.
Authoritarian countries do not solve problems, they make them worse. A Trump regime will not confront any of the big problems like climate change, job-destroying possibilities created by artificial intelligence, racial inequality, uneven health care, injustice, homelessness and all the other plagues of contemporary life.
Which makes the Cone of Uncertainty such an appropriate symbol of our unique era, because political catastrophe is just around the corner, with time itself the enemy as the 2024 election is almost upon us.
The weather service’s Cone of Uncertainty is based on a variety of computer models that take into account known atmospheric events, and then analyzes the what-ifs and where-nexts.
The same goes for our political models, all of which tell us there are seemingly endless possibilities, any one of which, or in various combinations, could be our ruin.
- Joe Biden’s age. He’s 80. Lots of people don’t make it that far, but for those who do, it’s a dangerous decade in which many things can and will go wrong: strokes, dementia, bad colds, Covid, broken bones and, at any moment, death itself.
- Joe Biden’s hubris. He appears to think he’s not only the best person to take on Donald Trump, but the only one. In this, Biden acts like the deranged Trump sounded in 2016, when he proclaimed that “I alone can fix” a supposedly a broken America. Biden has been a successful and accomplished president. But now he pretends that human bodies – at least his – do not wear out and that death is but a remote possibility.
- Republican madness. Whether it’s fear, love or insanity, the Republican Party is Trump’s to do with, whatever and whenever he wishes. MAGA-tisim may not have hypnotized a majority of voters, but it’s produced a significant and reliable core of support for Trump.
- America divided. It doesn’t seem possible, given the legion of Trump’s failures as president and his multi-pronged, seditious attempt to stay in power, that the nation seems evenly divided when comparing Trump and Biden. A RealClearPolitics matchup shows Biden with 44.5 percent and Trump 44.3 of an imagined 2024 vote. If you’re unwilling to do the math, RealClearPolitics has done it for you, putting Biden’s margin at 0.2 points.
- Young voters. Young people may be turning away from the Democratic Party, and surely, they have no sympathy from Biden’s Old Man image.
- No-labels party. The proposal to form a third party to give voters a “choice” from a Biden-Trump rematch would, in fact, peel off votes from Biden, not Trump, and would land The Defendant back in the White House.
- Inflation. Sure, it’s slowing down, and maybe because of the Federal Reserve’s sledgehammer “policies,” which moderate price increases by making homes and other essentials too costly and throwing some Americans out of work. But rents still are too high, grocery bills out of whack, cars overpriced and at any moment, for any reason, those giant numbers that gas stations post on their price billboards could double or triple, the practical message being: “Biden’s Fault.”
- Flawed Constitution. We grew up thinking the Constitution assured a continuing and stable democracy. But Trump has demonstrated its many weaknesses, including the provision for an Electoral College counting of the votes, which means that Democrats can win the most overall votes but lose the election - just ask Hillary Clinton and Al Gore.
- Stupid ideas. Sometimes they are the brainchildren of smart people. Case in point, Laurence Tribe, a liberal academic, and Michael Luttig, a conservative former federal judge, argue that Trump should be barred automatically from running because of a clause in the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, which says officials who violate their oaths of office by seditious activities can’t seek election. Granted you and I believe Trump tried to overthrow the government. But it hasn’t been proven in either a court or an impeachment trial. Trump supporters and lots of other people rightfully would go bonkers if that kind of a stunt succeeded.
THESE ARE ONLY SOME of the elements that make up our political Cone of Uncertainty.
What is for sure is that they are all real and all dangerous and could mean the end of democracy in America.
But here’s the thing about the Cone of Uncertainty: the storm IS coming; and there IS time to prepare for and maybe even head it off.
Joe Biden does not have to run again. There are talented, competent Democrats who already are or could become national leaders, like Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Boston Mayor Michelle Wu. MAGA voters are not a majority of voters. People voting in large enough numbers can overcome the Electoral College’s idiotic tally. Young people can come to their senses. Stupid ideas can be chucked into the waste baskets. Democracy can be energized if enough people care.
The Cone of Uncertainty works both ways.
Penny Hope, a ‘humanist,’ who opened the door to women at Billy Goode’s bar
Note: Penelope Lee Hope, a writer, actor and teacher, died June 26 at age 81. I interviewed her in 2012 for a Rhode Island Monthly article about the history of Billy Goode’s Tavern. Recently, I found my notes and wrote a fuller story, recalling early battles to undo deep seated sexism. A Retrospective honoring Hope will be held Saturday, Sept. 9, from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Newport Art Museum, 76 Bellevue Ave., Newport, R.I.
The tavern's root went back to Prohibition, as a speakeasy mischievously called “The Mission.” After repeal, it was renamed for its owner, William J. Goode, who ran the establishment into his 90’s, a sanctuary for all ranks of drinking men – military men, working men, business men – the operative word being men.
When the whirlwind subsided, Goode was forced to renege on his vow that if he were ever forced to admit the likes of a Penny Hope, he’d tear off the door to the restroom. (Instead, he reportedly ordered a lower portion of the door sawed off).
Penny described herself as an accidental – but not reluctant – player in the crusade to advance women’s rights at Billy Goode’s and beyond. She was distressed by how she and other women were treated during the controversy – as sex objects, as commodities.
But she was also perplexed. She’d lived in New York City and doubted that even the proprietors of a men's-only Big Apple bar would have put a woman out on the streets for little or no reason on a hot summer day:
“It just wasn’t the kind of manners I was used to. I wasn’t as horrified as I was puzzled.”
THE INCIDENT BEGAN Aug. 15, 1974, when Penny, who was 32 and known as Penny Goff, planned a night out with her friend, Richard Donelly, a 27-year-old plumber.
First, Richard wanted to stop by Billy Goode’s to pick up his paycheck. Every Thursday, a truck from the plumbing company he worked for would drop off workers’ checks at the tavern. Billy Goode himself, seated at a corner table, cashed the checks, dispensing bills from a cardboard box. In return, the workers usually moved to the bar, where they left a fraction of their weekly earnings.
“She stood in the doorway; not even coming in,” Richard recalled in a 2012 interview. He told the bartender, Edward J. Sharkey, Goode’s nephew and the tavern’s manager, he was there for his check. Richard liked Sharkey, a “good guy,” who would run a tab for patrons short on cash.
Then Sharkey spotted Penny:
“She’s got to get out of here. She can’t come in here. She has to leave.”
Penny remembered Sharkey’s instructions as more thunderous.
“I believe it was August – and hot, which is why I came in,” she said. “I don’t even think there was air conditioning, but there were fans. It was shady and cool, so I came inside the door.”
She didn’t know Ed Sharkey or his uncle.
“Whoever it was, he pitched a fit. Screaming. I thought that maybe there was a fight. I could not imagine what they were screaming about. But they were screaming because I had set foot in the place.”
Richard and Penny left. But after they had gone about 50 feet, the plumber had second thoughts.
“Hey, wait a minute,” Richard said to Penny. “He doesn’t have any right to say you can’t. You want to go have a beer or something at Billy Goode’s? Okay, alright, alright. Let’s go. Let’s go cause some trouble.”
So, they went back in, and Sharkey would not serve them.
“I still think a working man should have a place where he can come after the work day and express himself forcefully in the same way he does on the job," the guy told Sherman. "We're not in the beauty parlor… This is my hangout. If I want to go out with the family, I go someplace else.”
After the Daily News article came out, the incident became fodder for a talk show on the local radio station, WADK.
Penny was home, painting a wall or washing floors, and was “horrified” by what was being said on the radio. “I heard women being called things: homewreckers, sluts and whores.”
Richard Donelly, driving on Broadway in his truck, also was listening.
“People would call up and say things like: ‘This woman has kids. I know who she is. She has three kids, and what is she doing, hanging around a bar all day?’” Donelly said. Then the show’s host announced: “Well, we have Penny Goff on the phone right now, and she wants to give her side of the story.”
Penny told the listeners that she and Richard had no intention of drinking at the tavern that day, and from her point of view, that would not have been their choice of a place to drink:
“I would never drink in Billy Goode’s. But it’s my choice. Not theirs.”
Hope was being interviewed for a magazine story about Billy Goode’s, and she had chosen the tavern as the place to talk, relishing the irony of being back at a place that once, but no longer, was so hostile to her and other women.
Still, she was nervous. She sat facing away from the bar, so the conversation could not be overheard by other patrons. The sting of the long-ago controversy remained acute.
“It’s a good story and I’d like to do it freely," she said. "But I really want to be careful about not embarrassing anybody and not embarrassing myself.”
The challenges to Billy Goode’s men-only rule continued. The local president of the National Organization of Women (NOW), called Penny: “Listen, some of the girls and I are going down to Billy Goode’s for a beer. Would you like to come?”
When she arrived, NOW members were drinking beer at the bar. But someone running the place recognized her: “I must have been here for altogether six or seven minutes, and they closed the bar rather than serve me.” (The bartender later maintained it was closing time).
Other forces were at work. In Providence, U.S. District Court Judge Raymond J. Pettine had ruled in a suit brought by women against a men's-only bar in the capital city, setting the stage for women’s inclusion elsewhere in Rhode Island.
Penny Hope went onto a varied career as a writer, teacher and actor. Richard Donelly split his time as a plumber and, increasingly, as an actor with Rhode Island’s premier theater groups, including the Gamm Theatre and Trinity Repertory Company, as well as film and TV productions. Billy Goode’s went out of business in 2013.
Hope’s commitment to women’s rights was fierce but nuanced. She earned a doctorate at the University of Rhode Island, with her thesis examining the influence of Biblical era patriarchy in 18th Century novels.
“I’m not a feminist. I’m a humanist,” she told her interviewer. “How do I feel? That’s how feel. I feel like a humanist.”
“I think it sorted out right, you know,” she said of the Billy Goode’s episode, because the patriarchy that excluded women gave way to the inclusionary forces of democracy.
“I have a vision that patriarchy cannot co-exist with democracy,” Hope said. “Neither can feminism and democracy co-exist.”
AS THE CASE AGAINST ‘THE DEFENDANT’ UNFOLDS, LET’S KEEP JOE BIDEN IN MIND.
AND PUT HIM ON PAGE ONE
The real issue is that the relentless focus on Trump and his accomplices increases the invisibility that plagues Joe Biden and the rest of the Democrats.
Biden is uniquely difficult to pay attention to.
In the best of times, he’s just not very interesting. And certainly, he can’t compete in occupying the limited reach of the media spotlight on a day-to-day, weekly, monthly or even a yearly basis. On any given day, there’s always news that’s more compelling than what Joe Biden says and does.
For example, Joe Biden was not the person who, a week ago offered to slit the throats of the nation’s 2.1 million federal workers.
That idea came from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who supposedly is running for the Republican nomination for president and was day dreaming during a New Hampshire campaign stop about turning the Oval Office into a butcher shop. Here’s how DeSantis put it:
“On bureaucracy, you know, we’re going to have all these deep state people, you know, we’re going to start slitting throats on Day One and be ready to go.”
Nor was Joe Biden the sociopath, who on the day after his arraignment on charges that he conspired to overturn the results of the 2020 election, took to “Truth Social” to issue this not-too-subtle warning to friend and foe alike:
“IF YOU GO AFTER ME, I’M COMING AFTER YOU!”
Actually, that was the man known as “The Defendant” in the case of United States of America v. Donald J. Trump, in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, who earlier been admonished by a judge not to have unsupervised contact with potential witnesses.
To the contrary, while all of this was going on, Joe Biden, also known as the actual President of the United States, was on vacation in Delaware, where he dropped in at a seafood joint, rode his bike without falling off (as far as we know) and managed, with his wife, to sit through the three-hour-long cinematic opus, “Oppenheimer.”
“Compelling,” was Biden’s only comment about the week’s events, and, again, that referred to what was going on in the movie house, not the courthouse.
To be fair, Biden’s vacation provided him one of the rare instances in which he was perfectly happy to be out of range of the news klieg lights, since he’s pretending to be detached from The Defendant’s legal entanglements, lest the Chief Executive be accused of having anything to do with the activities of the people he appointed to run the U.S. Department of Justice.
But even if Biden had issued a totally appropriate tongue-lashing to his predecessor, or his predecessor’s worshipful “opponents,” it probably wouldn’t have drawn as much coverage as whatever The Defendant or any prospective Throat-slitter said or did.
Unless he falls off his bike or miscalculates on the details of ending our involvement in Afghanistan, Biden is mostly ignored. By the media; by all of us.
THIS IS MASSIVELY UNFAIR.
Because we owe Joe Biden big time for his major accomplishment, which is to run a Normal United States of America.
Normal, by definition, is unexciting. But Normal, routine and business-as-usual are the bread-and-butter of both our private lives and our shared experiment in democracy.
It’s taken for granted that Social Security payments show up at their appointed electronic destinations on time and in full once a month. It's supposed to work this way: that Medicare and Medicaid will routinely pay (actually, underpay) the country’s hospital bills. It's supposed be that the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Agriculture, NASA, the CIA, the FDA, the ATF and AMTRAK will rumble and sputter along as expected, imperfectly doing what they are asked to do, usually out of sight and forgotten except for their immediate constituents.
To use a cliché, Biden’s problem is that good news is no news, because in the news biz, good news doesn’t sell.
This is despite the fact that no-news is what we craved during the awful years of The Defendant’s presidency, when we went to bed every night scared, and woke up every morning terrified. And with good reason, since The Defendant turned out not just to be a clown, but a monster.
Back during The Defendant’s presidency, we begged for the boredom of Normal, at home and abroad. What we needed, prayed for was what seemed a miracle: that an aging, affable Uncle Joe would come to rescue us, a trusted old soul, who knew how to water, weed and fertilize Uncle Sam’s withering garden.
As of noon Jan. 20, 2021,Joe Biden delivered.
Every day, every night since, everyone’s second choice for president continues to do what he was hired to do, restoring order and justice to American life.
Ever since, our collective thank-you has been to take Uncle Joe for granted, rarely giving him credit for returning the country to a respectable, consistent, predictable version of American Normal; instead mainly we forget that he’s in charge or even in the White House.
Well, it’s impossible to make boring exciting.
But we can keep Uncle Joe in our thoughts and prayers and perferably on Page One.
Democrats and their friends should speak up about Biden’s accomplishments in keeping the economy – unfair as it is, since it is a capitalist operation – humming; we need to speak up about Biden’s continuing fight against climate change – feeble as that is compared to the scope of the crisis; we need to speak up about his continuing commitment – through surrogates – to face down Russia’s attack on Ukraine; and we need to speak up about his continuing day-in, and day-out advocacy – when it suits him – for kindness, civility and decency.
It would also help if the media would do its part.
If I were the editor of one of America’s two remaining great newspapers, CEO of the Associated Press, captain of a TV network, chief “influencer” of some social nonsense site, I would institute this policy,:
TO TAKE EFFECT IMMEDIATELY:
Whenever The Defendant or one or more of his co-conspirators, and/or his imitators, known and unknown to the Grant Jury, are featured in a news story, there must be a companion story about Joe Biden, of equal force and display.
Not because the Biden story would be of equal news value in the sense of traditional gee-whiz, can-you-believe-that, call-up-your-mother news. It will never be that.
But because it’s in everyone's interest to remove the invisibility shield that hides the accomplishments of a good, decent and generally competent man who has brought Normal back to the American experiment.
So, when The Defendant says or does something terrible, it’s newsworthy. But so is the mandatory Joe Biden story next to it. Maybe it’s a story that Biden did not say or do something terrible in contrast to those who did. Maybe it’s a story that a man in his 80s rides a bicycle, rather than rides around in a golf cart. Maybe it’s a story that he appointed someone competent to his Cabinet, rather than slitting his or her throat.
Whatever the case, Joe Biden needs equal billing with the Forces of Darkness which almost destroyed democracy a few years ago and are hoping to learn from their mistakes and do things right next year.
What Joe Biden has done and continues to do means that there is hope for our democracy and that there’s a real chance it will flourish, improve and endure.
Which, these days, is as good as the news gets.
I'VE BEEN a reporter and writer for 58 years, long enough to have learned that journalists don't know very much, although I've met some smart ones.
Mainly, what reporters know comes from asking other people questions and fretting about the answers.
This blog is a successor to one inspired by our dog, Phoebe, who was smart, sweet and the antithesis of Donald Trump. She died Feb. 3, and I don't see getting over that very soon.
Occasionally, I may try to reach her via cell phone.