JOE BIDEN - CREDIT, photo, the White House, David Lienemann
DONALD TRUMP - CREDIT, illustration by Frank Gerardi
I’M AMONG THE FEW PEOPLE who don’t think 2023 was a terrible year. Sure, a whole lot of dreadful was packed into the 12 months now wrapping up. But there was a lot to like about 2023 – well, maybe “a lot” is too generous. Still, there were some remarkable people at work, and some uplifting events. And these positives count, because they are what sustain and move us forward. The negatives are to be expected. I know that by now, you’ve had enough of year-end roundups. And what’s more, a lot of people carry them off with more skill, detail and eloquence than I do. Let’s start off with the positives.
JOE BIDEN: AN AMERICAN HERO He saved us from a Trump second term. Moreover, Joe has run his presidency as well as anyone could – better than people much younger, smarter, better spoken and more charismatic than he is. We take this accomplishment for granted, as if the first three years of Biden’s term have been how things are supposed to be. His cabinet is filled with bright, competent people who value their offices and missions. He has made reasonable decisions. Ukraine. His big spending bills. I don’t say they were perfect or even 100 percent right decisions. Presidents say and do stupid things, since, with one exception, they are terribly human. Presidents have too much power, starting with being able to blow up the world just on their say so. At the same time, a handful of extremist Republicans in Congress can stalemate a president, bring the economy to a dead stop, betray our allies and cancel reform.
Biden generally goes in the right direction dealing with foreign affairs, the environment, social welfare, transportation, the economy, civil rights, issues like abortion and gun control and the many, many things that that government can do to help rather than hurt people. Is he too old? Yes. Of course, 81-years is too old. But is there a better Democrat – better known to most voters – to run in 2024? Absolutely not. Would Biden rather not be seeking a second term? He actually said so a few weeks ago – that if Trump weren’t the likely opponent, Joe probably wouldn’t be in the race. It’s good to have a good person in charge.
DEMOCRACY IS IN PERIL THIS IS A GOOD THING, you ask? Of course not. But recognizing the crisis facing democracy is an essential step to preserving our flawed, inspired experiment in self-government. For a long time, most of us been under the illusion that because Biden returned the country to normal after the Trump chaos that everything will be okay. The political press continues to report mainly on polls, who’s ahead and not, rather than the life-and-death consequences of the 2024 election. In the words of Liz Cheney, democracy’s most eloquent advocate, we have been sleepwalking toward dictatorship. But as the year is ending, millions of people are waking up to the certainty that a Trump second term will be a catastrophe. There have been a slew of news stories about Trump’s plans – and the many people who will be helping him – to create a cruel and wide-ranging authoritarian regime from which we cannot recover. The best example is The Atlantic magazine’s year-end issue, headlined “If Trump Wins,” in which 24 writers project what will happen. The Department of Justice will hunt down Trump’s enemies; a demonic program will detain, then drive immigrants from the country; the Insurrection Act will send the military to quell protests. Most Americans don’t read The Atlantic, the New York Times and the Washington Post – none of which have the influence they did just a few years ago. But I trust they and other media will continue to spell out the consequences of the Nov. 5 election, and those warnings will be a factor in the outcome.
THE TRUMP INDICTMENTS
ONE OF THE WEIRDEST, almost supernatural things about Trump is how quickly we get used to how evil he is and the terrible things he does. “That’s just Trump,” we say, no matter what he says or does. We quickly acclimated to the fact that he’s the first ex-president not only to be indicted for a crime, but for a bunch of crimes. But they should shock us every day:
The Aug. 1 indictment brought by Jack Smith, the Department of Justice's special counsel, charging Trump with a multi-pronged effort to overthrow the 2020 election.
The Aug. 14 racketeering indictment brought in Georgia charging Trump and his confederates with an organized attempt to reverse the election.
The June 9 Smith indictment charging Trump with taking and mishandling classified documents, some of which involved nuclear warfare, as he left office.
The March 30 indictment in New York charging Trump with falsifying records in connection with alleged hush payments to porn star Stormy Daniels about an alleged sexual encounter with Trump.
This is a triumph of justice. Trump is being held to account for some of his worst activities. It goes to the heart of our democracy, that no man is above the law. Which is in contrast to Trump’s comment years ago that he could shoot someone in the middle of Manhattan and he'll get away with it. Why aren’t these devastating charges part of every political news story? Why doesn't every headline include the word "crook?" For one thing, because Trump’s cult doesn't care. In fact, his polling has improved as the charges have accumulated, and particularly, the Republican party and congressional leaders treat Trump as a victim rather than a serial criminal. Another counter-force is that we are used to Trump getting away with his bad behavior, so the question is not that he’s been charged, but how he’ll wriggle free. Still, the positive point is that there is a serious, well-documented attempt to bring him to justice. And it’s going to happen. One of these days....
DANGEROUS VOTERS THE WEBSITE , REAL CLEAR POLITICS, has this hypothetical match up between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, with less than 11 months to go before the Nov. 5 election:
Trump: 46.8 percent Biden: 44.5 percent
It's insane. We know so much about Trump, including his attempt to change the election outcome, culminating with the insurrection at the Capitol, in which some of the rioters hoped to hang Trump’s vice president. In office, out of office, Donald Trump is a vile and dangerous man, an insult to our politics. He is a racist, a rapist, a cheat, a liar and a bully whose controlling ethic is cruelty. When he won the 2016 election, there was a question as to what he’d really be like as president. The answer was immediate, and by the end of his four-year term, there was a long, long bill of particulars. Now, with all that is known, how can any voter, any of our neighbors, friends, family members and fellow pet owners, look on Trump with anything but contempt? That they act otherwise is astonishing and deeply disturbing. The people we love and respect, cheering on Trump? But that's what is happening. For me, Trump's support became shockingly clear when the New York Times on Nov. 5 - a year from the election - published a poll of voters in six swing states showing Trump winning in five of them.
That's when I started getting out of bed every morning with a sick feeling, understanding that the monster is back. I'm sure that lots of people are feeling the same way, especially since many subsequent polls are showing the pre-election trends. You can argue that pollsters are asking the wrong questions. They should be asking voters not whether they prefer Biden or Trump, but how many years Donald John Trump, aka "The Defendant," should serve in prison. Pundits, at least some of them, assure us that it’s too early for polls to be valid. They are wrong. The polls may and usually do have lots of flaws. But this isn't the time to niggle over the margin of error or whether the wrong smart phones are being called. It's clear that a lot of people want Donald Trump to be president. And that a lot of others don't want Joe Biden to be president. It's terrible. And the challenge of our lifetime.
THE HOTTEST YEAR
FORT ADAMS STATE PARK, Dec. 26. The grass shouldn't be green. That other stuff should be snow, not fog. It's not "nice" weather. It's a warning
IN NEWPORT, the grass is green. It’s December. There has been no snow of note in Rhode Island. It’s winter. Our front porch thermometer reads 49 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s “nice" in our corner of New England, except it’s not supposed to be. The year 2023 will be declared as the hottest ever on Earth. Ever – as in ever since we've been writing on the walls of caves. The record estimates are from the World Meteorological Organization and other tracking organizations, such as the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service. It means there’s a good chance that humans will destroy themselves and their home planet. The climate crisis already has reached Old Testament scale: wildfires, floods, hurricanes, blizzards, tornadoes, rising sea levels, habitat-destroying, people-killing heat waves. It’s may be too late to stop the collapse of the environment. And, if elected, Trump will do everything he can to hurry things along. The irony is that we probably have enough technology – wind turbines, solar panels, electric cars, smarter farming – to put this into reverse. Millions of people want to save their planet, their home. But so far, not enough people are doing enough things to force governments and industries to stop the murder of Earth.
THE ISRAELI-PALESTINE WAR HAMAS DID NOT have to attack Israel on Oct. 7. Israel did not have to destroy Gaza in the months that followed. Actual human beings are responsible for both atrocities. Even if we are not in Israel or Gaza, it is possible for us as onlookers to understand how both sides see the conflict. No one who survived the Hamas attack will forget or forgive the savagery and slaughter. If you are a Jew, a centuries-old peril is instantly refreshed. The Holocaust is no longer ancient history; it happened last night or yesterday. “Never again” means that, as a Jew, you never again can feel safe, and you never again will be safe. If you are a Palestinian, you might have survived the months of Israel's retaliation, but you may not make it through tomorrow. The death toll is now over 20,000, many of the dead are children. Your home is rubble. You are being starved and sickened. You are told where to go next to escape the next bombing run, but it is a lie. Israel’s retaliation is a massive, unforgivable war crime. If you are Israeli or Palestinian there is no reason to stop killing, maiming and hating. Only a fool would tell you that.
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.