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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Fake Ex-President, Fake Billionaire -- But He's A Real Gift To Democrats

Be it recorded that on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, would-be president-for-life Donald Trump skipped the solemn memorial services held to honor 2,997 victims of al-Qaeda terror attacks in favor of shilling for a pay-per-view boxing match.

And not a real boxing match, but a sad-sack exhibition in which 58 year-old former heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield allowed himself to be pummeled to the canvas in a single round by a MMA fighter he'd have knocked silly 30 years ago.

Fake sport, fake ex-president.

Fake billionaire, for that matter. Evidently, Trump needs the money. Maybe if they'd held the 9/11 ceremony at Mar-a-Lago or one of his financially-troubled golf courses, the great man might have shown up.

Something else Trump did on September 11 was to deliver a televised speech praising himself to devotees of the Unification Church (formerly known as "Moonies") the Korean sect begun by self-proclaimed Messiah the Rev. Sun Myung Moon.

Another payday, no doubt.

Everybody understands that Trump's narcissism won't allow him to appear in public as a former [ital] president, like Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama and their wives, who joined President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden in prayers for the fallen.

Come what may, Trump will never appear in public with Joe Biden.

To do so would grant legitimacy to the 2020 election results that make him a Big Loser, and undermining the fantasy he calls the "Big Steal." On September 10, Trump appeared on the conspiracist website The Gateway Pundit. "I do believe they are going to decertify the election," he claimed. "They know it was rigged."

Exactly who "they" are was left to the viewers' imagination. Along with whatever method of decertification Trump imagines.

Hint: none exists.

Despite being a world-class ignoramus, Trump's diseased ego has led him to one great truth: There are an irreducible number of gullible dupes in the world. If you tickle their prejudices, they will send you money.

"Our media is corrupt as can be," he explained, "but the people know what's going on and another poll came out. 70 some percent thought the election was, to put it very nicely, tampered with."

The actual number in a recent Politico poll was 66 percent of Republican voters who believe the 2020 election was rigged. The only "people" Trump recognizes. But the Republican Party is shrinking, partly due to conservative "Never Trumpers" bailing out and partly to demographic change, as older white voters die off and twenty-somethings increasingly vote Democratic.

Bottom line: 66 percent of Republicans constitute 29 percent of American voters, and falling. Less than one-third. Enough to populate Trump's red state rallies and keep him afloat financially for now. But not enough to keep the delusion alive indefinitely.

That's a big part of the reason we saw Trump and his protégé, radio talk-show host and would-be California governor Larry Elder, crying foul even before the vote-counting began in that state's recall election.

You'd almost think they expected to lose.

To keep True Believers writing checks, it's necessary to keep the Big Lie in play. But it's also why — and this is important — embattled Gov. Gavin Newsom did everything he could to turn the recall vote into a referendum on the Big Bad Wolf.

"Trumpism is still alive all across this country," Newsom said at an East Los Angeles rally with Black campaign volunteers. "Is it any surprise the entire Trump organization is behind this recall?"

At another campaign event with Vice President Kamala Harris, Newsom linked the recall to "the insurrection on January 6." He added that leading Republican Elder would "walk us off that same COVID cliff as Texas and Florida, Tennessee and Alabama and Georgia."

Add Texas' new abortion ban to the mix, and Democrats have a trio of powerful issues that impact voters personally and stimulate turnout—always a big deal in off-year elections.

And not just in California. Democrats in gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey are also running hard not only against the dread specter of Trumpism—but also Trump-accented Governors Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas.

In Virginia, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who is running to replace term-limited Democrat Ralph Northam, is making a big deal of Trump's endorsement of Republican Glenn Youngkin. The GOP candidate has run ads disparaging the tactic. Without, however, rejecting the endorsement.

""With Covid, people are terrified, horrified — many people are just plain disgusted that people are not getting vaccinated," McAuliffe told the Washington Post. "And they're terrified about the Texas law," he added.

In an outburst of pure Jersey style, the Garden State's Gov. Phil Murphy recently confronted anti-vaccine hecklers. "You've lost your minds!" Murphy said. "You are the ultimate knuckleheads, and because of what you are saying and standing for, people are losing their [lives]."

Both Democrats appear comfortably ahead.

And they owe it all to Trump, DeSantis, and Abbott.

The Lone Star State Wasn't Always So Mean, Petty, And Vindictive

Confession: I have always felt warmly toward Texas, and I can't square the big-hearted, boisterous, self-confident place I've known with the petty, mean-spirited, downright vindictive anti-abortion law the state's Republican legislature and governor have endorsed.

Welcome to Beijing on the Brazos. It's as if 29 million Texans had surrendered to fundamentalist authoritarianism, brandishing Bibles like copies of Chairman Mao's Little Red Book, vowing punishment against sinners and informing on their relatives and neighbors.

As I say, this is not the Texas I know: a sprawling, geographically and ethnically complex state larger than France, and which sometimes feels like the nation—as Texans never quit reminding you—that it was from 1836 to 1845.

Parts of Texas resemble Louisiana, others Oklahoma; the Texas panhandle feels a lot like Nebraska, and basically everywhere south of San Antonio like Mexico. The territory around Lubbock somewhat resembles the moon. Unless you really put the hammer down, it's a two-day drive from Beaumont to El Paso or Amarillo.

Texas can be hard to get your mind around. However, having lived there two different times, taught at University of Texas-Austin, and traveled everywhere reporting for Texas Monthly magazine, I've always felt an intoxicating sense of possibility. If I hadn't basically married Arkansas, I'd probably live somewhere near Austin.

To give you some idea, I interviewed a priest in Orange who sponsored two dozen Vietnamese immigrants, covered the great Rockdale football mutiny (undefeated state champs who went on strike against their coach), and hit the road with the Corpus Christi Seagulls, a minor league baseball team. I interviewed migrant workers outside Amarillo, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist at UT-Austin, studied the heavens at the university's observatory in the Davis Mountains, and learned to handle a pistol from an ROTC instructor at Rice University. (Bottom line: don't.) I made pilgrimage to Alvin to interview the great Nolan Ryan.

You don't meet a lot of shy, retiring Texans. Willie Nelson is your classic example, also The Eagles' Don Henley. Buddy Holly, Beyoncé, Waylon Jennings and Stevie Ray Vaughn. Jerry Jeff Walker was raised in upstate New York, but his rendition of Gary P. Nunn's "London Homesick Blues," may be the purest example of slide guitar Texas nationalism extant.

Texas is filled with writers and journalists I admire, from Lawrence Wright and my pal Stephen Harrigan to the late Larry McMurtry. I once drove from Cody, Wyoming to Little Rock listening to Lonesome Dove and was tempted to carry on to Memphis just to finish the story.

Coming to the point, Texas was also home to two of the strongest American women of my own or anybody else's generation: Gov. Ann Richards and the inimitable Molly Ivins, the wittiest American journalist since H.L. Mencken.

Molly once observed of a Dallas congressman that "If his IQ slips any lower we'll have to water him twice a day." She described Bill Clinton as "weaker than bus station chili" -- unfair, in my view, but definitely memorable.

One can only imagine what either woman would have made of Texas' current Gov. Greg Abbott—a poser last seen vowing to protect the state from imaginary invasion during "Operation Jade Helm." Austin's own native hoaxer Alex Jones had persuaded thousands of dupes that networks of secret tunnels were being dug between vacant Walmart stores to help ISIS fighters infiltrate. Christian patriots would be imprisoned in FEMA re-education camps.

Sure enough, the invasion never came. Fresh from that mighty triumph, Abbott has now succeeded in passing an idiotic law empowering every testosterone-challenged goober in Texas to carry a gun anywhere: no lessons or permit necessary. That will cost dozens of lives, but it's the abortion law that's getting all the attention.

Look, there has been a strong undercurrent of authoritarianism in Texas culture since slavery times. But this takes it further: If a 13 year-old child gets impregnated by her uncle, Texas now demands that she bear a child. Otherwise, a vindictive relative or nosy neighbor can collect a $10,000 state bounty for filing a lawsuit against an abortion provider, putting them out of business.

It's like the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act on steroids. Already, a self-described "Christian" group has put up a website,, inviting people to inform on anybody obtaining or facilitating abortions. The cheapest form of cheap grace imaginable.

Anyway, it's official: Every Texas woman's womb belongs to the state. What's more, thanks to the cunning and cowardice of the US Supreme Court, every state where fundamentalist Bible Beaters hold sway will soon rush to enact it—even if it ultimately means political disaster, which I think it does.

Because Americans just won't stand for turning embittered ex-husbands and vengeful mothers-in-law into bounty hunters. So spare me the theological and biological fundamentalism. Nobody thinks abortion is a good thing; but it's sometimes the least-bad option. Other people's intimate life decisions are nobody else's business, in Texas or anywhere else.

When The Beltway Press Is Unanimous, They're Usually All Wrong

Regarding the national news media's freakout over President Biden's role in the Taliban seizure of Afghanistan, we haven't seen such passionate unanimity among the Washington commentariat since they went all in on invading Iraq back in 2003.

They sold thAT war like an action/adventure film. The New York Times and Washington Post were particularly gung-ho. Even NPR covered the push into Baghdad like the world's largest Boy Scout Jamboree. CNN presented the US "shock and awe" bombing campaign like a July 4th fireworks show.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan got put on the back burner. Despite our NATO allies — Britain, France, Germany, and the Netherlands sent troops — that's basically where it stayed for 20 long years.

In my experience, the more Washington pundits agree, they more they're apt to be wrong. For most, it's a TV show. Dramatic shots of panicky Afghan youth trying to climb aboard departing USAF transport planes drives the coverage. File footage of Wolf Blitzer and Lester Holt wearing soldier costumes in Afghanistan only makes them look foolish.

As for all the retired generals and think-tank commandos, how about if we wait to see how the Pentagon's massive evacuation from Kabul Airport goes before making a judgement?

Things appear to be going smoothly, but that could change in a heartbeat.

So I have more questions than answers.

First, can anybody imagine Trump overseeing the orderly evacuation of thousands of Afghan Muslims into the USA?

To ask the question is to answer it.

Max Boot points out, "As recently as April 18, Trump said: "Getting out of Afghanistan is a wonderful and positive thing to do. I planned to withdraw on May 1, and we should keep as close to that schedule as possible." On June 26, he asked "Twenty-one years is enough, don't we think?"

Yeah, most people do.

So should President Biden or should he not have stuck to something pretty close to the timetable negotiated by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo?

It was either that or double down on a war he too vowed to end. Whatever they may say, no European leaders are about to send troops; their citizens wouldn't let them.

Also, It wasn't Biden who ramrodded the release of 5000 Taliban fighters last October. That was Trump and Pompeo.

Biden made a tough, you might say a ruthless, decision to cut our losses and get out.

But shouldn't he have anticipated the sudden surrender of Afghanistan's papier-mache government? Maybe so, although hardly anybody else did. That State Department cable uncovered by the Wall Street Journal concerned the period after, not before, US troops departed. That is, after August 31.

That's not how critics played it, but it's a fact.

But shouldn't Biden have evacuated US personnel and Afghan dependents before the military pullout?

Not unless he wanted to bring the Afghan government down even sooner. The first day of any evacuation would have been the last day it existed. The terrible scenes of last week would have happened sooner. As the president has said, it's on him either way.

So could the United States ever have turned Afghanistan into a democratic country?

Almost certainly not.

Way back in 1976, I observed to my wife that Russians invading Afghanistan would end up "sorry they ever heard of that place." My skepticism was based on three things: Rudyard Kipling's accounts of the British experience there, my own experience in neighboring Iran, and a knowledgeable friend who explained that Afghanistan isn't a nation, but eight or ten tribal regions more or less permanently in conflict with all the others.

Hardly anybody there thinks all men are created equal, or believes in one- man, one-vote. Pretending that a Kabul government could govern the territory as Paris governs France was a delusion. So of course the imaginary nation's make-believe army fell apart. Former Marine Captain Lance Kunce, a Democratic Senate candidate who did two tours there, wrote this in the Kansas City Star:

The truth is that the Afghan National Security Forces was a jobs program for Afghans, propped up by U.S. taxpayer dollars…populated by nonmilitary people or 'paper' forces (that didn't really exist) and a bevy of elites grabbing what they could when they could.

A boondoggle and a folly.

If Biden can get the US out without a catastrophic slaughter, he'll have done alright.

In A Pandemic, Don't Try To Reason With 'Arkansaw Lunkheads'

During the early days of the Covid-19 epidemic, my brother and I congratulated each other that we had little to fear. Descended from hardy Irish peasants who lived in dirt-floored hovels among farm animals, we'd inherited sturdy immune systems and pretty much never get sick.

Or so we assured each other.

Except, come to think of it, our maternal grandfather Michael Sheedy died during the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic at age 34. His own father had died earlier the same year at 56. Our mother was five years old when her grandfather and father succumbed to influenza. Although she rarely spoke of it, her childhood had been a difficult one. All this in Elizabeth, New Jersey where we were born.

So maybe we needed to be a little less cocky and more careful, we agreed. Indeed, we both got ourselves and our wives as close to the front of the Covid-19 vaccination line as we could. I stubbornly stayed on hold throughout an entire BBC-TV documentary to make an appointment at the university hospital; my brother drove three hours each way to get his shot at a pharmacy he found online. Hardly heroic, but the right call.

That said, I've got a ready answer when people ask me what it's like to live in a place like Arkansas filled with Covid-deniers and vaccine resisters: See, I've been there before. Our mother grew up fearful and superstitious, more apt to credit the florid imaginings of her craziest sister than any doctor. Radio commentator Walter Winchell—the Tucker Carlson of his day—once opined that the miraculous Salk polio vaccine "might be a killer."

And that was that. No killer vaccine for her children. No how, no way. Although we dutifully toured the iron lung exhibit on the boardwalk at Seaside Heights—scarier than any haunted house—and while I dutifully prayed for a polio-stricken neighbor named "Ronnie" every night, I never got immunized until I enrolled in the Peace Corps at 24. I never actually met Ronnie, and have no idea what became of him.

Until I asked him, I never knew that my brother did receive the Salk vaccine after first being denied enrollment in the second grade. Our younger sister too. I somehow slipped through the cracks. No way was our mother going to risk all three children without being compelled. Charismatic and forceful in other arenas, my father knew better than to argue. Or maybe he shared her paranoia. It was always hard to tell.

Meanwhile, the national press has been filled with stories about Arkansas' quaint folkways and consequent sorrows. The Wall Street Journal interviewed a nurse in Greenwood, over near Fort Smith along the Oklahoma border. Both her parents came down with Covid after attending their 52nd high school reunion in July and died within three days of each other.

Devastated by grief, the nurse, Shanda Parrish, says she still won't take the vaccine. It's too untested, she thinks. She has a brother living near Washington, D.C., who's worn out arguing about it. His parents needn't have died, David Herring told a reporter, but for fear and ignorance.

"Their age and health conditions—they should have gotten vaccinated really early," he said. "And then trying to talk to friends of theirs, and hearing these ridiculous things about depopulation and computer chips."

The Journal also interviewed a local physician (and Republican state legislator) named Lee Johnson. Dr. Johnson urges his patients to take the COVD vaccines, although he cautions that making people "feel defensive for their passionately held opinion isn't productive."

As a politician, however, Johnson voted for Arkansas' crackpot law forbidding school districts and private employers from mandating face masks. So it's hard to know what to make of him. After a Little Rock judge found the law unconstitutional, GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson hired a Democratic lawyer from Fayetteville to help him resist the Republican Attorney General's effort to have the state Supreme Court re-instate the mask ban.

Meanwhile, local school boards all over Arkansas are requiring students and faculty to mask-up, even as angry protesters invoke their constitutional right to infect others with a deadly disease. Vaccination rates are rising sharply. And just across the border in Springfield, Missouri, the Kansas City Star reports, anti-vax activists showed up wearing yellow Stars of David to emphasize their victimization.

In short, it's all chaos and dark comedy; Mark Twain's "Arkansaw lunkheads" in action. If only pediatric wards statewide weren't filling up with children on ventilators it would be quite funny.

Trump, see, thought Covid might interfere with his re-election, so he told his followers the disease was a Democratic hoax. Many Arkansans believed him. Some would rather die than admit error. Now, they're too scared to think straight.

Anyway, here's what I learned at my mother's knee: You can't reason people into common sense. Sometimes, you just have to force the issue.

Be Grateful For Trump's Comical Incompetence And Clown Henchmen

When push comes to shove, it may be Donald Trump's sheer, malign incompetence that saves the Republic. The more evidence accumulates about his crackpot schemes to overthrow the 2020 presidential election, the more they resemble the plot line of one of Donald E. Westlake's Dortmunder novels about a career criminal whose elaborate heists go hilariously wrong.

My favorite is Bank Shot, in which Dortmunder's intrepid gang hauls away one of those temporary mobile home banks one night only to realize—uh oh!—that Long Island is, indeed, an island, and that the cops have already blockaded the bridges. In the end, the fool thing rolls downhill and sinks into the Atlantic Ocean. There's a funny film version starring George C. Scott.

Just so: Trump's post-election scam featuring the likes of Ohio Rep, "Gym" Jordan, aka the Very Angry Congressman, and co-starring the mustachioed MyPillow guy and a bunch of comically-inept lawyers who have lost 64 consecutive court cases. Also featuring Rudolph W. Giuliani as A Guy Who Used to Be Somebody until he discovered the wonder-working powers of single-malt Scotch.

(A confession: I too once felt spray-on hair dye running down my face during a sweaty interlude masquerading as a blond professional wrestling heel. I was in the eighth grade.)

Ordinarily, Trump exhibits the low cunning of a Mob boss. Rule One is: never write anything down. It's clearly because he sends no emails or written directives that Trump himself has so far escaped New York tax fraud charges. The law requires proof of corrupt intent, and as long as nobody rats him out, the boss can plead ignorance.

If you believe that Donald J. Trump, a guy who stiffs pretty much everybody he's ever done business with (and currently refuses to pay Giuliani's legal fees) was unaware of Trump Organization tax avoidance scams exactly like those he learned from dear old Dad…

Well, you probably also believe that he won the 2020 election in a landslide. So let's move on.

Rule Two in the mob boss handbook is this: Never talk about it over the phone. That's one we've seen the big dope violate often. He's constitutionally incapable of keeping his mouth shut. First, when he tried to shake down the President of Ukraine into announcing a phony investigation of presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

That one got him impeached, if not convicted.

Second, when he phoned Georgia's Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger last January 2 urging him to "find" enough votes to overturn Trump's 11,779-vote defeat there.

"I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have," he said. "Because we won the state." Unwilling to cheat, Raffensberger recorded the call. The Washington Post soon had a copy.

Trump also tried to bully Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Arizona's Doug Ducey. Both resisted. Republican legislators in Michigan and Wisconsin also refused to play ball. All now face Trump-endorsed primary opponents.

Attorney General William Barr resigned in December, using a barnyard epithet to describe the quality of Trump's evidence of fraud.

An ordinary con man would back off and start planning his comeback. As the lamest of lame ducks, Trump had no power to make anybody do anything that conflicted with their principles or self-interest.

Lacking ethics of his own, he's blind to those of others. So he tried strong-arming acting attorney general Jeffrey A. Rosen, and deputy, Richard P. Donoghue over the phone.

As any competent lawyer would, Donoghue took notes.

DOJ lawyers, he wrote "Told [Trump] flat out that much of the info he is getting is false, +/or just not supported by the evidence—we look at allegations but they do not pan out." They told Trump that DOJ had neither the constitutional authority nor any intention of interfering in a presidential election.

Like some QAnon crank in his grandma's basement, Trump persevered: "Don't expect you to do that, just say that the election was corrupt, he insisted, and "leave the rest to me and the R[epublican] Congressmen."

Clearer evidence of criminal intent would be hard to find. Trump meant to overturn the election by any means possible. Exactly how much proof can be found of White House involvement in raising the January 6 mob remains to be seen. But the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers didn't just decide on a mid-winter camping trip.

Trump told the gathering mob that they needed to march to the Capitol and "fight like hell, or you won't have a country anymore." He vowed to march with them. Fat chance. He quickly retreated into the White House to enjoy the spectacle on TV.

So now the portly con man in elevator shoes has been quoted calling the cops who fought hours of hand-to-hand combat while the mob chanted "Kill Mike Pence" "pussies" and "cowards."

One thing you can bank on: He'll never say it to their faces.

Dragging The Vaccine Refusers Out From Under The Porch

Let's say there's an outbreak of deadly parvovirus in your neighborhood. Your beloved golden retriever Red, however, goes into a full-scale panic attack at the sight or smell of a veterinarian. You know the disease is highly communicable and potentially fatal.

There's a reliable vaccine, but the dog won't listen. Runs and hides under the porch. Fights the leash like a smallmouth bass on a hook. Rolls over on his back and has to be dragged, panting and drooling. Maybe even bites the hand that feeds him.

God forbid you should force the issue. No vaccine shot for Red. Even a dog has his rights, after all, among them the right to die in agony while shedding the deadly virus all over the neighborhood.

Put that way, the whole national "debate" over the Covid-19 vaccine seems kind of crazy, doesn't it? When the vaccine refuser is a golden retriever, we take action because we understand that the dog can't be reasoned with.

(When I lived in the country, I learned to administer my own vaccinations. I also prevented the animals from watching Fox News. It only riles up the cows.)

That said, I agree with the Republican governor of Alabama. Asked what it would take to convince her constituents to get vaccinated—Alabama is among the least-protected in the nation—Gov. Kay Ivey responded "I don't know. You tell me. Folks [are] supposed to have common sense. But it's time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks. It's the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down."

Trouble is, folks tend not to have a lot of common sense when they're frightened. Not much more than their ancestors in 14th century Europe who blamed the Black Death on Jews poisoning wells. Also on Gypsies, beggars and foreigners generally. Many lepers were put to death.

Mainly, though, it was the Jews.

Dr. Fauci isn't a Jew, but he'll do for a certain kind of fool. I think we all know the kind I mean.

My man Charles P. Pierce of Esquire found an article about an Alabama physician on Dr. Brytney Cobia wrote a Facebook post about admitting young, previously healthy patients to a COVID ward in Birmingham.

"One of the last things they do before they're intubated is beg me for the vaccine," she wrote. "I hold their hand and tell them that I'm sorry, but it's too late."

After they die, Cobia continued: "I hug their family members and I tell them the best way to honor their loved one is to go get vaccinated and encourage everyone they know to do the same."

"They cry. And they tell me they didn't know. They thought it was a hoax. They thought it was political. They thought because they had a certain blood type or a certain skin color they wouldn't get as sick. They thought it was 'just the flu'. But they were wrong. And they wish they could go back. But they can't."

She prays that people will learn.

Many white Southerners, Politico reports, "are turning down Covid-19 vaccines because they are angry that President Donald Trump lost the election and sick of Democrats in Washington thinking they know what's best."

Especially, of course, when they do.

Possibly they'll listen to Gov. Ivey or Dr. Cobia, but not soon enough, I fear. Besides, as in the 14th century, paranoia is worldwide. There was a recent anti-vaccine rally in London's Trafalgar Square, with a host of crackpots invoking imaginary, often self-contradictory horrors.

Vaccines are a Satanic plot for world domination; or they're a surveillance technology, turning your body into a 5G transmitter; or they alter your DNA; or they cause infertility. Or vaccines will just flat kill you.

Closer to home, the epicenter of the deadly pandemic surge in Arkansas, where I live, appears to be Branson, Missouri, the cornball country music capital of middle America.

"Branson has a lot of country-western shows," Dr. Marc Johnson, an epidemiologist at the University of Missouri School of Medicine told the Daily Beast."No vaccines. No masks. A bunch of people indoors and air conditioning, tightly packed, listening to music, possibly singing along, i.e. a superspreading [event]."

Yee-haw! The town's mayor has proclaimed "I DO NOT believe it's my place, or the place of any politician, to endorse, promote, or compel any person to get any vaccine." He's all about freedom and liberty, the mayor.

Only what about my freedom not to get infected because some country karaoke fan thinks Covid-19 is a hoax? Government and private employers can't force people to take the shot, but they can require them as a condition of employment. You already can't get into Yankee Stadium without proof of vaccination. NFL teams will likely require them too.

If people had any sense, you wouldn't have to drag them from under the porch. But history teaches that you must.

Flamboyantly Pious Ken Starr Had So Far To Fall — And He Did

Reprinted with permission from Chicago Sun-Times

Perhaps you recall the eminent "Judge Starr" of Republican legend and song, a pious Christian avatar of justice and sexual propriety. Back when he was dutifully investigating President Bill Clinton's sex life — "our job is to do our job," he'd tell TV crews staking out his suburban driveway, a soft-handed househusband obediently taking out the trash — Kenneth Starr posed as a man of firm moral views and unimpeachable integrity.

Fawning newspaper profiles depicted Starr as an uxorious fellow whose favorite pastime was going for Sunday drives with his equally pious wife, singing hymns together. Never mind that said profiles were often written by the same reporters to whom independent counsel Starr's prosecutors had been leaking damning, albeit misleading, tidbits about Bill and Hillary Clinton's impending indictment for "Whitewater" crimes.

Indictments that never came, for the simple reason that bringing trumped-up charges against prominent people endangers prosecutors more than defendants. The same psalm-singing crusader eventually published the infamous Starr Report, narrating in near-pornographic detail each and every one of Bill Clinton's furtive grapplings with Monica Lewinsky.

Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh mostly wrote it.

Forcing a shamefaced Clinton to face a nationally televised sexual inquisition probably saved his presidency. Millions of sinners in the TV audience cringed to see it, a possibility that never seemed to have occurred to the sanctimonious Starr or his journalistic enablers. Angry with Clinton for being such a damn fool, I never saw it coming myself.

So now comes Starr's professed former mistress to drive what should be the last nail in the rotting coffin of his reputation. Former GOP public relations executive Judi Hershman has published an essay entitled "Ken Starr, Brett Kavanaugh, Jeffrey Epstein and Me" on Medium.

I confess I never thought the man had it in him for motel room romance.

That Starr is a world-class sexual hypocrite has long been obvious. Do you know how hard it was for a name-brand Republican holy man to get himself fired as president of Baylor, the world's largest Baptist university? Covering up gang rapes by the school's football team did it. Even Starr's practice of running onto the field in a cheerleading costume couldn't save him after the truth emerged in 2016.

To hear her tell it, Starr's former mistress is anything but a woman scorned. "Our affair ran its course after a year or so of occasional encounters and a steady exchange of affectionate texts and emails," she writes. "No fireworks, no drama." Rather, it was watching a recorded interview with one of the Baylor victims that "helped me understand how I could have been blind for so long to the pattern of misogyny coursing through Starr's career."

Shedding crocodile tears, Starr made a show of empathy, but then proceeded to do nothing on the victim's behalf. "Shamelessly and effectively," Hershman writes, "he shoved rape allegations under the carpet in the name of Christianity."

Starr's role in helping negotiate a sweetheart deal for serial child rapist Jeffrey Epstein (13 months in jail with daily 12-hour passes) also troubled her. "I confess I did not recognize Jeffrey Epstein's name at the time, but I knew what statutory rape was," Hershman writes, "and I couldn't understand why Ken Starr would be involved with him. 'Is this a church thing?' I asked. 'Are you trying to "cure" him? Why would you do this!"'

"Everyone deserves representation, Judi," Starr responded, adding, "He promised to keep it above 18 from now on."

As the world knows, Epstein failed to keep his promise. A man would have to be painfully naive to think a convicted pedophile ever would. Or deeply cynical to pretend to believe him. Take your pick. Starr's efforts on behalf of the billionaire child rapist also included a covert smear campaign against the female prosecutor who'd prepared a 60-count federal indictment against his lowlife client.

"Somehow," Hershman comments, "Starr's role as the nation's parson always comes back around to sex."

Also money, I'd add. Not for nothing was Starr once a tobacco company shill. I'd also observe that for a woman with no ax to grind, Hershman deploys some awfully sharp edges.

She even recounts a 1998 episode in which Kavanaugh, then Starr's prosecutorial understudy, staged a full-on primate rage display: physically intimidating and chasing her around a conference table over a disagreement she doesn't describe. She says she'd all but forgotten his "feral belligerence" until she watched him go ballistic over Christine Blasey Ford's allegations at his Senate confirmation hearings.

She thinks he's got no business on the Supreme Court.

But at least Starr himself never got there, to his eternal regret and the nation's good fortune. Instead, he ended up in that shyster's purgatory: defending Trump against impeachment.

"It's not just the hypocrisy," Hershman thinks, "it's the damage Starr's sham moral authority has done — to our nation, to our people."

At Funeral Of White Teen Killed By Cop, Sharpton Signals Yearning For Change

There's no doubt that left-wing culture warriors have done great harm to the Democratic cause. Some of it is mere foolishness. I've never forgotten being chided at a college talk several years ago for using the word "murderess" to describe a character in my book Widow's Web who shot her husband in his sleep and later orchestrated a plot to kill her defense lawyer's wife.

"Murderess," one professor said, was unacceptably "gendered" language. To quibble about it would have been pointlessly distracting. Even so, I've wondered about it ever since. After all, is "murderer" an honorific? To most people, "murderess" conveys something even more sinister; a meaningful distinction. What's gained by making language less precise?

But it's when cant touches upon real world concerns that the trouble starts. Consider the phrase "Defund the Police." Has there ever been a dumber, more politically maladroit slogan in American political history? Worse even than Hillary Clinton's "basket of deplorables."

Far worse, actually. Clinton's remark merely convinced people that she was a snob. Rhetoric about doing away with cops made voters think that liberal Democrats inhabit a different planet. In an interview with VOX, veteran political operative James Carville put it this way: "Maybe tweeting that we should abolish the police isn't the smartest thing to do because almost [bleeping] no one wants to do that."

Words matter, Carville insists. "You ever get the sense that people in faculty lounges in fancy colleges use a different language than ordinary people? They come up with a word like 'Latinx' that no one else uses. Or they use a phrase like 'communities of color.' I don't know anyone who speaks like that. I don't know anyone who lives in a 'community of color'….This is not how voters talk. And doing it anyway is a signal that you're talking one language and the people you want to vote for you are speaking another language."

In the real world, for example, people wake up to headlines like these, which arrived in my inbox as I composed the preceding paragraph: "UAMS Officer kills gun-wielding man"; "Police ID man fatally shot at apartment complex"; and "15-year-old arrested in killing of Jacksonville man."

One medium-sized Southern city; one ordinary weekday in July.

Abolish the police? In which solar system, pray tell?

So no, what with homicide rates rising sharply nationwide, I was not surprised to see Eric Adams, a Black former NYPD captain who campaigned on making New Yorkers feel safe and restoring confidence in the city's police, winning a Democratic primary that makes him the city's de facto mayor-elect.

"The debate around policing has been reduced to a false choice," Adams declared. "You are either with police, or you are against them. That is simply wrong because we are all for safety. We need the NYPD — we just need them to be better."

Whether or not Adams can deliver, that's exactly how Democrats should be talking. Also, contrary to a lot of loose rhetoric, it's all about the guns. Property crimes—burglary and theft—are actually decreasing in many places. Gun battles between rival gangs and drive-by shootings of innocent bystanders are way up.

Although you've not heard about it in the national news, something else that happened in my backyard has convinced me that ordinary people are hungry for change. In the farming community of Lonoke, Arkansas roughly 35 miles northeast of Little Rock, a sheriff's deputy shot a 17 year-old white kid named Hunter Brittain to death during a 3 AM traffic stop. The boy was unarmed and had no criminal history. He'd been working late to fix his uncle's truck transmission.

Details are scant, because the state police have kept their investigation close, although a special prosecutor has been appointed. Also because the deputy never turned on his body camera, for which he's been fired. Nightly protests began outside the Sheriff's Department, growing steadily more intense. His family likened young Brittain to Minneapolis murder victim George Floyd. Even Little Rock media, however, showed limited interest.

Not until the Rev. Al Sharpton showed up in town to preach at Hunter Brittain's funeral along with Ben Crump, the attorney for George Floyd's family — virtually the only black faces among hundreds of mourners.

Sharpton referenced a can of anti-freeze the victim held as he died. "We've been frozen in our race; we've been frozen in our own class," he said to thunderous applause. "I believe today Hunter is calling to us. It's time for some antifreeze."

I've got my reservations about Sharpton, but the symbolism of his appearing was impossible to ignore: Americans are ready to talk.

Democrats Can Win Next Year The Same Way They Won Last Year

Many Democrats are leery about the party's ability to retain control of Congress in 2022. The president's party normally loses ground in mid-term elections, and Democrats have little margin for error. Lose a half-dozen House seats and the Biden administration will find itself stymied; lose the Senate, and total paralysis would set in: zombie government personified by Sen. Mitch McConnell.

It's been reported that President Biden believes that when people understand all that Democrats have done for them—bringing the Covid pandemic under control, restoring the U.S. economy, bringing unemployment down, passing long-delayed, badly-needed infrastructure repair—things will take care of themselves at the polls.

With all respect, if Biden thinks that, he's dreaming.

What got Biden elected, what drove the voter turnout that won him an extraordinary 81 million votes, was the majority's revulsion and fear regarding Donald Trump. If Democrats want to prevail in 2022, good government won't be enough. They need to turn the mid-term elections into a referendum on the Trump cult and GOP sycophancy toward his alarming assault on democracy.

"Here in the US, there's a growing recognition that this is a bit like WWF—that it's entertaining, but it's not real," Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) said recently. "I think people recognize it's a lot of show and bombast, but it's going nowhere. The election is over. It was fair."

Would that it were so.

Anyway, only a bit like the World Wrestling Federation? Not for nothing is Trump a member of the pro-wrestling Hall of Fame. As I pointed out in 2016, he basically stole his whole act from Dr. Jerry Graham, the bleach-blonde super-villain of 1950s TV rasslin' at Sunnyside Gardens in Trump's native Queens. The swaggering, the boasting, the pompadour hairdo — "I have the body that men fear and women adore," Graham used to say — it's all the same.

Asked the subject of Graham's doctorate, his manager once confided, "He's a tree surgeon." Smashing rivals with balsa wood chairs, bleeding copiously from chicken blood capsules, the Graham Brothers drew 20,000 fans to grudge matches in Madison Square Garden. Riots broke out among those naïve enough to believe the mayhem was real.

But few confused pro-wrestling with a real sport. In the eighth grade, I thought it was the funniest thing on TV. Trump appears to have drawn a different lesson: the bigger the lie and the more flamboyant the liar, the more some people will believe it. Hence his "Stop the Steal" rallies in the summer of 2021. And, yes, most of the costumed bumpkins in the red MAGA hats believe Trump's preposterous falsehoods about his landslide victory.

He's turning the GOP into an anti-democratic cult of personality. Precious few Republicans have the political courage of a Mitt Romney, a Rep Liz Cheney (R-WY), or a Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL). Trump's doing his best to purge any Republican who's ever crossed him. This is providing Democrats with a political opportunity not to be missed

Polls show that upwards of half of GOP voters believe that "audits" like the farcical spectacle under way in Arizona will reverse the 2020 election; fully three in ten expect that Trump will somehow be "reinstated" as president this summer. It's beginning to appear that the Big Man with the bouffant and the diseased ego may actually believe this fantasy too.

Two thoughts: America being America, some form of ritual violence will almost surely result. Something like January 6, except with guns. Second, three in ten Republicans amounts to maybe ten percent, give or take, of the national electorate. (The party's been shrinking since Trump took over.) That's roughly the same proportion that pollsters say subscribes to the QAnon delusion that Satan-worshipping pedophiles control the Democratic Party.

No doubt there's significant overlap.

So they say they want a culture war? Democrats should give them one. Have you noticed that for all the determination of Georgia Republicans to suppress voter turnout, nobody has seriously challenged the accuracy of that state's two 2020 US Senate races?

That's because once the Big Loser and his surrogate candidates turned the runoff into a referendum on Trumpism, Democrats and Independents turned out in record numbers to defeat them. Fear and anger drove them.

If that can happen in a Deep South state like Georgia, what's apt to happen in swing districts across the country? So run on good government bread and butter issues, by all means. Remind people of the good things the Biden administration has done for them.

But also nationalize the election: blanket the airwaves with TV ads showing before and after footage of GOP Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Sen. Mitch McConnell first condemning then making weasel-worded alibis for Trump's role in the January 6 insurrection. Tie bizarre figures like Marjory Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, and Matt Gaetz around their necks like anvils.

Give voters a clear choice: Trumpism, or democracy?

When Tenure Becomes A Partisan Issue, Academic Freedom Shrinks

As a onetime academic, I've always been of two minds about the institution of tenure. In theory, it protects intellectual freedom. In practice, however, junior faculty become so accustomed to keeping their heads down seeking a lifetime sinecure that timidity becomes second nature. They confine their heterodox opinions to the faculty lounge.

So I'm puzzled that a nationally famous journalist like the New York Times' Nikole Hannah-Jones thinks she needs it. The hullaballoo at the University of North Carolina provoked by its Board of Trustees declining to include tenure in its offer of a 5-year, $180,000 per annum contract has become a symbolic struggle on depressingly familiar racial terms. I quite doubt she intends to make a career in Chapel Hill.

Sometimes, however, symbolic struggles are worth having. But do spare me the high-flown rhetoric about UNC's inviolable academic standards. This is the school whose department of African and Afro-American Studies got caught awarding phantom "A" grades to varsity athletes for classes that never met. Literally did not exist.

The scam involved some 3000 students over two decades. Supposedly, UNC's football and basketball coaches knew nothing.

Sure they didn't.

But back to today's racial controversy. Nikole Hannah-Jones, of course, is the author of the Times's celebrated, and controversial "The 1619 Project" — an ambitious attempt to reassess American history through the shame of slavery.

It's UNC's Hussman School of Journalism that has offered her the job. And that, in turn, has drawn the interest of Arkansas Democrat-Gazette publisher Walter Hussman, the school's namesake, whose $20 million gift to his alma mater ensures that his phone calls and emails will always be answered.

Three big things trouble Hussman about the "1619 Project." First, its monthly magazine-style blend of fact and opinion, which the publisher finds unseemly. But that ship has sailed. Times readers know what they're getting. More substantively, Hussman objects to what serious historians have called into question about the work: Its assertion that the Revolutionary War was fought largely to prevent the abolition of slavery in the 13 colonies.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Hussman was greatly influenced by a Politico column by Northwestern professor Leslie M. Harris headlined "I Helped Fact-Check the 1619 Project. The Times Ignored Me." Harris had warned that the insupportable claim would give critics an excuse to disregard an otherwise important work, which is "exactly what happened."

But should a piece of journalism whose headline allegation is somewhere between dubious and downright false be lionized? OK, so Hannah-Jones has earned a Pulitzer Prize. But would she be offered tenure in a first-rate history department? Probably not.

Princeton historian Sean Wilentz, who has publicly criticized her work, put it this way: "There are, no doubt, reasons to object to awarding a tenured position on the faculty to Hannah-Jones, in which scholarship and qualifications are the primary considerations. The substance of her work on 'The 1619 Project' is controversial. So is her choice to sometimes dismiss and demean her critics instead of engaging with their arguments on the merits."

All too often, it goes like this:

"You're wrong."

"You're white."

The End.

Wilentz nevertheless emphasizes that the decision is the UNC faculty's to make, not politically-appointed trustees or alumni donors.

Yeah, well, good luck with that. UNC is a publicly-funded university, a liberal bastion in a largely conservative state.

If Hannah-Jones has become a partisan lighting rod, it's a role she's clearly chosen. And yes, it's all about race.

As for mega-donor Hussman, he's found himself pillored in Slate as "a mini-Rupert Murdoch," which surely seems unfair to anybody familiar with the newspapers he publishes. The Democrat-Gazette's news coverage is vastly superior to any newspaper in the region, and Hussman has risked a lot by offering IPad subscriptions (complete with IPads) to cut printing costs.

I wrote a column there myself during the Clinton and George W. Bush years. Although I'm confident he disagreed with most of my opinions, Hussman never interfered. When the publisher says he resents Hannah-Jones's assertion that "Black Americans fought back alone," he's thinking about white Arkansas journalists who risked everything (and won Pulitzer prizes) championing racial justice from the 1957 Central High integration crisis onward.

One such, the late Paul Greenberg, edited the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. We didn't agree about much else, but Greenberg stood strong for racial justice at a time when it could get a man killed.

Indeed, he was the editor and Hussman the publisher when I got myself unceremoniously dumped from a half-time teaching job in the midst of several columns lampooning the propaganda barrage used to sell the Iraq war.

"This isn't conservatism," I'd written. "It's utopian folly and a prescription for endless war." The dean said the college had no funds to pay me, transparently false. Colleagues pretended they didn't know I'd been sent away. Students were told I'd resigned.

You see, I didn't have tenure.

No, Baseball Isn't 'Doomed' Or Even Broken -- It's Still Beautiful

Now that the Major League Baseball season is well under way, with fans like me relieved and happy to have our absorbing summer pastime back, spectators returning to the ballpark, and interesting playoff races in all six divisions, it's time for the annual spate of "baseball is doomed" articles presaging the game's inevitable decline and fall.

"Baseball Is Broken" reads a prototypical headline in The Atlantic, of all places, not normally known for sports writing. "Once a generation," according to author Devin Brooks" the game of baseball suffers through a fun crisis, and the story of this MLB season so far is how alarmingly not fun baseball has become."

The big complaint is that pitchers—bigger, stronger, and throwing harder than ever—have gotten the upper hand over batters, leading to an MLB-wide decline in batting averages and a whole lot of strikeouts. Also a decline in situational hitting, i.e. hit-and-run plays, hitting behind base runners to move them along, bunting, and so on.

Many fans have been complaining, particularly in New York, where the Yankees have been whiffing at prodigious rates. I can't say I was personally disappointed to see eight of the last nine Yankees batters fan during a taut contest against the Red Sox last week. Boston pitchers threw some unhittable stuff. When it's 97 mph on the black edge of the plate at the knees…

Well, you try to hit it.

As a one-time pitcher during the Late Middle Ages—we played with rounded stones and cudgels—I found it thrilling. The Red Sox won zero games at Yankee Stadium during last year's Covid-shortened season.

Besides, the two teams will square off another 18 times during the regular season. Part of the beauty of the game for serious fans is that they do it almost every day. You know how your grandma used to watch her daily TV soap opera? For me, that's MLB baseball: an entertainment, an ongoing saga, and a refuge from…

Well, what have you got? For me it's mainly politics, a couple or three blessed hours without a word about Democrats, Republicans, or even the happy peregrinations of "The Second Gentleman."

It's definitely a TV show. Due to a combination of circumstances, I watched four consecutive Red Sox broadcasts last week with four different announcing crews: Houston's, Boston's, Fox Sports' and ESPN's.

Regardless of which team you support, it makes a big difference. The Astros need a serious energy transfusion in the broadcast booth. For all his star power, ESPN's Alex Rodriguez was droning on like a priest saying a 6 a.m. mass until he hit upon the topic of the 2021 Yankee team's deficiencies. That earned him a well-deserved headline in the New York Times.

Good pitching really plays on TV, especially with an expert commentator (and unabashed flake) like Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley calling them. "If he throws this guy another piece of high cheese," Eck will say, "he'll miss it by a foot." And most often, that's exactly what happens.

But back to The Atlantic and baseball's "fun crisis." What apparently set author Devin Brooks off was a seeming misunderstanding. His piece appears with the following correction: "This article previously misstated that Tyler Duffey beaned Yermin Mercedes. In fact, he threw behind Mercedes."

That is, instead of assault with a deadly weapon, the Minnesota Twins pitcher made a symbolic gesture to convey the message: "We didn't like you showing us up yesterday. You need to show more respect."

Duffey was suspended for three days, and his manager for one.

What precipitated the whole kerfluffle was slugger Mercedes ignoring a take sign from his manager, the venerable Tony La Russa, and hitting a 3-0 meatball from a position player, catcher Willians "La Tortuga" Astudillo, 420 feet for a home run in the ninth inning of a 15-4 game.

See, by bringing in a position player, Minnesota was conceding the game, and by hitting what amounted to a batting practice home run, Mercedes was rubbing it in. Baseball's unwritten rules can be subtle. Had the count been 3-1, it would presumably have been OK.

La Russa said his player had a lot to learn, several of his White Sox players said their manager himself was out of line, and then the Twins "retaliated." In short, as Brooks comments, "pretty standard big-league macho posturing."

Even if La Russa himself had made the ultimate rookie mistake of playing the "Do you know who I am?" card during a DWI bust last October and flashing his World Series ring. (He eventually pled guilty.)

The only serious baseball issue here is Mercedes ignoring a sign and White Sox players basically saying nobody needs to pay attention to grandpa. If so, then the 76 year-old Hall of Famer (and baseball's second-winningest manager ever) may have lost control of his team. And that wouldn't be funny at all.

Senate Democrats Must Kill The Filibuster Before It Kills Democracy

Have Americans still got the guts for democracy? In light of recent events in Washington, you'd have to say it's doubtful.

Last week the Senate voted 54-35 to establish an independent commission to investigate the seditious January 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol—the most violent attack there since the War of 1812. The House had previously approved the measure 252-175.

If the Senate vote were a football score, you'd call a nineteen point win decisive. And yet, the measure failed to survive a Republican filibuster, a quaint Senate rule requiring a supermajority of sixty votes to become law.

Created during racial segregation and used for decades to block civil rights reforms, the filibuster is found nowhere in the U.S. Constitution. It's neither a law nor a Supreme Court ruling. It's simply a Senate custom—and an openly un-democratic one—which could be eliminated tomorrow by a simple majority vote.

The Senate is a conservative institution by definition. It gives far more power and influence to small rural states than to large, metropolitan ones where most people live. Citizens of Wyoming, population 573,000, for example, have 70 times the influence in the U.S. Senate as citizens of California, population 39.5 million.

Only major constitutional surgery can change that, so it's never going to happen. No point even talking about it.

Add the filibuster, however, and it's a recipe for legislative paralysis: to wit, a government that refuses to defend itself against violent insurrection because it might hurt Citizen Trump's feelings.

Or might put Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in a tight spot. Not to mention Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). These two heroes spoke out decisively in the immediate aftermath of the January 6 coup attempt, but now the wind has changed and they're busily hunting cover.

"If you can't get a Republican to support a nonpartisan analysis of why the Capitol was attacked for the first time since the War of 1812, then what are you holding out hope for?" asks Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA).

What, indeed?

Former Obama White House aide David Plouffe put it even more bluntly on Twitter: "Democracy dying so the filibuster can live would seem a terrible way for this experiment to end."

Polls have shown that a clear majority of Americans support the establishment of a January 6 Commission by 56 to 30 percent. Even 28 percent of Republicans would be interested in finding out, for example, how many of those "tours" given by right-wing congressmen on January 5 consisted of pre-riot reconnaissance? Or who gave the "stand down" order preventing the National Guard from arriving on time, and why?

Just how organized was the conspiracy that resulted in "Proud Boys" running through the halls of Congress chanting "Hang Mike Pence!" while the vice-president's security team hustled him into hiding?

Did the Proud Boys keep it a secret from their pal Roger Stone? Did he neglect to tell his pal, Donald J. Trump?
Inquiring minds want to know.

Senate Republicans, not so much.

Look, under current circumstances, 54-35 equates to a thunderous majority. Filibuster, however, equates with doing nothing, and with political cowardice.

Indeed, the filibuster is arguably more responsible than anything else for the disdain with which most Americans view Congress's congenital inability to act. That's certainly how Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) sees it.

"If they block the January 6 commission, we will have to abolish the filibuster," Markey told the Washington Post. "If the Republicans block climate action, we will have to abolish the filibuster. If Republicans block voting rights, we'll have to abolish the filibuster. If Republicans block gun control legislation, we will have to abolish the filibuster. So I think that it's just continuing to move towards the inevitability of the unavoidable necessity of repealing the filibuster."

And yet preserving the filibuster is seemingly more important to certain "moderate" Democrats—specifically Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kirsten Sinema (D-AZ)—than all of those things. See, something else the filibuster does is to enhance the power and visibility of individual Senators--one reason President Joe Biden, a 30-year Senate veteran, is himself iffy about abolition.

The argument is that the 60-vote Senate requirement somehow fosters bipartisanship, although nobody ever says how. Mostly it now fosters Manchin's televised imitations of Maine's GOP Sen. Susan Collins—routinely regretting this and deploring that, before falling quietly in line. (In fairness, Manchin and Collins both voted for the January 6 commission.)

On the day after voting to drop the filibuster, Manchin would return to being just another of 50 Democratic senators. So there's that.

Others argue that should Republicans re-take the Senate come 2022, Democrats could come to regret killing the filibuster. Could be, although does anybody think the GOP won't ditch the rule whenever it's convenient?

In the foreseeable future, there's no chance of either party securing a sixty-vote majority. The choice is between majority rule and paralysis.

The GOP's Big, Shiny Voter Suppression Scheme Is Coming For You

Nobody wants to believe what they are seeing: the conversion of one of America's two major political parties into a cult of personality actively conspiring to overturn democratic rule in the United States. And doing so in broad daylight.

Irish poet William Butler Yeats put it best in The Second Coming, a poem written during the turmoil leading up to his country's civil war: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."

I don't guess I need to stipulate which is which.

Given the magnitude of his 2020 defeat, there's little chance that Citizen Trump could come anywhere near an electoral majority come 2024. Always assuming that he's still alive, minimally functional, and not in prison, that is.

Purging the GOP of non-cultists like Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) would appear likely to weaken, not strengthen, its appeal to the independent voters who decide American elections. With Citizen Trump's approval ratings stuck in the low 30s, nominating him can only lead to certain defeat.

Always assuming that citizens do get to vote, and that their votes actually count, which is where the mischief starts.

Of course, the whole thing could simply be yet another grift: scamming supporters for millions in "political" donations to support the Trump lifestyle.

True Believers, however, have grasped that for the Trump restoration to be achieved, millions either need to be disenfranchised, or, failing that, their votes overridden.

Purging voter rolls isn't likely to work. It's almost impossible to write laws removing Democratic voters without getting rid of Trump supporters too. As Stacey Abrams has proved in Georgia, guiding her party to win first the presidential race and two U.S. Senate runoffs, the surest way to stimulate Democratic voter turnout is to try to suppress it.

So Republican state legislators both in Georgia and at least 35 other states have come up with a plan to pursue the goals of Trump's failed January 6 coup attempt by legalistic means: weakening the authority of local election officials to tabulate the vote, and replacing them with partisan legislators.

The same farcical Georgia law that made it illegal to give water to voters waiting in line to cast their ballots also gave its GOP legislature the power to remove and replace election officials in Democratically-controlled counties.

The legislature took authority to run Georgia elections away from Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger—the honorable Republican who recorded Trump's browbeating him to "find" enough votes to make him a winner—and gave themselves the power to simply reject outcomes they don't like.

Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times has documented cookie-cutter efforts in 36 states: "Last year, for example, Trump asked several GOP governors to refuse to certify their states' results — under the legal theory that if electoral votes for Biden weren't certified, they couldn't be counted.

"When Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp refused, Trump called him 'worse than a Democrat' and threatened him with a primary challenge."

McManus quotes Edward B. Foley, an election law expert at Ohio State University: "It's not too early to worry about January 6, 2025. They are trying to lay the groundwork [for 2024] to make sure local officials will jump if Trump tells them to jump…They didn't jump last time, but they might the next time."

Remember too that on January 6, with the odor of tear gas still redolent in the House chamber, 126 gutless GOP House members voted to reject the electoral votes of Arizona and Pennsylvania, which Biden won. Hence also the farcical, but no less dangerous "audit" of Maricopa County, Arizona's presidential vote by the previously unknown "Cyber Ninjas" firm.

They're the geniuses searching 2.1 million ballots for traces of bamboo, supposedly to prove they originated in China. No theory is too crazy for Trump cultists to embrace.

Never mind that Republican county officials responsible for managing the election have unanimously condemned the effort. "I think a small mushroom cloud will go up over Maricopa County if the Cyber Ninjas report that Donald Trump really was the winner of the election," Republican county recorder Stephen Richer has said.

And you know that's going to happen.

The Arizona gong show has zero authority to change anything. But to give you some idea, last week obscure Indiana congressman Greg Pence voted against establishing a January 6 commission on the grounds that "Hanging Judge Nancy Pelosi" was out to get Trump—the guy who egged on a mob chanting "Hang Mike Pence!" in the halls of Congress.

Greg and Mike are brothers.

Democrats are kidding themselves if they think that this kind of cowardly groveling before the Trump Cult will simply go away.

Get Vaccinated Now, Mask Up Sometimes -- And Keep Using Common Sense

Frankly, I've never understood why face masks were ever such a big deal. There's a deadly viral disease abroad in the land; it spreads through aerosolized particles emitted when people talk, sneeze or breathe heavily, particularly in crowded, indoor spaces. It seemed only a matter of common sense and common courtesy to wear a mask at the grocery store.

I don't like wearing socks either. But if they protected me, the people I love, and Maggie the Kroger pharmacist from intensive care or the graveyard, I'd wear two pairs at a time. What persuaded me was during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic when Maggie sewed masks for the whole pharmacy staff back when masks were still hard to find. I'd already learned to trust her judgement.

Possibly the dumbest non-Trump moment during the whole Covid-19 saga (ingested bleach lately?) was when a crowd of fools in Idaho made a spectacle of themselves burning face masks to express their vigilant opposition to… Well to what? The existence of viruses? The reality of the pandemic? The tyranny of public health departments?

Politicians prating about lost "liberty" over face mask requirements struck me as similarly childish. The government also requires me to wear pants in public. Is that an infringement of my First Amendment right as an American to exhibit my posterior?

Nowhere near as dumb, because essentially harmless, are the many Americans who vow to continue wearing face masks pretty much forever. There's a meme going around on Facebook asking people if they plan to ditch the fool things in the wake of the CDC's (admittedly clumsy) pronouncement that fully-vaccinated individuals no longer need them.

See, the data's in: the vaccines work.

So far, more than a million fraidy-cats affirm that they plan to go masked indefinitely: MAGA hats for Democrats. Ever in search of ratings-building controversy, CNN news personalities have taken to pretending that the CDC guidelines are deeply confusing and potentially dangerous.

No, they're not. And yes, even the most dedicated worry-warts will gradually shed their masks in coming weeks as wearing one makes you look like a hopeless dork and CNN moves on to the next damned thing.

Even my sainted wife—a worry-wart if ever one was—will eventually lose every mask she owns and neglect to replace them. We'll be finding them in couch cushions and under ottomans for months. She forgot her mask at our favorite (outdoor) pizza place the other night, and I said nothing. See, I'd accidentally left mine in the car.

Everybody at our table was long-vaccinated, so what was the point?

But I'll keep going masked into the Kroger store for as long as they ask. So will everybody else. It's no big deal. That's why all this TV chatter about a one-size-fits-all national policy is beside the point. We live in a strong blue enclave in the deep red state of Arkansas. Locally, common sense compliance with mask mandates has been strong.

Out in the boondocks, however, it's a different story. The New York Times' interactive coronavirus tracker tells me that rural Perry County, where we lived until fairly recently, is at "high risk" for infection. Our friend Maurice says that nobody but him wears a mask at the filling station/feed store that serves as a community hub. As a former college professor, people expect him to be eccentric.

However, there have also been no Covid deaths and no new cases countywide for several weeks running. So you can almost understand why only 30 percent of citizens there have been vaccinated. Most residents of the county are cows.

Almost, that is, but not quite.

Vaccine hesitancy doesn't shock me. Apparently misled by Walter Winchell—the Tucker Carlson of his day—my own sainted mother refused to let me be vaccinated against polio. She had a superstitious nature and mistrusted expertise of all kinds. I finally got the shot after joining the Peace Corps.

Back here in town, masking customs have been evolving steadily since the vaccine arrived. For months, protocol at outdoor restaurants has been to wear one until you sit down, and then remove them. Pretty much the same custom now prevails at indoor restaurants that have recently reopened. Call me reckless, but I have never worn a mask during our daily dog park outing, merely kept my distance, as most people there do.

Dogs, not so much.

Compared to most people, dealing with the pandemic has been fairly easy for my wife and me. I've worked at home for many years, and she's retired. We've always preferred each other's company to anybody else's. We both read a lot, and I watch ballgames on TV. Since getting our shots last February, we've been re-emerging like two box turtles emerging from hibernation.

Take a few steps, pause, and then take a few more: the only national masking policy we really need.

The Big Lie That Makes Vladimir Putin Smile

There's a word to describe political movements that emphasize ethnic, racial and religious solidarity over citizenship and pluralistic values, but it has unpleasant historical associations. Using it only causes political conversations to end in bitterness and name-calling.

So let us simply observe that what's going on in today's Republican Party represents the seeming fulfillment of Vladimir Putin's ambitions for the Trump presidency. Undermining confidence in elections has long been Job One in the Kremlin: discrediting democracy to promote strongman rule. But Putin's too cynical to understand America.

It matters not to him that the strongman in question is an incompetent blowhard, a clownish figure in elevator shoes. One of America's two dominant political parties is in the process of losing its collective mind. Indeed the very preposterousness of Donald Trump's "Big Lie" about being cheated out of an election he lost by seven million votes—claims rejected for lack of evidence in more than sixty courts of law—only enhances their allure for conspiratorial thinkers.

"Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities," Voltaire wrote. The harder Trump's lies are to believe, the more fervently True Believers strive to affirm them. Longtime Republican strategist Sarah Longwell describes the MAGA faithful as "QAnon curious," professing faith in "deep-state" mythology. "A lot of these base voters are living in a post-truth nihilism," she told the New York Times, "where you believe in nothing and think that everything might be untrue."

To give you some idea, a GOP-sponsored election recount in Phoenix, Arizona has been searching for traces of bamboo on two million ballots—based upon a rumor that votes were flown in from South Korea.

No, I couldn't make that up.

Attending rallies of like-minded believers in MAGA hats is important, yes. But so is the ritual purging of heretics like Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, who has sinned against the faith by pointing out that Trump lost the election badly. For this she is being removed from her leadership role in the House, to be replaced by New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, a one-time New York "moderate" who has taken to parroting Trump's pronouncements word for word.

Claiming she wants to reassure Americans about "election security," Stefanik and allies like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy are unwittingly following the Kremlin playbook. Back in January, McCarthy professed anger at Trump for raising the mob that attacked Congress. Now he contends that anybody like Cheney blaming him for the Capitol riot is "not being productive," and needs to be removed from House leadership.

That said, Democrats, and Liz Cheney herself, are mistaken to speak of Republican "cowardice." It's not fear of Trump that drives them so much as naked ambition. And not ambition for the party or the country, it's important to understand, but for themselves.

One thing Republicans in safe districts know is that the MAGA faithful hold the balance of power. A recent CNN poll showed upwards of 70 percent of Republicans have bought the Trumpian "Big Lie" that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. So if they want to remain in Congress, it's best to keep skepticism about the claim to themselves at least until the 2022 primaries are over.

And then what? Well, that's the big question, isn't it? Seventy percent of Republicans amounts to less than one third of the electorate. And shrinking, as GOP party membership has gradually declined in recent years. Trump's latest favorable rating was 32 percent. Try as they may, Republican state legislatures won't be able to prevent Democrats and Independents from voting in 2022. Indeed, GOP efforts to make voting harder could very likely end up discouraging their own voters.

Anyway, here's how things look to one informed Republican, Maricopa County, Arizona (Phoenix) Board of Supervisors Chairman Jack Sellers: "In Maricopa County, only a third of the voters are Republican," he told the New York Times. "A third are Democrats and a third are independents. If you don't even have a third of the voting public altogether, how on earth can you expect to win over enough independents and others?"

Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has spoken of the Cheney purge as "a circular firing squad."

My own favorite Republican, Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, put it more colorfully on CBS's Face the Nation. "Right now," he said, the Republican Party is "basically the Titanic. We're like in the middle of this slow sink. We have a band playing on the deck, telling everybody it's fine, and meanwhile as I've said, Donald Trump is running around trying to find women's clothing to get on the first lifeboat."

"You don't have to be a genius to succeed in politics," the late Robert F. Kennedy once told a friend of mine. "But you do have to be able to count."

To MAGA believers, counting is heresy. But not to the rest of us.

Should We 'Cancel' That Roth Biographer Just Because He's A Creep?

As a rule, I read few biographies, and certainly not of authors, people whose most significant life events are spent alone. In my case, Churchill, Swift, and Dostoyevsky are the exceptions that prove the rule; world-historical figures who can't be understood outside the context of their times.

So I'd already decided not to bother with Blake Bailey's ballyhooed new book, Philip Roth: The Biography—even though Roth was a friendly acquaintance who'd given me help and encouragement way back when. After all, his novels were semi-autobiographical; his memoirs a veritable hall of mirrors.

I agreed entirely with what Bill Clinton said in awarding Roth the National Medal of Arts: "What James Joyce did for Dublin, what William Faulkner did for Yoknapatawpha County, Philip Roth has done for Newark." (Actually, historian Eric Alterman wrote the lines.) Roth rendered the city's dense particularity universal through the stories he told.

To know Roth at his best, read his 1997 novel American Pastoral, a penetrating portrayal of the "the indigenous American berserk" of the 1960s.

Actually, it was Newark that got us acquainted. I'd reviewed his baseball book The Great American Novel, stressing that he wasn't so much a "Jewish novelist"—a label he resisted—as a "New Jersey regionalist."

New Jersey, the Smart Aleck State.

He wrote asking how somebody in Arkansas knew all that, and urged me to expand upon the theme. The result was an essay called "The Artificial Jewboy," about growing up Irish-Catholic among Jews in neighboring Elizabeth. (One character in American Pastoral, a former Miss New Jersey, has my exact biography, right down to St. Genevieve's parish.) My essay contains more clumsy sentences and awkward kicks at the stars than the rest of the book it's printed in. But Roth saw something worthwhile and helped get it published. I've remained eternally grateful.

He'd even helped me see an aspect of my wife's character I'd taken for granted. After a long lunch at his country place in Connecticut, we'd gone for a walk in the woods. An excellent mimic, Roth could be terribly funny. He got Diane in a single take. What he liked most about her, he said, was her reserve.

"She doesn't care how famous I am," he said. "She's trying to figure out if she likes me in spite of it."

He thought that she hadn't yet decided.

That's Diane, who tended to be leery of literary narcissists based upon a couple of hard-drinking celebrity authors we'd encountered along the way.

Through her daddy the coach, I told him, she'd grown up knowing famous ballplayers. Roth respected that. Groupies are the bane of all famous people.

Anyway, although we'd lost touch years before he died in 2018, I figured I had no need to read his biography.

I knew he'd had a couple of terrible marriages; for all his perceptiveness, he appeared to have terrible judgement about women. Or maybe it was a two-way street, as in my experience of life, it normally is. He'd always had fierce critics among feminists and professional Jews: the very fiercest have tended to be both.

A literary provocateur, Roth was far too easily provoked.

How bitterly ironic, then, that his seeming need to win arguments even after death led him to choose an authorized biographer who, within weeks of his book's successful launch, stood accused of rape and everything short of child molesting by a chorus of women—many of whom he'd pursued starting when they were his eighth grade students in a New Orleans middle school.

Faced with those accusations, which Blake Bailey and his attorney vigorously (if none too persuasively) deny, publisher W.W. Norton abruptly took the book out of print. At one level, the affair resembles Roth's novel The Human Stain, about a professor hounded for using the word "spook" (in the sense of "ghost") to describe missing students who turned out to be Black.

Is it right to "cancel" a book because the author's a creep? Put that way, no. The book exists independent of its author. As Eric Alterman puts it, "Many writers are terrible people. (I am perhaps not so great, myself.)"

I'll second that.

Or at least I would have before reading Eve Payton Crawford's Slate essay about Blake Bailey, her eighth grade teacher who raped her when she was a college girl of 19. "You really can't blame me," he said when she cried. "I've wanted you since the day we met."

She was 12 that day. "I still wore underwear with Minnie Mouse on them," Crawford writes. Along with an exhaustively-reported companion piece titled "Mr. Bailey's Class," Slate depicts a sexual predator in action, flattering young teens and becoming deeply involved in their personal lives for years before making his move.

A very sick puppy who made the mistake of soliciting fame, and the fate of whose Philip Roth biography interests me not at all.

Drive-By Journalism Obscures Truth About Police Shootings And Black Lives

Cable news programming suggestion: Instead of filling every broadcast with the latest presumptive police outrage, try covering the latest drive-by killings too. Show us more of what's really happening on the streets where we live. Newspapers and local TV are already on it.

For example, the lead headline in the Chicago Sun-Times on the morning after police released video of the fatal shooting of 13 year-old Adam Toledo by a Chicago cop read "Girl, 7, fatally shot at McDonald's drive-thru."

Witnesses told reporters they were astonished by the brazenness of the gang-bangers who opened fire on a rival in front of many onlookers and several security cameras. The little girl seemingly got in the way.

Young Adam Toledo, of course, was involved in a similar shooting episode immediately before his deadly confrontation with police.

Heaven knows, Chicagoans have reason to be leery of their city's police department, but context is crucial.

This morning's headline in the Little Rock newspaper was "Peace urged after man killed, toddlers hurt by park gunfire." The toddlers were aged three and four. More collateral damage, as it's called when soldiers shoot civilians. Two young men playing basketball were the intended target; one survived. The little ones are expected to recover. Last month, however, a ten year-old girl was killed in a similar incident in another city park.

In Miami last weekend, three year-old Elijah LaFrance was killed when a gun battle erupted at a children's birthday party — the third little kid murdered there in recent months. The others were girls, aged 7 and 6.

Gang-bangers, however, don't wear body cams, so TV footage is harder to come by. Also, because filing wrongful death lawsuits against street thugs is futile, CNN's roving cast of pundits and personal injury lawyers aren't primed to respond with appropriate indignation.

"When a suspect is a person of color, there is no attempt to de-escalate the situation," civil rights lawyer and ubiquitous talking head Ben Crump said regarding a recent incident in Knoxville, Tennessee. "Police shoot first and ask questions later, time after time, because Black lives are afforded less value."

Regarding the value of Black lives, here's some important information: According to an extraordinary piece of reporting by Rick Rojas in The New York Times, Anthony J. Thompson, age 17, killed by Knoxville police in an armed confrontation in a cramped bathroom at Austin-East Magnet High School, was the fifth student from that campus to die of gun violence during this school year.

Five kids, all African-American, all shot dead at one school in one year.

"It makes it harder to get out of the house every day knowing another child has lost their life," one victim's older sister said.

So far, however, this ongoing tragedy has drawn little commentary on CNN or MSNBC. "Among our elites," my friend Bob Somerby writes, "no one cares about the gun violence which takes so many other lives. It doesn't matter if Black people get shot and killed unless it's done by police."

At his website The Daily Howler, Somerby has been writing acid commentaries about the melodramatic coverage given police/civilian shootings. In the wake of the Derek Chauvin murder trial, the sad and dangerous truth is that on anything regarding cops and race, you pretty much can't expect anything like accurate, dispassionate journalism from too much of the news media. Particularly not the cable networks.

Uncomfortable facts are routinely ignored or suppressed to preserve the good versus evil story line. Pundits appear on national TV to opine about complex life and death situations without having the first idea what they're talking about. Once the basic storyline gets laid down, it rarely changes.

Consider, for example, the tragic killing of Daunte Wright in a Minneapolis suburb by a veteran officer who says she mistakenly fired her handgun instead of a Taser—a story so improbable it almost has to be true, and will almost certainly result in a felony conviction. Wright apparently told his mother that he was stopped for having an air freshener hanging from his rear-view mirror.

Pundits on PBS, MSNBC, the New York Times, and Washington Post have given the air-freshener angle a workout. Al Sharpton mentioned it during an emotional eulogy at Wright's funeral. So why were Brooklyn Center police arresting Wright, and why did he flee?

Well, it turns out that Wright had been charged with aggravated armed robbery in 2019, released on bail, subsequently picked up for carrying a pistol and fleeing police, released again, and then blew off a court hearing on the gun charge. He had to figure they'd keep him locked up this time.

So he tried to run. Terrible decision.

Not a capital crime, no. And still a tragedy.

But if you're one of those posting indignant Facebook screeds about cops stopping drivers for minor infractions, now you know why.