Meanwhile, In the Real World

Mort Rosenblum / Reader Supported News
Meanwhile, In the Real World Election workers set up voting booths, October 2020. (photo: Paul Hennessy/Getty)

Ukraine faces a potentially nuclear winter. Europe again fears fascism. Taiwan girds for assault. People cry freedom from Iran to Myanmar. And next week a dis-United States may relinquish its shining-city-on-a-hill democracy over $4 a gallon gas.

Americans fixate on prices without considering that the previous president is almost entirely responsible, and nearly every other country suffers from them more. Polls put global climate meltdown far behind. Foreign policy, around which most crises turn, is barely mentioned.

In the final stretch, I heard Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, favored against Stacey Abrams, refer on CNN to “Joe Biden’s inflation.” Whether he is a dope or, more likely, a disingenuous cynic, people like that have no business in public office. Yet look at the Republican field.

These mid-terms are no usual referendum on a party in power. If Republicans prevail, two more years of preposterous big lies, electoral sabotage, censorious ideology and outright terrorism are all but certain to put an unchecked authoritarian in the White House.

Donald Trump has savaged truth, decency and the rule of law. Ron DeSantis and others in the running exploit his tribal know-nothing base, which ignores Biden’s serial successes against lockstep Republican opposition. A fired-up minority wins when apathetic voters opt out.

If Americans don’t look beyond partisan politics, narrow interests, blind ambition, religious fundamentalism and simplistic reporting, U.S. elections could produce the greatest human folly since, as the Book of Genesis has it, Esau gave up his birthright for a bowl of lentil stew.

In 60 years of reporting, I’ve seen nothing close to what is now at stake. In the millions of words that I’ve spewed out over the decades, none have mattered more.

Beyond America’s insulating oceans, most reaction ranges from bemused disbelief to utter contempt. At the start of Trump madness, a more unified Europe and allies elsewhere kept an uneasy peace. By the time a popular landslide rejected him, that was no longer possible.

Covid-19 crippled the world. Rather than lead a global effort to contain it, Trump scapegoated China, muzzled the gold-standard CDC and hamstrung the WHO. Variants now escape the Greek alphabet in poor countries where famine, climate and tyranny force millions to besiege Western borders.

Trump’s self-focused response killed an extra 240,000 Americans, according to Brookings Institution research in early 2021; avoidable deaths could reach 400,000 because he politicized the virus, shunning science. U.S. law defines such reckless disregard as “depraved heart murder.” In late 2020, Harvard economists calculated costs to the U.S. economy at $16 trillion.

Workable coexistence with China is over. The Iran accords Trump trashed were about more than nukes. Today, a hostile Mideast power is locked in a clash of civilizations; women and young men want better lives. North Korea, no longer boxed in by diplomacy, is a serious threat. Despots muzzle even tepid dissent, citing that insidious label: fake news.

Trump toadied to Moscow and gutted NATO. As a result, a wannabe Vladimir the Great wages genocidal war that divides the world into self-interested camps. He expected Ukraine to be a pushover, unaided by inward-looking America. Now in a quagmire, Putin weaponizes oil and natural gas.

High gas prices are hardly a surprise. Biden tried to fast track a shift from fossil fuels to alternative energy, but Sen. Joe Manchin, the West Virginia coal-baron Democrat, resisted. Oil companies have made $100 billion so far in windfall profits.

Nor are soaring food costs. Once thriving farmlands are now barren wasteland because of endemic drought or freak floods. War devastates Ukraine’s wheat and corn crops, nearly 15 percent of the world supply. Elsewhere, shipping delays and conflict cause massive spoilage.

Britain is mired in post-Brexit turmoil. In France, Emmanuel Macron lost his legislative clout. Italy’s Giorgia Meloni mimics Mussolini. Her coalition partners are soft on Putin. Western support helped Hungary and Poland escape the Soviet bloc early. Now, they resist European Union standards of liberal democracy.

An unruly world badly needs America’s wherewithal to restore order, defend human rights, support a free exchange of truthful information and, above all, keep an imperiled planet habitable.

“The United States is the mirror in which we view ourselves, so I am deeply worried,” former Spanish foreign minister Arancha González Laya recently told Steve Erlanger of the New York Times. Now she is dean of international affairs at the prestigious Sciences Po in Paris. “Whatever happens in the U.S. doesn’t stay in the U.S.”

But for Republicans, America First means American only. A new book — “Unchecked: The Untold Story Behind Congress’s Botched Impeachments of Donald Trump” — details how Mitch McConnell blocked conviction for that treacherous effort to extort Volodymyr Zelensky for dirt on the Bidens when Ukraine badly needed firepower. Then Trump got a pass for the worst assault on Washington since the War of 1812 with Britain.

Trump bears total responsibility for the final debacle in the Afghan war Biden opposed from the start. On the U.S. southern border, today’s crush was inevitable because his inhumane policies flouted Geneva Conventions that America drafted. He refused qualified emigrants America badly needs.

These are hard facts, all scrupulously documented by U.S. and international reporters who do their own digging. Still, among an electorate that shoots from the hip based on uninformed snap judgments, a new incumbent in office for less than two years gets all the blame.

Biden has restored the vigorous economy he and Barack Obama left behind, which plummeted as Trump let Covid run rampant. He cut the deficit by $1.4 trillion, nearly as much as the tax break Republicans gave the rich. Annualized growth is 2.6 percent, likely more than China’s.

His 3.5 percent unemployment rate is a 50-year low. He is cutting poverty, health care costs, corporate gouging and much else while fortifying America’s long-neglected infrastructure.

Numbers aside, consider what is supposed to matter: character, integrity, decency. He decided to run after the 2017 Charlottesville rally when racist thugs chanted “Jews will not replace us.” Trump faulted “both sides.” That’s when I realized he, with no limits, was capable of anything.

I first came across the man in the 1990s, reporting from Atlantic City on a mobbed-up deadbeat who threw families out of homes they had owned for generations to pave parking space for a gaudy casino. I laughed in 2015 when he declared his candidacy. No sentient person could favor him over an eminently qualified Hillary Clinton.

The debates frightened me. Trump, cocksure, revealed an absurd worldview. Once when Clinton explained vital complexities, he hovered over her with the smug smirk of a comic-book caudillo. The more ludicrous his fact-free rants, the more TV executives exulted high ratings.

Elections come down to two flawed candidates. Voters get the worse if they don’t support the better. “Never-Hillary” people and Bernie Sanders diehards stayed home. Despite a convincing popular tally, the skewed Electoral College gave America a Frankenstein’s monster.

Today, assessing the pile of jackal scat which controls the “grand old party,” I am haunted by a Holocaust survivor’s grim warning in a recent interview with Christiane Amanpour: people who can burn books are also capable of burning people.

Official electors and states’ rights made sense in the 1700s. As America evolved, the system worked because candidates accepted election outcomes. Founders did not foresee the Steve Bannon-Roger Stone approach: declare victory and tell actual victors to fuck off.

Democrats need to win big at every level down to school boards and county courts. Party extremists with personal agendas need to give Biden unwavering support. With no solid majority in Washington and state capitals, it likely won’t matter which Democrat runs for president in 2024.

At the national level, a single profile in lunacy illustrates the challenge. Once Americans used initials for successful presidents who inspired despite their human flaws: FDR, JFK, LBJ. Now that includes notorious congressional newcomers. MTG scares the crap out of me.

I noticed her in January 2020 when she posted an earlier video showing a 46-year-old crazy person dogging David Hogg near the Capitol with a microphone demanding to know why he had 30 meetings on the Hill while she had none.

Easy answer. He was a Marjory Stoneman Douglas survivor from Parkland who saw 14 high school classmates and three others gunned down around him. She was only Marjorie Taylor Greene, a gym operator from Georgia who was besotted with Trump and heavy weaponry.

She shouted at Hogg, who kept walking. Why did he hide behind kids? Was he a paid George Soros stooge? Why would he say nothing? Was he a coward? Within a year, after running in a deep-red Georgia district, she was spouting her insanities from the House floor.

Donations poured in from supporters who believe her crackpot conspiracies, racist rants and violence porn. Democrats are Nazis when not Marxists. Covid safety measures equate to Holocaust persecution.

House members tried to isolate her. But, freed of committee assignments, she raves on. Trump loves her, so Kevin McCarthy — ambitious and unprincipled — does, too. Indescribably inept and dangerous beyond belief, she is among the most influential members of Congress.

Robert Draper’s chilling book excerpt in the New York Times Magazine (link attached below) lays her bare in her own boastful, belligerent words. He begins with Greene quotes about midterms she expects Republicans to win:

“There’s going to be a lot of investigations. I’ve talked with a lot of members about this…To please the base (McCarthy) is going to give me a lot of power and a lot of leeway, and if he doesn’t, they’re going to be very unhappy about it…That’s not in any way a threat at all. I just think that’s reality.”

Greene wants to ban all immigration for four years, block any action against climate change, establish a Christian theocracy with school prayer and abolish gun legislation to turn America into a free-fire zone. Her first bill in Congress was to impeach Biden. Then, that was laughable. Today, it is in the realm of possibility. For what? In a packed Congress, that doesn’t matter.

At an October rally in Michigan, Trump declared: “Despite great outside dangers, our biggest threat remains the sick, sinister and evil people from within our country.” Greene went farther in her warmup: “Democrats want Republicans dead, and they have already started the killings.”

A month earlier, she tweeted a darkly lit image of Biden warning that some on the right were threats to democracy. “Joe Biden is Hitler,” she wrote, with the hashtag #NaziJoe.

Politics work that way in Washington these days, and they get worse in many states. Officials who insist the last election was stolen are on the ballot, bent on thwarting the 2024 popular vote if it does not go their way. My home state, Arizona, tops the list.

Kari Lake, a Fox television anchor in Phoenix from 1999 to 2021, supported John Kerry and Barack Obama in past elections. Friends say she was a Buddhist. As a candidate for governor, she is a stalwart Christian soldier who quite literally cuddles up to Trump at rallies.

In fiery speeches tempered with tearful eye-batting “you love me!” moments, she seemed to be channeling Eva Peron. Not successfully.

Lake wants to seal the border, put cameras in classrooms to monitor teachers and crack down on “fake news,” which abounds in her own writings. Abortion is “the ultimate sin.” At the extreme, she favors Arizona’s secession from the United States.

Katie Hobbs, her opponent, is the secretary of state who oversaw an election that stood up to repeated recounts by “Cyber Ninjas,” a Florida conspiracy nut’s firm hired by the Arizona Senate president.

In February, at a Trump rally near the state prison in Florence, Lake claimed Chinese agents were pouring over the heavily patrolled southern border to join a fifth column to insidiously pollute treasured American values.

As the pandemic cut a swath through Arizona, she shouted: “We are no longer willing to put up with those shots in the arms, swabs up the nose and those filthy masks…we’re done. When I am governor, there will be no mandates, no lockdowns.”

After a pause, she revised that. “I wanna lock somebody down, that liar, Dr. Fauci.” The crowd roared contempt for the epidemiologist who for decades directed effective action against pathogens. Later in the year, she named another person to lock up: Katie Hobbs.

One passage revealed much about Republican zealots: a tearful promise to protect “beautiful unborn children.” Trump slashed aid to poor countries, killing an incalculable number of already-born children. The outside world seldom comes up in American political campaigns.

Already, Republicans signal weakened support for Ukrainians who fight on with enormous losses. As winter sets in, Putin blows up power plants with Iranian drones. America can’t write a blank check, Kevin McCarthy says, because it has too many problems at home. As if Russia’s assault on what is left of the free world is only “foreign affairs.”

The outside world watched riveted as aides described how Trump flung ketchup at the Oval Office dining room wall when his sock-puppet attorney general refused to call the election corrupt. Relentless, deep-digging Jan. 6 Committee hearings depicted in sworn testimony how a banana-republic dictator did nothing as an armed mob tried to lynch the vice president.

But Americans with minds made up shrugged all that off. Polls support a Times op-ed headline: “The Jan. 6 Committee Has Been Almost Wholly Ineffective.”

And then the FBI raid on the nest of snoops Frank Bruni calls Mar-a-Loco. Does anyone think allied leaders don’t notice that an unhinged ex-president can expose top-level classified documents that name secret agents and detail what U.S. intelligence knows about nuclear-armed foes? Global security depends on leaders sharing sensitive data.

No longer in office, Trump has no more right to purloin National Archives material than, say, Ed Snowden or Chelsea Manning. But his partisans’ response is to demand impeachment for Merrick Garland and to defund the FBI.

Jon Meacham, an insightful presidential biographer, no longer likens U.S. politics to the 1930s, when economic and social upheaval led German democracy to Hitler’s Reich. He cites the 1850s when the nation, in a dialogue of the deaf, headed for war against itself.

That resonates loudly to me, coming from a gun-loving state, after covering violent coups since the 1960s. A gunman gravely wounded my own congresswoman, killing six people at an outdoor meet-and-greet in 2011. A decade later, that is no longer an unthinkable anomaly.

The Civil War was between states fighting over a defined issue. We are already seeing the unconventional kind. Katie Hobbs has had hundreds of death threats; her office was just burglarized. Kari Lake says she’ll accept election results only if she wins. Arizona is rife with armed crazies, and there are plenty of states like it.

Last week, a 42-year-old right-winger, a product of the times, broke into Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco home shouting, “Where’s Nancy?” She was in Washington, but he attacked her 82-year-old husband, fracturing his skull with a hammer.

Massive early turnouts are a hopeful sign. Polls can be spectacularly wrong. I remember that admonition from my wise editor friend, Michael Getler: you can go badly wrong betting against America. But that was long ago. This time, every single vote matters.

Mort Rosenblum has reported from seven continents as Associated Press special correspondent, edited the International Herald Tribune in Paris, and written 14 books on subjects ranging from global geopolitics to chocolate. He now runs

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