For What It’s Worth

For What It's Worth

A lot has happened since last week’s blog, which is true most every week. But this week might have had even more headspinning activity than usual.

Another of Putin’s critics got poisoned.

Belarus continues to offer a preview of the US post-November 3rd. (An exaggeration? Only a little.)

A federal judge told Trump he has to turn his taxes over to the Manhattan DA, Cy Vance.

Seventy highly esteemed Republican national security officials—including former generals, ambassadors, and William Webster, the only man ever to lead both the FBI and the CIA—published a scathing public letter calling Trump “dangerously unfit” and announcing that they will vote for Biden.

Trump’s own sister—a retired federal judge—was caught on tape calling him cruel, unprincipled, a liar, and someone who panders to his religious base but really cares only for himself (no, you say!). She also corroborated reports that he had someone take his SATs for him, which might put him in hot water if he were still a Hollywood B-lister and not the President of the United States. In reply, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows tellingly didn’t even try to rebut the allegations, only expressed his shock—shock!—that his niece Mary Trump recorded them.

In other news, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy dishonestly told Congress that the White House wasn’t trying to sabotage the mail, and promised to stop sabotaging mail, even though it is very clear that he is going to continue to sabotage the mail.

Trump refused to denounce QAnon, and going further, actually expressed appreciation for the support of Q disciples, thereby cheering fans of the lizard king pizza parlor conspiracy theory, which holds that Satan-worshipping pedophiles are secretly running the world, and only Trump can stop them. In response, the White House press office presented the argument that the very stable genius and most informed person on Earth doesn’t even know what QAnon is.

Ironically, there really is (or at least recently was) a high profile cabal of elites sexually exploiting children…..and Donald Trump was besties with its leader, the late and unlamented Jeffrey Epstein, who met a grisly end in a Metro Correction Center jail cell in Lower Manhattan. But never mind.

So all in all, that was quite a week.

Oh wait, I almost forgot: Steve Bannon got arrested for bilking people who gave money to build the border wall, proving that he is not only a racist swine (not news), but also willing to cheat the other racist swine. Also caught up in this irony-breaking story were inveterate shitbags Curt Schilling, Erik Prince, and Kris Kobach. It’s so perfect that you’d get laughed out of the Writers Guild if you put it in a script, like one of those crappy ones Steve-o used to produce. But as Michelle Goldberg writes, Trumpism has been a racket from the start, and in it you’re either a predator or a mark.

For those of you scoring at home, that makes three out of three Trump 2016 campaign managers who have since been charged with crimes…..or as Sarah Silverman tweeted, “We’ve got to stop the White House to prison pipeline.”

And looming over all this, as always, is the pandemic, which continues to ravage our country as violently as the wildfires menacing Northern California, or the hurricanes bearing down on the Gulf Coast, or any of the other climate change-driven disasters that make these feel like the end times. House Democrats passed a bill that would provide $3 trillion in desperately needed relief, recovery, and stimulus—the HEROES Act (Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions)—last May, but Mitch McConnell has refused to take it up. Even now he won’t recall the Senate from vacation to deal with it, because…..well, you know. He’s evil.

The death toll, in case you’ve become numb to it, passed 180,000 this week and is on track to hit 300,000 by the end of the year. And still Trump does nothing to stop it, and indeed makes it worse and worse by the day.


So that happened.

Then there was the Democratic Convention, pioneering a new virtual paradigm for the covid era, accidentally moving us past an anachronistic institution that ought to have been put out of its misery years ago. (Clint Eastwood and the empty chair, anyone?)

How did it go? Well, I know I’m in the choir, but I thought the preaching was pretty good. To name just a few highlights:

Bernie, admirably and capably doing what he ought to do to rally his supporters…..Colin Powell, Cindy McCain, John Kerry, and John Kasich working the other end of the spectrum…..the inspirational Gabby Giffords, Tammy Duckworth, and Keisha Lance Bottoms…..the savvy use of Bruce’s “The Rising” to recall 9/11….. historian Jon Meacham, who gives me hope as an old white male….the wit of Julia Louis-Dreyfus…..the harmonies of the Chicks….and Billy Porter breathing new life into Stephen Stills’ iconic 1967 protest anthem.

Yeah, inevitably, there were some awkward moments and other bumps, but all in all a damned good show that convincingly made the case why Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are better suited to lead this country than Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.

Within it, for me, two moments stood out.

One was an Arizona woman named Kristin Urquiza, whose father died of covid, with heartbreaking testimony that his “only pre-existing condition was trusting Donald Trump.”

The other was the incredibly courageous appearance of a 13-year-old boy named Brayden Harrington. Subsequently a video surfaced of Biden’s first encounter with that boy, which irrespective of your politics, ought to make you cry, unless you have anti-freeze in your veins.

As Maureen Dowd wrote—in a column that almost made me forgive some of her previous sins—simple decency is Joe Biden’s secret weapon.

When it came to the speeches by the pros, there was Kamala, picking up the torch—and not the kind from a Lowe’s in suburban Charlottesville—and Biden’s own acceptance of the nomination, which was powerful, delivering everything Joe needed at the moment he needed it most.

Thus far Trump’s plan to paint Joe Biden as a radical leftist has failed to find traction, because even his own followers find it absurd. The irony, of course, is that real leftists find Biden (and Harris) insufficiently progressive. The challenge for the Democrats then is to make a legitimate case to the Bernie/AOC faction that a Biden administration will pay serious attention to the progressive agenda, without scaring off too many moderate Republicans who might be willing to cross party lines, and without giving credence to Trump‘s otherwise laughable line of attack. That dilemma is well represented by the double-edged sword of a recent piece like “Angela Davis is Voting for Biden, But You Think You are Too ‘Revolutionary’ for That?” in TestSet.

Trump’s plan for attacking Kamala, meanwhile, which he went to on Day 1, was to reprise the birtherism that launched his political career, questioning whether she can legally be president because her parents were immigrants. (Spoiler alert: of course she can, per the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution.) His real subtext, of course, as with Obama, was to imply to his racist base that she ain’t a real ‘Merican on account of she’s Black.


And then there was the Obama household, whose occupants know a thing or two about being the target of the most vile racism imaginable, and how to face it with principle and honor.

By virtue of her manifest integrity and open distaste for politics, probably no living American— not even Barack—has the power and credibility of Michelle Obama when she speaks of the existential crisis facing our country. I’m going to quote her at length, because her words demand it:

(L)et me be as honest and clear as I possibly can. Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country. He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is.

Now, I understand that my message won’t be heard by some people. We live in a nation that is deeply divided, and I am a Black woman speaking at the Democratic Convention. But enough of you know me by now. You know that I tell you exactly what I’m feeling. You know I hate politics. But you also know that I care about this nation. You know how much I care about all of our children.

So if you take one thing from my words tonight, it is this: if you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me, they can; and they will if we don’t make a change in this election. If we have any hope of ending this chaos, we have got to vote for Joe Biden like our lives depend on it…..(and) in numbers that cannot be ignored. Because right now, folks who know they cannot win fair and square at the ballot box are doing everything they can to stop us from voting. They’re closing down polling places in minority neighborhoods. They’re purging voter rolls. They’re sending people out to intimidate voters, and they’re lying about the security of our ballots. These tactics are not new.

But this is not the time to withhold our votes in protest or play games with candidates who have no chance of winning. We have got to vote like we did in 2008 and 2012. We’ve got to show up with the same level of passion and hope for Joe Biden. We’ve got to vote early, in person if we can. We’ve got to request our mail-in ballots right now, tonight, and send them back immediately and follow-up to make sure they’re received. And then, make sure our friends and families do the same. 

I look forward to Melania’s verbatim delivery of the same speech next week.

Michelle’s marginally famous husband possesses some skills of his own, which he also deployed masterfully last Wednesday night (after cannily insisting that Kamala have the closing spot).

Barack Obama marshaled the full force of his presidential gravitas to denounce his successor in a way that no former commander-in-chief ever has—or had to. In his homestretch he echoed the thinking of others like the Rev. William Barber II in noting how our current challenges ought not intimidate us, in light of what our forefathers overcame:

Some years ago, I sat down with John (Lewis) and the few remaining leaders of the early Civil Rights Movement. One of them told me he never imagined he’d walk into the White House and see a president who looked like his grandson. Then he told me that he’d looked it up, and it turned out that on the very day that I was born, he was marching into a jail cell, trying to end Jim Crow segregation in the South.

What we do echoes through the generations.

Whatever our backgrounds, we’re all the children of Americans who fought the good fight. Great grandparents working in firetraps and sweatshops without rights or representation. Farmers losing their dreams to dust. Irish and Italians and Asians and Latinos told to go back where they came from. Jews and Catholics, Muslims and Sikhs, made to feel suspect for the way they worshipped. Black Americans chained and whipped and hanged. Spit on for trying to sit at lunch counters. Beaten for trying to vote.

Obama then delivered the knockout:

If anyone had a right to believe that this democracy did not work, and could not work, it was those Americans. Our ancestors. They were on the receiving end of a democracy that had fallen short all their lives. They knew how far the daily reality of America strayed from the myth. And yet, instead of giving up, they joined together and said somehow, some way, we are going to make this work. We are going to bring those words, in our founding documents, to life.

When I was at Punahou School in Honolulu in the late ‘70s (briefly), there was a required class for all 9th graders on how to give a speech. I took it. But I think Barry—who was two years ahead of me—mighta gotten a little more out of it than I did.


I know we live in deeply polarized times when almost nothing moves the electorate from our respective battlements. But even so, Joe Biden and the Democrats made an empirically strong case for their side. Many deep red Republicans will dismiss it out of hand without giving it a fair shot. But no thinking person of any ideological persuasion can sincerely take it in, and measure it against the record and rhetoric of Donald Trump, and honestly come away without giving it props.

So we shall see what the GOP counters with next week during Honkytown Grievance Fest 2020. It promises to be absolutely vomit-inducing, with a lineup that includes the likes of Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan, Rudy Giuliani, St. Louis’s gun-waving Ken and Karen, the president of the UFC, every member of the Trump family except Donny’s sister and niece, and a special appearance by the bat that started the coronavirus (not to be confused with Rudy). Unlike last time, however, I don’t know anyone on the left who is snickering over how this Republican shitshow will match up against their own professionally produced A-list revue. We learned the hard way that mainstream showbiz—to say nothing of substance—can get (OK, I’ll say it) trumped by “The Apprentice”-meets-Triumph of the Will.

Let’s give Barack the final word, and score one for the Punahou public speaking curriculum:

This administration has shown it will tear our democracy down if that’s what it takes to win. So we have to get busy building it up—by pouring all our effort into these 76 days, and by voting like never before—for Joe and Kamala, and candidates up and down the ticket, so that we leave no doubt about what this country we love stands for—today and for all our days to come.


Illustration: Brian Cahn/ ZUMA Wire/Mother Jones

Click here for full transcripts of Barack and Michelle Obama’s speeches.


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