Discover more from Letters from an American
April 16, 2020
It seems to me that lately we get a day with relatively little news, then we get swamped, then there is little. After yesterday’s firehose, today had only one piece of news that jumped out.
First, some follow-ups to older stories.
This evening, as promised, Trump announced new federal guidelines for reopening the country. After all the bruhaha all week about his “absolute authority” to reopen the states, the guidelines are simply vague recommendations for reopening businesses, schools, and restaurants and so on, based on the criteria doctors and state governors had emphasized: testing, cases, and hospital capacity. Trump also acknowledged that governors were in charge of the situation in their states; he has abdicated any role for the federal government, despite the need for the widespread testing he promised weeks ago.
While we have tested only about 1% of our population, there is apparently no national testing strategy. There is still a serious shortage of tests, and Trump has refused to use the Defense Production Act to get manufacturers to produce them. He says states should handle testing themselves. “You’re going to call your own shots,” Trump told governors today.
And they are doing so. Today a bi-partisan group of governors from Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky announced that, like the governors who have made pacts in the West and the East, they will work together to reopen their states. With some of these governors under pressure from protesters aligned with Trump in their belief that there is no need for physical distancing, the Midwest governors’ group made it a point to say "We will make decisions based on facts, science, and recommendations from experts in health care, business, labor, and education."
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican who is the head of the National Governors Association, said today that reopening the country right now is not an option. “It'd really be the worst possible time for us to try to put more people out there and endanger them,” he said this morning.
In other news, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson rejected Trump friend Roger Stone’s appeal for a new trial on the grounds that the jury forewoman was tainted. In November, a jury convicted Stone of lying to Congress. Jackson pointed out that there was no evidence the juror was biased or had lied when she was chosen for the jury. The judge pointed out that Stone’s lawyers had had plenty of time to disqualify the forewoman at trial if they had wished. Jackson has ordered Stone to report to prison when told to do so by the U.S. Probation Office.
If all that information simply wraps up stories we already knew, there was one story that jumped out. It, too, is a follow-up to an earlier story: that of the Wisconsin election of last week. At stake in that election was a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, a crucial seat because there is a case before the court concerning the purging of 240,000 voters from the Wisconsin rolls before the 2020 election. Wisconsin is a key state for Electoral College victories, and Trump won it in 2016 by fewer than 23,000 votes.
The court’s split on the voter purge case stands at 3-3, and Daniel Kelly, who had been appointed to a seat on the court by Republican Scott Walker, recused himself from voting until the election had passed. Despite a transparent attempt to rig the election in his favor by insisting on holding the election in person despite the pandemic, thus driving down the turnout that favors Democrats, Kelly lost. His Democratic opponent, Jill Karofsky, won 55.3% of the vote to his 44.7%. Ignoring this overwhelming message from voters, Kelly is now indicating he will vote on the case which is once again before the court, arguing that since the election is over, there is no longer any need to recuse himself. He has asked the parties involved in the case to voice their opinions on whether or not he should participate.
That the Wisconsin voter purge is still on the table after last week’s dramatic vote is a dangerous sign. In a democracy, it is not legitimate for members of a political party to rig the mechanics of elections so that their opponents cannot win. Trying to do so shows a fundamental rejection of the principle of equality in favor of a belief that some people are better than others, and should retain power by any means necessary.
“I should like to know, if taking this old Declaration of Independence, which declares that all men are equal upon principle, and making exceptions to it, where will it stop?” asked Abraham Lincoln in 1858. In his era, southern slaveholders argued that a few rich men were better than the “mudsills,” the ordinary workers, who made up the vast majority of the nation. Those wealthy leaders should rule the country, they said, because if mudsills had political power, they would demand more of the capital their labor produced. In 1859, in response to their argument, Lincoln articulated a powerful vision of human equality "which opens the way for all" in a speech at an agricultural fair in Milwaukee.
“I suppose… I shall not be mistaken, in assuming as a fact, that the people of Wisconsin” preferred his vision to that of a world in which a few men ruled, he concluded.
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