November 28, 2020
It seems as if Trump and President-Elect Joe Biden are in a contest to see who can will their vision of the future into life.
Trump continues to maintain that he won the 2020 election. Wedded to this alternative reality, his supporters are circulating articles wondering how Biden--who was ahead by significant numbers in all pre-election polls-- could possibly have won the election… against a president who, for the first time since modern polling began, never cracked a 50% approval rating.
In their fury, they are turning against election officials, including committed right-wing Republicans like Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, whom Trump has called “an enemy of the people” for defending the actual results of the election and refusing to make up reasons to throw out Democratic ballots. Raffensperger and his wife have been getting death threats, while Republican leaders refuse to stand up for him.
Many of Trump’s supporters believe him when he downplays coronavirus, which just passed the landmark of causing at least 200,000 cases in a single day. Today NBC reporter Dasha Burns echoed the words of South Dakota nurse Jodi Doering two weeks ago, saying that three days in Appalachian hospitals had revealed a world in which “hard-hit communities still don’t believe COVID is real. Misinformation is rampant.” Burns told of patients who, according to nurses, “don’t believe they have COVID until they’re in critical condition.”
Burns goes on to say: “Ultimately, politicization and misinformation around COVID are having tragic real-world consequences.” Health care workers “are watching neighbors die because they were told by leaders they trust that this virus is a hoax.”
Trump’s vision is destroying faith in our electoral system and spreading death. It is destabilizing our democracy, an outcome that helps those who are eager to see America’s influence in the world decline.
In contrast, Biden is trying to will into existence a country in which we can accomplish anything, saving ourselves from the ravages of coronavirus, rebuilding the economy, and joining those countries eager to defend equality before the law.
To that end, his nominations for key positions are experts who believe in making the government work for ordinary Americans. Rather than tweeting frequently about conspiracy theories, he tweets sparingly words of encouragement: “I’ve always believed we can define America in one word: Possibilities. We’re going to build an America where everyone has the opportunity to go as far as their dreams and God-given ability will take them” and “We have to come together as a nation and unite around our shared goal: defeating this virus.”
These two visions are in a fight to control our government.
The reality is that Biden was elected president in 2020. He has won more votes than any president in American history, over 6 million votes more than Trump and 306 Electoral College votes to Trump’s 232. This is not close. Trump has challenged this election in a number of court cases; he has lost all but one of them, giving him a record of 1-39.
Yesterday, a federal appeals court made up of Republican-appointed judges rejected Trump’s attempt to overturn Pennsylvania’s certification of its election results. Judge Stephanos Bibas, a Trump appointee, wrote the opinion, which said the campaign’s challenge had “no merit.” “Charges of unfairness are serious. But calling an election unfair does not make it so. Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here,” the opinion said. “Voters, not lawyers, choose the President. Ballots, not briefs, decide elections.”
But Trump continues to tell his supporters that he has been cheated.
At some level, it is clear he cannot handle the reality that he has lost the election. On Thanksgiving, Trump finally spoke to reporters for the first time since the election, sitting at a comically small desk that has become fodder for comedians. He was not in a good mood. When a reporter asked if he would concede the election if the Electoral College votes for Biden, he exploded: “Don’t talk to me that way. I’m the president of the United States, don’t ever talk to the president that way.”
But Trump is also fundraising off his insistence that the election was stolen. The small print of fundraising emails reveals that donated money goes either to Trump’s political organizations or to the Republican National Committee. Today, rumors surfaced that Trump is considering holding a 2024 election rally on Biden’s Inauguration Day, a move that would help Trump feel important while it also would bring in money.
To rebuild the government, Biden is choosing officials who are institutionalists and experts. Today, for example, he announced more members of the Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board, adding a mental health nurse, the Executive Director at Navajo Nation Department of Health, and an epidemiologist who worked as Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA).
But Trump is trying to rush through regulations and pack positions with loyalists before he leaves office.
Biden has been clear that he would like to return the nation to its cooperative multilateral approach to foreign affairs. He hopes to elevate diplomacy and reduce the influence of the military in our foreign policy.
His national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, centers his understanding of foreign policy on a belief that echoes that of Republican Dwight Eisenhower a half-century ago: that American strength lies in the health of its middle class, which transnational threats are undermining. His initial focus will be health policy and China. He wants to send a “very clear message to China that the United States and the rest of the world will not accept a circumstance in which we do not have an effective public health surveillance system, with an international dimension, in China and across the world going forward.”
Sullivan believes the U.S. can rally other nations to fight corruption and authoritarianism, and to set up a “rules-based system.” But observers note that the Biden team will be working against the “shattered glass” of the Trump administration, which dumped treaties and tried to take on the world alone.
In the last days of his term, Trump seems eager to limit Biden’s ability to recover multilateral agreements, especially the 2015 Iran agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which limited the amount of enriched uranium Iran could hold. Trump withdrew from that treaty in 2018, and inspectors recently reported that Iran now has many times the amount of uranium it could have held had the deal remained in force. Trump responded by asking his advisers if he could strike against Iran’s nuclear center. They talked him out of a military strike, saying that such a strike could lead to an escalating crisis.
Yesterday, gunmen likely associated with Israel assassinated the leader of Iran’s nuclear program, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, in an ambush outside Tehran. Experts note that the assassination might spark retaliation, and thus might well have destroyed Biden’s ability to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal, as he has pledged to do. It seems more likely to undermine diplomacy than Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Finally, while Biden has pledged science-based policies and protection of civil rights, Trump’s Supreme Court appointees on Wednesday indicated they will defend religion. Trump-appointed Justice Amy Barrett cast the deciding vote to strike down restrictions on religious services to combat the spread of Covid-19. In two similar cases in the past, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s vote had swung the court the other way. The decision claimed that secular businesses had received preference over religious gatherings; the dissenters pointed out that the distinction was not the nature of the gathering, but rather its chances of spreading a deadly disease.
Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan said the majority was being reckless. “Justices of this court play a deadly game,” they said, “in second-guessing the expert judgment of health officials about the environments in which a contagious virus, now infecting a million Americans each week, spreads most easily.”
While the majority on the court claimed to be speaking for religious interests, on Thursday, Pope Francis published an op-ed in the New York Times that seemed to side with Biden. He noted that most governments have tried to protect their people from the coronavirus, but “some governments… shrugged off the painful evidence of mounting deaths, with inevitable, grievous consequences.” He scoffed at those who refused to accept public health restrictions, “as if measures that governments must impose for the good of their people constitute some kind of political assault on autonomy or personal freedom!”
He called for a fairer economic system, a political system that gives voice to marginalized people, and protection for the environment.
According to Pope Francis, “This is a moment to dream big, to rethink our priorities — what we value, what we want, what we seek — and to commit to act in our daily life on what we have dreamed of.”
It is early Sunday morning here in Germany.
Yesterday, Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke to the nation.
A lot has happened since the corona virus began spreading, Merkel said.
At the beginning of the year, she said, we were still dealing with a completely unknown virus. "Today we know so much more about the paths of infection, about the possibilities of protecting oneself, about symptoms and treatment options. Vaccines are being developed in record time. "We can assume that one or more vaccines will be available, not just sometime in the future, but in the foreseeable future.
This is due to the "great spirit of research" of the people, Merkel explained. "If this pandemic has anything good at all, it is this: It shows what we humans are capable of if we take our hearts in our hands, if we act with perseverance and creativity - and most importantly: if we work together across borders. But it is not only scientists who are in the game. "No, we can all do something. Each and every one of us can do something," said the Chancellor, referring to hygiene rules such as wearing masks, maintaining a safe distance and ventilation.
We recently reached the one million mark of Corona infections, 311,000 of which are active, and our death toll has now reached 15, 964. In a country of 80 million souls, these numbers are painful, but it could have been much worse.
Winter is nearly upon us and Merkel’s government has imposed new restrictions. They are not popular with everyone – we are all tired of this - and there are some who, as in the US, are actively protesting the measures as restrictions on personal freedom. But by and large, the people trust the government and are following the new rules.
No small part of whatever success Germany has experienced is due to Chancellor Merkel’s decision to square with the people, to tell them the hard truth. Trust isn’t built overnight, it takes time to develop and it takes courage to speak the truth, even when it isn’t pleasant to hear.
Americans have lived through four years of lies and self-dealing. The people are wary of trusting the government and many have turned to other sources for “alternative facts”. The incoming Administration has its work cut out for it but I am hopeful, even confident, that if they speak the truth consistently, and act to better the lives of all the people, that trust can be earned and the nation can begin to move forward united.
I wanted to address the idea of Trump's alternate reality, and one commenter's objections to naming it a reality at all, but this got long-winded, so I am putting out out here in the main thread where perhaps it will see more light for a moment or two than it would as a response to a single comment.
I can only offer my own view on what merits the name, obviously, but I do not think it is a complete stretch to call Trump's constructed cognitive universe an alternate reality. If the narratives he were pushing had all originated with him, were completely aberrant and inexplicible in their appeal, I would be more inclined simply to call them fictions and let it go at that, but much of what he says only amplifies what an extremely vocal minority of US citizens actually do believe is true. And dismissing their realities as fictions would be a dangerous understatement.
I grew up in the Deep South and deep within Christian Fundamentalism, where much the world of today's evangelical movement was itself constructed, and the standards of testing of reality are entirely different for those who are enthralled by their leaders to have faith in a version of the Gospels that extols individual righteousness as a matter of conviction, of what feels right, or, as my mother would put it, they "just know"--despite any and all empirical evidence to the contrary.
I could go into the abusive methods of mind control used in fundamentalisms of all sorts: they are as cult-like as those we often regard as so beyond the pall of consensual reality that they have no legitimacy at all. The main difference in fundamentalist Christianity is that it is a splinter group of one of the largest religions in the world today, and as such evangelicals can draw on a history that we actually do share with them if we were brought up in the US or another European-descended culture.
But I want to emphasize here that this alternative reality is as real to those inside of it as our reality is to us. To not understand that is to not understand what we are up against. Trump's fantasies are not just Trump's fantasies: they belong to white supremacy, to authoritarianism, to a narcissism that is not the isolated symptom of one person who might be labeled mentally ill. There is, inside of our very own culture, a tendency to buy into exactly the things he has bought into. Why is that?
There is no single answer to that question, and I have certainly not even begun to uncover them all, but it concerns at least the origins of the authoritarian sensibilities of the far right. It also concerns the question of what narcissism is and where it begins: myself, I would start with familial/cultural cycles of deep narcissistic injury that are remnants of Calvinistic, Puritan, and, I think to some degree, old English and Germanic approaches to child-rearing (see Alice Miller's "Drama of the Gifted Child" for a very interesting, if underappreciated, exposition of a kind of emotional stoicism and repression that has roots in certain European beliefs about "discipline").
And that is just where I would begin to think about this. As much as I agree with Heather that we have a chance to rewrite a number of endings to the repeated uprisings of fascism, of authoritarianism, of exclusion and brutality in the cultures that we share--and that we must seize this moment to do so, I am not optimistic that we will succeed at all quickly. We may not succeed at all.
At the very least, we--and as usual I am mainly addressing those of us who are relatively privileged in the US: white (that would be me), of middle-class origins (if not still particularly financially well-off, maybe once upon a time, or perhaps our parents were able to wrest off a piece of the American Dream while it was still available to certain white families even if we have not been able to keep ahold of it), mostly well-educated (also me), able-bodied (not anymore, no), and probably overwhelmingly cisgendered and heterosexual (never was, no chance of it happening!), and even at least nominally Christian (also not me for years)--we have to look at the degree of our own complicity in the multiple alternative realities that have been circulating amongst us for so long that many of them are simply thought of as The Way Things Are.
Can we question our own assumptions? Have we? Are we willing to listen to BIPOC, to disabled people, to queer and trans people? If we don't, we won't be able to shake off the centuries-old heirarchical ways of thinking that are often considered to be "common sense".
Common to whom? Is it possible that some of our realities are also fictions? And if so--or even if not--can fiction be dismissed, or is it too powerful as a world-building tool for us to, well, write it off? Or cross it out, or try to erase it?
I don't wish to rain on whatever parades we might be able to pull together right now. As a collection of many communities and as the nation we apparently constitute, we certainly need something positive to build towards. But I do think it necessary to understand that we did not end up with Trump by accident.
We who call ourselves The Left are extremely diverse. Finding commonality among ourselves can be a tall order. But there are many, many, many, many people right here living among us who have had no alternative but to analyze the workings of what is called Western culture because they have been under its collective thumb for hundreds of years. And the far right is frightened to death that they/we will have their/our voices heard. But I really do think that listening may well be our only chance for pulling this off.