Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.
--Daniel Patrick Moynihan

February 21, 2020

Could Bloomberg Really Beat Trump?

By David K. Shipler

                Michael Bloomberg’s tone-deaf paralysis in the Las Vegas debate puts a boldface question mark behind the growing assumption among many Democrats that only he can defeat President Trump in November. One debate fiasco might matter little in the end, given that many more people are seeing the flood of Bloomberg TV and internet ads. And maybe he’ll do better next time. Still, 19.7 million viewers watched his first. But if he gets the nomination, voters will see him extensively, out from behind his screen of commercials. He could use a serious makeover.
                His advantage is his money: his generous philanthropy on the liberal side of such issues as gun control and climate change, his decisive contributions to Democratic candidates, the networks of loyalty that he has purchased in cities throughout the country, and his extensive campaign organization. He knows how to direct his dollars effectively, and his ex-Republican centrism will surely appeal to moderate Republicans who are disaffected with Trump.
                Yet voter turnout is crucial, and that depends largely on a candidate’s appealing demeanor, vision, and forward-looking agenda. Trump has built a wall of zealotry. To break through it, a Democratic opponent needs a surge of young and minority citizens moved by passion and belief, plus a middle-spectrum of voters in swing states. Right now, Bloomberg looks like nothing more than the candidate of last resort. That’s not enough to drive enough people to the polls.
There is a sharp hunger in the land for decency. There is a thirst for honesty, candor, authenticity—all traits that Trump supporters mistakenly attribute to the president. Depending on which citizens you ask, the country is impatient for reform and afraid of it, welcoming and resentful of demographic diversity, idealistic and cynical about politics in America.

February 13, 2020

The Soviet Republicans

By David K. Shipler

                The most stirring statement of any witness in the House impeachment hearings last fall came from Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman of the National Security Council, who opened his testimony with thanks and reassurance to his father, who had brought his family to the United States for “refuge from authoritarian oppression” in the Soviet Union.
                “My simple act of appearing here today,” Vindman declared, “would not be tolerated in many places around the world. In Russia, my act of expressing concern through the chain of command in an official and private channel would have severe personal and professional repercussions, and offering public testimony involving the president would surely cost me my life.
                “I am grateful for my father’s bold act of hope 40 years ago and for the privilege of being an American citizen and public servant where I can live free of fear for my and my family’s safety. Dad, [that] I’m sitting here today in the US Capitol talking to our elected professionals is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to the United States of America in search of a better life for our family. Do not worry. I will be fine for telling the truth.”
                Did Colonel Vindman misread his adopted country?
After honoring a subpoena and testifying under oath on President Trump’s “inappropriate” phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Vindman got death threats so alarming that the Army and local police had to provide security. The Army considered moving his family to safety on a military base. And this week, after acquittal in his impeachment trial, an unleashed Trump had Vindman escorted out of the White House and then threatened him (by tweet) with unspecified military punishment. This was part of a widening pattern of retaliation by the Trump apparatus against impeachment witnesses and other independent thinkers in government.
The United States is not the Soviet Union, of course, and it’s a good bet that Vindman would never think it was. Furthermore, invidious analogies between Trump and various forms of authoritarianism—fascism, Nazism, third-world dictatorships—are so common that they have lost their bite. So it’s important to recognize that while the American constitutional system is under immense strain by Republicans impatient with its messy checks on their power, the restraints have not yet broken.
Nevertheless, to one who lived in Moscow from 1975 to 1979, there is a queasy taste of familiarity in the impulses of Trump and his Republican followers. There is a certain kind of political actor, whether Soviet or American, who cannot stand dissent and debate, who derides facts and truth, who sees all behavior through a lens of personal or ideological loyalty, and whose values extend no farther than immediate victory and the expansion of authority. In this mindset, truth-tellers are “enemies of the people,” to quote Stalin and Trump. Policy differences constitute warfare in which argument and rebuttal are not enough: Opponents must be destroyed through smears, propaganda, and retribution.