Six Weeks Out

Side-stepping the septic tank that is American politics these days is nearly impossible. You can pretend not to notice its existence, you can try to whistle your way past a lot of the stink and unpleasantness, but basically ignoring what’s going on in this world, in this country, right here, right now … well, in late 2020, that is some willful ignorance there.

It’s certainly understandable. I mean, it’s a damn mess. Who wants to see any of that?

But we’re six weeks out from November 3, and for those who have tried to keep heads down and speak only when spoken to, it’s time to stop mumbling, stop deflecting, stop shaking your heads and hoping that everything will turn out OK. It’s time to speak up.

This one is big. Some will tell you that this election is the most significant of our lifetime. That kind of unvarnished proclamation sometimes sounds like so much emotion-baiting, a once-every-four-years dare meant to get you involved. I’m telling you, it’s never been this bad.

We forget, maybe, George W. starting an unnecessary war in the wake of one of the worst periods in this country’s history. We forget Richard Nixon just up and quitting. The Iran-Contra Affair, the Cuban Missile Crisis. Vietnam. World wars. The Civil War.

It has been this bad before. Probably even worse.

Still, at the very least, it’s really, really, bad in 2020. Scary bad. Even for an optimist, it’s awful. The worst part about it — worse than the pandemic, worse than the scary economic times, worse than raging wildfires and a hurricane every five minutes, worse than the beat-you-down-stupid politics — is that everybody just seems so damn mad. Example: The Donovan siblings had a Zoom call the other day, and even we, who all have an inherited proclivity to just let things slide, had to tiptoe around the topics of politics and the state of the world today. It was unsettling.

But that’s where we are. That’s where we have been for months. And that’s where we will be until November 3, or sometime thereafter, when the votes are counted and, hopefully (but not surely), we’ll have a decision on which way we’re headed in 2021.

So, which way? Donald Trump or Joe Biden?

Buck up. It’s time to get into it. Past time.

Back in 2016, I was confident that as a nation, we could survive four years of Trump in the Oval Office. And I think, as bad as things are, we’ve held up as well as could be expected. But can we make it through another four years? Another four years of … oh my god, it’s just so bone-sapping tiring … the name-calling, the pettiness, the flouting of the law and the constitution, the lack of seriousness, the incompetence, the constant me-me-me-me-me-me? I’m not so sure that we can take another round.

That’s why, in these next six weeks, it’s critical, as dispassionately as possible, to look at the issues we face in this country and make your choice. Decide what’s important to you. More importantly — way more — decide what’s important for the country.

If you look — dispassionately as possible — I don’t see how Trump, given the man he is and the job he has done so far, can help us with any of those problems.

Here, in a non-baiting way, is what I consider most important in this election, the Top Three issues of 2020. These won’t be everybody’s Top Three. And there certainly are other critical considerations. But these top my list.

The Supreme Court

*I originally had this third in my Top Three, and on Friday night, justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a liberal icon, died. She was 87 and just couldn’t hold on any longer.

Darker days are coming. Even darker days …

Through no doings of his own (and with some dastardly help from Mitch McConnell), Trump already has appointed two conservative justices to the high court. A third would radically change the shape of an already right-leaning group for a generation to come. Maybe longer. It will be topic No. 1 from now until Election Day, and probably beyond.

To me, this is not about Roe v. Wade, specifically — though many will cast their votes on nothing other than that issue — as much as it is about simple fairness, about making sure that the Court is as representative of this beat-up country as is possible. The high court is especially important these days because of the bench-stacking that Trump has done in the past 3 1/2 years (really, it’s almost all McConnell’s doing) in the lower, federal courts. Those courts are so right-leaning now, a well-balanced set of Supremes is the last backstop to keep the entire judicial system from turning red.

Stopping Trump and McConnell will not be easy. It might not be possible. They may well be able to get a conservative justice nominated and appointed before election day, and if not, shortly after. Even if Biden wins the presidency, the deed may get done.

If that doesn’t seem fair, it isn’t. If stacking the court with ideological judges seems dangerous, especially in such a polarized nation, it is. But … politics.

Dark days. Dark, dark, one-sided days.

The Environment

Climate change, as the people in California will tell you, is real. And it’s a bitch. Most of us have known this forever, of course. Yet we still kick this unrecyclable can down the road, waiting for someone else to pick it up. And all we’ve ended up with is a globe-threatening crisis that almost certainly is going to be worse for our kids that it has been for us.

I say “most of us” have known this forever only because Trump, incredibly, still does not. “It will start getting cooler, just you watch,” he told Californians as their state burned last week. And then, when officials pleaded for him to listen to scientists who actually, you know, study these things, the man who studies nothing but Fox News and his own polls said: “I don’t think science knows, actually.”

That kind of willful ignorance and spiteful denial, that kind of kowtowing to the traditional energy interests who so richly back him, is killing us. Literally killing us.

We need a president who listens to the smartest people in the room instead of one who thinks — always incredibly, constantly laughably — that he’s the smartest person around.

Health Care

Trump has claimed a better health plan is coming for five years, well before he won the presidency. It’s not here. It’s not coming. It never was. Don’t you get that?

He lies, people. Don’t you get that? All the time. All he cares about health care is that the biggest heath care advance that has come along in decades, Obamacare, be stricken from the books forever. And the only reason he wants that is because Obamacare begins with “Obama,” and No. 44 has been in No. 45’s tiny small-brained noggin for years.

I’ve said this before, but here, again: Health care is hard, and it will take a serious-minded, intelligent, committed, compassionate effort to come up with something better than Obamacare.

Trump is 0-for-4 on those traits. Instead, he denigrates what he can’t improve. Nice.

What else is on the line in this election? A ton.

The economy, and getting it back on track. The coronavirus, and getting rid of that. Inequality in all its forms, and finally, meaningfully tackling racism in our institutions, which continues to systematically widen the gap between white America and the rest of us and eats away at the promise of our nation.

Infrastructure. Steadying our stance against our foreign enemies, and our place among our foreign friends. Firming up the checks and balances in our democracy that have been battered over the past four years.

The electoral college. Making education for everyone more equal, more effective, and more affordable.

But as important as any specific issue may be, we first have to ask ourselves if the man in the Oval Office is really the kind of leader we need. We have to ask ourselves if we’re OK with the way that Trump has handled this impossibly hard task the past few years.

We have to ask if we’re OK with the lying. The narcissism. The name-calling. The pettiness and vindictiveness. The slipshod preparedness, or complete lack of it. The underhanded political plays that led to his impeachment (remember, he was impeached?). The just-plan meanness.

Is that what our president should be?

We have to ask ourselves if it’s OK that he shows no desire — absolutely none — to work with anyone who disagrees with him. He has demonstrated no willingness or ability — zero — to unify a nation that so badly needs unity.

Our beat-up nation won’t get better by picking Trump in six weeks. And isn’t getting better the whole idea?

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