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Why I See Kamala’s Racial Attack on Joe as a Positive Seminal Moment for Our Country

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VP Biden swears Harris into office as Senator. Image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org.

Joe Biden has just selected California Senator Kamala Harris as his Vice Presidential running mate. Some call it an easy, obvious decision. I see it differently.

I think this was just the right choice at this time. But it couldn’t have been easy for Biden.

I was one of many who was put off by Harris in the first debate for her attack on Biden about his support of busing when she was a child integrating her neighborhood school.

It seemed unfair because it was ancient history, and he has clearly moved far from that kind of thinking. Though I didn’t support Biden then, I was moved by the shocked, hurt look on his face. He appeared wounded. He and Harris were friends. She was a close friend of his beloved late son Beau.

Evidently, Biden’s wife’s Jill was similarly offended: she reportedly questioned early on whether Harris should be his running mate. Even more tellingly, Chris Dodd, an old trusted friend who was leading Biden’s search committee, accused Harris of disloyalty and an excess of ambition.

Harris recently dismissed that tense exchange as being “just a debate,” fueling those who saw her as callous and opportunistic. But I think that moment has turned out to be one of the most important for our country today.

Here’s why:

First, it says a huge amount about Biden’s own strength and courage–aligning himself with a strong woman who will speak her mind on important issues. It shows the character of the man. His remark that “I don’t hold grudges” should be a model for us all these days.

Second, Biden has made it clear that racial justice and erasing inequality are central to his campaign for the “soul of America.”  His willingness to see Harris as his ally shows that he wants someone willing to tell him when he’s wrong–and to provide him with perspectives that he knows he can’t gain from his own lived experiences.

That is both extremely impressive and necessary. And he demonstrated true independence of judgment. He dismissed the warnings of his old guard friends like Chris Dodd–warnings that were clearly sexist and not relevant to today.

Thus, his decision tells me that Joe Biden will be his own person. He has shown that he has no fear of being overshadowed by his Vice President. He has decided that Kamala Harris and he are “simpatico”–a word he used as one of the most compelling factors for him.

I’ve been feeling for a while that Biden, having been through so much as Vice President, was the right person to lead us. All this has enhanced my opinion of him as a strong leader.

It has also been noted that through the careful selection process he conducted in seeking his partner, he has shone the light on other talented women who were under consideration but might not otherwise have gained such notice, eg, Val Demings as a possible gubernatorial candidate in Florida; Karen Bass as a possible successor to Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House when she retires.

So his deliberative approach became much more than simply a vetting: it has opened our eyes to the leadership potential of women who’d previously been overlooked.

At the same time, although Harris has dismissed her remark, I no longer see it as a cheap shot. As the killing of George Floyd led to huge and racially diverse protests and widespread societal acceptance of the grievous wrongs and unfulfilled promises in our society, Harris’s insertion of that bit of history may be seen as the opening bell for our great awakening.

Indeed, schools are more segregated today than they have been in years. And Harris was most convincing in helping us envision what it was like for that little girl on her lonely journey years ago. We are now more aware that parallels of that isolation are still plentiful in our nation.

Thus, on one of the most important issues of our time, Biden-Harris are uniquely positioned to move us forward.

In some ways, Harris parallels President Obama. Both grew up in largely white environments and sought their identities elsewhere: he went to Africa in search of his father; she attended Howard University, a predominantly black institution. Thus, they are both comfortable with all types of people in varying settings.

Both are also highly intelligent, accomplished, witty, fast on their feet, and charismatic. Harris drew 20,000 screaming Californians to her presidential campaign announcement–even more than Obama did to his.

Both are more pragmatic than ideological–despite what you’ll hear from the Trump administration about the raving leftists who want to destroy America.

And both have an uncommon ability to demonstrate compassion toward the individuals they engage and the societal problems people face. (With Biden, who also has an abundance of compassion, and Harris, the compassionate responses will flow freely. Due to the pandemic and accompanying financial distress, our suffering nation now needs this quality in our leaders as never before.)

Kamala actually has more executive experience than Obama did: as California’s attorney general, she ran the second largest attorney general office in the country–with the exception of the federal government’s.

It was in that position that she became close friends with Biden’s son Beau, and Biden has said that knowing how highly Beau thought of her was a large influence on his decision to choose her.

One of her many accomplishments during her tenure in that position was to walk away from a 2011 offer by the country’s biggest mortgage firms that she felt was a paltry response to the needs of Californians and others facing illicit foreclosures. Beau Biden and other state AGs sided with her, but she took heat as she stood her ground. Dismissing the $2-$4 billion original offer, she eventually gained $20 billion for Californians.

That, President Trump, is truly The Art of the Deal!

There will be much media digging into Harris’s imperfections, many phony attacks by the Trump Administration, depicting them both as captives of the far left–Communists, anarchists, religion defilers. Nonsense!

But Joe Biden has pronounced himself a transitional figure. In selecting Kamala Harris as his running mate, he has demonstrated his understanding and belief in the direction America is moving.

Yes, race and gender are major components. We are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment–but when women won the right to vote, the Black women who’ve done so much to build our nation were not included in that move. They have increasingly made up for  lost time.

So just as Black women (and Congressman James Clyburn) were the powerful force that brought Joe Biden’s candidacy back from the brink, so will they protect Kamala Harris from undue attacks and use their sororities and networks to turn out a vote that I believe will be massive enough to overcome the Republican efforts to suppress voting and prevent valid ballots from being counted.

It’s about time, for sure. I teared up when I saw one after another Black woman interviewee express her delight at finally seeing a candidate “who looks like me.”

I hope the media and the grumblers won’t get carried away with focusing on race and gender to the exclusion of everything else.

Make no mistake. In Biden-Harris, we have two pragmatic and compassionate souls who will consider all ideas–some more progressive than might have been the case before conditions in this country became so dire–to dig us out of the worst hole America has been in due to failed leadership in its history.

I expect Biden and Harris will be concentrating on workable, equitable solutions to help us get back on our feet and begin moving toward greater economic and social justice.

The historian Jon Meacham pointed out earlier that our America today dates from Kamala Harris’s birth 55 years ago, when the Voting Rights Act became law, and changes in our immigration laws made the nation more inclusive and diverse. “Our America is 55 years old,” he said.

I believe this is a great day for the America most of us long for.

I welcome your thoughts.

Annie

Continue reading “Why I See Kamala’s Racial Attack on Joe as a Positive Seminal Moment for Our Country”

The Presidential Polls Will Soon Be Tightening (Gasp!)

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Mail-In ballots. Image courtesy of flickr.com

It seems that President Trump’s attempts to stay in office are increasingly desperate. “Biden wants to hurt God,” he said Thursday, leading MSNBC host Chris Hayes to ask how he could even do that (?).

It was bad enough for Trump that he’s apparently lost control over events and the narrative–and the opportunities to get the campaigning juice so essential to his being.

Then came the news that Cy Vance, Jr., the New York County District Attorney, apparently possesses not only those elusive tax returns, but also evidence of fraudulent claims made by Trump and his company in order to obtain loans from Deutsche Bank. It’s finally looking as though the long arm of the law that he’s eluded for so long may well be hovering within reach.

So despite his obvious contempt for and boredom with the position of President, and the fact that more than 160,000 Americans have now died on his watch (“It is what it is”), Trump still wants to keep the job. And that’s understandable. If he loses, he could soon be facing trial and conviction.

But if he’s President, he can’t be indicted. That’s a dopey standard as far as I’m concerned–one that never occurred to Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, et al. But that’s what we’re stuck with for now–just as we’re stuck with the outdated Electoral College.

And if it weren’t for the latter, we’d have few concerns that Trump would be easily booted from the Oval Office.

So Trump is declaring the election a fraud ahead of time, his selection for Postmaster General is snafuing postal operations just when the pandemic has made vote-by-mail more essential than ever, crazy lawsuits are being filed to prevent state officials from sending vote-by-mail ballot applications to citizens, and now Republican operatives are pushing an unstable hip-hop star strategically onto the ballot as a third-party candidate.

I’d say “poor Kanye West” because it seems he’s being used–at a time when his wife is lamenting his untreated mental illness. But he’s also being handsomely rewarded by his relationship with Trump: his fashion company received millions of dollars in loans from the Paycheck Protection Program for small and medium-sized businesses, and he says he’s negotiating other deals as well. In addition, he wants President Trump to defeat Joe Biden, so why not act as a spoiler in states where the race may be tight, eg, Wisconsin?

Right now, the polls in the swing states are still showing Biden is strong, and a surprising number of Senate seats may be in play. The national polls have tightened a bit. They will continue to do so–and we may see this movement more after Biden announces his choice as Vice President next week. There is no way everyone will be happy with whomever he chooses.

This poll-tightening is not a cause for worry, as my wise friend has written:

“Here’s the word of caution: Trump’s popularity has dropped so significantly and quickly that a rebound is inevitable. In statistics, such a correction is known as ‘regression to mean.’ It is a nearly universal phenomenon that manifests itself in batting averages, stock prices, and the number of insects in a hectare of forest.

“When Trump recovers some of his lost ground due to regression to the mean, DON’T PANIC! We must have the intellectual discipline to understand that when Trump closes the gap because of a nearly immutable law of statistics, it does not mean that Biden is ‘losing.’ When Biden is ‘only’ five points ahead of Trump (instead of his current 14 point lead), Biden will still be winning —notwithstanding Trump’s efforts to convince you otherwise.

“And when the gap closes, don’t blame Joe for forces that are far beyond his (or Trump’s) control. But most of all, don’t panic, stay the course, and recognize that we cannot rest until the last vote is cast, counted, and defended in court…”

We all know that polls have flaws–a lesson we learned the hard way in 2016. Is there another approach to determining who’ll win?

You may have seen or heard about a video of historian Allan Lichtman explaining how he garnered the sterling record of successfully calling every Presidential winner–including Trump–since 1984. He even predicted Trump’s impeachment.

Lichtman’s prognostications are unaffected by polls. He maintains that voters vote pragmatically according to how the party in the White House has been governing. His methodology, based on years of research, focuses on “13 Keys to the White House”: answers of “true” mean the party in the White House will remain; answers of “false” mean a change. Among the keys are incumbency, primary challenges, economic indicators, and foreign successes.

If you’d like to see the video and learn all the facets of Lichtman’s decision-making, here’s a link.

On the basis of the 13 keys, Lichtman predicts Trump will lose the election. But, he says, “Don’t just take my word for it,” and he points to unknowable factors that he says keep him up at night, such as voter suppression and Russian intervention. Get out there and vote, he exhorts us.

We need the closest thing possible to a landslide to prevent Trump from crying fraud and trying to discredit the legitimacy of the election. Every vote–in red states and blue states–is critically important in this effort.

Lichtman concludes by quoting President Lincoln:

“The best way to predict the future is to choose it.”

Annie

Continue reading “The Presidential Polls Will Soon Be Tightening (Gasp!)”

Black Health Matters Too: The Role of Race in Life-and-Death Medical Decision-making

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Image courtesy of visuals.nci.nih.gov

The intersection of race and health is complicated. But the emerging picture seems to be that health conditions that affect Black people disproportionately—such as kidney disease and maternal deaths—may have their roots not only in poverty or access to health care, but also in preconceived and unproven notions of race that affect medical decision-making. (emphases mine throughout)

In one sense, that’s a painful reminder of the pervasive extent of racism in our institutions. Right now we are watching Black people bearing a disproportionate burden of COVID-19—in part because of their preexisting conditions.

In another sense, it offers hope that by confronting and changing those preconceived notions, we can actually change health outcomes.

Of course we also need to improve our inequitable hodgepodge of a health care system and address issues related to poverty—such as food deprivation and environmental injustices (eg, housing in toxic areas).

But at the same time, we should be educating clinicians to take a new look at their decision-making when treating each specific Black patient–indeed, all minority patients.

As far as geneticists are concerned, to the extent that there are racial groups, there is greater genetic variation within the specific groups than there is between groups. That means that when the specialty societies that design algorithms to guide clinical decision-making have built in beliefs that aren’t scientifically based, they are obliged to go back to the drawing board.

The need to take a fresh look at the implications of these preconceived notions was raised in an important article in The New England Journal of Medicine: “Hidden in Plain Sight—Reconsidering the Use of Race Correction in Clinical Algorithms.” (I cite a couple of other sources in this post as well.)

The authors observe that:

“Despite mounting evidence that race is not a reliable proxy for genetic difference, the belief that it is [a reliable proxy] has become embedded, sometimes insidiously, within medical practice.”

They speak of “diagnostic algorithms and practice guidelines that adjust or “correct” their outputs on the basis of a patient’s race or ethnicity…By embedding race into the basic data and decisions of health care, these algorithms propagate race-based medicine….[and] may direct more attention or resources to white patients than to members of racial and ethnic minorities.”

For example, if you look at the results of your blood work, you may have noticed two separate readings for kidney function. The estimated glomerular filtration rate, or eGFR, has historically been based on four elements: the levels of creatinine (waste the kidneys remove from the blood), age, gender, and race. The higher the score, the better the kidneys are seen to be functioning.

But there’s one assessment for Black people and one assessment for everyone else. The original reasoning was derived from the flawed assumption that Black people have more muscle mass, and thus better kidney function.

So the assessment for Black people automatically adds points for better kidney function—regardless of the particular patient. (Do most clinicians even know the reasons behind the differentiation?)

The result can be disastrous:

“These higher eGFR values may delay referral to specialist care or listing for kidney transplantation.”

In fact, the authors note:

“Black people already have higher rates of end-stage kidney disease and death due to kidney failure than the overall population.”

The good news is that both physicians and medical students at some prominent universities have called for an end to this race-based kidney testing.

Several leading hospitals have already done so. And the National Kidney Foundation and the American Society of Nephrology have said they’ll establish a task force to evaluate this use. (This information is from another source.)

The NEJM article has an insightful table of “Examples of Race Correction in Clinical Medicine” that shows how race has affected a number of decisions routinely made by clinicians who are merely following the guidelines.

By specialty, they cite the tool affected by a racial correction, input variables, use of race, and equity concern. In addition to Nephrology, the specialties include Cardiology, Cardiac Surgery, Obstetrics, Urology, Oncology, Endocrinology, and Pulmonology.

Here are just a few examples:

Cardiology

“The American Heart Association (AHA) Get with the Guidelines—Heart Failure Risk Score predicts the risk of death in patients admitted to the hospital. It assigns three additional points to any patient identified as ‘nonblack,’ thereby categorizing all black patients as being at lower risk. The AHA does not provide a rationale for this adjustment….Since ‘black’ is equated with lower risk, following the guidelines could direct care away from black patients.”

And here’s the real-life implication:

“A 2019 study found that race may influence decisions in heart-failure management, with measurable consequences: black and Latino patients who presented to a Boston emergency department with heart failure were less likely than white patients to be admitted to the cardiology service.”

A similar situation exists with the calculators thoracic surgeons use to estimate complications and risk of death before deciding to operate. Here, too, the algorithm’s developers don’t explain how they arrived at their conclusions, but, say the NEJM authors, “When used preoperatively to assess risk, these calculations could steer minority patients, deemed to be at higher risk, away from surgery.”

Obstetrics

We know that Black women are up to three to four times more likely to die in childbirth than white women, according to the CDC. And though among poorer women, lack of access to care and poorer quality of care are significant factors, women who are not poor and are well-educated are also represented in these distressing statistics.

Dr. Ana Langer, Director of the Women and Health Initiative at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston has said:

“Black women are undervalued. They are not monitored as carefully as white women are. When they do present with symptoms, they are often dismissed.” 

One algorithm the NEJM authors discuss pertains to Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC)—assessing the risk of labor to a woman who has had a Cesarean section when she’s about to deliver another baby.

At present, the algorithm predicts a lower success rate for women identified as African American or Hispanic to have vaginal births. In the chart, the authors note that “the decrement for [women identified as ] black…or Hispanic…is almost as large as the benefit…from prior vaginal delivery or prior VBAC.”

The result: Nonwhite women in the US–even those who have had previous vaginal deliveries—have higher rates of C-sections than white women, despite the fact that successful vaginal deliveries are safer, lead to faster recoveries, and result in fewer complications during subsequent pregnancies.

Thus,

“Use of a calculator that lowers the estimate of VBAC success for people of color could exacerbate these disparities” and worsen the already high maternal death rate among Black women.

The NEJM authors say that these types of algorithms exist throughout medicine, and they cite studies to back up these assertions:

“Some algorithm developers offer no explanation of why racial or ethnic differences might exist. Others offer rationales, but when these are traced to their origins, they lead to outdated, suspect racial science or to biased data.” 

The racial differences that are apparent, they say, which are erroneously attributed to genetics, are most likely the result of the experience of being Black in America—“toxic stress and its physiological consequences.” Therefore, adjustments based on race make matters worse, “baking inequity into the system.”

The answer isn’t to ignore race, they stress. Doing so would “blind us to the ways in which race and racism structure our society. However, when clinicians insert race into their tools, they risk interpreting racial disparities as immutable facts rather than as injustices that require intervention.”

“Researchers and clinicians must distinguish between the use of race in descriptive statistics, where it plays a vital role in epidemiological analyses, and in prescriptive clinical guidelines, where it can exacerbate inequities.”

The NEJM authors propose three questions that physicians should be asking in the development or application of clinical algorithms:

–Is the need for race correction based on robust evidence and statistical analysis?

–Is there a plausible causal mechanism for the racial difference that justifies the race correction?

–And would implementing this race correction relieve or exacerbate health inequities?

As evidenced by the reexaminations of the eGFR and VBAC ratings, the efforts to correct these inequities have begun. Medicine must seize upon these efforts promptly in all specialties as an opportunity to strengthen the Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm.

Annie

Continue reading “Black Health Matters Too: The Role of Race in Life-and-Death Medical Decision-making”

A Doctor’s Mask Worn Awry Leads Me to Promising New COVID-19 Research

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Image courtesy of pixabay.com

I had an appointment with a substitute doctor this week. Attesting to his renown, his office walls were crowded with yearly awards demonstrating his leadership in his field.

He is a hematologist/oncologist. I was there to receive one of the twice-yearly injections I receive for osteoporosis. The same medication is given in greater strength and frequency to cancer patients to prevent bone fractures.

As he leaned forward to give me the injection, his mask was comfortably positioned beneath his nose.

I was distressed by his apparent carelessness: the man deals with cancer patients all day long, for goodness sake.

I was also amused, as it reminded me of a cartoon I’d seen, which I hope does not offend. I think it makes an important point in a memorable way.

Two roughly drawn panels—black outline, white interior. Inside the left panel is a sketch of a man with a long thin face and long thin nose. His mask is comfortably positioned beneath his nose. The legend reads: “Wearing your mask like this…” 

The right panel features a full-length sketch of the same man. That legend reads: “…is like wearing your underwear like this.”

But this was serious business, so I asked the doctor about his mask.

“I had COVID in March,” he told me. “I lost weight and slept a lot, and on the 14th day, I got up and could have run a marathon.”

He added that his wife, daughters, and one daughter’s boyfriend had also had mild cases and fully recovered. “And,” he said with certainty, “I’ll never get it again.”

I questioned him about the antibodies, which my reading had suggested was far from a settled matter. In fact, there are more than 100 vaccines in the works that are based on antibodies. But some people who recover never have antibodies, and others have them only briefly. 

“It’s not the antibodies,” he responded. “It’s the T cells. They carry memory of the virus and prevent it from reinfecting.”

He said he was so sure he’s safe that he often greets his elderly neighbor with a hug, unworried that he might infect her.

Huh! Or more specifically, Huh?

I had heard the T-cell theory, so I did a little research. In fact, there’s some exciting emerging research based on T cells and the coronavirus. Little had been known til recently about the role of the T cells in SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

For much of the following, I’m relying on Derek Lowe, who writes about drug discovery and pharma for In the Pipeline, an “editorially independent blog from the publishers of Science Translational Medicine. 

In May, Lowe wrote:

“One of the big (and so far unanswered) questions about the coronavirus epidemic is what kind of immunity people have after becoming infected. This is important for the idea of ‘re-infection’ (is it even possible?) and of course for vaccine development.”

I’ll spare you Lowe’s careful explanation of the various and complex aspects of our immune systems; if you’re interested, you can read it via the above link.

Instead, we’ll focus on two primary types of T cells. One is CD8+ T cells (among other names), which kill the virus-infected cells “before they can break open and spread more viral particles,” writes Lowe. 

“And then there’s another crowd, the CD4+ T cells, also known as T-helper cells and by other names…The helper T cells have a list of immune functions as long as your leg, interacting with many other cell types.” 

Those immune functions include spurring the CD8+ cells and “activating B cells to start producing specific antibodies,” among other tasks.

Lowe describes what I think of as the “Goldilocks response” to COVID-19:

“What you want: a robust response that clears the virus, remembers what happened for later, and doesn’t go on to attack the body’s own tissues in the process.”

This was what a team from La Jolla Institute for Immunology in California and Mt. Sinai in New York was studying. Comparing infected patients who’d recovered with those who hadn’t been exposed to the virus, they found all the exposed patients had CD4+ cells that responded to three specific proteins: Spike, M, and N. 

Lowe suggested that this discovery made the prospect of a vaccine more likely, and that though most efforts have been focused on Spike, adding the other proteins to the mix might further strengthen a vaccine’s efficacy.

Another study suggested that the memory T cells may protect some people with COVID-19 because they “remember” previous encounters with other human coronaviruses.

Of the large family of coronaviruses, six of them have been found in humans. Four are responsible for the common cold. The other two are more dangerous; they caused SARS (SARS-CoV-1) and MERS (MERS-CoV). ( I assume that means SARS-CoV-2 is number seven.)

Here’s the cool part: in that second study, reported in Nature,  Antonio Bertoletti of the Duke NUS Medical School in Singapore and his team looked at blood samples from people who’d recently recovered from mild to severe COVID-19. They all produced T cells that recognized many parts of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Then they looked at blood samples from people who’d also survived SARS 17 years ago—and their memory T cells from that illness also recognized parts of SARS-CoV-1.

Apparently, their immune systems were still attuned to protecting against the disease 17 years later.

After that, they checked for these T cells in blood samples from healthy people who’d had neither SARS nor COVID-19—and more than half had T cells that recognize one or more of the proteins under study.

So it’s possible that there are people who have some immunity to COVID-19 based on their previous bouts with the common cold.

Writes Lowe:

“This makes one think, as many have been wondering, that T-cell driven immunity is perhaps the way to reconcile the apparent paradox between (1) antibody responses that seem to be dropping week by week in convalescent patients but (2) few (if any) reliable reports of actual re-infection. That would be good news indeed.”

Francis Collins, MD, who heads the National Institutes of Health, writes cautiously in the NIH Director’s Blog:

“It’s still not clear if this acquired immunity stems from previous infection with coronaviruses that cause the common cold or perhaps from exposure to other as-yet unknown coronaviruses.

“What’s clear from this study is our past experiences with coronavirus infections may have something important to tell us about COVID-19. Bertoletti’s team and others are pursuing this intriguing lead to see where it will lead—not only in explaining our varied responses to the virus, but also in designing new treatments and optimized vaccines.”

These studies may have huge implications in helping us combat COVID-19.

Bottom line for me: When I see that doctor again for my injection in 6 months, though I hope he’s wearing his mask properly, I won’t be quite as worried as I was this time. The degree of his certitude may not yet be warranted, but at least his decision is based on some solid emerging research.

Annie

Continue reading “A Doctor’s Mask Worn Awry Leads Me to Promising New COVID-19 Research”

Fighting Our “What If Trump Won’t Leave?” Paranoia

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Peaceful Transition: Obama to Trump. Image courtesy of flickr.com

I had promised myself—and you—that I would stop talking about the gross elephant trampling through our Constitution (with apologies to real elephants, wonderful creatures that they are!).

My way of dealing with my strong feelings about Trump has been to make him tiny and powerless in my mind—even as I recognize his increasingly dangerous actions and expect them to continue to heighten as Election Day nears.

But then I read an article in The Boston Globe with the scary title “A bipartisan group secretly gathered to game out a contested Trump-Biden election. It wasn’t pretty.” (I’m not linking to it because on the computer it’s behind a paywall. But you can Google it on your phone.)

That article persuaded me that I need both to clarify my thinking about risks and take a steely look at the Mayhem Maker in Chief.

The Globe reports on a June meeting whose attendees included “political operatives, former government and military officials, and academics [who] quietly convened online for what became a disturbing exercise in the fragility of American democracy.”

Comprised of both Democrats and Republicans, they call themselves “The Transition Integrity Project.”

The group was considering questions that are now being asked quite openly, including by the Democratic nominee, former VP Joe Biden:

“What if President Trump refuses to concede a loss, as he publicly hinted recently he might do? How far could he go to preserve his power? And what if Democrats refuse to give in?” (all emphases mine)

Once again, as we have so many times since the beginning of Trump’s chaotic “reign,” we’ve learned that our system of government has functioned since its inception largely by norms, rather than laws.

And now we have a guy in the Oval Office who cares about neither—and repeatedly claims that vote by mail will cause vast fraud that will rig the election. That’s a cause for concern.

Never mind that there’s almost zero evidence to back up his claim, that he, himself votes by mail, and that mail-in ballots have been a staple of red states for years and have been shown to advantage neither political party. He’s simply laying the framework for contesting an election that at this point he seems likely to lose.

When asked by Fox interviewer Chris Wallace a question that should have been easy for any president, “Will you accept the election results?,” Trump answered “I’ll have to see.”

And thus crashed the biggest norm in the life of our democratic republic: casting doubt on the peaceful transition of power from one president to the next.

What would happen between November 3 and January 20, 2021, when the newly elected President is to be sworn in?

One of The Transition Project organizers, Rosa Brooks, a law professor at Georgetown and former official at the Defense Department offered this gloomy assessment:

“All of our scenarios ended in both street-level violence and political impasse. The law is…almost helpless against a president who’s willing to ignore it.”

In addition to Trump’s statements, Brooks said that his willingness to use federal forces to confront protesters “has really shaken people” so that ‘What was really a fringe idea has now become an anxiety that’s pretty widely shared.”

Several of their scenarios focused on swing states with divided government (Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina), which might send two different results to Congress. The Globe explained that if there were a dispute in a state’s election, the legislature and governor—of differing parties—could send differing slates of electors.

There have been many similar scare stories in the media, and I’ll acknowledge that I’m unable to totally ignore them. In a discussion yesterday, one of my friends spoke of Trump’s “Fifth Column”—the NRA. If he can’t get the sorry melange of camouflaged Federal agency guys now making things worse in Portland—and possibly soon in a city near you—to defend him, he’s got the militia that gun-toting haters have always dreamed about.

But something inside me said, “Whoa!” And that something was aided by my thoughtful lawyer friend whom I’ve quoted before.

This time he wrote:

“Let me remind everyone that the laws of probability teach us that when a disaster depends on a series of unlikely events, you must multiply to the low probability of those events to determine the likelihood of the outcome.

“If three independent events each have a ten percent chance of occurring, but each is necessary for disaster to happen, the likelihood of the event occurring is one-in-a-thousand. But the coverage on the news media seemed to add the likelihood of the occurrences to make the outcome seem probable.”

Please bear with me now while I explain why I’ve decided not to become deeply troubled by the post-election apocalypse scenarios. My positivity, however, hinges on this not being a close election. The closer to a landslide Biden gets, the better are the chances of avoiding trouble.

That means if you feel as I do, you must do everything in your power to make sure we get out the vote in huge numbers and donate what we can to combat the vast financial resources on the other side.

I’m also putting some faith in Mary Trump. The president’s niece, author of that tell-all best seller about her dysfunctional family’s creating “the most dangerous man in the world,” is a trained psychologist who knows the person in question well.

When she was asked what she felt he would do if he lost, she said if he suffered a big loss, he would flee in embarrassment.

It’s clear that Trump is unhappy; he’s lost control of the narrative, and he can’t campaign or speechify the way he’d like.

His party isn’t moving in lockstep with him at this point; there are dissenters, and they just rejected his absolute, don’t-mess-with-me insistence that a payroll tax be part of the Republicans’ next coronavirus relief package. (That legislation is definitely too late to help many Americans, and will undoubtedly be too little as well. All the more reason that we need Democrats to hold the House and take the Senate!)

Speaking of the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she thinks Trump’s ambiguous talk about leaving is designed to make people think there’s no point in voting. In fact, I’ve read some reports that his fraud allegations are actually discouraging his own older white vote-by-mailers, a true irony.

But so many times this strange man has thrown wild ideas into the atmosphere and then backed away from them. He may very well try to contest the election, but since the only person he seems to care about is himself, he may actually be looking for a way to throw in the towel.

And he adores messing with our heads. He has seen, by the media reaction, that casting doubt on his willingness to vacate the Oval Office is a head-messer par excellence.

So to paraphrase the words he used when speaking about why Black Americans should vote for him, he’s probably thinking, “What have I got to lose? I can make these people crazy just by saying ‘I don’t know yet. I’ll have to see.’”

I realize none of this is solid evidence, but I think it’s better if we all focus on what we can control instead of what we can’t. We can do that by playing as big a role as we can to help this tiny man get turned out of the White House by an enormous, unquestionable mandate.

But, you may be thinking: Annie, what if you’re wrong? What if it’s as terrible as all these pundits and reporters are convinced it will be?

Well, Fred Kaplan, writing in Slate, says Trump just wouldn’t get away with it—and even if no one convinced him it was a really terrible idea and “the nightmare happens,” it wouldn’t last long. His article is worth reading, but here’s a summary.

It’s January 20, 2021. Trump says it was a fake election and he’s still president. But, Kaplan writes, “here’s what would happen next.”

*At noon, the nuclear codes expire and the officer who’s been carrying them leaves. “If Trump and whatever lackeys stay with him prevent the officer from leaving, another officer, holding a backup football [name for the code book] would join Biden at the inauguration ceremony.”

*As for fears that Trump would seize control of the military, Kaplan says forget that: they’ll immediately turn to salute now-President Biden.

“The principle of civilian control is hammered into American officers from the time they’re cadets—and the 20th Amendment of the Constitution states, “The terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January’—no ifs, ands, or buts.’”

*If Trump gives the military an order, they’ll refuse it.

“If any officers obey his order—say, to circle the White House to keep him in power—they would certainly be tried and convicted on charges of mutiny and sedition, and they would know this before taking the leap.”

It’s worth emphasizing that the motley crew in cities now, unidentified and in camouflage, are not the military per se: they are a combo of Homeland Security agents, Border Patrol people, and Federal property protectors.

*The Secret Service will leave except for the small contingent who will protect him for the rest of his life.

Kaplan then states that Biden’s acting attorney general will by this time have drawn up arrest warrants for Trump and whoever remains with him for criminal trespassing, at the very least—and if he calls for armed forces or militia to defend him, he could be charged with incitement or insurrection.

And if the worst case scenario were to occur,

“a few M1 tanks rolling down Pennsylvania Avenue should make the would-be rebels flee. It would be terrible if the standoff came to this, but Commander in Chief Biden would have this option available, if necessary.”

I don’t know about you, but I now feel so much better! Of course, we still have to be wary of voter suppression, Russian disinformation, and the Post Office (USPS).

I recently commented on another blog that now that Trump’s guy is heading the Post Office, we have to worry about vote-by-mail ballots being tossed into the incinerator. And I stated that I hate the fact that I’m entertaining conspiracy theories—except that Trump’s people probably thought about them first.

Then, unfortunately, I received some unwanted validation. A major slowdown of mail delivery is now under way, with postal workers being told to leave mail that hasn’t been delivered for the next day and to go home—something that was once anathema to their responsibilities.

That may explain why I was advised when returning a package this week that I use an alternate to the USPS because returns have been delayed and lost. This is a bad self-fulfilling prophecy, but I needed to ensure I got a timely refund, so I complied.

This Washington Post  article about the planned reconfiguration of the post office to make it a profitable business observes:

“The changes also worry vote-by-mail advocates, who insist that any policy that slows delivery could imperil access to mailed and absentee ballots. It reinforces the need, they say, for Congress to provide the agency emergency coronavirus funding.

“Attacks on USPS not only threaten our economy and the jobs of 600,000 workers. With our states now reliant on mail voting to continue elections during the pandemic, the destabilizing of the post office is a direct attack on American democracy itself,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.). “It has been 59 days since the House passed $25 billion to keep USPS alive. The Senate must pass it now. Democracy hangs in the balance.”

So please consider contacting your elected officials to insist that the Post Office must function appropriately—and Congress must pass the emergency assistance that the House has demanded to keep the Post Office open at this critical time.

Eventually, Trump will no longer be in power. I expect his next gig will be on right-wing media—possibly One America News Network (OANN), which has been the source of many of the conspiracies he’s echoed and is more reliably pro-Trump than Fox these days. At one point there were stories that Don Jr. had invested in the company. The owners denied that, but a Trump-OANN relationship would be beneficial for all involved.

Except for the rest of us, who would be continually showered by off-the-wall racist and white supremacist conspiracies.

But it would be far better to have him there, speaking not all that differently from the way he does now, than anywhere near the White House.

Annie

Continue reading “Fighting Our “What If Trump Won’t Leave?” Paranoia”