Thomas L. Friedman | Five Readings for Your Thanksgiving Table – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

I always enjoy Thanksgiving, but I’m particularly going to savor this year’s in light of the midterm elections. They surfaced something beautiful and decent and vitally important in the soul of the nation. It was a readiness to defend the core of our democracy — our ability to peacefully and legitimately transfer power — when it was under imminent threat by Donald Trump and his imitators.

Had we lost our commitment to the solemn obligation that one party smoothly hands off power to another, we’d be totally lost as a country today. But instead, democracy was reaffirmed. Enough Americans — principled Republicans, Democrats and independents — sorted through their ballots and rejected almost all of the high-profile Trumpist election deniers for major state and federal offices.

In “using the tools of democracy to protect democracy,” as Vox put it, they reconnected the country with something deep in our heritage — that losers concede gracefully and move on, and winners win gracefully and govern. In celebration of that tradition, I offer these five readings for your Thanksgiving table:

Sept. 19, 1796, excerpts from President George Washington’s Farewell Address, explaining that he would not seek a third term and the most important lessons he had learned:

“The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you. It is justly so; for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquillity at home, your peace abroad, of your safety, of your prosperity, of that very liberty which you so highly prize. … You should properly estimate the immense value of your national Union to your collective and individual happiness. … With such powerful and obvious motives to union affecting all parts of our country … there will always be reason to distrust the patriotism of those who in any quarter may endeavor to weaken its bands. …

“The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government. But the constitution which at any time exists, until changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government.”

Paul Krugman | How Democrats Can Fight This G.O.P. – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“Normally, one would expect a political party that suffered severe electoral disappointment — falling far short of typical midterm gains despite high inflation and consumer discontent — to moderate its positions, to seek compromise in order to achieve at least some of its policy goals.

But the modern G.O.P., in case you haven’t noticed, isn’t a normal political party. It barely has policy goals, other than an almost reflexive desire to cut taxes on the rich and deny aid to those in need. It certainly doesn’t have policy ideas.

Republicans spent much of the election talking about inflation. But in a news conference just after securing a narrow majority in the House, top Republicans declared that their top priority would be … investigating the Biden family.

So the G.O.P. won’t help govern America. It will, in fact, almost surely do what it can to undermine governance. And Democrats, in turn, need to do whatever they can both to thwart political sabotage and to make the would-be saboteurs pay a price.”

“. . . . .  The good news is that Democrats can, as The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent puts it, “crazyproof” policy during the lame duck session, raising the debt limit high enough that it won’t be a problem and locking in sufficient aid for Ukraine to get through the many months of war that surely lie ahead. And Democrats would be, well, crazy not to do these things as soon as possible.

Beyond that, Democrats can and should hammer Republicans for their extremism, for focusing on disruption and fake scandals rather than trying to improve Americans’ lives.”  -30-

Margaret Renkl | How to Give Thanks in a Screwed-Up World – The New York Times

Ms. Renkl is a contributing Opinion writer who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South.

“NASHVILLE — My father always had a ready answer to the question that greases the gears of human discourse. Whenever anyone he didn’t know particularly well — a neighbor or a sales clerk or someone at church — would ask, “How are you, Mr. Renkl?” my father didn’t say, “Just fine, thank you.” His answer was always “Fantastic!” Later, when he was dying, it was the answer he gave even to family members checking in. Right up to his death, he was always faaaantastic.

Even before he got sick, this answer was an inexplicable exaggeration. Money was always short in our house, and Mom struggled intermittently with depression, but you would not have known any of that from the way my father greeted others, always with an unexpectedly cheery answer to the throwaway question people asked out of nothing but common courtesy.

I think about my father every day, but I’ve been thinking about him more than usual lately. Not only because Thanksgiving is coming on, that time when the ache of my missing elders is especially acute, but because I am trying to remind myself how to see the world as my father saw it.”

” . . . . .  I can’t force polluting nations to work together to hold climate change to planet-surviving levels. I can’t force Congress to work together for solutions to the economic inequities and information silos that separate us. But I can pull out my mother’s recipe box and make a Thanksgiving feast. I can remember the loved ones who once shared this table and fill their seats with people whose loved ones are distant or otherwise missing. And I can be grateful for every single fantastic moment we have together.

A hard frost finally came to my garden last week, and the zinnias are gone now, along with all the butterflies. I am sorry to see them go, and I am trying not to interrogate my own gratitude for the days they had here. I tell myself it is not wrong to exult in the beauties that remain. I remind myself of the testimony of my father’s whole life, of the truth he taught me — that loss and love will always belong to each other, that sorrow has always been joy’s quiet twin.” -30-

Paul Krugman | Wonking Out: Stealing Away the Golden Years of the Working Class – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“My Thursday column is about the assault on Medicare and Social Security that is almost certain to follow if Republicans prevail on Tuesday. If the G.O.P. wins control of Congress, we can expect it to hold the economy hostage, most obviously by weaponizing the debt ceiling, in an attempt to force big cuts in Medicare and Social Security.

This isn’t an outlandish scenario. It already happened once. In 2011, after taking control of the House, Republicans sought to extort major cuts in the social safety net from the Obama administration — and they almost succeeded. In fact, President Barack Obama agreed to a rise in the age of Medicare eligibility, from 65 to 67. The deal fell through only because Republicans were unwilling to accept even modest tax increases as their part of the bargain.

This time around, the demands are likely to be even bigger. A report from the Republican Study Committee, which probably gives a good idea of where the G.O.P. will go, calls for upping the retirement age and the age of Medicare eligibility to 70.

The report justifies such a rise by pointing to the long-term increase in the number of years Americans can expect to live after age 65, which it calls a “miracle.”

What the report doesn’t note are two probably related caveats for this miracle. First, the increase in seniors’ life expectancy has actually been much smaller here than in other wealthy nations. Second, progress has been very uneven within America, with much bigger gains for groups with high socioeconomic status — precisely the people who need Medicare and Social Security the least — than for the less fortunate.”

“. . . . . . . How does all this bear on Republican proposals to raise the retirement and Medicare eligibility ages? Because seniors’ life expectancy varies so much by class, an increase in the age of eligibility for major programs will take a much bigger bite out of retirement for Americans with low socioeconomic status, and correspondingly fewer years to collect benefits, than it will on those higher on the ladder.

And because disparities have been rising over time, the disproportionality of that effect has been rising, too.

Look back at the figure on life expectancies by quartile. According to these estimates, American men in the bottom quartile born in 1960 can expect to live only 1.9 more years after 65 than their counterparts born in 1928. That’s slightly less than the increase in the retirement age that has already taken place. And even men in that quartile born in 1990 are expected to have only 3.5 years more time after 65 than those born in 1928; meanwhile, Republicans are proposing a rise in the retirement age to 70, a five-year total increase, and an equal rise in the Medicare age.

One way to think about all of this, which is only a slight caricature, is that Republicans are telling janitors in Oklahoma that they can’t get benefits in their 60s — even though their life expectancy hasn’t gone up by much — because lawyers in New York are living longer.

It’s quite a position to take, and it would surely provoke a huge backlash — if voters knew about it, which most of them seem not to.”  -30-

Paul Krugman | Trump Is Weak, but the G.O.P. Is Weaker – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“After their party’s disappointing performance in the midterms, Republican elites seem to have decided that Donald Trump is their big problem. The Murdoch media empire has been trashing the former president. Many donors and operatives are reportedly rallying around Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida. But Trump, who is widely expected to announce his 2024 presidential campaign on Tuesday, won’t go quietly.

Will Trump secure the nomination despite elite qualms? If he doesn’t, will a man who has never shown any loyalty to his party or, for that matter, anyone but himself, sabotage the G.O.P. out of spite? I don’t know more than anyone else who follows the news.

Let’s talk instead about how remarkable it is that someone like Trump managed to dominate one of America’s two major political parties and surely retains a substantial base.

I’m not talking about the fact that Trump holds what I consider reprehensible policy views or even the fact that he engaged in several acts, including an attempt to overturn a national election, that can reasonably be described as seditious. Clearly, most of the G.O.P. is OK with all of that.”

” . . . . . .   Also, the Republican elites trying to distance themselves from Trump spent years fluffing his image. Until a few days ago Fox News, the main source of political information for much of the G.O.P. base, gave Trump the kind of hagiographic coverage you’d expect from state media in a dictatorship.

And Republican politicians, many of whom knew Trump for what he was, spent years praising him in language reminiscent of Politburo members praising the party chairman.

Now those same elites want to push Trump out of the picture. But while they may be able to deny him the nomination, they probably won’t be able to avoid paying a heavy price for their past cowardice.”   -30-

David Wallace-Wells | The Coldhearted Carbon Math – The New York Times

Opinion Writer

The best-selling science writer and essayist explores climate change, technology, the future of the planet and how we live on it.

“Last November in Glasgow, the annual United Nations climate conference ended with its president, Alok Sharma, declaring that the global goal of keeping warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius had been just barely kept alive. “Its pulse is weak,” he said.

This week in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, delegates reconvened for COP27, this year’s conference, amid a flurry of confident assertions that the same goal — which has energized and mobilized a global generation of activists and provides the conventional standard for judging progress on emissions — was now dead.

“Say goodbye to 1.5° C,” The Economist intoned on a cover this month, in an edition that called climate adaptation “the challenge of our age” and also raised the specter of cooling the planet with geoengineering. With an image of the flooded Cologne Cathedral — repurposed from a 1986 issue warning of a coming “Klima-Katastrophe” — the November cover of Der Spiegel announced that the target would be missed and advised, grimly: “Save yourself, those who can.” The United Nations secretary general António Guterres, who has spent the past few years raising the rhetorical stakesdeclared on Monday that “we are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator.”

This kind of rhetoric, designed to focus attention and clarify the stakes of inaction, can also make things murky. What is the line between climate danger and climate disaster? Or between climate normal and climate disruption, and climate catastrophe and climate apocalypse? Is “climate hell” what awaits us past 1.5 degrees above preindustrial levels, or past 2.0 degrees, or at the level the U.N. expects the world’s current policy commitments to take us this century, 2.6 degrees?”

Paul Krugman | A MAGA America Would Be Ugly – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“If you aren’t feeling a sense of dread on the eve of the midterm elections, you haven’t been paying attention.

We can talk about the conventional stakes of these elections — their implications for economic policy, major social programs, environmental policy, civil liberties and reproductive rights. And it’s not wrong to have these discussions: Life will go on whatever happens on the political scene, and government policies will continue to have a big impact on people’s lives.

But I, at least, always feel at least a bit guilty when writing about inflation or the fate of Medicare. Yes, these are my specialties. Focusing on them, however, feels a bit like denial, or at least evasion, when the fundamental stakes right now are so existential.

Ten or 20 years ago, those of us who warned that the Republican Party was becoming increasingly extremist and anti-democracy were often dismissed as alarmists. But the alarmists have been vindicated every step of the way, from the selling of the Iraq war on false pretenses to the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Indeed, these days it’s almost conventional wisdom that the G.O.P. will, if it can, turn America into something like Viktor Orban’s Hungary: a democracy on paper, but an ethnonationalist, authoritarian one-party state in practice. After all, U.S. conservatives have made no secret about viewing Hungary as a role model; they have feted Orban and featured him at their conferences.

At this point, however, I believe that even this conventional wisdom is wrong. If America descends into one-party rule, it will be much worse, much uglier, than what we see in today’s Hungary.

Before I get there, a word about the role of conventional policy issues in these elections.

If Democrats lose one or both houses of Congress, there will be a loud chorus of recriminations, much of it asserting that they should have focused on kitchen table issues and not talked at all about threats to democracy.

I don’t claim any expertise here, but I would note that an incumbent president’s party almost always loses seats in the midterms. The only exception to that rule this century was in 2002, when George W. Bush was able to deflect attention from a jobless recovery by posing as America’s defender against terrorism. That record suggests, if anything, that Democrats should have talked even more about issues beyond economics.

I’d also say that pretending that this was an ordinary election season, where only economic policy was at stake, would have been fundamentally dishonest.

Finally, even voters who are more worried about paychecks and living costs than about democracy should nonetheless be very concerned about the G.O.P.’s rejection of democratic norms.

For one thing, Republicans have been open about their plan to use the threat of economic chaos to extract concessions they couldn’t win through the normal legislative process.

Also, while I understand the instinct of voters to choose a different driver if they don’t like where the economy is going, they should understand that this time, voting Republican doesn’t just mean giving someone else a chance at the wheel; it may be a big step toward handing the G.O.P. permanent control, with no chance for voters to revisit that decision if they don’t like the results.

Which brings me to the question of what a one-party America would look like.

As I said, it’s now almost conventional wisdom that Republicans are trying to turn us into Hungary. Indeed, Hungary provides a case study in how democracies can die in the 21st century.

But what strikes me, reading about Orban’s rule, is that while his regime is deeply repressive, the repression is relatively subtle. It is, as one perceptive article put it, “soft fascism,” which makes dissidents powerless via its control of the economy and the news media without beating them up or putting them in jail.

Do you think a MAGA regime, with or without Donald Trump, would be equally subtle? Listen to the speeches at any Trump rally. They’re full of vindictiveness, of promises to imprison and punish anyone — including technocrats like Anthony Fauci — the movement dislikes.

And much of the American right is sympathetic to, or at least unwilling to condemn, violence against its opponents. The Republican reaction to the attack on Paul Pelosi by a MAGA-spouting intruder was telling: Many in the party didn’t even pretend to be horrified. Instead, they peddled ugly conspiracy theories. And the rest of the party didn’t ostracize or penalize the purveyors of vile falsehoods.

In short, if MAGA wins, we’ll probably find ourselves wishing its rule was as tolerant, relatively benign and relatively nonviolent as Orban’s.

Now, this catastrophe doesn’t have to happen. Even if Republicans win big in the midterms, it won’t be the end for democracy, although it will be a big blow. And nothing in politics, not even a full descent into authoritarianism, is permanent.

On the other hand, even if we get a reprieve this week, the fact remains that democracy is in deep danger from the authoritarian right. America as we know it is not yet lost, but it’s on the edge.” -30-

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
Great essay, but I give it a B rather than an A, because it is a week late.

Margaret Renkl | What Has Happened to My Country? – The New York Times

Ms. Renkl is a contributing Opinion writer who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South.

“NASHVILLE — There I was, snug in my own bed in the middle of the night, turning to sleep on my side, when wham! the room slid sideways. Then it took off, spinning and spinning as though a sadistic carnival barker had flipped a switch and pushed the speed to max.

Reader, I will spare you the details except to say that I have lately learned how delicate an instrument is the human ear, how many ways there are to disrupt its functions. As when, say, a lump of wax detaches itself from the ear canal through an exactly wrong combination of angles and gravity, lodges itself in the eardrum, and transforms the human vestibular system into a Tilt-a-Whirl. For days I lay in bed, trying not to move my head and reciting to myself lines from “The Second Coming,” a poem by the Irish poet William Butler Yeats:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre/The falcon cannot hear the falconer.

At the otolaryngologist’s office, the source of my torture finally emerged after half an hour of patient manipulations by a doctor wielding tiny power tools. In the newly stationary room, I looked at it, amazed. How fragile the human body is that it can be thrown into chaos by something so small!

The same can be said for the body politic. Right-wing politicians and media outlets have turned American democracy upside down through nothing more than a lie. They put forth Supreme Court candidates who assure Congress that they respect legal precedent but who vote to overturn Roe v. Wade the instant they have a majority on the court. They endorse political candidates who openly state that they will accept only poll results leading to their own election.”

Heather Cox Richardson from Letters from an American  

Open in app or online

” “Anecdotal data point,” conservative commentator Tom Nichols tweeted this afternoon, “Had lunch with an old friend, a fellow former [Republican] (but not in politics or media or anything) and he said that things feel different after the Pelosi attack. Not sure why. I feel the same thing; not sure that it’ll matter, but have that same sense.”

Perhaps it is the echoes of lawyer Joseph Nye Welch, who in 1954 on television confronted Joseph McCarthy as the Wisconsin senator shredded people’s lives by accusing them of being communists: “Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness…. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

Perhaps it is the many observers pointing out that in a time when more than half the Republicans running for office have refused to acknowledge that Democratic President Joe Biden won the 2020 election, and when Republican legislatures are claiming the right to choose presidential electors without the input of voters, “American democracy is on the line.”

Or perhaps it is the sheer horror of Republican politicians joking about a brutal attack on the Speaker of the House, the second in line for the presidency, an attack that left her elderly husband with a fractured skull, but Nichols is right: something feels different.

Tonight, President Joe Biden gave a speech on democracy. He began by describing the attack on Paul Pelosi, then noting that the attacker’s demand, “Where’s Nancy?”, echoed the words “used by the mob when they stormed the United States Capitol on January the 6th, when they broke windows, kicked in the doors, brutally attacked law enforcement, roamed the corridors hunting for officials and erected gallows to hang the former vice president, Mike Pence.”

That enraged mob had been whipped into a frenzy by former president Trump’s repeating the Big Lie that the 2020 election had been stolen. That lie, Biden said, has “fueled the dangerous rise in political violence and voter intimidation over the past two years.”

Biden urged us to “confront those lies with the truth,” for “the very future of our nation depends on it.” “We must with one overwhelming unified voice speak as a country and say there’s no place, no place for voter intimidation or political violence in America. Whether it’s directed at Democrats or Republicans. No place, period. No place ever.”

“Democracy itself” is at stake in the upcoming election, Biden said. He appealed “to all Americans, regardless of party, to meet this moment of national and generational importance.” Nothing is guaranteed about democracy in America, he said, “Every generation has had to defend it, protect it, preserve it, choose it. For that’s what democracy is. It’s a choice, a decision of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

“We the people must decide whether we will have fair and free elections and every vote counts. We the people must decide whether we’re going to sustain a republic, where reality’s accepted, the law is obeyed, and your vote is truly sacred. We the people must decide whether the rule of law will prevail or whether we will allow the dark forces and thirst for power put ahead of the principles that have long guided us.”

Biden warned that the same forces that challenged the 2020 election, despite all the confirmations of its results, are setting out to question the legitimacy of the 2022 election. MAGA Republicans are “trying to succeed where they failed in 2020, to suppress the right of voters and subvert the electoral system itself. That means denying your right to vote and deciding whether your vote even counts.” They’ve encouraged violence and intimidation of voters and election workers, Biden said. “It’s damaging, it’s corrosive, and it’s destructive.”

“And I want to be very clear,” Biden said, “this is not about me, it’s about all of us. It’s about what makes America America. It’s about the durability of our democracy. For democracies are more than a form of government. They’re a way of being, a way of seeing the world, a way that defines who we are, what we believe, why we do what we do.”

Biden warned that “we can’t take democracy for granted any longer.”

“Democracy means the rule of the people, not the rule of monarchs or the moneyed, but the rule of the people. Autocracy is the opposite of democracy. It means the rule of one, one person, one interest, one ideology, one party…. [T]he lives of billions of people, from antiquity till now, have been shaped by the battle between these competing forces, between the aspirations of the many and the greed and power of the few, between the people’s right for self-determination and the self-seeking autocrat, between the dreams of a democracy and the appetites of an autocracy.”

“What we’re doing now is going to determine whether democracy will long endure and… whether the American system that prizes the individual bends toward justice and depends on the rule of law, whether that system will prevail. This is the struggle we’re now in, a struggle for democracy, a struggle for decency and dignity, a struggle for prosperity and progress, a struggle for the very soul of America itself.”

Biden listed the “fundamental values and beliefs that unite us as Americans.” First, “we believe the vote in America’s sacred, to be honored, not denied; respected, not dismissed; counted, not ignored. A vote is not a partisan tool, to be counted when it helps your candidates and tossed aside when it doesn’t.” “Second,” he said, “we…stand against political violence and voter intimidation.” “We don’t settle our differences…with a riot, a mob, or a bullet, or a hammer. We settle them peacefully at the ballot box.” Third, he said, “we believe in democracy…. History and common sense tell us that liberty, opportunity, and justice thrive in a democracy, not in an autocracy.”

“At our best,” the president said, “America is not a zero-sum society where for you to succeed, someone else has to fail. A promise in America is big enough…for everyone to succeed…. Individual dignity, individual worth, individual determination, that’s America, that’s democracy and that’s what we have to defend.”

He urged voters to judge the candidates by whether they would accept the legitimate will of the American people. “Will that person accept the outcome of the election, win or lose?” The answer to that question should be decisive. “Too many people have sacrificed too much for too many years for us to walk away from the American project and democracy…. It’s within our power, each and every one of us, to preserve our democracy.”

“You have the power, it’s your choice, it’s your decision, the fate of the nation, the fate of the soul of America lies where it always does, with the people, in your hands, in your heart, in your ballot.” ”

Source: Fwd: November 2, 2022 – dalindsayjr@gmail.com – Gmail

Does America Vote Too Much? – The New York Times

“Americans casting their ballots in tomorrow’s midterm elections might be voting in their 30th or 40th contest in four years. In the same amount of time, a German citizen might vote in six to eight races.

Put simply, the U.S. has an unusually high number of elections. The federal government alone holds elections every two years, compared with around every four or five years in other advanced democracies.

Why does this matter? Some experts argue that the saturation of elections has significant downsides — exhausting voters and hurting the quality of governance by pushing lawmakers toward more campaigning, fund-raising and short-term thinking.”