A RETURN TO DECENCY*
Untitled, Watercolor, 21.5 x 29.5, Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy Van Wagoner Family Trust**
I voted for Mr. Biden.
With a Biden presidency, we will have reasonable assurance the president is motivated by what is in the best interests of the country; is not misusing the office for personal financial gain and/or that of his family and friends (in transparent compliance with the emoluments clause); has no undisclosed conflicts of interest in carrying out the oath of office; values competence over fealty and will not make decisions based on praise or flattery; values expertise including science; takes every conceivable measure to reduce threats to and protect and have the backs of United States service men and women; moves the country toward equal application of the law without regard to race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation or social or financial status; fiercely opposes human rights violations, war crimes and crimes against humanity throughout the world; respects First Amendment rights of assembly, speech and protest without regard to viewpoint, and takes no illegal efforts to suppress such assembly, speech or protest; respects the First Amendment right of the press and understands its foundational role in preserving liberal democracy; discourages and works toward eliminating foreign interference and influence in United States elections; accepts and depends on information provided by United States intelligence agencies over that from despots and tabloid news organizations; is curious; reads; recognizes the constitutional importance of checks and balances and oversight by the coordinate branches of government; protects whistleblowers and inspectors general; and has not committed tax fraud, tax evasion, money laundering, securities fraud, insurance fraud, mortgage fraud, bank fraud, obstruction of justice, obstruction of congress, perjury, bribery, solicitation of bribery, extortion, violation of campaign finance laws, other forms of public corruption.
As I was writing this post, the Washington Post published an Op-Ed, What America Would Be Like Under a President Biden, saying much of what I wanted to write and, of course, with greater coherence and elegance. I quote much of that hopeful Op-Ed below.
“The nation would return to a time when most Americans were not forced daily to contemplate the president’s latest provocation, government officials would be picked based on competence and commitment to service, not their capability to play the sycophant, and the president would judge his success based on legislative accomplishments rather than TV ratings. This is not to say that Mr. Biden would be a mere throwback to the years of President Barack Obama, or before, but that he would muster democratic norms and values to face an uncertain and dangerous future.
“Some changes would be immediate. Mr. Biden would begin his term by restoring competence to the federal government’s senior ranks. Over his decades of political experience, the former vice president has surrounded himself with some of Washington’s most capable hands. Some . . . boast Washington résumés almost as long as Mr. Biden’s. Others, such as vice-presidential candidate Kamala D. Harris, are relative newcomers. The common attribute is a record of accomplishment in public service. It is a substantial bonus that Ms. Harris would also be the first woman and first person of color to serve as vice president. Her selection, after a sometimes tumultuous primary campaign, shows that Mr. Biden does not hold counterproductive grudges when seeking talent for top positions.
“Upon taking office, Mr. Biden would quickly halt some of Mr. Trump’s most severe depredations: the breakneck shredding of environmental regulations; the systematic effort to undermine Obamacare in federal agencies and in court; the constant pressure on the Justice Department to prosecute Mr. Trump’s political enemies on bogus charges, while pardoning the criminal acts of his friends.
“Mr. Biden would rejoin international organizations and agreements that Mr. Trump renounced, such as the World Health Organization and the Paris climate accord, and he would restore executive-branch protections to ‘dreamers,’ the undocumented immigrants brought to this country as children.
“That could be just Day One. In the weeks following, Mr. Biden has promised to create a task force to reunite the 545 migrant children still missing their parents after the Trump administration forcibly separated them at the border. If it is not passed by a lame-duck Congress, he would push a long-stalled economic rescue package to support the unemployed, underemployed, businesses and public services struggling to cope with the ever-worsening coronavirus pandemic. He would release evidence-based national coronavirus guidance, ramp up testing and funnel money into safe school reopenings.
“The biggest accomplishments would take more time. Mr. Trump has no second-term policy agenda on his website, just a list of ‘accomplishments.’ Mr. Biden has page after page of specific plans on everything from gun violence to opioids to reforming the bankruptcy system.
“The past several years have proved the public wants the government to ensure that all Americans have decent health-care coverage; Mr. Biden would build on Obamacare, adding a public option to do that. After years of irrational neglect, climate change will have to be addressed aggressively; Mr. Biden has a credible plan that would focus on solving the greenhouse gas emissions problem. Repudiating Mr. Trump’s inhuman cruelty, he would repair immigration policy by providing a pathway to legitimacy for those living and working peacefully in the country, improving legal pathways into the United States and enhancing border security. He would make a down payment on addressing wealth inequality by repealing Mr. Trump’s wasteful tax cuts for the wealthy.
“Mr. Biden would need Congress’s cooperation to make big strides, but he would be the first president in modern memory to enter office with deep relationships on Capitol Hill and decades of experience crafting legislative deals. Though he has had ample reason to do so, he has steadfastly refused to write off Republicans, an instinct that earned him mockery from progressives but that could serve him well in building legislative coalitions.
“The project of racial healing would long outlast Mr. Biden’s term, because it will take culture change as well as policy reform. But, among other things, he would unleash the Justice Department to once again demand change from deficient police departments; focus on crime prevention rather than incarceration by diverting people with substance abuse or mental health problems into treatment; and collect better crime data so states can develop evidence-based alternatives to warehousing generations of human beings.
“On foreign affairs, Mr. Biden would put the United States back on the side of the good guys: traditional allies who cherish freedom and democracy. Mr. Trump has courted and supported dictators and strongmen across the world. Mr. Biden would call a summit of the world’s democracies to regroup and promote basic liberal values, because having more unfree countries in the world is both a moral and a security threat to the United States.
“No presidential term looks exactly like what candidates expect or promise. Presidents always face circumstances and crises that no one anticipated. But the public could once again rest assured that the person at the wheel has the nation’s best interests at heart. Mr. Trump made the biggest problems worse, and he tragically mishandled the crises he was dealt. Mr. Biden would refocus on accomplishment. His administration would represent not only an end of the Trump era; it has the potential to make real-world progress on the central challenges facing our nation and our planet.”
My daughter Angela sent me the link to a podcast interview of Mr. Biden by Brene´ Brown. Mr. Biden’s spontaneous, candid answers to the most important questions of human interaction, inclusion, stewardship and leadership displayed the highest character I have heard from a government leader.
I also voted against Trump.
Because Trump’s moral compass points one direction, True Sewer, he and his co-dwellers are tirelessly gaming the system to cheat his way to another win — as Trump does. Everyone knows — none more than Trump — a free and fair election would deliver a massive referendum against the worst person in the United States, an overwhelming mandate to begin the massive undertaking, our moral imperative, to right Trump’s catastrophic wrongs — to the extent they are not irreparable.
What a surprise to learn from the Trump base the New Testament teachings, the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Sermon on the Mount, mean the exact opposite of what I learned growing up. Thankfully, I no longer find it necessary to engage in the fantasy of an eternal reward as incentive to behave a certain way, to credit some deity as the source of goodness and decency, integrity and morality. As semi-rational moral animals we have the wherewithal to develop, understand and internalize values, beginnings and ends in themselves. History teaches that religion is the cause of many of the world’s worst evils, that adherents cloak themselves in pious justification for their hatred, xenophobia, bigotry, racism, sexism and misogyny and violence. None more than Trump supporters.
*My brother the very talented fiction writer and novelist, Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner, deserves considerable credit for offering both substantive and technical suggestions to https://medium.com/@richardvanwagoner and https://lastamendment.com. Rob’s next novel, a beautifully written suspense drama that takes place in Utah, Wyoming and Norway, will be published by Signature Books November17, 2020 fall. This novel, The Contortionists, which Rob himself narrates for the audio version, is a psychological page-turner about a missing child in a predominantly Mormon community.
**Richard J Van Wagoner is my father. His list of honors, awards and professional associations is extensive. He was Professor Emeritus (Painting and Drawing), Weber State University, having served three Appointments as Chair of the Department of Visual Arts there. He guest-lectured and instructed at many universities and juried numerous shows and exhibitions. He was invited to submit his work as part of many shows and exhibitions, and his work was exhibited in a number of traveling shows domestically and internationally. My daughter Angela Moore, a professional photographer, photographed more than 500 pieces of my father’s work. On behalf of the Van Wagoner Family Trust, she is in the process of compiling a collection of his art work. The photographs of my father’s art reproduced in https://medium.com/@richardvanwagoner and https://lastamendment.com are hers