THE STADIUM IS ON FIRE*
13 JANUARY 2022
In the now infamous words of Peter Navarro, the Green Bay Sweep, a scheme that had “over 100 congressmen committed to it,” could have succeeded and, he insists, without violence. Goddamned insurrectionists foiled what was otherwise “a perfect plan.” Huddling with Bannon and others, Navarro, a Harvard educated economist who added infectious disease expert and U.S. election specialist to his resume, devised a scheme to slow the process and force Pence, as president of the Senate, to “put the certification of the election on ice for at least another several weeks.” That would give them time to devise and carry out their next trick play using the Big Lie as its premise.
As executed, the Green Bay Sweep was a broken play. Trump’s congressional team members used “the excuse of the violence” to block challenges to certification, ending the Sweep “[i]n the inglorious way.” Pence “secured his place in history as the Brutus most responsible for the final betrayal of President Trump,” Navarro writes.
Navarro, it appears, also added “target” to his resume. Putting the secret parts in black and white (In Trump Time: A Journal of America’s Plague Year, which you can pick up on Amazon for $13.99 hardcover and $2.99 on Kindle), Navarro should be confident that his admissions against interest may help persuade federal prosecutors to charge him with violating 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c): “Whoever corruptly . . . obstructs, influences, or impedes any official proceeding, or attempts to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.” Navarro also said the quiet part out loud in an interview with MSNBC’s Ari Melber on The Beat.
Untitled, Watercolor, Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust**
In late October 2021, I posted on my Facebook timeline a Washington Post Opinion by Michael Gerson: Ideologues exist on the left and the right. Only one side threatens the country. Thus began a brief dialogue with friend Shaleane Gee who appears, understandably, to have an aversion to the current state of politics. Largely agreeing with the Opinion, Shaleane reacted with a so what. Its relevancy is waning, she suggested, as one side has no means to advance the ball while the other is trying to burn down the stadium. Apt analogy. Many of those not aligned with either dominant political party, according to her, see it as a game. Maybe some who are do as well. We began discussing alternatives, including a third party and its practicality.
Parenthetically, I just read an article published on Medium, How a Third Party Stops Trump by Andrew Tanner, linked in the Notes below, that is worth the time. He contends, “[i]t is vital Americans ignore all the partisans who insist there will always be only two options in America — a broad third party movement is now the only viable hope for stabilizing the country in the short term,” and that otherwise, the “country might well be plunged into total collapse given that Americas no longer agree on basic facts.” I’ll return to that subject in a later post.
I may presume too much, but considering the alternatives, the constitutional republic is worth preserving and improving, in my view. I begin with the premise that the form of government in the United States — while far from perfect in accomplishing the truisms identified in the Declaration of Independence for all citizens and preserving for them the rights identified in the Bill of Rights — has been, until recently, on a generally positive trajectory of inclusive self-government. As the country becomes more racially and ethnically diverse with a growing majority of liberal-leaning voters, white conservative lawmakers have found themselves on the horns of a dilemma:
A. Develop and execute a platform that is more inclusive and inviting to the changing voter demographics as the means to maintain power, set the agenda, and effect conservative policies.
B. Recreate themselves in Trump’s image, ignore evidence and adopt the false narrative, and change the election rules in battleground states to assure they win by (1) disincentivizing liberal-leaning voters, and if they still lose, (2) using partisan appointees and maneuvers to arrest and change the results based on a verifiably false claim of voter irregularity.
I won’t address in this post why the GOP skipped over A. above and went directly to B., except to say that deep-seeded racial animus is at its core, and that equitably extending the full panoply of rights and freedoms to all people feels oppressive to some whose accidents of birth made them white, or male, or heterosexual, or otherwise endowed them with feelings of entitlement.
As for B. above, “It’s not clear that the Republican Party is willing to accept defeat anymore. . . . The party itself has become an anti-democratic force,” AP News recently published in ‘Slow-motion insurrection’: How GOP seizes election power, by Nicholas Riccardi. A link to the article is in the Notes below. Slow-motion insurrection, a non-partisan exposition, details how “Trump-aligned Republicans” have set in motion the processes whereby a “baseless challenge to an election” is much more likely to succeed in the next election. In fairness, the article points out that “American democracy has been flawed and manipulated by both parties since its inception. Millions of Americans — Black people, women, Native Americans and others — have been excluded from the process. Both Republicans and Democrats have written laws rigging the rules in their favor.”
“This time, experts argue, is different: Never in the country’s modern history has a major party sought to turn the administration of elections into an explicitly partisan act.” The article details key efforts for partisan control of both elections and their outcome in battleground states Wisconsin, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Arizona.
Untitled, Watercolor, Ricard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust**
I have wanted to understand the thought processes of unaffiliated citizens, some of whom appear to watch from the sidelines or ignore the game altogether. Maybe they see a better path and are engaged in more productive alternatives. Maybe they see the system as too broken, with no mechanisms for practical solutions, or maintain the hopeful belief that the infrastructure of institutions will hold and the constitutional republic in the United States survive. Maybe they don’t wish to be seen as taking a side, or believe that regardless of the outcome, they won’t be personally affected. Maybe they aren’t paying attention or don’t care. Or, maybe, for them it’s not worth the mental energy necessary to break through the nasty small-mindedness that permeates the discussion on virtually every platform and level.
While I was in the middle of writing this post, the Washington Post published Sam Rosenfeld’s Democracy is on the brink of disaster. For voters, it’s politics as usual, on January 7, 2022. The explanations portend a despotic trajectory and are largely disheartening, but Rosenfeld gives considerable insight into why we are stuck. Disappointing but informative. I strongly recommend the Op-Ed, linked below. I quote portions of it here:
“But for all the alarm and political tumult caused by recent developments in the Republican Party, voting behavior has not changed in response; it’s shown remarkable stability and continuity with patterns established at the outset of the century. Trump himself, in 2016, probably performed worse than a more conventional GOP candidate would have — reflecting what three political scientists termed the “Trump tax” in lost votes that year — but the degree of underperformance was quite modest. In 2018, boosted by historic turnout, Democrats had a banner midterm election year, but their 40-seat gain in the House was still comparable to past ‘wave’ elections for the party that didn’t control the White House. (It was smaller than what Republicans gained in 2010, the year of the tea party revolt, though with a bigger popular-vote margin owing to Democrats’ less-efficient distribution of voters across districts.) The 2020 election was a chance for the public to render a decisive verdict on Trump and his strongman tendencies. It featured further turbocharged turnout but stunning continuity with 2016 in the overall distribution of results.
“The electoral record shows that Trump’s presidency mainly accelerated patterns of polarization by age, education, geography and religiosity. (One of the important exceptions involved a shift in Trump’s favor: his gains among Hispanic voters.) President Biden and his party’s current grim poll numbers and poor performances in November’s gubernatorial elections, meanwhile, confirm that electoral dynamics continue to follow normal patterns after Trump, with the presidential party suffering at midterm.
“For those paying attention to the news, the concurrence of both realities — democratic doom and electoral business as usual — can’t help but feel dissonant, as one hammer blow after another to the ordinary course of politics leaves nary a mark on election outcomes. If citizens in a democracy don’t shift their voting patterns when the standard-bearer of one party rejects the results of an election, what would lead them to change their minds?
“The simultaneity of democratic peril and electoral politics as usual can be partly explained by one of the most potent forces in modern politics: partisanship. First, an intensified sense of partisan teamsmanship allows political elites to go for broke in pursuit of their enemies’ defeat — helping to explain why Republican insiders might condone Trump’s authoritarian bent in the service of sticking it to the ‘Democrat Party.’ And second, partisan identity powerfully anchors ordinary voters’ choices at the ballot box, even when a particular candidate transgresses one norm after another. Whatever the causes, today’s mixture of ordinary and extraordinary politics underscores the notion that the American republic is more likely to perish with a whimper than with a bang — not through violent insurrection but rather through the piecemeal subversion of another closely fought election. . . .
“In a more profound sense, many Americans’ commitment to democracy and the principles necessary to sustain it may simply be thinner than commonly thought. Recent survey experiments have confirmed what election results suggest: that Americans just don’t feel all that compelled to punish politicians for transgressing democratic norms, especially if they have to make partisan and ideological trade-offs to do it. . . .
“In the face of genuine efforts to subvert practices intrinsic to democracy’s functioning — above all the acceptance of electoral outcomes and the transfer of power — voters’ general lack of responsiveness is not just troubling in its own right. By showing that there is little electoral penalty to be paid for such efforts, citizens give politicians an incentive to pursue these strategies and ease the path to office for anti-democratic actors. As Washington Post columnist Perry Bacon Jr. concluded after analyzing what he called the ‘fairly normal’ results in Virginia and New Jersey: ‘*With U.S. democracy on the precipice because of the extremism of the current GOP, everyone needs to understand that normal could well be catastrophic.’
“That’s why Democrats staring down an electoral buzz saw should pursue reforms that bolster democracy while they still can, suspending or ending the filibuster in the process if necessary. Dropping the filibuster to pass the Freedom to Vote Act should be a no-brainer, for example: The bill would prohibit extreme partisan gerrymandering; provide baseline standards for voter access, including automatic voter registration and uniform early and mail voting standards; and offer (admittedly modest) protections against state-level election subversion, such as empowering election administrators to sue if they are removed from office for political reasons. When it comes to safeguarding democratic procedures, there’s no alternative but for leaders to lead. . . .
“ . . . But the party’s recent illiberal turn has deep roots, drawing on currents of extremism and procedural ruthlessness on the American right that stretch back many decades — and the very fact that the electoral punishment for transgressing democratic norms is so slight means Republicans have no need to grapple with the trade-off if they don’t wish to. And this is how electoral politics as usual might doom democracy itself.”
*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 second novel, a beautifully written suspense drama that takes place in Utah, Wyoming, and Norway, dropped on November 17, 2020. Available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple Bookstore and your favorite local bookshop, 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. I have read the novel and listened to the audio version twice. It is a literary masterpiece. The Contortionists is not, however, for the faint of heart.
**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 many 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 artwork. The photographs of my father’s art reproduced in https://medium.com/@richardvanwagoner and https://lastamendment.com are hers.
18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)