Reading Obama: Roasting Trump and Killing bin Laden

Barack Obama’s memoir about his first term, “A Promised Land,” ends with the odd juxtaposition of two events on one weekend in May 2011: roasting Donald Trump and killing Osama bin Laden.

Killing bin Laden was a great achievement. Roasting Trump may have been a big mistake.

That Saturday night, Obama made Trump the butt of his jokes at the White House Correspondents Dinner. Trump silently fumed in the audience. Some people say that’s when he resolved to run for President.

Obama had just given the go-ahead for the bin Laden raid. He wasn’t excited about going to the dinner and having to be funny, “but I couldn’t afford to raise any suspicions (about the bin Laden raid) by skipping out…at the last minute.”

Trump had spent months – and won tons of media play – questioning Obama’s birthplace. Obama took him on:

“Now, I know that he’s taken some flak lately, but no one is happier, no one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than The Donald. And that’s because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter — like, did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?”

“But all kidding aside, obviously, we all know about your credentials and breadth of experience. For example — no, seriously, just recently, in an episode of ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ — at the steakhouse, the men’s cooking team did not impress the judges from Omaha Steaks. And there was a lot of blame to go around. But you, Mr. Trump, recognized that the real problem was a lack of leadership. And so ultimately, you didn’t blame Lil Jon or Meatloaf. You fired Gary Busey. And these are the kind of decisions that would keep me up at night. Well handled, sir. Well handled.”

Then Obama recounts hours of tension waiting for the bin Laden raid, dramatic moments watching it in real time on video, and the explosion of relief and joy at the terrorist’s death, with crowds chanting “USA! USA!” outside the White House and across America.

Obama’s book is like he was as President: sometimes lyrical and lofty, sometimes long-winded and a bit boring, but always candid, reflective and insightful.

You have to wade through detailed accounts of policy debates, personnel decisions and frustrating deliberations with divided Democrats and recalcitrant Republicans in Congress. You see why President Biden has gone big, bold and fast on his stimulus plan rather than waiting for Republican support

Obama is a gifted writer. He deftly portrays people:

“Built like a linebacker, with a square jaw, broad features, and a gray combover, (Benjamin) Netanyahu was smart, canny, tough, and a gifted communicator in both Hebrew and English.”

“Physically, he (Vladimir Putin) was unremarkable; short and compact – a wrestlers’ build – with thin, sandy hair, a prominent nose, and pale, watchful eyes. I noticed a casualness to his movements, a practiced disinterest in his voice that indicated someone accustomed to being surrounded by subordinates and supplicants. Someone who’d grown used to power.”

Of Trump, Obama writes:

“…he was a spectacle, and in the United States of America in 2011, that was a form of power. Trump trafficked in a currency that, however shallow, seemed to gain more purchase with each passing day. The same reporters who laughed at my jokes would continue to give him airtime. Their publishers would vie to have him sit at their tables.

“Far from being ostracized for the conspiracies he’d peddled, he in fact had never been bigger.”

Obama doesn’t spare himself from his discerning, descriptive eye, owning up to “uneven debate performances, unconventional positions (and) clumsy gaffes” during his campaign.

He is restrained but blunt about race: “…maybe I’m bothered by the care and delicacy with which one must state the obvious: that it’s possible to understand and sympathize with the frustrations of white voters without denying the ease with which, throughout American history, politicians have redirected white frustration about their economic or social circumstances toward Black and brown people.”

He captures the loneliness and strangeness of a President’s life. The book ends with him returning to the White House after visiting the SEAL team that killed bin Laden. As Marine One flew by the Lincoln Memorial, “I looked down at the street below, still thick with rush-hour traffic – fellow commuters, I thought, anxious to get home.”

“A Promised Land,” Barack Obama, Crown Publishing Group, November 2020. Read an excerpt: https://crownpublishing.com/archives/feature/read-an-excerpt-a-promised-land

 

Was Senator Burr’s Vote Revenge or Statesmanship?

Maybe Senator Richard Burr’s “guilty” vote in Donald Trump’s trial was revenge on Trump for Trump getting revenge on him.

Or maybe it was a statesmanlike statement on the integrity of both the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections.

Both explanations trace back to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election – and the Trump campaign’s role. Senator Burr co-chaired the committee, which was notable for its bipartisanship in such a partisan time.

The investigation lasted three years; the committee’s final report came out last August. Along the way, in May 2019, the committee subpoenaed Donald Trump Jr.

One year later, on May 13, 2020, the FBI began investigating Senator Burr for alleged insider stock-trading. Agents served a search warrant on Burr at his Washington residence, and seized his cell phone. He stepped down as co-chair of the committee the next day.

Coincidence? Maybe. But as a wise old reporter used to tell me, “I don’t believe in coincidences.”

On January 19 this year, the day before Trump left office, the Justice Department announced Burr wouldn’t be charged. On February 13, Burr voted to convict Trump for his role in the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

Burr after the vote

Burr’s vote was a bombshell.

Because senators were called in alphabetical order, he was the first Republican to vote guilty. USA Today reported that as voting began on the Senate floor, Burr “sat sockless at his mahogany desk with his legs crossed and his head looking down at his lap. He fiddled with his eyeglasses, tapping them on his desk repeatedly.”

When he stood and said, “guilty,” the paper said, “Senators in the chamber looked around at one another, clearly stunned. Reporters gasped while watching the vote from the balcony gallery above the Senate floor.”

If you read Burr’s statement that day and the Senate committee’s final report, you see a consistent concern about the integrity of both the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections. Burr’s statement said:

“The President promoted unfounded conspiracy theories to cast doubt on the integrity of a free and fair election because he did not like the results. “As Congress met to certify the election results, the President directed his supporters to go to the Capitol to disrupt the lawful proceedings required by the Constitution. When the crowd became violent, the President used his office to first inflame the situation instead of immediately calling for an end to the assault.

“As I said on January 6th, the President bears responsibility for these tragic events. The evidence is compelling that President Trump is guilty of inciting an insurrection against a coequal branch of government and that the charge rises to the level of high Crimes and Misdemeanors. Therefore, I have voted to convict.”

The Senate committee’s investigation into 2016 lasted three years, interviewed 200 witnesses, and reviewed a million documents. The report is 1,313 pages long, in five volumes. The committee found that Russia engaged in an “extensive campaign” to elect Trump and that:

“(T)he Russian intelligence services’ assault on the integrity of the 2016 U.S. electoral process and Trump and his associates’ participation in and enabling of this Russian activity (my emphasis) represents one of the single most grave counterintelligence threats to American national security in the modem era.”

Thanks to the Senate trial and the House impeachment managers, we all know what Trump did to overturn the 2020 election. Burr knows more than anybody about what Trump, his campaign and the Russians did to turn the 2016 election.

Maybe he took a measure of revenge. He clearly took the measure of Donald Trump.

School-Reopening Debate Strains Old Ties

One of North Carolina’s most enduring political alliances – teachers and the Democratic Party – is being tested by today’s debate over reopening schools.

The ties, which go back decades, have been strained before, and survived. But this may be the toughest test.

I was surprised recently when three Democrats, in separate conversations, complained about the “teachers’ union” resisting reopening schools. The N.C. Association of Educators isn’t a union; that’s prohibited by state law. And “teachers’ union” is a term you usually hear from Republicans – never as a term of endearment.

The NCAE supported Governor Roy Cooper and Democratic legislative candidates in 2016, 2018 and 2020. Teachers marched on Raleigh to protest what they considered meager pay raises from the Republican General Assembly.

When Governor Cooper declared on February 2, “It’s time to get our children back into the classroom,” an NCAE leader said teachers were “very disappointed, surprised.” The NCAE said teachers should get vaccinated before schools reopen.

The Governor made clear he wouldn’t mandate a return to classrooms for all students. He said the decision should be left to local school boards and school district administrators. He signed a bill providing $1.6 billion for schools to reopen safely. He moved educators and school staffers up in the priority line for vaccinations.

The real crunch comes this week. Republicans in the General Assembly pushed through a bill requiring school districts to offer in-person instruction. Cooper opposed it; if he vetoes it, will Democrats sustain the veto?

Cooper and Democratic legislators are feeling pressure from parents – parents who worry that their children are falling behind academically, parents who worry about emotional and psychological impacts on kids, and parents who are tired of children being home all the time.

When the pandemic closed schools a year ago, public-school advocates hoped parents would come to appreciate teachers more than ever – and realize how underpaid they are. Instead, this year may have opened a gulf of resentment between parents and teachers.

Democrats like Governor Cooper are in the middle. And Republicans are happy to use school reopening as a wedge issue to turn both teachers and parents against Democrats.

I’ve seen Democrats and teachers fall out before. In 1982, with a national recession raging and state tax revenues dropping, Governor Jim Hunt froze teacher salaries. The NCAE, which had endorsed Hunt in 1976 and 1980, felt betrayed. Teachers marched on the Executive Mansion. The NCAE refused to endorse Hunt against Senator Jesse Helms in 1984.

But Hunt lives on a farm. He knows how to mend fences.

After he left office in 1985, he led the development of a national board-certification system for teachers. He chaired the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards for 10 years. It’s still going strong. More than 126,000 teachers nationally are board-certified; nearly 23,000 are in North Carolina, more than any other state.

Hunt worked closely with teachers through those years. He came to have a new appreciation for them; and they, for him. In the 1990s, during his third and fourth terms, Hunt pushed teachers’ pay to the national average – and into the top 20 among the states. Students’ performance improved significantly, too.

Teachers in North Carolina today feel underpaid, underappreciated and overwhelmed. The pandemic exacerbates their stress. They hear promises from Raleigh about Covid safety precautions, but they fear the promises won’t be kept in their districts and their classrooms.

Teachers want to be in school with their students, but they want to be safe and they want their students to be safe.

Yes, reopen schools. But do it safely.

Why Trump Lost – and What Republicans Face

If Donald Trump had attacked Covid as aggressively as he attacked the election, he’d be in his second term, not his second impeachment trial.

That’s not the contention of a Trump-hating Democrat or a Never-Trump Republican. It’s the conclusion of one of Trump’s own pollsters.

A post-election exit poll analysis by Tony Fabrizio (see link below), first reported by Politico, said:

“Coronavirus was the most important issue followed by the economy…. While POTUS (Trump) dominated among voters focused on the economy, Biden won Coronavirus voters, which was a bigger share of the electorate.”

The analysis looked at 10 key states, including North Carolina. Covid was voters’ top issue, especially in five states that flipped from Trump in 2016 to Biden. Biden carried voters whose top concern was Covid by nearly 3 to 1.

Trump didn’t help himself by mocking masks and criticizing Dr. Anthony S. Fauci; 75% of voters supported a mask mandate, and Fauci’s approval rating was almost that high.

Last September, I wrote a blog (“Could Trump Have Clinched Reelection?”) about Covid’s political impact. I wrote, “Imagine a political universe in which Trump did the opposite of what he did” – that is, aggressively attacked the virus instead of downplaying it. “If he had, he might be cruising to reelection right now.”

He didn’t take my advice.

Contrary to Trump’s false claims of election fraud, the report confirms that President Biden won the election. Trump’s lawyers also acknowledged that fact on the first day of his Senate trial this week.

Contrary to Trump’s failed challenges to Biden votes in majority Black precincts – and contrary to conventional wisdom – the analysis says he lost white voters, especially college-educated whites:

“Racially, POTUS suffered his greatest erosion with White voters, particularly White Men…. However, he made double digit gains with Hispanics in both groups, while his performance among Blacks was virtually the same as 2016.”

Trump lost ground with almost every age group compared to 2016, most of all with voters 18-29 and over 65: “Worse was the double-digit erosion he suffered with White College educated voters across the board.”

More from the exit-poll analysis:

  • There was “a massive swing against POTUS” among Independent voters in all 10 states and more GOP “leakage” in the states that flipped against Trump.
  • “Voters who did not vote in ’16 but voted in ’20 accounted for roughly 1-in-6 voters and they broke markedly for Biden…One-in-10 voters say they decided their vote in the final month of the campaign, and contrary to conventional wisdom, they broke in Biden’s favor.”

What Republicans Face

Looking at these findings – and watching the Senate trial this week – Republicans might wonder: Do we want to be the Trump Party?

His negative ratings have gone up in polls since the January 6 attack on the Capitol. One report said that, in 25 states with accessible data, nearly 140,000 Republicans have left the party since January 6.

Most all Republicans in Congress are sticking with Trump. He still has a strong hold on the party. But his hold on the American electorate has been significantly weakened.

During the four years he was President, Republicans lost the House, the White House and then the Senate.

Will they stay aboard the USS Trump in 2022 and 2024 – or abandon ship?

 

Link to Fabrizio report: https://www.politico.com/f/?id=00000177-6046-de2d-a57f-7a6e8c950000

My September 18 blog: https://newdayfornc.com/2020/09/18/could-trump-have-clinched-reelection/

Is a 100-County Tour the Road to the Senate?

When Jeff Jackson jumped into the 2022 Senate race, he revived an old staple of North Carolina politics, the “100 county campaign.”

Is that the Democrats’ road to victory in 2022?

There’s another road, one that runs through fewer than half the counties – specifically, the dozen or so metropolitan counties that are strongly Democratic and Eastern counties that have significant numbers of Black voters – and eligible but unregistered voters.

Jeff Jackson

The “100-county tour” has a rich history. Candidates do it to show they care about the whole state and everybody. Jackson’s website says:

“Every election, we lower our expectations. We settle for less transparency, less energy, less substance. We want to raise your expectations for political leadership. So we’re going to all 100 counties and holding town halls in every one. We’re going to listen and learn and build an agenda that is actually tailored to our state – a North Carolina agenda – not an agenda imported from D.C. or from donors.”

The last “100-county tour” candidate I recall was Fred Smith, a Republican who ran for governor in 2008. Smith had a “100 county barbeque tour;” he threw barbeque dinners in every county. Republicans ate up his barbeque, but voted for Pat McCrory. Smith lost.

When Jim Hunt ran for lieutenant governor in 1972, he did a 102-county tour. A road was out in the far west, so he had to go through two counties in Georgia to get to Clay County, NC.

Clay County illustrates the problem with a 100-county campaign. In November, 6,930 people voted in Clay County. Senator Thom Tillis won 72% of them. In Wake County, 634,423 people voted– almost 100 times as many as Clay.

Campaigns have only two resources: time and money. You can always raise more money, but you can never get more time. Why spend a day in Clay County when you could be knocking doors in Wake County?

By starting 15 months before the primary, Jackson may figure he has the time.

Most of all, Jackson wants to distinguish himself from Cal Cunningham. It’s not Jackson’s fault he’s another white, male military veteran. But it’s his burden to bear.

Jackson got vetted by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 2020. But Jackson says Senator Chuck Schumer wanted him to spend 18 hours a day “in a windowless room” making fundraising calls to pay for negative ads against Tillis.

Schumer anointed Cunningham and directed tens of millions of dollars his way. That looks like a bad choice now. But Cunningham was leading in the polls before he self-destructed.

Jackson says there’s another way to raise money: online. He raised $500,000 in the 48 hours after he announced.

There’s also another way to turn out votes. A retired journalist I know looked at 29 counties in North Carolina between I-95 and the coast:

“Trump won them, but not by much, 408,182 to 383,716, around 25,000 votes. He won the rest of the state by around 50,000 votes. Obama outperformed Biden in a lot of these counties in 2008.  That’s part of how he won the state.”

There are lots of Black voters in those counties. In 2020, Black turnout was up 4.1% over 2016. But only 68.4% of Black voters voted, compared to 78.8% of white voters. And there are 500,000 eligible but unregistered persons of color in the state.

That’s why some Democrats want former Chief Justice Cheri Beasley to run in 2022.

The debate isn’t just over the best candidate. It’s over the best road to victory.

 

Note: The 29 counties mentioned above are Anson, Bertie, Bladen, Columbus, Cumberland, Duplin, Edgecombe, Franklin, Gates, Granville, Greene, Halifax, Hertford, Hoke, Lenoir, Martin, Nash, Northampton, Pitt, Richmond, Robeson, Sampson, Scotland, Tyrrell, Vance, Warren, Washington, Wayne, and Wilson.

The Greene-ing of the GOP

Since the November elections, the January Senate runoffs in Georgia and the January 6 attack on democracy, civil war has broken out between Traditional Republicans and Trump Republicans. Whose party will it be?

Two Republicans might give us a peek at the GOP’s future. One has had a load of media attention; she’s the QAnon congresswoman from Georgia. The other has been under the radar; he’s a former North Carolina Chief Justice who advised Donald Trump on overturning the election.

 The QAnon Congresswoman

While Georgia elected two Democratic Senators and gave Democrats control of the Senate, Georgia’s 14th Congressional District elected Marjorie Taylor Greene.

She has suggested that 9/11 was a hoax, that a Jewish banking family’s space laser started a California wildfire and that the Clintons had John F. Kennedy Jr. killed. Her social media posts have been racist, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim – and talked of executing Nancy Pelosi and FBI agents.

Greene publicly harassed young school-shooting survivors. So what did House Republicans do? They put her on the House Education Committee.

Maybe Democrats will try to make Greene the face of the Republican Party, much like Republicans have tried to make Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez the face of Democratic Party.

AOC’s politics may be leftish, but Greene’s views are – as Mitch McConnell said – “loony lies.”

She’s an inviting target for Democrats. She divides Republicans. She scares Independents. She gives donors the heebie-jeebies.

Democrats could make every Republican take a stand on Greene. As an old mountain legislator used to say, “Are you fer her or agin’ her?”

Speaking of mountains, her district in northwest Georgia borders North Carolina’s 11thDistrict, which produced Mark Meadows and Madison Cawthorn.

What’s in the water up there?

 The Chief Justice

The New York Times reported this week that Meadows, then White House chief of staff, connected Trump to Mark Martin during the 77-day period after the election when Trump was desperately trying to overturn his defeat.

Martin was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina from 2014 through 2019. He resigned to become Dean of the Law School at Regent University in Virginia Beach.

Martin, the Times reported, was part of a group of lawyers who pushed in December for an “audacious” lawsuit asking the Supreme Court to throw out election results from Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and “shift the selection of their Electoral College delegates to their legislatures, effectively nullifying 20 million votes.”

The Supreme Court refused.

But then, the Times said, Martin gave Trump “a radical interpretation of the Constitution: Vice President Mike Pence, he argued, had the power to stop the certification and throw out any results he deemed fraudulent.”

That’s what Trump told Pence to do. Pence refused. That led Trump to denounce Pence and tell the mob on January 6 to go to the Capitol. They went, they attacked the building and some of them tried to hunt down Pence. Five people died. That led the House to impeach Trump for inciting an insurrection. He now faces trial in the Senate.

What Next for Republicans?

For now, the Republican Party still seems to be Trump’s party. Will it become Marjorie Taylor Greene’s party?

Her ideas may be “loony.” But she is a member of Congress.

Mark Martin’s ideas about overturning elections may be “radical,” but he is a former state chief justice and a law school dean, charged with preparing future – presumably conservative – lawyers and judges.

Are Greene’s ideas and Martin’s ideas the future of their party?

Where do Republicans stand?

 

Link to The New York Times story “77 Days: Trump’s Campaign to Subvert the Election.”

Democrats Might Take a Lesson from FDR

North Carolina Democrats are torn right now – between celebration and disappointment over 2020 and between hope and fear over 2022.

They have cause to celebrate 2020. Governor Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein were reelected. Joe Biden is President. Donald Trump is gone. Democrats won the U.S. Senate.

They also had disappointments. Trump won North Carolina, again. Democrats lost a winnable U.S. Senate race. They lost the lieutenant governor’s race, Council of State races and judicial races.

Their decade-long quest to retake the General Assembly failed. Republicans control redistricting again. They can throttle Governor Cooper’s agenda again.

Some Democrats fear they’ll be stuck in the minority in the legislature until at least 2026. And, even as candidates emerge for the 2022 Senate race here, Democrats fear the midterm elections will be a wipeout for the President’s party, as they often are.

But there is a contrary view.

“This might be a better mid-term than usual for a President’s party,” suggests Harrison Hickman, a North Carolina native and a pollster for 40 years. Hickman did polling for Governor Jim Hunt and for Senator Terry Sanford.

I agree. The Covid-19 pandemic has shaken up politics in ways we don’t fully appreciate yet. The fallout may give Democrats a big advantage – and a big opportunity in 2022.

Hickman says the most popular governors across the country today, regardless of party, are those who took strong action on Covid, like Governor Cooper: “Passive governors are unpopular, and aggressive governors are popular.”

President Biden has taken that lesson to heart. He is going big and bold. He proposed a $1.9 trillion Covid relief package. He signed a series of sweeping executive orders on climate change, equity, inclusion and racial reckoning. He’s aggressive on vaccinations.

If Republicans decide to be obstructionists, the President is in a win-win position. If the pandemic fades and the economy storms back, he gets credit. If things don’t get better, Republicans get blamed.

People in politics can fall into the trap of looking at the world through a political lens, not through people’s eyes. Washington is caught up in impeachment and filibusters. Raleigh is focused on redistricting, jockeying for 2022 and the governor’s pandemic powers.

North Carolinians are focused on their jobs and families. They’re worried about getting vaccines. They want to get their kids out of the house and back in school. They want life to get back to normal. They want to go out to eat and go on a trip.

They want politicians to get how they feel – and do something.

Everybody knows that when Franklin D. Roosevelt became President in 1933, he said “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” He also said, “This Nation asks for action, and action now.”

During the campaign, FDR had said:

“The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something. The millions who are in want will not stand by silently forever while the things to satisfy their needs are within easy reach.”

Today, as then, Democrats might offer “bold, persistent experimentation” – a mass vaccination drive, a sweeping plan to reopen schools and vaccinate teachers and students, a higher minimum wage, more help for small businesses, more help with rent and mortgages, a massive infrastructure plan, greater health care coverage and even a guaranteed basic income.

Politically risky? Maybe. But sometimes doing too little is a bigger risk than doing too much.              

Profiles in Courage and Truth

Americans should look at what’s happening in Russia as we look back on the January 6 attack on the Capitol and Donald Trump’s efforts to undo a legal election.

Last Saturday, tens of thousands of Russians took to the streets in over 100 cities, from St. Petersburg to Siberia, in sub-zero weather, to demand democracy and protest Vladimir Putin’s repressive rule.

It all started a week before. Alexei Navalny, an anti-Putin activist, was returning to Russia. He had just recovered from being poisoned by government agents in August. As soon as his plane landed in Moscow, Putin’s police arrested him.

But Navalny had a surprise for Putin. He released a video exposing Putin’s colossal, career-long corruption. Some 90 million people have seen it. (A link is below.)

Titled “Putin’s palace. History of world’s largest bribe,” it documents a billion-dollar palace built on the Black Sea for Putin – with ornate Italian furniture, a wine cellar, wineries and vineyards, a hookah room with a pole-dancing stage, a tunnel to the sea, an underground ice hockey rink, a two-story theater, a casino and an “aquadiscoteque.”

Navalny, who narrates the video, said one bathroom’s gold toilet-paper holder cost more than most Russians’ apartments.

Dictators fear the truth. When protesters poured into the streets, baton-swinging police in riot gear attacked them. Navalny’s wife Yulia was detained. More than 4,000 people have been arrested.

Navalny narrates video

This time at least, the President of the United States isn’t giving Putin aid and comfort.

Maybe one day we’ll learn the truth about why Donald Trump never stood up to Putin, even after Russia put bounties on American soldiers’ heads and launched a massive cyberattack on us last year.

We know that Putin interfered in the 2016 election and there were extensive contacts between Russian agents and the Trump campaign. You can thank North Carolina’s Senator Richard Burr for that; he co-chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russia’s role in the election. The committee set out the facts in a five-volume report.

In America, whatever our faults, there is accountability, unlike Russia.

In Washington January 6, Trump incited armed thugs who attacked the police, the Capitol and our democracy. The House impeached him, and now the Senate will try him.

In Russia, police thugs attacked the people and democracy. Putin gets away with it, for now. There are no free elections and no free speech.

There is one uncomfortable issue for Never-Trumpers. Navalny considers Twitter’s suspension of Trump “an unacceptable act of censorship.” If Twitter and Facebook can silence Presidents, they can silence protesters.

Let’s take a lesson from this troubled month of January, both from what happened in Russia and from what happened here: To keep our democracy, we have to keep up our guard.

Let’s honor the courage of Navalny and the Russian people. Let’s hope they live to enjoy democracy.

Let’s recommit ourselves to truth and facts. Let’s resolve to have the courage of our convictions.

Let’s have truth and courage.

Link to the Putin Palace video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ipAnwilMncI 

The Governor, the Pro-Tem and Pandemic Powers

Politics and the pandemic are inseparable in North Carolina.

Last year’s gubernatorial election got caught up in Covid fever. This year, pandemic politics likely will spread to the legislature – and write the latest chapter in North Carolina’s eternal power struggle between governors and legislators.

Senate President Pro-Tem Phil Berger says Governor Roy Cooper’s exercise of emergency powers in the pandemic “is inconsistent with what our system of government would expect.” Berger added, “I would like to see some changes.”

Need I note that Berger is a Republican and Cooper is a Democrat?

Senator Berger

Most every North Carolinian knows what Berger is talking about. Cooper’s handling of the Covid crisis dominated the news last year – and helped him win reelection handily.

But someone reading the Senate President Pro-Tem’s concerns might ask: “What, pray tell, is a ‘Pro-Tem’?”

Officially, the office is “President Pro Tempore of the North Carolina Senate.” He (never a she, so far as I recall) is the highest-ranking member of the Senate, elected by the members.

“Pro Tempore” is Latin meaning “for the time being.” In the state Senate, it means “for just about forever.”

Governors come and go, but two Presidents Pro-Tem have held power in North Carolina for almost 30 years: Democrat Marc Basnight, who died in December, and Berger.

How Pro-Tems got to be so powerful for so long is a long story.

Berger’s statement that Cooper’s power “is inconsistent with what our system of government would expect” is debatable. But most any real power that governors exercise is definitely inconsistent with our history.

When North Carolina’s first constitution was written in 1776, the framers were smarting over tyrannical royal governors. They made the governor’s office weak, and it remained weak well into the 20th Century. Governors could serve only one four-year term. They were the only governors in all 50 states without veto power.

Jim Hunt changed that. After he was elected governor in 1976, he pushed through a constitutional amendment so governors could serve two terms.

Dominos started falling. The House began electing Speakers to successive terms. Democrat Liston Ramsey kept the gavel from 1981 to 1989.

Succession also applied to lieutenant governors. They had real power then, like appointing Senate committees, assigning bills and often deciding what passed and what didn’t.

But when Republican Jim Gardner became lieutenant governor in 1989, Senate Democrats stripped him of his powers. The Senate president pro-tem became the power.

Basnight was pro-tem for 18 years, 1992-2010. He made it a powerful position. But he also helped Governor Hunt, then back for his third term, pass gubernatorial veto in 1996.

Berger has been pro-tem since Republicans took the Senate in 2010. As with Basnight, the key to his power has been controlling the caucus’s campaign operation – candidate recruitment, coordinated campaigns and, above all, fundraising. He controls the money and the message.

Lieutenant governors preside over the Senate, but have little power now. They run independently, so they’re not part of the governor’s administration. The office is mainly a holding room for a gubernatorial campaign.

Then there’s the Council of State, which is elected independently. Often, its members think they should be co-Governors. Last year, then-Lt. Governor Dan Forest sued Governor Cooper, contending Council of State approval was required for pandemic closings. Forest lost the lawsuit and lost the Governor’s race.

It’s in the nature of legislators, whatever their party, to strip power from governors, whatever their party. It will be no surprise this year if Republican legislators challenge the Democratic Governor’s pandemic powers.

But which will they put first: fighting the pandemic or fighting for power?

Thanks, Joe

Joe Biden is the shot in the arm America needs now.

Regular Joe. Amtrak Joe. Joey from Scranton.

He’s the first President named Joe. Which is odd, because Joe is such an American name. GI Joe, Joltin’ Joe, Joe Louis.

We needed a Regular Joe to chase out anger, bile and bitterness with decency, empathy and kindness.

Exactly a year ago, Joe seemed destined to be a three-time presidential loser, a joke, a gabby old geezer who hung around too long.

Then, Jim Clyburn and Black Democrats in South Carolina saved his candidacy – and our country. The Democratic Party nominated the one candidate who could win in 2020.

Biden has taken life’s blows – and bounced back. He is the right President for a nation that has been battered – by Trump for four years, by a vicious virus for the last year, by vicious lies about the election for two months and by white supremacists’ violent attack on the Capitol two weeks ago.

The Capitol survived, and there stood President Biden Wednesday, proclaiming, “at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.”

Chris Wallace of Fox News said Biden’s speech was the best Inaugural address he’d heard, and he’d heard every one from John Kennedy on. Those speeches are often forced and overdone; Biden’s was simple, direct and genuine. He was realistic but, above all, he was optimistic.

It was a speech perfect for the moment. Then Amanda Gorman added the exclamation point:

“When day comes we step out of the shade,

aflame and unafraid

The new dawn blooms as we free it

For there is always light,

if only we’re brave enough to see it

If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

Thanks, Joe, for leading us out of the shade and into the light. Thanks, Joe, for Vice President Kamala Harris and for breaking all those barriers. Thanks, Joe and Kamala, for your families – close and loving, happy, blended and, yes, interracial.

Biden ended his speech with this:

“So, with purpose and resolve we turn to the tasks of our time.

Sustained by faith. Driven by conviction. And, devoted to one another and to this country we love with all our hearts.

May God bless America and may God protect our troops.

Thank you, America.”

Thank you, Mr. President.