I am proud serve on the host committee for a virtual fundraiser this Thursday in support of Tim Idoni’s reelection. Tim is an outstanding County Clerk and was a fantastic Mayor of New Rochelle. Please join me in supporting Tim by contributing to his campaign.
Of all the Presidential also-rans in my lifetime, I think Walter Mondale would have been the best President. Mondale has been unfairly tagged as a “loser,” because he had the misfortune of competing with Ronald Reagan at the peak of his popularity, an election in which any Democratic nominee would have been trounced. But, in fact, Mondale was among the most gifted politicians of his generation and a profoundly good man — widely respected among peers for his wisdom, competence, humor, and decency. Here’s the Times’ obituary, and, if you’re a political junkie with 90 minutes to spare, watch the first President debate from 1984; based on his debate performance, you’d expect Mondale to win 49 states.
I stayed home yesterday to watch the inauguration with my family. Possibly a mistake, as I found myself repeatedly breaking down in tears, much to the kids’ displeasure and disgust. At first, they made fun of me, but eventually that got old, and their teasing tapered off into exasperated eye-rolling. Still, I stand by my emotion!
Beyond the positive new policy direction on climate change, immigration, international engagement, racial justice, and more, and beyond the long-overdue prospect of a competent national COVID strategy, yesterday’s changing of the guard felt more fundamental. An assertion of decency and kindness and truth — a reaffirmation of faith in democracy — after a dark period in which these core American values were under siege.
Nothing is permanent in politics, and if the last few years have demonstrated anything, it is that liberal democracy is fragile, but perhaps that very knowledge will impel us all to be better custodians of the Republic and better examples to the world.
One notable local connection. I was delighted to learn that Rev. Leo Jeremiah O’Donovan III, who delivered a beautiful invocation at the beginning of the inaugural ceremony, is a graduate of Iona Prep. Glad that New Rochelle was represented in this small way at such an important occasion.
It’s a new day for America, with the hope that every new day brings. Let’s make the most of it. Good luck, President Biden and Vice President Harris, and thank you.
Like so much else in the Trump era, yesterday’s insurrection was both shocking and predictable. I literally gasped at the image of guns drawn at the doors of Congress, and it is impossible to view such a scene without feeling complete disorientation. And yet this was also the logical and maybe even inevitable culmination of years of provocation, from a psychologically-damaged President who revels in division, disdains the norms of liberal democracy, and is literally incapable of perceiving any national interest distinct from his personal interest.
Fortunately, the rule of law ultimately prevailed. The Capitol was secured, the coup sputtered out, the people’s business continued, Joe Biden will become President on January 20th, and America will move on from a poisonous four years.
Or will we? While a change of President will unquestionably and thankfully remove the most clear and present danger to the Republic, our national pathologies are too deep for a single election to cure:
• Nearly all of the people involved in yesterday’s insurrection, fed a steady diet of lies, truly think of themselves as American patriots acting in defense of democracy. The media ecosystem that produces such a warped mindset will continue to churn out content, and the fears and grievances that leave so many people vulnerable to con men, conspiracy theories, and demagogues will likely intensify. Can we find a way to break the closed loops of information that wall us into alternate realities, and can we engage our fellow citizens in a spirit of understanding, not judging the whole of their humanity by their worst actions and beliefs? We cannot give up on a third of the country.
• Stable democracies need healthy, viable center-right parties, and at present the United States doesn’t have one. The Republican Party — especially its base and increasingly its elites — now more closely resembles autocratic movements in Turkey, Hungary, and Poland than its traditional center-right counterparts in western Europe. Can we find a basis for partnership with and empowerment of responsible elected officials with a genuine commitment to democracy, even when we disagree with them profoundly on policy?
• Our electoral institutions are broken. As a measure of popular will, the Presidential election was not close. But in the states that determined the electoral college outcome, it was razor thin. A shift of just 44,000 votes — only about half the population of New Rochelle — would have delivered the electoral college to Donald Trump, and then we would be in a whole different sort of Constitutional crisis. I struggle to imagine how I would accept the legitimacy of a President who lost by 7 million votes, and wonder how many folks on my side of the aisle would be tempted to storm the Capitol under those circumstances. Can we repair our institutions, so that they affirm the people’s will instead of impeding it?
Don’t get me wrong. I am genuinely relieved and even excited about the upcoming Inauguration and the possibility of national progress, especially given the outcomes in Georgia, which offer President-elect Biden a real chance to govern. But we should have no illusions about the scale and depth of the challenges ahead, or the degree to which success depends on renewal of our culture as much as our government. Yesterday’s shameful horrors have laid bare the threats to our democracy with tragic clarity.
It’s over, and when all the votes are counted, Joe Biden’s margin of victory in the national popular vote will be in the range of four to five percentage points — slightly more than Obama’s margin over Romney and considerably more than Bush’s over Kerry. I get that we choose our Presidents through the electoral college (although we shouldn’t), but let’s not fall into the trap of confusing the tabulation of electoral votes for an accurate measure of national will. The choice of the American people is clear and unambiguous.
Like many Democrats, I eagerly wanted an even more sweeping repudiation of Donald Trump and a decisive Senate majority. The outcome fell short of that standard and leaves me — just as in 2016 — disoriented by the political preferences of so many millions of my fellow citizens.
But for those of us who have spent the last four years fearing for our democracy, astonished by the normalization of hatred, self-absorption, and corruption, and perpetually wearied by anxiety, disbelief, and despair, it is an overwhelming relief today to take a full, clean breath, express pride once again in the next leader of our country, and feel a greater measure of hope for the future.
Hope is not naivete. The conditions and attitudes that brought Donald Trump to the White House will not simply vanish, our democratic institutions remain fundamentally flawed, the President’s likely refusal to concede graciously (or concede at all) will complicate the peaceful transfer of power, and the intensity of feeling on both sides presages a difficult struggle to heal divisions and bring our nation together. Hard work ahead. Time to begin. God bless America.
Early voting begins this Saturday, October 24 and continues through Sunday, November 1. New Rochelle’s early voting station is located behind City Hall at 90 Beaufort Place. At this same location, completed absentee ballots can be dropped off at an official secure ballot box. Absentee ballots can also be returned or mailed to the Board of Elections in White Plains, and, of course, you can still vote in person as usual on Election Day. For early voting hours and additional information, please visit newrochelleny.com/elections.