What Really Matters?

Assuming the accuracy of recent polling, even people who don’t follow politics or the news with the sort of intensity characteristic of people who comment on this blog have come to recognize that President Trump is insane.

The crazy tweets, the babbling, “word salad” responses to even soft-ball questions from Faux News, the cringe-worthy, extended defense of his wobbly descent down the ramp at West Point, and most astonishing (at least to me) his apparent belief that if we just don’t test people, the Coronavirus will magically go away–are finally taking their toll.

My own response to what I see right now might properly be labeled bipolar: on the one hand, I am terrified of Democratic complacency. This pathetic ignoramus won once–it could happen again. There is still a hard core of voters who respond to his racism and share his overwhelming sense of grievance. On the other hand, polling–both state and national–reflects widespread disapproval; credible media outlets have taken to calling lies, lies (not just “assertions for which there is no evidence”) and previously reliable Republican constituencies are forming pro-Biden PACs. (The Lincoln Group–the first such effort–is producing and airing some of the most devastating–and accurate–political ads.)

So… my thoughts have turned to the massive clean-up job that will await the Democrats if–as I devoutly hope–November delivers both the White House and the Senate.

That cleanup is by no means assured. Universal detestation of Trump has unified a party that is famous for its lack of unity. (Who was it who said “I don’t belong to any organized political party; I’m a Democrat”?) With victory will come the inevitable fractures between the moderates, progressives and leftwing factions of the party.

In the House, I have some confidence that Nancy Pelosi can avoid truly dangerous schisms; the Senate will be dicier, and if Moscow Mitch is re-elected, he can still do enormous damage as Minority Leader.

It’s all very uncertain, and that uncertainty is made worse by the fact that there is considerable ambiguity about what optimum “repairs”–both structural and policy– should look like. Some examples:

  • The federal courts. It’s not just the Supreme Court.  McConnell has managed to put 200 rightwing ideologues on the federal bench, a number of whom have been rated “unqualified” by the ABA. There are a number of proposed “fixes”–from expanding the number of judges to pursuing impeachment against those who engage in the most egregious misconduct. Whatever course of action is taken, returning the courts to the status of impartial arbiters should be a priority.
  • Other structural issues that cry out for attention sooner than later include gerrymandering, the filibuster, money in politics and the Electoral College. (Whether the Electoral College can ever be fixed–either by the Popular Vote Compact or Constitutional Amendment is a “known unknown.”)
  • Repairing the incredible amount of damage done by Trump’s Mafiosa-like cabinet–especially the savage assault on environmental protections by the procession of fossil fuel lobbyists who’ve run the EPA, and Betsy DeVos’ fundamentalist attacks on the very concept of public education–also requires immediate attention.
  • Repairing America’s reputation abroad–restoring our relationships with allies, signaling that yes, America had a psychotic break, but we’re recovering–is critical. We need to rejoin the alliances Trump discarded, reaffirm our commitment to NATO, etc.,etc. Fortunately, foreign policy has been Biden’s strong suit.
  • Attacking our appalling economic inequality by raising both taxes on the rich and the minimum wage.
  • On the policy front, it is long past time for comprehensive immigration reform–not just the immediate cessation of horrendous ICE practices under Trump, but a sweeping revision of immigration policy that discards the racism that has characterized it.
  • It is equally past time to ensure that all Americans have access to healthcare, whether that is via a public option or single payer. (And maybe we should reconstitute that pandemic task force.)
  • Then there’s our crumbling infrastructure. And the elimination of billions of dollars in subsidies for fossil fuel interests. And a long, hard look at farm subsidies (and who’s getting them.) And in the (highly unlikely) world of my dreams, beginning to dismantle and “defund” the military-industrial complex Eisenhower warned us about.

I bet you all can add to this daunting list…..

Unlike culture-war quarrels about who’s using what restroom, or whether women should be able to control their own reproduction, these are the issues that really matter.

These are the issues that define–or defy–assertions of American “greatness.”


  1. My biggest concern is the integrity of of the 2020 elections. Both the Republicans and the Russians are capable of great mischief, dishonesty and manipulation. Both disinformation AND access to the ballot may be challenges for voters. Is there ANY hope that the Carter Center can help?
    They do so much to insure valid elections in other nations. Can they engage here too?

  2. Sheila I truly love reading your erudite column and your brilliantly expressed descriptions of the mentally challenged President of your country.
    However I wonder if it is smart to point out the problems within the Democratic party.
    No political party is perfect, but your President and the party that has irresponsibly supported him without regard to the danger he poses to both his country and the rest of the world is so incredibly bad that surely nothing but getting him and his party out of office matters.
    Surely every written word must be aimed at convincing the population to support removing this evil man and the party that has supported him.

  3. Wow! Seeing all the damage he’s done in one list like this is mind-blowing. Joe is going to have to put together a team of super heroes to undo it. Someone power up the bat signal!

  4. It’s also going to take an analysis of how we, the people have failed. What is wrong with the Republican Party that nominated him as their candidate in 2016? What is wrong with the rest of us who elected him in 2016? Hopefully, Trump has awakened us all.

  5. Jan Hastings; where are you posting your comments from? They suggest you do not live in this country so can only depend on headlines and news reports which reach your homeland. You cannot know the inner workings of Americans who are living with this Trump nightmare 24 hours a day, 7 days each week; you do not see the vast number of E-mails, Internet postings we receive countless times day and night or receive in your mail the surveys and petitions we receive…or know the number of responses by responsible American voters. I question your use of the term “erudite”; I have never assumed Sheila’s blog as “instruction” but rather “informing” her followers, often with information we would not otherwise have access to. If you are an American living in a foreign country; there is much in our day-to-day inundation of information and misinformation you would not receive from local, state and federal levels.

    I do appreciate the fact that you are paying attention to our increasing chaos and dangers from wherever you are located. But if you read Sheila’s column and the many comments every day; you will see that we are paying attention and we are trying to make a difference as we struggle to avoid the Covid-19 Pandemic and Trump’s daily idiocy and treasonous actions.

    “What Really Matters?” The answer is that what matters is we continue paying attention and doing our part, however great or small, to end this nightmare. As patmcc so wisely stated; our greatest concern is the integrity of the 2020 elections at all levels.

  6. Great list, indeed. There is a lot of granularity associated with all those things including reforming or eliminating the for-profit prison system. Make election days a national holiday. Codify the number of voting places as a function of population. Reduce the election seasons to 6 months. Disallow ANY elected person to work for any lobbying firm for ten years after leaving office.

    You know, just the basics to return democracy to the people, the governed.

  7. It was the great humorist of the Depression Era, Will Rogers, who famously quipped that he belonged to no organized party. A statue of him stands just outside the entrance to the US House of Representatives to remind them not to get too full of themselves!

  8. Here are two other items to add to the list.
    First, an overturn of the Supreme Court decision that ruled that corporations are people. This may require a constitutional amendment but is doable.
    Second, the outlawing, elimination and invalidation of all non-disclose agreements. Imagine the flood of truth that would cascade over the country.
    These two reforms alone would return power to the voters.

  9. Theresa,

    Any reasonably constituted Supreme Court would overrule that decision given the opportunity. I am leery of any Constitutional Amendment regarding personhood, as even a most carefully crafted amendment could lead to right to life suits all over the country.

    We have a lot of work to do, indeed. If they have done nothing else, 45 and Mitch have opened our eyes to the need for more than just custom and civility to manage our government. We need to get it right this time.

  10. “I don’t belong to any organized political party; I’m a Democrat”? – Will Rodgers, American humorist.

  11. Once again, great comments by all. This comment Sheila wrote is fascinating to ponder –“Repairing America’s reputation abroad–restoring our relationships with allies, signaling that yes, America had a psychotic break, but we’re recovering–is critical.”

    I think we will have to do much more than merely getting rid of Trump to accomplish that task. We’ve been only making superficial changes for decades. Most permanent structural change requests will be treated with already prepared and used talking points.

    At this point, just making it a functioning election, winning, and then getting through the court will be an undertaking. Trump doesn’t accept defeat of any kind, so being a one-term POTUS would be devastating. What he has prepared for us only scratches the surface of his insanity.

  12. From world leaders and their Great Reset:

    “The Covid-19 crisis, and the political, economic and social disruptions it has caused, is fundamentally changing the traditional context for decision-making. The inconsistencies, inadequacies and contradictions of multiple systems –from health and financial to energy and education – are more exposed than ever amidst a global context of concern for lives, livelihoods and the planet. Leaders find themselves at a historic crossroads, managing short-term pressures against medium- and long-term uncertainties.”


  13. I would add to Sheila’s list the Department of Justice which William Barr has, and is continuing to, turned into a vehicle for the defense of the office of the president. In the first place that’s the function of the White House Counsel and on the second place its highly likely that the “new DoJ” will only defend the prerogatives of Republican presidents.

  14. Sandy @7:18am
    We the people elected Hillary. Trumpists, the GOP and the Electoral College overwhelmed the popular vote.
    VOTE straight Democrat ticket and together we’ll prevent this disaster.

  15. Biden has his work cut out for sure. Our job to help him is more straightforward than his will be. Vote blue no matter who. Support blue no matter who. Act blue no matter who we are. The bigger the majority we can demonstrate the more who govern will be united in accomplishing the long daunting list of both repair work and restoration of progress towards the future that’s coming, not Trumpublican fantasies of autocratic power.

    The entire world is entering the post sustainable population and lifestyle era. Our goals must reflect the least chaotic and most democratic transition from the grow at any cost mania that we must leave behind. We have to rejoin the rest of the world in the effort to imagine and bring about whatever that is.

    We have the necessary knowledge to pull it off. We must return to deploying what we know.

  16. Many of the critisms, and great suggestions for change, I hear seem to come from a deep concern and understanding of what might better serve us all. However a somewhat superficial consideration of the deeper levels of work which it takes to change the policies and products of our systems often seem to be underlying the critiques and is inherently lacking. And then we tend to operate, even with our impatience for correction, from our own position of superficiality.

    This comment is not geared to anyone here, but much more in listening to others who readily critize and condemn without deeper attempts to understand the webs of the whys and how things occur and what it might take to unravel them. The fabric of our country, our world seems to be much more intricate and tightly woven than we often can even imagine.

  17. “Voting blue no matter who” can be dangerous. The spirit behind the dictum is a strategy the GOP took advantage of in their early takeover of state and local governments—they ran their candidates under the guise that their candidates were Democrats. We DO need to vote blue. But we need to inform ourselves at least enough to be sure that the Democrats we vote for aren’t actually surreptitious right-wingers.

  18. While we have mountains of structural changes to make after Biden wins, Todd rightly suggests that more will be involved than reversing structural paths. Our four year adventure with a demented ignoramous at the helm assisted by a pandemic and economic recession hass had and will have global as well as national implications. See international decision making, as Todd suggests. Can we or will we, for instance, have such decisions made in a democratic setting? What do we do with the likes of Putin or Xi or Erdogan or another Trump-like creature? Who makes the decisions global in nature (e.g., can the world agree on discarding of plastic in the only oeans we will ever have), and if so, by what standards for selection of criteria etc. etc.?

    It is not only our decision making that is up for grabs. With billions of humans on an already overcrowded planet, we are in increasing need of common understanding and common goals which will require modification of our social and political and economic institutions both pre and post Trump, changes that will doubtless stir political controversy both at home and abroad as the status quo digs in.

    Yes, we have lots of work to do, and in areas we have yet come to understand. The world is much smaller, but more congested and less habitable, so in addition to essentially local structural reform we have global reform facing us, reforms far beyond such as the Paris Accords, the Iran nuclear agreement etc which were remedial in nature. We will have two mountains of work to be done following January 20, 2021, and it’s not too early for Biden wonks to start planning for them from a position of newly reclaimed leadership.

  19. The long-running farce of the past four years has clearly demonstrated the overriding need to clean up and tighten up our Constitution to provide some level of protection against demagogue presidents who are supported by a major political party, a Supreme Court, and the well-armed ignoramuses who constitute a powerful minority. Perhaps the founding fathers could not have foreseen a Trump bolstered by a McConnell, but we’ve seen it and understand how much damage it can do. It’s time to modify the Constitution in ways that disallow a Commander-in-Chief from cooperating and conspiring with our worst enemies, from killing large numbers of Americans in ways that suit his political goals, from embarrassing our nation internationally, and from governing as if science were inferior to his crude instincts.

    Far too much power has been vested in our president. He can erase treaties and national goals with a stroke of his pen. This is called autocracy, not democracy. It leaves him unaccountable for his ignorance and his cruelty, and will destroy us if he wins a second term. Solving racism is not the only sweeping structural change we need to make American democracy sustainable. Defiance of the rule of law by a politician should be a prima facie impeachable offense.

  20. I’m disappointed once again that this blog and these comments PRESUME that winning elections and winning subsequent Congressional votes on our favorite issues will settle and cure each problem those issues represent.

    Before the Trump administration dismantled the Department of Education, our public education system was being destroyed, even with the oversight of sharp-eyed professional educators in positions of authority at the national and state level.

    The Justice Department WAS failing also, deplorably. As WAS our electoral system, with gerrymandering and the Electoral College; as WAS Congress, with the filibuster; as WAS politics in general, with all that money; and as WAS environmental health, with capitalism at its throat.

    Democrats can win every election from now till Hell freezes over AND STILL FAIL to correct our nation’s problems–any of them–because those problems are not caused by government. They are caused by a higher power than government–unscrupulous Capitalists. The unscrupulous ones buy decisions in government and the courts. They blackmail their opponents and/or their families. And in case money and blackmail fail, they hold in ready reserve the willingness to threaten, ruin careers, litigate in bought and paid for courts, and even murder.

    Those are the forces that elected Trump and Pence and Mitch, and they will not be deterred because elections eliminate their three stooges. Those forces are powerful, evil, and ruthless.

    Goody-two-shoes Democrats will be no match for them.

    As I’ve said before, the war does not even begin until the election is over. To believe that the election will solve our problems is to reveal our objection to the Trump administration is about mere style rather than substance.

    The election wins the style battle. Only a full measure of guts, lives, fortunes, and our sacred honor will win the substance battle. Unfortunately, we are fatally short of two of the four.

  21. You know,
    the United States has never been fair, it’s citizens have never been treated equally! When the Constitution was written, it’s a possibility the founders had ideas about equality, but, all of the rights that anyone had, were by wealthy white male landowners! They were the movers and the shakers as far as business, and the voters! So how could the Constitution really be fair? The patchwork of nonsense that has been eked into the Constitution through amendments are really a joke. Because the people, the ethnic group, that controlled everything, still has the Constitution weighted towards them. If someone were to take office that really wanted to make equality for everyone, level the playing field educational wise, ethics wise, anti-discriminatory wise, gender wise, religious wise, and every other type of wise you could think of, they would be tied up and demonized by Congress, and, a press who happens to not be fair and impartial. The aggrieved white male, wants to be the king of the hill, and, if somehow he could manage to get to that pinnacle, he would burn down the entire country ET-AL. The world, to keep it!

    Rudyard Kipling’s the white man’s burden is a prime example of that thought process, not only aggrieved, but to believe that they are the Atlas on whose shoulders the world spins. The current POTUS feels that even though he is an absolute dunce, he is somehow a very stable genius! The self-delusion, the willful self-delusion, is astounding, I deal with my cousins who willfully delude themselves to post and repost some of the most ignorant, self-righteous and bigoted BS that I’ve ever read! The other day, I tore into them like I’ve never torn Into anyone in my life. So I don’t think I’ll be hearing from them in the near future, LOL! I can’t tolerate a self-made reality that is not part of the universal timeline! It’s like the string theory, there are millions of reality bubbles out there, just pick one which makes you feel like a master of all you survey! It’s not only stupid, it’s not only ignorant, it’s not real! It’s like telling yourself you have a Bentley in your driveway, as someone’s pulling you down the street on a skateboard. But in your mind you have a Bentley, and you tell everyone else you have a Bentley, and your associates that see you on your skateboard, admire your Bentley! So, there you have it!

    When I spoke of Daniel and his prophecy of the immense image, I meant what I said! And, this societal construct is going to crash and burn. It might be because of the current shenanigans or something in the future, but it’s hard to picture something worse, When Bush was in office it was hard to picture something worse, and here we are. There is no societal cohesion, because the ones who are supposedly the apex ethnicity will not allow it. They don’t have to obey rules or regulations, they don’t have to apply any uncomfortable guidelines to themselves, because those are not for them, only the others! Their rights usurp laws and rules and regulations! They are legendary in their own minds, and even though there is an immense amount of ignorance and uneducated blather, they still willfully delude themselves as kings!

  22. What distinguishes humans from the rest of life is progress, our ability to imagine, then create, better for us. It’s an unimaginably powerful force. Sometimes we get it right and sometimes wrong but the arc of history has been net positive.

    One example of that is that our success has created a growing population and an increasingly comfortable life style. Good, right?

    Yes and no.

    The no is that the load that our numbers and average lifestyle require from the capacity of earth to support is more than earth can sustain.

    We have to, in response, in order to continue achieving progress, imagine and create and deploy changes in our lifestyle that can bring about a lighter load on our resource supply, either through population or lifestyle changes that get us back to sustainable from what’s not which therefore must be temporary.

    We manage or we crash.

    At the moment some of our cultural chaos stems from an unequal distribution among us of imagination and human revealed knowledge of earth.

    As always that leads to those with less of those things depending on those with more.

    We can do this.

  23. A few days ago I watched an interesting program on TV about the Biden and Democratic Campaign. The people that were on said it was clear from 2016, attacks on The Trumpet’s character had failed. The fact that The Trumpet regularly engaged in smears and a history of less than “Family Values”, none of these numerous personal flaws of The Trumpet had a significant effect.

    The new strategy is show The Trumpet’s gross incompetence in leading the nation through Corona. They are using his own words against him as the body count piles up.

    So far the Corona virus has fallen hard on elderly Americans, the ones who approved of The Trumpet back in 2016. The collateral damage on this spreads out as children bury their parents and grandparents.

    The Russian Bounty is not a done deal in terms of -Who knew What and When.

  24. John, you speak a lot of uncomfortable truth here:

    “The patchwork of nonsense that has been eked into the Constitution through amendments are really a joke. Because the people, the ethnic group, that controlled everything, still has the Constitution weighted towards them.”

    But this is worse: The wealthy have replaced that ethnic group that you say has the Constitution weighted towards them. Or maybe replaced is the wrong word. Supersedes, overrides, crushes would be more accurate.

    Our battle is not with the ignorant who IMAGINE they are above the law but with the rich who KNOW they are above the law, at least until they face opposition that is even richer. I, a white male, with every word of the Constitution and the Bible on my side, could rarely win a contest–legal, political, business, or even back-alley–against Oprah Winfrey, a wealthy black woman, or against Jorge Pérez, a wealthy Hispanic, or against Jerry Yang, a rich Chinese American…etcetera, many etceteras.

    IT IS A CLASS WAR, not an ethnic war. Unfortunately, even you and I sometimes deny the class war. We–and about 300 million others–don’t have the stomach for it. Meanwhile, the class war is massacring us, has for at least a century, and we all seem more interested in debating which of us is being massacred the worst, instead of fighting back.

    But every time an American makes the news in his or her rare retaliation in the class war, someone plays the “let’s not start a class war” card…and the class war massacre continues…and we give in belly up like a compliant dog.

    Did you see the movie “A Time to Kill”? It has many applications.

  25. You have a great list, Sheila, and there have been good additions in the comments.
    I worry about the typical Democratic wimpiness. The way I see it, priorities have to be set. Biden should have a team vetting appointments now and the day he takes office (assuming at least a 50-50 Senate) he should be ready to ram through hundreds of appointments, and not “candidates that will get bipartisan support”.

    The top priorities are these – (1) SARS-Cov-2 will probably still be with us and that is the top priority; (2 – and we can walk and chew gum at the same time) Purge the executive branch of malignant Trump appointees, starting with Justice; (3) simultaneously add to the courts and set up a judge watch in Justice for Trump appointed judges; and (4) everything else on the combined lists.

    Katie – sadly today, it is a good bet that any Democrat is better that the Republican alternative (third parties don’t work here). When we find a bad Democrat, we can replace them next time around. I have mentioned before here, I cut my political teeth challenging a UAW backed racist State Senator in Detroit. He won the election, but we won the war. The UAW told him to retire and supported a liberal the next time.

    I do appreciate how people on this blog recognize that the founders instituted a slanted government, but remember, the Preamble doesn’t say “to create a perfect union”, it says “a more perfect union”. The work has continued and made slow progress in every generation. Slavery is gone and voting rights have expanded. I was never asked my religion on a job application; my mother was.

    Also, ideals do matter. The Affordable Care Act enshrines health care as a commodity, but by being the first successful national push to increase coverage, the ideal of universal health care as a right has remained the majority view in this country. This idea that Democrats had been trying to pursue for decades was only slightly diminished by the less than ideal system enacted in the ACA.

    Finally, I was raised with the concept of “Tikkun Olam”, repair of the world. The religious and mystical roots of this don’t really matter to me, but the idea does. The job of people is to repair the world through their actions. We aren’t expected to finish the job, but we are expected to contribute. So I see it with the striving for a “more perfect union”. This country was founded on imperfectly implemented ideals. Maybe they didn’t see non-white, non-believer, non-landowners in their definition of “all men”, but the ideal was set and we have made slow corrections over the past couple of centuries.

    Trump took us many steps back (actually, we have been sliding back since Reagan, or maybe Nixon), so Biden and the Democrats have their work cut out for them. We seem to have a lot of suggestions for them if they ask us. 8)>

  26. I’m sorry but the complaints about federal judges falls on deaf ears. Over the years, I have watched liberals politicize the confirmation process starting with the rejection of the highly qualified Robert Bork. I have seen them engage in the worst sort of personal, unfair smears to try to stop conservative nominees. And I have seen them use the federal judiciary to enact liberal social policies that they can’t get enacted through Congress. Federal judges should be umpires not policy advocates. Just because something is “good policy” does not mean judges should be enacting it via the guise of interpreting the Constitution or statutes.

    I am more sympathetic to the argument that some of Trump’s judges aren’t qualified. We’ve seen plenty of that during the confirmation process. But I certainly have no faith in a politicized ABA as an arbiter of who is qualified and unqualified to be a judge.

  27. Thank you for putting the courts at the top of the list. I wish Democratic politicians would cite the courts MUCH more frequently as a reason to vote. Trump’s appointees will be with us for decades, and as you noted, the American Bar Association doesn’t think some of them are even competent. Instead it appears their threshold qualification is judicial temperament driven by partisanship beholden to authoritarianism and wealth rather than the rule of law or equal protection. There is so much damage to undo, and it will take years.

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