Spectacularly Incurious

     Here is a lesson for Americans: Donald Trump  came to drain the swamp and in the end the swamp drained him. His diagnosis was as correct as his cure was ineffectual. Notwithstanding Trump’s self-inflicted wounds that led to his defeat,* the primary organisms that constitute the swamp rose up, used all their nefarious powers, betrayed their professions and sometimes their oaths, and triumphed. And America is the great loser for it. Those two organisms are the media-intelligence complex that makes or breaks people.

      Chuck Schumer said one true thing almost four years ago. He offered that Trump was “really dumb” for challenging the intelligence community (that means mainly FBI and CIA) because “they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you.” Oh, and did they ever!

      Isn’t it fascinating that President Biden has spoken to several world leaders in the last week – and no one listening saw fit to leak anything? It stands to reason that a certain point, Biden will say something to a world leader that will be newsworthy. (It might be enlightening to hear if he talks coherently, engages in conversation, or simply reads from a text in front of him written by others.) When he says something newsworthy, perhaps even a tad controversial like entertaining a change in US policy or committing to something that Biden does not want publicized, and the details of that conversation are leaked, what do think the reaction would be?

      Here is an educated guess. During the Trump era, the leaker was lionized as a hero whistleblower, protected like an etrog, and celebrated throughout the swamp. It happened almost a half-dozen times. In the Biden administration, such a leaker would be fired, vilified, tarred, feathered, and prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned as a traitor and a dire threat to national security. The same pertains to the loquacious and hypocritical opposition politicians who left the Oval Office and ran directly to the media to reveal the private conversations that took place there. That was the past . Today, if that happened, and the off color language was shared with the mainstream media, the media would not print it, the politician would never be invited back, he would be ostracized and pilloried, with the ultimate goal to end his career posthaste.

      There are dozens of examples of the way in which the intelligence community betrayed their oaths, and fabricated evidence or testimony, and all to take down a president they, for whatever reason, despised. Odd, isn’t it, that during the transition, Biden officials met indirectly with Iran and directly with Canadian authorities to discuss matters of interest – and yet no one raised the evil specter of the Logan Act! Heavens! Nor did the FBI launch a perjury trap investigation of any Biden official questioning their activities during the transition, fishing for information, and seeking to muddy the waters. Well, they tried to get Trump and eventually they did, but at great cost to their credibility and efficiency. For all their so-called vaunted reputation for excellence, the intelligence agencies seemed to know little about the attack on the Capitol on January 6, which reflects poorly on their competence.

     These two organisms (the media-intelligence complex) work together, as an essential tool of the intelligence swamp is feeding damaging information to friendly reporters who then publish it under the rubric of “intelligence sources have revealed…” It doesn’t matter whether the information is true or not because the purpose is not news but character assassination. The anonymous personal attack has become the staple of modern journalism – and no one will ever ascertain the veracity of the information or the identity of the leaker. It is so prevalent that former FBI Director Jim Comey (billed by the media – probably his media source – as “DC’s Boy Scout,” which doesn’t say much for the Boy Scouts) shamelessly admitted leaking classified information to a friend who gave it to a reporter who published it, with, of course, no consequences for anybody. He didn’t even try to hide it once it was uncovered but pretended that, of course, this is normal, we leak all the time.

      Even worse than the sleaze in the intelligence division of the swamp is the corruption and collapse of the free media in America. It is a waste of the First Amendment, as the mainstream media perceived itself as a tool of the resistance under Trump and as the official government press organ under Biden. I remember Watergate quite well, but bear with this analogy.

      There was a little over a year between the burglary at the DNC headquarters in the Watergate building and the damaging testimony before Congress of Nixon’s counsel John Dean – a year and eight days to be precise. Imagine if during that entire year, after the burglary that had involved one member of President Nixon’s re-election campaign team but no evidence had surfaced of presidential involvement, the Washington Post – a Nixon ally (play with me) – just published day after day the single trope that “there is no evidence of any White House connection…” Every time a Democrat raised the issue, the Post slapped him down writing that “this claim is false. There is no evidence of a White House connection.” Imagine if Democrats who suggested an investigation were banned from having their voices heard, their megaphones were cut off, the media stopped interviewing them and they were derided as kooks. And all because, for a year, there was “no evidence of any White House connection.”

     Instead, what journalists did was go out and find the evidence, look for sources, and leave no stone unturned (even occasionally fabricating along the way). They were not content to hear from the White House “there is no evidence,” or that “the alleged criminals have been arrested and their matter is being adjudicated, and so further comment is inappropriate. And by the way, there is no story here.” No, they went out to find the story. That was journalism then.

     An honest, objective person might think that if there are allegations of election fraud, real journalists might actually send reporters to investigate, interview the people who claim to have driven trucks of ballots to far flung locations, inquire why third party observers were unlawfully barred from observing the vote counting in numerous places, hear the stories of individuals who went to the polls and were told they had already voted, ask why counting facilities were closed for several hours overnight after election day (to all but a few workers) and get a cogent explanation why suitcases were being brought into counting facilities during those off hours and why other facilities covered up their windows so outside viewers could not see.

      This is not to say that there was enough fraud to overturn the election – who knows? But it is to wonder how it is that the American media was so spectacularly incurious about the major news story of 2020. Instead, this incurious media kept parroting the official line, all saying “there is no widespread evidence of fraud,” as if they were all singing from the same hymnal. Or, “there was no evidence of fraud that would overturn the election.” Or, “the courts have unanimously concluded there is no proof of anything .”

      Well, by those standards, the courts in 1972 uncovered no evidence of presidential wrongdoing, nor “widespread evidence of dirty tricks,” nor “evidence of anything that would change the election.” Somehow, and for some strange reason, the media was much more inquisitive then, and they went in search of the evidence. Not so here.

     Furthermore, take the Hunter Biden “nothing to see here” media response. There was a time when an honest media would have lapped up such a story of obvious “pay for play” corruption involving the highest levels of government – and during an election campaign in which the same parties were running for high office. Instead, we again heard the “no evidence of any wrongdoing,” “no investigation has reported anything criminal,” and, the best, “that story has been debunked.” How could it have been debunked – it was never bunked in the first place? Again, it was the spectacularly incurious American media that ignored this story in order to remain partisans, faithful denizens of the swamp.

      For sure, there are dozens of other examples, not least of them the weekly drumbeat over the summer of some negative book comment against Trump, what some anonymous scandalmonger claimed Trump said about soldiers or someone about something. None of this was real journalism but just partisan prattling.

      Instead, the suddenly docile American press corps allowed Biden to run a stealth campaign, acquiescing in his avoidance of the media and any free and open verbal exchange.  Everything was choreographed. It was obvious that during the limited times he engaged the media, the questioners and the questions were known to him in advance, and the written answers were in front of him. I am hard pressed to conclude that anything has changed even now that Biden is president. Biden’s health and mental acuity were never investigated or even challenged, something unprecedented in recent American history. It is equally obvious the media is covering for him now as well, fawning over every decision, ignoring his gaffes and noticeable maladies.

      The media do not cover the swamp. They are the swamp. And with the drive underway to suppress all alternate viewpoints or any focused challenged to the Biden administration, a free press has become an oxymoron. They are free to hate Trump, and free to love Biden, but the press historically had a role as the watchdog of government. They are no longer watchdogs but have gone from being attack dogs against Trump to being lap dogs for Biden.

Hunter Biden, whatever he did, will get away with it. The FBI and Justice miscreants – Comey, McCabe, Rosenstein, Strzok, Page, and the others – whatever they did, the alleged lying and the leaking, the plotting and the coup attempt (a real coup), will get away with it. Expect nothing from the Durham investigation. That is how the swamp covers its tracks. It will someday disappear of its own accord, the media will avert its gaze, and the public will never know.

      That is dangerous for many reasons, but primarily because the swamp successfully protected itself and prevailed. Its victory thus deepened the divide between DC and the people, at least many of them. That polarization, blamed on Trump but fed and nurtured by the press for two decades now, long before Trump, will not engender happy outcomes. The future then is less freedom, more suppression, more polarization, and governance by anonymous aides to an enfeebled president, all with their own agendas.

Why Trump Lost*

      A neighbor of mine here in Israel, diehard Trump supporter (but not an American citizen), said to me the other day that he has come around and would now be willing to vote for Biden. To which I responded, “Good. I think the polls are still open in Pennsylvania.”

     All the shenanigans aside, why did Trump lose?* For sure, the pandemic hurt his standing but I am unconvinced that he would have sailed to victory even without the physical and economic devastation of the Corona virus. His core group of zealous supporters, some of whom are deranged, was always offset by an equal number of zealous enemies, some of whom are deranged. It was always to be a battle over relatively few independent votes.

      It is remarkable that he came close to winning a second time even with the pandemic. Even that is not as remarkable as this lingering irony. Given his policy achievements, it is a mystery how he lost* in 2020, but given his personality, it is a mystery how he won in 2016. His administration truly was a space flight away from the norms of the presidency, the bromides of political science and the predictabilities of democratic governance. And for the most part, he was right in almost every policy initiative, and even ones that the chattering classes frowned on (tariffs, for example) were worth a try given the absence of any alternative (save for politicians enriching themselves, their families and cronies through deals with dictators).

      It would be worthwhile on another occasion to reminisce about all the successes – but why did he lose?* There were three points during the campaign when a defeat, to me, became a real possibility.

       The first was in late March, early April, when Trump insisted on appearing on television every day with nothing particularly important or edifying to say. It was as if the entertainer had to fill sixty minutes or so of airtime, and so just filled them. It precipitated endless squabbles with a hostile, tendentious press corps. Trump loved it, the press loved it, but the people grew tired of it.

     It lent itself to repeated, willful distortions. No, he never told people to ingest bleach. He merely asked a layman’s question – why can’t the active ingredient be converted to a non-poisonous use? Hey, why not?! But the media pounced. Whatever he said became fodder for vehement opposition. This will yet emerge (just wait a year or two) although it is already being discussed: Hydroxychloroquine and the accompanying medications in its cocktail were ridiculed, condemned and prohibited for use simply because Trump touted it. Yet, I personally know a half dozen people who would be dead – i.e., dead, not alive and kicking – if they had not been administered Hydroxychloroquine, Zinc and Azithromycin. I personally know doctors who administered it to their patients and took it themselves. You can put all those “studies” in the circular file. An irrational hatred of all things Trump cost lives.

     Nevertheless, and despite his efforts at being a cheerleader and putting a good spin on things, day after day it became clear that he had no plan, his aides had no plan, Fauci and the all the agencies had no plan, the mask is no plan, no country or world leader has a plan even today (even President Biden just conceded he has no plan and it is all going to get worse) and so the daily briefings became exercises in futility and vacuity. It was a bad, un-presidential look. You can’t tell people that things are great when their eyes tell them that things are not great. (It is as ridiculous as citing “science” that boys can be girls and girls can be boys. Such “science” will be followed off a societal cliff to moral oblivion.)

      Those daily briefings were a terrible political miscalculation, and when they abruptly stopped, it only proved how harmful they were. It was the first chink in the presidential armor.

     That would be followed by another blunder that was as foolish as it probably was intentional. The logical assumption in politics is that a candidate secures his base and then reaches beyond his base to obtain a winning majority. Not only did Trump not reach out beyond his base but he also seemed to relish antagonizing anyone who was not already committed to him. He threw away the potential votes of people who did not like him personally but supported his programs and policies. He forced those people to vote for the opposition, as he made the toxicity of his personality more potent than the appeal of his programs.

     It would have been easy for him to give speech after speech saying something along the lines of, “you know, I can be brash, I can be impulsive, sometimes I punch below my weight class at silly targets. I talk too much, I tweet too much, I don’t always say the right or proper thing. I am a New Yorker! But you know I have your back. I only care about you. I have no other interest but the welfare of America and the prosperity and good fortune of all Americans. If you re-elect me, I’ll try to be a little better mannered, but I can’t promise that. What I can promise, just like I did in 2016, is that I will work hard to fulfill every campaign promise I make to you and every position I hold today I will work to implement. And together we will keep America great.” That’s a speech to appeal to outsiders, not the rambling campaign rallies that drew his already adoring admirers. Big mistake.

     And that mistake was compounded by the astonishing failure of the first debate, which became a cringe-worthy verbal slugfest. Yes, I know Biden was rude (he started the interrupting, just like he constantly interrupted Paul Ryan in the 2012 VP debate; look it up). Biden was rude but his goal was simply to look coherent. Trump’s goal should have been to look, if not presidential, at least a little decorous, and in order to woo those people who liked what he did but not the way he did it or said it. Obviously, Trump’s case was not helped by a biased moderator; nonetheless, it was his responsibility to make his case to those wavering voters. Instead, he made the case for his opponent as an amiable, dotty alternative who would not be in the people’s faces all day, every day. (He would rather be in their pocketbooks, anyway.)

      Those three reasons doomed him – the daily corona virus briefings, the failure to reach out to his natural policy supporters, and the awful impression he made during the first debate. And with all that, he still almost won.*

     Trump should count at least one blessing that arose from his post-presidential conduct. He should be grateful that he was banned from Twitter. What an execrable institution, a tool for fools to vent foolish thoughts. It is the means by which mean people express their meanness. I assume Twitter makes its money through advertising, so a good place to start a boycott would be against Twitter’s advertisers. It has been a primary contributor to the decline of intelligent and polite social discourse. It is a proximate cause of the boiling anger ruffling American society, exacerbating differences, celebrating polarization, and keeping everyone on edge. And its CEO never seems to shave or wear a necktie. Enough!

     It is a shame, mostly for America, but also for Israel and the free world, that a winnable election was tossed away. Perhaps Joe Biden will come around, once he figures out when and how to salute the Marines or stops (bizarrely) commenting on their appearance.

      Those are three reasons for the election outcome over which Trump had control but did not exercise it. There is a fourth that he could not control that deserves its own space.

The Farewell

     It was almost inevitable that a Trump-hating media became focused on the absence of any reference to Joe Biden in the President’s farewell address. Truth be told, I thought it strange as well, even a little churlish, and it sent me – the curious type – to do the research. I found that it is actually not uncommon at all for little or no reference to be made by an outgoing President to the incoming one. Indeed, Trump’s sole reference to his successor – he referred to the next President as the “new administration” – was arguably the most expansive and flowery of all his predecessors. He said: “This week, we inaugurate a new administration and pray for its success in keeping America safe and prosperous. We extend our best wishes, and we also want them to have luck — a very important word.”

     Let’s compare Trump’s salutations with those of prior presidents as they left office and bid farewell to the nation.

     As it turns out, Jimmy Carter in his White House farewell speech in 1981 made no mention at all of Ronald Reagan, calling him just  “President-elect,” and Carter, like Trump, served one term and had to hand over power to the opponent who defeated him. But Dwight Eisenhower, turning the reins over to a Democratic president in 1961, who had beaten Ike’s own Vice-President (also a dubious election), made no explicit reference to John F. Kennedy, just terming him “the new president.” He wished JFK “God speed.” Carter wished the nameless successor “success” in addition to Godspeed (“speed” here meaning “prosper”).

     By contrast, Harry Truman in 1953 mentioned Ike five times, each time calling him “General Eisenhower.” That, too, represented the transference of power to the other party, as happened as well in 1969. In Lyndon Johnson’s farewell, LBJ mentioned Richard Nixon thrice and was quite extravagant in his wishes. In the context of a State of the Union address delivered in Congress, LBJ said:

 “President-elect Nixon, in the days ahead, is going to need your understanding, just as I did. And he is entitled to have it. I hope every Member will remember that the burdens he will bear as our President, will be borne for all of us. Each of us should try not to increase these burdens for the sake of narrow personal or partisan advantage.” He didn’t wish Nixon well.

     Richard Nixon had a singular farewell address that preceded his resignation but Gerald Ford (in 1977) mentioned Jimmy Carter just once, and almost cavalierly, combining his congratulations to Congress, especially its new members, “as I did President-elect Carter.” That’s it.

      In 1989, Ronald Reagan, in a beautifully reflective speech about America, noted towards the end of it that “if we’re to finish the job, Reagan’s regiments will have to become the Bush brigades. Soon he’ll be the chief, and he’ll need you every bit as much as I did.” That’s it. No other reference, and that was the friendliest transfer in the last 90 years.

     Certainly, both the Bush presidents were known for their graciousness and Southern manners. Nevertheless, George H.W. Bush, delivering his farewell address at West Point in 1993, also mentioned Bill Clinton somewhat offhandedly, remarking that ,“ I am proud to pass on to my successor, President-elect Clinton, a military second to none.” The focus was on the military – not on the newcomer who had defeated him.

     Eight years later, in 2001, Bill Clinton, in 2001, after the hotly contested election of 2000, became the first (and to date only) president to actually use his successor’s full name, “wishing our very best to the next president, George W. Bush.” George W. Bush in 2009 stated that “I join all Americans in offering best wishes to President-elect Obama.” But in none of these cases was anything else addressed directly to their predecessors; their focus was on their administration and their aspirations for America.

      In 2017, Barack Obama omitted what had become the customary good or best “wishes” merely noting – to a crowd in Chicago that was jeering – that “I committed to President-elect Trump that my administration would ensure the smoothest possible transition, just as President Bush did for me.” That was it. It is a shame that Obama neglected to mention to the FBI his desire for a smooth transition.

     In any event, the standard farewell address includes expressions of gratitude for members of one’s own administration, staff and family, with an account of successes, and usually a reflection about where America is and should be going. Most presidents listed at least some of what they perceived as their accomplishments; LBJ went further, and urged Nixon to adopt some of his policies. Trump’s three blessings to the new but unnamed administration exceed those of all his predecessors.

     Of course, President Trump broke with tradition in a number of ways, not the best look all in all. He is shunning the inauguration, which is not that shocking given the hostility towards him on Capitol Hill. The presence of former presidents does signal the peaceful transition of power and the stability of American democracy. It also attests to the great skill of politicians who can sit and smile at people they despise even as their eyes shoot daggers. Whether Trump honorably refuses to play the political hypocrite or is just a sore loser probably depends on your politics.

     On the other hand, it would have been proper to call Joe Biden or invite him to the White House for a meeting, anytime in the last two weeks, if not two months. This is not for practical reasons – the bureaucracies are cooperating and Trump never had control over the FBI so Biden need not fear that – but for reasons of decorum and good taste. It need not have been televised but it is appropriate to signify somehow a peaceful change in administrations. Alas it was not to be. In a week or two, none of this will matter but since at least part of Trump’s immediate future rests in Biden’s hands, it would have been worthwhile to meet discreetly and exchange thoughts about the future. About the past, they will never agree.

     None of the presidents in their speeches went overboard on graciousness. That is surprising, until we realize the anguish they must feel in going instantaneously from being the center of attention and the most powerful man in the free world to being a historical sideshow. That is certainly not meant as a rationalization, as graciousness in public life should be a minimum expectation of our leaders. But the content of these orations make it clear that for one last brief and shining moment, they want the spotlight all to themselves.

     Interestingly, the amicability of the transitions appears to be unrelated to the verbiage used toward one’s successor in these farewell addresses. As Trump himself noted, he is the first non-politician (or ex-general) ever elected to the presidency. He came with none of the feigned sincerity, the practiced smiles or the phony geniality that good politicians project. That was his strength as well a weakness, among other strengths and weaknesses that the years to come will surely chronicle.

Calamity Control

By two metrics, President Trump’s defeat* in the last election was predictable and should have been anticipated.

First, no President who has been impeached (or nearly impeached) has ever won re-election. It is true that only two (Andrew Johnson and President Trump) were eligible for re-election, and only Trump ran; the other two (Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton) were already serving their second terms. But more to the point, in each instance of impeachment, the party of the impeached president lost the subsequent election. In other words, the Democrats took back the presidency in 1976, the Republicans in 2000, and the Democrats in 2020.

The only exception was 1868, in which the Republicans held the White House. But that election was an outlier, in any event, as was the impeachment. The main instigators of impeachment against the Republican Johnson (a former Democrat) were his fellow Republicans. Oddly, House Democrats overwhelmingly voted not to impeach, and all the Democrats in the Senate voted to acquit. It was one weird time. Even though Ulysses S. Grant was elected as a Republican, he was perceived as the antithesis to Johnson.

It emerges that in each instance of actual impeachment, including 1868, the impeaching party lost seats in the House in the subsequent election (2000, 2020), as if the voters were rebuking them for expending their energies on futile gestures. (Nixon resigned before impeachment and Republicans were clobbered in the 1974 midterms, just three months after he left office.) Yet, notwithstanding the political difficulties caused to the impeachment advocates, it has to date been a foolproof method of removing a president (or the subsequent nominee from his party) from office. Perhaps it so sours the political atmosphere that even an acquitted president is tainted by the experience. 

Is there a message in this for a potential 2023 Republican House majority? One would hope not, and it would be healthy for the republic if impeachment never occurred unless there was a reasonable chance of conviction in the Senate. But as long as impeachment is perceived as an effective political tool, regardless of acquittal, we should expect it whenever the political stars are aligned properly (i.e., a House and President of opposing parties).

Second, there is another metric, and this is extrapolated from the wonderful book by the esteemed presidential historian Tevi Troy, entitled “Shall We Wake the President? Two Centuries of Disaster Management from the Oval Office.” It is a history of presidential responses to the range of catastrophes (natural and man-made) that bedevil society and presidents constantly and usually unexpectedly. The upshot is that no president has ever been re-elected having weathered even one catastrophe during the election year or the year immediately preceding. And President Trump was forced to deal with three, none of his making. By the same token, presidents who are faced with calamities early in their terms (FDR-Pearl Harbor-1941, George W. Bush-Arab terror of 9/11-2001) are re-elected. Strange but true.

The calamities take the form of pandemics, terrorist attacks, weather catastrophes, economic collapses, blackouts, civil unrest (riots) and other such misfortunes.

Let’s look at the history of the last century. Woodrow Wilson not only failed to deal with the Spanish Flu, he actually never addressed the matter publicly (!), even though more than 600,000 Americans died (the equivalent today of 1,900,000 souls). His only private comment was his refusal to allow the pandemic to delay the transport of American troops to the European battlefield (even though soldiers were dying because of the pandemic), and his insistence that the war effort take precedence and the public not be informed about the crisis. Oddly, for this and other reasons, Wilson remains a progressive hero who greatly expanded the power of the presidency, except, obviously, as it could be used to limit the ravages of a pandemic.

Indeed, this book (published in 2016) is an amazingly prescient primer on how to deal with a pandemic, and the recommendations for the average citizen read like they were written six months ago. It makes for informative but eerie reading.

In any event, Wilson did little to stem the pandemic; his party lost in 1920. Although the stock market Crash occurred in the first year of Herbert Hoover’s term, not much had changed by 1932, and he lost his re-election bid. Although the Depression returned with a vengeance in 1937, that was the first year if FDR’s second term and he did not pay a political price for that in 1940.

This is not to suggest that every time the White House changes hands the culprit is a mismanaged crisis. It does imply that a mismanaged crisis will doom a president or his party’s chances in the next election if the crisis is close enough to the election.

Moving forward, LBJ and the Democrats were doomed by the mass riots that erupted in the summers of 1967 and 1968. An inability to control the streets (notwithstanding a president’s fairly limited resources in this regard without a request from local officials) is a sign of chaos and anarchy, and disheartens the good citizens. Jimmy Carter struggled through a recession, a hostage crisis and (during the primaries in 1980) a failed rescue attempt. Ronald Reagan’s recession occurred in the second year of his tenure, as did the Tylenol tampering scare. But Reagan handled both with aplomb and swept to victory in 1984. By contrast, George Bush suffered from a terrible recession in 1991 and 1992 (and broke his word and raised taxes) as well as the mismanaged Hurricane Andrew response in August 1992, and lost his bid for re-election.

Interestingly, Dr. Troy uses as an example of a potential catastrophe averted the Y2K panic in 1999. Bill Clinton prepared well, with committees, reports and actions, so when the calendar changed to 2000, nothing happened. The irony is that, for all the trepidation, no one knows if anything would have happened, but it is good to be prepared. His party lost in 2000 anyway (see impeachment, above) but I do not believe much can be learned from those historically rare but recently more common scenarios in which the presidential victor wins the Electoral College but loses the popular vote. That path to victory is so narrow that each such election is unique.

George W. Bush had to deal with the housing crash, and then economic collapse, in 2007 and 2008, and his party lost the White House in 2008. The outlier, here as in many areas, is Barack Obama, who won re-election despite a tepid economy and the ravages of Hurricane Sandy just a few weeks before Election Day in 2012. In our ultra-modern society, millions of homes (hey, including mine) lost power for well over a week in late October. He paid no price for it, perhaps because then Governor Christie lavished praise on Obama when the latter paid a short visit to the devastated south Jersey area. It would seem that when the president is let off the hook (maybe because the state needs federal dollars) he escapes electoral judgment in the voting booth.

That brings us to the current election. President Trump was not only impeached, but he also had to deal in 2020 with a pandemic, a concomitant economic collapse, and widespread race rioting that lasted months that wreaked havoc on American cities, all of which engendered the sense that the country is anarchic, ungovernable and uncontrollable. It is unthinkable that he could be re-elected with that litany of catastrophe hovering over the electorate. And even with all that, the election results were, shall we say, disputable, worthy of a Roger Maris-like asterisk. (I will re-evaluate this in 30 years, like Major League Baseball did for Maris.)

One other point that emerges from this fascinating and quite readable study is that when disaster strikes, the president will always receive conflicting recommendations from a variety of aides and Cabinet secretaries as to the best course to take. (This is underscored in GWB’s “Decision Points Theater in his presidential library’s where the observer is confronted with the four major crises of the Bush Administration and the range and divergent recommendations he received for each one. The observer is invited to then choose one – and behold the results. Hindsight is 2020.)  When these contradictory and momentous opinions are proffered, the president must have the mental acuity to weigh each one and its consequences, as well as consider the impact of any particular choice on living human beings and on foreign policy.

It is highly pressurized, requires quick analytical and decision-making skills and in almost every case, does not (and cannot) follow a preordained or drafted script. And these decisions cannot be delegated to others, as different agencies will have different priorities and approaches. One would hope the president would possess that type of intellectual perspicacity.

And the reality is that a president can make a wise and rational decision – and the results are still calamitous. There are guidelines but no playbook that can account for every situation.

You wouldn’t wish this job on anyone – and yet so many seem to want it. That being said, let us wish the incoming president health and wisdom to make virtuous and just decisions.