Can dawn break again?

This July Fourth will likely be a bleak one

Source: SweetwaterNow

As July 4 approaches, I feel myself in mourning. I grieve for my country and worry for the nation that my children and grandchildren are inheriting.

Unless something dramatic intervenes, we face a difficult choice in the fall presidential election. We elect a man who is decent, moral and right on his policies, but whose diminished capabilities will only decline further. Or we pick a man who has said he’d be a dictator (perhaps for more than just a day), whose personal morality is that of “an alley cat” (as his opponent memorably said), and who promises to sow chaos in government, domestic civil society and foreign affairs.

This is a Hobson’s choice, of course. The second route surely leads to disaster. But the first, the road we should take, spawns uncertainty, fear and doubt. Could we count on President Biden’s aides, colleagues and advisers to make sure he manages the reins of power well? Certainly, we could expect the seemingly more vigorous Trump to clutch and pull at such reins to monstrous effect, doing even more damage than such moves as packing the Supreme Court and lower courts has already done.

Yes, Biden’s deterioration is on full display these days. Without a teleprompter, he is at sea, a worrisome thing in a man who will need to deal with grave threats from abroad and mystifying polarization at home. It’s no wonder he’s lost the support even of longtime friends and loyalists.

Source: Getty Images, via New York Magazine

But Trump needs no electronic aids to showcase his bigotry, divisiveness, self-interest and ignorance. He need only to deliver his erratic and rambling speeches, ones in which he claims that “Catholics are being persecuted,” that people will be arrested if they say they “answer to God in heaven,” that terrorists “in record numbers” are coming over our borders, that Social Security and Medicare are “being destroyed,” that his conviction by a jury on 34 felony counts was a politically motivated “show trial,” that the 2020 election was “rigged.”

Trump’s claptrap, dishonesty and demagoguery are extraordinary. Out of sheer opportunism, this longtime huckster paints a dystopian picture that seems to sell. Never mind that unemployment continues to be at record lows, that government spending has led to improved roads, bridge and transportation systems around the country, that inflation is subsiding. Never mind that the reason the border continues to be a problem is that Trump, desperate for an issue to run on, deep-sixed a plan backed by conservative legislators that would have fixed it.

And what would the man do if he ousts Biden? As The New York Times reported, he would step up the trade war that already is riling global relations, imposing stiff tariffs that will drive up prices on broad ranges of goods for Americans. He would set up WWII-style detention camps to hold rounded-up migrants for mass deportations, try to end birthright citizenship, use the Justice Department to persecute his enemies, strip employment protections from tens of thousands of civil servants, purge intelligence agencies and other bodies of people whose work he dislikes, and he would cut taxes for wealthy friends, driving up the national debt anew.

Source: AP, via NPR

And all that is just for starters. Trump would also further pack the Supreme Court and the judiciary with untalented ideologues who could wreak damage that no successor could undo. In foreign policy, he would greenlight Vladimir Putin’s expansive ambitions and embrace and embolden dictators in other places, such as Hungary and, perhaps, North Korea. He also might try to overturn a constitutional amendment so he could seek a third term to impose even more chaos.

I mourn the passing of the party of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, men with whom one might disagree but who were patriots committed to doing right by the country, not desperately seeking to salve damaged egos and shield themselves from prosecutions. I miss such aides as trade advocate Clayton K. Yeutter, whose actions enriched both the U.S. and much of the rest of the world. In his place, we have convicts such as Steve Bannon, Peter Navarro and Roger Stone, as well as extremists such as Stephen Miller.

We, of course, also have a long list of former Trump lieutenants who now disavow the man, including his own former vice president, who has declined to endorse him. Trump’s ex-chief of staff, former Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly, said his ex-boss is “a person who admires autocrats and murderous dictators” and “has nothing but contempt for our democratic institutions, our Constitution, and the rule of law.” Think Jan. 6, if you doubt the last point.

Indeed, Trump is a man who memorably mocked former POW and GOP presidential contender John McCain, saying “I like people who weren’t captured.” He ducked military service by faking a bone spur and more recently called fallen soldiers “suckers” and “losers,” as noted by Kelly.

As the nation’s first felon-in-chief, Trump would surround himself with toadies determined to march in lockstep with him, no matter the legal impropriety. They include potential vice presidential candidate Marco Rubio, who once called Trump a “con artist” but who now endorses him, and Sen. Ted Cruz, who once labeled Trump “utterly amoral” but now backs him.

And while Biden’s acuity is likely to decrease, Trump’s mental challenges have long been on sorry display and appear to have worsened. As his rambles have suggested, he seems deeply unwell. A Biden operating on fewer cylinders surely would be less of a danger than a rampaging Trump.

Source: New York Times

So, I grieve for my country. The only thing that gives me heart is that it’s possible American voters will make the right choice. Indeed, perhaps Biden will make it easier by stepping aside, clearing the way for a more vigorous person with similar sensibilities and sanity (though all indications so far are to the contrary). It’s possible that my fellow citizens will repudiate the corrupt and ideologically blind GOP of the Boeberts and Greenes. It’s possible that they will see through the party’s leading conman’s games.

But it’s hard at this point to be optimistic. Will the disaffected, gullible and ill-informed among our voters have their day? Will those rule who are taken in by slick TV-friendly imagery, who don’t school themselves beyond that? Will a minority of the nation again choose a would-be-tyrant thanks to a flawed Electoral College system? Recall that Trump won with just 46% of the vote in 2016.

If one can invoke Revolutionary War history, there were times when the cause seemed lost back then. Generals stumbled, turncoats betrayed their leaders, soldiers deserted. Yet, somehow the patriots prevailed. Can that happen again? Can dawn break after this darkening stretch? For now, it seems a long way off.

Time’s a wastin’

Can a successor to Joe Biden emerge in time, if at all?

Source: AFP, via Fox News

In February 1968, CBS anchor Walter Cronkite editorialized on the air against the Vietnam war. After watching the broadcast, President Lyndon B. Johnson supposedly said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.” And then, a month later, LBJ announced that he wouldn’t seek reelection.

Well, it seems LBJ did not in fact utter those words – which have been repeated in various forms over the years – and he never even saw that Cronkite program. Or so a revisit to the myth by journalism academic W. Joseph Campbell found. Johnson at the time was in Austin, Texas, celebrating the birthday of his longtime friend, Gov. John Connally, Campbell recounted.

“The Cronkite program was neither decisive nor pivotal to his thinking on Vietnam,” Campbell maintained. He suggested that the media exaggerated their role in affecting a president’s thinking.

I’m reminded of this now, after many journalism outlets and pundits have called on President Joe Biden to throw in the towel on the election after his disappointing debate performance. They want him to yield the Democratic nomination to someone – anyone – who could put on a better show.

The key question: will the media angst make a difference to the president?

“The president appeared on Thursday night as the shadow of a great public servant,” The New York Times editorialized. “He struggled to explain what he would accomplish in a second term. He struggled to respond to Mr. Trump’s provocations. He struggled to hold Mr. Trump accountable for his lies, his failures and his chilling plans. More than once, he struggled to make it to the end of a sentence.”

Thomas Friedman, source: The Jerusalem Post

Echoing that, Times columnist and reported Biden-whisperer Thomas Friedman called on those closest to the president to persuade him to quit the race. “The Biden family and political team must gather quickly and have the hardest of conversations with the president, a conversation of love and clarity and resolve,” Friedman wrote. “To give America the greatest shot possible of deterring the Trump threat in November, the president has to come forward and declare that he will not be running for re-election and is releasing all of his delegates for the Democratic National Convention.”

More predictably – and nastily – The Wall Street Journal said the president looked like “a feeble man” with no business running. “Mr. Biden lost the debate in the first 10 minutes as he failed to speak clearly, did so in a weak voice, and sometimes couldn’t complete a coherent sentence,” the paper said. “His blank stare when Donald Trump was speaking suggested a man who is struggling to recall what he has been prepped for weeks to say, but who no longer has the memory to do it.”

Chiding those who encouraged or tolerated the president’s choice to run again, the WSJ accused such supporters of failing to heed warning signs of the president’s deterioration. “It was clearly a selfish act for him to seek a second term,” the editorial said.  “But did they really think they could hide his decline from the public for an entire election campaign?”

Labeling Biden’s debate performance an “unmitigated disaster,” WSJ columnist Peggy Noonan argued that Democrats must “admit what the rest of the country can see and has long seen, that Mr. Biden can’t do the job. They have to stop being the victim of his vanity and poor judgment, and of his family’s need, and get themselves a new nominee.”

For my part, I give the president high marks on substance – indeed, despite his shortcomings, his mastery of many of the details he recounted was impressive. Regrettably, however, he seemed at times like a man desperate to recall and regurgitate those details — like someone grasping for lost memories. Certainly, he lost on style, with too many slips and too much confusion. And, as we learned way back in the Kennedy-Nixon debates, style and appearance make all the difference.

But can a man who fought so hard and long to attain the prize Biden did now give it up? Does Biden have enough self-awareness to pack it in?

It’s possible that some of the media outpouring will unsettle Biden enough to help him do so, but we are in uncharted territory here. History offers little guidance.

Despite the Cronkite myth, the media’s desertion of LBJ, it seems now, had little influence on his prosecution of the Vietnam war; it dragged on through President Nixon’s term years later. Moreover, it’s likely that LBJ’s decision to quit the election race was less influenced by the media than by impressive threats from challengers Sen. Eugene McCarthy and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.

For his part, Biden in the spring had a sole credible challenger. But that man, Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips, racked up pallid results that persuaded him to drop out and endorse the president in early March. Before getting into the race, Phillips had called for a “moderate governor” to challenge Biden, who he said could not defeat Trump.

Now, if the media and pundits are correct, Democrats may have to scramble to a) persuade Biden to quit and b) find a credible challenger to Trump. Both seem like herculean tasks, complicated by the short time frame left.

It’s not that there would be a shortage of pretenders. Indeed, it seems likely that a free-for-all would precede the party’s convention, slated for Aug. 19-22 in Chicago. The names being vaunted include Vice President Kamala Harris, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Gov. Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania, Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois and Gov. Andy Beshear of Kentucky. Other potential candidates include Pete Buttigieg, the secretary of transportation, and Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Cory Booker of New Jersey.

Gretchen Whitmer, source: National Review

“If Democrats can somehow work through all of this, someone like Gretchen Whitmer would be a much tougher opponent for Trump on paper,” National Review editor Rich Lowry argued. “She’s a young, relatively popular governor in the key swing state of Michigan. She wouldn’t have to answer directly for any of Biden’s failures and has a history of presenting herself in campaigns as a non-ideological Democrat. ‘Fix the damn roads’ was her slogan when she first ran for governor.”

Would there be enough time for Whitmer or any of the others to mount a successful effort to knock Trump aside? Would they fracture the party in a desperate battle royal, carving one another up while Trump bides his time, taking potshots at whoever seems the most likely to emerge?

If Biden can be persuaded to step aside, it’s possible that the ambitious folks who could succeed him would do one healthy thing: they would deprive Trump of the media oxygen he so desperately depends on. Their fight, should it materialize, would dominate the headlines, superseding such things as his veep choice.

But the Dems would need to choose wisely. Not only would they need a person of substance, but that person must be able to skewer Trump while avoiding descending to his level. As many observers – even those at the Wall Street Journal – reported, Trump’s debate performance was filled with misstatements that he routinely echoes on the campaign trail. Highlighting them would just be the beginning for a credible Trump challenger (while Trumpists may not care about facts, reasonable voters might).

Making the case for taking Biden’s mantle would require passion, thought and vitality. It’s not impossible for those potential candidates to bring such qualities to bear, but it’s a tall order and time’s a wastin.’ At the moment, that job seems like a far easier task, though, than would be needed for Biden to recover from his debate disaster. Going forward, every appearance now by the diminished president would likely just deepen the hole he’s in.

Higher Ed aims lower these days

Have the pols lost sight of the value of education in Nebraska?

Source: University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Back in 2009, when I joined the journalism faculty at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, all arrows were pointing upward for the university. Enrollments were growing, buildings were rising, and graduates were going on to healthy careers in newswriting and other things. The state legislature and good citizens of the state realized that education was important, and they funded it, accordingly.

Even the Huskers won far more than they lost. The state’s football team racked up a 10-4 season that year, leading the Big 12 Northern Division and ranking 14th best in the national AP poll.

My, how things have changed.

Overall enrollment at the flagship Lincoln campus has slipped from 24,100 back then to 23,600 now. Journalism is on the run, with graduates finding fewer opportunities in newspapers and other news operations. And the legislature and governor, engaged in ideological warfare with educators, seem to have forgotten that education both matters and costs.

As for the Huskers, the team seems emblematic of the university’s decline. After several pricey coach and athletic director departures, Big Red eked out a 5-7 season last year, a middling result in the Big 10 West (albeit better than the 4-8 record of the prior year). The university appears to be scrambling to avoid being kicked out of the Big 10, a lingering fear because UNL is the only conference member that doesn’t belong to the 71-member Assoc. of American Universities (the university was tossed by the AAU in 2011 over research funding issues and is trying to rejoin it).

Ameer Abdullah rushes in 2012; Source: Aaron Babcock

But now the ideologues who’ve seized most of the levers of power in the state are busy chipping away at the university’s hopes and ambitions. As a former student of mine, Zach Wendling, reported for the Nebraska Examiner, the regents just approved a $1.1 billion state-aided budget for fiscal year 2025 that will require campus leaders to scrape away another $11.8 million from their budgets in the next year, after they cut about $30 million in the past two fiscal years

While that one-year 1% cut seems like a pittance, it will bite. The earlier cuts did so, with some of the most visible trims being reduced library hours and fewer graduate teaching assistants and student workers. Plans were made last fall for deep cuts in the diversity, equity and inclusion office, undergrad ed and student success programming and non-specific operational efficiency improvements.

I’m reminded of a dark joke an economist colleague at BusinessWeek once told me. “If you cut the feed of a fine thoroughbred racehorse just a little bit each month or so to save money, what do you wind up with?” The answer: “a dead horse.”

In the case of UNL, it more likely will be a hobbled one, but one that limps along, nonetheless. The new round of cuts will involve an elaborate consultation approach with faculty and administrators, so it’s not clear now where they will come from. “As we begin this work, we will utilize shared governance processes to move forward in an engaged and thoughtful way,” Chancellor Rodney D. Bennett said in a message from his office.

But cutting majors and departments with little enrollment has been vaunted as one possible approach, along with eliminating staff jobs. That has been a popular tack at several schools, including the University of North Carolina Greensboro. The University of New Hampshire, as it trims 75 staff jobs, is shutting it art museum. And closer to home, at the University of Nebraska’s Kearney campus, bachelor’s degrees in areas such as geography, recreation management and theater are slated for elimination.

At UNL, just how much university-wide consultation versus administrative fiat will be involved will be difficult to say. When the chancellor last fall proposed a 46% cut from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and Office of Academic Success and Intercultural Services – some $800,000 – he triggered passionate objections from a good number of faculty and others. But he was pleasing the regents who had hired him last year.

Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education

The university’s DEI efforts – like similar programs around the country – have been hot-button matters for many on the right. Indeed, the chair of the regents opposed the budget in the June 20 5-2 vote, arguing that no diversity, equity or inclusion initiatives or programs should be funded.

“We need to recruit and have folks — diversity — here, but we shouldn’t be using tax dollars to fund and promote certain races or genders above others,” said regent chair Rob Schafer. “It ought to be a fair and level and equal playing field for all.”

Asked whether he’s seen the promotion of one race or gender at NU campuses – i.e., evidence of a problem — Schafer offered a, well, incomprehensible reply. “Just the fact that we have funding and we’re promoting different things, I think there’s some things that we could just do better,” journalist Wendling reported.

Source: Rob Schafer

While enrollments continue to be under pressure, in part because the numbers of teens in the state have been stuck at between 129,000 and 142,000 for the last dozen years, the regents seem to be operating at cross-purposes by making the school more costly. They voted to hike tuition between 3.2% and 3.4% across the system’s several campuses, on top of a 3.5% across-the-board hike they okayed last year.

Despite that, Chancellor Bennett pointed to enrollment growth this past spring. Going forward, though, it’s not clear how making something more costly will draw more customers. Perhaps the regents and administrators haven’t consulted the folks in the economics department.

The tuition hikes drew the other no vote on the budget from Kathy Wilmot, who won her elected post as regent in 2022 in part by attacking “liberal leaning” courses at the university and venting about “indoctrination” at UNL. Now, as she bemoans the planned tuition hikes, she doesn’t seem to be urging more funding from the legislature to make those hikes unnecessary.

“To me, the families have already chipped in because they’re paying the taxes and things that we turn to the Legislature and everybody for,” Wilmot said, according to Wendling. “Then, when we ask those students from those families to chip in again, I feel that’s somewhat of a double hit.”

Back in the late 1960s, when the university was forming its four-campus system and the legislature generously funded the effort, a rising Republican star with a lot of influence in the state named Clayton Yeutter argued passionately for education. The schooling he got at Nebraska – including an undergrad degree, a Ph.D and a law school degree – led him from a small family farm to high levels in Washington, D.C. in the late 1980s and early 1990s, including serving as Secretary of Agriculture, U.S. Trade Representative and head of the Republican National Committee. Trained in economics, the late Yeutter understood that quality costs.

Somehow, in these polarized times, the overwhelmingly Republican leaders in Nebraska have lost sight of that. Yeutter, whose statue graces the campus, would likely be disgusted by their approaches now.

Livin’ the Disney Dream

A cruise offers a few lessons

The Disney Dream, source: Disney

Some 52 years ago, I made a silly mistake. Seeing myself as very much a counterculture creature at that time, I looked on high school proms as just so unhip. The formal clothes, corsages, etc., were just not my jam, as we might say now. They seemed so, well, Establishment and the cool kids were anything but that. So, I skipped my prom.

Now, I have a different view. Such anti-Establishment notions, it seems to me today, were essentially snobbish, ways of looking down one’s nose at others who were just not “aware” enough (today we might say “woke”). I didn’t disdain friends who rushed off to rent formal clothes, and get dates, photographs and limos arranged, but I thought the scene just wasn’t for me. Somehow, I was above or at least apart from all that.

Of course, I would have liked the motel rooms that groups of the guys booked at the Jersey Shore for them and their well-coiffed newly adult (i.e., about 18 years old) girlfriends. But that would have been for other reasons.

I’m put in mind of all this because I just got back from what surely has to be one of the most Establishment things one can do — a cruise on the Disney Dream. For a week, my wife and I, our son and daughter-in-law and three grandkids steamed about the Mediterranean. We stopped off at a few Greek islands and we spent a good bit of time on board a very large ship, one that holds 4,000 souls and a host of cartoon characters.

Disney Royalty

This was, in some ways, very prom-like. Girls and women on such trips dress up as princesses, men and boys as pirates or princes – and those are not just the employees, but the cruisers. Meanwhile, Disney employees parade about, decked out as Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck and a host of others in the Mouse House universe, strutting and posing for photos to the delight of kids and their parents, alike.

All the while, music from uplifting Disney movies plays in the background on nearly all 13 decks on that ship. Some tunes are reprised during evening shows when cast members in Broadway-style productions caper about on a stage suited to any New York legitimate theater. Think “Beauty and the Beast” in a venue that rocks and sways slightly. The production values are impressive.

One of several elegant family dining spots

And then there’s the food. It’s unlimited at breakfast and lunch and is exceptionally varied. In the evenings, dinner rotates among several lavishly appointed restaurants. We skipped the adults only restaurants, though they were there for those wanting to get away from the kids for a while. For such times — or anytime — there were, nursery and kid’s club programs (that kids, like the 3-year-old with us, really, really want to go to).

A couple wading pools and an adults only pool (complete with wade-up bar) round out the offerings. And above it all, folks can fly through a tube on fast-rushing water, the AquaDuck water coaster. Remarkable fun. There’s also a track for burning off the many calories one consumes, along with a workout room and spa.

I’m no Disney cultist of the sort found at times in the parks and on the ships – people who count their visits on many more than two Mickey hands. But our weeklong adventure, to and from a port near Rome with stops in Naples/Pompeii, Mykonos, Santorini, and Chania on Crete, was extraordinary. Yes, it was the ultimate conventional tourist thing to do, but it was wonderful.

Reality, of course, is all too ugly at times in ways that make Cruella De Vil and evil stepmothers seem far too tame. But with Disney one can be immersed in a fantasy world that can be surprisingly engaging when seen through the eyes of the 6-and-under set, like our grandkids. Piracy in the real world is monstrous, but on the boat it’s all makeup and “aarghing.”

Moreover, the real-life elements that make Disney ride high among entertainment and hospitality companies are exceptional. From a business point of view, the company knows its markets, knows what its public wants, and it serves that up to a fare-thee-well.

On board the Disney Dream, the details knock your socks off (or those yellow Mickey shoes, perhaps). Portraits of characters around the ship move and talk when one stands before them. Waiters know what the kids eat each night. The level of cleanliness in the halls and staterooms (post-cleaning) is the definition of shipshape.

And the staff — the “cast members” — bring their A-game each day.  From stateroom “hosts” who make the beds to ship mechanics, people greet guests warmly on sight. Each night, the ship’s officer group –- clad in Navy-like dress whites – gather for events to chat amiably with guests.

Source: Disney

As I dealt with the multilingual and ethnically varied crew and staff, as well as with fellow guests, I was reminded of a bright, bold contrast, one involving the blinkered view of the world that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis brought to his silly fight with Disney. Recall that DeSantis in 2022 signed the Parental Rights in Education Act. As NPR reported, the “Don’t Say Gay” law restricts how sexual orientation and gender identity are discussed in the schools. Disney’s former CEO Bob Chapek spoke out against the law and said he’d work to overturn it. “That angered DeSantis, who then worked with Republican lawmakers to pass a measure revoking Disney’s self-governing status,” NPR said.

DeSantis, of course, also derided the “wokeism” that he argued plagued Disney. The company famously reaches out to customers and staff of varied backgrounds and orientations, and the governor lambasted that approach as he tried to appeal to a very different constituency – the straight, white anti-LGBTQ and anti-immigrant crew that dominates the MAGA GOP.

On the ship, the variety of people that Disney serves and employs is apparent. The cruises draw passengers of all sorts, including straight white folks. Its crew includes people from all across the world, some of whom (such as our dinner servers) are supporting families back in India and elsewhere with their earnings from several-month stints on board ship.

Disney both employs and serves the broadest of markets. Its “wokeism” and its aggressive embrace of diversity may have offended DeSantis (or perhaps he was just being opportunistic about that). But the company’s decisions to appeal to a rainbow-like array of constituencies in films, music and other vehicles (including ships) are simply smart business moves. Disney CEO Bob Iger, who succeeded Chapek, may or may not share a welcoming ideology, but he knows what his customers and staffers want. He knows those whom he serves.

DeSantis’s political moves, by contrast, seemed aimed at a very narrow slice of the electorate, one that surely will diminish in time. MAGA bigotry and narrow-mindedness won’t disappear, of course, but demographics suggest it will appeal to fewer and fewer Americans over time.

So Disney is remarkably conservative – consider those carefully coiffed princesses and happy tales of good prevailing over evil – but also progressive. It is prom-like but with a modern spin, perhaps something akin to the group dates that many high schoolers now indulge in, rather than conventional couples nights out.

Curiously, today’s wokeism is really just an updated version of the counterculturalism of my high school years in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In that sense, a Disney cruise or visits to the parks can be pretty hip things to do.

I later regretted missing my prom, but I’ve made up for it with visits to Disney parks in Florida and outside Paris with grandkids, along with that cruise. Smitten with the Dream, my wife and I are making arrangements for another such big boat ride next year, this one with more grandkids.

I still can’t quite bring myself to wear those Disney ears, as some adults on the cruise did. But, if one of the grandkids insists, I won’t fight too hard.

The sins of the son

The multiple tragedies of the family Biden

Hunter and Joe Biden, source: AP

One of the first rules of questionable PR is to change the subject when your client is feeling heat. Get people talking about something – anything – other than, say, his conviction as a felon. Put something or someone else under the Klieg lights.

Defenders of Donald J. Trump, the convict, are doing this to a fare-thee-well with the plight of President Biden’s son, Hunter. Hunter’s trial on three felony gun charges, all based on his lying on an application for a gun license in 2018 and on his drug addiction, began today with jury selection. The court action is expected to last two to three weeks.

Trump’s trial took five weeks. It led, of course, to guilty findings on 34 counts related to false bookkeeping for covering up hush-money payments to a porn star in 2016. It was about burying troubling information during an election.

So, now, the media – particularly right-wing media – are having a field day with Hunter. They are busily making comparisons between Trump’s sordid disgrace and the young Biden’s drug-addled misbehavior.

Fox News analyst Jonathan Turley, for instance, noted that the jury pool in Wilmington, Del., the Biden family’s home turf, is likely to be friendlier than the Manhattan jurors were to Trump. “This is the hometown of the Bidens, and they may be hoping for a type of jury nullification,” Turley opined. “This is the opposite of Manhattan. This is a great jury pool for the defendant.”

Never mind that the pool included a former Delaware police officer who said he believed that the FBI prosecutes over politics and who mentioned the Steele Dossier (a much-attacked report in the Trump-Russia probe) and the trial against former President Donald Trump in New York, as Fox reported. The potential juror – who would seem likely to be tossed — said he once supported a candidate who challenged Beau Biden, Hunter’s deceased brother, in the race for attorney general.

Once the jury pool was winnowed down and the dozen members were selected, Fox also reported that the panel includes three black women and three white women, four black men and two white men. Just why their race and gender were relevant was not clear — but, hey, you gotta report something, right?

Calling the federal litigation an “historic trial,” Fox also referred to defendant Biden, 54, as “the first son,” a derivation of first lady. In three simple words, the phrase does two things that a spinmeister might like: it ties Biden to his presidential dad even as it misleads, since Hunter’s brother, Beau, was older and died in 2015.

The late Beau Biden and wife, Hallie, right

Not to be outdone, the New York Sun suggested that President Biden’s visit to his daughter-in-law Hallie’s home eight days before his son’s trial began “could raise the possibility of accusations of witness tampering.” One might note the exceptional array of fudge words there: “could,” “possibility” and “accusations,” all of which raise the question of whether such speculation is good journalism.

For its part, the more fair-minded Newsweek took note of a comment by a White House spokesman that Biden’s visit to Hallie was about the then-impending ninth anniversary of Beau Biden’s death; the president wasn’t there to talk about the trial, the spokesman said. The piece also helpfully recounted a laundry list of rightist fulminations on X, including this over-the-top one by former Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass: “Biden crime family boss uses presidential muscle to pressure witness: Joe Biden visits Hallie Biden days before she testifies in Hunter’s gun trial,” Kass wrote on X.

Hallie had been Beau’s wife, but she took up with the then-divorced Hunter years after Beau’s death. As recounted by The Washington Post, Hallie found the gun that Hunter improperly bought in her home after he had spent the night. She bagged it and tossed it in the trash some miles away. After the two split, Hunter married anew in 2019. The New York Post’s Page Six site helpfully reported that Hallie was wedding anew, too.

The Sun also gushed about how this is “the first trial in American history in which the child of a sitting president has been prosecuted.” It further tied the younger Biden to his dad – and mom – with the headline “First Lady Makes Surprise Appearance” at the trial’s opening. We seem to be in for breathless gavel-to-gavel coverage in some venues at least, troublingly like the sort given to a much-sullied former president.

Of course, some of this is legitimately newsworthy, though it’s not clear why the support of a mother for her son is surprising. There also seemed to be little in the conservative-media coverage about Hunter’s graduation from Georgetown University and the Yale Law School and his work in business, law and government. It will be up to his lawyers to sketch out Biden’s not-inconsequential resume for the jury.

For his part, President Biden issued a statement saying he has “boundless love” for his son, “confidence in him and respect for his strength.” He added: “I am the President, but I am also a Dad … Jill and I love our son, and we are so proud of the man he is today.” He said he would have no further comment on the case.

The mainstream media gave the younger Biden’s missteps a great deal of attention, too. As it did with Trump’s trial, the New York Times offered a stream of updates on the case, including one taking note that First Lady Jill Biden was “wearing a purple blazer and scribbling on a white legal” in the courtroom. The Washington Post similarly offered such updates but, so far at least, attire has not been part of its coverage. One wonders if such fashion details may yet come, as hard-pressed reporters cast about for information to share.

This live-update process mirrored the approach journalists took to the Trump trial. If it continues, that process itself amplifies the false equivalence that Trump enthusiasts are making between the two bits of litigation.

Source: Thinking is Power

Personally, I was touched by this false equivalence in a family feed. When I posted a link to my Substack piece about Trump’s conviction that asked “Is decency returning to our politics?,” that sister responded: “I guess we’ll find out next week after Hunter Biden’s case.”

Of course, Hunter is not a candidate for president or a former president. Moreover, Hunter’s issues have nothing to do with the election, other than that they are arising as his father is running again. Trump’s, of course, had a great deal to do with his last election and his early days as president. Indeed, it’s notable how Biden has not tried to pull strings in the case (something Trump, no doubt, would do for Ivanka, if needed). But such subtleties apparently elude Trump enthusiasts.

One has to wonder, moreover, whether this case would have even gone this far if it didn’t involve a president’s son. “Hunter Biden has argued that he was only charged because of his last name,” legal podcaster and Justice Department veteran Sarah Isgur noted in a guest essay in The New York Times. “And he has a point — there are far more gun crimes committed than can be handled by federal prosecutors.”

Colt Cobra .38, the type of weapon Biden bought, source: AthlonOutdoors

Rather than shining a reflected light on President Biden, perhaps this case should raise questions about why it’s so easy for a drug addict to obtain a gun. If we had tighter gun laws, perhaps, none of this would have occurred. Pols, are you listening?

Isgur argued that Biden should seek a plea deal, even though it might be tougher than one he almost had last summer. She noted that the DOJ rarely loses its cases, so jury nullification may be what Biden hopes for. To that end, one might expect that sorrowful events in his life – dating back to the 1972 car accident that killed his mother and sister and left him, at 3, with a fractured skull, as well as his descent into addiction that saw him booted from the U.S. Navy Reserve in 2014 – will be shared with the jury.

For a full account of Hunter Biden’s woes, The Washington Post did a creditable job. One piece, “For Hunter Biden, a dramatic day with his brother’s widow led to charges,” offered a tick-tock on how the cocaine-addicted and grieving Biden fell into a series of mistakes that led to the litigation. Another, by fact-checker Glenn Kessler, ably sketched out the man’s descents and dealings.

Together, those pieces – as well as others in respectable places — should disabuse conspiracy-theorizing Trumpists of some of their more bizarre claims about Biden le père, and Biden le fils. Will they, though?

As the trial proceeds, one can expect the false equivalences to continue, apparently in hopes that Americans will look on all politics as corrupt and be inured to that. The GOP and Trumpists will sling as much mud as possible on the president, hoping it will take eyes off Trump’s thick coating of slime. The question for the thinking American public is: should the sins of the son be visited upon the father?