With Charlie Harper
Hurricane Ida brought gloom, cloudy weather and occasional monsoon rain to the American Northeast yesterday. The dismal weather created a fitting backdrop for a generally discouraging outlook for Democrats and liberals.
A sober Republican from Ohio may have summed it up best. Rarely given to hyperbole, he spoke to listeners in a calm voice.
“So it looks like we’re soon going to have a Republican President, a Republican Senate and a Republican House of Representatives.”
Wait a minute! Didn’t the Democrats just win back the White House ten months ago and hold on to both houses of Congress? What about the miracle run-off election in Georgia in January that swept out two GOP Senators in a traditionally red state and introduced the two Democrats who gave their party a slim but working majority?
Didn’t a former President clearly incite an unprecedented and shocking riot at the nation’s capital building that was recorded on live television and thousands of cell phones and surveillance cameras? Who else but out of control Republican radicals and right-wing nuts could be held accountable for this outrage?
Has America lost its mind? Maybe.
For his audience, one word in the visitor’s remarks stood out. He said “Republican” President. He did not say “Donald Trump will return as President.”
Trump has not vanished from public life. He retains his amazing ability to be newsworthy and to make news. But his impact has undeniably been severely diminished by his banishment from big American social media platforms. He also continues to face potential legal problems that could at least theoretically land him in prison or bankruptcy court.
The speaker’s implicit point is that Trumpism can and is apparently surviving Trump himself. Perhaps the best evidence of this is the durable popularity of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
Even casual observers can make the connection between DeSantis’ obdurate resistance to mask mandates and other precautions designed to protect the public health on one hand and the recent spike in COVID cases in his state on the other hand. But the Governor is still polling better than his likely Democratic opponents as he seeks reelection next November.
Analysts point out that DeSantis’ behaviour, outrageous as it is to his many national and local critics, is very unlikely to turn off his support from right-wing zealots and activists who control the GOP base in Florida and many other states.
The issue for them is not so much the public health. It is an allegiance to the concept of personal choice and freedom from the distant, disdainful control of a federal government determined to impose its will across the sprawling US.
Furthermore, previous COVID patterns in the US point to a flattening soon and then a decline in Florida case numbers. If this happens and the Sunshine State’s commerce recovers, many observers feel DeSantis’ bet on resistance to President Biden and the federal government will actually strengthen his support.
Is DeSantis already the heir to Trump’s legacy? Nothing is certain so early in the upcoming election campaigns. But the key point is the Florida Governor seems to be holding his strength in the face of conditions likely to be as unfavourable as he will confront for a while.
Liberal pessimists are fretting about other signs that look bad for the near term. Republican success in confirming hundreds of conservative judges across the federal judiciary under Trump and Mitch McConnell is being felt in judicial decisions or non-decisions recently rendered on such hot-button issues as voter restrictions and abortion rights.
The situation in America is obviously in flux and likely to remain unsettled for months to come, so many trends that seem established today may be distant memories by the end of this year.
But there seems little doubt that President Joe Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other “mainstream” Democratic leaders have much work ahead if they want to continue to retain their current power in the face of such determined opposition.
The outcry over Afghanistan will likely abate soon. Biden and Company need to make sure they get ahead of whatever narratives come next.
Seismic moves in European soccer
In the Northern Hemisphere, the late, “dog” days of August aren’t ordinarily very significant in the world of sports. Baseball is typically in the doldrums. Pro football is staging exhibition games where starters often never play. Basketball and hockey are asleep. Big soccer leagues are just getting started. College football hasn’t begun yet.
Many people in Europe and North America are on vacation or preoccupied with getting kids ready for school. In our special part of the world, there is a growing, dreadful preoccupation with the weather, beyond the heat and rising humidity. Louisiana’s – and our own – hurricane calamities in recent years are unwelcome and unwanted reminders of nature’s August and September fury.
Last month, however, was remarkably different from the usual in the world’s most popular sport and in its biggest, richest leagues.
Soccer fans, and its most established figures and players have been repeatedly rocked by developments unimaginable just a few months ago.
To start with, how about world soccer’s two most celebrated and accomplished players both changing teams within weeks of each other?
First, Lionel Messi, whom historians will regard as the greatest soccer player ever to come from Argentina (also home to Diego Maradona), moved, against his and his team’s will, from Spanish powerhouse Barcelona to French titan Paris St. Germain.
The move, openly and profoundly regretted by both player and team, was forced upon Barcelona by its COVID-ravaged financial situation. But Barca will still be Barca, and they’ll still remain one of world soccer’s powers.
Then, just this past week, the prodigiously talented and accomplished Portuguese striker, Cristiano Ronaldo, returned to English giants Manchester United after several years of championships and goals at Juventus, Italy’s supreme club team of recent times.
Ronaldo returns to United after 12 years away. The Red Devils finished second last season in the world’s-best English Premier club League. Signing Ronaldo has fortified this legendary team even further for a title run this year.
While Ronaldo has also scored prodigiously for Sporting Lisbon and Real Madrid in his illustrious 20-year professional career, his transfer was not as shocking as that of Messi, who had been with Barcelona for 17 years and had professed his desire to stay with them for his career.
Paris St. Germain, Messi’s new French club, like Man U, is loading up for more European competition glory. Messi joins the world’s best front line with astonishingly fleet Frenchman Kylian Mbappe and Brazilian wonderkid Neymar to terrify opposing defenses. But PSG is only one among several other clubs who have been adding to already strong teams.
In England, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham – which retained star Harry Kane after much transfer speculation -- are all notably reinforced and improved. Bayern Munich will again be formidable in the Bundesliga. Several top Spanish and Italian teams have high hopes for 2021-22.
In the Premier League, schedule-makers have rewarded early season fans returning to pack stadiums as (hopefully) COVID restrictions continue to recede. The best match of the season so far was played Saturday at Anfield in Liverpool, where the Reds hosted Chelsea.
The Blues were bolstered at the front by their new striker, Romelu Lukaku, a Belgian one-time Chelsea prodigy who
has matured and developed over the past ten years at West Bromwich Albion, Everton and Manchester United in England and Inter Milan in Italy. Lukaku rejoins the defending European and Super Cup champions as they seek to reclaim the Premier League title.
Liverpool, meanwhile, has methodically extended the contracts for virtually all its defensive and midfield stalwarts, setting up the Reds for success in years to come.
Both teams arrived undefeated on Saturday at Anfield, and the match was as good as advertised. After Chelsea’s Kai Havertz headed in the first score early on, Blues winger Reese James was controversially red-carded for a handball in the penalty area just before halftime. Egyptian Mohamed Salah scored the penalty kick and Liverpool looked forward to an entire second half facing only ten Chelsea players.
But the Blues’ defence held firm and the game ended 1-1. The “beautiful game” was on full display and augurs well for all the excitement and despair still to come for fans around the world – public health conditions permitting.