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Politics updates: Biden introduces Cardona as choice for Education secretary – USA TODAY

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Matthew Brown

Ledyard King

Bart Jansen
 
| USA TODAY

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AP Top Stories December 23 A

Here’s the latest for Wednesday December 23rd: Trump suggests he might not sign COVID relief bill; Trump pardons 15 people; Surgeon General observes vaccine rollout in Chicago; California Gov. names Senate replacement for Kamala Harris.

AP

This week, USA TODAY Politics focuses on the run-up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration and the effort in Congress to get through a fresh round of COVID-19 economic relief.

Dates to watch:

Jan. 6: Congress will count and certify the electoral results in a joint session. 

Jan. 20: Inauguration of Biden, who will take the oath of office.

Be sure to refresh this page often to get the latest information on the transition.

President-elect Joe Biden introduced Wednesday his nominee to lead the Education Department, Miguel Cardona, as someone trusted with the experience to reopen schools safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Biden said he will ask Congress to provide funding for more testing, safety equipment such as ventilation, and funding for teachers as part of his goal to reopen most schools within his first 100 days in office.

Biden said Cardona, the Connecticut education commissioner, assured that every student could engage in remote learning through steps such as providing 140,000 laptops. Cardona later secured funding for masks, Plexiglas and testing to reopen schools safely, Biden said. 

“That’s the vision, resolve and initiative that are all going to help us contain this pandemic and reopen the schools safely,” Biden said.

Cardona, whose grandparents moved from Puerto Rico, was born in public housing and grew up to attend public schools, teach in them and become an administrator in his local district. 

“That is the power of America,” Cardona said. “I, being bilingual and bicultural, am as American as apple pie and rice and beans. For me, education was the great equalizer.”

Biden nominees: Biden to nominate Miguel Cardona, proponent of reopening schools

Cardona warned of challenges ahead, including difficult opportunities for people of color or with lower incomes. But he said while education is sometimes known as a flor pálida, or wilted rose, the country has no higher duty than to build better paths through education for the next generation.

“We must be the master gardeners who cultivate it,” Cardona said.

— Bart Jansen

Pelosi calls for Christmas Eve vote to raise COVID stimulus payments to $2,000

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is pushing for a Christmas Eve vote on a proposal raising the amount of direct payments included in the just-passed COVID stimulus bill from $600 to $2,000 putting pressure on Republicans to follow President Donald Trump’s demand that Congress increase the amount.

In a letter to fellow House Democrats Wednesday morning, Pelosi, D-Calif., said the House will try to pass an amendment to the bill under a procedure known as “Unanimous Consent” during its pro forma session when most members are out of town. But such a move requires the agreement of GOP House Leader Kevin McCarthy under House rules and the California Republican hasn’t indicated what he’ll do yet.

“If the President truly wants to join us in $2,000 payments, he should call upon Leader McCarthy to agree to our Unanimous Consent request,” she wrote in her “dear colleague” letter.

There was no immediate response from McCarthy’s office. If it passes the House, it would be sent to the Republican-led Senate for approval.

Pelosi and other Democrats had been pushing for the $2,000 payments but Republicans led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had shot the idea down during negotiations. The $600 amount per individual (or $2,400 for a family of four) that Congress finally settled on had been proposed by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

But only a day after Congress overwhelmingly passed the $900 billion relief bill, Trump called the deal a “disgrace” in a tweeted video and urged congressional leaders to make changes to the bill, including increasing direct payments for Americans.

Progressive Democratic Reps. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., already have drafted language for a proposal to raise the amount.

“Me and @AOC have the amendment ready,” Tlaib tweeted with a photo of the provision’s language. “Send the bill back, and we will put in the $2,000 we’ve been fighting for that your party has been blocking.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer also voiced approval for raising the value of direct stimulus payments to Americans, noting “We spent months trying to secure $2,000 checks but Republicans blocked it. Trump needs to sign the bill to help people and keep the government open and we’re glad to pass more aid Americans need.”

— Ledyard King

HHS Secretary Azar: COVID-19 vaccine ‘for every American who wants it by June 2021’

A nearly $2 billion deal announced Wednesday between the U.S. government and Pfizer and BioNTech will supply the U.S. with an additional 100 million doses of their COVID-19 vaccine.

Pfizer already has a contract to supply the government with 100 million doses of the vaccine by summer 2021. The government also has the option to acquire up to an additional 400 million doses.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement that the latest deal can give people confidence “that we will have enough supply to vaccinate every American who wants it by June 2021.”

Operation Warp Speed is on track to have about 40 million doses of vaccine by the end of this month, of which about 20 million would be allocated for first vaccinations. Distribution of those doses would span into the first week of January.

— Associated Press

Bye, Barr: Last day of tumultuous tenure as attorney general

Attorney General William Barr departs the Justice Department Wednesday after a tenure serving as one of Trump’s most aggressive defenders before breaking with the president’s increasingly desperate efforts to overturn the November election.

“Over the past two years, the dedicated men and women of this Department…have risen to meet historic challenges and upheld our vital mission to enforce the rule of law,” the attorney general said in a statement. “I have been continually inspired by your professionalism and outstanding work. As I did almost 30 years ago, I leave this Office with deep respect for you, and I will always be grateful for your devoted service to the Nation we love.”

Barr, serving his second stint as attorney general, emerged as a steadfast advocate for Trump even in the face of the damning findings outlined in the Russia investigation, while intervening in the prosecutions of the president allies.

Yet in a vivid display of Trump’s brand of transactional relationships, the president earlier this year turned on his attorney general when Barr indicated that a much-anticipated review of the Russia inquiry would not be completed until after the election. Trump had hoped the review would boost his campaign.

The attorney general’s most dramatic break with the president came this month when he said the Justice Department had found no evidence of widespread voter fraud that would change the outcome of the vote.

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2020 election: Barr sees ‘no basis’ to investigate alleged voter fraud

Outgoing Attorney General William Barr says that he won’t appoint a special counsel to look into President Trump’s claims of election fraud.

Staff Video, USA TODAY

Barr’s comment in an interview with the Associated Press represented an especially public retreat from Trump’s repeated and unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud and the campaign to overturn the president’s election loss to President-elect Joe Biden.

As Trump weighed dismissing the attorney general, Barr submitted his resignation that takes effect Wednesday.

Before leaving, however, Barr poked the president again, saying Monday that there was no reason to appoint special counsels to take over an ongoing tax investigation involving Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, or to pursue unfounded claims of election fraud. Trump has privately pushed for both appointments.

At the same time, Barr said Russia was to blame for the massive cyberattack that has penetrated at least a half-dozen federal agencies, even as Trump has pointed the finger at China and sought to downplay the seriousness of the breach.

As Barr exits, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen fills the post as acting attorney general.

— Kevin Johnson

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Boston Consulting CEO on the ties between business and politics – Marketplace

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Between certifying the presidential election results and the Capitol insurrection, businesses have been increasingly speaking out about the state of American politics. Many companies, including Marriott and JPMorgan Chase, paused their political donations to Republicans after the events of Jan. 6. Shortly before that, many business leaders signed a letter urging Congress to accept the Electoral College results.

Rich Lesser, the CEO of Boston Consulting Group, was among the signatories of that letter. “Marketplace” host Kai Ryssdal spoke with the man who runs one of the nation’s premier management-consulting firms about how business leaders are thinking about their current role in politics. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Kai Ryssdal: I was gonna start with how the relationship between businesses and American politics have changed in the last four years. But I think what I’m going to do is I’m going to ask you how they’ve changed in the last four weeks.

Rich Lesser: Well, we’re still on a journey to find that out. But I believe what we’re going to see is that there’s actually an agenda that overlaps between what business wants to do on many fronts and what the new administration has said that they want to try to achieve. But how we do it will, of course, be a substantial conversation in the months and years ahead. And then there are areas, particularly the area of tax and regulation, that could be somewhat contentious. And again, we’ll see how it plays out. But I think there’s certainly an openness to try to find common ground and move things forward from the business world looking at the new administration.

Rich Lesser, CEO of Boston Consulting Group.

Ryssdal: I wonder though, Mr. Lesser, if there’s a wariness, given business’ experience with the Trump administration, which is, we should be clear, sometimes you were in, sometimes you were out, sometimes you were targeted by the president, and sometimes you were his best friend.

Lesser: I think the expectation is, the behaviors across the two administrations are likely to be quite different. And the things that made it feel risky with the last administration won’t be the same challenges of this one. It’s not saying there won’t be challenges this time, they’ll just be different ones.

Ryssdal: You are, obviously, the guy running a big consulting firm. So your job is to talk to other businesses, other CEOs. You’re on the board of directors at the Business Roundtable, which is, by definition, putting you in contact with other CEOs and business leaders. What kind of conversations are y’all having right now about the last number of months and weeks in this economy?

Lesser: Well, I think the last couple months, the single biggest conversation has been about the election and the risks to American democracy, and what’s the appropriate role of business to, on the one hand, not try to be interfering ourselves in elections, and on the other hand, to make it clear that we stand behind democracy and free and fair elections? And of course, anytime you change administrations, and certainly when it changes parties, then, you know, how to, how are things likely to evolve? What’s the right ways to contribute? And then I guess maybe at the top of the list, I probably should have started there, how do we get beyond this pandemic, which is an ongoing conversation. That’s top of the list in many situations.

Ryssdal: We should say here that a number of years ago, you served, in fact, on President Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum. Any regrets?

Lesser: Mostly not. I mean, it’s always a learning experience. I think it was for everyone. But I think about the issues. I served on it because we were told, and it was true, that we would have a chance to speak about things we cared about. And the four things that I spoke about, in my brief tenure on that, were not having a Muslim ban, having a strong trade agreement with Mexico and Canada, not blowing that up, supporting paid family leave and staying in the Paris climate accord. I look back years later, and I’d say I believe in all of those issues. And now most of them have happened, some on the last, in the last administration, some in this one. I think when you have a chance to contribute directly to leadership, you should do that. At some point, it was clear it wasn’t having the effect. And there was all sorts of other things that we were potentially being associated with, and it was time to withdraw, which the business community did. But I think you have to try with a new administration to advocate for things you think are important.

Ryssdal: I should tell you, Mr. Lesser, we called a bunch of CEOs who were on the president’s various councils and panels, and you were the guy who volunteered to come on and take questions on the radio. And I wonder what you make of that.

Lesser: I think business leaders are all struggling with how prominent to be at a time of such division. And I really have a lot of empathy for that. And at the same time, I think we have to speak clearly on the one hand, to support a range of views. And on the other hand, to speak in favor of our democracy and how we come together after such a difficult time. And I realize that it’s challenging to know what the boundary lines are, and to say it exactly right and not risk angering some, but I think it’s the right thing to try to speak to that.

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Proud of vaccine success, Warp Speed's ex-science head talks politics, presidents, and future pandemics – Science Magazine

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Moncef Slaoui last spring spoke at a White House ceremony that announced his appointment as scientific head of Operation Warp Speed.

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Sciences COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center and the Heising-Simons Foundation.

When President Joe Biden took office last week, his administration swiftly announced it would be renaming Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s crash program to develop COVID-19 vaccines. The decision puzzled immunologist Moncef Slaoui, scientific head of Warp Speed, but he attributes it to a word he says with disdain: politics. 

Slaoui recently resigned from his post, but has agreed to help the Biden transition team into February. In a lengthy chat with Science from his home in Pennsylvania last week, he reflected on his time with Operation Warp Speed, discussing challenging interactions with former President Donald Trump and how to be better prepared for a future pandemic. Never a Trump supporter—he’s a Democrat—Slaoui had reluctantly taken the Warp Speed job because, as the former head of vaccines at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), he thought he could help solve one of the world’s most urgent problems.

But long before COVID-19 surfaced, Slaoui had become frustrated that the vaccine industry had such a haphazard, ad hoc response to emerging infectious diseases. About 6 years ago at GSK, he began working with the company to create a nonprofit division they called a Biopreparedness Organization (BPO) that would exist solely to make vaccines to prevent pandemics. In 2016, after recent outbreaks of Ebola and Zika had made headlines, he explained why the project was sorely needed. “Unfortunately, one of these days, one of these agents is going to be global and very lethal. It’s going to be catastrophic,” he said on a TV show. “So we have to have a longer term commitment and solution that governments and a long-term institution should drive and fund.”

The company ended up buying a defunct drug manufacturing plant in Rockville, Maryland, but it wanted financial help to launch the BPO. The U.S. government, which has sunk more than $11 billion into Warp Speed vaccine R&D, wasn’t interested. GSK helped form the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations in 2017, a nonprofit that would fund vaccine development, but it, too, ultimately didn’t want to bankroll the BPO, and the idea died. The plant is now called GSK’s Slaoui Center for Vaccines Research.

During his undergraduate years at the Free University of Brussels, Slaoui was a militant in a secret organization that wanted to spark a revolution in Morocco, his native country. “What I realized at the very end as I got in trouble with the regime was that, at least as far as I’m concerned, I want to participate in changing the world.”

Deeply proud of what he and the Warp Speed team accomplished, Slaoui is chagrined that Biden has called the vaccine rollout a “dismal failure.” He shares the dismay that there have been significant problems administering the vaccine doses Warp Speed has sent to the states—the troubles make him “sad” and “reflective” about what else he could have done. But he says most of the troubles stem from overwhelmed local public health systems, issues outside of Warp Speed’s purview. “Hundreds of people worked 20-hour days for the last 8 months,” he says. “I cannot wait to actually celebrate with all the people that worked together, someplace where we have a great dinner and we just take time to say, ‘great job, everyone.’”

Earlier today, Slaoui received his first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, from Moderna, on whose board he once sat. “I feel a joy I am sure every person that has been vaccinated has felt—a form of liberation,” Slaoui told Science immediately afterward. The interview below  has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Q: We met 4 years ago to talk about your vision for a pandemic preparedness vaccine manufacturing plant. It didn’t get off the ground. Would it have made a difference?

A: Absolutely. The whole concept—after we went through the flu pandemic, the Ebola outbreak, the Zika outbreak—was to say, “Listen, the problem is always the same, which is there are no manufacturing facilities sitting there idle, waiting to be used. Even if we had one, we would have trouble because we would have to stop manufacturing other vaccines, which are essential for saving people’s life.” So we thought, “Why don’t we take a dedicated facility and have them work on discovering vaccines against known potential outbreak agents, one after the other?” They would become incredibly skilled and trained at going fast, discovering vaccines. The company was prepared to make available the facility and ask just for the cost of running it. Unfortunately, it didn’t fly. [For the COVID-19 vaccines,] the biggest challenge we’ve had to work on the hardest has been manufacturing.

Q: So you think you would have been better prepared if the BPO was up and running?

A: Yes. I have already started discussing this with my successor with the new administration, David Kessler [Biden’s chief science officer for COVID-19 response]. This pandemic is costing $23 billion a day to the U.S. economy, every single day. Investing $300 million to $500 million a year into such a facility is peanuts and would save countless lives.

Q: There must be some “I told you so.”

A: It’s never my philosophy to say, “I told you so.” I think it’s a negative, it’s not helpful. For me, it’s more, OK, we learned more. Let’s set ourselves an ambitious objective and try to now make this happen, capitalizing on everything we’ve learned. Clearly, we can develop vaccines within 8, 9 months against an unknown pathogen. That’s just amazing.

Moncef Slaoui receives his first dose of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine.

Moncef Slaoui

Q: What did you think of Donald Trump?

A: I completely disagree with the values that he projects, as a person, in terms of respect, in terms of capacity to listen, accepting diversity. Many of the policy decisions that ended up politicizing this pandemic were wrong, particularly around wearing the mask. But at the same time, I do think that Warp Speed was absolutely visionary to put together science, government, the military, and the private sector and just give us full empowerment. It was the right thing to do.

My preference is even after the fact, not to politicize this. I worked so hard to stay out of any politics, because I was convinced it would derail it. Even now I think it could derail it when I see the headlines. It just kind of makes me sad.

Q: What headlines are you referring to?

A: That there’s absolutely no plan for the vaccines. I saw that today on CNN. How can you have discovered two vaccines, developed them all the way to approval, manufacture, and distribute with 99.9% precision 14 million doses to 14,000 sites and it’s labeled as there is no plan? We had to do everything from scratch. The biggest lesson for politicians in public health is: Never politicize. Just let people do the work, and if there are things that are wrong, let’s fix them versus make a whole story out of that because it freaks out people.

Q: Trump had a concern about a deep state, the worry that people in the government were working against him. Did he ever confront you and say, “You’re a Democrat, you didn’t vote for me, are you working behind my back?” Did he ever get in your face?

A: Absolutely not. He never told me, “Why can’t you make it happen sooner?” He asked me, “Can it happen sooner?” And I should say also, frankly, that Jared Kushner, with whom I had a lot of interactions, was absolutely straight, no interference, very rational, and very balanced.

Q: Trump made an assertion that Pfizer delayed announcing its efficacy data until after the 3 November 2020 presidential election to hurt him. What was your reaction when you heard him say that?

A: He asked me. And I said, “No, this is not how it works.” There is a data safety monitoring board and they’re independent. These companies have processes, they have tens of thousands of people in them. They can’t do this. It would be the end of the company if they did that, and I’ve been on the board of a big pharma company and an executive in a big pharma company. I know how it works. The CEO will be fired in a second. I have frankly big respect for [Pfizer CEO] Albert Bourla for just having said it’s going to be this day and then it was that day and that’s what it is.

Q: Where were you when you learned the Pfizer data?

A: Albert Bourla emailed and then called me. I was in my hotel place in Washington, D.C., which is very close to the White House. I was expecting high efficacy, but it was an unbelievable joy. It may have been 5 a.m., and I remember telling myself, “I’m not going to scream.” When I think about this now, it gets emotional. I just realized, “Oh my God, we’re going to control this pandemic.”

Q: One of the problems you had from the very beginning was allegations of your own conflicts of interest and you were very upset by Senator Elizabeth Warren’s (D–MA) attack on you and all the media accounts. What do you think of the way you were criticized? [Slaoui was on Moderna’s board, which received substantial Warp Speed support, and also retained GSK stock, though offered to donate to research any increase in value it had turning his tenure.]

A: I was proactive and decided to resign from the Moderna board and agreed I would sell my shares to make sure there is no conflict whatsoever. I don’t complain about that, but if you look at the share price at the time I sold and the share price now, I left an enormous amount of money on the table.

Q: How much approximately would you have made had you not taken this job?

A: Maybe between 8 [million] and 12 million. But honestly, I’m not calculating, that’s not what I stand for, believe it or not. I’ve dedicated all my professional life to make sure I help and support global health by being inside a big company and driving its policies. I was shocked by people saying, “You’re corrupt, you’re doing this for the money,” by making an assertion that because you’re a pharmaceutical executive, you have to be a person with no values and no principles. That crossed a line. Even now I’ll ask, Elizabeth Warren, which vaccine did you take as a senator? The Pfizer vaccine maybe or the Moderna vaccine? Aren’t you happy you had the vaccine? Did I make a penny? Was I helpful?

Q: Warp Speed has been heavily criticized for not getting vaccines into more arms. What do you think about that? [To date, 41 million doses have been distributed to states and about half have been administered.]

A: There has been a huge misunderstanding. Between May [2020] and now, we’ve moved five vaccines into phase III trials, two have been authorized, two are completing phase III—and one of those could be approved imminently. One other vaccine is in phase IIb. By all standards, this is absolutely exceptional.

Moncef Slaoui (left) and Gen. Gustave Perna, co-leaders of Operation Warp Speed, hold a vial of COVID-19 vaccine on the day they both get vaccinated.

Moncef Slaoui

Our mission in its second piece, with my co-leader Gen. [Gustave] Perna, was to distribute the vaccines, take them from point A to the point of immunization. That’s how we designed it and worked it out with all the jurisdictions in the country. We went to the departments of health of various states, we explained that we’re going to ship vaccine on a weekly basis as they are produced and quality controlled. We will proportionately give doses to each jurisdiction based on the population so that it’s fair.

Indeed, the immunization definitely is not working appropriately. And as long as that is not working appropriately, we’re failing. Overall, we’re failing, because the objective is to immunize.

Q: The Trump administration from the beginning of the pandemic response said, “We’ll help, but this is up to the states and local jurisdictions.” The Biden administration comes in and says, “No, the federal government can coordinate this.”

A: Frankly I’ve been caught in the middle of that. But if I am [a state or local official] who is deciding how many doses I need, I should at least say, “Hey guys, I don’t have the resources to immunize.” We have never been told that.

Q: But the Trump administration told us there would be 300 million doses by January. We were not told in a transparent fashion how many doses are coming week by week—there’s no dashboard that everyone can see. So there’s confusion about how many doses really are available.

A: What’s really important is to truly understand how we can solve the problem. I have always said, “Listen, if there is a problem, please come and help us with a specific proposal and let’s pull up our sleeves together and work it out.” I did vaccines for a long time. Manufacturing is very difficult and very complex.

Q: In addition to what the companies are producing, would you have the government build another manufacturing plant?

A: Yes. My proposal would be for the government to have a license to these technologies for pandemic agents exclusively, not for commercial use.

Q: The Trump administration has been criticized for not being helpful to the Biden administration during the transition. Was it bumpier than you had hoped it would be?

A: I had interactions with David Kessler during the summer. I spoke to him regularly. Once the election happened, it was absolute silence—it was against the law for us, as federal employees or contractors, to talk to nonfederal people. I was surprised that nothing happened. We had no contact, no meeting, no nothing. And then somewhere in the second half of December [2020], we had a first meeting with Jeff Zients [coordinator of Biden’s pandemic response] and David Kessler and others, where we just introduced each other and discussed what was involved.

Q: Do you think that Trump’s failure to concede made it more difficult to transition the information to the next team?

A: For sure. It was at least very, very unfortunate, to use a polite word.

Q: When will you leave?

A: I am very supportive of the new administration. I don’t want to turn my back and leave. They proposed that we could have a notice period of 30 days after I resign, and that gives us time to cover the transition. So I did that on that on 12 January, and my last day will be 12 February.

I’ve since had many very good discussions with David Kessler over the phone that last more than an hour each to share everything I know. I’m totally committed to help 100%.

I’m surprised we got an email yesterday saying, “As of tomorrow, you cannot use the name Operation Warp Speed any more.” I asked myself, why? What’s the added value? This is probably why I’m not a politician. It just escapes rationality and understanding. Because in a way, everybody that works under Operation Warp Speed feels like, “What did we do wrong?”

I’m not married to that name. I don’t care. Honestly, I feel so fortunate and happy to have served and hey, that’s all that counts. I would redo it in the blink of an eye. But next pandemic virus, please, do not come during an election year.

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There are no heroes in politics – The Gazette

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The inauguration of our 46th president last week didn’t feel like just a government function.

It was a mix between a Hollywood movie, a church service and an awkward family Zoom call. President Joe Biden was the superhero, the savior and the patriarch.

That fits into a larger phenomenon of Americans deifying our political leaders, and it seems to be getting worse. You can buy a wide variety of prayer candles depicting elected officials as literal saints.

Former President Donald Trump’s movement demonstrates the point best of all. Right-wing social media is filled with images and animations idolizing Trump — hanging out with George Washington or Jesus, sometimes with a halo; flanked by bald eagles and ripping off his shirt to expose big, sweaty pecs; committing violence against mock journalists in a professional wrestling match. People fly flags, get tattoos and paint their tractors and party barges to honor the one-term, twice-impeached president.

Political movements have long resembled pop culture spectacles, and U.S. government ceremonies have always had a weird air of religiosity. I thought this year might be different, what with everything we’ve been through.

Americans learned some hard lessons in the last four years. About the perils of presidential authority, especially when it’s cheered on by utterly submissive allies in the legislature and electorate. About the necessity of a skeptical and adversarial press. About the power of protest and citizen vigilance. Now that we have a shiny new president, will we forget all that?

As part of the inauguration festivities, three former presidents filmed a segment delivering their seemingly candid reflections on the transfer of power. The bipartisan trio featured Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

It was just three chums, could have been your uncles, standing around and having a chat. Except those chums presided over deadly foreign policy disasters, a devastating drug war, mass incarceration and millions of deportations.

We can acknowledge that some presidents are better than others, and that Trump was uniquely bad in some important ways. But we can also admit that the office as currently situated is inherently brutal. Presidents are not our friends.

The problem with political heroes is that they lull us into complacency, or worse, complicity. I know because it happened to me.

I came up in politics as a follower of Ron Paul, the libertarian-Republican former congressman and three-time presidential candidate. My friends and I exchanged books, wore campaign T-shirts and spent weekend nights watching YouTube compilations of Paul’s speeches from the House floor and the campaign trail. “Ron Paul Republican” was an easy shorthand to describe our political views.

When you bind your political identity to another person, you become willfully ignorant of their defects.

Confronted with evidence of Paul’s connections to racists and corruption in his 2012 campaign, I ignored it or tried to explain it away. Until I couldn’t anymore. I swore off political heroes, although it’s an urge I still have to check.

It’s a very normal inclination to try to parse the world into good and evil. Just as sure as we invent heroes in our minds, we also conjure villains. It’s tempting to think of political figures from opposing movements as irredeemables who can do no good.

That instinct, too, is hazardous. If we start with the premise that a politician is fundamentally evil, it’s easy to dismiss all their ideas and demonize their supporters without due consideration.

The job of a citizen in a representative government is not to hold out for perfect politicians, nor to root out all the wrong-thinkers. Either would be impossible. Instead, our task is to create the conditions where politicians have incentives to do good. Make it uncomfortable to do the wrong thing, and easy to do the right thing, no matter what team they’re on.

It’s hard work. It’s not as sexy or instantly gratifying as falling in with the cheering masses. But it’s the only way our republic works.

If it’s a hero you want, choose a dead person or a fictional character. They can’t kill you, put you in jail or deport your neighbor.

adam.sullivan@thegazette.com; (319) 339-3156

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