dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog

Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

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How Trump Ends His Show

December 19th, 2020 by dk

Will President Donald Trump try to fire thousands of civil servants before he leaves the White House on Jan. 20, 2021? The answer is yes. I’m confident that this is his plan, not because I have secret sources or deep political insight. Instead, I’m drawing on my limited experience as a screenwriter.

Trump found his calling when he became executive producer for a reality TV show. He has run his administration the same way he ran his “Apprentice” franchise. He chose cabinet members and key advisors based on their TV appearances, bragging about those who came “straight out of central casting.”

Trump monitors the ratings constantly. He types incendiary tweets whenever the news cycle is taking an unfavorable turn, reclaiming his control of the story. He has used rallies as ersatz focus groups, testing new material. The show stars him, but includes all of us. The script is carefully crafted, even though it’s played out in daily headlines.

The show is now reaching its conclusion. And nothing satisfies an audience more than a symmetrical story arc. Endings only exist to resolve conflicts that appeared at the beginning.

Don’t worry. I won’t ask  you to go back to William Shakespeare or Christopher Marlowe. I ask only that you remember how this drama began four years ago.

On January 4, 2017, Republicans took complete control of the federal government for the first time in a decade. Their literal first act was to reinstate an 1876 procedural rule (abandoned in 1983) that allows lawmakers to cut the annual salary of individual federal workers to $1. The so-called Holman Rule gave members of Congress the ability to amend appropriations bills, targeting specific government employees or programs.

News outlets reacted quickly. How might incoming president Donald Trump use the Holman Rule? Will he “drain the swamp?” Cripple “the deep state?” Policy wonks trembled, expecting that Trump and the Republicans would dismantle the machinery that makes government work.

Fortunately for civil servants across the government, President Trump entered the White House and immediately became distracted with other things. Republicans attempted to use the Holman Rule only twice, and without success. When Democrats regained control of the House in 2019, they rescinded the Holman Rule again.

Any dramaturg will tell you that the most direct way to have something accomplished on stage is never the most interesting. Republicans lost access to the Holman Rule midway through this administration, but not the desire it was designed to fulfill.

As this production wraps up its final season, the story-crafters found a new way to accomplish the old goal. In place of the Holman Rule, the White House issued an executive order, creating a new employee category within the civil service. Schedule F employees in policy roles across the government would be stripped of job protections.

The executive order was signed on Oct. 21, two weeks before the presidential election. Federal agencies were given 90 days to reclassify its positions and employees. That deadline is Jan. 19, 2021, one day before the presidential inauguration.

This looks like a scripted climax to me. Just watch.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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Quickie Impeachment Benefits All

December 18th, 2020 by dk

Electors have voted and certification is complete. The beginning of the Biden-Harris era is in place. Now the nation’s leaders should settle the ending of the Trump-Pence era. Nothing would tidy things up better than a quickie impeachment and conviction. Everyone would benefit — Biden, Trump, Republicans, and the American people.

With Biden’s inauguration only a month away, you might not think an impeachment is necessary or even possible. No impeachment has happened this quickly before. The same was said for a Supreme Court appointment coming just weeks before a presidential election. This Congress can act fast when it’s in their best interest. This is.

The case to be made against President Trump must be simple and straightforward. It must be completed before Jan. 20, 2021. Fortunately House prosecutors needn’t choose between the many high crimes this president may have committed. The quicker case is his blatant misdemeanors of the past six weeks.

An early draft of the U.S. Constitution provided that the president could be impeached for “treason or bribery or maladministration.” George Mason and James Madison proposed substituting “other high crimes and misdemeanors” instead of “maladministration.” The framers’ intent and meaning is clear for Republican originalists to study.

Misdemeanor, in this context, was understood to mean a failure of duty — not showing up for the job.

Since Election Day, Trump has made no pretense of running the federal government. He has been publicly devoted to overturning election results, live-tweeting his favorite news shows, sulking and playing golf.

The nation cannot afford to have a president — even a lame duck one — indulging in this misbehavior — this misdemeanor. Congress must make sure it never happens again. The House can make haste to show the need and the relevance of this quickie impeachment. Then it goes to the Senate. Why would 67 Senators vote to convict? Here is where it gets interesting.

Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution includes these consequences of an impeachment conviction: “removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States.” Senators could permanently disqualify Trump from holding federal office again, clearing the path to 2024.

It’s been said that every U.S. Senator sees a future president in the mirror. How many Republican leaders would rather not have Trump dominate the next presidential election cycle? Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would benefit most from a sidelined Trump. He would instantly become the GOP’s undisputed leader.

Trump himself could benefit from his own impeachment conviction. Legal scholars don’t all agree, but President Pence probably could pardon his former boss for any federal offenses not addressed by the impeachment. His reasoning would be identical to Gerald Ford pardoning Nixon.

How could this be good for incoming president Joe Biden and the American people? We turn the page. It cauterizes the wound. Mercy may not seem in order, but it is. We can forgive ourselves for giving the nation’s highest office to a petulant man-child. A quickie impeachment, conviction and pardon would allow us to forgive — and not forget.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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Modern Conveniences are Killing Us

December 18th, 2020 by dk

After decades of study, scientists in Washington state believe they know what’s been killing Coho salmon. It’s us. Chemicals embedded in manufactured rubber are killing salmon quickly, but they may also be hurting our children slowly.

Coho salmon attract researchers because they are harbingers. They provide early indicators of general environmental conditions. Like the proverbial canary in a coal mine, salmon feel deleterious effects from toxicity before others. They give us an early warning signal.

Those early signals can be delayed by complexities. In this current discovery, it wasn’t even one of the thousands of elements present that harmed the fish. It was a new element produced when two other elements interacted.

An antioxidant used in tire rubber, 6PPD, reacts with ozone to form 6PPD-quinone. Salmon ingest the resultant chemical via microplastics produced by abrasion — where the rubber meets the road. The same chemical  is used in bicycle tires and latex paint, so we’re all contributing to the demise.

Thousands of chemicals are used to manufacture modern tires. Many are never revealed to scientists, regulators, or the public. They are protected as “trade secrets.” We cannot assess what dangers they present until (in this case) scientists used liquid chromatography mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance to analyze each individual compound present. (Don’t try this at home.)

Harbingers don’t ask that you be concerned about them. They are telling us to watch out for ourselves, and we’re not doing that. Automobile tires cannot be composted or burned, so we’ve gotten creative recycling them. This may be making things worse.

Used tire rubber is put through a cracker mill, producing crumb rubber — tiny pellets of rubber, still carrying those thousands of unknown chemicals. Crumb rubber is then used to manufacture artificial turf and playground surface cover.

A 2015 report by Yale scientists analyzed 14 different samples used for school athletic fields and playgrounds.  They detected 96 chemicals, most of which have never been carefully studied.

The National Center for Health Research has identified lead, phthalates, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds, and other chemicals that harm human health. Ingesting these chemicals is not advised. Unfortunately, they can get into a child’s bloodstream in other ways.

The steam from a playground surface on a sunny day can be inhaled. Any scrape or skin burn invites exposure. Simply rolling on the surface can allow seepage into the skin’s pores.

Phthalates are banned from children’s toys because they may cause obesity, early puberty, attention problems, and cancer. The Consumer Product Safety Commission advises parents that children “should avoid mouth contact with the surfacing materials, avoid eating and drinking on them, limit play on hot days and wash hands and toys.” (In other words, when it comes to getting exercise, please do try this at home.)

Our children should learn a new playground taunt. “I’m synthetically manufactured rubber and you’re glue. Whatever you say bounces off me, and reaches you through dermal contact, ingestion, or inhalation, conveying polyaromatic hydrocarbons, phthalates, and benzothiazole. So there!”

Whose useful life do we want to extend? Our children, our salmon, or our tires?


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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Gap Year for All

December 17th, 2020 by dk

The studies are piling up. Too many students are not succeeding with remote learning. To make matters worse, it’s the already disadvantaged who are losing the most ground. 

It’s too late to fix the systems we rely on to prepare our children for society. Instead, we should declare this a universal “gap year” and promise every student an additional year of public education.

If we don’t do something like this, teachers for the next decade will need to know how their students handled the Coronavirus Coda. To paint with a broad brush, students from stable households will be effectively one year ahead of students who didn’t have the same advantages.

Wouldn’t it be better to simply acknowledge the disparity and give everyone a chance to catch up? I can imagine giving children and families five options.

Those who were in Third Grade when the pandemic began last spring will be placed into Fourth Grade next fall, giving them two years to learn the material usually covered in one. Since most of their peers will also be repeating the grade, there will be no social stigma from being “held back.”

For the students who have been conscientious with their remote learning assignments, repeating the material for a second year might risk boredom or frustration. Educators can devise enrichment curricula, where advanced students can delve deeper. Leadership skills can be learned by assisting classmates who have not yet mastered the material.

For households where the parents can work remotely, this “gap year” would afford families a rare opportunity for a long trip or to settle in for a few months near grandparents or cousins. We took our boys out of school for four months in 1990. I’m not sure any of us have had any experience since that proved more formative.

Not everyone can or should travel, at least until the vaccine becomes widely available. But there will be multiplying opportunities for young people to explore service opportunities if there’s a nationwide acknowledgement that the previous academic year has been lost. It’s never too early for child to discover their passions.

Only those who are ambitious and industrious would stick to the “old” academic schedule, and only after showing they have mastered the material. Accelerated students with aptitude and parental support have always been allowed to skip a grade. This would be no different.

If the idea catches on, the same lessons could be applied to adults. Enlightened bosses might suspend performance reviews or tailor the company’s expectations to an employee’s domestic situation. A parent who isn’t worried about “losing ground” to colleagues might spend more time with their bored teenage child.

In the best world I can imagine, a yearlong “pause” would also be available from banks, mortgage companies, and landlords. The world essentially stopped spinning for many people last March. We’re better off admitting it than asking those who fell behind to catch up on their own.

In the ancient world, it was called a Year of Jubilee. And it was celebrated. It’s not too late to feel good about 2020, believe it or not.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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Reconstruction Reconstructed

December 3rd, 2020 by dk

What’s worse than the Black Lives Matter movement showing us racism that we’ve never reckoned with? It’s learning how we were getting it right and then gave up. I’ve been reading about the Reconstruction Era and its demise. It’s a sad, sad story. What it’s not — what history almost never is — is an old story. It’s occurring now.

In some significant and terrifying ways, we’re reliving the Reconstruction Era’s demise today. What happened in the mid-19th century took decades to unfold. We’re experiencing similar political, social, and economic tremors, but much more quickly.

Speaking of quickly, I have 440 words remaining in this space to sum up similarities that rolled out over decades, then and now. I can give you only the start, the end, and the middle. The rest you’ll have to find on your own.

The Reconstruction Era cannot be well understood without going back two decades to the implosion of the Whigs, unable to reconcile the social and economic dynamics of an increasingly urban nation.

Lincoln’s new Republican Party cobbled together a new coalition of voters. Then there was a war, an assassination, and an impeachment-filled Andrew Johnson administration.

The middle of the story features a media star becoming president, political incompetence leading to corruption and public dismay, and the bright prospects of a new technology that promised riches and comfort for all (until it didn’t.)

Lincoln’s plan for the South was to empower former slaves with individual autonomy — “40 acres and a mule.” Johnson failed to follow through on this promise. Chaos was always near.

Ulysses S. Grant’s 1868 presidential campaign promised to “Keep the Peace.” Name familiarity swept him into an office for which he was not well suited. Lacking administrative skills, scandals broke out regularly, often involving his own family members.

Grant needed to rebuild the South’s infrastructure that his troops had only recently destroyed to win the war. The railroads promised more efficiency and connectedness. In return, all they needed was public land and unfettered access — not unlike Internet moguls today.

Railroads promised efficiencies that would bring prosperity to all. The original idea of private sustenance was supplanted by public subsidies. But the promise of a rising tide didn’t lift the boats — it drowned the mule and flooded the proverbial 40 acres.

Ku Klux Klan started as a social club, wearing silly hats. It dabbled in politics, but succeeded only where leaders already preferred their policies. It resisted change best with vigilantism. The hats became hoods.

Then came the 1876 presidential election, and the end of the Reconstruction Era. Democrat Samuel J. Tilden gathered 184 electoral votes, one short of the required majority, thanks to one contested elector in Oregon.

The decision was thrown to Congress. A commission was formed and a deal was struck. Republican Rutherford B. Hayes became president. As part of the deal, Hayes pulled federal troops out of the South, effectively ending the Reconstruction Era.

Sharecropping was formalized. The Klan continued terrorizing. Jim Crow laws replicated the pre-Civil War status quo. The South had lost the war, but won everything back another way.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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Antisocial Media Accelerates Outrage

December 3rd, 2020 by dk

What is real and what is not? What is social and what is not? These questions have been stirring in me this week after driving upriver with a Blue River neighbor to check on things just before Thanksgiving.

The fireplaces of Blue River are now exposed for all to see. What had been the family’s private hearth — often at the center of their home — is now all you can see from a distance. Each one is different, customized for its owners’ warmth and comfort. But all of them are the same, standing tall as sentinels over a landscape that has otherwise been reduced to its lowest carbon denominator.

They might not remain forever. Those who rebuild may heat their homes differently. Many are probably not safe to put back into service. Some will be toppled by shifting soil or hurried cleanup. None of that has happened yet.

I posted to a social media group dedicated to the Blue River community an idea that my neighbor and I hatched during our trip. The chimneys and fireplaces of Blue River would be a fascinating theme for a fundraising calendar.

The response has been mixed. Around 100 people thought it was a good idea and they would probably buy one. Around 100 other people were adamantly opposed and wondered whether my mother had dropped me on my head as an infant. Circles formed to question my judgment and character, and whether I could be removed from the group for promoting “disaster porn.”

I understand the detractors’ concern. I had neglected to add that each property owner would have to grant permission first. Voyeurism would be an insult added to an injury. People continue to grieve and each of us does this in our own way. It wasn’t interpreted as hopeful enough to represent a community in diaspora.

It wasn’t my best idea ever. Throw it on the heap with solar-powered windshield wipers and inflatable dartboards. I’m holding firm to believe that most good ideas are simply bad ones that got improved. Maybe something good will come of it eventually.

What I find remarkable and worrying is how quickly and naturally those who opposed the idea bonded with one another and accelerated their grievances. Those who were outraged fed off each other, speculating about my motives or my upbringing or my mother’s sure-handedness.

I roused a rabble, but oddly, only on one side. Each positive response was essentially one-and-done. Echoing something observed by columnist David Brooks this week, online outrage builds camaraderie with astonishing efficiency.

Negative thoughts and feelings seemed to accelerate much more quickly, spreading (if I might say) like wildfire. Is that the site’s algorithm at work, or is it just how we humans are wired? Worse still, does the algorithm mimic the brain’s wiring, making each participant’s response more intractable? Addressing that problem will require a whole lot more than a fundraising calendar.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at Lane Library League’s fundraiser for rebuilding the Blue River library will remain open for only another week or so. If you’d like to contribute, visit:

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How to Respond to Thanksgiving

November 27th, 2020 by dk

What comes after thanksgiving? If I capitalize the “t,” the answers come easily: shopping, football, leftovers, crowded airports. But what follows the giving of thanks? What comes next in that everyday verbal handshake?

“You’re welcome” is falling out of favor. It’s been replaced, especially by young people, with “No problem.” When I hear that response, I can’t help but wonder what might be their response to an apology. Would it be the same?

If “I’m sorry” prompts the same response as “Thank you,” then another question follows. Are we having a real conversation, or would any three syllables suffice to maintain the expected rhythm of exchange? “Go Duckies!” would at least acknowledge a regional connection between sender and receiver.

My friend Jack Joyce, the late founder of Rogue Ales, tampered with a conversational exchange. He replaced “goodbye” in every phone conversation with “sell beer.” It served the same rhythmic function. He loved replacing convention with intention. We all loved him for it.

“No problem” carries less intent. At least we should hope so. What will become of a world where every expression of gratitude is met with a mild rebuke? We’d train ourselves to do it less, or not at all. Would you prefer a world where no one ever thanked you for anything? I wouldn’t — even if that was a world with no problems.

“You’re welcome” is rooted in northern European etymologies. Depending on who you trust, its roots are at least Germanic, but possibly also Scandinavian. The response conveyed an invitation to “come” — almost certainly “inside.” “Don’t thank me out there in the cold. Come inside where it’s warm.”

“No problem” and its literal variant, “It’s nothing,” come from a tradition rooted in warmer climates. “De nada” or “no mas” makes sense from a hammock where there are more mangoes hanging nearby than either of you can eat. “I may have helped you with that, but it’s not like either of us would have gone hungry if I hadn’t.”

Maybe this explains why “No problem” is multiplying before us. We’ve created a world where scarcity is rare or rarely acknowledged. Abundance is so much more desirable, even if you don’t like mangoes.

Could we compromise and revive “You’re welcome” for the colder, darker months? I don’t want to make a problem for those who insist there are no problems, but being invited inside is still appreciated, as it was by the Norse a millennium ago.

If global warming ever progresses to the point where it’s never cold outside, we’ll have larger problems than anything “No problem” can address. We should get this right while there’s still time.

I propose we take Black Friday back from the retailers and designate the day after Thanksgiving as “You’re Welcome Day.” Think of it as a cultural leftover that just needs to be warmed up to extend the week’s festivities. Or how about this? “You’re welcome” is a pleasure you can have with your mouth that fills your heart, not your stomach.

If you happen to feel the urge to thank me for pointing this out, you’re welcome.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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Tragedy Enhances Thanksgiving

November 26th, 2020 by dk

It’s been almost 12 weeks since the Holiday Farm wildfire took out 431 homes, displacing more than a thousand residents. Only a few of those know when or how they will be able to return, but only one — David Scott Perry — will certainly not be coming back. The 59-year-old plumber and handyman was the fire’s only fatality.

For literally everyone else, this season brings with it a special flavor of thanksgiving. Sure, there’s still plenty of sadness all around, but all that sits atop a quiet gratitude that we’re here to be complaining about how things aren’t quite what they were or might have been. 

In a strange way, the less fortunate among us have a lesson for those who have suffered less. I’ve heard dozens of stories. Each verse is different, but the chorus is always the same.

“If my dog hadn’t woken me to go outside to pee, I never would have seen those flames coming over the ridge toward us. His small bladder saved both our lives.”

“If my neighbor had taken another few weeks to cut the tall grass on his lot across from mine, those embers falling in his yard might have kept us from reaching the road.”

“We stayed in town that night because it was too hot and there’s no air conditioning. We might have gone anyway, but didn’t feel like driving after dark.”

“If one more tree had fallen across Rt. 126 just a few minutes earlier, we might have died on that road before anyone could have reached us.”

“My daughters had a party that kept us all awake later than normal. If we had been asleep under our covers, we might have ignored the sirens.”

“The power went out, which was no big deal except I couldn’t recharge my phone. I went outside when a large branch fell on the roof. That’s when I saw the orange glow and I knew something was wrong.”

“I don’t have a car, but my neighbor was still here. He was sleeping through the whole thing. It took a shovel banging on his door to wake him up, but we got out together.”

“My neighbor made more racket than I’ve ever heard from her. If she hadn’t banged on my door with a shovel, we might not have made it out in time.”

Each story focuses on a small detail that had huge benefits. It prevented a disaster from becoming a fatality. Most involve another person. But here’s the lesson: it’s no different for any of us.

If your partner hadn’t swept those wet leaves, you might have slipped into traffic at just the wrong moment. If you hadn’t gotten the pilot light repaired, your stove might have poisoned your family. If the rattle hadn’t bothered you so much, that rusting axle might have snapped on the freeway during rush hour.

Each day is marked by a well-aimed meteor not sending our planet into nuclear meltdown. Remember David Perry and all those who have died from 2020’s numerous calamities. Then be thankful you are not among them.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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Scenario Straddling: Worst Case

November 22nd, 2020 by dk

To get into the winter holiday spirit, let’s play a game. It requires nothing but imagination. It’s called “Scenario Straddling.” Imagine a best-case scenario and a worst-case scenario. What happens will almost certainly fall somewhere between.

I will fill this space twice — once half full, once half empty. I will leave it to the editors to choose which appears in print, requesting that they post the other online. Here’s a very quick summary of my scenarios for the presidential race outcome.

BEST: Biden’s habits and gifts of magnanimity makes him the most effective legislating president since LBJ. WORST: Trump creates the American carnage he envisioned and frightened Americans give him four more years to fix it.

WORST: Donald Trump’s 2017 “American Carnage” inauguration speech turned out to have been more a promise than a warning. Experts believed that an exploding pandemic would kill his political fortunes, In the end, it’s what saved him, along with a little delayed assistance from the Russians.

Lawsuits over vote-counting were never serious legal challenges. Their only goal was to plant a seed of doubt in enough Americans to create an opening for what came next. The lesson learned in 2000 was repeated. Knowing the outcome of the vote was the obstacle. Making the results seem unknowable was the goal.

Faithless electors were prepared, requiring only that an insufficient number of state-certified vote tallies reach Congress by December 8’s required “safe harbor” deadline. Along with doubt and fear, a few states would suffice. Wisconsin, Arizona, and Georgia, each controlled by Republican state legislatures, would be enough.

Americans didn’t pay much attention to a few government bureaucrats missing a mandated deadline. What else is new? Besides, most people were busy defending themselves against COVID-19 and the havoc it wreaked. The chaos of Corona was more feature than bug for this not-yet-outgoing administration.

The fuse was long, but striking the match was quick. President Trump bombed Iran, showing world leaders that sabers are not just for rattling. Iran promised retaliation. Then it came.

America’s power grid came down and Internet connectivity was severely damaged. Everyone blamed Iran for this, but we learned much later that the Russians were responsible. We should have worried when Russians didn’t seriously meddle with this election. We should have noticed the dog that didn’t bark.

So-called “sanctuary cities” were hit particularly hard, but also hospitals and banks. Americans reacted swiftly and strongly to the pain of confusion. People panicked. They assumed the worst.

The worst didn’t need much assuming. Economic assistance programs from the spring came to a screeching halt on Dec. 31 — unemployment benefits, payroll assistance, eviction forbearance, student loan suspension. People took to the streets, but only landlords boarded their windows because tenants had left or were leaving.

Trump strode back onto the national stage. His promise from 2017 echoed: “I alone can fix it.” Obama’s “hope and change” mantra had finally been replaced with fear and dread. America needed a strongman. Trump accepted his calling. Democrats stepped aside, for the good of the nation.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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Scenario Straddling: Best Case

November 22nd, 2020 by dk

To get into the winter holiday spirit, let’s play a game. It requires nothing but imagination. It’s called “Scenario Straddling.” Imagine a best-case scenario and a worst-case scenario. What happens will almost certainly fall somewhere between.

I will fill this space twice — once half full, once half empty. I will leave it to the editors to choose which appears in print, requesting that they post the other online. Here’s a very quick summary of my scenarios for the presidential race outcome.

BEST: Biden’s habits and gifts of magnanimity makes him the most effective legislating president since LBJ. WORST: Trump creates the American carnage he envisioned and frightened Americans give him four more years to fix it.

BEST: Even before Joseph Biden became our 46th president, it became clear that the Georgia Senate runoffs wouldn’t matter as much as everyone thought. Democrats focused on unseating Sen. Kelly Loeffler and won, shepherded by incoming Secretary of State Stacey Abrams. Sen. David Purdue survived to live another day, without much reason to look forward to it.

Sen. Mitch McConnell retained his majority, but found he couldn’t do much with it. Biden has too many Republican friends in the Senate after 36 years, and VP Kamala Harris knows those he doesn’t. McConnell plays whack-a-mole defense, as Biden peels off one or two Senators to co-sponsor each piece of valuable legislation.

Magnanimity was always how things got done in Washington. We thought the back-slapping had given way to back-stabbing. What we quickly learned is that we haven’t had a truly magnanimous president since George H.W. Bush. Biden offers a night in the Lincoln bedroom, not for Clinton-style financial favors, but for political favors, like LBJ.

Biden’s long history of working with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi makes things a bit easier, but her majority is thin and her caucus is fractured. Too many Democrats are already worried about reelection, but Biden knows the game. He visits members of Congress in their offices on Independence Avenue — taking selfies, raising funds and profiles.

Leaving nothing to chance, Biden carved himself a backchannel past Pelosi and directly to the House’s Black Caucus. Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond came into the White House as a senior adviser focused on public engagement. “You dance with them that brung ya,” and Biden’s learned some new steps from his many non-white staffers.

Even the conservative justices on the Supreme Court have been impressed. Biden reaches across the aisle even when there’s no visible aisle. Dana Remus became White House counsel. She clerked for conservative stalwart Justice Samuel Alito in 2008. She never burned that bridge. Now her boss in the Oval Office can now walk across it.

Dignity and affability are not opposed when you’re the leader of the free world. Biden admits his missteps with grace and alacrity.

America’s standing is rising again, but this time without a shred of narcissism — borne of youth or family trauma — at the top. Americans haven’t had a deeply self-assured leader since Reagan. Many are surprised how much they’ve missed it.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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