Friday, May 29, 2020

Republican Voters Against Trump - voting for Biden is OK. Other Republicans like you are also disgusted by Trump.

The Lincoln Project, a group of conservatives that really don’t like Trump, is running some rather fine attack ads. Most recently, they’ve taken after Moscow Mitch but in a different way. The ad exposes McConnell’s rise to a multimillionaire status, branding him Rich Mitch.

From the Lincoln Project’s mission statement: “Defeat President Trump and Trumpism at the ballot box.”

We do not undertake this task lightly nor from ideological preference. Our many policy differences with national Democrats remain. However, the priority for all patriotic Americans must be a shared fidelity to the Constitution and a commitment to defeat those candidates who have abandoned their constitutional oaths, regardless of party. Electing Democrats who support the Constitution over Republicans who do not is a worthy effort.

If the video does not play for you, go to the web site: https://lincolnproject.us/news/rich-mitch/

The Never Trumpers might finally be on to something writes Paul Waldman in the Washington Post’s Plum Line. Here’s a bit of that.

The quandary of the “Never Trump” Republicans has always been that although they get plenty of attention from the media, their success in persuading rank-and-file members of their party to reject this president has been negligible at best.

But 2020 is not 2016, for any number of reasons, and they’re hoping that things can be different this time.

Their latest effort, called Republican Voters Against Trump, is launching a $10 million advertising campaign with a somewhat different focus than those of the past. Rather than showing President Trump saying deranged things or listing his missteps, we hear from a Republican voter who has turned against him. Here’s the prototype …

You have to go to the original post to view the clip. In brief: “I’d vote for a tuna fish sandwich before I’d vote for Trump again,” says Republican Jack Spielman in a video made by Republican Voters Against Trump.

There are reasons to doubt whether this can be effective. But I’d argue that it has a better chance of working than almost any other message.

First, “working” doesn’t mean persuading 20 percent or even 10 percent of Republicans to vote for Joe Biden. It needs only to mean creating a permission structure for them to do so — even if it means only a few thousand votes move in a few key states. That could be enough to swing the election.

And that’s what this message is about. It doesn’t try to convince its targets that Trump is bad; they know all the reasons that’s true. What it does is say, There are other Republicans, people just like you, who have the same doubts you do.

If you’re a Republican, even one disgusted with Trump, voting for a Democrat is an extraordinarily difficult thing to do. It calls your entire identity into question. In order to do it, you need to be convinced that you can choose Biden and still remain a Republican.

[snip]

In 2018, the Democratic sweep was driven by suburban areas where there are plenty of moderate Republicans, especially women. There’s a good deal of evidence that these voters were pulled toward Democratic candidates out of disgust with Trump, but the Never Trumpers don’t actually want them to become Democrats, which is a high hurdle to clear.

They just want them to vote against Trump, this one time. And if that means telling themselves they’ll return to the GOP in 2024 once it nominates a saner candidate, that’s just fine.

Thanks to Charlie Sykes’ post in The Bulwark.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Trump's 'horrifying lies' may cost him punitive damages in civil court

Or so anyone with a speck of decency left would hope for. The DoJ might let Trump off the hook for criminal acts but civil court is totally different. Trump is vulnerable to the judgement of a civil jury for gobs and gobs of punitive damages. Following is the case by a distinguished professor of law (Yale, Berkeley).

Trump’s ‘Horrifying Lies’ About Lori Klausutis May Cross a Legal Line. The president’s innuendo about the death of a congressional staffer in 2001 could lead to a costly court judgment against him.

President Trump and his minions relentlessly grind out despicable acts — gratuitous insults to war heroes, over 18,000 (and counting) false or misleading statements, many decisions courts have ruled illegal. But Mr. Trump’s wantonly cruel tweets about the tragic death in 2001 of Lori Klausutis are distinctive: They may constitute intentional torts for which a civil jury could award punitive damages against him.

Here are the key facts. Ms. Klausutis, age 28, died in the Florida district office of a Republican congressman, Joe Scarborough, who was then in Washington. The police found no evidence of foul play and the coroner reported that the cause of death was a hard fall against a hard object precipitated by her floppy mitral valve disease.

That should have been the end of the story, but earlier this week the president tweeted to his 80 million followers that “some people think” that Mr. Scarborough, now a popular MSNBC news host who frequently criticizes Mr. Trump, “g[o]t away with murder,” calling Mr. Scarborough a “psycho” and a “total Nut job.”

The president has offered no evidence for this slander, because there is none. Last week, Timothy Klausutis, Lori’s widower husband, wrote a remarkably restrained, poignant letter to Jack Dorsey, the head of Twitter, citing the pain that Mr. Trump’s “horrifying lies” about his wife’s death have caused him and the family, and asking Mr. Dorsey to remove Mr. Trump’s tweet. Mr. Dorsey has refused, most likely because the 1996 Communications Decency Act probably protects him from defamation claims for publishing the words of another. However Twitter added a warning label to the president’s false tweets on Tuesday about mail-in ballots, the first time the service has taken such a step.

The text of the letter follows the break below.

Mr. Trump’s first tort is called intentional infliction of emotional distress, which the courts developed precisely to condemn wanton cruelty to another person who suffers emotionally as a result. This tort, which is sometimes called “outrage,” readily applies to Mr. Trump’s tweets about Ms. Klausutis. They were intentional and reckless, and were “extreme and outrageous” without a scintilla of evidence to support them. And they caused severe emotional distress — the protracted, daily-felt grief described in Mr. Klausutis’s letter to Mr. Dorsey.

Although the tweets targeted Mr. Scarborough, his own infliction of emotional distress claim may be weaker than Mr. Klausutis’s. By shrugging off the tweet as simply political gamesmanship on the president’s part, Mr. Scarborough may not have suffered the “severe emotional distress” required for an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim.

Even so, Mr. Scarborough might succeed in a defamation suit against Mr. Trump for reputational harm. After all, the president’s innuendo that Mr. Scarborough may have murdered Lori Klausutis — presumably credible to the many Trump Twitter followers who subscribe to conspiracy theories — may seriously harm Mr. Scarborough’s reputation with them and others.

Mr. Trump, moreover, often aims his tweets to lead multiple news cycles affecting well beyond his Twitter followers. The president will surely argue that he has not actually accused anyone of murder and was merely “raising questions.” But courts have held that such calculated innuendo can constitute defamation, depending on the facts. This would be for a jury to decide.

Mr. Scarborough, as a public figure in his own right, must satisfy the Supreme Court’s demanding test for defamation liability in its landmark New York Times v. Sullivan decision. Under this test — designed to free public debate from being unduly constrained by fear of legal liability — Mr. Scarborough must prove that Mr. Trump made his defamatory comment either with actual knowledge that it was false or with “reckless disregard” for whether it was true or false. But the president’s tweets about the Klausutis case probably satisfy this test. After all, he has not cited any evidence to support his calumny either before the tweets or in response to the backlash since then. If the jury found for Mr. Scarborough, it could require Mr. Trump to pay substantial punitive damages in addition to compensation for his reputational harm.

Under the court’s unanimous 1998 ruling in Paula Jones’s sexual harassment suit against President Bill Clinton, both of these lawsuits — by Mr. Klausutis and by Mr. Scarborough — could proceed against the president while he is still in office. Because his tweets reach followers nationwide, the lawsuits could probably be brought in any state. And since the subject of his tweets had nothing to do with his presidential responsibilities, he probably could not hide behind an assertion of executive privilege.

The Klausutis family has suffered enough for almost 20 years without having to endure Mr. Trump’s crocodile tears and malicious raking of the coals. Tort law might hold our brutish president to account.

The author, Peter H. Schuck, is an emeritus professor of law at Yale and Darling Foundation visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley, this semester.

Thanks to Roving Reporter Sherry for his tip.

Trump is STILL Unfit for Office...

… by reason of mental disorders.

I’ll begin with a horrifying benchmark.

As of its May 27, 2020, 10:39 AM MST update, NBCNews reports that, for COVID–19, U.S. death toll tops 100,000.

The number of U.S. coronavirus deaths reached 100,000 as of Wednesday afternoon, according to NBC News’ count. The U.S. leads the world in both deaths and confirmed cases, with 1.69 million infections.

Among the infected are more than 62,000 doctors, nurses and other health care providers on the front lines of the U.S.’s COVID–19 response, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. At least 291 have died.

Meanwhile, Twitter slapped a fact check label on a pair of “misleading” tweets by President Donald Trump in which he railed against mail-in voting amid the COVID–19 pandemic. Trump went on to accuse the company of “interfering in the 2020 Presidential Election.”

And it doesn’t end there. Matt Lewis at the Daily Beast asks How Many People Will Trump Endanger to Give His Big Speech? … he wants thousands of people, most not wearing masks and scoffing at social distancing, to congregate. This will not end well.

Would Donald Trump really move the Republican National Convention to Florida (or somewhere else) from North Carolina? On Tuesday, Trump warned North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper that he has “a week” to decide if he’ll meet Trump’s demands. Trump doesn’t really seem to want to switch convention sites, and the logistical challenges would be tremendous. But if you don’t think there’s at least a possibility, you don’t know this president.

In case you missed it, Trump went on a Memorial Day Twitter rant that threatened the move. After saying how much he loves North Carolina, Trump warned that “Democrat Governor, [Roy Cooper] is still in Shutdown mood & unable to guarantee that by August we will be allowed..full attendance in the Arena.”

Unless the governor will promise Republicans they can “fully occupy the space,” Trump warned, he would be “reluctantly forced……to find, with all of the jobs and economic development it brings, another Republican National Convention site.”

So what Trump envisions is an event that will be an ideal breeding ground for the COVID–19 virus. Would any other president risk so many of the people he is duty bound to protect? Is not this evidence of how unfit this man is for the highest office in our land?

Back in October 2019 I blogged about the evidence of Trump’s mental disorders accumulated by George Conway III. As I have just shown you, nothing has changed in the intervening months. If anything, Trump has gone more batshit crazy than ever.

Here is what I blogged in October.

The Unfit Presidency, Part 1

Sometimes we encounter an essay that increases our understanding of our world by exposing connections that we had not imagined. This is such a document connecting history, politics, and clinical psychology.

George Conway III provides extensive evidence in The Atlantic that Trump is Unfit for Office.
Donald Trump’s narcissism makes it impossible for him to carry out the duties of the presidency in the way the Constitution requires.

Here’s what to expect.

  • Conway describes what the founders desired in a president and what they wished to avoid.
  • He provides, in narrative form, a compendium of Trump’s behaviors, both verbal and nonverbal, that bear on the question of fitness.
  • These behaviors are consistent with diagnoses of narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder. Observations from public media agree with these possible clinical diagnoses.
  • Finally, Conway considers what remedies might be applied to remove Trump from office.

Below I provide excerpts consistent with the above points.

… Simply put, Trump’s ingrained and extreme behavioral characteristics make it impossible for him to carry out the duties of the presidency in the way the Constitution requires. To see why first requires a look at what the Constitution demands of a president, and then an examination of how Trump’s behavioral characteristics preclude his ability to fulfill those demands.

Though the Constitution’s drafters could hardly have foreseen how the system would evolve, they certainly knew the kind of person they wanted it to produce. “The process of election affords a moral certainty,” Hamilton wrote, “that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.” “Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity,” might suffice for someone to be elected to the governorship of a state, but not the presidency. Election would “require other talents, and a different kind of merit,” to gain “the esteem and confidence of the whole Union,” or enough of it to win the presidency. As a result, there would be “a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue.” This was the Framers’ goal in designing the system that would make “the choice of the person to whom so important a trust was to be confided.”

More than a diagnosis, what truly matters, … is the president’s behavioral characteristics and personality traits. And understanding how people behave and think is not the sole province of professionals; we all do it every day, with family members, co-workers, and others. Nevertheless, how the mental-health community goes about categorizing those characteristics and traits can provide helpful guidance to laypeople by structuring our thinking about them.

And that’s where the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders comes into play. The DSM, now in its fifth edition, “contains descriptions, symptoms, and other criteria for diagnosing mental disorders,” and serves as the country’s “authoritative guide to the diagnosis of mental disorders.” What’s useful for nonprofessionals is that, for the most part, it’s written in plain English, and its criteria consist largely of observable behaviors—words and actions.

One scholarly paper has suggested that accounts of a person’s behavior from laypeople who observe him might be more accurate than information from a clinical interview, and that this is especially true when considering two personality disorders in particular—what the DSM calls narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder. These two disorders just happen to be the ones that have most commonly been ascribed to Trump by mental-health professionals over the past four years. Of these two disorders, the more commonly discussed when it comes to Trump is narcissistic personality disorder, or NPD—pathological narcissism. It’s also more important in considering Trump’s fitness for office, because it touches directly upon whether Trump has the capacity to put anyone’s interests—including the country’s and the Constitution’s—above his own.

… from the perspective of the public at large, the debate over whether Trump meets the clinical diagnostic criteria for NPD—or whether psychiatrists can and should answer that question without directly examining him—is beside the point. The goal of a diagnosis is to help a clinician guide treatment. The question facing the public is very different: Does the president of the United States exhibit a consistent pattern of behavior that suggests he is incapable of properly discharging the duties of his office?

… In a nutshell, while carrying out his official duties, a president has to put the country, not himself, first; he must faithfully follow and enforce the law; and he must act with the utmost care in doing all that.

… The president’s exceptional narcissism is his defining characteristic—and understanding that is crucial to evaluating his fitness for office.

The DSM–5 describes its conception of pathological narcissism this way: “The essential feature of narcissistic personality disorder is a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy that begins by early adulthood and is present in a variety of contexts.” The manual sets out nine diagnostic criteria that are indicative of the disorder, but only five of the nine need be present for a diagnosis of NPD to be made. Here are the nine:

  1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).
  2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
  3. Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions).
  4. Requires excessive admiration.
  5. Has a sense of entitlement (i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations).
  6. Is interpersonally exploitative (i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends)
  7. Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings or needs of others.
  8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.
  9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

You might wish test your own knowledge of what Trump has (and has not) done that might square with this list. “That’s Trump, to a T.” is how Conway thinks of the first three criteria. He goes on to expand on each with instances from Trump’s behaviors and claims.

Narcissism resides in each of us. But Trump’s NPD is off scale.

Experts haven’t suggested that Trump is psychotic, but many have contended that his narcissism and sociopathy are so inordinate that he fits the bill for “malignant narcissism.” Malignant narcissism isn’t recognized as an official diagnosis; it’s a descriptive term coined by the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm, and expanded upon by another psychoanalyst, Otto Kernberg, to refer to an extreme mix of narcissism and sociopathy, with a degree of paranoia and sadism mixed in. One psychoanalyst explains that “the malignant narcissist is pathologically grandiose, lacking in conscience and behavioural regulation with characteristic demonstrations of joyful cruelty and sadism.” In the view of some in the mental-health community, such as John Gartner, Trump “exhibits all four” components of malignant narcissism: “narcissism, paranoia, antisocial personality and sadism.”

Just as scary are signs of cognitive decline.

Mental-health professionals have raised a variety of other concerns about Trump’s mental state; the last worth specifically mentioning here is the possibility that, apart from any personality disorder, he may be suffering cognitive decline. This is a serious matter: Trump seems to be continually slurring words, and recently misread teleprompters to say that the Continental Army secured airports during the American Revolutionary War, and to say that the shooting in Dayton had occurred in Toledo. His overall level of articulateness today doesn’t come close to what he exhibits in decades-old television clips. But that could be caused by ordinary age-related decline, stress, or other factors; to know whether something else is going on, according to experts, would require a full neuropsychological work-up, of the kind that Trump hasn’t yet had and, one supposes, isn’t about to agree to.

To sum up:

… His “mental state,” according to Justin A. Frank, a former clinical professor of psychiatry and physician who wrote a book about Trump’s psychology, “include[s] so many psychic afflictions” that a “working knowledge of psychiatric disorders is essential to understanding Trump.” Indeed, as [John] Gartner puts it: “There are a lot of things wrong with him—and, together, they are a scary witch’s brew.”

What constitutional mechanisms exist for dealing with a president who cannot or does not comply with his duties, and how should they take the president’s mental and behavioral characteristics into account? One mechanism discussed with great frequency during the past three years, including within the Trump administration, is Section 4 of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment. That provision allows the vice president to become “Acting President” when the president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” But it doesn’t define what such an inability entails; essentially, it lets the vice president and the Cabinet, the president himself, and ultimately two-thirds of both houses of Congress decide.

That’s a high bar.

… so it turns out that impeachment is a more practical mechanism for addressing the fact that Trump’s narcissism and sociopathy render him unable to comply with the obligations of his office. It’s also an appropriate mechanism, because the constitutional magic words (other than Treason and Bribery) that form the basis of an impeachment charge—high Crimes and Misdemeanors, found in Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution—mean something other than, and more than, offenses in the criminal-statute books. High Crimes and Misdemeanors is a legal term of art, one that historically referred to breaches of duties—fiduciary duties—by public officeholders. In other words, the question of what constitutes an impeachable offense for a president coincides precisely with whether the president can execute his office in the faithful manner that the Constitution requires.

… now that the House of Representatives has embarked on an impeachment inquiry, one of the most important judgments it must make is whether any identified breaches of duty are likely to be repeated. And if a Senate trial comes to pass, that issue would become central as well to the decision to remove the president from office. That’s when Trump’s behavioral and psychological characteristics should—must—come into play. From the evidence, it appears that he simply can’t stop himself from putting his own interests above the nation’s. Any serious impeachment proceedings should consider not only the evidence and the substance of all impeachable offenses, but also the psychological factors that may be relevant to the motivations underlying those offenses. Congress should make extensive use of experts—psychologists and psychiatrists. Is Trump so narcissistic that he can’t help but use his office for his own personal ends? Is he so sociopathic that he can’t be trusted to follow, let alone faithfully execute, the law?

Congress should consider all this because that’s what the question of impeachment demands. But there’s another reason as well. The people have a right to know, and a need to see. Many people have watched all of Trump’s behavior, and they’ve drawn the obvious conclusion. They know something’s wrong, just as football fans knew that the downed quarterback had shattered his leg. Others have changed the channel, or looked away, or chosen to deny what they’ve seen. But if Congress does its job and presents the evidence, those who are in denial won’t be able to ignore the problem any longer. Not only because of the evidence itself, but because Donald Trump will respond in pathological ways—and in doing so, he’ll prove the points against him in ways almost no one will be able to ignore.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Twitter needs sanitization - Potty mouth Trump 's attack on Scarborough is reason enough

Widower of Scarborough staffer asks Twitter to remove Trump’s conspiracy theories. Per his reading of Twitter’s terms of service, he said, other users would be banned for tweets like Trump’s.

The widower of a woman whose 2001 death has become fodder for baseless conspiracy theories spread by President Donald Trump is appealing directly to the head of Twitter to take down the president‘s tweets.

“I’m asking you to intervene in this instance because the President of the United States has taken something that does not belong to him — the memory of my dead wife — and perverted it for perceived political gain,” Timothy J. Klausutis wrote in a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, which was dated last week but gained attention Tuesday when The New York Times’ Kara Swisher published it in an op-ed.

But Klausutis’ letter was not enough to move Twitter or Trump. Twitter will not be removing the posts at this time, according to a company spokesperson.

"We are deeply sorry about the pain these statements, and the attention they are drawing, are causing the family,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “We’ve been working to expand existing product features and policies so we can more effectively address things like this going forward, and we hope to have those changes in place shortly.”

Klausutis’ wife, Lori, died at age 28 from a fall precipitated by an undiagnosed heart condition, as confirmed by the medical examiner and police. Nineteen years later, her death is making headlines because of her employer at the time: then-Rep. Joe Scarborough (R-Fla.). She was working in a Florida office, while Scarborough was in Washington at the time of her death.

But now Scarborough is an outspoken — and, thanks to his MSNBC talk show “Morning Joe,” prominent — critic of Trump. So fringe conspiracy theories that have circulated in the past began to bubble up again, intimating he might have murdered Lori Klausutis. The president and his family were quick to pick up on the thread in multiple tweets this month.

And on Tuesday, after Klausutis’ letter drew widespread attention, Trump doubled down on Twitter. He incorrectly described it as a cold case, called Scarborough a “Psycho” and wrote, “So many unanswered & obvious questions, but I won’t bring them up now! Law enforcement eventually will?”

In his letter, Klausutis suggested to Dorsey that “Twitter’s policies about content are designed to maintain the appearance that your hands are clean.” Per his reading of Twitter’s terms of service, he said, other users would be banned for tweets like Trump’s.

Klausutis also wrote of the enduring pain his wife’s loved ones feel over her early death, and how the conspiracy theories have made it harder for them to move on.

“I have mourned my wife every day since her passing. I have tried to honor her memory and our marriage,” he wrote. “As her husband, I feel that one of my marital obligations is to protect her memory as I would have protected her in life.”

Twitter last year said it would begin marking politicians’ rule-breaking tweets with warnings, but the company has been reluctant to remove them out of free speech and censorship concerns. An October blog post laid out company executives’ thinking, positing that leaving world leaders’ tweets up may serve the public interest even if they violate policies.

Trump’s top spokesperson, Kayleigh McEnany, defended the social media missives from the White House briefing room Tuesday, responding to numerous questions from reporters by sidestepping the concerns raised in Klausutis’ letter and asserting that “the onus is on” Scarborough to answer questions about Lori Klausutis’ death.

Crocodile tears
Crocodile tears!

Oh, hell no! Trump’s mouthpiece has just dumped another load of shit on the presidency specifically and on our democracy generally. tRump and his minions have redefined the rule of law as guilty until proven innocent.

McEnany said she wasn’t sure if Trump had seen the letter from her widower, and wouldn’t elaborate on what Trump’s intention was by reviving the case online but added, “Our hearts are with Lori’s family.”

Required reading -- why the world regards the US with pity

This Irish Times article should be read by every last person in this country. It’s behind a paywall, so here it is in full:

Read it and weep, my fellow Americans.
From the Irish Times
April 25, 2020
By Fintan O’Toole

THE WORLD HAS LOVED, HATED AND ENVIED THE U.S. NOW, FOR THE FIRST TIME, WE PITY IT

Over more than two centuries, the United States has stirred a very wide range of feelings in the rest of the world: love and hatred, fear and hope, envy and contempt, awe and anger. But there is one emotion that has never been directed towards the US until now: pity.

However bad things are for most other rich democracies, it is hard not to feel sorry for Americans. Most of them did not vote for Donald Trump in 2016. Yet they are locked down with a malignant narcissist who, instead of protecting his people from Covid–19, has amplified its lethality. The country Trump promised to make great again has never in its history seemed so pitiful.

Will American prestige ever recover from this shameful episode? The US went into the coronavirus crisis with immense advantages: precious weeks of warning about what was coming, the world’s best concentration of medical and scientific expertise, effectively limitless financial resources, a military complex with stunning logistical capacity and most of the world’s leading technology corporations. Yet it managed to make itself the global epicentre of the pandemic.

As the American writer George Packer puts it in the current edition of the Atlantic, “The United States reacted … like Pakistan or Belarus – like a country with shoddy infrastructure and a dysfunctional government whose leaders were too corrupt or stupid to head off mass suffering.”

It is one thing to be powerless in the face of a natural disaster, quite another to watch vast power being squandered in real time – wilfully, malevolently, vindictively. It is one thing for governments to fail (as, in one degree or another, most governments did), quite another to watch a ruler and his supporters actively spread a deadly virus. Trump, his party and Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News became vectors of the pestilence.

The grotesque spectacle of the president openly inciting people (some of them armed) to take to the streets to oppose the restrictions that save lives is the manifestation of a political death wish. What are supposed to be daily briefings on the crisis, demonstrative of national unity in the face of a shared challenge, have been used by Trump merely to sow confusion and division. They provide a recurring horror show in which all the neuroses that haunt the American subconscious dance naked on live TV.

If the plague is a test, its ruling political nexus ensured that the US would fail it at a terrible cost in human lives. In the process, the idea of the US as the world’s leading nation – an idea that has shaped the past century – has all but evaporated.

Other than the Trump impersonator Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, who is now looking to the US as the exemplar of anything other than what not to do? How many people in Düsseldorf or Dublin are wishing they lived in Detroit or Dallas?

It is hard to remember now but, even in 2017, when Trump took office, the conventional wisdom in the US was that the Republican Party and the broader framework of US political institutions would prevent him from doing too much damage. This was always a delusion, but the pandemic has exposed it in the most savage ways.

Abject surrender
What used to be called mainstream conservatism has not absorbed Trump – he has absorbed it. Almost the entire right-wing half of American politics has surrendered abjectly to him. It has sacrificed on the altar of wanton stupidity the most basic ideas of responsibility, care and even safety.

Thus, even at the very end of March, 15 Republican governors had failed to order people to stay at home or to close non-essential businesses. In Alabama, for example, it was not until April 3rd that governor Kay Ivey finally issued a stay-at-home order.

In Florida, the state with the highest concentration of elderly people with underlying conditions, governor Ron DeSantis, a Trump mini-me, kept the beach resorts open to students travelling from all over the US for spring break parties. Even on April 1st, when he issued restrictions, DeSantis exempted religious services and “recreational activities”.

Georgia governor Brian Kemp, when he finally issued a stay-at-home order on April 1st, explained: “We didn’t know that [the virus can be spread by people without symptoms] until the last 24 hours.”

This is not mere ignorance – it is deliberate and homicidal stupidity. There is, as the demonstrations this week in US cities have shown, plenty of political mileage in denying the reality of the pandemic. It is fuelled by Fox News and far-right internet sites, and it reaps for these politicians millions of dollars in donations, mostly (in an ugly irony) from older people who are most vulnerable to the coronavirus.

It draws on a concoction of conspiracy theories, hatred of science, paranoia about the “deep state” and religious providentialism (God will protect the good folks) that is now very deeply infused in the mindset of the American right.

Trump embodies and enacts this mindset, but he did not invent it. The US response to the coronavirus crisis has been paralysed by a contradiction that the Republicans have inserted into the heart of US democracy. On the one hand, they want to control all the levers of governmental power. On the other they have created a popular base by playing on the notion that government is innately evil and must not be trusted.

The contradiction was made manifest in two of Trump’s statements on the pandemic: on the one hand that he has “total authority”, and on the other that “I don’t take responsibility at all”. Caught between authoritarian and anarchic impulses, he is incapable of coherence.

Fertile ground
But this is not just Donald Trump. The crisis has shown definitively that Trump’s presidency is not an aberration. It has grown on soil long prepared to receive it. The monstrous blossoming of misrule has structure and purpose and strategy behind it.

There are very powerful interests who demand “freedom” in order to do as they like with the environment, society and the economy. They have infused a very large part of American culture with the belief that “freedom” is literally more important than life. My freedom to own assault weapons trumps your right not to get shot at school. Now, my freedom to go to the barber (“I Need a Haircut” read one banner this week in St Paul, Minnesota) trumps your need to avoid infection.

Usually when this kind of outlandish idiocy is displaying itself, there is the comforting thought that, if things were really serious, it would all stop. People would sober up. Instead, a large part of the US has hit the bottle even harder.

And the president, his party and their media allies keep supplying the drinks. There has been no moment of truth, no shock of realisation that the antics have to end. No one of any substance on the US right has stepped in to say: get a grip, people are dying here.

That is the mark of how deep the trouble is for the US – it is not just that Trump has treated the crisis merely as a way to feed tribal hatreds but that this behaviour has become normalised. When the freak show is live on TV every evening, and the star is boasting about his ratings, it is not really a freak show any more. For a very large and solid bloc of Americans, it is reality.

And this will get worse before it gets better. Trump has at least eight more months in power. In his inaugural address in 2017, he evoked “American carnage” and promised to make it stop. But now that the real carnage has arrived, he is revelling in it. He is in his element.

As things get worse, he will pump more hatred and falsehood, more death-wish defiance of reason and decency, into the groundwater. If a new administration succeeds him in 2021, it will have to clean up the toxic dump he leaves behind. If he is re-elected, toxicity will have become the lifeblood of American politics.

Either way, it will be a long time before the rest of the world can imagine America being great again.

Monday, May 25, 2020

How Trump could steal the election

In 2016 Trump lost the popular vote by about three million votes. But he won the election based on the electoral college. That was child’s play.

Now, in 2020, it’s widely accepted that Trump and his co-conspirators will attempt to subvert the election in his favor. Here are Trump’s Five Simple Tricks for Stealing the Election explained by Michael Tomasky at the Daily Beast. Sure, he could use ordinary cheating to eke out another narrow Electoral College win and popular vote loss. But he has other cards up his sleeve if that doesn’t work out this time.

So many shocking things have become normal now under this administration that it’s kind of hard to imagine what would genuinely jolt the nation at this point. And with regard to November’s election, the shocking-but-normal reality is that we know Donald Trump will cheat. There was a terrifying piece in the Times on Sunday laying out all the different moves he could pull to steal the election that his opponents are war-gaming to prepare for and counter. One little nugget from it: Trump could issue orders that impact cities in battleground states like “declaring a state of emergency, deploying the National Guard or forbidding gatherings of more than 10 people.”

Everyone knows he’ll cheat. Even his supporters know he’ll cheat. His cheating is one of the things they love about him. So that he’ll cheat—while loudly accusing the other side of cheating—is a given. We just don’t know yet exactly how. Here are five all-too-plausible scenarios. Trigger warning: They may literally make you sick, especially the last one.

Scenario One: He steals it “fair and square.” In other words, he wins like he did in 2016, eking out a 78,000-vote, three-state Electoral College margin (or something along those lines) while losing the popular vote. Except this time, he’s likely to lose the popular vote by more than last time, perhaps far more. Why? Because Joe Biden’s margins are likely to be bigger than Clinton’s were in the large blue states, and Trump’s margins are likely to be smaller in the big red states like Texas and Georgia. So he could lose the popular vote by five or six million this time instead of the 2.8 million of last time.

The result would not, strictly speaking, be “cheating,” since these are the effed-up rules of our democracy, though there would still be the usual, run-of-the-mill cheating he’d do during the election—colluding with Russia, blocking vote-by-mail, doing the kinds of things the Times article suggested he’d do to put a few of his short, vulgar fingers on the scale. So there’d be plenty of cheating done on the way.

Scenario Two: The Florida felon option. Remember how Floridians voted nearly 2-to–1 in 2018 to allow felons who’d served their time to vote, with even a majority of Republicans agreeing? Then remember how the Florida legislature passed a law in 2019 saying felons had to pay all costs and arrears before they could vote?

Fortunately, the latest news seems to be that a federal judge is leaning toward siding with the voters over the legislature. But the right-wingers are going to fight this tooth and nail. I have no idea what they’ll come up with, but imagine a scenario, say, where Biden narrowly wins Florida, the Trump campaign declares fraud and demands a recount, the governor agrees, the courts agree, and lo and behold just enough ex-felon votes are invalidated to flip the result. If you think that sounds too outlandish, all I can tell you is that you’re not paying attention.

Scenario Three: The Supreme Court steals it. The Florida scenario is one of several that could involve the Supreme Court handing Trump a second term. The sickest and most shameless SCOTUS scenario would involve the following. Remember how in Bush v. Gore the five conservative justices in essence ruled against states’ rights, that supposedly time-honored conservative principle? That is, Florida wanted to recount the votes, but the court—in an unsigned decision that they insisted did not set precedent—overruled the state.

Well, this time, they might do the exact opposite! In other words, let’s say Trump ekes out a really narrow win in a red state, Arizona perhaps, and it is that win that put him over the top, and there are questions about the validity of the tally such that some people are demanding a recount, but the state says no. It goes all the way up to the Supreme Court, and the court rules 5–4 with Arizona because hey, states’ rights! Again, if you think this is outlandish…

Scenario Four: The faithless elector possibility. Team Trump has already teed this one up, and I’ll actually be surprised if we don’t see this happen to some extent. As you know, even though we cast votes for presidential candidates, the president is officially elected by the states’ electors when they meet in December. In any Republican-controlled states that Biden may win, the state can simply appoint electors who might refuse to vote for Biden. Of course the Democrats could do the same, but come on, which side do you think is more likely to do this?The Supreme Court is expected to hand down a decision next month on whether electors have to vote for the candidate who won their state. Wanna bet it’s 5–4, with the conservatives saying electors can do as they please?

Scenario Five: The House of Representatives steals it. This is the mother of all nightmare scenarios, one I’m really not sure this (county sic - country) would survive.

Imagine, first, an Electoral College tie, 269–269. Yes, it can happen. Under the 12th Amendment, a tie goes to the House, which votes for the next president. Easy-peasy, right? The Democrats control the House, so President Biden, your day has come.

Not so fast. First of all, it’s not the current Congress that votes, it’s the next one, the one the nation will elect on Nov. 3 (yes, I’m correct about this). OK, but that Congress is still likely to be Democratic, so what’s the problem? Here’s the problem. The 435 members of the House don’t vote as individuals. They vote as state delegations, each delegation getting one vote. That’s right. So for this vote, Liz Cheney (Wyoming’s lone legislator) will have a voting power equal to that of the 45 California Democrats (and seven Republicans). Let that sink in. Cheney’s vote on this matter would carry more than 50 times the weight of Nancy Pelosi’s.

It is completely insane. Why is it this way? It was a compromise designed to placate—you guessed it—states’ rights advocates, who feared the big states would push the small states around but who won so many arguments that it’s actually the small states that push the big ones around (see United States Senate).

So who controls state delegations? Right now, the Republicans do, 26–25 (the District of Columbia counts here). But as I said, it would be the next Congress that would vote. So Democrats would need to flip one state, and of course hold all the seats in states where they have majorities now. Democrats are up one seat in Pennsylvania, 9–8. Republicans are up one in Florida, 14–13. In Michigan, it’s Democrats by 7–6–1, the one being Justin Amash. How would he vote, assuming he’s re-elected?

But if Democrats can’t flip a state delegation, then the 26–25 Republican edge will hold. So picture it. Trump has lost the popular vote by five million. Through rampant voter suppression and other dirty tricks like those mentioned in that Times piece, he manages to finagle an Electoral College tie. Then it goes to the House, where this nutso scheme they came up with in 1803 when state population differentials weren’t anywhere near what they are today is used to hand Trump re-election. And to really rub salt in the wound, under the terms of the 19th century law that still governs this process, presiding over all this would be a smirking Mike Pence.

We. Are. So. Screwed.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

ND Republican Governor pleads for empathy in needless mask-no mask culture war

49 of 50 governors have better coronavirus poll numbers than Trump reports Aaron Blake at the Washington Post.

New polling data from SurveyMonkey, which were shared with The Washington Post, show that fully 49 of 50 governors have significantly higher approval ratings for their coronavirus responses than Trump does in recent polls. A Washington Post-Ipsos poll last week showed 43 percent of Americans approved of Trump’s handling of the outbreak. The SurveyMonkey data show Trump at a slightly higher 47 percent.

The one governor on Trump’s level is Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R), whose efforts to reopen his state have proved controversial. In the Post-Ipsos poll, Kemp’s approval rating was 39 percent; in the new one, it’s a similar 43 percent — the same as Trump’s.

Apart from Kemp, the governor closest to Trump is Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D), at 54 percent. No other governor falls below half of their constituents supporting their response.

Also reported by Blake, a GOP governor offers emotional plea to the anti-mask crowd: Stop this senseless culture war.

That governor is Doug Burgum of North Dakota. His approval rating is tied with Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine for 6th in the nation and bests New York Gov. Cuomo by 5 points (80 vs. 75).

Here is some of what he had to say.

… GOP Gov. Doug Burgum on Friday offered a plea to stop the madness.

Burgum suggested the debate over masks was being needlessly politicized and that those who are bucking federal health officials’ guidance should rethink their posture.

“I would really love to see in North Dakota that we could just skip this thing that other parts of the nation are going through where they’re trading a divide — either it’s ideological or political or something — around masks versus no mask,” Burgum said. “This is a, I would say, senseless dividing line, and I would ask people to try to dial up your empathy and your understanding.”

The subtext of the remarks was pretty clear: This is a needless culture war.

Burgum then went on, getting emotional.

“If someone is wearing a mask, they’re not doing it to represent what political party they’re in or what candidates they support,” Burgum said, before his voice began breaking. “They might be doing it because they’ve got a 5-year-old child who’s been going through cancer treatments. They might have vulnerable adults in their life who currently have covid, and they’re fighting.”

Burgum concluded his thought: “I would just love to see our state, as part of being North Dakota Smart, also be North Dakota Kind, North Dakota Empathetic.”

Here is the full ranked list of governors (from Aaron Blake). You will find Trump’s score at the very bottom.

No alcoves there