“Bosch knew there were two kinds of truth in this world. The truth that was the unalterable bedrock of one’s life and mission. And the other, malleable truth of politicians, charlatans, corrupt lawyers, and their clients, bent and molded to serve whatever purpose was at hand.”
Text from Michael Connelly’s Two Kinds of Truth
Why don’t the Republicans know that their truths, if whatever it is they think they know, can be called that, that their truths are the truths of “politicians, charlatans, corrupt lawyers, and their clients, bent and molded to serve whatever purpose was at hand.” And at the moment the only purpose at hand now, and for the past four years, is the narcissism of their leader, Donald Trump. But now he’s on the way out! Hooray.
By Philip Rucker, Ashley Parker, Josh Dawsey and Amy Gardner
WASHINGTON – The facts were indisputable: President Donald Trump had lost.
But Trump refused to see it that way. Sequestered in the White House and brooding out of public view after his election defeat, rageful and at times delirious in a torrent of private conversations, Trump was, in the telling of one close adviser, like “Mad King George, muttering, ‘I won. I won. I won.’ “
However cleareyed that Trump’s aides may have been about his loss to President-elect Joe Biden, many of them nonetheless indulged their boss and encouraged him to keep fighting with legal appeals. They were “happy to scratch his itch,” this adviser said. “If he thinks he won, it’s like, ‘Shh . . . we won’t tell him.’ “
Trump campaign pollster John McLaughlin, for instance, discussed with Trump a poll he had conducted after the election that showed Trump with a positive approval rating, a plurality of the country who thought the media had been “unfair and biased against him” and a majority of voters who believed their lives were better than four years earlier, according to two people familiar with the conversation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. As expected, Trump lapped it up.
The result was an election aftermath without precedent in U.S. history. With his denial of the outcome, despite a string of courtroom defeats, Trump endangered America’s democracy, threatened to undermine national security and public health, and duped millions of his supporters into believing, perhaps permanently, that Biden was elected illegitimately.
Trump’s allegations and the hostility of his rhetoric – and his singular power to persuade and galvanize his followers – generated extraordinary pressure on state and local election officials to embrace his fraud allegations and take steps to block certification of the results. When some of them refused, they accepted security details for protection from the threats they were receiving.
“It was like a rumor Whac-A-Mole,” said Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. Despite being a Republican who voted for Trump, Raffensperger said he refused repeated attempts by Trump allies to get him to cross ethical lines. “I don’t think I had a choice. My job is to follow the law. We’re not going to get pushed off the needle on doing that. Integrity still matters.”
All the while, Trump largely abdicated the responsibilities of the job he was fighting so hard to keep, chief among them managing the coronavirus pandemic as the numbers of infections and deaths soared across the country. In an ironic twist, the Trump adviser tapped to coordinate the post-election legal and communications campaign, David Bossie, tested positive for the virus a few days into his assignment and was sidelined.
Only on Nov. 23 did Trump reluctantly agree to initiate a peaceful transfer of power by permitting the federal government to officially begin Biden’s transition – yet still he protested that he was the true victor.
The 20 days between the election on Nov. 3 and the greenlighting of Biden’s transition exemplified some of the hallmarks of life in Trump’s White House: a government paralyzed by the president’s fragile emotional state; advisers nourishing his fables; expletive-laden feuds between factions of aides and advisers; and a pernicious blurring of truth and fantasy.
Though Trump ultimately failed in his quest to steal the election, his weeks-long jeremiad succeeded in undermining faith in elections and the legitimacy of Biden’s victory.
This account of one of the final chapters in Trump’s presidency is based on interviews with 32 senior administration officials, campaign aides and other advisers to the president, as well as other key figures in his legal fight, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to share details about private discussions and to candidly assess the situation.
In the days after the election, as Trump scrambled for an escape hatch from reality, the president largely ignored his campaign staff and the professional lawyers who had guided him through the Russia investigation and the impeachment trial, as well as the army of attorneys who stood ready to file legitimate court challenges.
Instead, Trump empowered loyalists who were willing to tell him what he wanted to hear – that he would have won in a landslide had the election not been rigged and stolen – and then to sacrifice their reputations by waging a campaign in courtrooms and in the media to convince the public of this delusion.
The effort culminated on Nov. 19, when lawyers Rudolph W. Giuliani, Jenna Ellis and Sidney Powell spoke on the president’s behalf at the headquarters of the Republican National Committee to allege a far-reaching and coordinated plot to steal the election for Biden. They argued that Democratic leaders rigged the vote in a number of majority-Black cities, and that voting machines were tampered with by communist forces in Venezuela at the direction of Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan leader who died seven years ago.
There was no evidence to support any of these claims.
The Venezuelan tale was too fantastical even for Trump, a man predisposed to conspiracy theories who for years has feverishly spread fiction. Advisers described the president as unsure about the latest gambit – made worse by the fact that what looked like black hair dye mixed with sweat had formed a trail dripping down both sides of Giuliani’s face during the news conference. Trump thought the presentation made him “look like a joke,” according to one campaign official who discussed it with him.
“I, like everyone else, have yet to see any evidence of it, but it’s a thriller – you’ve got Chávez, seven years after his death, orchestrating this international conspiracy that politicians in both parties are funding,” a Republican official said facetiously. “It’s an insane story.”
Aides said the president was especially disappointed in Powell when Tucker Carlson, host of Fox News’s most-watched program, assailed her credibility on the air after she declined to provide any evidence to support her fraud claims.
Trump pushed Powell out. And, after days of prodding by advisers, he agreed to permit the General Services Administration to formally initiate the Biden transition – a procedural step that amounted to a surrender. Aides said this was the closest Trump would probably come to conceding the election.
Yet even that incomplete surrender was short-lived. Trump went on to falsely claim that he “won,” that the election was “a total scam” and that his legal challenges would continue “full speed ahead.” He spent part of Thanksgiving calling advisers to ask if they believed he really had lost the election, according to a person familiar with the calls. “Do you think it was stolen?” the person said Trump asked on the holiday.
But, his advisers acknowledged, that was largely noise from a president still coming to terms with losing. As November was coming to a close, Biden rolled out his Cabinet picks, states certified his wins, electors planned to make it official when the electoral college meets Dec. 14 and federal judges spoke out.
A simple and clear refutation of the president came Friday from a Trump appointee, when Judge Stephanos Bibas of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit wrote a unanimous opinion rejecting the president’s request for an emergency injunction to overturn the certification of Pennsylvania’s election results.
“Free, fair elections are the lifeblood of our democracy,” Bibas wrote. “Charges of unfairness are serious. But calling an election unfair does not make it so. Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here.”
For Trump, it was over.
“Not only did our institutions hold, but the most determined effort by a president to overturn the people’s verdict in American history really didn’t get anywhere,” said William Galston, chair of the governance studies program at the Brookings Institution. “It’s not that it fell short. It didn’t get anywhere. This, to me, is remarkable.”
Trump’s devolution into disbelief of the results began on election night in the White House, where he joined campaign manager Bill Stepien, senior advisers Jared Kushner and Jason Miller, and other top aides in a makeshift war room to monitor returns.
In the run-up to the election, Trump was aware of the fact – or likelihood, according to polls – that he could lose. He commented a number of times to aides, “Oh, wouldn’t it be embarrassing to lose to this guy?”
But in the final stretch of the campaign, nearly everyone – including the president – believed he was going to win. And early on election night, Trump and his team thought they were witnessing a repeat of 2016, when he defied polls and expectations to build an insurmountable lead in the electoral college.
Then Fox News called Arizona for Biden.
“He was yelling at everyone,” a senior administration official recalled of Trump’s reaction. “He was like, ‘What the hell? We were supposed to be winning Arizona. What’s going on?’ He told Jared to call [News Corp. Executive Chairman Rupert] Murdoch.”
Efforts by Kushner and others on the Trump team to convince Fox to take back its Arizona call failed.
Trump and his advisers were furious, in part because calling Arizona for Biden undermined Trump’s scattershot plan to declare victory on election night if it looked like he had sizable leads in enough states.
With Biden now just one state away from clinching a majority 270 votes in the electoral college and the media narrative turned sharply against him, Trump decided to claim fraud. And his team set out to try to prove it.
Throughout the summer and fall, Trump had laid the groundwork for claiming a “rigged” election, as he often termed it, warning of widespread fraud. Former chief of staff John Kelly told others that Trump was “getting his excuse ready for when he loses the election,” according to a person who heard his comments.
In June, during an Oval Office meeting with political advisers and outside consultants, Trump raised the prospect of suing state governments for how they administer elections and said he could not believe they were allowed to change the rules. All the states, he said, should follow the same rules. Advisers told him that he did not want the federal government in charge of elections.
Trump also was given several presentations by his campaign advisers about the likely surge in mail-in ballots – in part because many Americans felt safer during the pandemic voting by mail than in person – and was told they would overwhelmingly go against him, according to a former campaign official.
Advisers and allies, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., encouraged Trump to try to close the gap in mail-in voting, arguing that he would need some of his voters, primarily seniors, to vote early by mail. But Trump instead exhorted his supporters not to vote by mail, claiming they could not trust that their ballots would be counted.
“It was sort of insane,” the former campaign official said.
Ultimately, it was the late count of mail-in ballots that erased Trump’s early leads in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and other battleground states and propelled Biden to victory. As Trump watched his margins shrink and then reverse, he became enraged, and he saw a conspiracy theory at play.
“You really have to understand Trump’s psychology,” said Anthony Scaramucci, a longtime Trump associate and former White House communications director who is now estranged from the president. “The classic symptoms of an outsider is, there has to be a conspiracy. It’s not my shortcomings, but there’s a cabal against me. That’s why he’s prone to these conspiracy theories.”
This fall, deputy campaign manager Justin Clark, Republican National Committee counsel Justin Riemer and others laid plans for post-election litigation, lining up law firms across the country for possible recounts and ballot challenges, people familiar with the work said. This was the kind of preparatory work presidential campaigns typically do before elections. Giuliani, Ellis and Powell were not involved.
This team had some wins in court against Democrats in a flurry of lawsuits in the months leading up to the election, on issues ranging from absentee ballot deadlines to signature-matching rules.
But Trump’s success rate in court would change considerably after Nov. 3. The arguments that began pouring in from Giuliani and others on Trump’s post-election legal team left federal judges befuddled. In one Pennsylvania case, some lawyers left the Trump team before Giuliani argued the case to a judge. Giuliani had met with the lawyers and wanted to make arguments they were uncomfortable making, campaign advisers said.
For example, the Trump campaign argued in federal court in Philadelphia two days after the election to stop the count because Republican observers had been barred. Under sharp questioning from Judge Paul Diamond, however, campaign lawyers conceded that Trump in fact had “a nonzero number of people in the room,” leaving Diamond audibly exasperated.
“I’m sorry, then what’s your problem?” Diamond asked.
In the days following the election, few states drew Trump’s attention like Georgia, a once-reliable bastion of Republican votes that he carried in 2016 but appeared likely to lose narrowly to Biden as late-remaining votes were tallied.
And few people attracted Trump’s anger like Gov. Brian Kemp, the state’s Republican governor who rode the president’s coattails to his own narrow victory in 2018.
A number of Trump allies tried to pressure Raffensperger, the Republican secretary of state, into putting his thumb on the scale. Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler – both forced into runoff elections on Jan. 5 – demanded Raffensperger’s resignation. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a Trump friend who chairs the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, called Raffensperger to seemingly encourage him to find a way to toss legal ballots.
But Kemp, who preceded Raffensperger as secretary of state, would not do Trump’s bidding. “He wouldn’t be governor if it wasn’t for me,” Trump fumed to advisers earlier this month as he plotted out a call to scream at Kemp.
In the call, Trump urged Kemp to do more to fight for him in Georgia, publicly echo his claims of fraud and appear more regularly on television. Kemp was noncommittal, a person familiar with the call said.
Raffensperger said he knew Georgia was going to be thrust into the national spotlight on Election Day, when dramatically fewer people turned out to vote in person than the Trump campaign needed for a clear win following a surge of mail voting dominated by Democratic voters.
But he said it had never occurred to him to go along with Trump’s unproven allegations because of his duty to administer elections. Raffensperger said his strategy was to keep his head down and follow the law.
“People made wild accusations about the voting systems that we have in Georgia,” Raffensperger said. “They were asking, ‘How do we get to 270? How do you get it to Congress so they can make a determination?’ ” But, he added, “I’m not supposed to put my thumb on the Republican side.”
Trump fixated on a false conspiracy theory that the machines manufactured by Dominion Voting Systems and used in Georgia and other states had been programmed to count Trump votes as Biden votes. In myriad private conversations, the president would find a way to come back to Dominion. He was obsessed.
“Do you think there’s really something here? I’m hearing . . . ” Trump would say, according to one senior official who discussed it with him.
Raffensperger said Republicans were only harming themselves by questioning the integrity of the Dominion machines. He warned that these kinds of baseless allegations could discourage Republicans from voting in the Senate runoffs. “People need to get a grip on reality,” he said.
More troubling to Raffensperger were the many threats he and his wife, Tricia, have received over the past few weeks – and a break-in at another family member’s home. All of it has prompted him to accept a state security detail.
“If Republicans don’t start condemning this stuff, then I think they’re really complicit in it,” he said. “It’s time to stand up and be counted. Are you going to stand for righteousness? Are you going to stand for integrity? Or are you going to stand for the wild mob? You wanted to condemn the wild mob when it’s on the left side. What are you going to do when it’s on our side?”
On Nov. 20, after Raffensperger certified the state’s results, Kemp announced that he would make a televised statement, stoking fears that the president might have finally gotten to the governor.
“This can’t be good,” Jordan Fuchs, a Raffensperger deputy, wrote in a text message.
But Kemp held firm and formalized the certification.
“As governor, I have a solemn responsibility to follow the law, and that is what I will continue to do,” Kemp said. “We must all work together to ensure citizens have confidence in future elections in our state.”
On Nov. 7, four days after the election, every major news organization projected that Biden would win the presidency. At the same time, Giuliani stood before news cameras in the parking lot of Four Seasons Total Landscaping in Philadelphia, near an adult-video shop and a crematorium, to detail alleged examples of voter fraud.
The contrast that day between Giuliani’s humble, eccentric surroundings and Biden’s and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’s victory speeches on a grand, blue-lit stage in Wilmington, Del., underscored the virtual impossibility of Trump’s quest to overturn the results.
Also that day, Stepien, Clark, Miller and Bossie briefed Trump on a potential legal strategy for the president’s approval. They explained that prevailing would be difficult and involve complicated plays in every state that could stretch into December. They estimated a “5 to 10 percent chance of winning,” one person involved in the meeting said.
Trump signaled that he understood and agreed to the strategy.
Around this time, some lawyers around Trump began to suddenly disappear from the effort in what some aides characterized as an attempt to protect their reputations. Former Florida attorney general Pam Bondi, who had appeared at a news conference with Giuliani right after the election, ceased her involvement after the first week.
“Literally only the fringy of the fringe are willing to do pressers, and that’s when it became clear there was no ‘there’ there,” a senior administration official said.
A turning point for the Trump campaign’s legal efforts came on Nov. 13, when its core team of professional lawyers saw the writing on the wall. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit in Philadelphia delivered a stinging defeat to Trump allies in a lawsuit trying to invalidate all Pennsylvania ballots received after Election Day.
The decision didn’t just reject the claim; it denied the plaintiffs standing in any federal challenge under the Constitution’s electors clause – an outcome that Trump’s legal team recognized as a potentially fatal blow to many of the campaign’s challenges in the state.
This is when a gulf emerged between the outlooks of most lawyers on the team and of Giuliani, whom many of the other lawyers thought seemed “deranged” and ill-prepared to litigate, according to a person familiar with the campaign’s legal team. Some of the Trump campaign and Republican party lawyers sought to even avoid meetings with Giuliani and his team. When asked for evidence internally for their most explosive claims, Giuliani and Powell could not provide it, the other advisers said.
Giuliani and his protegee, Ellis, both striving to please the president, insisted that Trump’s fight was not over. Someone familiar with their strategy said they were “performing for an audience of one,” and that Trump held Giuliani in high regard as “a fighter” and as “his peer.”
Tensions within Trump’s team came to a head that weekend, when Giuliani and Ellis staged what the senior administration official called “a hostile takeover” of what remained of the Trump campaign.
On the afternoon of Nov. 13, a Friday, Trump called Giuliani from the Oval Office while other advisers were present, including Vice President Mike Pence; White House counsel Pat Cipollone; Johnny McEntee, the director of presidential personnel; and Clark.
Giuliani, who was on speakerphone, told the president that he could win and that his other advisers were lying to him about his chances. Clark called Giuliani an expletive and said he was feeding the president bad information. The meeting ended without a clear path, according to people familiar with the discussion.
The next day, a Saturday, Trump tweeted out that Giuliani, Ellis, Powell and others were now in charge of his legal strategy. Ellis startled aides by entering the campaign’s Arlington, Va., headquarters and instructing staffers that they must now listen to her and Giuliani.
“They came in one day and were like, ‘We have the president’s direct order. Don’t take an order if it doesn’t come from us,’ ” a senior administration official recalled.
Clark and Miller pushed back, the official said. Ellis threatened to call Trump, to which Miller replied, “Sure, let’s do this,” said a campaign adviser.
It was a fiery altercation, not unlike the many that had played out over the past four years in the corridors of the West Wing. The outcome was that Giuliani and Ellis, as well as Powell – the “elite strike force,” as they dubbed themselves – became the faces of the president’s increasingly unrealistic attempts to subvert democracy.
The strategy, according to a second senior administration official, was, “Anyone who is willing to go out and say, ‘They stole it,’ roll them out. Rudy Giuliani, Jenna Ellis, Sidney Powell. Send [former acting director of national intelligence] Ric Grenell out West. Send [American Conservative Union Chairman] Matt Schlapp somewhere. Just roll everybody up who is willing to do it into a clown car, and when it’s time for a press conference, roll them out.”
Trump and his allies made a series of brazen legal challenges, including in Nevada, where conservative activist Sharron Angle asked a court to block certification of the results in Clark County, by far the state’s most populous county, and order a wholesale do-over of the election.
Clark County Judge Gloria Sturman was incredulous.
“How do you get to that’s sufficient to throw out an entire election?” she said. She noted the practical implications of failing to certify the election, including that every official elected on Nov. 3 would be unable to take office in the new year, including herself.
Sturman denied the request. Not only was there no evidence to support the claims of widespread voter fraud, she said, but “as a matter of public policy, this is just a bad idea.”
As Trump’s legal challenges failed in court, he employed another tactic to try to reverse the result: a public pressure campaign on state and local Republican officials to manipulate the electoral system on his behalf.
“As was the case throughout his business career, he viewed the rules as instruments to be manipulated to achieve his chosen ends,” said Galston of the Brookings Institution.
Trump’s highest-profile play came in Michigan, where Biden was the projected winner and led by more than 150,000 votes. On Nov. 17, Trump called a Republican member of the board of canvassers in Wayne County, which is where Detroit is located and is the state’s most populous county. After speaking with the president, the board member, Monica Palmer, attempted to rescind her vote to certify Biden’s win in Wayne.
Then Trump invited the leaders of Michigan’s Republican-controlled state Senate and House to meet him at the White House, apparently hoping to coax them to block certification of the results or perhaps even to ignore Biden’s popular-vote win and seat Trump electors if the state’s canvassing board deadlocked. Such a move was on shaky legal ground, but that didn’t stop the president from trying.
Republican and Democratic leaders, including current and former governors and members of Congress, immediately launched a full-court press to urge the legislative leaders to resist Trump’s entreaties. The nonpartisan Voter Protection Program was so worried that it commissioned a poll to find out how Michiganders felt about his intervention. The survey found that a bipartisan majority did not like Trump intervening and believed that Biden won the state.
House Speaker Lee Chatfield and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey said they accepted the invitation as a courtesy and issued a joint statement immediately after the meeting: “We have not yet been made aware of any information that would change the outcome of the election in Michigan.”
A person familiar with their thinking said they felt they could not decline the president’s invitation – plus they saw an opportunity to deliver to Trump “a flavor of the truth and what he wasn’t hearing in his own echo chamber,” as well as to make a pitch for coronavirus relief for their state.
There was never a moment when the lawmakers contemplated stepping in on Trump’s behalf, because Michigan law does not allow it, this person said. Before the trip, lawyers for the lawmakers told their colleagues in the legislature that there was nothing feasible in what Trump was trying to do, and that it was “absolute crazy talk” for the Michigan officials to contemplate defying the will of the voters, this person added.
Trump was scattered in the meeting, interrupting to talk about the coronavirus when the lawmakers were talking about the election, and then talking about the election when they were talking about the coronavirus, this person said. The lawmakers left with the impression that the president understood little about Michigan law, but also that his blinders had fallen off about his prospects for reversing the outcome, this person added.
No representatives from Trump’s campaign attended the meeting, and advisers talked Trump out of scheduling a similar one with Pennsylvania officials.
The weekend of Nov. 21 and on Monday, Nov. 23, Trump faced mounting pressure from Republican senators and former national security officials – as well as from some of his most trusted advisers – to end his stalemate with Biden and authorize the General Services Administration to initiate the transition. The bureaucratic step would allow Biden and his administration-in-waiting to tap public funds to run their transition, receive security briefings and gain access to federal agencies to prepare for the Jan. 20 takeover.
Trump was reluctant, believing that by authorizing the transition, he would in effect be conceding the election. Over multiple days, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Cipollone and Jay Sekulow, one of the president’s personal attorneys, explained to Trump that the transition had nothing to do with conceding, and that legitimate challenges could continue, according to someone familiar with the conversations.
Late on Nov. 23, Trump announced that he had allowed the transition to move forward because it was “in the best interest of our Country,” but he kept up his fight over the election results.
The next day, after a conversation with Giuliani, Trump decided to visit Gettysburg, Pa., on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving, for a news conference at a Wyndham Hotel to highlight alleged voter fraud. The plan caught many close to the president by surprise, including RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, three officials said. Some tried to talk Trump out of the trip, but he thought it was a good idea to appear with Giuliani.
A few hours before he was scheduled to depart, the trip was scuttled. “Bullet dodged,” said one campaign adviser. “It would have been a total humiliation.”
That afternoon, Trump called in to the meeting of GOP state senators at the Wyndham, where Giuliani and Ellis were addressing attendees. He spoke via a scratchy connection to Ellis’s cellphone, which she played on speaker. At one point, the line beeped to signal another caller.
“If you were a Republican poll watcher, you were treated like a dog,” Trump complained, using one of his favorite put-downs, even though many people treat dogs well, like members of their own families.
“This election was lost by the Democrats,” he said, falsely. “They cheated.”
Trump demanded that state officials overturn the results – but the count had already been certified. Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes will be awarded to Biden.
The Washington Post’s Emma Brown, Beth Reinhard and Michael Scherer in Washington and Tom Hamburger in Detroit contributed to this report.
Peter Furst, in The Article, February, 2020
As Donald Trump’s State of the Union address reminded us, the Snowflake-in-Chief is a master of misinformation, exaggeration, and straight out lies. To celebrate, we thought we’d look back at the Top Ten claims that would make any other POTUS blush, ranging from the malicious to the ridiculous.
10. Economic boom — 21 January 2020
President Trump, keen for a distraction from his impeachment trial underway back home, boasted to the gathered global elite in Davos: “When I spoke at this forum two years ago, I told you that we had launched the great American comeback. Today, I’m proud to declare that the United States is in the midst of an economic boom the likes of which the world has never seen before.”
There has been an increase in GDP growth under Trump, though this is far from the greatest the world has ever seen. It isn’t even the United States’ best, and falls short of his own campaign goal of four per cent. The highest achieved under the current administration is 3.5 per cent, while the most recent figures from the Bureau of Economic Analysis show growth for the third quarter of 2019 at 2.1 per cent. Between 1947 and 1973, growth averaged over four per cent, and between 1997 and 2000 it was closer to 4.5 per cent.
The International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook Database ranks the United States at 103rd in terms of real GDP growth rate in its most recent data set for the 2018 calendar year.
9. Guns minimise mass shootings — 28 February 2018
In the wake of the Stoneman Douglas High School massacre, in which 17 people were killed, Trump cast his mind back to the 2016 mass shooting in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
“You take Pulse nightclub,” he said during a televised meeting with members of Congress. “If you had one person in that room that could carry a gun and knew how to use it, it wouldn’t have happened, or certainly to the extent that it did.”
In fact, a uniformed and armed off-duty police officer, with 15 years experience with the Orlando Police Department, was working security that night. He exchanged gunfire with the perpetrator. Despite the bravery of Officer Adam Gruler, and the quick response of his colleagues, 49 people were killed.
8. Trump’s accomplished administration — 26 September 2018
Addressing the UN General Assembly, Trump had the world’s representatives laughing — but at him, not with him.
“Today I stand before the United Nations General Assembly to share the extraordinary progress we’ve made,” he said. “In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country.”
For even the most successful administration, such a brag less than halfway through its first term would be a bit much. There is no objective measure for what qualifies as an “accomplishment”, but there may be other presidents who deserve higher billing.
Abraham Lincoln, for example, lead the Union to victory over the Confederates in the Civil War, issued the Emancipation Proclamation and eventually ended slavery. Franklin Roosevelt won four presidential elections, steered the United States out of the Great Depression and through World War Two. He also implemented the New Deal, and guided his country to a position of world leadership.
George Washington was the founding president, elected unanimously by the college. Regarded as the “Father of his Country,” he established the Supreme Court and Navy, and entered a most favoured nations treaty with Britain. Then there’s Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, Harry Truman, Woodrow Wilson, JFK . . .
7. Muslims celebrated 9/11 attacks — 21 November 2015
Speaking at a rally just over a week after a series of terrorist attacks in Paris and its surrounds left 131 people dead, Trump told the crowd: “Hey, I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering.”
He repeated his comments during an interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week”: “I know it might be not politically correct for you to talk about it, but there were people cheering as that building came down, as those buildings came down. And that tells you something. It was well covered at the time, George. Now, I know they don’t like to talk about it, but it was well covered at the time. There were people over in New Jersey that were watching it, a heavy Arab population, that were cheering as the buildings came down. Not good.”
As the Washington Post pointed out at the time, the exchange demonstrates the difficulty of fact-checking Trump. The police said it didn’t happen, yet he insisted he saw it. Despite extensive examinations of news reports, no visual evidence has ever been found to support the claim. Curiously, there are also no examples of Trump expressing this opinion at the time of the attacks or at any stage before the rally.
6. Post-natal executions — 27 April 2019
The President has recognised that an anti-abortion stance plays well with his voting base. Addressing a rally in Green Bay, he told the crowd that with late-term abortion “the mother meets with the doctor. They take care of the baby, they wrap the baby beautifully. And then the doctor and the mother determine whether or not they will execute the baby”.
Late-term abortions are rare and generally only occur due to a threat to the mother’s life or if the child has fatal abnormalities. Where a baby is born, and dies due to severe abnormalities, parents and doctors make a decision whether to resuscitate or not. This is not the execution of a healthy, or even viable child.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 1.4 per cent of abortions occur after 21 weeks (out of a standard 40-week pregnancy). According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, less than one per cent of abortions occur in the third trimester and almost exclusively occur in the most extreme situations.
“Allowing to die does happen,” said Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at New York University Langone Medical Center, but “very rarely — say, a baby born with no lungs at 20 weeks”.
5. More legislation than anybody — 27 December 2017
A year into his presidency, Trump told a West Palm Beach crowd: “You know, one of the things that people don’t understand — we have signed more legislation than anybody. We broke the record of Harry Truman.”
Not quite. According to govtracks.us, the President actually passed the least amount of legislation in the first year of anyone elected to the office since World War II. Trump signed off on 96 laws in the period, while Truman racked up 126 in his first 100 days alone. John F Kennedy takes the record at the one-year mark with 684 signed bills.
4. Obama’s family separation policy — 26 May 2018
Trump’s vitriol should have been directed at his own administration when he tweeted: “Put pressure on the Democrats to end the horrible law that separates children from there [sic] parents once they cross the Border into the US.”
He was still peddling this lie a year later. In an interview on Telemundo in June, he claimed: “When I became president, President Obama had a separation policy. I didn’t have it. He had it. I brought the families together. I’m the one that put them together.”
There was no specific law under the Democratic administration of Barack Obama to separate children from their parents. It did occur occasionally when the parents were charged with a crime and placed in custody, due to a policy of not imprisoning children. However, illegal immigrants were rarely prosecuted and instead held in family detention centres under Obama, while under Trump the Homeland Security Department now refers all illegal border crossings for prosecution.
3. Trump won the popular vote — 28 November 2016
Following his against-the-odds win in the 2016 presidential election, Trump tweeted: “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”
The Electoral College result was a resounding win, but not a landslide. In fact, the margin of victory ranked just 46th out of 58 presidential elections. Trump had 56.9 per cent of the college. Washington had 100 per cent twice, Ronald Reagan picked up 97.6 per cent, and even fellow impeachment-target Richard Nixon garnered 96.65 per cent of votes.
In terms of the popular vote, by the official results the President lost by just under three million to Hillary Clinton, the largest margin of any presidential election ever. There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud, certainly not to the extent of explaining such a deficit. Trump even established the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, but it was unable to confirm any irregularities and was disbanded before it could hand down such a finding.
2. Trump’s tax cuts don’t help him personally — 27 September 2017
The most significant legislative success of the current administration was the passing of US$1.5 trillion in tax cuts, which among other things lowered company tax rates from 35 per cent to 21 per cent, and reducing the alternative minimum tax, which is designed to guarantee that high-income earners with significant deductions still pay a minimum amount of tax.
Trump, the only modern president not to have released his tax returns, told reporters that his plan was for the working people and not people like him. “No, I don’t benefit. I don’t benefit. In fact, very, very strongly, as you see, I think there’s very little benefit for people of wealth.”
The President expanded in a speech in St Charles on November 29: “This is going to cost me a fortune, this thing — believe me. Believe me, this is not good for me.”
Without access to Trump’s tax returns it is impossible to know exactly how the tax cuts would affect him — maybe he’s about to declare bankruptcy, as he has six times in his business dealings. Writing the day after his original claim, a New York Times analysis found: “President Trump could cut his tax bills by more than $1.1 billion, including saving tens of millions of dollars in a single year.”
1. Most bigly inauguration crowd ever — 26 January 2017
Our final false claim by Trump is probably the most comical, though maybe he was just trying to help his press secretary at the time, Sean Spicer, save face. Spicer told reporters after the inauguration that Trump drew “the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe”.
After adviser Kellyanne Conway had made her famous “alternate facts,” remark, Trump came onboard with the spurious claim, telling ABC News: “When I looked at the numbers that have come in from all of the various sources, we had the biggest audience in the history of inaugural speeches.”
The photographic evidence is emphatic. Obama eight years earlier had an estimated crowd around 1.8 million. Even Trump only bragged of 1.5 million. It was probably closer to 250,000. The good news: the Washington-area transit authority reported no delays on the Metro, with resources more than meeting demand.
The President also claimed at CIA headquarters the day following the inauguration that God had prevented rain, when in fact it rained.
Even literally, the truth is raining on Trump’s parade.
Мы два существа и сошлись в беспредельности… в последний раз в мире.
Оставьте ваш тон и возьмите человеческий! Заговорите хоть раз в жизни голосом человеческим. Шатов
We are two beings and converged in infinity … for the last time in the world.
Leave your tone and take the human one! Speak at least once in your life with a human voice. Shatov
The two beings are Nikolai Stavrogin and Shatov, and this passage is from Dostoevsky’s Demons, Part II, Chapter 6:
Stavrogin’ is an atheist. His ridiculous actions in Dostoevsky’s
Demons include pulling a high social standing man by the nose at a local bar, kissing another man’s wife at her own party, and biting the ear of the territorial governor. Such wild antics and others cause him to be diagnosed with insanity. In this excerpt he’s speaking with Shatov, his former student, who was expelled from school due to an unknown scandal. A one time a radical socialist, Shatov converts to a Russian idealist.
These two beings are, as Dostoevsky says, converged in infinity. In Russian the word is беспредельности. What does that mean? If there is one subject matter of Dostoevsky’s books, or rather testaments (books is somehow not enough of a word for his writings!) this might be best said as he’s writing about all of us, “beings converged in infinity.” That’s all of us, and Dovtoevsky was one of the first to realize this.
‘Not a single people,’ Shatov began, as if reading line for line and at the same time continuing to look threateningly at Stavrogin, ‘not one people has ever yet organized itself according to the principles of science and reason. Never has there been a single example of that, except only for a brief moment, out of stupidity. Socialism, by its very nature, must be atheism, for it has specifically proclaimed, from its very first words, that it is an atheistic construct and is intentionally organized exclusively according to the principles of science and reason. Reason and science in the life of peoples always, now and from the beginning of time, have fulfilled merely a secondary and auxiliary function; and that will be their function until the end of time.’ (From Dostoevsky’s Demons, Part two, Chapters 6 and 7)
How did Donald Trump seem to always have known this, that he had only to flee reason and science, that he had only to ally himself with the believers and the country would be his? How could he have known that hat science and reason were never of the people. Throughout his presidency Trump was, if not saying, clearly implying that reason and science, not God was dead, thereby giving millions, in the last election 70 million. what they wanted to hear, and thereby insuring him their vote in the next election.
For who but the believers would ever want to hear anything other than than the miracles of religion, Mary’s ascension to God’s side for example, Jesus leaving the tomb. These were truly miraculous and not what to many of us have always seemed to be the no less miraculous achievements of reason and science, the calculus and evolution, for example. And in fact given the beliefs of the American people how could it ever be that classical liberals of which I am one, and not believers, would one day obtain the presidency.
From Dostevsky’s Demons, Part II. Night
Not a single nation,” he went on, as though reading it line by line, still gazing menacingly at Stavrogin, “not a single nation has ever been founded on principles of science or reason. There has never been an example of it, except for a brief moment, through folly.
Socialism is from its very nature bound to be atheism, seeing that it has from the very first proclaimed that it is an atheistic organisation of society, and that it intends to establish itself exclusively on the elements of science and reason.
Science and reason have, from the beginning of time, played a secondary and subordinate part in the life of nations; so it will be till the end of time
Nations are built up and moved by another force which sways and dominates them, the origin of which is unknown and inexplicable: that force is the force of an insatiable desire to go on to the end, though at the same time it denies that end.
It is the force of the persistent assertion of one’s own existence, and a denial of death.
It’s the spirit of life, as the Scriptures call it, ‘the river of living water,’ the drying up of which is threatened in the Apocalypse.
It’s the æsthetic principle, as the philosophers call it, the ethical principle with which they identify it, ‘the seeking for God,’ as I call it more simply.
The object of every national movement, in every people and at every period of its existence is only the seeking for its god, who must be its own god, and the faith in Him as the only true one.
God is the synthetic personality of the whole people, taken from its beginning to its end.
It has never happened that all, or even many, peoples have had one common god, but each has always had its own.
It’s a sign of the decay of nations when they begin to have gods in common.
When gods begin to be common to several nations the gods are dying and the faith in them, together with the nations themselves.
The stronger a people the more individual their God.
There never has been a nation without a religion, that is, without an idea of good and evil.
What chance do we have, could we possibly have? We have only reason and science, and they have religion and God, not to mention their endless supply of conspiracy theories which need only the thinnest of formulations to find takers ready to believe and follow.
Religion enables its people to be exclusive, banishing things and people that don’t fit.
Science (ok,our God if you will) encourages us to be inclusive, including everything in the mix.
Has religion always won in the inevitable battles with science? Has exclusion won out over inclusion? Well up until now that does seem to be the case, and in spite of science having, in mid 19th century, let loose the calvalry, the evolutionary horsemen of Charles Darwin.
Gail Collins: The New York Times, November 12, 2020
Send me your pick for the worst of the worst. Winners will be announced before the turkey and stuffing are on the table on Thursday, November 26, 2020, year one of After Trump. or AT.
We’ve been through a lot these last few days, people. Decades from now, some of you are going to have to answer your grandchildren when they ask you about the Time of the Two Presidents.
Donald Trump’s resistance to the idea that he lost the election isn’t a surprise. This is a man, former star of a phony-reality TV show, who almost never admits he’s lost/failed/come in second at anything. Who knows what new adventures we’ll have before Inauguration Day? I’m hoping he’ll refuse to leave his room and security agents will end up carrying him out of the White House in a blanket….
Meanwhile, if you had to pick one seminal moment in the Trump resistance, it really ought to be Rudy Giuliani’s press conference announcing the president would not concede. So many reasons this gets top billing. Not the least was that Giuliani’s prime witness, introduced to back up claims of voter fraud, turned out to be a convicted sex offender.
But experts searching high and low failed to find any evidence of the kind of serious, widespread irregularities that might call the results into question. Instead, the public got … Giuliani. Who held his press conference at a place called Four Seasons Total Landscaping in Philadelphia. This seemed to give Trump the pleasant impression the event was in the swank Four Seasons Hotel, instead of a humble gardening service store near a crematory and a sex shop.
Rudy emphasized that his prime witness, Brooks, was just the first of what were going to be “many, many witnesses” of election fraud. Inquiring minds wanted to know why, in that case, he chose to lead off with a guy who served jail time for exposing himself to two girls, owed a great deal of money in overdue child support payments and, if known at all in his home state, New Jersey, it is as one of those guys who keeps running for offices he’s never going to win in a million years.
Gail’s List of the worst of the worse:
Attorney General Bill Barr
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
Emily Murphy, the head of the General Services Administration
Mike Pence, on general principles
The whole Trump resistance has a nutty flavor. The family is sending out emails assuring supporters that victory is around the corner, just so long as a check is in the mail.
We’re just two weeks from Thanksgiving and I know you all have a lot of priorities. Tell me which you would rather invest your money in:
A. Charities that give food for the poor.
B. Outdoor heaters so you can, maybe, have a safe little party for friends and family.
C. Trump Official Election Defense Fund.
Who’s the most irresponsible member of the Trump orbit? Besides, obviously, Himself?
And then if you still are not convinced that the 2020 election is over and done with there was this appearing in the Times of November 12:
“The president and his allies have baselessly claimed that rampant voter fraud stole victory from him. Officials contacted by The Times said that there were no irregularities that affected the outcome.”
Is that Donald and his wife are now infected by the coronavirus. Were they wearing masks, practicing social distancing? Nobody seems to know where, or when or how it happened. But it did happen. And on this occasion Trump was obliged to accept the reality of Covid-19, much like he accepts the reality of anything, not for it self, but for his, Donald Trump’s own self. Does he know that worldwide there are some 33 million reported cases, and that there have been 1 million deaths, over 200,000 in our country alone? Will he now start to listen to anyone other than his own inner voices as to what’s going on and what should be done. Don’t hold your breath.
“The President is obsessed with menaces—posed by shadowy members of a “deep state,” by “the radical left,” by foreigners of all sorts. But the gravest menace to public health and public order has come from within the White House. So long as Trump holds office, no manner of quarantine will suffice to contain it.” David Remnick, The New Yorker, October 1, 2020
I’ve never fully understood what it was, what it is that enables Trump to grow the executive power of the government and thereby assume in more and more instances authoritarian powers that should never have been his. I’ve never understood what it was that has enabled him to become the greatest threat we have ever experienced to our democracy.
Something comparable to Hitler’s Brown Shirts is one explication. Trump’s Brown Shirts are for the most part not clearly thugs but Republican Senators and Representatives in the Congress. But there are others, real thugs, the Republican Senators being just the most well dressed and visible of his followers.
If you’ve forgotten just who were Hitler’s Brown Shirts (would they remain forgotten and never return!). I take the following clarification from the Britannica via Google.
” Sturmabteilung or Storm Troopers popularly known for their brown shirts took on the role in the German Nazi Party, of a paramilitary organization whose methods of violent intimidation played a key role in Adolf Hitler’s own rise to power.” Trump’s own Brown Shirts not yet Hitler’s thugs, are the Proud Boys and other such organizations, created from among former police and service men now on the far right of opinion and who would like nothing else than to throw themselves in with the lot of their president.
A connection between that and Trump’s rallies?
And of course I’m not alone to write about Trumps enablers. Others are no less taken by them than I am. Here’s David Brooks writing inn the Times of October 1, writing about a “core America.”
“The most ardent and enthusiastic Trump supporters, Brooks notes, are not economically marginalized, not submissive, not authoritarian, not religious or conventionally conservative. They have a strong concept that there is a core America, a concept which I suppose you could summarize as white, rural, John Wayne, football and hunting.”
“White, rural, John Wayne, football and hunting,” this sounds much like the America Trump would take us back to. While being quarantined I’ve been doing jigsaw puzzles, and have begun to appreciate them as never before, as one more activity keeping me mentally alive at an age when I’m not meant to be alive. Anyway the most recent puzzle, that the two of us, my wife Josée and myself, completed, entitled 19th century history, might be entitled Brooks’ “core America,” or the white America that Trump would take us back to: “white, rural, John Wayne, football and hunting.” Only foot ball is not in the picture. There are horses, a few Indians, one Black man up top and kind of out of the picture, no woman of course. In the 19th century Blacks, the millions of them, were mostly out of the picture.
Anyway this puzzle is good summary of the America that Trump would take us back to, if he could, but of course he can’t. America has moved on, and is better today than it was then, and no thanks to our president who does seem to want to return to the past, an America without the civil rights, the legions of immigrants it has always known, and without the Coronavirus of course.
Throughout Covid-19’s presence here among us since February or March of this year, actually much longer than that, really since January 2017, when Trump became the proud possessor of the Oval Office as he so likes to show us during the endless signing ceremonies that take place there.
And a competent one at that.
Andrew Sullivan in the Weekly Dish, September, 2020
If there’s one enduring theme about tyrants in myth, literature, and history it is that, for a long time, no one takes them seriously. And there are few better examples of this than Shakespeare’s fictional Richard III. He’s a preposterous figure in many ways, an unsightly hunchback, far down the line of royal accession, socially outcast, riven with resentment, utterly dismissible — until he serially dismisses and/or murders everyone between him and the throne. What makes the play so riveting and often darkly funny is the sheer unlikelihood of the plot, the previously inconceivable ascent to the Crown of this indelibly absurd figure, as Stephen Greenblatt recently explored in his brilliant monograph, Tyrant.
I’ll never forget watching a performance by Antony Sher of Richard decades ago — playing him as a spider, instinctually scuttling on two legs and two black canes, to trap, murder, and ingest his foes. The role is, of course, a fictional portrait, designed to buttress the legitimacy of the Tudor dynasty that followed Richard III and that Shakespeare lived under. But as an analysis of the psychology of tyranny, it’s genius. Like Plato and Aristotle, Shakespeare saw this question not merely as political, but as wrapped up in the darker folds of the human soul, individual and collective.
The background of the drama is England’s “War of the Roses”, the civil war between two regional dynasties from which Richard emerged. And that’s often key in tyrant narratives: it’s when societies are already fractured into tribes, and divisions have become insurmountable, that tyrants tend to emerge, exploiting and fomenting chaos, to reign, however briefly, over the aftermath.
The war seems resolved when the victorious Edward, Richard’s older brother, succeeds to the throne: “For here I hope begins our lasting joy!” And no one thinks the deformed, bitter sibling, of all people, would be a threat. It seems preposterous. But it’s true. And at each unimaginable power grab by Richard — murdering one brother, killing the late king Edward’s young heirs, killing his own wife, and then trying to marry his niece to secure the dynasty — Richard’s peers keep telling themselves that it isn’t really happening. Greenblatt notes: “The principal weapon Richard has is the very absurdity of his ambition. No one in his right mind would suspect that he seriously aspires to the throne.”
But he has one key skill, Greenblatt notes, the ability to lie shamelessly: “‘Why, I can smile and murder whiles I smile, And cry ‘Content!’ to that which grieves my heart, And wet my cheeks with artificial tears, And frame my face to all occasions.’” It’s a skill that serves him well — and there seems no limit to the number of those eager to believe him. His older brother George, Duke of Clarence, told by thugs that Richard wants him dead, exclaims: “Oh no, he loves me, and he holds me dear. Go you to him from me.” At which point the hired goons reply — “Ay, so we will” — and merrily murder him, taking him to Richard as a corpse. (In a good production, that can get a laugh.) One of Clarence’s young sons, told that his own uncle hates him, declares, “I cannot think it.” Others witness obvious depravity but can’t quite call it out. One official receives clearly illegal orders from Richard, and follows them, asking no questions: “I will not reason what is meant hereby, Because I will be guiltless from the meaning.”
Denial. Avoidance. Distraction. Willful ignorance. These are all essential to enabling a tyrant’s rise. And keeping this pattern going is Richard’s profound grasp of the power of shock. He does and says the unexpected and unthinkable in order to stun his opponents into a kind of dazed passivity. It’s this capacity to keep you on your heels, to keep disorienting you with the unacceptable (which is then somehow accepted), that marks a tyrant’s relentless drive. He does this by instinct. He craves chaos, lies, suspense, surprises — not because he’s a genius, but because stability threatens his psyche. He cannot rest. He is not in control of himself. And whenever the dust settles, as it were, he has to disturb it again.
This is what we’ve been dealing with in the figure of Donald Trump now for five years, and it is absurd to believe that a duly conducted election is going to end it. I know, I know. I’m hysterical and over-the-top and a victim of “Trump Derangement Syndrome.” Trump is simply too incompetent and too lazy to be an actual tyrant, I’m constantly scolded. He’s just baiting me again. And so on. But what I think this otherwise salient critique misses is that tyranny is not, in its essence, about the authoritarian and administrative skills required to run a country effectively for a long time. Tyrants, after all, are often terrible at this. It is rather about a mindset, as the ancient philosophers understood, with obvious political consequences. It’s a pathology. It requires no expertise in anything other than itself.
You need competence if you want to run an effective government, or plan a regular campaign, or master policy with a view to persuading people, or hold power for the sake of something else. You need competence to create and sustain something. But you do not need much competence to destroy things. You just need the will. And this is what tyrants do: they destroy things. Richard III ruled for two short years, ending in his own death in battle, and a ruined country.
This is Trump’s threat. Not the construction of a viable one-party state, but the destruction of practices, norms, civility, laws, customs and procedures that constitute liberal democracy’s non-zero-sum genius. He doesn’t need to be competent to destroy our system of government. He merely needs to be himself: an out-of-control, trust-free, malignant narcissist, with inexhaustible resources of psychic compulsion, in a pluralist system designed for the opposite. All you need is an insatiable pathological drive to avoid any constraint on your own behavior, and the demagogic genius to carry a critical mass of people with you, and our system, designed as the antidote to tyranny, is soon unspooling into incoherence, deadlock, and collapse.
I’m told he’s been ineffective even as a tyrant, so no worries. To which I can only say: really? Once you realize he doesn’t give a shit about any actual policies, apart from doing all he can to wipe the legacy of Barack Obama from planet earth, he’s been pretty competent. Note how he turned Congressional subpoenas into toilet paper; how he crippled and muzzled the Mueller inquiry; how he installed a crony at the Department of Justice to pursue his political enemies and shield him from the law; how effectively he stymied impeachment; how he cucked every previous Republican opponent; how he helped destroy the credibility of news sources that oppose him; how he filled his cabinet with acting secretaries and flunkies; how he declared fake emergencies to claim the power of the purse assigned to the Congress; and how he has reshaped the Supreme Court with potentially three new Justices, whom he sees solely as his loyal stooges if he comes up against the rule of law.
And gotten away with all of it!
In protecting his own power over others, he has been as competent as hell. Imagine where we’d be in four more years. Despite a mountain of criticism, he has not conceded a single error, withdrawn a single statement, or acknowledged a single lie. His party lost the mid-terms, but seriously, what difference did that make? His control of the Republican party, and his cult-like grip on the base, has never been greater than now. Yes, he has said and done racially polarizing things — but the joke is he may yet have more support from blacks and Latinos in 2020 than he did in 2016. Think of his greatest policy failures: the appalling loss of life in the Covid epidemic and the collapse of law and order in the cities. Now recall that on February 1 of this year, Trump was at 43.4 percent approval; 200,000 deaths later, and the wreckage from Seattle to Portland to Minneapolis, and his approval today is at 43.1 percent.
This is, of course, not enough to win re-election. And Trump has no interest in broadening his appeal, because it would dilute the tribalism he feeds off. So he has made it abundantly clear that if the results of the election show him the loser, he will not accept them. Simple, really. He said this in 2016, of course, refusing to honor the result in advance. But this year, he has stumbled upon something quite marvelous for his purposes. Because of Covid19, it is likely that mail-in ballots will be far higher in number than before, and, as Barton Gellman has shown in this essential new piece, this gives Trump an opportunity he has instinctively seized. He has been saying for months now that: “MAIL-IN VOTING WILL LEAD TO MASSIVE FRAUD AND ABUSE … WE CAN NEVER LET THIS TRAGEDY BEFALL OUR GREAT NATION.” In late summer, Gellman noted, Trump was making this argument four times a day: “Very dangerous for our country.” “A catastrophe.” “The greatest rigged election in history.” He is telling us loud and clear that, if he has anything to do with it, this election will not be decided at the ballot box, but at the Supreme Court, which he expects to control.
If you haven’t, read Gellman’s piece closely. It seems inevitable to me that, unless it’s a Biden landslide, Trump will declare himself the winner on election night, regardless of the actual results. Because most mail-in ballots will take more time to count, and several swing states have not changed their laws to allow for counting before election day, and mail-ins are easily challenged, it is quite likely that much of Biden’s vote will remain uncounted or contested — and could remain so for a long time. And after declaring victory within hours of polls closing, Trump will follow the script he used for Florida in 2018: “The Florida Election should be called in favor of Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis in that large numbers of new ballots showed up out of nowhere, and many ballots are missing or forged,” he tweeted, making shit up as usual. “An honest vote count is no longer possible — ballots massively infected. Must go with Election Night!”
I’ve no doubt this bullshit will be challenged by the networks, the press, and many of the states, and other sane people, who will urge patience. I’ve also no doubt that many states will do their best not to pervert the process. But I fear the result will be close (I’m underwhelmed by Biden’s near-invisible campaign), which will give Trump a chance. The fanaticism and alternate reality of a base already addicted to conspiracy theories means a hefty chunk of the country will back him. And it’s perfectly possible that Trump’s pre-emptive strike on the election result could prompt a massive revolt across the country from those who want to defend our democracy. (I will be marching in such a scenario myself). Most presidents would balk at anything close to this kind of scenario. Trump can’t wait. Violence? You can almost feel Trump’s hankering for it.
All he wants is chaos, because in chaos, the strong leader wins. Would he incite violence on his behalf if the votes seem to be drifting away from him? You bet he would. Would he urge his supporters to physically prevent ballot-counting? He already has. Would he try to corral Republican state legislators to back him in electing electors? Gellman has sources. Would he take this country to the brink of civil conflict? Way past it. Will anyone in the GOP do anything to stop him? We know the answer to that already. If they cannot condemn him this week, when would they? And he will do all this not out of some strategic calculation or tactical skill but because he cannot do anything else. He is psychologically incapable of conceding anything. And he has no understanding of collateral damage because his narcissism precludes it.
In every Shakespeare play about tyranny — from Richard III to Coriolanus to Macbeth — the tyrant loses in the end, and often quite quickly. They’re not that competent at governing, or even interested in it. The forces they unleash come back to wipe them from the stage, sooner or later. They flame out. Richard III lasted a mere couple of years on the throne.
But in every case, they leave a wrecked and reeling society in their wake. Look around you now and see the damage already done. Now imagine what we face in the next few months. We are tethered to Trump at this point because he is the legitimate president: the man who cannot control himself is in control of all the rest of us. And that’s why I desperately want to appeal to right-of-center readers at this point in the campaign to do everything they can to vote and to vote for Biden. This is not about left or right. This is about the integrity of a system that can give us such a choice. It really is an existential moment for liberal democracy, and its future, not just here but across the world. The next few months are critical.
It fills me with inexpressible rage that we have been brought to this. But there is no way out now other than through. This was always going to be the moment of maximal danger. And we cannot lose our focus now.