Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming

EARLY VOTING WILL BEGIN NEXT WEEK IN THESE STATES: Maine, Montana, California, Iowa, Nebraska, South Carolina, Indiana, New Mexico, Ohio, and Arizona

What did Donald Trump do today? 

He eventually claimed he didn't know the white nationalist group he encouraged last night.

Last night, asked to denounce the white nationalist group, Trump instead ordered them to "stand back and stand by." He then followed up by ordering his followers to "watch" polling sites in places like Philadelphia, where a sizable number of votes will be cast for his opponent. "Poll-watching" is an old voter suppression technique that Trump's party was barred by a legal settlement from doing for decades.

None of the post-debate spin, or anything from the White House this morning, suggested that Trump meant anything other than what he said. But after a member of the Proud Boys was arrested this morning for pointing a gun at anti-racist protesters in Portland last month, the official story changed. By this afternoon, Trump was telling reporters he'd never heard of the Proud Boys.

Q: Mr. President, can you explain what you meant last night when you said that the Proud Boys should “stand back and stand by”?

TRUMP: I don’t know who the Proud Boys are. I mean, you’ll have to give me a definition, because I really don’t know who they are. I can only say they have to stand down, let law enforcement do their work. Law enforcement will do the work more and more. As people see how bad this radical, liberal, Democrat movement is and how weak — the law enforcement is going to come back stronger and stronger.

But again, I don’t know who Proud Boys are. But whoever they are, they have to stand down. Let law enforcement do their work.

If true, that would be a pretty shocking admission of ignorance on Trump's part. As the arrest this morning shows, the Proud Boys have been some of the main instigators of the violence Trump attributes to anti-racism protestors, especially in Portland. Even before the events of this summer, the group was inciting violence in Portland, for which ten members were arrested in 2018. They're certainly very well known to state and federal law enforcement officials Trump says he's working with to restore "law and order." It's inconceivable that he wouldn't have been briefed on them, although whether Trump actually reads or understands his briefings is another story altogether.

But realistically, there's no way Trump could not know about the Proud Boys. They were part of last month's Russian-organized "cruise rally" of Trump supporters driving through Portland streets attempting to antagonize anti-racist protestors by shooting paintballs and pepper spray from their vehicles. (They succeeded in antagonizing someone; one of the participants, not a member of the Proud Boys, was shot and killed.) They've been some of Trump's most vocal and active supporters in the extremist fringe, targeting his opponents even before he started giving them orders. And Trump has repaid the favor: Proud Boys members were among the "very fine people" chanting "Jews will not replaces us" at the fatal Charlottesville rally in 2017. In fact, it was organized by Jason Kessler, then a member of the group.

The chairman of the group even got prime seating at a Trump rally in 2019, appearing directly behind Trump in full view of the TV cameras. Contrary to the campaign's claims, those coveted seats are not assigned on a first-come, first-served basis.

Trump's "forgetfulness" about figures like this is nothing new. On the campaign trail in 2016, in order to avoid denouncing David Duke—a vocal Trump supporter and probably the most famous Ku Klux Klansman in the last century—Trump pretended he'd never heard of him. In fact, he'd spoken about Duke many times before running for president, and had disavowed him then, when it cost him nothing to do so.

Why should I care about this?

  • A president who hesitates to denounce racism and terrorism when it is politically inconvenient is a coward.
  • Extremist white supremacists with a history of violence don't whole-heartedly support a presidential candidate for no reason.
  • Nobody tries to intimidate voters in an election they think they can win fairly.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming

What did Donald Trump do today? 

He literally told a violent white nationalist group to "stand by."

Tonight's presidential debate was almost universally panned, as much for its unwatchability—"shitshow" was the word a CNN anchor used—as for the torrent of lies and exaggerations Trump helped put forward. 

But Trump made one statement in particular that seems to have made more of an impression than most. Moderator Chris Wallace challenged Trump to condemn white supremacists and militia groups, such as those targeting anti-racism protests in Kenosha and Portland. Trump demanded a specific name, and Joe Biden mentioned the Proud Boys, a violent white nationalist group that openly supports him. 

Trump responded, "Proud Boys, stand back and stand by, but I'll tell you what, somebody's gotta do something about antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem. This is a left-wing problem."

The Proud Boys are an all-male, openly racist organization that the FBI declared an extremist group in 2018. It teaches that white Americans are at risk of genocide by immigrants, and has tried to provoke violence at otherwise peaceful protests against racism. It was involved in the deadly 2017 Charlottesville "Unite the Right" rally, where Trump memorably declared that the Proud Boys' side of the conflict contained "very fine people."

Members of the group were ecstatic with Trump's deputizing them for future actions. One of their leaders posted on social media, "Trump basically said to go fuck them up! This makes me so happy." He later wrote, "President Trump told the proud boys to stand by because someone needs to deal with ANTIFA... well sir! we're ready!!" 

Within an hour of Trump's remark, the group had incorporated it into its logo.

In a related question, Wallace asked Trump if he would ask his supporters—in general, not just the white supremacist ones—to respect the outcome of the election, and to wait for the count to be concluded without resorting to violence. Trump responded that he wanted his supporters to physically go to polling places and "watch very carefully."

Why is this a bad thing?

  • A president who can't bring himself to denounce a violent white nationalist gang is unfit for office.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming

What did Donald Trump do today? 

He tried to defuse the tax story without saying anything.

Trump made two public appearances today: once at a swing-state factory making electric trucks, and once at a coronavirus briefing. At the first, he reflexively began to answer when a reporter shouted a question, but turned and abruptly left after it became clear she was asking about the shocking revelations about his tax returns.

Q: Mr. President, are you looking forward to the debate?

TRUMP:  Yeah, I am.  I do.  I’m really —

Q: Mr. President, you tweeted about releasing a financial statement.  When will you release that?

TRUMP:  — I am looking — I am looking very forward to the debate.  Thank you, everybody.


At the second, he simply stalked away from the podium as reporters shouted questions.

Trump's strategy yesterday was to insist that, somehow, the 18 years of tax returns obtained by the New York Times were "fake news." He also insisted that unofficial financial disclosure forms would be a much better way to learn about his finances.

Today, in a tweet, he backtracked from even that, saying that he "may" release a self-reported financial statement. This hypothetical future statement—Trump didn't say when he might release it—would supposedly show that Trump had a healthy debt-to-cash ratio, and that it would be "IMPRESSIVE."

Of course, even without releasing his own copies of tax returns, Trump could easily disprove any false statements in the NYT article. He could also simply say who some of the unknown parties or countries are who own his debt, which may total $1.1 billion or more. Because the use of financial leverage is a common way of recruiting spies, far less debt than the NYT story uncovered would permanently disqualify Trump from getting even a basic security clearance, if he weren't president. 

He could also, if possible, explain why so much of what is revealed in the NYT returns looks so much like common (and illegal) tax evasion schemes. For example, Trump paid his daughter Ivanka, an employee of the Trump Organization, a separate fee as a "consultant." This allowed him to write off the amount as a business expense, but it's illegal to pay sham fees to avoid income or gift taxes.

Who cares?

  • The only reason to keep something like this secret is that the truth is even more damning than keeping silent.
  • It shouldn't be possible for anyone to have this much leverage over the President of the United States—much less any number of anonymous entities whose identity is protected by the president himself.
  • Running away from reporters doesn't make questions go away.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried his best to fend off the inevitable catastrophe of his tax returns finally seeing the light of day.

Late this afternoon, the New York Times published a 30,000-word article that can be summarized this way: the paper has acquired Trump's tax returns for the last 18 years, and in most of them, he paid virtually no income taxes. 

Trump has tried desperately to prevent this information from coming out—although every other presidential candidate since Richard Nixon has released them—and it's now clear why. He paid either zero dollars in income taxes, or a token $750 amount (apparently so that he could say he was paying taxes at all), in 13 of the last 18 years.

The story (which the NYT summarizes in a separate article) makes the following revelations.

  • Trump is personally in debt to the tune of $421 million, and those loans are coming due during what he hopes will be his next term in office. This means that the people holding those notes—in many cases, foreign interests—have and have always had enormous direct leverage over Trump.
  • His business empire was in shambles for much of that time. Ironically, the only reliable source of income was his personal "brand"—which centered on the idea that he was a savvy and successful businessman.

  • Trump's tax avoidance was astonishing even by the standards of the 0.001%—the group his supposed net worth puts him in. He paid $400 million less in taxes than the average member of that group.

  • Among the "business expenses" used to zero out his tax bill were $70,000 in haircuts.
  • He is fighting with the IRS—which reports to him—over an apparently invalid $72.9 million refund.
  • The famous NYC Trump Tower, one of his few profitable real estate holdings, has a mortgage bill of over $100 million coming due in 2022, and he has made no payments on it.

Trump held a press conference today, supposedly to continue his remarks on the Supreme Court nomination he made yesterday, and gave this response when asked about it:

Q: [T]here’s a New York Times story that came out about an hour ago that says that, when you came to the White House, you were paying about $750 a year in federal income tax.

They are not releasing what — they’re not publishing the tax returns. They’re not showing that out there. They’re saying — to protect their sources. In your tax returns, sir, does that sound right, that you were paying a couple hundred dollars a year in federal income taxes?

TRUMP: No. No. It’s fake news. It’s totally fake news. Made up. Fake. We went through the same stories. You could have asked me the same questions four years ago. I had to litigate this and talk about it. Totally fake news. No.

Actually, I paid tax, but — and you’ll see that as soon as my tax returns — it’s under audit. They’ve been under audit for a long time. The IRS does not treat me well. They treat me like the Tea Party — like they treated the Tea Party. And they don’t treat me well. They treat me very badly.

You have people in the IRS — they’re very — they treat me very, very badly. But they’re under audit. And when they’re not, I would be proud to show you. But that’s just fake news. The New York Times tried it — the same thing. They want to create a little bit of a story, a little bit of — they’re doing anything they can.

Not only — that’s the least of it. I mean, the stories that I read are so fake. They’re so phony.

Q: Did they tell you this was going to come out today?

TRUMP: No, I didn’t know anything about it. I don’t know anything about it. I think somebody said they were going to do a negative — they always do — they only do negative stories.

It's a minor point, but Trump is definitely lying about knowing that the story was coming out. In fact, the press conference was clearly scheduled just so that Trump would be able to give an instant reaction. The White House was contacted for comment immediately before the story broke, and the press conference was only announced at 1:39 P.M. today, while Trump was still at the golf course.

The fact that Trump is under audit—as every president is, by law—has no bearing on his years-long attempts to keep the returns secret. He was always free to release them.

The larger problem for Trump, though, is that the NYT story cannot be "fake news," unless they literally manufactured 18 years of fictitious tax returns—which Trump could easily prove even without releasing his own copies.

So what?

  • Voters may think that someone who constantly brags about his wealth should pay more in taxes than a part-time worker earning minimum wage.
  • Nobody with financial problems this complicated has the time or energy to be president.
  • It's bad if the president keeps secret all the different people who can threaten him with financial ruin.
  • It's wrong to lie to the American people, even if the truth is humiliating.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming

What did Donald Trump do today?

He nominated a judge to fill a Supreme Court seat after explicitly saying in public that he needed her to vote to keep him in power.

Today, Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett to fill the Supreme Court seat of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In a deathbed plea, Ginsburg called it her "most fervent wish" that her seat not be filled until the next president was chosen. This would be in keeping with Trump's own support of denying then-President Obama from replacing a justice in an election year.

Of course, Trump is legally entitled to ignore Ginsburg's dying wish and his own position from 2016—even though the move is deeply unpopular with voters

But as Trump's campaign shifts almost entirely to preparing a narrative that his likely loss was somehow the result of a "scam" election, there is a serious problem with the nomination. Specifically, that Trump explicitly said he wanted his nominee on the court in time to break a potential 4-4 tie on any election-related issues. 

On Tuesday, in one of several recent comments on the matter, Trump said this:

I think it's better if you go before the election because I think this scam that the Democrats are pulling, it’s a scam, this scam will be before the United States Supreme Court. And I think having a 4-4 situation is not a good situation. If you get that. I don’t know that you’d get that. I think it should be eight-to-nothing or nine-to-nothing, but just in case it would be more political than it should be.

The "scam" Trump is referring to is voting by mail, which he himself has done a number of times.

In other words, Trump is afraid that Chief Justice John Roberts, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, will rule against him if he tries to challenge the legitimacy of valid ballots cast through the mail—and so it's critical that he get what he considers a reliable pro-Trump "political" vote on the Court immediately.

Trump isn't wrong to think that the federal judiciary is politicized; in fact, that's been a campaign promise of his. But it's a crime to try to influence how a judge performs her duties, or to entice her to rule in your favor with the promise of something valuable—including the judgeship itself. 

Why should I care about this?

  • Nobody who thinks they will win an election fairly tries this hard to undermine it.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming

What did Donald Trump do today?

Race relations.

Trump went to Atlanta today for another campaign stop thinly disguised as an official visit. The fact that Trump is campaigning in Georgia at all is a bad sign: Democratic candidates have only won it once since native son Jimmy Carter was in the race. 

The essence of Trump's "Platinum Plan"—that is the actual name he's given it—unveiled 90% of the way into his first term, is that Black Americans live in cities, and need money and (above all) forgiveness for crimes they've committed. 

In this respect, it's not too different from his usual rhetoric about race. Trump's actual, verbatim 2016 pitch to African-American voters was this: "You're living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58% of your youth is unemployed—what the hell do you have to lose?"

It's the other side of his recent voter outreach to "suburban housewives" who he's promised to protect from the "thugs" he thinks "bother" them by trying to move into their neighborhoods, by striking down desegregation rules in federal housing policy. In fact, Trump's very first appearance in the public spotlight was during a lawsuit brought by the federal government which showed he was discriminating against black prospective tenants in his apartment buildings.

As with his sudden interest yesterday in having a health care plan that might help him win senior citizens' votes, today's "Platinum Plan" had no specifics, no force of law, and no plans to be turned into legislation.

Trump also promised Black voters that he would declare the Ku Klux Klan a terrorist organization—a mostly empty legal threat which would in all likelihood make him the son of a terrorist—but the only specific acts of terror he spoke about were the ones he falsely attributed to the Black Lives Matter movement. Support for the movement is virtually unanimous among African-Americans.

Finally, he promised to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. This is not a new idea, although he took credit for making the day "very famous" when he scheduled a rally on the day itself, and in a city, Tulsa, famous for the worst anti-Black race riot in American history. According to Trump, "nobody had ever heard of it" otherwise.

So what?

  • A president who wanted to improve the lives of African-Americans would have started sooner than six weeks before an election he's likely to lose.
  • The issue that African-Americans tend to have with the criminal justice system isn't that too many of them haven't been officially granted leniency for the crimes they're accused of.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried to bribe senior citizens with $200 he doesn't have.

Trump traveled to North Carolina—a swing state he desperately needs to have any hope of winning the election—for an "official" announcement about health care policy. (When presidents travel for government business, even during campaign season, the taxpayers pay for it, which is a break for Trump's cash-poor campaign.)

After almost four years of doing nothing on health care except for trying and failing to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), what Trump announced today as his "plan" was almost completely devoid of substance. Actual legislation would take months to pass, and would require cooperation from Congress—something Trump couldn't get even when his own party controlled both houses.  

One order signed today declared that requiring health insurance companies to cover patients with pre-existing conditions was "policy." But the president can't simply order private companies to do this without a law, and Trump is actively trying to have the ACA overturned in the courts.

To be clear: Trump's executive order will have no legal authority if Trump's lawsuit to overturn the ACA succeeds.

Trump also claimed that Medicare patients would receive $200 vouchers for prescription medicines. He wouldn't say what legal authority he has to do this, and legal experts aren't sure any exists. (Congress, not presidents, decides what taxpayer money is spent on.)

Last month, drug companies rejected Trump's demand that they pay for these vouchers—which Trump wanted to brand as "Trump Cards." Promising that taxpayers will pay for their own pre-election vouchers seems to be what is left of that plan.

Trump didn't try to hide the fact that the $7 billion voucher scheme (if it happens) was a late attempt to buy votes from seniors. "Joe Biden won't be doing this," he told the audience.

Why should I care about this?

  • Voters might not like the idea that they can be bought with a last-minute bribe.
  • It's bad if the president doesn't know or care what the limits of his authority are.
  • It's wrong to take credit for things you are actively working against.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming


What did Donald Trump do today?

He explicitly refused to commit to a "peaceful transfer" of power.

This morning, Atlantic reporter Barton Gellman published an article directly quoting Trump campaign officials who outlined a specific plan to delegitimize the election results and maintain Trump in power. In summary, it goes like this.

  1. Trump, aided by the ongoing COVID-19 disaster, created a partisan split about how to vote where none had existed before. Except for crucial swing states like Florida and Michigan, where he encourages mail-in voting, Trump has encouraged Republicans to vote in person by demonizing absentee voting—which Democrats are now much more likely to use.

  2. Trump has also declared, over and over again and with no evidence whatsoever, that mailed ballots are a giant invitation to fraud. In reality, something on the order of 0.001%—one ballot in every hundred thousand—is cast illegally, and most of those are people mistakenly voting when they are not legally entitled to. The real danger of mail-in voting is that it is easier to make technical mistakes that will invalidate legal ballots—something that would help Trump.

  3. This means it will take longer than usual to count the vote—and because same-day in-person voting can be counted immediately, Trump is likely to have a temporary lead with a small but Trump-friendly portion of the vote counted on Election Day. This is being called the "red mirage."

  4. But as the remainder of the votes are counted in subsequent days—if they are counted—Joe Biden is very likely to take the lead in enough states to win the electoral college outright.

  5. The Trump campaign will use the apparent "victory" of Election Day votes, as well as any chaos or irregularities—even ones he caused—to put pressure on Republican state legislatures to overturn the election and simply declare Trump the winner by legislative fiat. Trump would aid this by declaring—as he already has, over and over again, and in defiance of all law, that only Election Day ballots really count.

    In fact, he's already done this in the 2018 election. He insisted that recounts stop in the Florida gubernatorial and Senate race—which Republicans won anyway—and also in Arizona, where Democratic senator-elect Krysten Sinema pulled ahead as absentee ballots were cast.

  6. In order to put pressure on states to invalidate their own elections, and the ballots cast by their own citizens in ways specified by the state as legal, Trump could try to stir up violence, seize ballots, send anonymous federal police forces to find "evidence" of wrongdoing in Democratic strongholds, or declare martial law

    He could also try to rush legal challenges to the Supreme Court, which would have three of his appointees on it by then—including the newest one who, he explicitly said yesterday, he wanted on the Court to vote against the "scam" of an apparent election loss.

Then, today, Trump had this exchange with a reporter at a press conference.

Q: Mr. President, real quickly, win lose or draw, in this election, will you commit here today for a peaceful transferral of power after the election? There has been rioting in Louisville, there's been rioting in many cities across this country, red and—your so-called red and blue states. Will you commit to making sure that there is a peaceful transferral of power after the election.

TRUMP: Well, we're going to have to see what happens. You know, I've been complaining very strongly about the ballots and the ballots are a disaster but—

Q: I understand that, but people are rioting. Do you commit to making sure that there's a peaceful—

TRUMP: No, we want to—get rid of the ballots and you'll have a very peaceful—it won't be a transfer, frankly, it'll be a continuation. The ballots are out of control.


(quoted portion begins at 8:10)

No candidate for the presidency in the history of the country, except for Trump, has refused to guarantee the peaceful transition of power.

Why does this matter?

  • The will of the American people decides who is president, not Donald Trump.
  • Even by Trump's standards, this is pure tinpot dictator stuff.
  • There is no way to spin "get rid of the ballots" in a democracy.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming

What did Donald Trump do today?

He called yesterday's Donald Trump a liar.

In a seven-minute appearance at the United Nations General Assembly this morning, Trump devoted most of his time to attacking China on the subject of COVID-19:

As we pursue this bright future, we must hold accountable the nation which unleashed this plague onto the world: China.

In the earliest days of the virus, China locked down travel domestically while allowing flights to leave China and infect the world. China condemned my travel ban on their country, even as they cancelled domestic flights and locked citizens in their homes.

Trump's travel "ban" on China let more than 40,000 Chinese citizens and 430,000 people all told fly from to the United States, but the criticism of China failing to prevent its own citizens from leaving the country is odd. Trump imposed no such travel ban on Americans, even as the outbreak here swelled to much larger proportions than in China. (Most of the rest of the world, however, imposed travel bans on the United States.)

The Chinese government and the World Health Organization — which is virtually controlled by China — falsely declared that there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission. Later, they falsely said people without symptoms would not spread the disease.

It's true that the WHO guidelines changed as the disease spread and the first bits of evidence about how it was transmitted came to light. But Trump himself, as he freely admitted in interviews with Bob Woodward, knew by February that it was a frequently deadly disease that spread through the air—but he told the public otherwise, supposedly to avoid "panic."

All of Trump's remarks today, in front of foreign leaders in a speech that attracted little press attention, contradict what he told a mostly-unmasked campaign rally crowd last night: that it affects "virtually nobody."

More than 205,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. 

How is this a bad thing?

  • Nobody in China is the President of the United States.
  • It's wrong to lie to Americans about an outbreak of a fatal infectious disease, even if you think it will help you politically.
  • Virtually everybody in the United States has been affected by the uncontrolled COVID-19 outbreak here.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming

What did Donald Trump do today?

He issued an empty threat to defund "anarchist" cities.

The Department of Justice, headed by Trump ultra-loyalist William Barr, designated three cities as "anarchist jurisdictions" according to a September 2nd memo issued by Trump. 

The cities—Seattle, Portland, and New York—are all places that Trump tried to make the focus of a summertime culture war about police violence and systemic racism. They're also safe political targets, since Trump stands no chance of winning any electoral votes from the affected states.

According to the memo, Trump's definition of an "anarchist jurisdiction" is one that refused to let him "help" fight protestors with federal forces—like the anonymous, unbadged, and largely untrained squads that he deployed to attack and in some cases kidnap demonstrators in Washington, D.C. and Portland this summer.

Trump claims that he will now have the authority to withhold federal funds from these cities. In reality, he has no such authority, unless Congress explicitly gives it to him in a spending bill. 

As residents of the "anarchist jurisdictions" immediately pointed out, there's not much anarchy to be found. In fact, the New York district attorney's office announced in a court filing today that it had grounds to conduct far more law enforcement than Trump is likely to be comfortable with on the subject of tax fraud he's likely to have committed in their jurisdiction.

Why does this matter?

  • Conservative voters may not like being told that state and local governments have no authority to handle their own affairs.
  • It's un-American to try to pit Americans against each other.
  • Punishing places that don't punish the leader's political opponents is what dictators do.
  • Strong leaders don't make empty threats.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming

What did Donald Trump do today?

He stopped attacking federal workers long enough to demand that they vote for him.

Trump has virtually no chance to win Virginia, but he devoted a fair amount of his morning tweetstorm to the Old Dominion State. It included a strange demand, repeated from a Friday tweet, that the Washington D.C.-area federal workforce in Virginia vote for him because of a pay raise he claimed he'd gotten them.

Of course, politicians aren't supposed to literally try to buy votes like that, but in reality the federal payroll is set by legislation. Trump's most recent budget proposal was for a mere 1.0% pay increase, which means federal workers would lose money to inflation. (The leading Congressional proposal calls for a 3.5% increase.)

Otherwise, Trump's relationship to federal workers—or the "Deep State," as he's more likely to refer to them—is considerably more hostile. His administration has made no secret of its belief that federal employees are "disloyal" to Trump, although the vast majority of government jobs have no partisan function at all. He's called for pension benefit cuts, which would undercut one of the main perks to taking a government job over a private sector one. He's also attacked federal workers' rights to collective bargaining, which hasn't won him any fans. And as the COVID-19 pandemic exploded in March, Trump called for reduction in the number of sick leave days federal workers were entitled to.

Who cares?

  • It's wrong to take credit for things you didn't do.
  • Presidents owe loyalty to American workers, not the other way around.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming

What did Donald Trump do today?

He had a change of heart about Supreme Court policy.

Trump was one of the last Americans to find out about the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last night, as the news broke while he was speaking at a campaign rally. Afterwards, in front of reporters, he made polite remarks, which was a notable change from his usual rhetoric about her. While on the campaign trail in 2016, he called Ginsburg "incompetent" and unethical, said that her "mind is shot," demanded her resignation, and threatened to drown her out with "real judges." The reason for the tantrum was that Trump, who reacts badly to criticism and much worse when it's coming from a woman, was outraged that Ginsburg had said he had an "ego" and that he should have released his tax returns.

Today, he promised to replace her, and specifically with an as-yet-unchosen woman—something he said was "insulting" to men when Joe Biden committed in advance to picking a woman as his running mate. 

Candidate Trump, of course, supported Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's holding the late Justice Scalia's seat open until after President Obama left office. Scalia died nine months before Election Day 2016. Ginsburg's death comes only 46 days before the next presidential election, and indeed after voting has already begun in eight states.

To be clear, Trump is legally entitled to nominate a Supreme Court justice, and if the Senate voted on and confirmed it—which is far from certain at the moment—that appointment would be valid. Trump tried to justify his decision in a tweet, claiming that he and the Republican majority in the Senate had been "put in this position of power and importance to make decisions for the people who so proudly elected us, the most important of which has long been considered to be the selection of United States Supreme Court Justices."

Of course, both Trump and the Republican caucus in the Senate were both elected by a minority of Americans. And a snap poll shows that Americans support keeping Ginsburg's seat open until after the election by a considerable margin.

There would be political upsides for Trump delaying the nomination. Not forcing vulnerable Republican senators to take a stand pay off in the half dozen close races that could cost the GOP its majority. It would also play well with independent and undecided voters, and give Trump a chance to play against type by passing up a chance to seize power for short-term gain. But Trump's strategy since falling down in the polls by double-digit margins earlier this summer has been to try to delegitimize the election entirely, which reads as an admission that he doesn't think he'll win.

Why should I care?

  • Presidents don't have to govern by opinion poll, but they don't get to claim they're doing the people's will when they don't.
  • Presidents are elected to make decisions on behalf of all Americans and democracy itself, not just the people who voted for them.

Friday, September 18, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried to buy some votes.

Trump announced two separate $13 billion aid packages, targeted directly at crucial swing-state constituencies in the presidential election where voting is already underway in some states.

The first package was an agricultural bailout, which Trump announced in the farm-heavy state of Wisconsin. In theory, it was meant to help make farmers whole after the botched coronavirus response disrupted supply chains this year. But it's difficult to draw a line between COVID-19 damage and the ongoing hit that America's farmers have taken as a result of Trump's trade war with China and other countries. Those bailouts cost American taxpayers $28 billion in 2019 alone.

In spite of the bailouts, farm bankruptcies have gone up sharply on Trump's watch. In the upper midwest, they were up 42% from last year as of May, leading to the death of family farms and a spike in farmer suicides.

The second $13B aid package was for Puerto Rico, to aid in rebuilding after Hurricane Maria—which took place in 2017. At the time, Trump lied about the emergency relief aid that Puerto Ricans were getting, claimed that the thousands of Americans who died as a result of it were a hoax, and said the predominantly Hispanic-American population of the island were "ingrates" who "wanted everything done for them." 

Those remarks infuriated Puerto Ricans, many of whom moved to or had family in Florida—a state Trump desperately needs to win to have any chance of being re-elected and staving off federal criminal investigations for another four years.

So what?

  • Presidents are supposed to do what is best for the country at all times, not just when they're worried about being voted out of office.
  • It's bad if the thing the government is finally bailing you out for is a problem the president himself made worse.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He hinted about the election outcome he's hoping for.

In one of several tweets today that were flagged by Twitter as election disinformation, Trump claimed that because many Americans intend to vote by mail, to avoid exposure to the still-raging COVID-19 pandemic, the "Nov 3rd Election result may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED." He also said that this was what "some" were hoping for.

"Some" in this case includes Trump himself, who has openly said he will not accept the legitimacy of any election he loses. Trump's surrogates like pardoned felon Roger Stone and Michael Caputo have been stirring things up even more in recent weeks. Stone called on Trump to seize ballots and arrest his political opponents—a move more associated with sham elections held by dictators with no intention of leaving office. And Caputo has been openly talking about the possibility of "armed insurrection" and urging Trump supporters to buy ammunition

Republican officials—who for the most part have seemed resigned to wait out Trump's leadership of the party—and even members of Trump's own administration condemned the tweet.

In a theoretical legal sense, chaos over the vote count can only help Trump. If the states that provided Biden with a winning margin had a Republican state government—like Arizona, Florida, Georgia, or Ohio—then Trump could put pressure on those states to invalidate their own results. That would force the election into the House of Representatives. Because of a quirk in the Constitution, that vote would heavily favor Trump even though Democrats are almost certain to retain their large majority there, because the vote for President is done state-by-state. Wyoming's one Republican member would have the same vote as the overwhelmingly Democratic 52-person California delegation.

But Trump may simply be trying to give himself a reason to doubt the election results. After all, he also contested the results of an election he won, appointing a panel to discover the five million votes he claimed were cast by illegal immigrants exclusively for Hillary Clinton—which would explain away the fact that he lost the popular vote by nearly 3,000,000 votes. (It disbanded having found no voter fraud whatsoever.)

Undermining Americans' faith in the legitimacy of democracy itself is a major goal of adversary nations like Russia, and one of many points where Russian disinformation campaigns and the Trump campaign share the same message.

Why should I care about this?

  • Nobody tries this hard to trash an election they think they'll win fairly.
  • Nobody who refuses to accept the will of the American people is fit to lead them.
  • It's bad if the President of the United States is saying exactly the same thing as a hostile foreign country trying to destabilize Americans' faith in democracy.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried to pick and choose what he was president of.

Yesterday, Trump appeared on an ABC News "town hall" where he took questions from voters. It was, by most accounts, something of a disaster, particularly on the subject of COVID-19. He contradicted his own explanation from last week about why he had lied to the public about the severity of the virus, claiming now that he'd actually "up-played it." Trump also attacked Joe Biden, who does not currently hold any government office, for not imposing a mask mandate.

TRUMP: Well, I do wear them when I have to and when I’m in hospitals and other locations. But I will say this. They said at the Democrat convention they're going to do a national mandate. They never did it, because they’ve checked out and they didn’t do it.

And a good question is, you ask why Joe Biden — they said we’re going to do a national mandate on masks.

STEPHANOPOULOS: He’s called on all governors to have them. There’s a state responsibility…

TRUMP: Well no, but he didn’t do it. I mean, he never did it. 

Today, in what appears to have been an attempt to undo some of that damage, Trump took questions from reporters. He claimed that, with 200,000 Americans dead, the country was "substantially below" early estimates of 240,000 deaths. (That projection was released in early April. The revised version of the same model, to account for the number of people who have actually died and been infected, now predicts 410,000 deaths by the end of this year alone.)

He then said this:

So we’re down in this territory. And that’s despite the fact that the blue states had tremendous death rates. If you take the blue states out, we’re at a level that I don’t think anybody in the world would be at. We’re really at a very low level. But some of the states, they were blue states and blue-state-managed.

Mathematically, this is backwards. In the real world, if you take out "blue states"—where 57% of the population lives—the United States' overall infection and death rates go up much more. The "United Red States" would remain the only major wealthy nation with a totally uncontrolled outbreak, in spite of the fact that it is still summer and many of them are predominantly rural, both of which help slow the spread of the virus. 

More to the point, once "blue states" like New York where the initial outbreak took place had imposed lockdowns and restrictions on gatherings—which Trump immediately began to criticize—the rates went down. Republican governors faced uncomfortable political pressure from Trump to end public health measures, which led to the second and much larger spike this summer. That rise was centered on states like Florida and Texas. 

Trump has spent much of the campaign season attempting to shift blame for things that have happened on his watch—the pandemic response, racial tensions, and economic devastation—on "Democrat-run cities." He immediately followed up his attempt to blame "blue states" for the national COVID-19 response by demanding that they end the restrictions that have helped keep it in check.

Why does this matter?

  • The president is president of all of the states.
  • Presidents who can't handle taking responsibility for major national crises should not be in office.
  • It's wrong to try to blame others for your own mistakes.
  • The health and safety of all Americans, whether they live in South Dakota (highest new infections rate) and Arkansas (highest death rate) or Maine (lowest new infections rate) and New York (lowest death rate) is more important than Donald Trump's political situation.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He celebrated peace between nations already at peace.

Trump held a signing ceremony today at the White House for an agreement between Israel and two other Middle Eastern nations, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. Among other things, Trump credited himself with having "change[d] the course of history after decades of division and conflict."

In reality, however, Israel has never been in conflict with either Bahrain or the UAE—ever. Israel is almost a thousand miles from Bahrain and even further from the UAE, and the governments of all three countries have been generally within the American sphere of influence. There was already normal trade and unofficial diplomatic relations between Israel and the two Arab states.

The White House did not really try to deny that it was designed to provide Trump with a foreign policy "achievement" just before the election. It seems to be all that will come from Trump's assigning his son-in-law, Jared Kushner—a real estate heir with no experience in government, the region, or diplomacy—to come up with a Middle East peace plan.

The real external threats to Israel are Iran, and the Assad regime in Syria. Trump has done everything possible to provoke Iran, unilaterally withdrawing the United States from a treaty that was successfully dismantling the Iranian nuclear program. He also ordered the assassination of an Iranian general in what looked more like an attempt to stir up political support during his impeachment than to achieve any national security goals.

In Syria, however, Trump—who occasionally gets confused about which side of the conflict the United States is on—has done almost everything possible to allow the Assad regime to stay in power. While he's failed to bring American troops out of harm's way, he did order a sudden and hasty retreat that abandoned the United States's Kurdish allies to ethnic cleansing by advancing Turkish forces, and let Russian troops occupy American bases. The Putin regime, which Trump is personally financially entangled with, is pro-Assad. (Abandoning the Kurds in Syria also helped Iran.)

It's not clear if Trump really understood there was no "conflict" to resolve, or whether he simply thinks voters will believe there was. It's also not clear what the United States has had to give Bahrain and the UAE in order to get a signing ceremony on the White House lawn just before an election—because the White House wouldn't say.

Why does this matter?

  • It's wrong to take credit for solving problems that didn't exist in the first place.
  • Voters may not like Trump assuming they're dumb.
  • Diplomacy is not a campaign stunt.

Monday, September 14, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said exploding trees, and not climate change, were the cause of the unprecedented fires burning on the West Coast.

Trump has spent the last few days on a campaign tour of Arizona and Nevada, Western states where he is trailing Joe Biden. This afternoon, he spared two hours in non-competitive California for a "briefing" on the devastating wildfires that are causing apocalyptic damage and no small amount of death on the West Coast. 

Upon arrival, he was asked by a reporter about his forest management plans. He responded:

TRUMP: When trees fall down, after a short period of time — about 18 months — they become very dry.  They become, really, like a matchstick.  And they get up — you know, there’s no more water pouring through, and they become very, very — well, they just explode.  They can explode.

...If you go to other countries — you go to Austria, you go to Finland, you go to many different countries, and they don’t have — I was talking to a head of a major country, and he said, “We’re a forest nation.  We consider ourself a forest nation.”  This was in Europe.  I said, “That’s a beautiful term.”  He said, “We have trees that are far more explosive…” — he meant “explosive” in terms of fire — “…but we have trees that are more explosive they have in California, and we don’t have any problem because we manage our forests.”  So we have to do that in California, too.

Trump appears to be half-remembering his much-mocked claim in 2018 that the President of Finland, Sauli Niinistö, told him that the "forest nation" of Finland had no problem with fires because they "raked" their forests. (Niinistö denied saying any such thing.) At the time, there was no mention of "explosive" trees.

Most of the land at risk by the ever-more intense Western fires is privately owned, and virtually all of the public land involved is federal land, meaning that if raking or other forms of vegetation management are to blame, they're happening on Trump's watch. But the real driving force is the rapidly changing climate in the region: drier and hotter. 

One of the people at the briefing Trump attended tried to make that point. California Secretary for Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot had this exchange with him:

CROWFOOT:  As the governor said, we’ve had temperatures explode this summer.  You may have learned that we broke a world record in the Death Valley: 130 degrees.  But even in Greater LA: 120-plus degrees.  And we’re seeing this warming trend make our summers warmer but also our winters warmer as well.

So I think one area of mutual agreement and priority is vegetation management, but I think we want to work with you to really recognize the changing climate and what it means to our forests, and actually work together with that science; that science is going to be key.  Because if we — if we ignore that science and sort of put our head in the sand and think it’s all about vegetation management, we’re not going to succeed together protecting Californians.

TRUMP:  Okay.  It’ll start getting cooler.

CROWFOOT:  I wish —

TRUMP:  You just watch. 

CROWFOOT:  I wish science agreed with you.

TRUMP:  Well, I don’t think science knows, actually.

There was startled laughter at Trump's claim that "it'll start getting cooler." Even most people who oppose attempts to reduce human-caused climate change do not think the two-century-long temperature spike is going to abate anytime soon.

Trump sometimes claims not to believe in climate change, although he's taken pretty much every stance possible on the subject at various times in recent years. (In 2009, when President Obama was in office, for example, he demanded that action be taken to fight climate change.) His own staff doesn't seem to know what his actual position, if any, is. 

Climate denialism is genuinely unpopular with Americans now, so it's not clear whether Trump is honestly confused about the subject, or simply feels he's politically locked into the stance that climate science is a "Chinese hoax." 

Why does this matter?

  • Ignoring a problem doesn't make it go away.
  • Presidents are supposed to take all natural disasters seriously, even if they're happening in states that won't vote for him.
  • It's wrong to blame other people for not fixing your own problems.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He held an indoor rally.

Trump has spent much of the last week struggling to explain why he told journalist Bob Woodward in February and March about how dangerous COVID-19 was, while admitting to Woodward that he was telling the American people a very different story. The answer his campaign has settled on is that he was trying to avoid "panic," although in practice, Trump seems to have been simply trying to trade increased risk of infection and death for a short-term economic rebound.

Today, for the first time since a June rally in Tulsa sickened his own staff and Secret Service agents and contributed to a spike in cases that killed former presidential candidate Herman Cain, Trump held a rally indoors.

The Nevada rally was held at a manufacturing plant in Henderson. More than a thousand attendees were gathered on the factory floor, and most weren't wearing masks. 

The Trump campaign appeared to be deliberately looking for a rule to break. It's against emergency restrictions to hold a gathering of more than 50 people in Henderson, but the owner of the plant will be liable, not Trump.

According to a recent poll, twice as many Americans disapprove (65%) of Trump's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic as approve (35%). 

So what?

  • The health and safety of the American people is more important than Donald Trump's need to be in front of a crowd.
  • Presidents aren't above the law.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He once again told North Carolina voters to commit voter fraud, a felony.

Not for the first time, Trump told his North Carolina supporters using absentee ballots to attempt to vote twice: first by mail, and then again by visiting polls in person on Election Day.

To be clear: absentee voting does not require a visit to the polling place, in North Carolina or anywhere else. North Carolina's Secretary of State was forced to try to debunk Trump in real time on Twitter.

It's not clear who in Trump's tweet the "them" are supposed to be who are "illegally taking your vote away," although he has made no secret of his attempts to sabotage the United States Postal Service as it gears up for huge pandemic-inspired absentee voting. Because of the way the COVID-19 pandemic has been politicized, Democrats are far more likely to vote by mail this year than Republicans.

Messages like this, which Twitter immediately flagged as an attempt to subvert the election, serve Trump's interest in a number of ways. If his supporters flood polling places, instead of verifying that their ballots were received online, it will contribute to delays and disruption. If the vote is close—and it almost certainly will be in North Carolina—Trump can point to those delays and claim he was hurt by them. 

Voters may be confused by Trump's ridiculous depiction of absentee voting—since the whole point is to avoid going to a polling place—and decide the whole process isn't worth it. (Undermining Americans' faith in democracy is not just a Trump strategy—it's also the major goal of the Putin regime.) And if anyone actually succeeds in voting twice—which is a felony, albeit not one anyone is likely to get away with—Trump can complain that the election is tainted even though he would be the one tainting it.

In effect, Trump seems to have concluded that anything that adds to confusion and chaos and dissatisfaction with the election is good for him.

How is this a bad thing?

  • Nobody tries this hard to sabotage an election they think they will win.
  • A president who won't respect the rule of law or the results of an election is a dictator.
  • Nobody whose interests so perfectly align with those of a hostile foreign power should be president.