Saturday, October 31, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said he expected the Supreme Court to rule in ways that would let him win the election.

Pennsylvania is likely going to be the "tipping-point state" in the election—the state that puts the winner over the margin of 270 votes. Trump can still win it, but the odds aren't in his favor: 49 of the last 50 polls in the state have Joe Biden winning. Trump, either via his campaign or the state party, has filed a huge number of lawsuits looking to minimize turnout or disqualify mailed absentee ballots, which will heavily favor Democratic candidates this year. 

It's unclear whether this will be enough to sway the state's totals away from Biden, but it's very likely that post-election lawsuits will go to the Supreme Court, which Trump just appointed a new justice to. That appointee, Amy Coney Barrett, conspicuously refused to say that she would recuse herself from election lawsuits, even though Trump said before her confirmation that he expected Barrett's vote would break ties on election matters in his favor.

At a campaign stop in Pennsylvania today, Trump said this:

If we win, if we win on Tuesday—or shortly thereafter, thank you very much Supreme Court—shortly thereafter, if we win, let me tell you, if we win, you're going to see a stock market that's going to go like a rocket ship. 

Lately, Trump has been trying to discredit legally cast votes that are counted later in the process, even though they were received on time. This appears to be an attempt to declare victory immediately on November 3, and then delegitimize any Biden "comeback" as legally-cast votes are counted. Of course, even in a normal election with a clear winner, counting and canvassing goes on for weeks.

Election laws are complicated, and candidates who are losing elections sometimes turn to the courts. But Trump is the first presidential candidate in history to campaign on being installed by a politically friendly court.

Who cares?

  • Nobody who thinks they'll actually get the most votes in an election tries this hard to keep people from voting.
  • In a democracy, voters pick the government, not the other way around.

Friday, October 30, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He accused people who risk their lives to treat COVID-19 patients of lying for money.

At a Michigan campaign event today, Trump said doctors were falsifying the cause of death for their patients in order to get money earmarked for COVID-19 care from the government. 

Our doctors get more money if someone dies from COVID. You know that, right? I mean our doctors are very smart people. So what they do is they say "I'm sorry but everybody dies of COVID."

...In Germany and other places, if you have a heart attack, or if you have cancer, you're terminally ill, you catch COVID, they say you die of cancer, you died of heart attack. With us, when in doubt choose COVID. It's true, no, it's true. Now they'll say 'oh that's terrible what he said,' but that's true. It's like $2,000 more so you get more money.

Every part of this is a lie.

It can often be difficult to tell when Trump genuinely believes a conspiracy theory, or is simply lying because he thinks his audience will approve of it. But in this case, Trump's genuine—and very legitimate—fears about dying from COVID-19 are well known. He told reporter Bob Woodward in February how serious he understood the disease was, although he then lied to the American public about it. 

And when Trump became seriously ill himself, he immediately became anxious and begged aides for reassurance. "Am I going out like Stan Chera?" he asked, referring to an acquaintance who had died from it in April.

Trump's slim hopes of re-election hinge on convincing voters that 230,000 Americans haven't really died due to his handling of the U.S. outbreak. (Actually, that number misses a great many deaths. 300,000 more Americans have died this year than would be expected statistically.) 

Selling that position has led him to tell crowds—at rallies that are themselves disease vectors— that COVID-19 "affects virtually nobody."

An estimated 1,700 health care workers have died from COVID-19 themselves.

So what?

  • Even by Trump's standards, this is a breathtakingly shitty thing to say.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said it was treason to speak against him.

Trump escalated his attacks today on Miles Taylor, the former DHS chief of staff who revealed himself yesterday as the author of the anonymous NYT op-ed describing the "resistance" within the White House to Trump's erratic and dangerous behavior. At a Florida campaign event today, Trump called Taylor "treasonous" and warned that "bad things" were going to happen to him. He also said that Taylor and the NYT should be prosecuted, although he didn't say what for.

To be clear, nothing in Taylor's op-ed or subsequent book revealed any classified information, nor did he commit any other crime. What Taylor did do was criticize Trump, who is an elected official. This is absolutely protected by the Constitution.

What Trump is describing is usually called lese majeste, the criminal offense of insulting a king or other absolute ruler. It existed in absolute monarchies and dictatorships, where the leader was considered the personification of the government, something Trump frequently seems to believe about himself. 

The ominous reference to "bad things" is a threat. Trump often resorts to "stochastic terrorism," where a prominent figure in a political movement hints at violence he wants his followers to make happen, but then claims he's not responsible when people act on it.

Why does this matter?

  • A president who can't stand being criticized is much too fragile to actually hold the office.
  • Trump is not a king, a god, or above the law.
  • Americans are allowed to say they don't like Donald Trump without fear of prosecution or mob violence.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Please visit this page to learn more about how to cast your vote early. 
Early voting windows vary by state.

What did Donald Trump do today?

He attacked yet another ex-staffer he'd supposedly never heard of.

In September 2018, the New York Times published an anonymous editorial headlined "I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration." The author described a White House staff dedicated to "thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses," like his propensity for "half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back." 

Today, the author of that piece revealed himself to be Miles Taylor, who was the chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security until his resignation in November of last year.

Trump's reaction followed a now extremely well-worn formula for when a former employee criticizes him: he attacked Taylor, called for him to be fired from the (unrelated) job he now holds, and claimed—falsely, unless his memory is failing him—that he'd never heard of him.

The same pattern played out with a number of other ex-Trumpers, like:

  • Russia probe target and senior foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos (Trump's allies retroactively demoted him to "coffee boy")

  • Trump's Apprentice co-star and advisor Omarosa Manigault, who Trump called a "dog" and a "wacky lowlife"

  • his White House aide Cliff Sims, who Trump falsely said was a "gofer" he "hardly knew" and at the same time threatened with a lawsuit for divulging things a "gofer" would never know.

The list also includes far more senior staffers and appointees, like John Bolton (national security advisor and "a sick puppy"), John Kelly (chief of staff, "way over his head"), H.R. McMaster (national security advisor), Tom Bossert (Homeland Security secretary and Taylor's boss, "completely embarrassed himself"), Anthony Scaramucci (very briefly Trump's communications director, a "mental wreck"), Gary Cohn (National Economic Council director, "I could tell stories about him like you wouldn't believe"), James Mattis (secretary of defense, "the world's most overrated general"), Rex Tillerson (secretary of state, "dumb as a rock"), Michael Cohen (Trump's "fixer," but a "rat," according to Trump), Steve Bannon (Trump's chief political advisor who "lost his mind" and "has nothing to do with me or my presidency"), Jefferson Sessions (attorney general, a "total disaster"), Mary L. Trump (his "seldom-seen" niece, "a mess") and many, many others

Trump campaigned in 2016 on his ability to hire "the best and most serious people."

Why should I care about this?

  • Either Trump is the most incompetent judge of character and ability ever, or the dozens of people all saying the same things after coming in close contact with him are correct.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Please visit this page to learn more about how to cast your vote early. 
Early voting windows vary by state.

What did Donald Trump do today?

He got hacked (again) days after saying nobody ever gets hacked.

Trump's campaign website was briefly defaced by hackers today claiming to have "evidence that completely discredits mr trump as a president," and offering to release—or conceal—that evidence based on Bitcoin donations paid to their account. (It's not clear why the hackers thought there was a seller's market for evidence discrediting Trump.)

There aren't really any security implications to this kind of web-vandalism, but it comes days after Trump jeered a reporter who (falsely) claimed to have been hacked after an embarrassing Twitter message came to light. "Nobody gets hacked," he said, unless someone with a "197 IQ" was involved. 

That's not true, and Trump's failure to understand that does have national security implications. Fake messages (or genuine ones) Trump's Twitter feed could literally start wars or crash economies. His Twitter account has been breached four times that we know of, including one incident that was reported just last week. In at least two of those cases, it wasn't so much "hacking" as guessing simple passwords like "yourefired" (his reality TV host catchphrase) and "maga2020!"

To put it lightly, Trump has been all over the map on cybersecurity. At times he's seemed to think that computers were so unsecure that only bicycle couriers could be trusted with sensitive information, and he tried to deflect blame for Russia's sophisticated cyberattacks on the DNC onto a hypothetical "400-pound" person acting alone. After taking office, he openly embraced the idea of working with the Putin regime on cybersecurity, effectively turning over what secrets the U.S. intelligence community still had over to Russia.

But he also uses an unsecured cell phone, which has horrified his staff and the intelligence community, since unsecured ones are notoriously easy targets for foreign intelligence agencies. And he's shown himself to be easily fooled by "social engineering" scams and other forms of emotional manipulation.

Why does this matter?

  • This isn't one of those things a president can afford to be clueless about.
  • People who live in poorly secured houses shouldn't throw stones.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Please visit this page to learn more about how to cast your vote early.
Early voting windows vary by state.

What did Donald Trump do today?

He lost a Republican appointee over his attempt to demand loyalty from civil servants.

Ronald Sanders is a Republican human resources expert appointed by Trump to the Federal Salary Council. That body makes recommendations about federal pay rates and other issues related to jobs in the civil service. He resigned today over an executive order signed by Trump last week that would, in effect, ban many government workers from joining unions, and permit a president to fire them for no reason. 

Sanders wrote in his letter that he resigned

with great regret, because while I am proud of the progress the Salary Council has made during my tenure, much work remains to be done. However, after seeing Executive Order 13957 issued by the President on October 21, 2020—which creates a new ‘excepted service’ for certain categories of career Federal employees—I have concluded that as a matter of conscience, I can no longer serve him or his Administration. 

There is some irony in this. On its surface, the President’s Executive Order purports to serve a legitimate and laudable purpose…that is, to hold career Federal employees ‘more accountable’ for their performance. That is something that I have spent most of my professional life—almost four decades in Federal service (over 20 as a member of the Senior Executive Service)—trying to do. However, it is clear that its stated purpose notwithstanding, the Executive Order is nothing more than a smokescreen for what is clearly an attempt to require the political loyalty of those who advise the President, or failing that, to enable their removal with little if any due process. 

I simply cannot be part of an Administration that seeks to do so…to replace apolitical expertise with political obeisance. Career Federal employees are legally and duty- bound to be nonpartisan; they take an oath to preserve and protect our Constitution and the rule of law…not to be loyal to a particular President or Administration. I took that same oath, and despite being a life-long Republican (I was even named after Ronald Reagan), I would like to think that I lived up to it, even as I served three Democratic and three Republican Presidents. Yet the President’s Executive Order seeks to make loyalty to him the litmus test for many thousands of career civil servants, and that is something I cannot be part of. 

Trump's expectation of personal loyalty to him—not the office he holds or the Constitution he is sworn to obey—has been at the root of many of the scandals in his presidency. Most notably, his demand that former FBI Director James Comey swear loyalty to him led quickly to Comey's firing, and the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate the links between Russia and the Trump campaign that Trump was trying to push Comey away from.

Why should I care about this?

  • Presidents serve the American people, not the other way around.
  • Government workers who follow the law and perform their duties without partisanship should be protected, not attacked.
  • Demanding personal loyalty is what mob bosses and cult leaders do, not presidents.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Please visit this page to learn more about how to cast your vote early.
Early voting windows vary by state.

What did Donald Trump do today?

He shared some thoughts about the coronavirus.

Trump and his White House today shared three dramatically different versions of the COVID-19 epidemic that remains completely uncontrolled within the United States.

"We have the vaccines, we have everything."

There is no vaccine for COVID-19, and in spite of Trump's threats to the FDA about retribution if one weren't approved in time for the election, there will not be one any time soon. Even if a safe and effective vaccine existed today, it couldn't be produced in large quantities for the better part of a year at the soonest.

Trump either forgot that, or decided it didn't matter, when he told a rally crowd today, "We are coming around, we’re rounding the turn, we have the vaccines, we have everything."

The campaign is what is "essential."

Another COVID-19 cluster has erupted in the White House, this time centered on Vice-President Mike Pence's office. At least five of Pence's aides have tested positive, including his "body man," a close aide in Pence's presence throughout the day.

By every set of health guidelines published by the Trump administration or any other government in the world, Pence should now self-quarantine for at least 14 days. But with only nine days left until an election that has already become a referendum on Trump's handling of COVID-19, the White House is asserting Pence is an "essential worker" and therefore allowed to go to campaign events.

As a constitutional officer, Pence might be an essential part of the government, but even "essential workers" in the more usual sense of the word—like police, health care workers, and people involved in food distribution—don't break quarantine to go to political rallies.

"We are not going to control the pandemic."

Trump himself may have decided that there is a cure, or a vaccine, or some other kind of magical solution to the U.S. outbreak, but his administration is signaling defeat. "We are not going to control the pandemic," Trump's latest chief of staff, Mark Meadows, told CNN this morning. Instead, he said, the Trump administration would continue to monitor possible therapies. That only leaves social distancing and public health measures, which are non-starters for Meadows's boss. Trump has encouraged people to disobey local shutdown orders and mocked people who wear masks to prevent the spread of the virus.

Why does this matter?

  • Three bad strategies on a crisis of this magnitude are worse than one bad strategy.
  • If there were a plan other than giving up, we probably would have heard about it by now.
  • The health and safety of the American people is more important than Donald Trump's need to be re-elected.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

EARLY VOTING IS NOW UNDERWAY IN ALL STATES THAT ALLOW IT, except Maryland (begins Oct. 26), Washington D.C. (Oct. 27), and Oklahoma (Oct. 29).

What did Donald Trump do today?

He voted, as literally only he can.

Trump voted today in his new home state of Florida. A library in Palm Beach that serves as an early voting location had to be shut down for several hours in order to make it secure so that Trump alone could vote. 

Trump normally votes by mail, but he's been trying to convince voters (without evidence) that mail-in voting is subject to fraud. With the uncontrolled COVID-19 epidemic in the United States once again setting daily records, voting without going to crowded indoor polling places is appealing to many Americans.

Trump said today that voting in-person is "much more secure than when you send in a ballot," which is a lie—but this year, for the first time in the history of absentee balloting, there are concerns that his admitted attempts to slow down mail delivery will disqualify ballots.

Trump's vote today was legally valid, but he committed at least two potential crimes in registering. One was that he claimed Washington, D.C. as his official residence while trying to register in Florida, His staff later changed the paperwork, calling it an innocent mistake—although that kind of mistake has sent other Americans to prison.

The other is that his supposed address in Florida—his luxury Mar-a-Lago resort—is not legally a residence. This doesn't automatically mean that Trump can't claim it as his place of residence for voting purposes, but it may mean that he's cheating on a tax agreement with local governments. Voters have faced extremely serious consequences for claiming to live at addresses that aren't proper residences, including a prosecution in Palm Beach.

So what?

  • It's wrong to try to keep Americans from exercising their right to vote.
  • It's a bad sign when a president can't even register to vote without potentially committing crimes.

Friday, October 23, 2020

EARLY VOTING IS NOW UNDERWAY IN ALL STATES THAT ALLOW IT, except for New York and parts of Florida (begins Oct. 24), Maryland (Oct. 26), Washington D.C. (Oct. 27), and Oklahoma (Oct. 29).

What did Donald Trump do today?

He rounded another corner.

Today, Trump told a crowd of senior citizens at The Villages, a Florida retirement community, that the United States was "rounding the corner beautifully" on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Also today, the United States shattered its previous daily record for new cases, with more than 83,000 Americans testing positive.

Trump also used his speech at the Villages to accuse Joe Biden of using the pandemic to scare people. COVID-19 is known to have killed almost 230,000 Americans, and that total is expected to rise to nearly 400,000 by the end of Trump's term. 

Why should this matter to me?

  • Ignoring a crisis with a six-figure death toll doesn't make it go away.
  • A president this indifferent to a disaster this big is unfit for office, if not psychotic.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

EARLY VOTING IS NOW UNDERWAY IN ALL STATES THAT ALLOW IT, except for New York and parts of Florida (begins Oct. 24), Maryland (Oct. 26), Washington D.C. (Oct. 27), and Oklahoma (Oct. 29).

What did Donald Trump do today?

He made it clearer why he's worried about the 60 Minutes interview.

Trump's days-long attack on 60 Minutes over an interview came into clearer focus today, as he released video of the interview taken by White House staff. The interview itself isn't likely to do Trump any favors, but the portions before and after the formal interview are especially damaging. They show Trump complaining that he didn't know there would be "tough questions." 

The video is cropped to begin with Stahl in mid-sentence. It's not clear how much of their conversation prior to that was edited out. 

STAHL: —for some tough questions?

TRUMP: You're gonna be fair?

STAHL: [inaudible]

TRUMP: Just be fair.

STAHL: Well, last time I remember you saying to me, "Bring it on, bring it on."

TRUMP: I'm not looking for that, I'm looking for fairness, that's all.

STAHL: You're going to get fairness. But you're okay with some tough questions?

TRUMP: No, I'm not.

STAHL: [laughing] You're not okay with tough questions?

TRUMP: Well [inaudible] gonna be fair. You don't ask Biden tough questions.

STAHL: Me? I don't interview Biden, I only interview you. 

TRUMP: It's terrible, it's terrible. You know that. 

STAHL: I didn't want to have this kind of interview—

TRUMP: Of course you did. Of course you did.

STAHL: No, I didn't—

TRUMP: Well, then you brought up a lot of subjects that were— were inappropriately brought up.
STAHL: Well, I said I would ask you tough questions—

TRUMP: They were inappropriately brought up! Right from the beginning! No, your first question was [mocking tone] "This is going to be tough questions." Well, when you first set up the interview, your first statement was—

STAHL: You're the president. Don't you think you should be accountable—

TRUMP: Excuse me! No, no, no, listen. Your first statement to me, "This is gonna be tough questions." Well, I don't mind that, but— when you set up the interview, you didn't say that! You said, "Oh, let's have a lovely interview." And, and, here's what I do say—

STAHL: So why—

TRUMP: You don't ask Joe Biden, I saw your interview with Joe Biden, the interview with Joe Biden, it was a joke. 

STAHL: I never did a Joe Biden interview!

TRUMP: The interview, 60 Minutes. I see Joe Biden giving softball after softball. I've seen all of his interviews. He's never been asked a question that's hard. 

STAHL: Okay, but forget him for a minute. You're the president—

TRUMP: You start with me— excuse me, Lesley, you started with me, your first statement was "Are you ready for tough questions?" That's no way to talk. That's no way to talk. 

At that point, a voice off-camera interrupts with a question about the schedule for the rest of the interview. Trump refuses to continue, and gets up to leave the set.

In other words, Trump appears to have genuinely believed that he would get "softball" questions in a "lovely" interview from a major news program two weeks before the election—and was so upset when he didn't get them that he cut short the interview. 

Ironically, Trump's attempt to pre-empt the story is making it more obvious what happened. Normally, footage from outside the interview proper would never have been aired. 

Why is this a problem?

  • Presidents don't get to demand easy questions.
  • It shouldn't be this easy to intimidate a president.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

EARLY VOTING IS NOW UNDERWAY IN ALL STATES THAT ALLOW IT, except for New York and parts of Florida (begins Oct. 24), Maryland (Oct. 26), Washington D.C. (Oct. 27), and Oklahoma (Oct. 29).

What did Donald Trump do today?

He reminded people why he attacks the news media.

Trump tried to draw attention again today to his previously taped interview with Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes. It was reported yesterday that Trump found Stahl's questioning too difficult, and stormed out of the interview before it was over. 

Today, he had surrogates repeat his "threat" to post the interview before the show airs on CBS this Sunday. He also posted cryptic still photos from the interview, as well as a post where he claims Stahl had "no idea" about his supposed accomplishments on health care. (If so, she wouldn't be alone in that.) 

Taken at face value, Trump's behavior here is pretty normal, for him. Attacking media figures who don't fawn over him is standard practice, and much more so when the person in question is a woman—like, for example, Thursday's debate moderator Kristen Welker, last week's town hall host Savannah Guthrie, CBS correspondent Weijia Jiang, CNN reporter April Ryan, PBS's Yamiche Alcindor, Kaitlan Collins of CNN, Fox News host Megyn Kelly, MSNBC morning anchor Mika Brzezinski, New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, CNN reporter Abby Phillip, NBC reporter Katy Tur, and CBS's Paula Reid.

This isn't the first time Trump has tried to pick a fight with Stahl, either. But in 2016, when she hosted the first post-election interview with Trump, she asked him why he attacked the press. As she described the encounter:

Before the interview, I met with him in Trump Tower, and he really is the same off-camera that he is on-camera. Exactly the same. And at one point he started to attack the press, and it's just me and my boss and him, and he has a huge office, and he's attacking the press. And there were no cameras, there was nothing going on. And I said, "You know, that is getting tired. Why are you doing this? You're doing it over and over, and it's boring and it's time to end that. You know, you've won the nomination, and why do you keep hammering at this?" 

And he said, "You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all, and demean you all, so when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you."


Why does this matter?

  • Someone who can't handle being asked difficult questions can't handle the presidency.
  • Solving problems should be a higher priority for a president than avoiding blame for them.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020


New York and parts of Florida (Oct. 24), Maryland (Oct. 26), Washington D.C. (Oct. 27), and Oklahoma (Oct. 29).

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said he didn't really mean what he said if it meant having to do what he said.

On October 6, Trump tweeted that he had "fully authorized the total Declassification of any & all documents" related to what he calls the "Russia hoax"—or, in other words, the U.S. government investigation into Russia's attempts to infiltrate his campaign and interfere the election. (It was not a hoax.)

This was surprising for two reasons, if anyone was taking Trump seriously. First, there's a reason the government doesn't usually make public how it catches foreign spies. "Sources and methods" need to be kept secret to work, although Trump has carelessly revealed them to Russian officials in the past. 

And second, there's no reason to think the full story would clear Trump, given the enormous number of connections between Russian intelligence operatives and senior campaign staff, to include his adult children. In other words, if Trump were to actually release documents about the Russia investigation, it would only demonstrate why the United States counterintelligence agencies were so convinced that the Putin regime had infiltrated Trump's inner circle.

News organizations immediately petitioned the government to see these documents, but were told that no declassification had taken place. In court, the Justice Department was forced to argue that even though Trump really can order declassification via tweet, he didn't mean it in this one case. The judge ordered Trump to respond by today about whether he was serious—in which case the documents really would be released—or not.

Trump, through his chief of staff, admitted today that he never actually intended to declassify anything.

So what?

  • It's wrong to lie to the American people.
  • Major policy decisions probably shouldn't be done via spontaneous Twitter declarations.
  • Pretending that Trump didn't ask for and receive help in the form of criminal interference by Russia doesn't mean it didn't happen.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming

OCT. 21 - West Virginia
OCT. 24 - Florida and New York
OCT. 26 - Maryland
OCT. 27 - Washington, D.C.
OCT. 29 - Oklahoma

What did Donald Trump do today?

He "joked" about using the presidency to shake down businesses for money.

Trump started the 2020 race with a huge money advantage over any potential challenger. But now, when it matters most, it's positively cash-poor, and that's already affecting the campaign as aides make triage decisions about where Trump can still afford to compete. Earlier in the summer, Trump half-heartedly suggested he'd self-fund his campaign with $100 million he clearly doesn't have, but nothing ever came of it.

Clearly stung by the comparison with the Biden campaign's record-setting donations, Trump brought the subject up at a rally. He seemed to be trying to argue that, if he wanted to, he could be an effective fundraiser for his own re-election campaign—if he forced businesses to pay him bribes.

So when the press says … and we’re raising a lot of money, we’re raising a lot of small money, a lot of 61, 62 [sic]. No Republican’s ever done that. But when I started calling, I would be the greatest fundraiser in history. Don’t forget. I’m not bad at that stuff anyway, and I’m president. So I call some guy at the head of Exxon, I called ahead of Exxon, I don’t know, I’ll use a company. “Hi, how you doing? How’s the energy coming? When are you doing the exploration? Oh, you need a couple of permits. Huh? Okay.”

But I call the head of Exxon, I say, “I’d love you to send me $25 million for the campaign.” “Absolutely sir. Why didn’t you ask? Would you like some more?” And if I make the call, now people make the call, it’s different. But if I made that call, I will hit a home run every single call. I would raise a billion dollars in one day, if I wanted to, I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to do it.

It's hard to count how many abuse of power laws this would break, but the main federal bribery statute makes it a crime for a public official to even indirectly suggest that he is open to corruptly selling his office. The reason for this is that corruption scandals tend to do more damage by degrading Americans' faith in government than they do from the actual corrupt act. 

Normalizing it—even by making a Trump-style "joke" about it—is dangerous to democracy where citizens are expected to put their faith in one another, rather than a strongman-style leader. That's why making Americans think that their government is corrupt and untrustworthy is one of the main goals of the ongoing Russian disinformation campaign.)

Exxon—which did give Trump $500,000 for his inauguration, which is now itself under a corruption investigation—was forced to clarify that Trump never shook them down.

That said, Trump is describing almost exactly what he was impeached for: using the presidency to try to force someone to give him something he personally needed. He's also done the same thing, in plain view, with the state of New York, in an attempt to force prosecutors there to drop their investigations of him. He's also been on the supply side of corruption: his failed "Trump Tower Moscow" project included a $50 million bribe for Vladimir Putin himself, in the form of a free ultra-luxury penthouse.

How is this a bad thing?

  • The government of the people of the United States of America is not supposed to be for sale.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Arizona, California, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming

OCT. 19 - Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, North Dakota
OCT. 20 - Louisiana, Utah, and Wisconsin
OCT. 21 - West Virginia
OCT. 24 - Florida and New York
OCT. 26 - Maryland
OCT. 27 - Washington, D.C.
OCT. 29 - Oklahoma

What did Donald Trump do today?

He went to church.

Trump is on a western campaign swing today and tomorrow. More specifically, he is campaigning in Nevada and Arizona, where he could still conceivably win, and begging for money in California, where he cannot. The California portion of his itinerary took him to a fundraiser on Lido Isle, where he sold photo opportunities for $150,000 in campaign donations

But he also made a rare stop at a church, where he was photographed stuffing what was either a "wad" or a "fistful" of twenty-dollar bills in the collection plate. Trump, his close advisor Hope Hicks, and his press secretary Kayleigh McEnany refused to wear masks at the indoor service. During the service, Trump told congregants, "I love going to church." 

It's quite possible Trump loved this church service, where the officiant declared that God had told her that Trump would be re-elected. But it's not clear if Trump has ever voluntarily attended church in his adult life, except for campaign-style appearances and events like weddings and funerals.

Trump desperately needs white protestant evangelicals to vote for him, although he's lost a fair amount of support from them since 2016. Many of them were horrified when he staged a Bible-waving photo opportunity in front of a Washington, D.C. church after tear-gassing protestors gathered at the White House in order to get to it. (The rector of that church, who was acting as a protest medic at the time, was among those gassed.) 

Conservative evangelicals have always known their support for Trump was a bit of a Faustian bargain. Reaching for a way to reconcile Trump's ostentatiously un-Biblical lifestyle with his political support, James Dobson in 2016 called Trump a "baby Christian" with a "fairly recent" connection to the faith. But Trump has privately repaid his religious supporters with scorn, calling mega-church pastors "hustlers" who were "full of shit."

More than that, Trump often seems baffled by basic things most Christians learn in Sunday School. He has said he doesn't ask God for forgiveness, referred to communion as "my little wine and little cracker," mistaken a communion tray for an offering plate, and asked Presbyterian clergy to confirm that Presbyterians were, in fact, Christians. (Trump is, at least in theory, a Presbyterian himself.)

Recently, Trump also attributed to his opponent, Joe Biden, the ability to "hurt God" or even destroy God altogether (along with "guns" and "oil") if Trump is not re-elected. This is not a traditional Christian teaching.

It's not immediately clear what Bible verses were read at the nondenominational church Trump attended today, but in most Protestant and Catholic churches todayx, the Gospel reading was Matthew 22:15-21. That is more commonly known as the "render unto Caesar" lesson, in which Jesus counsels the Pharisees to pay their taxes and devote themselves to God.

Why is this a bad thing?

  • Presidents don't have to be religious, but it's still wrong to lie about religion.
  • Past a certain point, pandering just becomes insulting to the people who actually believe in something.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Arizona, California, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming

OCT. 19 - Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, North Dakota
OCT. 20 - Louisiana, Utah, and Wisconsin
OCT. 21 - West Virginia
OCT. 24 - Florida and New York
OCT. 26 - Maryland
OCT. 27 - Washington, D.C.
OCT. 29 - Oklahoma

What did Donald Trump do today?

He lost his temper at yet another "disloyal" Republican.

On Thursday, audio leaked of Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) sharply criticizing Trump on a phone call with constituents. 

So there are definitely places where we agree. But, as your question says, there are obviously a lot of places where he and I differ as well. And these aren’t just mere policy issues. And I’m not at all apologetic for having fought for my values against his in places where I think his are deficient, not just for a Republican, but for an American. So the way he kisses dictators' butts. I mean, the way he ignores that the Uighurs are in literal concentration camps in Xinjiang right now. He hasn’t lifted a finger on behalf of the Hong Kongers.

I mean, he and I have a very different foreign policy. It isn’t just that he fails to lead our allies, is that the United States now regularly sells out our allies under his leadership. The way he treats women, and spends like a drunken sailor, the ways I criticized President Obama for that kind of spending, I criticize President Trump for it as well. He mocks evangelicals behind closed doors. His family has treated the presidency like a business opportunity. He’s flirted with white supremacists. I mean, the places where we differed on COVID. He, at the beginning of the COVID crisis, he refused to treat it seriously for months, he treated it like a news cycle by news cycle PR crisis rather than a multi-year public health challenge, which is what it is.

And that, I mean, in his partial defense here, I think that lots of the news media has pretended that COVID is literally the first public health crisis ever, and somehow it’s Donald Trump’s fault. That’s not true. They just wanted to use it against him. But the reality is, that he careened from curb to curb. First he ignored COVID, and then he went into full economic shutdown mode. He was the one who said, 10 to 14 days of shutdown would fix this. And that was always wrong. I mean, and so I don’t think the way he’s led through COVID has been reasonable, or responsible, or right.

It's important to understand the context for Sasse's remarks. There's no such thing as privacy when senators address large groups of constituents, and he would have known that the recording would leak. Sasse is hardly alone among prominent Republicans in distancing himself from Trump. There's always been a sharp divide in the party between those not holding elected office (including scores of former Trump administration officials), who tend to be much more critical, and those Republicans who couldn't risk that Trump would try to turn their own constituents against them. 

But recently, more and more elected Republicans are either rebuking Trump outright, or going to heroic lengths to downplay their support for him, as Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) did at a recent debate:

Normally, presidential candidates give members of their own party permission to keep their distance where the top of the ticket is less popular than the local politicians. But Trump, who is staggeringly unpopular for an incumbent, continues to demand absolute personal loyalty, and to punish it where he finds it lacking. And today, he lashed out at Sasse on Twitter—not only deepening the divide in the party, but making sure that a much wider audience heard what Sasse had to say.

Just over two weeks from Election Day, Republicans stand a much better chance of holding the Senate than Trump does of being re-elected, but the odds are dwindling. For example, Trump is so unpopular in Maine, where Sen. Susan Collins is vulnerable, that Democrats are campaigning against her simply by putting her name next to his on signs.

Why does this matter?

  • It shouldn't be this easy to get under a president's skin.
  • It's not very smart to call attention to people who are criticizing you.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Arizona, California, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming

OCT. 17 - Massachusetts and Nevada
OCT. 19 - Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, North Dakota
OCT. 20 - Louisiana, Utah, and Wisconsin
OCT. 21 - West Virginia
OCT. 24 - Florida and New York
OCT. 26 - Maryland
OCT. 27 - Washington, D.C.
OCT. 29 - Oklahoma

What did Donald Trump do today?

He fell victim to a slightly more innocent internet conspiracy theory than he usually does.

Twitter was down briefly yesterday. The company blamed a power outage, though with the election looming, there was some speculation that Trump's favorite social media platform had been hacked. 

One news site, the Babylon Bee, reported that Twitter had deliberately trashed its own servers to defend Joe Biden against the bungled Russian disinformation campaign launched this week by Trump's fixer Rudy Giuliani. The story got picked up by the Twitter algorithm, and Trump immediately retweeted it.

The Babylon Bee is a satirical news site—like the Onion or Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update," it is literally fake news.

Trump's deadly-earnest retweet and commentary came just hours after he claimed he had no idea what QAnon was when he retweeted posts endorsing the bizarre and dangerous conspiracy theory, during this exchange with the host:

NBC'S SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Let me ask you about QAnon. It is this theory that Democrats are a Satanic pedophile ring and that you are the savior of that. Now, can you just once and for all state that that is completely not true and disavow QAnon in its entirety?

TRUMP: I know nothing about QAnon —

GUTHRIE: I just told you.

TRUMP: You told me. But what you tell me doesn't necessarily make it fact, I hate to say that. I know nothing about it. I do know they are very much against pedophilia. They fight it very hard, but I know nothing about it. If you'd like me to —

GUTHRIE: They believe it is a Satanic cult run by the 'deep state.'

TRUMP: — study the subject. I'll tell you what I do know about: I know about Antifa and I know about the radical left.

Trump certainly does know what QAnon is; he's thanked them at campaign rallies. The FBI regards QAnon as a potential terror threat, and—like many of the things Trump has tweeted—is linked to Russian intelligence agencies

Why should I care?

  • It's really important that the President of the United States be able to tell when something is real, and when it's fictional, especially if it's labeled as being fictional.
  • Even by Trump's standards, this is pretty embarrassing.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Arizona, California, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming

FRIDAY, OCT. 16 in Washington
SATURDAY, OCT. 17 in Massachusetts and Nevada

What did Donald Trump do today?

He cheered what he apparently thought was an extrajudicial murder.

At a rally today in North Carolina, Trump made a vague reference to doings in Portland, and then told this fragment of a story:

The man that shot an innocent man, this was an innocent man shot, killed, instantly killed, I said what happened, well, we haven't arrested him, two days, three days went by, we sent in the U.S. Marshals, took fifteen minutes it was over. Fifteen minutes it was over, we got him. They knew who he was, they didn't want to arrest him, and fifteen minutes that ended. 

It's unlikely the rally crowd could piece together the references in real time—Trump either didn't know or forgot to mention any specifics—but these are the events Trump was referring to.

On August 29, a group of Trump supporters took part in a "cruise" through Portland. Their intention was to provoke anti-racism protestors by shooting them with paintball guns and pepper spray. The cruise was promoted by Russian state media, and appears to have been part of the Putin regime's ongoing attempts to destabilize American society in advance of the election. Trump himself also promoted it

During a confrontation with protestors, one of the pro-Trump side was shot and killed. The victim was Aaron Danielson, and the apparent shooter was Michael Reinoehl, who left the scene but was identified by witnesses and surveillance tapes. On September 3, Reinoehl was shot and killed during an attempt to apprehend him by local law enforcement officers working on a federal task force. (Not "U.S. Marshals, though.) Questions immediately arose about why Reinoehl's arrest turned fatal, since even the police were vague about whether he was armed, and 21 of 22 witnesses didn't hear police identify themselves before opening fire. But the shooting took place an hour after Trump (unnecessarily) ordered police via tweet to "do your job and do it fast" by arresting the "thug" Reinoehl.

In other words, Trump seems to genuinely believe that he ordered the police to perform a gangland killing on the person who killed of one of his own "gang"—and is now bragging about it, or at least what he can remember of it.

Why does this matter?

  • Using police violence to promote the leader's political movement is the literal definition of fascism.
  • At least in America, police aren't supposed to be vigilantes and the president isn't supposed to think he's a gang leader.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Arizona, California, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming

THURSDAY, OCT. 15 in North Carolina
FRIDAY, OCT. 16 in Washington
SATURDAY, OCT. 17 in Massachusetts and Nevada

What did Donald Trump do today?

He threw another attorney general under the bus.

In an interview with the fringe-right website Newsmax today, Trump said he "wasn't happy" with William Barr, his attorney general. He refused to say that he'd retain Barr if he were re-elected.

At first glance, this may seem strange. While most legal experts, including many conservative lawyers, view Barr's tenure as attorney general with a mix of horror and outrage, Trump himself has every reason to be pleased. Barr has turned the Department of Justice into an extension of Trump's overworked personal legal defense team, and set its attorneys against Trump's enemies. He single-handedly defused the damning Mueller report through careful redaction and a misleading summary, shielded Trump's allies from prosecution, and launched counter-investigations against the people who investigated Trump's ties to the Putin regime in Russia.

But on the last of those assignments, Barr appears to have struck out, just when Trump needed him most. It was announced today that a Barr-ordered review of the Obama administration's investigation into Michael Flynn had turned up no evidence of wrongdoing, and would not even result in a report. (Flynn is the Trump crony who admitted to lying to investigators about his Russia ties, only to have Barr, in an unprecedented and legally doubtful move, try to drop the prosecution against him.)

Trump has made no secret of his desire for another "October surprise," like the one then-FBI director James Comey gave him when he announced that he was reopening an investigation into Hillary Clinton. 

Without something dramatic happening in the last 20 days of the race to upset the polls, Trump will almost certainly lose to Biden. That may explain why Trump is retweeting bizarre conspiracy theories that Biden had the Navy SEAL team that killed Osama bin Laden murdered. Since that team is still alive—its leader was a prominent Trump supporter, at least until today—it's not likely that will do the job.

Why should I care about this?

  • Trying to frame your political opponents on fake criminal charges is what dictators do.