Sunday, November 8, 2020

Notes on the presidential transition

Standalone updates to this site ended on November 8, 2020—after Joe Biden's victory became effectively impossible to legally contest, but too soon to chronicle Trump's last-minute incitement of an insurrection against the lawful government of the United States and the consequences of that action.

Good luck to us all.

What did Donald Trump do today?

Nothing, really.

Trump played golf again today, which may suggest an upper limit on how much of a threat to American democracy he perceives from the "ELECTION THEFT" supposedly being committed everywhere he is losing.

But that would be pretty thin gruel by the standards of this site. Speaking editorially and in the first person for perhaps the first time on this site, I never minded Trump playing golf. He did less damage there. And so even though it was an endless vein of hypocrisy, I tried not to resort to posting about golf unless I was in a hurry (which sometimes happened) or he didn't do anything worse that day (which never did). 

Today, of course, he also raved on Twitter about the election being stolen from him—but that, too, is already a bit tiresome to talk about. And with respect to the purpose of this blog—which long ago stopped being about voter outreach and more about creating a historical scrapbook—I'm not sure it matters if I record it here. (I'm not sure any of it mattered! But it gave me something to do.)

Trump can still do damage, and will. But the damage he'll do ranting about treason (technically, lèse-majesté) between rounds of golf is baked in. If you are still reading this—who are you, anyway?!—you'll have heard about it before you check this site, or you won't have because you sensibly avoided it. 

This site started on November 14, 2016, and there would be a nice roundness to stopping it exactly four years later. But for my part, enough is enough. Which is not to say there won't be more to come. After all, there have already been vengeful post-election firings. There will probably be pardons, although I'm more skeptical about that than some. (Pardons broad enough to make their grantees feel safe would remove any Fifth Amendment privilege against testifying about criminal conspiracies involving Trump, a fact which Trump's lawyers will surely know.) He may try to create a "Deep State" of his own, through a process known as burrowing, in which political appointees reinvent themselves as "career" bureaucrats, to do his will from beyond the political grave. 

Or he may, in his malignant insanity, outright demand that his followers start burning America down, and if so a few of them may try to obey. I sort of think he won't, and that we'll all be expected to be grateful in that case. [Ed.: Obviously, this proved too optimistic.]

But no matter how spectacular the tantrum he throws on January 21—and I think it's a safe bet that he will do everything in his power to make sure he's in the headlines that day—I can already tell you what this site will say on that day, and every day afterwards.

What did Donald Trump do today?

Nothing worth mentioning.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He lost.

With the vote count in the decisive state of Pennsylvania favoring Joe Biden more and more, national news networks declared him the presumptive winner of the election this morning. 

Trump received the news where he has spent much of his presidency: on the golf course. Specifically, he was on the links at Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Virginia. 

It was Trump's 294th visit to a golf course as president. If he were to quit the game today—which seems unlikely—he would have spent every fifth day of his term in office traveling to and from a Trump-branded golf course at taxpayer expense. 

As a candidate, Trump criticized President Obama for playing golf, although Obama only hit the links about once every other week on average. Trump claimed he would be too busy to play as president.

Why should I care?

  • It's very possible that if Trump had played less golf, and worked much harder at being president, he would not have lost the election. 

Friday, November 6, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He asked a rhetorical question about military votes, which was a mistake.

In his middle-of-the-night press conference yesterday, Trump flatly asserted that votes going against him were "illegal" and that he had already won the election. Today, aides scrambling to manage public opinion while they figure out how to break the news of his impending loss to him succeeded in keeping him away from cameras. But they couldn't keep him off Twitter—although the social media company continued to hide many of his tweets as disinformation.

One of the visible tweets, though, asked a question about military ballots in Georgia.

It's a reasonable question. Trump trails Biden by about 4,400 votes as of late Friday evening, and mailed military ballots—along with provisional ballots—could make up the difference. 

The answer is that there are no missing military ballots. In fact, it's not clear who if anyone other than Trump thinks there are. 

Military ballots sent from overseas tend to be counted late, because they arrive from farther away, but under Georgia law any such ballot postmarked by Election Day and received today must be counted.

Trump's entire legal strategy, in states where he is losing to Biden, has been to insist that only ballots counted on Election Day itself are "legal votes." No such law exists in any state, but by that logic, Trump would disqualify virtually all overseas military ballots.

Still, suppressing the military vote would probably have helped him. Trump is historically unpopular with American troops for a Republican, and pre-election polls showed him losing among active duty servicemembers to Biden.

Georgia's Secretary of State defended the state's election process against Trump's insinuations today. He is a Republican endorsed by Trump in 2018.

How is this a problem?

  • Conspiracy theories and social media posts don't invalidate the results of an election.
  • Votes choose the president, not the other way around.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He seemed to realize what was happening.

Trump's only public appearance today was a brief White House address. In it, he declared that he had won the election, if you ignored "illegal votes." He claimed that votes were being cast after the election had ended. (They are not.) Trump alluded to shadowy conspiracies, cooked up fictitious scenarios where Republicans were barred from observing the count, and once again declared that mailed ballots—a huge percentage of the total vote this year, due to the pandemic—were somehow fraudulent.

Even by Trump's standards, it was spectacularly full of false claims, misleading framings, and outright lies.

In short, it was Trump's most aggressive attack yet on the democracy that elected him and that he is sworn to defend. Most news networks immediately cut away from live coverage when it became clear that what he was saying amounted to disinformation. Even the coverage on Fox News, normally a sort of safe space for Trump—he's spent hours in unsolicited call-in interviews to the network lately—treated his remarks with a sort of stunned disbelief.

And, as Fox News noted on their website, even Republicans who normally support Trump went out of their way to condemn him

Trump is reportedly despondent over the increasing likelihood that he will lose the election. It showed in his brief appearance today, which for all its anger was also "low energy." He has good reason: without the shield the presidency provides, he is likely to face criminal prosecution and a serious financial crunch as billions of dollars in personally guaranteed loans come due.

Why should I care about this?

  • Even if people have largely stopped listening to him, it's bad when a sitting president tries to undermine Americans' faith in democracy.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He "hereby claimed" victories in states he hasn't won.

With votes still being counted in five potentially decisive states, the winner of the election isn't clear—except to Donald Trump, at least if you believe his tweets. While he made no public appearances today, he kept up an active and aggrieved presence on social media. The general tenor of Trump's messages was that he had won the election, and that only fraud and unspecified nefarious actions by unnamed criminals was keeping everyone from seeing it.

This tweet, which was promptly savaged by the internet (and hidden by Twitter for spreading election misinformation), is representative:

For the record, Pennsylvania (like all states) permits the parties to observe the count. The Republican observers of the Pennsylvania counting process can be seen on the live stream of the Philadelphia count. It's not clear what "secretly dumped ballots" Trump is thinking of, although he's invented stories about mysteriously appearing and disappearing ballots before.

This isn't Trump's first attempt to make the word "hereby" sound official: last August, he "hereby ordered" American businesses to immediately stop doing business in China. (They didn't.)

Trump's defiance has inspired small crowds of his supporters to gather outside of locations where votes are being counted in Arizona and Michigan, chanting "stop the vote" or "stop the count." Trump is losing in both of those states at the moment, so stopping the count isn't a great strategy. Trump's legal team is slightly more clear-headed: they are trying to force an end to vote counting where Trump is leading at the moment, but not where he is losing.

So what?

  • In a democracy, all legally cast ballots are counted, regardless of whether it would help or hurt any candidate.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today? 

He declared victory, as expected, and under the circumstances expected.

Trump's first public reaction to today's first election returns was to tweet this, which was immediately flagged as election disinformation:

Trump is not up "big." In fact, he's not up at all: He could conceivably still win the election, but before that happens, the votes will have to be counted.

Later, at a late-night rally inside the White House, Trump rattled off a list of states he insisted he had "won" by various amounts, including Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Michigan. At the moment he spoke, he led in those states with literally millions of ballots from heavily Democratic-leaning early vote not yet counted.

In other words, Trump is saying that he's won the election if you stop the count while he's ahead—which is exactly what he's been saying he'll try to do.

Trump is correct about one thing, though: votes cannot be cast after the polls are closed—any more than votes that have been cast can be ignored just because he doesn't want them counted.

Why does this matter?

  • Voters pick who the president is, not the other way around.
  • A president deliberately lying about election results as they're happening disgraces the office.

Monday, November 2, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He called for violence to help keep him in power.

Trump has no realistic path to victory without Pennsylvania, where native son Joe Biden has held a small but consistent lead throughout the entire race. His campaign has fought hard (and with some success) to prevent likely Biden votes from being cast or counted in the state, mostly through attacks on absentee ballots or the way they're delivered. 

In the last few days of the campaign, Trump has fixated on a Supreme Court decision allowing—at least for now—absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day to be counted if they reach election offices in Pennsylvania by November 6. (Many other states allow ballots mailed on or before Election Day to count even if they reach the offices much later than that.)

Today, he declared that this decision was "physically dangerous" because it would lead to "violence in the streets." Of course, only Trump's supporters would have any reason to react violently to him losing the election.

A few things are worth noting. First, Trump has explicitly refused to guarantee a peaceful transition of power if he loses. No other president or presidential candidate has ever done this.

Second, even though American elections have been entirely free of partisan violence since the end of the Jim Crow era, there is one example Trump might have in mind: the so-called "Brooks Brothers riot" of 2000. A group of Republican political aides were paid to disrupt a critical recount in Florida before a court-imposed deadline, and succeeded. Punches were thrown, but no one was seriously hurt. The riot helped cement in place George W. Bush's microscopic margin of victory in Florida.

That riot was organized by Trump's own political fixer, Roger Stone, who was later convicted of obstruction and witness tampering related to the Russia investigation.

Finally, Trump has show a real talent for inciting his followers to violence. He's encouraged his supporters to beat up protestors at his rallies (and then stiffed them on the legal bills he promised to cover if they did). But he's also carefully cultivated relationships with genuinely violent groups like the Proud Boys, who he told last month to "stand by" for the moment, or the white nationalists who organized the the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville where a counter-protestor was killed. He's also won the loyalty of normally anti-government "militias" by defending members accused of murder or encouraging them to "liberate" themselves from state politicians he doesn't like. 

The tally of violent crimes that can be traced back to Trump's incitement includes the recent kidnapping plot against Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (which also involved the planned murder of police officers), pipe bombs mailed to Trump's supposed enemies in the media and the Democratic Party, a similar plot against Democratic politicians carried out by a Coast Guard officer, the racial harassment and attempted kidnapping of Hispanic-Americans by a self-described Nazi Trump supporter, and literally dozens of death threats and assaults against journalists, women, and racial minorities carried out in Trump's name.

Why is this a problem?

  • You either have democracy, or a leader trying to hold onto power through violence against his own citizens—not both.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He invented a new rule about which ballots should count.

At a rally in North Carolina, Trump was asked about reports that he plans to declare victory prematurely on Election Night regardless of how many ballots had been counted. He denied it—and then basically confirmed it

For once, absentee ballots heavily favor Democrats, and those are almost always counted last. Given the staggering number of voters who voted early this year avoid exposing themselves to COVID-19, Trump will probably "win" the in-person-only vote in many critical states. In a rambling answer, Trump called it "terrible" (nine times) that the election couldn't be decided on that basis.

I think it's a terrible thing when ballots can be collected after an election. I think it's a terrible thing when people or, or states, are allowed to, uh, tabulate ballots for a long period of time after the election is over. Because it can only lead to one thing, and it's very bad. You know what that thing is. I think it's a very dangerous terrible thing. And I think it's terrible when we can't know the results of an election the night of the election in a modern-day age of computers. I think it's a terrible thing, and I happen to think it was a terrible decision for our country, made by the Supreme Court. I think it was a terrible decision for our country. And I think it's a very dangerous decision. Because you're gonna have one or two or three states, depending on how it ends up, where they're tabulating ballots, and the rest of the world is waiting to find out, and I think there's great danger to it, and I think a lot of fraud and misuse could take place. I think it's a terrible decision, by the Supreme Court. A terrible... decision. Now I don't know if that's gonna be changed, because we're gonna go in, the night of, as soon as that election's over, we're going in with our lawyers, but we don't want to have Pennsylvania, where you have a political governor, a very partisan guy, and we don't want to have other states, like Nevada, where you have the head of the, the, Democratic... clubhouse [sic], as your governor. We don't want to be in a position where he's allowed to, every day, watch ballots come in, "Gee, if we could only find ten thousand more ballots." Because we're doing great in Nevada, we're doing great in Arizona, we're doing great all over. But if you take Nevada or Pennsylvania — and everyone knows what happens in Philadelphia, you don't have to say it, but I've read about it for years, and I don't think it's fair that we have to wait a long period of time after the election. If people wanted to get their ballots in, they should have gotten their ballots in long before that, long time. They don't have to put their ballots in the same day, they could have put their ballots in a month ago. And we think it's a ridiculous decision.

In other words: Trump is saying that voters whose legal ballots were cast on time but arrive late should be thrown out, because they weren't excited enough to vote a month in advance. This matters in states like Pennsylvania—which he absolutely must win, and where Democrats are voting by mail in far greater numbers than Republicans—where ballots postmarked on or before Election day can be counted up to three days later. 

This is not how elections work.

Trump has openly admitted to sabotaging the US Postal Service's ability to deliver ballots in a timely fashion, and he's said why: because he believes that Republicans can't get elected if voters can cast their ballots by mail and have them count. 

It's worth noting that the group most likely to have their votes thrown out under Trump's "Election Day decision" rule are military ballots. Normally, those favor Republican candidates, but Trump has no particular reason to want servicemembers' votes to count either: he is astonishingly unpopular with the troops for a Republican.

Why should I care about this?

  • The American people, not the incumbent president, get to decide who the next president is.
  • In a democracy, you don't get to make up new rules about whose votes count 48 hours before Election Day.
  • Nobody who thought he would win an election fairly would try to sabotage Americans' faith in the process like this.