The Elephant in the GOP Room

Trump’s “events” schedule looks like nonstop rallies/superspreader events starring Trump, Pence, and/or the extended Trump family. Exposing one’s most enthusiastic supporters to a deadly infectious disease just 15 days before the election seems a tad risky to me, but I’m not going to argue with the Trumpers about it.

Trump wants you to know he’s tired of hearing about covid-19. He especially wants you to know he’s tired of covid-19 after Dr. Fauci was on 60 Minutes yesterday saying he wasn’t surprised Trump caught it. Trump has been on a rampage about Fauci since then.

President Donald Trump escalated his attacks against Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the White House’s top experts on COVID-19, into a full-blown smear campaign on Monday.

CNN reported on a call Trump had with his campaign staffers in which the President complained about those who raised alarm over his enormous, largely mask-free rallies that pose serious risk of spreading COVID-19.

“People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots,” he reportedly said.

Trump called the doctor a “nice guy” who’s “been here for 500 years.”

“Fauci is a disaster,” he said, according to CNN. “If I listened to him, we’d have 500,000 deaths.”

The President welcomed the possibility of his remarks getting leaked to the media, saying that “if there’s a reporter on, you can have it just the way I said it, I couldn’t care less.”

We’re all tired of the pandemic, dude. Very, very tired.

Greg Sargent writes that it’s not just Trump; the entire GOP seems to be determined to ignore it. The crisis needs only to be managed by better messaging to change voters’ perceptions of the disease, the GOP thinks.

According to calculations by NBC News, in the past two weeks, we’ve seen cases increase by 25 percent or more in 28 states.

Republicans are required to pretend that none of this is happening or that it’s simply not that big a deal. Trump’s own rallies — the most visible manifestations of his case for a second term right now — unfold largely without masks and social distancing, themselves dramatizing this pathology as vividly as one could imagine.

So it’s hardly surprising that Republicans do not permit themselves to acknowledge what a catastrophe this whole crisis has been, let alone Trump’s own culpability in exacerbating it or the toll that has taken on his political fortunes and theirs.

As has been predicted by infectious disease experts for months, now that the weather is getting cooler and people are spendng more time indoors, more people are getting sick.

Ten states Friday reported their highest one-day case counts: Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming, according to Johns Hopkins.
As for the entire country, cases are swinging up after a summer surge waned.

As for the entire country, cases are swinging up after a summer surge waned.

See also ‘Uncontrolled Spread’ of COVID in Majority of U.S. States at Newsweek.

Trump’s rallies are focused especially on Pennsylvania and Arizona, so we can expect positivity rates to soar in those states in the coming days. I’m grateful all the strategists are ignoring Missouri. We don’t have early voting here, and the Missouri mail-in ballot rules were designed to make ballots challengable in court, I’m certain. I’m sheltering in place as much as possible so that I can vote in person on election day.

But the larger point is that for Republicans, the severity of the pandemic is the elephant in the room they can’t acknowledge.

Charlotte Klein writes at Vanity Fair:

President Donald Trump continued to spout his rosy narrative of a nation on the mend at a campaign event in Florida on Friday, which was also the second day in a row that new infections in the United States surpassed 64,000 for the first time since July. “The light at the end of the tunnel is near. We are rounding the turn,” Trump told rally-goers. “Don’t listen to the cynics and angry partisans and pessimists.” Playing down the pandemic in an attempt to salvage his chances for reelection—a prospect upended by Trump’s bungling of the public health crisis that has killed more than 218,000 Americans—has taken on new urgency inside the Trump campaign in recent days. After contracting COVID-19, the president has reemerged with more misinformation and disregard for science than ever, flouting safety precautions and undercutting infectious disease experts to serve his political aims. “I don’t know that Donald Trump can see past the current moment,” former task force aide Olivia Troye told the Associated Press.

Yesterday Trump even mocked Biden for lisening to science.

More than anything else, covid is defeating Trump. That’s a sobering thing; he’s so awful, so infeffectual, so clearly unsuited to be POTUS, yet it took an extraordinary pandemic-of-the-century to reveal that to a lot of people. There’s still a small chance — 12 percent, according to the nerds — that he would win the election.

And he’s not going to learn. The White House Coronavirus Task Force, problematic all along, is coming apart. See Trump’s den of dissent: Inside the White House task force as coronavirus surges at the Washington Post and What Fans of ‘Herd Immunity’ Don’t Tell You by John Berry at the New York Times.

 

All the King’s Horses, Etc.

For months, people have wondered what would happen if Trump loses but refuses to concede and vacate the White House. No matter what the final vote count is, if Trump loses I don’t expect him to concede. But we may not need to send the U.S. Marshals to evict him from the White House. He may be long gone by inauguration day.

This week Trump has made noises that he may leave the country if he loses. Since Trump doesn’t understand humor or jokes, we can assume he is seriously considering leaving the country if he loses and that his internal polling numbers are telling him he’s going to lose. The question is, would that be before or after the January inauguration? Jonathan Chait:

Perhaps one thing on the president’s mind is the developing criminal case against him. He faces serious legal jeopardy by prosecutors in Manhattan and New York State for what seems to be on its face fairly cut-and-dried criminal fraud in his private business dealings. It is also possible that, having left office, prosecutors may turn over some rocks and discover more criminal behavior as president of the United States. (The Department of Justice has a policy of not charging the President with crimes, but that expires if he leaves office.)

Especially if the election result is an unchallengable landslide — and we don’t know that it will be, but let’s pretend — Trump very well might try to flee the reach of prosecutors before he is officially out of office. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if he’s gone before Christmas.

But that leaves us with the question of where he might go. Without the powers of the presidency, he’s likely to find he doesn’t have many friends in the world. And then there’s his debt problem. Yesterday a writer at Forbes published an analysis of Trump’s known debts and assets that suggest he’s more than $1 billion in debt, not just $400 million. And, of course, we don’t know who holds all of that debt. Trump may be wanting to avoid whoever that is, also. But if he flees the U.S. to escape prosecution, will he be able to take his Secret Service protection with him?

At the Atlantic, Graeme Wood writes that after the election Trump might vacate the presidency and leave Mike Pence in charge, with the understanding that Pence will pardon him for any federal crimes he might have committed. (Presidential self-pardons are constitutionally iffy.) However, at the moment it’s New York and Manhattan after his ass. And if he’s indicted later at the federal level for ongoing obstruction of justice, Pence’s blanket pardon may not mean much.

Wood also doesn’t think Trump will either try to start a civil war to stay in office or leave the country but instead will go back to his old patterns of grifting.

I think this scenario is in fact the most likely one, if Trump loses the election. And it may even be his preferred scenario, better than an outright victory (which would require another four years of onerous employment), better than showing up on Inauguration Day and having to duel Joe Biden for the right to be sworn in. As for the prospect of civil war: Trump is a coward, and all evidence suggests that he would run from the responsibility, even more burdensome than normal service as president, of overseeing the violent fracture of America. A civil war sounds like a lot of work. The easiest path is also the most lucrative. Get on Marine One, protesting all the way, and spend the rest of your days fleecing the 40 percent of Americans who still think you are the Messiah, and who will watch you on cable news, spend their money on whatever hypoallergenic pillow you endorse, and come to see you whenever you visit their town.

And that’s plausible also, assuming he can wiggle out of his legal problems.

The Biden campaign wants you to know that their internal polls are showing a tighter race than the public polls, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Vote, dammit.

As I’ve written before, the Trump campaign is preparing teams of lawyers to go in and stop the count of mail-in votes in states where Trump has an election-night lead. This is still our primary concern. However, the huge early voting numbers may save us.

Chris Smith at Vanity Fair:

While no one in Bidenworld is projecting a landslide, or showing any sign of overconfidence, the candidate’s braintrust has been gaming out what to do if Biden is declared the winner, especially if it’s by a modest margin—and Trump refuses to accept the results. “Look, we may need the entire campaign operation to move to Pennsylvania to ensure that absentee ballots are counted,” a Biden adviser says. “That’s going to require money and manpower, and we’re making sure we have all of that.” Longtime Biden senior aide Ron Klain, plus campaign legal heads Dana Remus and Bob Bauer, are among the top staff thinking through the multiple court actions that might be necessary.

But it’s also the case, Smith says, that Trump is unlikely to want to be photographed  being hauled out of the White House kicking and screaming, which is what would happen eventually. If it comes to the point that it’s obvious even to Trump that Biden will be inaugurated, Trump will more than likely just leave. Maybe in the dead of night.

And then on that day — it’s like a miracle, Trump will disappear. For a while, anyway.

Trump Needs a Better Act

Yesterday word was going around that Trump wanted to take the time slot against Biden’s town hall so that he could beat Biden’s ratings. Variety says the early numbers show he failed.

Biden drew 12.7 million total viewers on the Disney-owned network, while Trump drew 10.4 million in the same 9-10 p.m. time slot on NBC. Across the entire runtime, the Biden town hall averaged 12.3 million viewers. In terms of the fast national 18-49 demographic, Biden is comfortably on top with a 2.6 rating to Trump’s 1.7.

It may be that after the streams are calculated those numbers will change. But from what I’ve read, Savannah Guthrie took Trump into hand and didn’t let him go. It might be worth watching.

But despite fears that the event would amount to a free promotion for Trump’s campaign, it ended up being one of the toughest grillings he has faced as president, with questions about white supremacy, covid-19 deaths and his taxes.

While the event was nominally a town hall, featuring questions from Florida voters, it included a lot of direct pressing by the moderator, “Today” co-host Savannah Guthrie, who repeatedly challenged the president’s evasions.

At one point, after pushing Trump on his retweet of a QAnon-linked conspiracy theory, Guthrie said, “I don’t get that. You’re the president. You’re not like someone’s crazy uncle who can just retweet whatever.”

Then this happened —

Several headlines today described the dueling town halls as Mr. Rogers versus the  Crazy Uncle.

Trump’s problem is we’ve all seen his act, and it just isn’t that much fun. He’s mostly just angry all the time now. Who needs that? I’d rather watch The Weather Channel.

Even after being given the time slot he apparently wanted, which caused many people to be pissed off at NBC, he was angry at NBC. He had to answer questions about his record! What an outrage! The Fox News bobbleheads called the town hall an “ambush,” which is amusing considering it was an ambush Trump set up for himself.

And it was so unfair! Biden could cruise by discussing in soporific detail his plans for the economy, the pandemic, the courts, criminal justice, etc. Trump was put on the spot about his stupid tweets and why he wouldn’t denounce white supremacy. (/sarcasm)

At the Atlantic, David Frum says this will be the last season of the Trump Show. He also notes that Trump treats every encounter as an attack now.

For Trump, the supposed businessman, everything is a war, every question an attack, and every attack demands a counterpunch. Biden, the career politician, treated each encounter as a sale. When he was challenged—on fracking and the Green New Deal, for example—he did not counterpunch. He made a counteroffer.

After the debate, the Trump campaign released this statement: “President Trump soundly defeated NBC’s Savannah Guthrie in her role as debate opponent and Joe Biden surrogate. President Trump masterfully handled Guthrie’s attacks and interacted warmly and effectively with the voters in the room.” That isn’t what most people saw, but whatever.

At the end of the scheduled time, each candidate was invited to address a broader question. Guthrie asked Trump what he would say to uncertain voters. A questioner from the audience asked Biden what he would do to unite the country in the event that he lost the election in November. Trump answered by saying that he would tell the undecided voter what a great job he was doing as president. Biden answered that if he lost, he would have to accept that he had failed as a candidate—but that he would never accept that the divisions in the country are as real as Donald Trump wants them to be.

First, as a rule, if you have to tell people you’re doing a great job you’re not doing a great job. Second, I agree with Frum: “Biden, by contrast, contemplating defeat, delivered his best case for victory: a statement of faith in the country as something bigger than himself.”

Trump’s biggest problem is that he’s lost touch with the audience, or voters, as it were. That was one of Clinton’s problems in 2016; her campaign just didn’t speak to people’s concerns. Trump, a made-for-television fantasy character, could promise the moon and get away with it. Who knew he didn’t actually know how healthcare worked? (Well, some of us, but not most folks.)

It’s easy to conclude that Trump’s act from 2016 doesn’t work any more, but what he’s doing now is not the same act. In 2016 he was all salesman. He was pie-in-the-sky promises and declarations that only he can fix whatever needed fixing. Now he’s mostly just angry. Frum:

When Trump has to deal with something he doesn’t like—such as Savannah Guthrie’s questions about his debts—he blusters great clouds of defensive words. The words do not form sentences, do not cohere into ideas, do not contain truthful information. But they do form a defensive wall of noise against unwelcome inquiry.

Now he has a record. Now he’s been president for four years. Now people have seen what a hotheaded asshole he really is. Now people know he’s not as wealthy as he pretended to be. In 2016, he was a fantasy character. Now people are seeing the real Donald Trump, and they don’t like him very much.

Greg Sargent also noted Trump’s anger.

President Trump is often at his most revealing when he’s angry, and his appearance at the NBC town hall was notable for his repeated flashes of barely suppressed rage. And in this case, a common thread ran through those moments on Thursday night, one that captures an essential truth about how he has approached his entire reelection campaign.

It’s this: Trump is in a fury because he isn’t being permitted to wage this campaign in his own manufactured universe, a universe that’s almost entirely fictional.

For example,

Trump grew particularly incensed when moderator Savannah Guthrie pressed him on whether he’d denounce white supremacy. He insisted this question is unfair, and said, “I denounce white supremacy,” but then abruptly pivoted to denouncing “antifa” and the “people on the left that are burning down our cities.”

The pivot itself is the thing. Trump is angry that the campaign isn’t being waged in the universe he tried to manufacture for it, one in which the most serious threat to civil society right now is organized violent left-wing terrorism.

Fantasy made-for-television characters don’t interface with reality very well.

Note also:

In September a national survey conducted by All In Together found that suburban women favoured Joe Biden by 55 per cent to Mr Trump’s 41 per cent.

Mr Trump again targeted the crucial voting bloc at his Make America Great Again rally in Greenville, North Carolina.“Why is that the fake news keeps saying that women aren’t going to like Trump?” complained Mr Trump.

“You know what women want more than anything else? They want safety, security, and they want to be able to have their houses, and leave me alone right?

“The suburban woman. Early on, before I realised it wasn’t politically correct, sorry folks, I haven’t been doing this too long, I said ‘the suburban housewife loves trump.’

“And they went – by the way, the women, they loved it. Does anybody mind that term? Is that a bad term?”

One, who talks like that? Two, this tells me he hasn’t actually listened to women in his entire adult life.

As Michelle Goldberg notes today, there were some women who tuned out Trump’s obvious misogyny in 2016, but fewer of them are doing it now. They’ve seen him belittle and talk over women too many times now. And one thing most women aren’t comfortable with is male anger. In 2016 Trump was revealed to be an adulterous lech, but now he’s coming across as a bully and an abuser. That’s an act that went out of style a long time ago.

So if Trump wants better ratings, I suggest he get a new act. Stand-up is out; he doesn’t get humor. I assume he can’t sing or dance. Maybe he should try a magic act. He could make himself disappear. That would be popular.

Crocodile Tears Over Preexisting Conditions

There is much speculation that the Supreme Court, especially with Amy Barrett on it, will gut or overturn the Affordable Care Act. The challenge to the ACA is scheduled to be heard on November 10. The legal issues involved in the challenge give me a headache, frankly, and I have no idea what the Court might do.

What I do know is that if the ACA is overturned, the insurance companies are no longer constrained from refusing to cover people with preexisting condtions (or “a medical history” in more civilized countries). What I also know is that Republicans have no clue what they might replace the ACA with to keep people with medical histories covered.

Local television is swamped with candidate ads right now, and nearly all of them at least mention health care. Some of them are entirely about health care. Ads from Democratic candidates, especially for the U.S. House, often accuse their Republican opponents of voting to take health care away from people with preexisting conditions. I assume this means the Republican opponent, usually an incumbent, at some point voted against the Affordable Care Act or supports the suit challenging it. (My senators, unfortunately, aren’t up for reelection.)

The Republican incumbents then release their own television ads in which they quiver with indignation that they are being accused of wanting to take health care away from people with preexisting conditions. My goodness, why would anyone accuse them of such a callous thing? But, of course, they never explain how such coverage might be restored if the ACA is overturned.

One such speciment, Rodney Davis (R-IL; the local teevee runs ads for both Missouri and Illinois politicians) is running an ad in which his wife tearfully explains that she has a preexisting condition and her children might have inherited it and it’s just so unfair that her husband’s Democratic opponent (Betsy Dirksen Londrigan) claims he would take health care away from people with preexisting conditions. Here is the ad:

I checked Davis’s record. Yes, in 2017 he voted to overturn the Affordable Care Act. I checked his web page. No, he doesn’t explain what he’s going to offer the private insurance companies to get them to agree to cover people with preexisting conditions. So Mrs. Davis is just spewing bullshit. It’s very sincere bullshit, but bullshit nonetheless.

Republicans have had ten years to come up with a comprehensive replacement for the Affordable Care Act. They have failed. Ending the Affordable Care Act would end insurance coverage for millions and allow insurance companies to deny coverage to anyone they want to deny. Any politician who wants to end the Affordable Care Act has no leg to stand on when accused of denying coverage to people with preexisting conditions.

(In case any righties read this and need this explained to them: Private for-profit insurance companies can only stay in business if most of the people paying premiums do not need expensive medical care. For that reason, insurance companies are reluctant to issue new policies to people who look like they’re going to need care that will cost the company a lot of money. Further, if they can’t deny coverage to such people, what’s to stop everyone from waiting until they get sick to buy an insurance policy? And then the private health insurance business model fails, and the insurance companies all go belly up.

This page from the Kaiser Family Foundation explains how the ACA worked out the problem:

The ACA included both a carrot and a stick to encourage currently healthy people to buy insurance. The stick was the individual mandate penalty, which has since been repealed. The carrot is the current subsidy provided to low and middle income people. Providing comprehensive pre-existing condition protections without some similar mechanism to create a balanced insurance pool would cause premiums to increase substantially and result in an unstable market.

In other words, it might be that after the ACA the insurance companies will continue to offer policies to people with preexisting conditions, but without substantial government subsidies the cost of that insurance will be way too high for most people to pay. So fat lot of good it will do them.

And among all the zombie ideas about health care Republicans have promoted over the years in lieu of a comprehensive health care plan, there is absolutely nothing that honestly addresses this problem.)

Every time I see one of these ads I want to tie the Republican candidate to a chair, shine a light in his face and grill him mercilessly about HOW he is going to guarantee health care to people with preexisting conditions. What is your plan, dude? And if they don’t have a plan, it’s perfectly legitimate for their Democratic opponents to say that they are trying to take health care away from people with preexisting conditions. Because they are. That’s just plain fact. They may pretend even to themselves that’s not what they are doing. But that’s what they are doing.

A few days ago Paul Waldman wrote a column about the secret Republican health care plan.

It’s true, as Democrats insist, that there is no Republican “plan,” if like some kind of nerd you define it as a series of specific steps written down somewhere that lay out a health care policy that will be followed by the government and the country.

But in another sense, Republicans actually do have a plan. It’s not the kind of “plan” that involves legislation or regulations. Here’s what it is: Nothing.

Waldman argues that ending the ACA without a replacement would be a catastrophe for the Republican Party, because the consequences would be terrible. Millions really would lose their health care. People with preexisting conditions would be unable to get coverage again.

Yet, at the same time, they’ve badmouthed the ACA for so long that their voters, who have no clue what they are asking for, demand that the Republican Party oppose it. So the plan is to publicly oppose it while hoping like hell it is never overturned.

Which is why all smart Republicans also want to lose the lawsuit against the ACA that the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear just after the election, just as they lost that 2017 vote. Which they just might, since at least some of the conservative justices — such as Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh — are smart enough to know how dangerous it is for their party.

Poor dopey Republican voters simply accept on face value that nothing awful would happen if the ACA is voided. And they are too stupid to understand that Donald Trump can’t just sign an executive order that people with preexisting conditions must be covered, and that fixes everything. Greg Sargent, a couple of weeks ago:

Two reporters for the Upshot talked to numerous Trump voters and found that their faith in his intention to protect preexisting conditions was rock-solid. …

…“I’ve heard from him that he would continue with preexisting conditions so that people would not lose their health insurance,” one Florida woman told the Upshot of Trump. Her husband has a heart condition.

“I still think he has everybody’s best interest at heart,” a Georgia woman added. “I just cannot see him allowing for preexisting conditions to come back.” She has a son with schizophrenia.

But this bit from the Upshot piece was most revealing:

“There is not a single guy or woman who would run for president that would make it so that preexisting conditions wouldn’t be covered,” said Phil Bowman, a 59-year-old retiree in Linville, N.C. “Nobody would vote for him.”

And that’s why Trump, and Republicans around the country, are denying loudly that they will take health care away from people with preexisting conditions, even though the policies they want to enact would do exactly that.

Trump is benefiting from a perverse dynamic: He isn’t being held accountable — at least by many of his voters — for not offering an actual plan to replace the ACA precisely because wiping out the ACA’s protections, and not having any plan to replace them, seems politically unthinkable to them. And that enables him to politically get away with it — among those voters, anyway.

And down-ticket candidates like Rodney Davis are trying to pull the same scam.

It’s unfortunate that the ACA challenge won’t be heard by the SCOTUS until after the election. And if Trump loses the election and the ACA goes down, his dimwit groupies will assume they’ve lost their health care because Trump lost the election.

On the other hand, if Dems take the Senate and White House and the ACA goes down, this could push even Joe Biden to accept something a lot closer to single payer next time.

20 Days to Go

Have I mentioned that I really hate election years? We’ve got twenty days of watching the same awful politics ads on the television. We’ve got twenty more days (at least) of wondering if we’re heading for more disaster or a reprieve. Or some of both.

Yes, This Was Convenient

You might remember a while back that a right-wing agitator was shot and killed in Portland by another man who has been identified in headlines with antifa, although whether that’s completely accurate is arguable. Anyway, the alleged shooter was 39-year-old Michael Forest Reinoehl. A few hours after Reinoehl became the official suspect in the shooting he was killed by members of a U.S. Marshalls task force sent to take him into custody.

A few hours before he was killed, Reinoehl had made a video claiming he shot in self-defense. Whether that is true I do not know. We’ll probably never know.

Today the New York Times has a detailed analysis of the killing of Reinoehl that describes Reinoehl’s death as an execution. The marshalls did not even try to take Reinoehl into custody. They just shot him to death on sight.

Mr. Reinoehl did have a .380-caliber handgun on him when he was killed, according to the county sheriff’s team that is running a criminal homicide investigation into Mr. Reinoehl’s death. But the weapon was found in his pocket.

An AR-style rifle was found apparently untouched in a bag in his car.

Five eyewitnesses said in interviews that the gunfire began the instant the vehicles arrived. None of them saw Mr. Reinoehl holding a weapon. A single shell casing of the same caliber as the handgun he was carrying was found inside his car.

Garrett Louis, who watched the shooting begin while trying to get his 8-year-old son out of the line of fire, said the officers arrived with such speed and violence that he initially assumed they were drug dealers gunning down a foe — until he saw their law enforcement vests.

“I respect cops to the utmost, but things were definitely in no way, shape or form done properly,” Mr. Louis said.

Not proper, but politically convenient. Of course, if Mr. Reinoehl had been a Proud Boy he would have been arrested alive and probably treated to a hamburger on the way to arraignment.

Michael Reinoehl

The Coward’s Way Out

You might remember that after Trump was diagnosed with the ‘rona, the debate commission decided that tomorrow night’s town hall debate could only be done remotely. Trump threw a fit and dropped out. Biden then decided to hold his own town hall meeting, which will be on ABC tomorrow night.

Today Trump announced he would also have his own town hall meeting, at exactly the same time, on NBC. That’s a slick way to get out of facing Biden again, although Trump pretty much beat himself up in that first debate. Biden mostly just stood there being incredulous. But I think that’s a sucky thing for NBC to do. They should have scheduled Trump on another night. Not that I would watch him on any night. It’ll be fun if the Biden show gets higher ratings than the Trump show.

October Fizzles

It’s possible Trump would not be POTUS now had James Comey not stupidly announced there were MORE CLINTON EMAILS to be investigated right before the 2016 election. Now, four years later, the Trumpers are desperate for another October surprise to save Trump’s ass.

Attorney General Bill Barr obviously has been tasked with getting the goods on somebody, but he keeps coming up short.  Barr’s investigations into the investigation of Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign just aren’t coming up with anything as juicy as Hillary Clitnon’s emails. In just the past few days, it was announced the investigation into the beginnings of the Russia invesgitation would not reach any conclusions before the election. Yesterday the investigation into whether Obama-era officials improperly requested the identities of individuals whose names were redacted in intelligence documents concluded without finding any wrongdoing.

But today right-wing media were exploding with glee over HUNTER BIDEN EMAILS that allegedly tie Joe Biden to Burisma, the Ukraine oil company that employed Hunter for a time. Nour Al Ali, Bloomberg News:

The Biden campaign on Wednesday denied a New York Post report that said the former vice president met with a senior official from a Ukrainian energy firm that was at the center of a controversy over the dismissal of a prosecutor investigating the company.

“We have reviewed Joe Biden’s official schedules from the time and no meeting, as alleged by the New York Post, ever took place,” campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement.

The newspaper offered no proof the meeting took place, but cited unverified emails it said it was given by surrogates of President Donald Trump. The report said that Vadym Pozharskyi, an adviser to the board at Burisma, thanked Hunter Biden, the son of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, in an April 2015 email for inviting him to Washington and “giving an opportunity to meet your father.” The then-vice-president’s son had joined the company’s board about a year earlier, according to the Post.

 

Josh Kovensky, TPM:

It’s so bizarre that to comment on it risks amplifying it.

But the New York Post published a story Wednesday morning claiming to have received from Rudy Giuliani a copy of a hard drive from a Hunter Biden laptop.

And yet, for a supposed October surprise, nothing in the story or where it came from is particularly surprising. A right-leaning news outlet known for loose editorial standards  peddles emails of unknown provenance from Giuliani, bag man for the President whose antics already got President Trump impeached over the same allegations last year.

What’s even less surprising is how the Trump campaign and the associated Fox News apparatus have latched on to the story.

Kovensky goes on to explain all the ways this story is hinky. Twitter has banned anyone from posting the New York Post article. As of now there’s nothing about this story on the New York Times website, which is a pretty good indication it’s not getting any traction outside of the fever swamps.

A Tyranny of the Dead

So far in today’s Amy Barrett hearing that I’m not watching, Amy Barrett refused to answer yes or no to whether the Constitution gives a president unilateral authority to delay an election. (Hint to Amy: The answer is “no,” dear.)

Barrett, who clerked for Antonin Scalia of ambiguous memory, calls herself a “Constitutional originalist.” There’s a very good article at Vox by

Originalism, in Barrett’s words, is the belief that “constitutional text means what it did at the time it was ratified and that this original public meaning is authoritative.” Judges, originalists maintain, should be bound by the words of the Constitution, and the meaning of those words should be determined solely based on how they were understood when they were added to the Constitution.

Now, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, up to a point. A lot of us lefties are somewhat originalist on the meaning of the Second Amendment, for example. However, taken to extremes it amounts to a tyranny of the dead. Originalism would shackle us to the perspectives and biases and knowledge of a small group of 18th century white men who couldn’t possibly have imagined the world we live in now or the problems we are facing now.

Further, I think it can be argued that the framers did not intend the Constitution to be that narrowly interpreted. “The meaning of much of the Constitution is vague and uncertain, and it was vague and uncertain when it was drafted,” Millhiser writes. This suggests to me that the 18th century white men who wrote it understood that they were creating a broad outline of government that gave future generations some flexibility to use it as they saw best. Indeed, there were enough disagreements among the attendees of the Constitutional Convention to create a lot of that vagueness, because they couldn’t agree on language that was more specific.

Indeed, in many areas we’ve gone so far beyond original understanding that there is no going back. Millhiser:

To give one rather stark example, there was a robust debate among early Americans about whether it is constitutional for the federal government to fund “internal improvements” such as roads and canals. As president, James Madison even vetoed an 1817 bill funding such construction because he deemed it unconstitutional.

Madison’s views are now widely rejected. But suppose that a Supreme Court dominated by originalists concludes that Madison was correct. Does that mean the entire federal highway system must be torn up?

Barrett has wrestled at length with the problem of precedent in her scholarship. “Adherence to originalism arguably requires, for example, the dismantling of the administrative state, the invalidation of paper money, and the reversal of Brown v. Board of Education,” she acknowledges in a 2016 article co-authored with scholar John Copeland Nagle. She also states in that piece that there are some past decisions that “no serious person would propose to undo even if they are wrong,” so Barrett appears to recognize that it would be irresponsible for an originalist judge to overrule every precedent they believe was wrongly decided.

But don’t underestimate what a radical wingnut is likely to do.

But there is much at stake if an originalist Supreme Court is not willing to stay its hand in the ways Judge Barrett suggests. To give one more example, Justice Clarence Thomas has argued, on originalist grounds, that his Court should consider reinstating long-dead doctrines that were once used to declare federal child labor laws unconstitutional. Thomas, at the very least, seems unlikely to restrain himself simply because most Americans won’t like the outcome of a particular case.

As it turns out, originalism potentially gives judges — or, at least, Supreme Court justices — tremendous discretion to decide whether to upend foundational legal principles that few Americans would care to see unsettled.

This is followed by a fascinating history of how various forms of originalism have gone in and out of favor in the Court over the years. You will not be surprised to learn that a lot of originalism has been applied to cases involving race. But let’s go on.

In the modern era, one case the originalists keep coming back to as wrongly decided is Griswold v. Connecticut (1965). In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that a state could not ban the use of contraceptives or birth control counseling for married couples. The court majority came to this conclusion by inferring a right to privacy from several amendments in the Bill of Rights. Conservatives freaked out over this; the “right to privacy” is a fiction, in their minds, that the authors of the Constitution did not intend. Even worse as far as they are concerned, Griswold was an important precedent to Roe v. Wade (1973).

So yesterday at the Barrett hearing, Senator Josh Hawley (R-Dark Ages) went on a rant that the Griswold decision amounted to anti-Catholic bias.

“I just heard my colleague Sen. [Chris] Coons make a reference to an old case–the Griswold case–which I can only assume is another hit at Judge Barrett’s religious faith–referring to Catholic doctrinal beliefs” Hawley said without providing any evidence whatsoever. “This is the kind of thing I’m talking about and this is the sort of attacks [sic] that must stop.”

Hawley is clearly part of the Louie Gohmert tradition of senatorial wackadoos.

I don’t know what the 18th century white guys would have thought of modern contraceptives that actually work, as opposed to the various ineffective methods used to prevent pregnancy in their day (“infanticide” is often listed as an early form of birth control). But this takes us to the problem of things that didn’t exist in the 18th century. I’m no legal scholar, but I don’t see anything in the Constitution that explicitly gives states the right to ban contraceptives. Aren’t the originalists just assuming a power that doesn’t necessarily exist? If we are going to infer, why not infer on the side of individual liberty, especially in matters that improve the quality of life?

Originalists claim that their way prevents judges from imposing their own biases on the text, but in practice it doesn’t seem to work that way. The originalists may pretend that they are above bias, but the truth is that there may be no such thing as an unbiased opinion, according to social psychology, except maybe within the hard sciences. The originalists may think they are not making decisions based on their personal values, but of course they do. They just lack the self-awareness to recognize their own biases as biases.

Consider another self-described originalist on the Court, Clarence Thomas. Just last week, Thomas wrote that the Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges — which stops states from banning same-sex marriage — “created a problem.” A problem? What problem? I am not seeing a problem. Same-sex marriage is a fine thing. It’s not hurting anybody. What is the probloem?

Oh, here it is. Last week the Court refused to hear an appeal from Kim Davis, the infamous county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and was sued. A lower court refused to grant Davis qualified immunity and said the suits against her could go forward. A majority of the SCOTUS justices didn’t want to mess with it and let the lower court decision stand. But Justices Thomas and Alito wanted to hear the case.

In a statement regarding the denial that was joined by Justice Samuel Alito, Thomas speculated that although “Davis may have been one of the first victims of this Court’s cavalier treatment of religion in its Obergefell decision,” “she will not be the last.” Davis’ “petition provides a stark reminder of the consequences of Obergefell,” Thomas wrote. “By choosing to privilege a novel constitutional right over the religious liberty interests explicitly protected in the First Amendment, and doing so undemocratically,” Thomas contended, “the Court has created a problem that only it can fix. Until then, Obergefell will continue to have ‘ruinous consequences for religious liberty.’”

Thomas and Alito would no doubt disagree, but all they are doing here is substituting their personal opinions for objective application of the law. Yes, it’s probably true that the Original Founding Guys would be apoplectic at the idea of same-sex marriage, but they’re dead now. They don’t get to tell us what to do. Most living Americans are fine with it.

Kim Davis could have satisfied her religious beliefs simply by turning the responsibility for issuing those marriage licenses over to someone else in her office so that she wasn’t doing it personally. Pharmacists who don’t want to fill contraceptive presciptions can let a co-worker do it. Ambulance drivers who refuse to transfer patients in pain to an abortion clinic — well, may they need a new career.

I think a majority of Americans would agree that a person’s private religious beliefs and practices don’t give that person carte blanche to stomp on the rights and well being of others. If something about your religious tradition puts you at odds with most of society, in most circumstances it’s up to you to figure out how to manage to practice your religion without causing problems for others.

Especially as the U.S. is becoming more religiously diverse, we simply can’t have multiple religious factions fighting over control of the government so they can create policy that favors their beliefs. In fact, that’s exactly the sort of thing the establishment clause of the First Amendment was written to prevent. The Founding Guys remembered the bloody history of religious wars in Europe, when religious factions fought over control of government. The establishment clause “not only forbids the government from establishing an official religion, but also prohibits government actions that unduly favor one religion over another. It also prohibits the government from unduly preferring religion over non-religion, or non-religion over religion.” Even if a large majority of Congress is Amish, for example, as long as the establishment clause is in effect Congress can’t outlaw automobiles and modern appliances.

Further, privileging religious doctrines over the rights of homosexuals is nothing but bias. There is no fine and high-minded legal perspective that makes it otherwise. Masha Gessen, The New Yorker:

In his four-page statement from Monday, Thomas did not appear to argue that the Court should change its view of marriage itself: marriage remains a fundamental right, a right essential to being human. Yet Thomas maintains that the right of same-sex couples to marry does not exist: he calls it “atextual” and “novel.” In his dissent in Obergefell, Alito, who was joined by Thomas and the late Antonin Scalia, accused the Court of “inventing” the right to same-sex marriage. Hannah Arendt once observed that the concept of human rights was limited by the ability of people to gain membership in a political community that would recognize the humanity from which their basic rights followed. By saying that the right to marriage is fundamental but does not accrue to same-sex couples, Thomas is making a case to expel L.G.B.T.Q. people from the American political community.

I don’t think that LBGQT rights can be shoved back in the box now, Justice Thomas. We’ve come too far. Time to adjust, dude.

The originalist perspective makes me wonder what they think a Constitution is for. It’s supposed to have set up a framework by which We, the people can govern ourselves. Originalists want to take power from living people and give it to the dead. But even that is a fiction, because the truth is that originalists are just using “textualism” as a means to impose their own biases and values on the law. There is no legal document, including the Constitution, in which every clause can only possibly be interpreted one way. It’s bullshit, in other words.

Andrés L. Córdova, a law professor at Inter American University of Puerto Rico, writes for The Hill:

Contrary to the natural sciences, legal interpretation is not an empirical effort but a continuous dialogical process between the interpreter and the text.

Not all of us agree on how a word should be understood, much less for purposes of defining its legal consequences. Bostock v. Clayton County (2020), for example, is noteworthy among other reasons for the sharp disagreement between the majority opinion written by Justice Neil Gorsuch and the dissent written by Justice Samuel Alito on how best to interpret the word “sex discrimination” for purposes of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Even among strict constructionists, meaning has different meanings.

See also Eric Levitz, Amy Coney Barrett’s Judicial Neutrality Is a Political Fiction at New York magazine.

The National Constitution Center in Philadelphia has a room with life-size bronze statues of the Founding Guys that you can walk around and touch.

 

What’s Happening Now

Stuff to read about the Amy Barrett nomination hearings that I don’t have the stomach to watch:

Paul Waldman: Amy Coney Barrett’s hearing is a disgusting spectacle of GOP dishonesty

Josh Marshall, It’s Not ‘Court Packing.’ Don’t Be A Moron and Call It That.

Christopher Leonard, New York Times, Charles Koch’s Big Bet on Barrett

While much of the commentary about Judge Barrett’s nomination has focused on the real prospect that Roe v. Wade may be undermined or overturned, Mr. Koch has other concerns. Judge Barrett’s nomination is the latest battleground in his decades-long war to reshape American society in a way that ensures that corporations can operate with untrammeled freedom. It may be a pivotal one.

Daniel Politi, Slate, Cory Booker Finally States the Obvious at Barrett Hearing: “This Is Not Normal”

Ian Millhiser, Vox, The single biggest lie told in the first day of the Amy Coney Barrett hearing

Charles Pierce, Amy Coney Barrett’s Nomination Is the Culmination of Various Long-Term Right-Wing Projects

Stuff to read about Trump corruption:

The New York Times, The Swamp That Trump Built. Major exposé.

Charles Pierce, The President Is Engaged in Exactly the Kind of Pay-for-Play Scams That Forced Spiro Agnew Out of Office

Robert Shapiro, Washington Monthly, Exclusive: Trump’s Tax Wizardry is Even More Sophisticated Than You Thought

Washington Post, Trump’s children brought Secret Service money to the family business with their visits, records show

… when Trump’s adult children visited Trump properties, Trump’s company charged the Secret Service for agents to come along. The president’s company billed the U.S. government hundreds, or thousands, of dollars for rooms agents used on each trip, as the agency sometimes booked multiple rooms or a multiroom rental cottage on the property.

In this way, Trump’s adult children and their families have caused the U.S. government to spend at least $238,000 at Trump properties so far, according to Secret Service records obtained by The Washington Post.

Sean Wilentz, Rolling Stone, The Sedition of Donald Trump

David Atkins, Washington Monthly, Trump Is The Most Crooked President in American History. That Should Matter.

Other Stuff to Read

Greg Sargent, Fauci’s anger at Trump is more damning than it first appeared

Timothy Noah, How Can You Tell a Senate Republican Wants a Coronavirus Deal?

Clay Jones
Copyright 2020 Claytoonz.com

Expand the Court

Republicans must be getting nervous that Dems are not only going to win big next month but will also wipe out years of GOP plots and schemes by adding more justices to the Supreme Court. They are demanding that Joe Biden explain whether he will “pack” the court or not. Wingnut columnists like Hugh Hewitt are blubbering with outrage at the very idea.

Joe Biden isn’t saying, possibly because he’s not sure himself what he will do. I suspect he’d much rather appoint Justice Ginsburg’s replacement. And, anyway, he would need a Democratic Senate majority to pull off adding more justices to the Court. No point getting ahead of himself.

But the outraged Republicans need to look to themselves. Back in 2016 they were seriously considering reducing the number of justices to eight so that Hillary Clinton couldn’t replace Justice Scalia. Nina Totenberg reported for NPR on November 3, 2016:

With just days until the election, some Senate Republicans are suggesting that when it comes to the Supreme Court, eight is enough. Eight justices, that is.

For the first time, some Senate Republicans are saying that if Hillary Clinton is elected, the GOP should prevent anyone she nominates from being confirmed to fill the current court vacancy, or any future vacancy. …

… Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has not gone so far as to embrace a permanent blockade if Clinton is elected, but he set in motion the idea back in February.

Hours after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia was announced, McConnell issued a statement declaring that Republicans, who currently control the Senate, would block action on any Obama nominee.

You know the rest of that story.

Even professional wimp Ruth Marcus thinks that the Dems are justified in thinking about adding justices.

Republicans stole one seat when they refused to let President Barack Obama fill a vacancy created nine months before the 2016 election. Now they are poised to steal another, rushing through President Trump’s nominee with Election Day less than a month away.

If Democrats, in response, are entertaining the radical idea of expanding the size of the court, it’s hard to blame them; Republicans have stocked the court with one and soon two justices whose seats they were not entitled to fill. This is slow-motion court-packing in plain sight.

And it isn’t just the Supreme Court; it’s all manner of federal courts. According to Pew Research, almost a quarter of all federal judges in the U.S. are Trump appointees. This came about because Senate Republicans blocked many Obama nominations, giving “a raft of federal vacancies” to Trump. And then Mitch and the gang went into hyperdrive to ram through the nomination of anyone with a law degree who was young, nuts enough to please the Federalist Society, and breathing. Qualifications were not a consideration.

The purpose is clear: With enough hard-right judges on the bench, progressive policies can still be blocked even if Republicans lose Congress and the White House. This puts environmental protection and the future of the planet, voting rights, health care reform, reproductive rights, economic justice, all manner of equal protections, etc., in jeopardy for the next forty years. What Congress and the White House enact, the courts can nullify.

Seth Masket, a professor of political science and director of the Center on American Politics at the University of Denver, wrote in WaPo:

Before the end of the year, Amy Coney Barrett will probably be sworn in as a Supreme Court justice — and she may serve for decades. She will have been appointed by an impeached president who lost the popular vote in 2016 and may well continue in office after losing it again in 2020. She will almost certainly be approved by senators representing less than 45 percent of the American population.

Our nation is moving even deeper into minority rule: The House aside, the U.S. government is controlled by the less popular party in a polarized two-party system. We may call this unfair, but that would trivialize the problem. It is entirely permissible under the Constitution, and it is dangerous. When the majority of a nation’s citizens can’t get its candidates elected or its preferred policies passed, the government’s legitimacy is compromised and destabilizing pressure begins to build.

The Electoral College, two senators from each state regardless of population, and political gerrymandering to favor Republicans in House races means that Republicans can take take the White House and control Congress while earning fewer votes than Democrats. See, for example, Democrats got millions more votes – so how did Republicans win the Senate?

See also How the Minority Wins by Vann R. Newkirk II at The Atlantic. Very basically, this tells the story of how the Republicans, a few years back, began to reflect on the changing demographics of the nation and wrestled with the problem of being the party of white men. Their response was not to expand their appeal to other voters but find ways to win with a minority — gerrymandering, voter suppression, sympathetic judges.

Seth Masket continues,

When well more than half the country votes for one result — over and over — and continues to get another, the situation is unsustainable. This is how a government loses its legitimacy. Governments worldwide facing legitimacy crises have been faced with struggling to govern, as we saw in the Philippines under Ferdinand Marcos, or brutally cracking down on protests, as we saw in Egypt under Hosni Mubarak and continue to see under Abdel Fatah al-Sissi. It’s an ugly situation, and the United States is not immune.

“Protest and unrest are a predictable outcome when a population thinks the political system is completely unresponsive to its needs,” Masket writes. Ironically, even though Republicans claim to be the ones who want law and order, keeping them in power just escalates unrest. Tyranny by a minority is not sustainable, and it’s not democracy. (No wonder Mike Lee doesn’t like democracy.)

I’m saying that for the good of the country, if the Democrats can take back the Senate and White House they must not let the court situation stand. If Amy Barrett is seated they must add more justices to the Supreme Court, and I’m saying at least four, not just two. Two would still give us a six-five conservative majority.

People are concerned that this would just begin a court-packing war, and Republicans will add more judges when they take the government back. That’s why voting rights and other pro-democracy reforms have to be a priority for the next Democratic Congress. Then, unless they pull back from right-wing extremism, they’ll have a harder time taking the government back.

Also, Jacob Hale Russell, an assistant professor of law at Rutgers, recently argued in Time that there need to be 27 justices on the Supreme Court. I’ll let you read his entire argument for how he arrived at the number 27, but his basic argument is that with more justices it takes away the impact of the one to four appointments most presidents make.

And since all federal judges serve lifetime appointments, per the Constitution, I say add more judges to other courts also, as needed.

Will Joe Biden go along with this? I do not know. He may not know, either. He’s not a revolutionary sort of guy but is more comfortable cruising down the middle of the mainstream. But I believe, I hope, that if all our election hopes come to pass and Barrett is on the Court, that there will be enough pro-court-expanding sentiment among Democrats to persuade him to act.

Amy Barrett’s confirmation hearings start tomorrow. See also E.J. Dionne, The GOP is lying its way toward expanding the Supreme Court’s conservative majority.

The Supreme Court in 1894, a very conservative crew.

 

Why “Anarchist” Is Not a Synonym for “Leftist”

Yesterday I wrote that right-wing websites objected to calling the Michigan kidnap plotters “right wing.” At least one was on record as being opposed to Donald Trump, after all. More than anything else, the righties argue, the Michigan Meatballs are opposed to government authority, which makes them anarchists, and anarchists are all lefties.

Actually, there are all kinds of anarchists, and you can find anarchism across the political spectrum proposing many different perspectives. And they aren’t always violent. The definition of anarchism as nihilistic, chaotic destruction of existing orders is a minority view in academia. See the entry on anarchism in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

But if we are talking about anarchy as nihilistic, chaotic destruction of existing orders, why is that automatically a “leftie” position? The Right in the U.S. has, over the past several decades, perpetrated a knee-jerk campaign against all things “liberal” by equating liberalism with Big Government and over-reaching, coercive do-gooder programs that restrict their freedoms. Yet the American Left is also associated with anarchy? How does that work?

It’s certainly true that in world history, anarchism has been associated with left-wing extremists such as the French socialist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865). But IMO the 19th century European anarchists have to be understood in the context of 19th century European politics and society, in which hereditary monarchies and titled nobilities were still in charge, and in which capitalism was just a newfangled way to exploit the powerless and oppressed masses.

However, right-wing rhetoric to the contrary, the huge mass of American leftism today is no where close to Marxism, and the huge majority of American lefties are in no way interested in abolishing private property. Instead, they are all about using the power of government to protect ordinary people from the predations of the powerful, not tearing down the government for whatever reasons people tear down governments.

Let’s unpack things a bit. Anyone paying close attention to street violence this year will have noticed that a lot of violence being blamed on the Left is being perpetrated by right-wingers.  (See Who caused the violence at protests? It wasn’t antifa at the Washington Post.) We’ve had a problem going back years in which much right-wing terrorism, such as abortion clinic bombings, isn’t recognized as terrorism. On the other hand, if anyone in a leftie demonstration so much as scribbles graffiti on a sidewalk, it’s a “riot.” A lot of our problem with definitions is that they are inconsistently applied.

Terrorism is defined in the Code of Federal Regulations as “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives” (28 C.F.R. Section 0.85).

Further, the FBI defines domestic terrorism as “the unlawful use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual based and operating entirely within the United States or Puerto Rico without foreign direction committed against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof in furtherance of political or social objectives.” These guys fit that definition:

Yet we don’t call them terrorists, do we?

I am not saying that no one who identifies with “the Left” ever commits acts of terrorism or violence. Of course that happens. But the overwhelming majority of real violence associated with political views is coming from the Right in the U.S.  This month a DHS report came out and said White supremacists remain the deadliest U.S. terror threat, for example.

But we don’t address right-wing violence comprehensively because powerful conservative politicians find the rightie terrorists useful. You might remember that back in 2009 a DHS report on the threat of right-wing violence was met by hysterical shrieking from Republicans and conservative media personalities who called it a “hit job” on conservatism. The DHS eventually withdrew the report, which turned out to have been prescient.

Right-wing anarchy and terrorism have been festering in the U.S. for a long time, a lot longer than Donald Trump has been in politics.  The Know Nothings of the antebellum 19th century were nativist terrorists who attacked and burned Catholic churches, schools, and convents, and who engaged in violent riots that left immigrants — mostly German and Irish — dead in the streets. The Know Nothings were not anarchists, but they were definitely terrorists, and hyper conservative. Not lefties. Know Nothingism faded during the Civil War, but after the war the leftover threads of it were woven into another terrorist organization, the Ku Klux Klan.

At Slate, Fred Kaplan has a point when he says the Michigan kidnap plot was not about Donald Trump. The plotters are a type of anti-government radical who have been around for at least a few decades. They represent a dumbed-down version of Ayn Rand’s objectivism taken to extremes. These radicals deny any authority to government, except maybe local government, unless local government does something they don’t like. Back in the 1980s and 1990s a branch of this crew formed the “sovereign citizens” movement, and if you don’t remember them do read this article at the Southern Poverty Law Center. A snip:

In the early 1980s, the sovereign citizens movement mostly attracted white supremacists and anti-Semites, mainly because sovereign theories originated in groups that saw Jews as working behind the scenes to manipulate financial institutions and control the government. Most early sovereigns, and some of those who are still on the scene believed that being white was a prerequisite to becoming a sovereign citizen. They argued that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which guaranteed citizenship to African Americans and everyone else born on U.S. soil, also made black Americans permanently subject to federal and state governments, unlike themselves.

I ran into some of these specimens on the old pre-web USENET. They genuinely believed this. They also believed they were not obligated to pay federal taxes if they didn’t volunteer to do so and that the United States has secretly been under martial law  either since Lincoln was president, or possibly since Marbury v. Madison was decided in 1803. I’m serious.

The sovereign citizens were interconnected with the militia movement that arose in the 1990s, and there’s a good archive article on that crew at the ADL website.  And you can draw a straight line between the 1990s militia movement, Timothy McVeigh, and the Bundy family.

But where did all this anti-government hysteria come from? IMO a lot of it got fired up during the desegregation era of the 1950s and 1960, when government decided that separate but not equal would no longer do. I’ve said before that the modern libertarian movement took off in the U.S. after President Eisenhower sent troops to Little Rock to enable black teenagers to enter the public high school. And then in the 1960s Lyndon Johnson kept enacting Big Government Programs like Medicare, which the Right feared put us on the road to Communism, and the Great Society, which the Right saw as a transfer of wealth from White people to Black people. And then came Nixon’s Southern Strategy and Reagan’s crusade to make “government” a dirty word. And you can draw a straight line from all that to the Michigan kidnap plotters.

So, it may very well be that the Michigan crew are not Donald Trump fans, but that sure as hell doesn’t make them lefties. They are solidly in the American tradition of right-wing extremism.

And it’s also the case, as the SPLC article notes, that some of the current right-wing anti-government groups have done such a good job of tamping down white supremacist rhetoric that they occasionally attract Black members who are unaware of the group’s origins. But that doesn’t make them lefties, either.

Although I know there are some pods of left-wing anarchists out there, the enormous majority of left-wing demonstrations are about reform, not chaos and destruction. Most of the progress toward economic and civil equality for more than a century has come through government reform and government programs. This year’s BLM and other leftie demonstrators are not anarchists. They want a government and society that protects their rights and works for all citizens, not just the wealthy, and they see democratic government as an essential part of that effort.

But the Michigan plotters do not want to reform government. They want to end government. Government is slavery, one said in a video. And mandatory mask orders are tyranny, which makes Gov. Gretchen Whitmer a tyrant.

There’s a lot in the mashup of sovereign citizens and private militias that doesn’t add up to coherent ideology. It’s like someone calling himself a patriot while flying a Confederate flag. Many of these people fancy themselves to be great patriots who practically worship the Constitution even though they don’t recognize the legitimacy of the government the Constitution establishes. I suspect most of them aren’t terribly bright, although that doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous

I sincerely hope that if Democrats re-take the White House and the Senate,  right-wing terrorism in all its forms finally will be taken seriously as terrorism and no longer tolerated. No more goons allowed to terrorize abortion clinics. No more armed thugs allowed in government buildings. I’d make open carry illegal for people not working in law enforcement, and then eventually maybe we can start disarming police. Cops in a lot of other countries don’t carry guns, you know.  Well, I can dream.

Rabbit Hole News

Item One. The New York Times has a new expose on Trump’s taxes. His taxes show a $21 million profit from sources that make no sense. This was while he was running for POTUS and his campaign funds were dwindling.

The bulk of the money went through a company called Trump Las Vegas Sales and Marketing that had little previous income, no clear business purpose and no employees.  …

…Experts in tax and campaign-finance law consulted by The Times said that while more information was needed to assess the legitimacy of the payments, they could be legally problematic.

“Why all of a sudden does this company have more than $20 million in fees that haven’t been there before?” said Daniel Shaviro, a professor of taxation at the New York University School of Law. “And all of this money is going to a man who just happens to be running for president and might not have a lot of cash on hand?”

Unless the payments were for actual business expenses, he said, claiming a tax deduction for them would be illegal. If they were not legitimate and were also used to fund Mr. Trump’s presidential run, they could be considered illegal campaign contributions.

The article goes into Trump’s business relationships in Las Vegas in depth, but it appears that one of Trump’s business partners, casino mogul Phil Ruffin, just dumped that money into the company where Trump had access to it. It doesn’t appear to have been earned through any business venture. There were other transactions that look fishy and seem to have been aimed at transfering large payments directly from corporate accounts into the Trump campaign.

Item Two: The Washington Post reports that in 2014 Trump got a $21 million tax break — $21 million seems to be a magic number today — on a property in New York. The tax break looks hinky and is being investigated by New York Attorney General Letitia James.

Item Three: Paul Waldman writes that Trump’s campaign is in a death spiral, and all of his frantic efforts to pull out of it are just making it worse. Refusing to do a virtual town hall is just the latest example.

So Trump is spending his time calling in to Fox programs, rage-tweeting madly, berating members of his own cabinet, and trying to convince people that Hillary Clinton framed him for the Russia scandal in 2016. He’ll be holding a “virtual rally” on Rush Limbaugh’s radio program Friday, then that evening he will go on Tucker Carlson’s show to get an on-air “medical evaluation” from a Fox News “doctor” best known for spreading misinformation on the pandemic.

How many swing voters do you think Trump is going to find that way?

Waldman points out that Trump is, bascially, running the same way he ran in 2016 — “His formula in that race was to capture the nomination by appealing to the ugliest impulses within his party, then win the general election by continuing to play on fear and resentment. Instead of working to win voters across the center, he found a latent Trump vote to activate.” The old formula just isn’t working this time. And, as many have pointed out, it was a lot easier to demonize Hillary Clinton than to tarnish Joe Biden.

BTW, Biden’s chances continue to improve at FiveThirtyEight. The nerds now give Biden an 85 in 100 chance to win, and Trump 15 in 100.

Item Four: It will not surprise you that in TrumpWorld, the terrorists who plotted to kidnap Gov. Whitmer are left-wing anarchists. Seriously. That’s because one of the plotters is in a video expressing opposition to Donald Trump. Apparently Trump isn’t fascist enough for him. One problem with this theory is that several other plotters were photographed in April taking part in the anti-covid-restriction demonstration at the Michigan capital. Remember this?

There’s two of them, first and third from the left.

I understand a couple other of the plotters are in other photos taken that day.

Some people don’t fit neatly into left-right boxes. I don’t doubt there are people out there with extremist right-wing views who don’t care for Donald Trump for various reasons. There are a few people who supported Bernie Sanders and then switched to Trump when Sanders wasn’t nominated. That makes absolutely no sense, but it happens. But if the meatballs who wanted to kidnap Gov. Whitmer are lefties, I’m Jason Momoa.