I’d like to start by saying that it would almost be professional malpractice by the Russian intelligence services if they were NOT using Rudy Giuliani as a means to feed disinformation to Donald Trump.
Of course, the fact that Trump, the President of the United States, is a reliable spreader of disinformation on behalf of the Kremlin is itself appalling, but never mind. That The Spy Service Formerly Known as the KGB has entrée to him through a creepy, cousin-marrying, generally batshit former New York City mayor is a gift to them from the gods, who are clearly just as cruel as mythology taught us. But it is fitting that, in the final days before the election, Team Trump and its patrons in Moscow are trying to gin up another October surprise to smear and malign his opponent, given the role that Vladimir Putin had in installing Mad King Donald in the Oval Office in the first place.
I am mildly encouraged that, four years after the twenty-car pileup that was the 2016 election, Americans now seem savvy enough to recognize blatant GRU propaganda when they see it…..like this latest non-story so obviously false that even the guy who wrote it for the New York Post (!) refused to put his byline on it, seeing as its only two sources were Steve Bannon and Rudy.
Hey America, is it possible we actually learned something? Next week will tell the tale. For while MAGA Nation wallows in a fantasy world increasingly unhinged from the reality in which the rest of the world dwells, the US presidential campaign lurches toward its conclusion, one way or another, and not a moment too soon.
For four years, sentient Americans and other anguished believers in Western democracy have been longing for this moment, our chance to use the mechanisms of our representative democracy to peaceably and legally remove this malicious, utterly unfit cretin from the highest office in the land. Now that moment is at hand.
Reliable numbers show that the American public is sick and tired of this pox on the presidency—literally sick, in fact—putting Trump in serious electoral trouble on the order of a Mondale or McGovern style beatdown. Undeterred by the pandemic, and by GOP efforts at voter suppression, Americans are voting in record numbers and with unprecedented urgency, even ahead of Election Day itself. So our chances of winning this thing are good, and would be very, very good indeed were this a fair fight.
But as I (and many others) have written ad nauseam, it pointedly is not a fair fight.
It is one in which the Republicans and their foreign allies are using every trick in the book, legal and illegal, to suppress the vote, spread lies, intimidate and terrify the electorate, sow chaos, undermine confidence in the vote count, and generally try to delegitimize the integrity of the whole affair—this last an unprecedented extreme to which even the reliably ruthless GOP has never before gone. (Not for nothing, but it’s no coincidence that GOP efforts at voter suppression, longstanding though they were, really ramped up after Obama’s landmark coalition of non-white voters carried him to victory in 2008. Just saying.)
In a normal election I’d be very confident right now….but with the specter of 2016 still haunting me, like many progressives, and with knowledge of the GOP’s brazen attempts to ratfuck this thing twelve ways to Sunday, I’m concerned. The antiquated US system of electing a head of state already creates the conditions for anti-democratic, countermajorItarian rule that helped put Trump in office. Even if operating fairly, that system may now benefit him again and provide him a second term—and since, per above, it is not operating fairly, that makes the danger greater than ever.
Awaiting at the end of this already fraught process is the very real prospect of Trump refusing to abide by the results of the election (he has openly told us as much) precipitating a constitutional crisis, or even political violence to the point of civil war. He will do so under the veneer of legality, of course, by questioning the validity of the vote should it go against him, and angling to create enough havoc to get the race thrown into the courts, the state legislatures, and eventually Congress, where arcane rules favor his party and the suppliant GOP-controlled Senate is his lickspittle. Somewhere along the way, either before or after its day in Congress, the matter may also come before the Supreme Court, where—ICYMI—we just saw the shamelessly hypocritical installation of the key vote only days before the election.
So the next seven days promise to be intense, and very possibly so do the 78 that follow, before we see who raises his right hand on Inauguration Day 2021 to be sworn in as President of the United States.
Happy Halloween, everybody. Scared shitless yet?
THE BALLOTS OF OCTOBER
Donald Trump is a world class crybaby: a poster child for white privilege, entitlement, and a living, breathing one-man indictment of the cancer of inherited wealth. In late October 2016 he got the greatest lucky break in the history of contemporary American politics with the Comey letter announcing the re-opening of an FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.
Now Trump is whining that he didn’t get another gift of that magnitude.
He has even threatened to fire Bill Barr—the most obsequious, partisan, and criminally dishonest Attorney General since John Mitchell—for not providing him such a Halloween present, in the form of a fairy tale report condemning his enemies for the Russiagate investigation, or an indictment of Joe Biden for unspecified crimes, or something else that will help him secure re-election. (The lack of any such cudgel with which to batter Joe Biden is part of why Team Trump was forced to resort to the fever dreams of Rudy and Steve-o.)
So what does it say about Donald Trump that even Bill Barr isn’t corrupt enough for him?
Trump’s desire for Barr to find a way to indict and arrest Biden (or at least announce an investigation) is the sort of thing that happens in a banana republic, or an incipient dictatorship. Treason seems to be the accusation Donald wants, loosely related to the idea that the outgoing administration and its Deep State allies tried to undermine the his regime—the standard despot’s cry, and part of his whole l’etat c’est moi shtick. Notwithstanding Barr’s disappearance into his rabbit hole, even now Trump continues to attack Biden as a “criminal” who should be jailed; last week he also slapped a journalist (Reuters’ Jeff Mason) with the same label for failing to report on Biden’s alleged transgressions, suggesting that criminality is catching. (Maybe wearing a mask would help.)
Of course, it’s rich for Donald Trump to accuse Bidens of being “an organized crime family.” This is a strategy known as DARVO: deny, attack, reverse victim and oppressor. It’s a form of jujitsu—or simple projection—that is on page one of the fascism playbook: accuse your enemies of your own crimes. But that does not make it any less alarming.
In 2016 Trump’s infamous calls to lock Hillary Clinton up, as horrifying as they were, sounded mostly metaphorical, or at least vaguely tethered to the FBI investigation into her emails. Or maybe in that more innocent time we simply couldn’t conceive that an American presidential candidate could possibly be serious about having his opponent jailed simply by virtue of that opposition. (Were we supposed to take Trump seriously but not literally or literally but not seriously? I can never remember.)
But now, after four years of this shitshow, Trump’s calls for Joe Biden to be indicted are very real indeed….to the point where it’s reported that, should he be re-elected, Trump is considering firing FBI director Christopher Wray (along with Barr) for not doing that. (Also, SecDef Mark Esper and CIA Director Gina Haspel.) If so, that will likely be only the beginning of the purge as Second term Trump embraces his inner Putin and consolidates his neo-autocracy.
But if Trump can’t get one part of the US justice system to do his electoral bidding, he’s hard at work on another.
FULL COURT PRESS
Remember when the idea of putting Harriet Miers on the Supreme Court was outrageous? Good times.
On that front, the past two weeks brought a classic good news / bad news scenario. And then more bad news.
The good news was that the Court denied a Republican attempt to suppress the vote in the key(stone) state of Pennsylvania, involving the counting of mail-in ballots. (The GOP is already back in the Court trying again.) The bad news was that it did so only on a 4-4 fielder’s choice. Just days later, that same Court disallowed an effort to let Wisconsin count mail-in votes that are postmarked by Election Day but received up to six days afterward.
So the short term victory in Pennsylvania case (a draw really) is actually a harbinger of something much scarier.
In the Pennsylvania case John Roberts sided with the progressives; in the Wisconsin one, with his fellow conservatives. But now that Amy Coney Barrett is on the Court as of last night, its solid right wing majority, with a vote to spare, will likely do the bidding of Donald Trump and the GOP on crucial challenges to the validity of the upcoming vote, with or without the support of Roberts.
Brett “I Like Beer” Kavanaugh foreshadowed as much in his concurring opinion in the Wisconsin case with logic so specious that makes you wonder how this guy ever made it through Yale Law. (Maybe PJ and Squi helped him.) Indeed, Brett sounded positively Trumpian when he wrote of “the chaos and suspicions of impropriety that can ensue if thousands of absentee ballots flow in after Election Day and potentially flip the results of an election.”
The verbiage was telling, as was the notion that a call made by a TV network is somehow constitutionally binding, even though that’s pretty much what happened in 2000 thanks to George Bush’s cousin John Ellis, running the decision desk at Fox . (Also telling: three of the six conservative justices now on the Court—Kavanaugh, Roberts, and Barrett—worked on the Bush challenge to the Florida recount.)
Elena Kagan schooled her colleague in her scathing dissent, writing: “There are no results to ‘flip’ until all valid votes are counted. And nothing could be more suspicious or improper than refusing to tally votes once the clock strikes 12 on election night.”
So is Brett really that dumb? (Or just drunk?) A more sinister interpretation is that he does know better, but is simply a shameless hack. Either way, it makes you realize he will absolutely rationalize any power grab Trump tries to make. Kavanaugh’s remarks make this much very clear:
It is no longer a question of whether the conservative-controlled Supreme Court will intervene to help Donald Trump stay in power. That process is already under way: they are doing it now, even as we speak.
Apropos of the Republican efforts already underway to revisit the Pennsylvania decision, Mark Joseph Stern writes in Slate.com:
The presidential race may well turn on Pennsylvania, and the outcome in Pennsylvania could come down to those ballots received just after Election Day. If those ballots swing the state to Joe Biden, Barrett could vote with the four radical conservatives to reverse the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and throw them away. They could rule that the legislature—not the state judiciary, or even the voters themselves—gets to regulate elections and appoint electors. If the legislature says Trump is the true winner, the Supreme Court could once again overrule the will of the voters.
In other words, if Trump’s inevitable contesting of the presidential race does wind up in the Supreme Court, RBG’s death and the hypocritical, brute force installation of this one justice might prove to be one of the most fateful moments in American history.
Here’s Dana Milbank writing in the Washington Post:
The Barrett spectacle could not have been uglier. It began with a superspreader event at the White House after which a dozen people, including President Trump, contracted COVID-19. Trump insisted on naming a replacement even before Ruth Bader Ginsburg was in her grave, and he belittled the late justice’s granddaughter for conveying the women’s rights icon’s dying wish that Trump not replace her.
Barrett, in her confirmation hearing, made a mockery of the supposed “originalism” and “textualism” she professes to practice. She conspicuously refused to say whether a president could unilaterally postpone an election and whether voter intimidation is illegal—matters unarguable under the clear words of the Constitution and statutes.
Senate Republicans rammed through Barrett eight days before an election Trump seems likely to lose, and even though Trump has made clear he’s counting on the Supreme Court to overturn the result. They did this in an extraordinary public display of hypocrisy, four years after refusing to seat an Obama nominee to the high court because, they said then, that doing so more than eight months before an election was too soon. And they did this after abolishing the minority’s right to filibuster.
So now we have a Supreme Court with an archconservative majority, led by three Trump appointees, including one shamelessly forced in at the eleventh hour in defiance of Republicans’ own risible claims to principle. If that Court makes a ruling, even a narrow technical one, that effectively awards the election to Donald Trump, the American people should rightly get out in the streets……not to defy the law, but to make it clear that the law has been hijacked and turned into an instrument of authoritarian oppression.
THE MASTER’S TOOLS AND THE MASTER’S HOUSE
So how do we approach the next six days….and the 78 after that?
Step one is to make our voices heard. As of this writing, some 67 millions Americans have already voted early, either in person or by mail. That is a little more than the number of total votes either candidate got in 2016. We are on track to have the highest turnout of registered voters since 1908, even amid a pandemic, as high as 156 million, by some estimates. (About 139 million Americans voted four years ago.) That is a healthy sign for our democracy, though if we’re not careful it may be the last one.
A self-evident Biden landslide on Election Night will go along way toward undercutting Trump’s efforts to steal this thing. Definitive wins in Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, or even—dare I dream Georgia or Ohio—will be a knife in Donald’s black heart. Let’s do everything we can to make that happen. The unexpected tsunami of the early vote has altered expectations, which typically foretold a Trump advantage on election Night—the so-called “Red Mirage—whittled down bit by bit by the subsequent “Blue Shift.” Now Biden may go into November 3rd with a decent headstart thanks to those states that begin counting in advance. But heavily Republican in-person voting on Election Day figures to push back on that advantage. Then there will be the matter of mail-in votes still to be counted, including crucial states like Pennsylvania that in contrast to others, don’t even start that process until November 3rd. And all of it conducted in an atmosphere that Trump will make as toxic as humanly possible.
So we can’t count on anything, least of all an insurmountable landslide….and if the race is close, we have to gird ourselves for battle. Hell, Trump is almost sure to provoke chaos even if it ain’t close.
And what do we do if, as expected, Trump tries an autogolpe, or self-coup? (Defined by Wikipedia, font of all knowledge, as a form of coup d’état “in which a nation’s leader, despite having come to power through legal means, dissolves or renders powerless the national legislature and unlawfully assumes extraordinary powers not granted under normal circumstances.”)
In a New Yorker piece titled “What Can You Do If Trump Stages a Coup?,” Lizzie Widdicombe describes a non-violent strategy for fighting back, advocated by the Quaker activist and sociologist George Lakey, author of the influential 1964 book A Manual for Direct Action, and drawing on the work of political scientist Stephen Zunes.
Firstly, we have to move fast—within the first days after a GOP power grab—and not allow Trump gain the initiative. This, writ large, was the lesson of the Florida recount in 2000—and it will be even harder this time because we are dealing with an incumbent who already holds the reins of power, and who has demonstrated his willingness to abuse that power wantonly.
Secondly, there can be no cutting a deal with Trump. We have to be resolute in rejecting any illegitimate claim to power and insisting on full deference to the will of the people as reflected in an accurate and honest vote count. That means fighting to make sure those mail-in votes are all properly counted. (See again, Florida 2000.)
Thirdly, skeptical of the lasting power of marches, Lakey argues that a more important act is a mass refusal to cooperate with any attempted usurpation of power. Authority figures and influencers from the center of the political spectrum must be recruited to lend their credibility to our side and to participate in the shutting down of institutions—banks, universities, businesses—in opposition to the illegitimate regime. In other words, a general strike—something we probably should have already employed over the past four years—practically the national pastime in France, but not something to which Americans are accustomed.
Widdicombe quotes Lakey:
“Obviously, the Trump family is not going to be able to run the government by itself. They’ll need institutional support. The question is how do we, as activists, go after these pillars in such a way as to encourage them to buckle, and allow the Trump regime, or his attempted regime, to fall?”
Americans are not used to this kind of thinking. But we better get used to it, fast.
We have waited four years to exercise our most fundamental right as citizens of a democracy, and our most powerful tool for expressing our collective will. It’s not a coincidence that Donald Trump and the Republican Party have done everything they can to undermine that right and neutralize that tool.
This fight is only beginning.
Illustration: Shonagh Rae/Financial Times