Ending This American Darkness

Love is more powerful than hate. Hope is more powerful than fear. Light is more powerful than dark. This is our moment. This is our mission. May history be able to say that the end of this chapter of American darkness began here tonight as love and hope and light joined in the battle for the soul of the nation.

– Joe Biden, 8-20-2020

This week’s featured post is “The Underlying Differences Between Liberals and Conservatives“.

This week everybody was talking about the Democratic Convention.

The DNC ran Monday-to-Thursday. Unlike all previous conventions, it was virtual: No big ballroom full of people in funny hats or balloons dropping from the ceiling. To their credit, the organizers didn’t just put together a sad imitation of an in-person convention. Occasionally they took advantage of the new medium and did something creative, like the tour-of-America roll call. I suspect it was actually shorter than a traditional roll call, and much more fun.


The feel-good moment of the convention was when 13-year-old Brayden Harrington spoke about how Biden helped him with his stuttering problem, a disability Biden shares.

It is impossible to imagine Trump doing something like this. Trump never admits to any failing, and certainly doesn’t see himself in people with similar-but-worse problems. They’re nothing like him, because they’re losers and he’s a winner.


The center of every convention is the nominee’s acceptance speech. Biden is never going to be the orator Barack Obama is or Bill Clinton could be at his best, and the virtual-convention format is new and hard. (Trust me on this. I occasionally speak at churches. Talking to a congregation is much easier than talking to my computer and trusting that Zoom is putting my words out there.) But I thought he gave a powerful speech. It takes him a minute or two to get into it, but by the end it’s clear that the text represents what he really believes. (I recognize that too. When I start speaking, my head is full of good advice about where to look and what to do with my hands and which phrases I tripped over in rehearsal. But then the words hit me and I realize: “This is my speech. I want to tell people these things.”)

Here is the text and the video.

The visionary quote at the top comes from the speech’s conclusion, but Biden also laid out an agenda: First, deal with the virus.

As president, the first step I will take will be to get control of the virus that’s ruined so many lives. Because I understand something this president doesn’t. We will never get our economy back on track, we will never get our kids safely back to school, we will never have our lives back, until we deal with this virus. The tragedy of where we are today is it didn’t have to be this bad. Just look around. It’s not this bad in Canada. Or Europe. Or Japan. Or almost anywhere else in the world.

Then: create jobs by building infrastructure, and extend ObamaCare to provide healthcare to more people. Also: college you can access without “crushing” amounts of debt, immigration reform, labor unions, clean energy, protect Social Security, revise the tax code so that the super-rich and the big corporations pay their fair share, and embrace democratic nations and stand up to dictators, rather than the other way around.

But don’t write off the visionary stuff as meaningless, because I think that’s the message that will pull in the voters who can still be convinced: We’re really tired of having fear and hatred thrown at us every day. We don’t want a leader who endlessly focuses on resentments and grievances, and sees an enemy in anyone who doesn’t applaud his every move. We want a leader who will bring out the best in us, not the worst.

Biden’s “American darkness” contrasts with Trump’s “American carnage”. Carnage evokes anger and violence, while darkness is sad and regrettable. We don’t need to strike back at anybody, we just need some illumination.


The video where Biden answers a question about his faith was moving in its own right. And then Comedian Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the emcee for Night 4, delivered this zinger: “Joe Biden goes to church so regularly that he doesn’t even need tear gas and a bunch of federalized troops to get there.”


An interesting tactical choice: Biden did not name Trump. He mentioned “the current president” (twice), “this president” (five times), “the current occupant of the office”, “the President” (twice), and “our current president”. It was like the old commercials where the advertised product is tested against Brand X.


Trump also made some interesting choices during the Democratic Convention. He went to Pennsylvania to do some White Birtherism, claiming that because Biden’s family left when Joe was “8, 9, or 10” (actually 13 — Trump can’t tell the truth about anything), he wasn’t really born in Scranton. (Coming from a medium-size city myself, I know that isn’t how it works. We were always looking for a way to claim famous people, not a way to reject them.)


Kamala’s speech (video, text) had to cover a lot of ground: telling us who she is, explaining how her positions are rooted in where she comes from, acknowledging the historic aspect of a woman of color being on the ticket, making the case against Donald Trump, and explaining why Joe Biden is the right response to the problems Trump has created.

I thought she did a good job, and I look forward to seeing her debate Mike Pence, if that actually happens. I sense something cat-like in Kamala. She seems calm and relaxed, but there’s a spring wound tight in there, and she could pounce at any moment. I wouldn’t want to debate her.

And here’s Trevor Noah’s take on the suggestion that Kamala isn’t “really black” or isn’t “black enough”.

and getting ready for the Republican Convention

One bizarre aspect of the two conventions is that the Democratic one arguably had a more impressive list of Republican participants than the Republican Convention will have: John Kasich, Susan Molinari, Christine Todd Whitman, Colin Powell, and Cindy McCain.

By contrast, the RNC will be all Trump. He plans to appear himself all four nights (though the schedule only lists him as a speaker on Thursday), with other major speaking slots reserved for Melania, all four Trump children, and Don Jr.’s girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle. Ben Carson and Rand Paul are the only speakers who have run for president themselves. Living ex-President George W. Bush and 2012 nominee Mitt Romney will not appear. Neither will ex-Speakers Paul Ryan, John Boehner, or Newt Gingrich. Major Leader Mitch McConnell has no role.


It will be interesting to see how Trump answers the challenge this week. In his 2016 convention speech, he fearmongered about Muslim and Mexican immigrants. They were the primary threats to your safety, and he was going to stop them almost immediately. “Beginning on January 20th 2017, safety will be restored.” The obvious sequel would be to fearmonger about Antifa and Black Lives Matter. (But what happened to safety being “restored”? How is it that we’re still threatened nearly four years later?)

If he does that, though, I think he’s playing into Biden’s hand. Biden offered a vision of an America where we aren’t all constantly afraid and angry. If Trump just doubles down on “American carnage”, he makes Biden’s vision that much more appealing.


In preparation for listening to Trump’s 2020 acceptance speech, let’s review my discussion of his 2016 convention speech. I led that off with two quotes, one from the 2015 Sift article “How Propaganda Works”

If your target audience has a flawed ideology, then your propaganda doesn’t have to lie to them. The lie, in some sense, has already been embedded and only needs to be activated.

and another from 2012’s “How Lies Work“:

You can’t be blamed for the false information, irrational prejudices, and ugly stereotypes that already sit inside people’s heads, waiting to be exploited. So good propaganda contains only enough false or repulsive information to leverage the ignorance and misinformation that’s already out there.

From those two, I drew this conclusion:

In other words, the central lie in an effective propaganda campaign is the one you never explicitly say. It’s out there already, sitting in the minds of your followers, so you just need to allude to it, suggest it, and bring it to consciousness in as many ways as you can. Your target audience will hear it, and afterwards most will believe you said it. But because you aren’t saying it in so many words, it’s immune to fact-checkers, and you barely need to defend it at all.

The Big Lie of Trump’s 2016 speech was one he never explicitly stated, but it was the constant background assumption: The main threat to your safety comes from Mexican and Muslim immigrants. That proposition was totally false and could not have been defended with facts. But it didn’t have to be, because he never specifically said it, leaving fact-checkers with no summing-up quote to grab hold of or object to.

So I advise you to look for that this week. Don’t just nitpick his speech with “This is false” and “That is false”. Listen for the Big Lie in the background, the one that goes without saying.


McSweeney’s gives its version of the RNC schedule. Tonight we can look forward to:

9:20 pm
Marjorie Taylor Greene, QAnon congressional candidate, explains why COVID-19 can’t be transmitted through the air because there is no such thing as “air.”

9:40 pm
Scott Baio triggers libs from his hot tub.

10:20 pm
Silicon Valley CEO Peter Thiel shares a PowerPoint about how minimum-wage workers can balance their budgets by scavenging for edible weeds and building traps to catch small rodents.

10:40 pm
Keynote speech: Axulythor, Sorcerer of Darkness, on the importance of restricting women’s access to reproductive healthcare.


OK, conventions have to be strange in this plague year. But one of the stranger moves was the RNC’s decision to keep its 2016 platform unchanged. And so it includes sections like this:

America has been led in the wrong direction. Our economy has become unnecessarily weak with stagnant wages. People living paycheck to paycheck are struggling, sacrificing, and suffering. Americans have earned and deserve a strong and healthy economy. Our standing in world affairs has declined significantly – our enemies no longer fear us and our friends no long[er] trust us. People want and expect an America that is the most powerful and respected country on the face of the earth. … The President appoints judges who legislate from the bench rather than apply the law.

The resolution adopted by the Republican National Committee is, well, weird.

WHEREAS, The RNC enthusiastically supports President Trump and continues to reject the policy positions of the Obama-Biden Administration, as well as those espoused by the Democratic National Committee today; therefore, be it RESOLVED, That the Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda; RESOVLVED, That the 2020 Republican National Convention will adjourn without adopting a new platform until the 2024 Republican National Convention;

In the era of Zoom and email, there is no reason a Platform Committee couldn’t put something together, even if they couldn’t get together in the same room. (And what does it say about opening schools, if the RNC Platform Committee thought meeting was too dangerous?) The 2016 platform was assembled when the party was out of power, and focused on running against the Obama administration. But now, four years later, the accomplishments of the Trump administration are apparently so insignificant that no item of the platform needs to be updated, and no sights need to be raised. Nothing at all needs to be said about problems unforeseen in 2016, like Covid-19 or the current economic crisis.

Instead, the RNC resolution makes the GOP precisely what its critics have claimed: a personality cult. The Party has no positions on issues, but it supports whatever Trump’s agenda is.


And then there’s the question about whether the law-and-order President’s convention activities are even legal. He intends to use the White House lawn for his own and Melania’s speeches, which mixes politics with government in a manner that is at best unethical. Although the convention remains technically in Charlotte, many of the speeches will happen in D. C., and many of them on federal property.

The unusual arrangement is already drawing ethical concerns that federal resources will be used for campaign events and that administration officials will violate the law by campaigning for the president on government property. And it’s not lost on Trump critics that the president’s flagship hotel, already a gathering spot for Republicans, will be conveniently located a short walk from the Mellon Auditorium.

“Picking a venue across the street from Trump’s D.C. hotel is no coincidence,” said Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.), who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee with jurisdiction over Trump’s Washington hotel. “The Republican National Committee has privately paid Donald Trump throughout his presidency and it’s sadly no surprise that their largest event would continue that shameful practice.”

Mike Pompeo will address the convention even though he is on a government-sponsored trip to the MIddle East.


Matt Yglesias annotates a Federal Reserve chart of job growth to sum up the Trump economic narrative:

and the Senate Intelligence Committee Trump/Russia report

I got daunted by the 966 pages of the report, so I’ve barely looked at it myself. Here’s LawFare’s page of commentary.

One overarching note: There is a fair amount of overlap between this document and the Mueller report. But the Senate report covers a fair bit more ground for a few reasons. For one thing, it was not limited to information it could prove beyond a reasonable doubt in court, as Mueller was. Just as important, the committee included counterintelligence questions in its investigative remit—whereas Mueller limited himself to a review of criminal activity. So the document reads less like a prosecution memo and more like an investigative report addressing risk assessment questions.

The gist: Yes, there was a serious national-security threat for the FBI to look into. Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort was in regular (and encrypted) communication with Konstantin Kilimnik, who the report identifies as a Russian intelligence officer. Lawfare’s summary:

In other words, throughout his work on the Trump campaign, Manafort maintained an ongoing business relationship with a Russian intelligence officer, to whom he passed nonpublic campaign material and analysis.

So what did Kilimnik do with the data—and why did Manafort share it? This was one of the great mysteries left unsolved by the Mueller report, and the Senate was also unable to come up with an answer.

… Perhaps the most tantalizing suggestion in this section involves the redacted pages following the committee’s assertion that “[s]ome evidence suggests Kilimnik may be connected to the GRU hack-and-leak operation related to the 2016 election”—that is, the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chair John Podesta.

So a line can be drawn from the DNC and Podesta hacks to Kilimnik to Manafort to Trump. On the other side of the conspiracy, the Russians connect to WikiLeaks to Roger Stone to Trump.

The Senate report does not directly conclude that Trump was lying, but it gets pretty close. It draws this conclusion: “Despite Trump’s recollection, the Committee assesses that Trump did, in fact, speak with Stone about WikiLeaks and with members of his Campaign about Stone’s access to WikiLeaks on multiple occasions.”

The campaign didn’t just get advance warning about WikiLeaks intentions; they made requests.

After it became clear to Trump associates that the famous Access Hollywood tape would be coming out, Stone sought to time the much-sought-after release of Podesta emails by Wikileaks to divert attention from the tape. Corsi recalled that Stone “[w]anted the Podesta stuff to balance the news cycle” either “right then or at least coincident.”

And Stone got his wish: “At approximately 4:32 p.m. on October 7, approximately 32 minutes after the release of the Access Hollywood tape, WikiLeaks released 2,050 emails that the GRU had stolen from John Podesta, repeatedly announcing the leak on Twitter and linking to a searchable archive of the documents.”

You get the picture. All of the key figures in the Trump campaign—including Trump himself—knew about, and anticipated, the Podesta Wikileaks dump.

and Steve Bannon

Returning to the subject of conservative vulnerability to con-men that I raised two weeks ago: SDNY announced Thursday that former Trump “chief strategist” Steve Bannon had been indicted for fraud. He and three others were charged in connection with the crowdfunding campaign “We Build the Wall”, which supposedly was collecting money to build Trump’s border wall. (Text of indictment.)

In particular, to induce donors to donate to the campaign, [co-defendant Brian] KOLFAGE repeatedly and falsely assured the public that he would “not take a penny in salary or compensation” and that “100% of the funds raised . . . will be used in the execution of our mission and purpose” because, as BANNON publicly stated, “we’re a volunteer organization.”

Those representations were false. In truth, KOLFAGE, BANNON, BADOLATO, and SHEA received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donor funds from We Build the Wall, which they each used in a manner inconsistent with the organization’s public representations. In particular, KOLFAGE covertly took for his personal use more than $350,000 in funds that donors had given to We Build the Wall, while BANNON, through a non-profit organization under his control (“Non-Profit-1”), received over $1 million from We Build the Wall, at least some of which BANNON used to cover hundreds of thousands of dollars in BANNON’s personal expenses. To conceal the payments to KOLFAGE from We Build the Wall, KOLFAGE, BANNON, BADOLATO, and SHEA devised a scheme to route those payments from We Build the Wall to KOLFAGE indirectly through Non-Profit-1 and a shell company under SHEA’s control, among other avenues. They did so by using fake invoices and sham “vendor” arrangements, among other ways, to ensure, as KOLFAGE noted in a text message to BADOLATO, that his pay arrangement remained “confidential” and kept on a “need to know” basis.

Bannon, you might remember, became Trump’s campaign chairman after Paul Manafort left. Manfort was later convicted of multiple felonies.

SDNY is a traditionally independent US Attorney office that Bill Barr tried to take over a few months ago. He got the sitting US attorney to leave, but failed to install a crony. Instead, Geoffrey Berman was succeeded by his assistant Audrey Strauss, who announced the Bannon indictment. Whether a Barr crony would have swept this investigation under the rug is an interesting question. SDNY is also rumored to be working on an investigation of Rudy Giuliani.

Evan Hill tweets:

It gets better: Kolfage used boat he bought with illegally-siphoned “We Build the Wall” funds to sail in the July 4 Trump boat parade in Destin, Florida instagram.com/tv/CCRxjWLj6im (spotted by @ZacAlf)

And there’s more, gleaned from the We Build the Wall web site.

Kris Kobach is the general counsel of the Build the Wall PAC that Steve Bannon was just arrested for being involved in as chairman. The advisory board includes Erik Prince, former CO congressman Tom Tancredo, Sheriff Dave Clarke and former pitcher Curt Schilling.

and you also might be interested in …

When the extra unemployment payments of the CARES Act ran out at the end of July, and Congress and the President couldn’t agree on a new stimulus package, it was widely predicted that many American households would be in trouble. Well, it’s happening.


In 2018 and 2019, Trump’s niece Mary taped conversations with her aunt, Donald’s sister, retired Judge Maryanne Barry. Mary says she was hoping to gather evidence to prove that Maryanne, Donald, and Robert misrepresented the size of their father (and Mary’s grandfather) Fred Trump’s estate, and so got Mary and her brother to agree to a settlement far lower than they would have sought if they had understood that the estate was worth closer to $1 billion than the $30 million they were told. [Lesson: Don’t cheat your relatives.]

The Washington Post article revealing these tapes doesn’t say whether Mary ever got the evidence she was looking for, but she did record her aunt saying a lot about the current president: “You can’t trust him”, “He has no principles. None.”, “The change of stories. The lack of preparation. The lying. Holy shit.”, and “It’s the phoniness of it all. It’s the phoniness and this cruelty. Donald is cruel.”

After this story posted online Saturday night, the White House issued this statement from the president that said in full: “Every day it’s something else, who cares. I miss my brother, and I’ll continue to work hard for the American people. Not everyone agrees, but the results are obvious. Our country will soon be stronger than ever before!”

There’s a lot in that statement that I agree with: Almost every day there’s something else. Another major Trump associate indicted. A new Senate report outlining his collusion with the Russians. A new snake-oil coronavirus-cure scam. Putin poisoning a rival and Trump saying nothing. Day in, day out.

And who can deny that the results are obvious? 180,000 Americans dead of a virus that almost all other countries have controlled much better, with another thousand still dying every day. 16.3 million unemployed. An FY2020 budget deficit that will easily top $3 trillion. (That’s more than double the previous record: $1.4 trillion in the Bush-to-Obama transition year of FY 2009.)

But will our country soon be stronger than ever before? Probably not. The virus is far from beaten, and even if there is a vaccine by spring, it will take some time for the country to recover. But Trump is way behind in the polls, so there is a good chance America will be stronger than ever in a few years.


Cy Vance wins again in his bid to see Trump’s tax returns and other business-related documents. Here is Judge Victor Marrero’s 103-page ruling.

Originally, Trump’s lawyers argued the ridiculous claim that as long as he is president he is “absolutely immune” from any legal process, including grand jury investigations into his companies and associates. (They literally claimed that if Trump shot someone on Fifth Avenue “nothing could be done”.) Every court that looked at that claim rejected it, and no justice on the Supreme Court defended it. The Supreme Court sent the case back to the federal district court with the instructions that Trump could challenge the subpoena in the same way that anybody else would, without any blanket immunity from his office.

So Trump did put together a challenge on the grounds that the Manhattan grand jury’s subpoena was too broad was issued in bad faith. His lawyers supported that claim with a narrative rather than a set of facts: Because Democrats in the House were having trouble getting Trump’s documents, they got Cy Vance to subpoena the same documents under his investigation of the Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal pay-offs, even though most of the documents have nothing to do with that investigation. Once Vance gets the documents, he will either give them to the House Democrats or leak them to the public. So the subpoena is too broad and issued in bad faith.

Again and again in his rejection of Trump’s challenge, Judge Marrero explained that you can’t just tell a story, you need to back it up with facts. We don’t actually know (and shouldn’t know at this stage) the full scope of the grand jury’s investigation. Grand juries deserve an assumption of good faith, unless there is serious evidence otherwise. And you can’t just assume that somebody in the grand jury or in Vance’s office will break the law and leak the documents.

the Court need not deem plausible the mere possibility of misconduct.

Marrero dismissed Trump’s challenge to the subpoena “with prejudice”, meaning that he will not consider another revision.

The Court also need not ignore that the President has now twice failed to present a valid cause for relief, despite guidance from the Supreme Court, which further counsels against allowing a third attempt at litigating the threshold validity of the Mazars subpoena.

This ruling now goes up the ladder again, to an appellate court. That process has already started, with this announcement Friday:

Trump’s personal attorneys asked the New York-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit to halt Marrero’s ruling from taking effect while they mount an appeal.

The circuit court on Friday afternoon agreed to hold a Sept. 1 hearing on the issue, but declined Trump’s request for an emergency stay. It’s unclear if Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. will attempt to enforce the subpoena in the interim, and his office did not respond to a request for comment.

The earliest day Vance could enforce the subpoena is next Friday.

Again, grand jury investigations are secret, so Vance getting the documents doesn’t necessarily mean we the people will ever see them.


In a somewhat clueless effort to attract women’s votes, Trump pardoned Susan B. Anthony on Tuesday. Anthony was convicted of illegally voting in the 1872 election. Since accepting a pardon requires admitting committing a crime, which Anthony never did, the Anthony Museum rejected the pardon on her behalf.

I wish my memory allowed me to attribute this quip to the proper source: It’s not the first time Trump did something to a woman without first seeking consent.


The Good Liars pranked Trump Jr. by changing his book’s dust jacket.


The Arkham Board of Health comments on the reopening plans of Miskatonic University.


Attorney General Barr met with media mogul Rupert Murdoch in October, 2019. That’s been widely reported before, and already it should raise suspicions. I mean, Barr has power over a lot of stuff Murdoch would care about. So what conversation could they possibly have that fits within ethics guidelines?

Now a new book tells us they had the worst possible kind of conversation: Barr told Murdoch that Fox News commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano had annoyed the President, and that Fox should “muzzle” him. They did.

Though Barr’s words to Murdoch “carried a lot of weight”, Stelter writes, “no one was explicitly told to take Napolitano off the air”. Instead, Stelter reports, Napolitano found digital resources allocated elsewhere, saw a slot on a daytime show disappear, and was not included in coverage of the impeachment process.


Eddie Glaude’s book Democracy in Black includes an anecdote about a family getting evicted by the police in the middle of the night. No warning, just breaking into the house to throw them out and pile their possessions in the street.

“When they came for me at three in the morning, they didn’t have a place for me and my family to go, but the animal shelter came because they knew that there were dogs there. They came with a place for my dog.”


Goodyear banned political attire at its plants, including both MAGA hats and Biden hats. Trump took offense and called for a boycott of the Ohio tire maker. So: first his bungling of the virus response causes Ohio State to cancel its football season, and now he’s going after one of the state’s major employers. A few weeks ago I didn’t expect Biden to carry Ohio, but now I wonder.

and let’s close with something to waste your time

The reddit subgroup r/disneyvacation (don’t ask me why) is a series of recaptioned images from WikiHow. Like this one:

How to describe 2020 to your future grandkids.

Or this:

How to forget your contacts and think you’ve spotted an old college buddy.

People are adding new ones constantly, so you can say “I’ll quit after the next one” more or less forever.

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Comments

  • Shannon McMaster  On August 24, 2020 at 1:10 pm

    Yikes–in this post–all of your references to Joe Biden where either full name or last name only, and all of your references to Kamala Harris were first name only (the embedded link uses Kamala Harris).

    • Lee Thomson  On August 24, 2020 at 6:19 pm

      Thank you – I was going to mention that as well. Please decide how to refer to politicians, and use that consistently. First names are fine, so long as that is uniformly applied across parties and genders.

    • weeklysift  On August 26, 2020 at 9:11 am

      You’re right. I’ll adjust in future articles.

    • weeklysift  On August 26, 2020 at 11:55 am

      I feel like I should also explain what the pattern — it was never well enough nailed down to be a “policy” — has been up until now. I’ve tended to use the most easily recognizable version of a person’s name. So: Bernie rather than Senator Sanders, and Hillary because I didn’t want readers to confuse her with her husband. And AOC is a special case, like FDR or LBJ.

      But you’re right. In the current context, Kamala is inappropriate.

  • EFCL  On August 31, 2020 at 4:04 pm

    The send “And even this…” after the deficit chart seems to be missing a word. Did you forget a “not” somewhere?

  • EFCL  On August 31, 2020 at 4:06 pm

    Umm. “Sentence” not send

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