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Schadenfreude was our top lookup on October 2nd, by a very considerable margin, following President Trump’s announcement that he and the First Lady had tested positive for COVID-19.

Merriam-Webster

This week’s featured posts are “Schadenfreude, and seven other reactions to Trump’s illness” and “About Those Taxes“.

This week everybody was talking about Trump getting covid

That gets covered in one of the featured posts.

and that horrible debate

I feel like it’s my responsibility to watch things like this, or review the video later, or at least read the transcript. But in fact, I have done none of those things. The next morning (Wednesday), I watched the first ten minutes, plus the clips the media wanted to show me, and decided that life is too short.

In early September, Politico did an article on Trump’s debate strategy, and it rings pretty true: The point of all the interruptions and other antics was to provoke Biden into an embarrassing stuttering incident. It didn’t work. However, it did hide the fact that Biden has plans for his administration and Trump doesn’t.

A post-debate Politico article “Trump Is Not the Man He Used to Be” compares this debate performance to his 2016 debates, particularly the one with Hillary Clinton right after the Access Hollywood tape threatened to derail his entire candidacy.

With his back to the wall, facing scrutiny like no presidential hopeful in memory, Trump turned in his strongest stage performance of 2016. He was forceful but controlled. He was steady, unflappable, almost carefree. Even his most noxious lines, such as suggesting that Clinton belonged in jail, were delivered with a smooth cadence and a cool smirk, as if he knew a secret that others didn’t.

On substance, I thought he lost that 2016 debate, as he lost all the Clinton debates. But he restored an image that just enough voters found appealing: the mischievous boy thumbing his nose at authorities and all their stupid rules. The supposed “gaffes” of 2016 — calling Mexican immigrants “rapists”, refusing to be impressed by John McCain’s war-hero status, mocking a reporter’s disability, telling his supporters to “knock the hell” out of protesters at his rallies, and so on — were delivered with an air of “look what I can get away with”.

A certain kind of voter, particularly the white male non-college voter Trump was hoping to turn out, loved that. (Rush Limbaugh appeals in the same way, for example, when he tries to see how close he can come to saying the N-word on the radio.) To them, it was fun. While Trump was often compared to a bull in a china shop, his base saw something equally destructive but much more humorous, like the Blues Brothers driving a stolen police car through a shopping mall, leaving a trail of broken glass and crushed mannequins. Sure, it’s wrong and would make a lot of people mad, but wouldn’t you love to get away with something like that?

It might be hard to remember through the fog of these past four years, but the animating sentiment for Trump during his first run for the presidency wasn’t hatred or division. It was fun. He was having the time of his life. Nothing Trump had ever experienced had showered him with so much attention, so much adulation, so much controversy and coverage. He loved every moment of it.

But that look-at-me-I’m-a-bad-boy attitude was completely absent from the Biden debate. He seemed more like the bad boy who gets caught and then whines about his punishment.

The president wasn’t enjoying himself last night. … There was no mischievous glint in his eye, no mirthful vibrancy in his demeanor. He looked exhausted. He sounded ornery. Gone was the swagger, the detached smirk, that reflected bottomless wells of confidence and conviction. Though described by Tucker Carlson in Fox News’ pregame show as an “instinctive predator,” Trump behaved like cornered prey—fearful, desperate, trapped by his own shortcomings and the circumstances that exposed them. He was a shell of his former dominant self. … Watching the president on Tuesday night felt like watching someone losing his religion. Trump could not overpower Biden or Wallace any more than he could overpower Covid-19 or the cascading job losses or the turmoil engulfing American cities. For the first time in his presidency, Trump appeared to recognize that he had been overtaken by events.


You might think denouncing violent white supremacists would be an easy call for any American politician, but Trump couldn’t get it done during the debate. Prodded by Chris Wallace to ask the Proud Boys to “stand down”, Trump instead asked them to “stand back and stand by” because “somebody has to do something about Antifa and the left”.

After considerable pearl-clutching (but no sharp criticism) from Republican senators, Trump backed off, sort of. In his last interview before announcing his Covid infection, Trump told Sean Hannity:

Let me be clear again: I condemn the KKK. I condemn all white supremacists. I condemn the Proud Boys. I don’t know much about the Proud Boys, almost nothing, but I condemn that.

Let’s parse all this a little. Antifa is largely a right-wing myth. (We’ll discuss below the possibility that something else is going on.) As FBI Director Christopher Wray has explained: “It’s not a group or an organization. It’s a movement or an ideology.” Even if somebody needs to “do something” about Antifa (and I suspect nobody does), that “somebody” should be local law enforcement, not armed gangs of right-wing vigilantes.

But let’s say Trump really didn’t know anything about the Proud Boys Tuesday night, and still knew “almost nothing” about them after two days of controversy. Then why was he giving them instructions on national TV?

and the Barrett nomination

How many senators can the GOP lose to quarantine and still get Barrett on the Court before the election?

So far, three senators — Ron Johnson, Mike Lee, and Thom Tillis — have tested positive. Two of them — Lee and Tillis — are on the Judiciary Committee that needs to hold hearings on Barrett. Two others — Ted Cruz and Ben Sasse — are self-quarantining.

The first obstacle for Republicans may be the committee vote, tentatively planned for Oct. 22.

To report out a nomination, a majority of the 22-member committee will need to be present, and Democratic senators will not help Republicans make quorum, aides said Sunday. Although proxy voting is allowed in the Judiciary Committee, it works only when there is a quorum present and the proxy votes don’t change the outcome of the vote, according to committee officials.

I am sure we will see many procedural maneuvers between now and November 3, and I don’t want to predict how they will play out.

but let’s think about undecided voters

Several people this week have asked me some version of: “After everything we’ve seen these last four years, how can anybody be undecided in this election?”

Given my advanced case of male answer syndrome, of course I have a theory: I picture two kinds of undecided voters: the apathetic and the torn.

To understand apathetic voters, think about some level of government you don’t usually pay attention to. For example, maybe you don’t have kids, and school board elections go by without you noticing. Or maybe you just moved to a new town, and haven’t found a reason yet to care about who your alderman is.

Probably you hear something about these elections, but it just goes in one ear and out the other. You know some of your neighbors care, but to you it just sounds like a bunch annoying people yelling at each other.

That’s how apathetic voters are about national politics, and the media’s both-sides-do-it narrative feeds their inclination to stay ignorant. “Some people love Trump, and some people hate him, but they’re all crazy and I steer clear of them.”

if these people do end up voting, it’s a last-minute decision. The night before or the morning of Election Day, they’ll look up some issue they care about on the internet, or talk to some friend they think is well informed, and that’s how they’ll make up their minds. They’re highly vulnerable to misinformation, so they’re largely who the Russians target with their social-media bots. But I think Biden does have a persuasive last-minute message to offer them: “Given the 200,000 dead of coronavirus, the restrictions on what the rest of us can safely do, the high unemployment, the enormous budget deficit, and the growing racial tensions in our country, do you think America is better off than it was four years ago? Has Trump kept his promise to make us ‘great again’, or should somebody else get a chance to lead us?”

Torn voters are fighting an internal battle. Some part of them has an irrational attraction to or repulsion from one of the candidates, but they don’t know how to justify giving in to that urge. (I irrationally wanted to vote for John McCain in both the 2000 and 2008 New Hampshire primaries. In 2000 I did.)

I believe torn voters were the key to Trump’s 2016 victory. They knew Hillary Clinton would be the better president, but they didn’t like her, and wouldn’t it be a hoot to have that other guy? And since he wasn’t going to win anyway, what harm would it do to vote for him? The Crooked Hillary meme and the last-minute Comey announcement about her emails gave them the permission they needed, and so the Undecideds all broke to Trump at the last minute.

This year, I think a lot of the undecided are Trump’s 2016 voters who now are torn. They know he’s a bad president, but they don’t want to admit they were wrong. I think a lot of them will break to Biden at the last minute, largely because of the point made in the Politico article I quoted above: Trump isn’t fun any more. On Election Day, the thought “All this bullshit could just be over” will ripple through the electorate.

and you also might be interested in …

Three big-name constitutional lawyers — Neil Buchanan, Michael Dorf, and Lawrence Tribe — debunk some of the scarier scenarios for the election.

Without getting into the legal weeds, the bottom line is that there is no way to throw the election into the House — where the Republicans would win if they could hold their current 26-24 advantage in state delegations — without either a 269-269 tie or a third candidate getting electoral votes. If some votes are thrown out, the candidate with the most electoral votes still wins, even if the total falls below 270.


Texas Governor Gregg Abbott engaged in some serious voter suppression this week: He limited each county to one mail-in-ballot dropbox.

Mail-in ballots, of course, are designed to be mailed. But if you aren’t confident in the mail delivering your ballot on time — say, because Trump is intentionally sabotaging the Post Office — you might set your mind at ease by taking your ballot to a dropbox that election officials will open themselves.

Except in Texas, apparently.

The rule affects mainly a few populous counties, including Harris, home of Houston, which had set up twelve collection spots for its 2.4 million registered voters.

The highly populated counties are exactly the ones where Democrats need a big turnout. Abbott claimed his order will “help stop attempts at illegal voting”, without presenting any evidence that illegal voting is a problem. But the move is certain to reduce attempts at legal voting, if courts let it stand.


Another underhanded scheme comes from Michigan, where two Republican operatives face charges in a robocall campaign to scare people out of voting by mail.

The calls told the recipients falsely that voting by mail would put their information in databases used for arrest warrants, debt collection and “mandatory vaccines.” … According to Thursday’s announcement, the robocalls went out to nearly 12,000 residents in Detroit. Attorneys general offices in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois also told [Michigan Attorney General Dana] Nessel that there were similar calls in their states, Nessel’s announcement said.


If Covid forces Bill Stepien to step down as Trump campaign chair, would you want to replace him, given what’s happened to your predecessors? Paul Manafort is serving a prison term (at home, due to Covid), Steve Bannon is under indictment, Brad Pascale is in the middle of some kind of personal crisis that has seen him arrested and hospitalized, and now Bill Stepien has Covid. Corey Lewandowski is the lucky one, so far: the misdemeanor battery charge against him was dropped.


I hadn’t been taking seriously the possibility that Iowa Senator Joni Ernst could lose, but apparently I should: A recent poll has her down 51%-39%.


The NYT’s Farah Stockman drew attention to a fairly obscure blog Public Report by Santa Monica photographer Jeremy Lee Quinn. Quinn has been studying anarchist groups that have been trying to turn Black Lives Matter protests into riots.

Mr. Quinn began studying footage of looting from around the country and saw the same black outfits and, in some cases, the same masks. He decided to go to a protest dressed like that himself, to figure out what was really going on. He expected to find white supremacists who wanted to help re-elect President Trump by stoking fear of Black people. What he discovered instead were true believers in “insurrectionary anarchism.”

These folks appear to be the root of what Trumpists call “Antifa”, but really they are something different. Quinn offers this Venn diagram., and writes: “Anarchist action is distinct from Antifacist action in which counter-demonstrators clash with the right wing to actively counterprotest their rallies”

I hope to have time to examine this better in coming weeks.

and let’s close with something weird

Weird Al Yankovich turned the presidential debate into a song with a catchy title: “We’re All Doomed“.

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Comments

  • Ed Blanchard  On October 5, 2020 at 2:47 pm

    Since McAninny has tested positive for COVID, my vote for the next WH Press Secretary is Alfred E. Neuman. He’s running, I hear, on the “What, Me worry?” ticket.

  • George Washington, Jr.  On October 5, 2020 at 3:11 pm

    McConnell could get around the quorum requirement by simply appointing several other senators to the judiciary committee temporarily.

  • Anonymous  On October 5, 2020 at 3:24 pm

    Hey Doug, just wanted to let you know the closing video was actually made by the Gregory Brothers (Weird Al is the guest star). The Gregory Brothers have “songified” just about every debate since 2012, among many other news-related remixes. Their channel is pure gold if you’re into this sort of thing: https://www.youtube.com/user/schmoyoho

  • Donna Horsford  On October 6, 2020 at 8:42 am

    hello! I enjoy your blog and agree with your disdain of Trump
    Why do we not hear more about changing tax law so that business people would not have to “cheat” the system. Tax exemptions for haircuts should not be a thing!!

    • pauljbradford  On October 6, 2020 at 10:06 am

      “haircuts” are in the same category as “makeup” for people who appear on film/TV, and clearly makeup is often a legitimate business expense. Whether there are limits on such things, I don’t know, but in certain businesses, the appearance of some people is a legitimate business expense.

      • Anonymous  On October 6, 2020 at 10:55 am

        My understanding is that it would be a deductible expense only if it was used ONLY for business. So a haircut wouldn’t qualify, because you keep the haircut during your personal life. Makeup would qualify only if it was stage makeup, which you removed when you were off stage.

        Similar rules apply elsewhere. You can deduct a home office if it’s a separate room used only for business. If you also use the room for some other activity, it isn’t deductible.

  • Ian  On October 7, 2020 at 12:08 am

    If you do look more into that NYT editorial, I’d recommend checking out the rebuttal published by CrimethInc. – https://crimethinc.com/2020/10/01/the-truth-about-the-truth-about-todays-anarchists-the-ex-worker-responds-to-the-new-york-times – I’d be curious to see more of your thoughts on the topic.

  • Joseph Max  On October 10, 2020 at 11:58 pm

    Trump won on what Eddie Murphy joked about way back in the 1980s – the goof vote. He used the example of Jesse Ventura, but his joke was is that it would work for Jesse Jackson; that drunken white guys on election day look at who’s running and think it would be fun to “goof vote”. Like, “hey, you know who I just voted for? Jesse Jackson for president! *LOL*” and then the next morning the wake up and say, “You mean he fucking WON?”

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