When our leaders speak, their words matter. They carry weight. When our leaders meet, encourage or fraternize with domestic terrorists, they legitimize their actions and they are complicit. When they stoke and contribute to hate speech, they are complicit.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan

No Sift next week. The next new articles will appear on October 26.

This week’s featured post is “The Hidden Threat of a Conservative Supreme Court (and what Biden should say about it)“.

This week everybody was talking about the White House coronavirus cluster

The Trump White House is displaying its usual lack of transparency. We still don’t know exactly who’s infected, when Trump’s last negative test was, whether he had been tested before his debate with Biden (as the rules stipulated), or who White House Patient Zero is. The Washington Post tried to summarize what we do know.

There’s also a lot we don’t know about Trump’s current condition. He held his comeback rally on the White House lawn Saturday, speaking from a balcony. (Almost forgotten in the hoopla is that using the White House for rallies used to be taboo. The Marine Band played, which was “pushing the boundaries of U.S. law and the military tradition of political neutrality”. More and more, Trump treats all government resources as his personal property.) He will hold a rally in Florida today.

Is that safe, either for him or for the people around him? We get carefully worded statements from his doctor that don’t really answer the question.

and right-wing terrorism in Michigan

Thursday, 13 right-wing domestic terrorists were charged with participating in a plot to kidnap (and possibly kill) Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Confidential informants taped conversations about storming the Capitol, placing Whitmer on trial for treason, and taking her from her vacation home. And they did more than just talk.

The conspirators conducted surveillance of Whitmer’s vacation home on two occasions in late August and September, the complaint said. Croft and Fox discussed detonating explosive devices to divert police from the vacation home area, according to the FBI.

President Trump stands back from groups like this when they get caught, but he has also been encouraging them. When armed protesters (including some of the conspirators) surrounded and entered the Michigan state capitol in April, Trump tweeted “LIBERATE MICHIGAN“, and urged Whitmer to “make a deal” with them because they are “very good people”. (It’s worth noting that Whitmer did not give in to Trump’s pressure to reopen prematurely, but the Republican governors of Arizona, Texas, Georgia, and Florida did, with disastrous results. Whitmer was right and Trump wrong.)

In his debate with Joe Biden, Trump addressed another right-wing hate group, the Proud Boys, telling them to “stand by” because “somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left”.

Whitmer has refused to let Trump off the hook for this:

When our leaders speak, their words matter. They carry weight. When our leaders meet, encourage or fraternize with domestic terrorists, they legitimize their actions and they are complicit. When they stoke and contribute to hate speech, they are complicit.

Michigan State Senator Mallory McMorrow (who sits next to the senator who took the picture above) amplified that message:

It’s clear all 13 of these men — and probably many more like them — were and still are listening for signals like these, and interpret them as permission and direction. When Republican leaders call the governor a “tyrant,” we see that language take hold among protesters, who then take to carrying signs saying, “Tyrants Get the Rope.” (In Michigan, protestors even brought a naked brunette doll hanging by a noose to a rally.)

Republicans didn’t create these 13 angry men, but they have absolutely encouraged them — like blowing on a tinder to start a campfire.

I think it’s time to stop dignifying Republican conspiracy theories about Antifa, or taking seriously their complaints about left-wing violence. It’s time for the media to stop their both-sides framing. Men plotting to kidnap political leaders, or ramming their cars into protesters, or gunning down protesters, or making heroes out of teen-agers who gun down protesters, or slaughtering Hispanics in a Walmart — that stuff only happens on the right. And no number of left-wing window-breakers or water bottles thrown at police can even it out.

What’s more, when there is some violent incident on the left, no one praises it. You don’t hear local officials or presidents of the United States justifying it. That stuff only happens on the right.

and Trump’s collapsing support

Two weeks ago, 538’s polling average had Biden leading Trump by 6.9%: 50.1%-43.2%. Now it’s up to 10.6%: 52.4%-41.8%. Then, the tipping point state was Pennsylvania, where Biden led by 5.2%. Now it’s Wisconsin, where Biden is up by 7.1%.

What I would call the coup de grâce state, the one that could tell us on election night that Biden has won, is Florida, where 538 has Biden ahead by 4.5%. Two weeks ago, Biden’s lead was only 1.7%.

Worse for Trump, nobody is coming to save him. There will be no just-in-time-for-the-election vaccine. The Durham investigation is not going to indict Biden, or even produce a report in the next three weeks.

Another bad sign for Trump is that Republican senators are slowly backing away from him. They’re still complicit in his crimes, but they don’t want to stand next to him any more.

Mitch McConnell is saying that literally, claiming that he hasn’t been to the White House in two months, because he “personally didn’t feel that they were approaching the protection from this illness in the same way that I thought was appropriate for the Senate.” And Joni Ernst says, “I’m running my own race.

and the off-again on-again stimulus deal

Right now it looks like it’s off, largely because McConnell shows no interest. I think McConnell is already looking past the Trump administration, and thinking about how he can sabotage the Biden economy.

and the 25th Amendment

The 25th Amendment cleaned up a bunch of possible problem areas related to presidential succession, including what happens when the President is incapacitated. Section 3 covers when the President knows he is (or is about to be) incapacitated: He sends a note to both houses of Congress telling them that the Vice President is taking over for a while. Ronald Reagan did it once and George W. Bush twice before going under general anesthetic for surgery.

Section 4 covers presidents who don’t know they’re incapacitated, either because they’re unexpectedly unconscious, or because they’re off their rockers.

Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

That’s the situation we have appeared to be in this week. The steroid treatment Trump is receiving may have side effects:

While this commonly used drug is generally safe, there are a range of known side effects. “By far, the most common is hyperglycemia, so that’s where your blood sugars will shoot up,” [Dr. Celine] Gounder [of the New York University School of Medicine] said.

Also quite common, especially among older patients are a range of psychiatric side effects, she added. “Anything from feeling like you’re on top of the world … your arthritic aches and pains of age just melt away, you have lots of energy,” she said. “There may be some grandiosity.” The drug can also cause agitation, insomnia and even, psychosis, Gounder said.

It should be obvious that no one taking this drug should wield the powers of the presidency. And since he came back to the White House, Trump has been even more unstable than usual.

So Nancy Pelosi has started the 25th-Amendment conversation, with a bill that establishes “such other body as Congress may by law provide” to assess the President’s fitness for office. But I disagree with one part of that article’s interpretation:

The commission, if called upon through House and Senate approval of a concurrent resolution, would “carry out a medical examination of the president to determine whether the president is mentally or physically unable to discharge the powers and duties of the office,” according to the bill text. The president could refuse the examination, but the commission would be authorized to factor that into their decision.

If the commission determines the president is unfit to perform his executive duties, the vice president would take over.

As I read the “or” in the 25th Amendment, the commission replaces the cabinet’s role the process, but not the Vice President’s. If the VP stands by the President, I don’t think the President can be removed.

and the fly on Mike Pence

I didn’t last long watching the vice presidential debate [transcript]. The first substantive exchange was about the administration’s handling of the Covid pandemic, which Pence absurdly claimed “saved hundreds of thousands of American lives”. Harris then made the obvious response:

Whatever the vice president is claiming the administration has done, clearly, it hasn’t worked. When you’re looking at over 210,000 dead bodies in our country …

And Pence then spun her attack on his administration as an attack on the American people, because Trump is the People, apparently.

when you say what the American people have done over these last eight months, hasn’t worked, that’s a great disservice to the sacrifices the American people have made

I turned it off right there. I’ve given this administration plenty of opportunities to explain their point of view, and all they do is bullshit me. I’m done listening.

So I missed the news event of the night: the fly who spent two minutes on Pence’s head without him noticing.

For what it’s worth, 60% in a CNN poll said Harris performed better.

but don’t lose sight of Trump’s taxes

The NYT continues its series, looking at how Trump properties became a vehicle for corruption.

Mr. Trump did not merely fail to end Washington’s insider culture of lobbying and favor-seeking. He reinvented it, turning his own hotels and resorts into the Beltway’s new back rooms, where public and private business mix and special interests reign. …

Federal tax-return data for Mr. Trump and his business empire, which was disclosed by The New York Times last month, showed that even as he leveraged his image as a successful businessman to win the presidency, large swaths of his real estate holdings were under financial stress, racking up losses over the preceding decades.

But once Mr. Trump was in the White House, his family business discovered a lucrative new revenue stream: people who wanted something from the president. An investigation by The Times found over 200 companies, special-interest groups and foreign governments that patronized Mr. Trump’s properties while reaping benefits from him and his administration.

and you also might be interested in …

The featured post includes yet another of my rants against minority rule. Somewhat coincidentally, though, this week two Republican senators openly expressed doubt or discontent with democracy.

In an odd series of tweets, Mike Lee of Utah said “We’re not a democracy” and then proceeded to explain why it’s better that way.

democracy isn’t the objective; liberty, peace, and prospefity are. … We want the human condition to flourish. Rank democracy can thwart that

Vox’ Zack Beauchamp looks at the vague but ubiquitous conservative talking point that “We’re a republic, not a democracy.” It’s true that the Founders worried about the tyranny of the majority, but modern Republicans are using this rhetoric to justify rule by the minority, which is surely worse.

modern conservatism has long had a built-in intellectual justification for ruling without popular support. … [T]he tradition Lee is operating out of … casts doubt on the most basic democratic principle: that the people who win the public’s support should rightly govern.

… The idea that majority rule is intrinsically oppressive is necessarily an embrace of anti-democracy: an argument that an enlightened few, meaning Republican supporters, should be able to make decisions for the rest of us. If the election is close, and Trump makes a serious play to steal it, Lee’s “we’re not a democracy” argument provides a ready-made justification for tactics that amount to a kind of legal coup.

Ben Sasse is similarly anti-democratic in his proposal to repeal the 17th Amendment, so that senators would once again be chosen by state legislatures rather than by popular vote. As he surely realizes, that would allow the Senate to be even more gerrymandered than the House. Just as the voters of Michigan, Wisconsin, and several other states can’t get rid of the Republican majorities in their gerrymandered legislatures, they also wouldn’t be able to get rid of their Republican senators.

More and more Americans are realizing that science is on the ballot this year. A few weeks ago Scientific American made its first presidential endorsement ever. This week The New England Journal of Medicine did:

Reasonable people will certainly disagree about the many political positions taken by candidates. But truth is neither liberal nor conservative. When it comes to the response to the largest public health crisis of our time, our current political leaders have demonstrated that they are dangerously incompetent. We should not abet them and enable the deaths of thousands more Americans by allowing them to keep their jobs.

A research project in British Columbia picked 115 homeless people and randomly choose 50 of them to receive $7,500. Then it tracked all of them.

The people who received the money managed it pretty well: They were more likely to be food secure and got off the streets more quickly than the control group. Their spending on alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs went down.

“It challenges stereotypes we have here in the West about how to help people living on the margins,” [Claire Williams, CEO of the funding foundation] said. 

and let’s close with something analytic

This is from 2013, but I just found it, so maybe you haven’t seen it either. It’s a quiz the NYT’s Upshot column put together to analyze what your word usage says about where you’re from. My own dialect heat map doesn’t pick out my central Illinois home town precisely, but my years in Chicago apparently pulled my usage north a bit.

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • George Washington, Jr.  On October 12, 2020 at 3:59 pm

    We shouldn’t assume that Trump only learned of his COVID diagnosis when it was reported, or even a few days earlier when he showed up late for the debate, not leaving enough time to be tested. Many people’s symptoms worsen on days 7 to 10, so if that’s when Trump went to the hospital, he was infected either at the Dancing on RBG’s Grave party, excuse me, the Amy Coney Barrett announcement, or a few days earlier.

    He may have sought to put off treatment until he grew so short of breath as to make that untenable. The steroid he received is intended for patients in serious distress; it’s contraindicated for anyone who’s newly-diagnosed, as the effects could be negative at that stage. So all of these suggest that he was infected sometime between September 22 and 27.

  • Anonymous  On October 13, 2020 at 1:04 pm

    A reminder that Ranked Choice Voting is on the ballot in Massachusetts. It’s Ballot Question 2.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: