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Can I Get Over Donald Trump?

Maybe the healing America needs should start with me.

This week, the third one since the presidential election, I — like almost everybody else in America — spent more time thinking about the loser of that election than the winner.

If you don’t remember previous transition periods, it’s hard to get across just how strange that is. At this point in his administration, every previous one-term president in my lifetime — Bush the First, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, LBJ — was already starting to fade into history. Even exiting two-term presidents — Barack Obama, Bush the Second, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan — were planning their moves back to wherever and leafing through proposals for their presidential libraries.

As for media coverage, it’s supposed to be like the Eagles’ song:

Where you been lately?
There’s a new kid in town.

All previous presidential transitions brought in lots of new kids. People from the victorious campaign, veterans from previous administrations, and prominent governors or members of Congress were either getting new positions or maneuvering for them. Remember Mitt Romney going to Trump Tower in hopes of becoming Secretary of State? That’s the kind of story that usually makes headlines in the weeks after an election.

Even the members of your party most skeptical of your candidacy come around like Flatnose Curry after Butch Cassidy wins the knife fight: “I was really rootin’ for you, Butch.”

And Joe Biden is playing his part. He has named his Covid-19 task force and his chief of staff. Cabinet nominations are due to start rolling out this week. Reportedly, the foreign policy team is already chosen: Antony Blinken will be secretary of state Linda Thomas-Greenfield ambassador to the UN, and Jake Sullivan national security advisor. (You remember, that’s Mike Flynn’s old job.) A treasury secretary is coming soon — quite possibly the first woman ever to play that role.

And yet, what are we talking about? Trump.

Why won’t he concede? Will he ever let the Biden transition officially begin? What’s going on with all these absurd lawsuits, rolled out by people who ought to be in asylums (Sidney Powell ) or in jail (Rudy Giuliani)? Is he staging a coup? Can it possibly work? (No.) Why is he calling local election officials and meeting with Republican legislators in states Biden won? Why is he replacing the leadership in the Pentagon?

Now, it’s hard to claim we shouldn’t pay attention. Trump is breaking the norms of democracy, sabotaging the next administration, and just generally putting his own interests ahead of the country’s — like he always does. If nobody paid attention to his coup attempt, it might even work.

These three weeks have been a microcosm of the last four years. Nobody wanted to read stories about the American government ripping children away from their parents and stashing them in cages, or about our President standing on a stage with an enemy dictator and siding with the dictator against our own intelligence services, or about that President’s even-handed assessment of Nazis and anti-Nazis.

This really happened.

But we felt we had to pay attention; public pressure was the only tool we had to set things right — or at least keep them from getting worse. Arguably, the reason the administration still hasn’t found the parents of hundreds of the children it kidnapped is that we let ourselves lose focus; after Trump’s people announced that the policy had been reversed, we moved on.

I feel the same way about covering Trump’s inept coup: People do need to pay attention to this, and to appreciate the disregard for American democracy it demonstrates.

And yet, when I introspect, I can tell that there’s more going on inside me than just the public interest. The news about Trump is intense. It makes me feel things — anger, frustration, fear. I don’t think he can overthrow democracy, but what if I’m wrong?

The Biden news, by contrast, seems flat. His Covid team consists of doctors and public health experts, without a charlatan in sight. He’s not going to be taking his advice from a radiologist or the My Pillow guy. Nobody’s pushing quack cures. They’re trying to get you to wear a mask and wash your hands, like experts have been saying for months and months. Nobody is telling you to inject bleach or lying about the death statistics or promising that the virus will go away like magic.

That’s all very sensible, but what should I feel about it?

Similarly, Biden’s foreign policy team is made up of foreign-policy types. They believe in alliances and treaties and international law. None of them have been making public appearances with Vladimir Putin or taking money from Turkey. They don’t come from corporations that stand to make billions if Russian sanctions get relaxed.

How does any of that keep my adrenaline pumping?

For four years now, I — and I think a lot of my readers as well — have been stuck in a relationship with the President of the United States that has not just been dysfunctional, it’s been downright abusive. Day after day, I have approached my news sources by armoring myself against attack. I have expected that each day I will somehow be insulted by my President, or that he will do or say something that will make me feel ashamed of a country I used to take pride in. He will involve me in sins that I can never make right.

Day after day, I’ve had to overcome a sense of “He can’t do that.” Again and again, I’ve been surprised as he disregarded some norm of democracy and good government that I had come to take for granted. He can’t ignore Hatch Act violations up and down his government. (Oh yes he can.) He can’t make a deal to commute Roger Stone’s sentence in exchange for Stone’s continued silence about collusion with Russia. (Oh yes he can.) He can’t dangle a pardon in front of Paul Manafort to induce him not to cooperate with the Mueller investigation. (Oh yes he can.) He can’t get the Justice Department to defend him in a lawsuit filed by a woman he raped. (Oh yes he can, but a judge can turn DOJ away.) He can’t ruin the careers of government officials in revenge for their role in exposing Russia’s effort to get him elected or his Ukraine extortion scheme. (Oh yes he can.)

As a result, I’ve walked around with a sense of dread. What else can he do that I have thought was impossible?

It will be a great relief to be rid of that dread, which I’m sure has pushed down my mood even when I wasn’t consciously thinking about it.

And yet … those strong emotions are so addictive. It’s typical not to know what to do with yourself when you first come out of an abusive relationship. If you’re lucky enough to form a new relationship with somebody sane and sensible and good-hearted (like Joe Biden), it’s hard to take it seriously. If you don’t cry over your relationship at least once a week, are you really in love? If nothing you do makes your partner crazy enough to send you to the emergency room, does he really care about you?

After that dysfunctional intensity, sane relationships seem flat. That could be why victims of abuse so often go back and give their abusers another chance. Or why ex-members of cults feel themselves being drawn back in.

I remember how it felt when my wife’s nine-month breast cancer treatment program drew to a close, and it started to look like she might beat this thing. (That was more than 20 years ago, and she’s doing fine.) For most of a year, we had lived with the constant awareness that some test we were waiting for could come back with a death sentence, or that some treatment could induce a disastrous side effect. And then suddenly there were no more tests and no more treatments. “Come back in six months.”

Normal life, long periods of time without life-and-death questions to answer — what do you do with that?

Soldiers return from war to confront a world where nobody will die if they make a mistake. A “bad day” means you got stuck in a traffic jam, or the team you root for lost a playoff game, or the report that was due Friday won’t actually come out until Monday. What do you do with that?

After four years of wondering whether we were living through the end of American democracy, can we really return to normal politics? If TV networks have to go back to discussing deficits and interest rates and cost overruns on the new weapons system, will anybody watch?

Matt Yglesias makes fun of the difficulties he faces as he starts a new for-money blog in the post-Trump era:

Tomorrow’s post is going to defy the woke censors and speak some plain truths about interest rate policy from five years ago. Trigger warning: Will feature some discussion of the difference between core and headline PCE inflation.

Joe Biden has begun his transition to the presidency by talking about healing. Most of us have jumped to the conclusion that healing has to start with attempts to make peace with the 70+-million Americans who voted for continuing the march towards fascism. Maybe Biden should seek peace by pardoning Trump like Ford pardoned Nixon. (Or maybe that’s a horrible mistake.)

Maybe we need another round of reporters visiting small-town diners and talking to Trump’s faithful, or more books like Hillbilly Elegy. Maybe we need to see that Trump voters are not deluded cultists brainwashed by Q-Anon, but thoughtful people whose interests and points of view we aren’t properly appreciating.

Here’s what I think: The very violence of my feelings about those questions tells me that healing really needs to start somewhere else. It needs to start with me, and maybe with you also.

The first step I can take towards healing America is to get over Trump. I need to stop looking to him for my political intensity, and stop looking for some new source of intensity to replace him.

I’ll be healed when I can begin a day without feeling an overhang of dread, without anticipating some new insult or threat or shame coming to me from the White House. I’ll be healed when I can appreciate the lack of intensity in our politics, and not experience it as a flatness or an eerie moment before the storm. I’ll be healed when a news cycle that doesn’t demand my immediate emotional response feels open and free rather than dull. I’ll be healed when I look forward to such days and think about how I want to shape them, now that I am not being constantly trolled and my feelings are truly my own.

When that day comes, then I’ll be able to look outward and think sanely about the next steps in healing America. But until then, I suspect that all my efforts will be contaminated by my continued entanglement in Trump

So I’d better start working on that.

Hard Looks

I think Biden will win. I also think the problem in this election is not the polling industry getting it wrong, it’s the fact that this many Americans took a hard look at Trump and determined “yeah, I want four more years of that”

Ben Rhodes, 8:30 a.m. Wednesday

This week’s featured post is “Sitting With the Weirdness“.

This week everybody was talking about the election

Most of what I have to say about the election is in the featured post: This was a genuinely weird election that doesn’t fit anybody’s model. I think if we force-fit it into our prior beliefs, we’ll miss a chance to learn something.

While I am relieved that Trump will be out in January (and he will be), I’m disappointed to learn that 70 million Americans would be happy to keep marching towards fascism. Paul Waldman made that point at more length:

If Biden becomes president, as it looks like he will, we can let out a sigh of relief. At least the daily horrors emanating from the Trump administration will cease, and at least we won’t have to care what Trump himself is thinking and tweeting from hour to hour.

But if you believed Biden when he so often responded to some new misdeed by pleading, “This is not who we are. We’re better than this,” you were wrong. This is who we are. We are not better than this. And we won’t be for a long time to come, if ever.

To no one’s surprise, Trump is not going gracefully. Rather than conceding, he has launched a barrage of baseless lawsuits, for the purpose of creating enough delay and fog to allow Republican legislatures in states like Pennsylvania to award him their electoral votes in defiance of the electorate.

Again and again, for example, Trump has been claiming that Republicans were not allowed to observe vote counting. This is just false.

There have been no reports of systematic irregularities with poll watchers anywhere in the US. There is no evidence supporting the President’s claims that GOP poll watchers were shut out of the process, and Trump’s campaign still hasn’t backed up this broad claim in court.

CNN has reporters across the country following developments at polling places on Election Day and the ongoing vote-counting process, and saw nothing resembling Trump’s allegations.

Ezra Klein points out that if this were happening in a third-world country, we’d have no trouble calling it an attempted coup.

That this coup probably will not work — that it is being carried out farcically, erratically, ineffectively — does not mean it is not happening, or that it will not have consequences. … This is, to borrow Hungarian sociologist Bálint Magyar’s framework, “an autocratic attempt.” That’s the stage in the transition toward autocracy in which the would-be autocrat is trying to sever his power from electoral check. If he’s successful, autocratic breakthrough follows, and then autocratic consolidation occurs. In this case, the would-be autocrat stands little chance of being successful. But he will not entirely fail, either. What Trump is trying to form is something akin to an autocracy-in-exile, an alternative America in which he is the rightful leader, and he — and the public he claims to represent — has been robbed of power by corrupt elites.

He will not keep Biden from taking office. But he will make it much harder for Republicans to cooperate with the new administration. To do so, they will have to leave the Trump alternate reality, and so be seen as disloyal by the Trump base.

So far, thank God, none of Trump’s inflammatory lies have led to violence.

Fox News has had a split personality this week: The daytime journalists are playing it fairly straight, reporting Trump’s accusations of vote-counting fraud while clearly stating they have seen no evidence to support those claims. Meanwhile, the nightshift propagandists have been all but called for an uprising.

Trump’s shenanigans are already monkey-wrenching the transition.

This week, all eyes are on the Trump-appointed General Services Administration administrator, Emily W. Murphy, to recognize Joe Biden as the president-elect and release funds to the Biden transition team through a process called ascertainment. This would mark the first formal acknowledgment from the Trump administration that Biden has in fact won the election, and would unlock access to national security tools to streamline background checks and additional funds to pay for training and incoming staff.But nearly 48 hours after the race was called by numerous news organizations, Murphy has not yet signed off. A GSA spokesperson declined to provide a specific timeline for when ascertainment would take place, a clear signal the agency won’t get ahead of the President.

Best meme I’ve seen:

and the virus is truly out of control now

Remember how everybody was going to quit talking about “Covid, Covid, Covid” after the election? I don’t think so.

Cases had been rising since a mid-September low of around 25K new infections per day. But this week showed an abrupt rise: We’ve now had five consecutive days over 100K. Deaths always lag cases by about a month, but we also had five consecutive days over 1,000 deaths, after getting down to about 700 per day in mid-October. It’s a reasonable guess that by next month we’ll be hitting 2,000 deaths in a day.

But there is good news on the vaccine front: Pfizer reports that its vaccine is 90% effective — far higher than previously expected. That’s from an interim analysis of its Phase 3 trials, which are not finished. The company plans to ask the FDA for emergency use authorization in about two weeks.

That doesn’t mean you can get vaccinated by Thanksgiving. Production and distribution is still a huge logistical problem. But it is good news.

The Onion captures the absurdity of anti-mask protests: “Anti-Jacketers Rally Outside Burlington Coat Factory To Protest Liberal Cold Weather Conspiracy“.

and we have to think about what happens next

One big decision that has to happen in the next few months: Should federal prosecutors enforce the laws that Trump and his minions have been violating? Or should the new administration declare bygones in hopes of bringing the country together?

I’m firmly in the enforce-the-law camp. It’s still debatable whether President Ford’s decision to pardon Nixon was correct, but that was a very different situation: Nixon had resigned after Republican senators told him they could no longer defend him. In other words, he was in disgrace and would never make a comeback. Also, he was seen as an anomaly. Post-pardon, we could implement reforms to keep his abuses from happening again, and otherwise stop thinking about him.

But Trump still has his party behind him and has admitted nothing. If the facts against him are never presented to a court, he will claim that all the accusations against him were political. And he’ll be back in 2024.

I’m also hearing a lot of talk about dialog with the 70 million Trump voters, to find out who they are and what they want. I’m not very optimistic about that dialog, though, because I don’t see any indication that they want to talk to or understand us.

After 2016, there was a small industry of books about rural whites and Southern Evangelicals. News organizations sent a steady stream of reporters to hang out in diners in Ohio and Indiana to find out how the locals viewed the world.

Does anybody expect Fox or NewsMax reporters to start hanging with black women in Atlanta? Is Barrio Elegy going to rise up the bestseller lists? Will Liberty University researchers study the folks who frequent public libraries and science museums? I don’t think so. They don’t want a dialog, and until they do, I don’t see much hope for one.

and you also might be interested in …

Puerto Rico passed a referendum in favor of statehood. There is no precedent in American history for governing this many people as a territory for this long. Statehood would be a no-brainer but for two considerations: Republicans don’t want to admit a state that will probably vote Democratic, and white supremacists don’t want a state full of brown people who speak Spanish.

If these were English-speaking white people with Republican sensibilities, they’d have been a state a long time ago.

With a Democrat in the White House, the budget deficit will be back on center stage. For four years, it was like the debt never existed, but now it will become an existential threat to the nation again.

and let’s close with something delightfully nasty

I usually keep politics out of the closings, but this one is hilarious. (And yes, I know they misspelled Führer.) A clip from the last-days-of-Hitler movie Downfall has had its German subtitles replaced by Trump-loses-the-election lines. I’ve seen this clip labeled Donfall.

Sitting With the Weirdness

If you want to learn something from this election,
don’t be too quick to explain it.

Every election is followed by a spate of what-it-all-means commentary, and usually what it means is that the commentator was right from the beginning: I saw this coming. I warned everybody. If people had just listened to me it all would have turned out better.

So I want to start this post out by saying clearly that I did not see this coming, I did not warn everybody, and I’m still not sure what we all could have done better. I think a lot of genuinely weird things happened in this election, and I don’t want to explain them away too quickly. Instead, I want to sit with the weirdness for a while and see if there’s something to learn.

Because I don’t have a this-explains-everything interpretation of this election, I’m going to wander a bit. So let me start with a quick list of the surprises I want to think about:

  • Donald Trump is not as unpopular as I thought, or as I think he ought to be.
  • The highest-turnout election in living memory did not result in a Democratic landslide.
  • Polling still had the problems that pollsters thought they had fixed since 2016.

Trump should be unpopular. My view coming in to this election was that Trump’s 2016 win was a fluke: He faced an unpopular opponent in a low-turnout election during a news cycle that was breaking against her. He got only 46% of the vote, but it was perfectly distributed to give him an Electoral College win, despite losing the popular vote by 2.8 million.

Since taking office, it seemed to me that he had done nothing to appeal to the 54% who hadn’t voted for him, and several things to alienate some of the 46% who had. His job-approval had stayed consistently low, though it never reached the depths that Richard Nixon or George W. Bush hit by the end of their presidencies.

The Trump administration has been marked by incidents and practices sharply at variance with what I saw as traditional American values: taking children away from parents who committed no crime other than coming to our border legally seeking asylum; siding with a hostile foreign dictator against our own intelligence services; lumping Nazi and anti-Nazi demonstrators together, even after the right-wingers killed someone; demanding that the attorney general arrest his political opponents, while protecting his own henchmen from the legal consequences of their actions; abusing his power to extort a personal political favor from Ukraine; showing zero empathy as nearly a quarter million Americans died of the pandemic.

His administration has been a failure not just by my standards, but by its own. Not much of his wall has been built, it’s costing more than he said it would, and Mexico has not paid a dime of it. ObamaCare has not been repealed or replaced; despite repeated promises, no replacement plan has even been announced. America’s international prestige has plummeted. Even before the pandemic, economic growth chugged along at the Obama-era pace, with no acceleration. Fewer people have jobs now than when he took office. GDP is at the same level as 2018. The trade deficit has gone up. The budget deficit Trump inherited from Obama had nearly doubled before the pandemic, and the 2020 deficit by itself is larger than the total deficit from Obama’s second term.

Trump had a disastrous performance in the first debate, and in general ran a terrible campaign. He never presented a second-term vision, to the point of not even bothering to produce a 2020 GOP platform. He mismanaged money, and wound up getting outspent down the stretch. His Hunter Biden conspiracy theories never got traction.

Going into the election, the news cycle was breaking against him. The third Covid wave was hitting, and his plan for dealing with it was for us all to go back to normal life, as if thousands of Americans weren’t dying week after week with no end in sight. Worse, he was going around the country actively spreading the disease by drawing his supporters together for big maskless rallies.

So the polls that showed him down by double digits seemed very credible to me. Sure, some of the people who supported him in 2016 will never admit they were wrong, but given all that has happened, why wouldn’t he lose in a historic rout?

Well, he didn’t.

Trump didn’t just increase his vote total (from 63 million to 71 million counted so far) he got more votes than Barack Obama did in his 2008 landslide. Wednesday, Ben Rhodes put his finger on something important:

I think Biden will win. I also think the problem in this election is not the polling industry getting it wrong, it’s the fact that this many Americans took a hard look at Trump and determined “yeah, I want four more years of that”

This is one of the mysteries I still need to wrap my head around. Trump attracted millions of millions of voters who didn’t vote for him in 2016. If you consider the number of votes still uncounted and how many of his older voters have died since 2016, he probably got 10 million or more new votes.

What did they see? What are they thinking?

I had hoped for a result that killed Trumpism forever. Instead, Republicans can attribute their loss to bad luck: If only the pandemic had waited until 2021 to show up, Trump might be set up for a second term.

Who killed the Blue Wave? Don’t get me wrong. Biden did fine. If you had promised me during the primaries that some Democratic candidate could hold all the Clinton states, win back Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, and add Arizona and Georgia, I’d have been been happy to see that person get the nomination. Biden got an outright majority of the popular vote, has a 4.4 million vote margin so far, and (with so much of California and New York still to be totaled) his ultimate margin is likely to be in the 5-6 million range. The turnout was historically high, so his vote total is the largest ever recorded.

But the October polls had me hoping for more: For Florida, North Carolina, and maybe Texas or Ohio. For a 10-point win that would demonstrate to Republicans that Trumpism is a dead end, and send them looking for a new paradigm. No Trump 2024. No passing the torch to Don Jr. or Jared or Ivanka. No Trump 2.0 like Tom Cotton or Tucker Carlson.

The polls had me hoping for a Senate majority that even had a little slack, so that we could fix the structural problems with our democracy: end the filibuster, admit D.C. and Puerto Rico as states, pass voting rights legislation, end gerrymandering, and perhaps even add justices to the Supreme Court.

Now, none of that is going to happen.

The final polls had a Biden margin of around 8%, and that gap had not been particularly volatile. Instead, Biden is winning by about 3% nationwide. In Wisconsin, where he had an 8.3% polling lead, he won by less than 1%. He had a 2.5% polling lead in Florida, and lost by 3.4%. (On the other hand, polls accurately predicted narrow Biden wins in Georgia and Arizona.)

In spite of efforts to fix the polling mistakes of 2016, the error in Trump’s favor grew, and showed up in precisely the same places.

I think we need to resist the temptation to read this as some kind of Biden failure or Democratic failure. The hoped-for Blue Wave didn’t collapse, it was never really there. Looking backwards, I think we have to reevaluate everything we thought we knew about public opinion. Those four years of Trump’s low approval ratings — why should we trust them? Maybe Trump was never as unpopular as we thought.

Ditto for those polls about the popularity of Medicare for All or any other policy. Why should we believe them?

I think Democrats need to resist the urge to point fingers at each other. Centrist and Progressive Democrats are like heirs who discover Grandpa’s estate isn’t nearly as big as they expected. The problem isn’t that one or the other of them took the money, it’s that the old guy wasn’t as rich as he appeared to be.

Sit with the weirdness, progressive version. My social-media universe skews left, so I’m seeing a lot of articles claiming that a candidate with a more progressive message would have done better than Biden. I’m skeptical. The post-2016 version of that argument was that Hillary’s centrist message failed to inspire the turnout Democrats needed to win. This year we got the big turnout, just not the landslide that was supposed to go with it. And I’m not buying that Medicare-for-All supporters showed up at the polls and voted for Trump because Biden would only propose adding a public option to ObamaCare.

I’m still waiting for progressive versions of Doug Jones and Joe Manchin and Claire McCaskill: candidates who have won elections in places where Democrats aren’t supposed to win. If the progressive theory of the electorate is true, such examples should be everywhere, but they’re not.

And I’m not satisfied with conspiracy theories about the DNC. The RNC didn’t like Trump either. But he turned out voters, so they had to accept him.

Progressives have proved that they can raise money, so lack of support from the big donors is not the problem either. If they can run candidates in purple-to-red districts and win, the Establishment will take notice. But if they can’t, it won’t.

Sit with the weirdness, centrist version. One big failure of this election was that Biden’s Republican endorsements didn’t turn into any sizeable number of Republican votes. I loved all those Lincoln Project ads, but who did they convince?

The biggest loser of this cycle is the old GOP Establishment. The huge Trump turnout indicates that there is no appetite for a Jeb Bush comeback, and no buyer’s remorse over Trump. If Trump is healthy and still not in jail in 2024, he’ll be on the ballot again. (My politically savvy nephew predicts that Don Jr. will be his VP. You heard it here first.)

In short, there is no pool of disaffected Republicans waiting for a conservative-enough Democrat to win them over. The 20th-century notion of a bell-curve electorate, which can be captured by shifting left or right to chase the peak, really seems obsolete. I don’t know what replaces it.

Just as I’m skeptical of Bernie-would-have-won-bigger articles, I’m also skeptical of articles that villainize progressives. Jill Stein and Bernie-or-Bust were just not a thing this year. Progressives came through for a candidate who wasn’t their first choice; they deserve some gratitude.

In short, the two wings of the Democratic Party both need to sit with the weirdness of these results, rather than repeat the same points they made in the primaries.

The problem with polling. The upshot of these persistent polling errors is that some segment of the population appears to be unpollable. We can’t know where they are or what they think until they show up to vote.

The assumption at the root of all polling is that you can assemble representative samples. If you ask 1500 people what they think, the differences between those people and everybody else are supposed to be random. 1500 other people might not give you exactly the same results, but the outcomes from different samples should follow the laws of statistics.

And so, if your sample doesn’t include enough Hispanics or non-college whites or people named Fred, you can adjust the weighting of that subsample. The Freds who responded, you assume, are like the Freds who didn’t; you just didn’t happen to find enough of them.

Instead, it appears that people who respond to polls are different from people who don’t. You can’t fix that with statistical weighting.

I think I know where this is going, and I don’t like it: If the issue that makes your polling sample unrepresentative is consent — consenting voters are fundamentally different than non-consenting voters — then you need to stop asking for consent. Rather than calling people up and saying, “I’m from Gallup, would you like to answer my questions?” you root through the involuntary data trove of Google or Twitter until you are confident you know how your chosen person will vote. Maybe Facebook plants stories in people’s news streams to see who likes them or comments on them, or maybe it does network analysis on Friend lists. Proprietary algorithms chug through that data until they spit out an accurate — but completely opaque — prediction of the vote.

Trending Terms

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.


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“.

About Those Taxes

Bad as it is, what we know so far about Trump’s taxes may not be the worst of it.

One persistent problem of 2020 is that it’s hard to hold an issue in your mind for any length of time. The New York Times revealed Trump’s taxes just a little over a week ago, and since then two other big stories — the debate disaster and the White House coronavirus outbreak — have all but washed the tax issues out of the news. I think they deserve a little more attention than that.

Narratively, the problem with the tax story is that it’s a bunch of smaller stories, none of which encompasses the whole thing. It’s certainly about tax avoidance, maybe legal and maybe not. But it also could be about laundering money for people we can’t identify.

$750. The headlines that came out of the original NYT article were how little Trump has paid in taxes: $750 in each of 2016 and 2017, and nothing at all in many other years. And that certainly is scandalous, whether or not it turns out to be legal. I pay considerably more than that every year, and probably you do too. Nobody thinks Joe Biden is a billionaire, but he paid $299,346 in 2019.

Trump famously said “that makes me smart” when Hillary Clinton accused him of not paying his fair share of taxes in 2016. But that’s the same kind of “smart” that got him excused from Vietnam with bone spurs — unlike the “suckers” and “losers” who died for their country. It’s similarly “smart” to stiff your contractors, trade in your wives when they start to age, hire illegal immigrants to tend your golf courses, create a phony university and a phony foundation, and do a lot of the other things that have kept Trump safe and rich and feeling pleased with himself.

But I don’t think most Americans want to be led by someone with those kinds of smarts. Trusting “smart” people like Trump will usually get you outsmarted eventually. Someday, it will be smart to screw you the way he has screwed everybody else.

The bad businessman. The other headline from the NYT article was that many of Trump’s most famous properties are money-losers, and always have been.

The second article in the NYT series (the newspaper claims more are coming) showed how the windfall of income related to his TV show “The Apprentice” bailed him out of the financial difficulties created by his other business failures. In other words: His ability to play a successful businessman on TV covered up the fact that he actually isn’t one.

He sold his image in a variety of ways, many of which were harmful to the people who trusted him. The NYT finds he was paid $8.8 million to promote ACN, a multi-level marketing company that promoted what were essentially pyramid schemes.

The NYT paints a picture of a man who gets big windfalls (the first one being at least $400 million from his father), and then proceeds to fritter them away.

Debt. Trump owns a lot of assets and has taken out a lot of loans against them. The NYT estimates that about $400 million of loans come due in the next four years. We know some of the lenders (Deutsche Bank), but not all of them.

Nothing Trump is doing as a businessman is generating much cash. So during his prospective second term, he will either need to get new loans or sell assets. The security vulnerabilities here are obvious: If he gets loans or finds buyers, particularly from abroad, we will never know whether there is a bribe hidden somewhere in that money.

Ivanka? One way Trump lowered his taxes was to claim millions in “consulting fees” as business expenses. In at least some of those cases, it looks like he was funneling money to his kids, who shouldn’t be getting consulting fees from businesses that also list them as employees.

This resembles an apparently illegal scheme that Trump’s father used to funnel money to him.

The Times traces about $750K that went to Ivanka via this path. But CNN speculates about the other $25 million in consulting fees:

So we don’t know who received the other $25-ish million that Trump wrote off to “consulting fees” during that time. (Worth noting: The Times reports that Trump wrote off roughly 20% of all income he made on projects over that time to “consulting fees.”) Given the apparent payment to Ivanka Trump revealed by the Times, however, it’s not terribly far-fetched to wonder whether all (or much) of those “consulting fees” went through a similar process: Paid to one of Trump’s offspring who were serving as both managers of these operations for the Trump Organization and as consultants to the projects as well.

Money laundering? The most serious accusation is speculative, but the speculation explains transactions that are otherwise mysterious. A tweetstorm by author Adam Davidson delves into one Trump property (his golf course in Scotland) in detail, and finds some strange bookkeeping.

The thing everyone reports is the losses–the shareholder (Trump) has lost more than £7M. But the interesting stuff is the fixed asset value and the creditors — over one year. Trump is all of them: he owns the asset, lends the money, owes the money, is owed the money. …

There’s much more to say–each line here is fascinating. But the overall picture is crystal clear: Every year, Trump lends millions to himself, spends all that money on something, and claims the asset is worth all the money he spent.

He cannot have spent all that money on the properties. We have the planning docs. We know how much he spent — it’s far less than what he claims. The money truly disappears. It goes from one pocket to another pocket and then the pocket is opened to reveal nothing is there.

… These financials are clear: this is not a golf business, it’s a money disappearing business.

… If this is a money disappearing business and it is not only tax fraud, then he is making money disappear for somebody else and charging some sort of fee. Which might explain why a money-losing golf course pays huge fees to its owner.

Two obvious questions:

  • What would happen if Trump’s other money-losing properties came under similar scrutiny?
  • Didn’t the Mueller investigation look into all this?

The answer to the first is that we don’t know. And the answer to the second, we now know, is no. Mueller did not follow the money.

Trump had also done lots of business with Deutsche Bank, and although Mueller issued his subpoenas secretly, word somehow leaked to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. When the White House asked Mueller’s team what they were examining, Mueller responded that Manafort, not Trump, was the target.

“At that point, any financial investigation of Trump was put on hold,” writes Andrew Weissmann, a veteran federal prosecutor who played a senior role in Mueller’s investigation, in a new book. “That is, we backed down — the issue was simply too incendiary; the risk, too severe.

Schadenfreude, and seven other reactions to Trump’s illness

Of all the things I hold against Trump, this is the one I will have the hardest time forgiving: He has made me realize how spiteful I can be.

Schadenfreude and karmic justice. I wish I could report that when I heard about Trump testing positive for the coronavirus, I felt a wave of human compassion. Because politics is one thing and life is another, and we’ve got to hang on to our humanity.

But what I actually thought was: “Maybe there really is a just God.” It wasn’t exactly schadenfreude, which would be more like “I’m glad that bastard is suffering.” (Coincidentally, Merriam-Webster reported a 305-times increase in the number of searches for schadenfreude on October 2.) But it’s close: Hearing about his diagnosis made the Universe seem like a safer, saner place.

This is the kind of thing a good person would never say about another human being, but (in both a karmic and a practical sense) nobody had this coming like Trump. Practically, he has been ignoring precautions, running around the country maskless, not enforcing sound workplace hygiene practices at the White House (which The Atlantic’s Peter Nicholas presciently described as “a petri dish” in August), and doing everything he could to discourage others from taking precautions (like berating a White House reporter for wearing a mask to a briefing).

Karmically, nobody — or at least no American — bears more responsibility for the spread of Covid-19 than he does. He consistently pressures state and local governments to relax their health restrictions too soon, encourages his followers to flout mask mandates, pushes the CDC to relax its guidelines, advocates for less testing, pushes misinformation about the virus, promotes quack “cures”, and even travels around the country holding super-spreader events, one of which seems to have gotten Herman Cain killed (just to put a face on a larger phenomenon).

How many of America’s 214K-and-counting coronavirus deaths are Trump’s fault? It’s impossible to say precisely, but here’s how I think about it: Culturally and economically, the country that best resembles the US is Canada. Canada currently has 251 Covid deaths per 100K people. The US has 647. If our government could have handled the virus as well as Canada’s, and kept our deaths-per-100K down to 251K, we’d have only 39% of the deaths we currently have, or 83K rather than 214K.

That calculation would say that about 131K American deaths are on Trump. That’s about 33,000 Benghazis or 44 9-11s. If you make Germany or Australia the reference country, the number gets even bigger. If you use Japan, practically all the deaths are his fault.

So, am I rooting for him to suffer and die? No. But a Universe where he skates along unaffected by the damage he causes just feels wrong to me.

BTW, if you find yourself feeling guilty about your own lack of sympathy for Trump, take a look at how he responded during the 2016 campaign when Hillary came down with pneumonia.

The philosopher Aaron James has defined a technical term to describe people who want to claim the benefits of rules governing politeness and propriety, while always holding themselves exempt from the duties, inconveniences, and sacrifices those rules impose: They are assholes.

Is he really sick? On Friday, just about everybody I talked to was asking this question, and wondering if the Covid thing was a play for sympathy or an excuse for ducking the rest of the debates or a way to divert attention from his taxes or keep Biden out of the headlines. It’s crazy that we even have to consider the possibility of a presidential health hoax, but we do. Trump has lied about everything else, so why not this?

In general, though, I don’t believe in big conspiracies, and the longer this goes on, the more people would have to be in on it. So by now I’m pretty sure that he really is sick.

But even Friday morning the hoax explanation seemed unlikely, because catching Covid undermines so many things Trump has been working to accomplish. For months, he’s been trying to induce voters to think about anything else. He’s been telling his rallies that the pandemic is fading. Plus, he wants to present an image of larger-that-life strength. Trump aims to inspire awe and love in his supporters, and hate and fear in his enemies. People like me wondering if we ought to feel sorry for him is the last thing he wants.

His scandalous response. It’s not a scandal that Trump caught the virus, but what he did next is: After he knew he had been exposed, he continued to meet people who were not warned about the risk. (What the Wall Street Journal is reporting is even more damning: He had already seen a positive test before phone interview with Sean Hannity Thursday evening, but pretended he hadn’t.)

There’s been a lot of controversy about the timeline, but we do know this much: Hope Hicks was diagnosed Wednesday, so by Thursday afternoon Trump knew that he (and probably a lot of his staff) had been exposed and might be carrying the infection; his positive test was announced several hours later. Nonetheless, he went to a fund-raiser at his club in New Jersey and schmoozed with his donors. He traveled there with his staff on Marine One, a close-quarter helicopter without proper ventilation.

The fund-raiser included a round-table photo op with 18 quarter-million-dollar donors, few (or perhaps none) of whom were wearing masks. A larger photo op was held for mere $50K donors, and there was an outdoor event for the low-rollers who may have only given a few thousand. In all, we’re talking about hundreds of people. They aren’t his enemies; they’re the people he’s depending on to get him a second term.

Friday, the campaign emailed attendees to tell them about Trump’s positive test. The email did not recommend that they quarantine or get tested themselves, but merely said they should contact their doctors if they developed symptoms.

If you ever need an example to back up the point that Trump cares about no one but himself, here it is. He doesn’t even care about his staff, or the people who give big donations to his campaign.

And if you need an example to make the case that Trump is typical of an entire generation of conservative assholes, use Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. Friday, he went to a fund-raiser after he had a positive test.

What if he can’t go on? One question on everybody’s mind: What happens if illness causes Trump to withdraw or die? The Washington Post has it covered:

The bottom line is that the RNC would determine who the replacement candidate would be, should it come to that unfortunate situation. And Republican slates of electors in states the president won, because he remains on the ballot, would very likely follow the RNC’s recommendation.

But one last possibility to ponder: If the RNC were deeply divided, and Republican electors then did not coalesce around a single replacement candidate, there might not be a majority winner in the electoral college. In that case, the House would choose the president from among the top three vote getters in the electoral college. In that process, each state delegation gets one vote.

The Atlantic surveys the same ground with more emphasis on the chaotic scenarios. That article also reveals history I didn’t know: Presidential candidate Horace Greeley died between the 1872 election and the date when electors cast their ballots, and VP candidate James Sherman died before election day in 1912. Both were on losing tickets, so the course of the nation didn’t hinge on how the rules were interpreted.

The White House cluster. After learning that the President and First Lady were infected, the next question was “Who else?” Many political movements fail by believing their own rhetoric, and Trump has been saying for a long time that the virus isn’t a big deal; we should all just get back to normal as fast as possible. Among Trumpists, mask-wearing and other good public-health practices are looked on as wimpy, as “living in fear“. (Packing heat at the supermarket, on the other hand, is just a reasonable precaution.)

Here’s a little more from that August article by Peter Nicholas:

when I arrived at the White House this morning, I was struck by the lack of safety protocols in place. The most famous address in America now feels like a coronavirus breeding ground. … Some of the West Wing desks are spaced so closely together, and some of the offices are so cramped, that it’s tough to see how people avoid exposure at all. In one small office today, two aides stood and spoke to each other without masks. Young aides sat at desks in an open bullpen-style space without masks. Walking through the hallways accessible to the press, I wore a mask, but I haven’t been tested for COVID-19; had I removed my mask for some reason and coughed or sneezed, there was no hint of a mask patrol prepared to whisk me out the building. The vibe was shockingly lax.

Apparently nothing is going to change. The White House is saying that CDC guidelines make mask-wearing optional, so that’s what they’ll stick with.

So, who else has been infected so far? Hope Hicks was the first person whose infection was announced. Subsequently: KellyAnne Conway, presidential assistant Nicholas Luna, RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel, campaign manager Bill Stepien, Senators Mike Lee, Thom Tillis and Ron Johnson, debate coach Chris Christie, and Notre Dame President John Jenkins, who attended the Rose Garden announcement of Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination. Barrett herself, it turns out, already had the virus during the summer.

How is he doing? This gets into the breaking-news area I try to avoid. (I can’t compete with CNN, and you shouldn’t get your breaking news from a weekly blog anyway.) But the striking thing about this weekend’s announcements was how much bullshit you had to wade through to find out anything. Had the President needed oxygen? The doctor kept dodging the question and repeating that he wasn’t on oxygen now. Had his x-rays revealed any pneumonia or lung damage? Another dodge.

Eventually we found out that he did spike a high fever at some point. (How high? They won’t say.) He had a couple of episodes of low blood oxygenation. He has received multiple cutting-edge treatments, some of which are only recommended for severe cases. That raises three possibilities:

  • He’s sicker than the White House is letting on.
  • Doctors are being super-aggressive because he’s the President.
  • Trump is a victim of “VIP syndrome”, where doctors yield to the judgment of an important patient rather than doing what they think is best.

Photo ops. Whatever energy Trump does have has been devoted to controlling the narrative, rather than getting well or running the country. He has released two Twitter videos from Walter Reed Hospital, and Sunday he had two Secret Service agents risk their lives to drive him around the building, so that he could wave to his fans.

George Washington University professor and Walter Reed attending physician Dr. James Phillips tweeted:

Every single person in the vehicle during that completely unnecessary Presidential “drive-by” just now has to be quarantined for 14 days. They might get sick. They may die. For political theater. Commanded by Trump to put their lives at risk for theater. This is insanity.

… That Presidential SUV is not only bulletproof, but hermetically sealed against chemical attack. The risk of COVID19 transmission inside is as high as it gets outside of medical procedures. The irresponsibility is astounding. My thoughts are with the Secret Service forced to play.

So file this with the other examples of Trump not caring about anyone but himself.

During the Trump Era we tend to forget that America has had previous presidents who behaved differently. But it’s worth thinking about that now. It’s not crazy for a president to want to reassure the country that he’s OK and that America is still in good hands. But other presidents would have used their limited energy to do work, not pull a stunt.

For a normal president, it would make perfect sense to, say, be on the phone lobbying senators to support his Supreme Court nominee, or urging members of Congress to work out their differences and send him a stimulus bill. Mark Meadows could tell us he was doing those things, and the people he was calling could verify how on-the-ball he was.

Instead, he had to leave the hospital and wave to his adoring public.

Political impact. Something you have to bear in mind is that prior to announcing his infection, Trump was losing the presidential race pretty badly. So anything that shakes up the race at least interrupts a story that was trending against him. 538’s national polling average has Biden up by 8%, and polling above the magic 50% mark that Hillary couldn’t get to, no matter far ahead she was. Ditto for the RCP average, which has Biden up by 8.1% at 50.6%.

Focusing on the Electoral College, 538’s most likely tipping-point state is Pennsylvania, where Biden is ahead by 5.3%, and its tipping-point status depends on Trump also winning Florida, Arizona, North Carolina, and Ohio, where Biden has smaller leads.

For comparison, Texas is closer than that: Trump is ahead by only 4%. So a landslide where Biden takes Texas (and Iowa and Georgia) is currently more likely than the narrowest possible Trump win.

If anything, the more recent polls, taken after Tuesday’s debate but before Trump’s positive test was announced, were even worse for Trump: Biden was up 14% in an NBC/WSJ poll released Sunday.

It wouldn’t surprise me if the short-term effect of Trump’s diagnosis is a small sympathy bump. But long-term I don’t see how it serves him. Anything that keeps the pandemic in the headlines is bad for him, because he has bungled our government’s response so badly. Anything that makes him look weak is bad for him. Cancelling rallies is bad for him. I don’t think his first debate performance did him any good, but cancelling the remaining two debates would remove opportunities for him to turn things around.

So no. Even if he recovers completely, I don’t think getting sick does Trump any good.

Newspeaking About Torture

If you can’t ban a word, break it.

One major theme of George Orwell’s 1984 is the importance of language to oppressive governments. From the beginning of recorded history, crude dictators have punished people for criticizing their rule. But modern, sophisticated dictators change the language itself, so that thoughts undermining the ruling ideology are hard to put into words, and no one would understand what you were saying if you did.

Orwell described this technique in detail in an essay he appended to 1984, “The Principles of Newspeak“.

The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. … This was done partly by the invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words and by stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings, and so far as possible of all secondary meanings whatever.

That’s a fine strategy if you already run a totalitarian government like the one in Orwell’s Oceania. But it completely ignores the problems faced by movements still trying to rise to power, like today’s American conservatives. Despite controlling Congress, they can’t just ban words they don’t like.

All they have besides Congress is a media empire, vast wealth, and an amazing degree of message discipline. What can you accomplish with those resources?

Just by being loud and persistent, you can try to alter common usage to favor your ideology. Sometimes that works (“death tax“) and sometimes it doesn’t (“homicide bomber“). But the real challenge is to disarm a word that works against you or for your enemies.

In Oceania they’d simply remove the word from the dictionary and correct everyone who kept using it. (“It’s not in the dictionary, so it’s not proper Newspeak.”) Or they’d keep the word, but remove all its offending meanings, again correcting the people who persisted in using it incorrectly.

But what if you don’t have that kind of power? American conservatives solved this problem a long time ago: If you can’t ban a word, you apply your resources to break it through misuse.

I’m not sure when this started. (That’s the great thing about breaking a word; eventually everybody stops using it, so it never comes to mind again. Your tracks are covered, because hardly anybody ever asks “How did zimzam become unusable?”) Maybe it was during the Reagan years, when liberal became an insult to throw at people you don’t like. I’m not sure. I wasn’t paying attention to the right things then. None of us were, or we might have tried to defend liberal rather than just stop using it.

I first noticed word-breaking* years later, during the second Bush administration. A lot of nasty stuff was happening then: The U.S. government was torturing people in secret prisons, spying on its own citizens, locking people up indefinitely without trials, and manufacturing bogus reasons to invade a foreign country. The administration was justifying all that by putting forward bizarre new legal interpretations of “the unitary executive” and the nearly unlimited “Article II power” he had whenever he determined that we were at war. Standing previous conservative small-government and fiscal-responsibility rhetoric on its head, the administration was creating huge new programs to buy off key constituencies, and not raising any revenue to pay for them. (Just tack them on to the deficit. No worries.)

As I was reading an Economist article characterizing Bush’s ideology as “big-government conservatism”, I wondered: Why use such a cumbersome phrase, when English already had a perfectly good word for this configuration of ideas and policies — fascism.

The answer was that fascism had become unusable, because misuse had broken it. Just when America needed the word to describe what was going on, conservatives were instead discussing “liberal fascism” and “Islamo-fascism” and so forth. In the conservative media, suddenly anything and everything was fascist, except the kind of militaristic, torturing, secretive, prying, corporatist, big-government conservatism that had been practiced by Mussolini, Hitler, Franco, and Pinochet — and was increasingly being adopted by Bush.

The word fascist could have been a rallying call for the enemies of American conservatism. But conservatives averted that threat by breaking fascist through misuse. As a result, today you are perfectly free to talk about fascism — I just did — but no one will know what you mean. Fascist is nothing but an insult now; it has no real content. If you use it, you aren’t saying anything in particular, you’re just being aggressive and rude.

Terrorism was broken in another way, like a proud wolf who gets turned into an attack dog. Terrorism used to have a clear meaning: threatening or perpetrating violence against civilians for political purposes. It was an ideologically neutral description of a tactic that any political movement might resort to. But after a decade of misuse, terrorism has become any violent act conservatives disapprove of. So the Fort Hood massacre is terrorism, even though it was an attack against a military base. Whatever ISIS does is terrorist, even fielding an army and fighting pitched battles against other soldiers. But hardly anyone (except me) called the Sikh Temple murderer what he was: a white right-wing Christian terrorist. White Christian right-wingers can’t be terrorists any more; it’s an oxymoron.

More recently, religious freedom and religious persecution have been broken. A generation ago those were ACLU words, used by atheists, Jews, and other minority movements that struggled against oppression by the Christian majority.

That oppression hasn’t disappeared; in many ways it’s getting worse. But the words to fight it have been hijacked so that they’re barely usable any more. Today, religious persecution is telling a Christian baker that a gay couple is part of the general public his business serves. Or maybe it’s just saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”. Religious freedom means that a Christian employer is “free” to block any part of his employees’ health-care coverage that he doesn’t like, and a Christian pharmacist can freely decide whether he approves of your prescription (and the lifestyle it implies) before he fills it. Separation of church and state — which used to be the hallmark of religious freedom — is now a Communist idea that is part of the conspiracy to persecute Christians.

So now, when Kennesaw, Georgia won’t let a Muslim group rent space to worship in their town, or a parole officer forces an atheist to attend a religious program under threat of returning to jail, there are no words to describe what’s happening. Calling it “religious persecution” just confuses people.

And that brings us to torture. For the longest time, the primary defense of the Bush torture program was that it didn’t happen. There was no torture, there was just enhanced interrogation, a phrase brazen enough to do Newspeak proud.

But that defense has become untenable now that the Senate report on torture is out. Once the public heard the details, the claim that this wasn’t torture was exposed as ridiculous. (That’s only going to get worse as more details appear.) And although some are trying, the word torture can’t be reclaimed from the dark side. There’s no way to say, “We’re the Torture Party and that’s a good thing.”

But there is an alternative strategy: misuse the word torture until it breaks.

Dick Cheney pointed the way during his Meet the Press interview with Chuck Todd. When Todd asked how Cheney defined torture, Cheney deflected with this:

Well, torture, to me, Chuck, is an American citizen on a cell phone making a last call to his four young daughters shortly before he burns to death in the upper levels of the Trade Center in New York City on 9/11.

Todd followed up by asking whether rectal feeding was torture, and Cheney continued his distract-with-shiny-objects strategy.

I’ve told you what meets the definition of torture. It’s what 19 guys armed with airline tickets and box cutters did to 3,000 Americans on 9/11.

The misuse campaign is on. The American Thinker blog reports on the “real torture scandal in America“, which is abortion. General Boykin says “Torture is what we’ve done by having the IRS go after conservative groups.” The Koch-funded American Energy Alliance is calling EPA fossil-fuel regulations “torture”:

Whether it’s the costliest regulation in history or the coal-killing power plant rules (that Obama’s law professor says raise “constitutional questions”), it’s clear that the CIA isn’t the only government agency engaged in torture. At least the CIA isn’t torturing Americans.

The AEA illustrated its point with this cartoon:

Yes, “raising energy costs” and “harassing property owners” are now torture.

Expect to hear a lot more of this. Soon, every inconvenience to a conservative special interest group is going to be “torture”. Anything and everything will be “torture” — except a CIA interrogator looking into the eyes of a helpless (and possibly innocent) prisoner and threatening excruciating pain, trauma, or humiliation unless he talks.

Torture can’t be defended, so the word torture has to become meaningless. If you can’t ban a word, break it.

* I anticipate the question: “What about the ways that liberals try to change the language?” There are a number of words liberals have tried to remove from the language, like nigger or faggot. We discourage men from referring to adult females as girls, and so on. But these efforts have been above-board and transparent. For example, we have largely removed nigger from common usage among whites by openly discussing the reasons whites shouldn’t say nigger. If conservatives want to start a similarly open discussion to convince people to stop saying torture, I invite them to try.

5 Lessons to Remember as Ferguson Fades into History

If you learned anything from Ferguson, how are you planning to hang on to it?

Remember the days right after the Newtown Massacre? For a week, maybe two, it seemed like the country had finally woken up and nothing would ever be the same. Twenty innocent children were dead, along with six adults who tried to protect them. And it was our fault. Mass shootings had been happening more and more often for years, and — unlike Australia, which had the same problem and solved it — we’d done nothing. But now that was all going to change.

Be a Target(ed) shopper.

It didn’t. Within months, all the vested interests that benefit from our crazy lack of gun laws had re-asserted themselves, and nothing happened. Or rather, things continued getting worse, with the momentum still on the side of the guns-everywhere movement. Instead of trying to get rid of assault rifles (or at least keep them away from the mentally ill), we’re debating whether or not you can hang one over your shoulder while you shop for Oreos. (The ad to the right is a parody, but the picture is genuine.)

So now we’ve had Ferguson, another national trauma that has mesmerized the media and caused a number of people to see the light on some important issues. Maybe someday we’ll look back and see the Michael Brown shooting and the ensuing protests as a tipping point, a moment when things started to turn around. Or maybe we have just briefly tossed in our sleep and will soon settle back down.

In part, that decision is up to all of us. Will we let the things we’ve learned these last few weeks slip away like the trig identities we crammed into our heads for the big math test? Or will we hang on to our new understandings and not settle back into the same old conversations? Will we demand that our news sources and our political representatives recognize these realities? Or not?

The first step in hanging on to new knowledge is spelling it out clearly. Here’s my attempt to isolate five simple Ferguson lessons that we shouldn’t forget or let the country forget. I admit they’re not rocket science. If they were, we’d already be forgetting them.

1. Police mistreat black people. It’s not a fantasy created by “the grievance industry” and it’s not a few isolated incidents caused by a handful of bad apples, it’s a pattern.

Some parts of the national media have finally started covering it like a pattern, and drawing attention to incidents that by themselves wouldn’t usually get national attention. Just this week I ran across the following stories.

  • New information the John Crawford shooting came out. On August 5, a 22-year-old black man was killed by police in a WalMart in Ohio because he was carrying an air rifle that he had picked up from a shelf. We had already heard from his girl friend, who was talking to him on the phone as he was being shot. Tuesday, we heard that the shooting was captured on WalMart’s surveillance video. It has not been released (though information favorable to the police has been), but Crawford’s parents and their attorney have been allowed to see it. The attorney said that Crawford was facing away from officers when they killed him, and that “John was doing nothing wrong in Walmart, nothing more, nothing less than shopping.” One of the officers involved in the shooting is back on the job. (A fake news site’s story of a second WalMart shooting got taken seriously by a number of people, but didn’t actually happen.)
  • Chris Lollie was arrested and tased by police in St. Paul while he was waiting for his kids to get out of school. He was trying to walk away from police when they got violent with him. The incident was recorded on his cellphone when it happened in January, but only became public recently after charges against Lollie were dropped and he got his phone back. St. Paul police have defended their officers’ actions, which is hard to imagine as I watch the tape.
  • Kametra Barbour and her four young children were pulled over in Texas, even though their car was a different color than the one police received a complaint about. The police dashcam video shows the terrified woman being forced at gunpoint to walk backwards towards the police cruiser, protesting all the while that they’re making her leave her frightened children alone in the car. The confrontation doesn’t end until her 6-year-old son also gets out of the car and walks toward police with his hands up. (What if he’d come out some other way?) “Do they look young to you?” one officer finally asks the other.
  • A week and a half ago TV producer Charles Belk was walking back to his car from a Beverly Hills restaurant when his evening took a bad turn. “I was wrongly arrested, locked up, denied a phone call, denied explanation of charges against me, denied ever being read my rights, denied being able to speak to my lawyer for a lengthy time, and denied being told that my car had been impounded…..All because I was mis-indentified as the wrong ‘tall, bald head, black male,’ … ‘fitting the description.’ ” It was six hours before his lawyer convinced police to watch the surveillance video and recognize that the bank robber’s accomplice was obviously not Belk. According to his lawyer (as summarized by ThinkProgress) “many other individuals who found themselves in Belk’s situation without his resources would likely have been detained at least until Monday”.
  • Rev. Madison T. Shockley II published similar stories from his own life, his father’s, and his son’s. “I fit the description. I was a black man.”

What makes these stories hit home is that they’re not about purse-snatchers who got roughed up a little too much. They’re about people who did nothing and suffered for it.

I know blacks must look at this lesson and say, “Well, duh.” But for the most part, whites — and the media that caters to whites — have refused to take it seriously until these last few weeks. Many of us came to a similar insight after Trayvon Martin, and then backslid into denial. Let’s not do it again.

2. Police kill a lot of people in America. Responding to the racism charge, some conservatives put forward a bizarre police-kill-white-people-too case centered on the shooting of Dillon Taylor in Salt Lake City — as if that should make everybody more sanguine about Michael Brown or John Crawford. But if white deaths are what it takes to get a certain segment of the public excited about police violence, then let’s publicize them. Because whether you break things down by race or not, there’s a problem.

You can say policing is a tough, dangerous job — and it is. But somehow police in other countries manage to do that job without killing nearly so many people. No government agency totals the exact number — it’s like we don’t really want to know — but various available statistics point to around 400 police killings a year in the United States. Here’s how that stacks up internationally.

If you want some real contrast, look at Iceland, where last December police shot and killed someone for the first time in the country’s history. Admittedly, Iceland is a thousand times smaller than the U.S., but even so, at our rate you’d expect Icelandic police to shoot someone dead every two or three years, rather than once since World War II.

3. We need better ways to hold police accountable. One inescapable feature of the Michael Brown investigation is that the Ferguson police are an interested party, and are not simply seeking to bring the truth to light. (For example, the only detail they were willing to release from Brown’s autopsy was that he tested positive for marijuana. And they released a video that they claimed was Brown stealing cigars from a convenience store, but not an incident report on his death.) It’s crazy to believe that they — or a prosecutor who works hand-in-glove with them every day — will investigate Brown’s death fairly and see that justice is done.

And yet, that is the standard situation whenever a citizen feels mistreated: Police will investigate themselves and find that whatever they did was justified. After police killed his white son, Michael Bell did the research:

In 129 years since police and fire commissions were created in the state of Wisconsin, we could not find a single ruling by a police department, an inquest or a police commission that a shooting was unjustified.

Police will also control — and distort — the flow of official information to the media. Reporters, in turn, depend on police leaks for their scoops, so they are often active participants in smearing victims. (It’s the same pattern we saw in the lead-up to the Iraq War, when reporters whose careers depended on their relationships with Bush administration sources published whatever they were told as if it were fact.)

Civil rights attorney Norman Siegel (whose interview with Chris Hayes starts around the 14-minute mark) suggests a common-sense reform:

There should be a civilian review board in Ferguson and in every city in America. And what that means is that you can’t allow the police to investigate the police. You have to have independent civilians looking at the complaint. We need a permanent special prosecutor for police misconduct so we can finally get accountability.

In April, Wisconsin passed a law requiring an outside investigation whenever someone dies in police custody. Every state should follow.

There has been some limited accountability for the most outrageous police behavior during the Ferguson protests. Dan Page, the frighteningly paranoid St. Louis officer I described last week, has been allowed to retire; he’ll get full pension and benefits, but at least he’s not wearing a badge any more. Ray (“I will fucking kill you”) Albers was forced to resign. Matthew (“These protesters should be put down like a rabid dog the first night”) Pappert was fired. Chris Hayes asks the right follow-up question:

The national media came to one (in some ways) random metro area suburb, St. Louis Country, with a hundred cameras for two weeks. And you’ve got at least four police officers essentially caught on camera doing really awful things, and a bunch more unnamed. It was almost a random audit. And the thing I can’t help thinking is “OK. There’s two ways to interpret this. Is this area particularly bad in terms of the quotient of police officers who act like this? Or is this just normal, and we just happened to have the cameras pointed there?”

What if we put the cameras right on the police? Events in Ferguson have added momentum to the notion that all police cars should have dash-cams and all officers should wear cameras on their uniforms. Private sources have donated enough body cameras for every Ferguson officer to wear one. Let’s see if they do.

4. White privilege is real. Stephen Colbert advised the Ferguson protesters to learn from Cliven Bundy and his friends in the militia movement.

By the way, black people, why can’t you be more like these guys? They were armed, and they dared the cops to shot them, and nothing happened. Just figure out whatever was different about them, and you’ll be fine.

But being treated with more respect by police is just one aspect of white privilege, which affects everything from hailing a cab to whether your resume will get you an interview. Pre-Ferguson, most whites reacted to talk about white privilege as if it were just an Ivy League way to call them racists or tell them to STFU.

But recently more whites have started to get it and explain it to others. One of the most approachable explanations is in “What My Bike Has Taught Me About White Privilege” posted by Pastor Jeremy Dowsett on his blog A Little More Sauce. Dowsett, who is white but has non-white children, compared being black in America to his own experience riding a bicycle on the busy streets of Lansing.

[Bike riders] have the right to be on the road, and laws on the books to make it equitable, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are on a bike in a world made for cars. Experiencing this when I’m on my bike in traffic has helped me to understand what privilege talk is really about.

Now most people in cars are not intentionally aggressive toward me. But even if all the jerks had their licenses revoked tomorrow, the road would still be a dangerous place for me. Because the whole transportation infrastructure privileges the automobile. It is born out of a history rooted in the auto industry that took for granted that everyone should use a car as their mode of transportation. It was not built to be convenient or economical or safe for me.

And so people in cars—nice, non-aggressive people—put me in danger all the time because they see the road from the privileged perspective of a car.

Similarly, our laws promise racial equality and not all whites are racists, but our society was built with whites in mind. Systems that seem perfectly natural and transparent if you’re white are problematic if you’re not.

Elaborating on Dowsett’s metaphor from my biking perspective: I can’t count how many times I’ve nearly fallen off a no-shoulder country road because car drivers have no idea how loud a “light” beep of the horn sounds to someone not enclosed in a glass-and-metal bubble. (Apparently they worry that their internal-combustion engine might “sneak up” on me because it seems so quiet to them.) Keep that in mind the next time you offer a “reasonable” criticism of the black experience.

Jon Stewart’s epic response to conservative fury that blacks “make everything about race” is worth watching from the beginning, but it came down to this:

Race is there, and it is a constant. You’re tired of hearing about it? Imagine how f*cking exhausting it is living it.

How are we whites going to keep this increased consciousness of privilege from fading away? Christian Lander, who writes the blog Stuff White People Like, suggests making it the next ice-bucket challenge. He observes that what whites really need to raise their awareness of (far more than any deadly disease) is what it’s like to be a black teen. So he proposes the BT Challenge: Video yourself doing something that is dangerous for a black teen — like, say, walking to the convenience store for Skittles — and post it on social media.

5. We need to de-militarize our society. Americans from coast to coast were repulsed and alarmed by the images of mine-resistant military vehicles roaming American streets with camo-clad police snipers perched on top of them. It was way beyond ironic that equipment created to defend an occupying army in a guerrilla war was being deployed against American citizens protesting excessive force from police.

The militarization of police has been roundly denounced — most effectively by John Oliver — and it deserved every word of that denunciation.

That public outcry has even started to have some effect. Anchorage police have rescinded their request for military vehicles. Claire McCaskill will be chairing Senate hearings on police militarization.

But while MRAPs are obviously over the top, Ladd Everitt from the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence told Business Insider that some advanced weaponry is justified by the level of armament police might face (from someone other than mostly non-violent protesters).

 “We see this as a product of the continuing arms race between law enforcement and civilians that has been going on for decades.” Everitt said the increasingly sophisticated weaponry being sold to U.S. civilians is forcing police to keep up, with both sides purchasing ever more powerful weapons. The arms race means “police officers have legitimate fears about the nature of the firepower they are confronting on a daily basis,” he said.

So the problem isn’t just the militarization of American police, it’s the militarization of American society.

That puts a different spin on the gap in police killings between the U.S. and every other first-world nation. American police are on a hair trigger because, in a country with over 300 million firearms, the possibility that a suspect might start shooting at them is never far from their minds. Over the course of a long career, it just doesn’t seem safe to take the more laid-back approach of a German or English policeman.

Bear that in mind the next time the NRA frames guns-everywhere as purely a question of personal rights. No matter how responsible and well-intentioned that gun-toting Oreo shopper might be, his presence raises the temperature in the room. All of us — and especially police — have to shorten our response times, given how fast a situation can turn deadly. So whether I choose to carry a gun or not, that raised room temperature might get me killed someday.

And that brings me full circle, back to gun control. Remember Newtown?


Ferguson is a city located in northern St. Louis County with 21,203 residents living in 8,192 households. … Despite Ferguson’s relative poverty, fines and court fees comprise the second largest source of revenue for the city, a total of $2,635,400. In 2013, the Ferguson Municipal Court disposed of 24,532 warrants and 12,018 cases, or about 3 warrants and 1.5 cases per household.

— Arch City Defenders, “Municipal Courts White Paper

This week’s featured post is “What Your Fox-Watching Uncle Doesn’t Get About Ferguson“. The featured post from two weeks ago “Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party” continued its viral spread last week. It’s now over 100,000 page views, making it the second most popular Sift post ever. But it’s still got a ways to go to catch “The Distress of the Privileged” at 332K. (Those numbers make the 2,000 views of last week’s “The Ferguson Test” seems puny, but it’s actually quite good by normal Weekly Sift standards.)

This week everybody was still talking about Ferguson

Wednesday, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell nailed the NYT for police reporting that reminds me of the reporting Judith Miller did for them in the lead-up to the Iraq War: Leaks from government sources are reported as facts, the official framing of events is accepted uncritically, and contradictory evidence is discounted.

A different angle on Ferguson comes from Arch City Defenders, a group that “strives to provide holistic criminal and civil legal services to the homeless and working poor in the St. Louis Region.”

In a white paper on the St. Louis area municipal courts published before Mike Brown’s death, ACD focused on Ferguson and two other municipalities that it described as “chronic offenders” for abuses of the justice system like

being jailed for the inability to pay fines, losing jobs and housing as result of the incarceration, being refused access to the Courts if they were with their children or other family members, and being mistreated by the bailiffs, prosecutors, clerks and judges in the courts.

… In many municipalities, individuals who are unable to pay whatever fines they are assessed are incarcerated — sometimes repeatedly over many years. One defendant described being incarcerated fifteen or sixteen times over a decade on the same municipal charge.

In short, if you are poor in Ferguson, getting a speeding ticket can wreck your life. But it makes money for the town.

Court costs and fines represent a significant source of income for these towns. According to the St. Louis County two municipalities alone, Ferguson and Florissant, earned a combined net profit of $3.5 million off of their municipal courts in 2013.

ACD’s Thomas Harvey says:

The courts in those municipalities are profit-seeking entities that systematically enforce municipal ordinance violations in a way that disproportionately impacts the indigent and communities of color.

St. Louis County municipal courts typically don’t provide public defenders, so even if the law makes allowance for poverty, the poor may not know how to claim their rights. Those who can afford lawyers often can deal with minor violations without a court appearance, with the result that (as one resident put it) “You go to all of these damn courts, and there’s no white people.”

ACD’s white paper draws an obvious conclusion: “This interaction … shapes public perception of justice and the American legal system.”

St. Louis police released a cellphone video of two of their officers killing a different black man. The video contradicts several parts of the police account of the killing, but nonetheless the shooting is judged by experts to be justified. Watching it gives you some idea of what police are allowed to get away with.

Three of the officers involved in policing the Ferguson protests have been disciplined. The first was Ray Albers of the St. Ann police force, who was videotaped waving a gun at the crowd and yelling, “I will fucking kill you.” He’s been suspended indefinitely.

The second is Glendale officer Matthew Pappert, who was suspended after tweeting: “These protestors should have been put down like a rabid dog the first night.”

But the scariest is Dan Page of the St. Louis force. He’s been relieved of duty after St. Louis Post-Dispatch released a video of an hour-long talk he gave to a meeting of the local Oath Keepers chapter in April. The articles about him pick out the easy sound bites: his hostility to gays, women, the Supreme Court, and President Obama, as well as several statements expressing pride in being “a killer”. But if you watch the whole talk, what’s really frightening is Page’s paranoid thought process, and the fact that the gym-full of people he appears to be talking to seem to approve.

I have listened to certifiably paranoid people before, and this talk is exactly what they sound like. They present “evidence” for their dark fantasies that you look at and think “Huh?” Page wanders through the Constitution, the Bible, the Declaration of Independence, and various other apparently authoritative sources, referencing bits that (if you look them up) have little to do with what he’s saying. (At the 25 minute mark: “In Psalms 83, Russia invades Israel. They are beat back, eight-fifths of their army are killed.”)

At around the 17-minute mark he presents a slide he says came from a talk by the Secretary of the Army. The untitled, unannotated slide is simply a list of ten regions. (“1. America, Canada, Mexico … 10. Remainder of Africa”.) Page finds this slide deeply threatening: “World government, folks. Anybody who resists it is dead.”

The idea that Dan Page is on the street with a gun is scary enough, much less that he has wielded the authority of a police officer for 35 years.

Online arguments about the Brown shooting are so formulaic that The Daily Dot has a taxonomy of the ten kinds of trolls you’ll run into.

As part of a long article that is well worth reading end-to-end, an ex-cop compares Ferguson to the Bundy Ranch showdown.

On the Bundy Ranch, armed protesters were violently obstructing law enforcement from performing their duties.  Sniper rifles were pointed at those law enforcement officers. Then those “snipers” openly gloated about how they had the agents in their sights the entire time. And what was the police response?  All out retreat.  Nobody was arrested. No tear gas deployed. No tanks were called in. No Snipers posted in the neighborhood. No rubber bullets fired. Nothing. Police officers in mortal danger met with heavily armed resistance and no one had to answer for it.

… Just imagine if there were 150 black folks walking around Ferguson with assault rifles right now. Imagine if a couple of them took up sniper positions on the tops of buildings with their rifles pointed at the police officers.  Take a quick guess at how that story ends.

and ISIS

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria beheaded American journalist James Foley — and posted the video on YouTube — after the U.S. government refused a 100 million Euro ransom demand and a rescue attempt failed. This sparked a lot of discussion about widening the U.S. involvement in Iraq beyond the current air strikes.

I don’t doubt that a lot of people in ISIS are bad guys. But it gets old watching the pro-war spin machine work. Once again, we face a group of insane, unstoppable monsters far worse than the last group of insane, unstoppable monsters we were warned about. Rick Perry thinks they’re coming over the Mexican border, and a former CIA deputy director warns us that they could get an AK-47 and shoot up a mall — not because either man has any evidence that such things are in the process of happening, but because we have a new name for the Boogie Man.

The problem with the panic-mongering is that it just raises the pressure to do something. It doesn’t increase the effectiveness of any of the somethings we might do. Couldn’t we someday have a rational discussion of what our options really are, and what good or bad things are likely to result from the various things we might do?

and Ukraine/Russia

The Ukrainian government forces seem to be advancing against the pro-Russian rebels who hold several cities near the Russian border. Russia is moving what it claims is humanitarian aid across the border, but Ukraine says it’s military re-supply for the rebels. It’s hard for American journalists to verify anybody’s story.

and you also might be interested in …

It’s still in the laboratory (at my alma mater, BTW), but wow is this cool: transparent solar cells. Someday, your windows could generate electricity without blocking the view.

The pressure to change the name of the Washington NFL team continues its slow, inexorable build. The editorial board of The Washington Post announced Friday that it will no longer refer to the team as “Redskins” in its editorials. (Presumably, the announcement itself was the last time.) That move was mostly symbolic, since the R-team isn’t mentioned that often on the editorial page, and the news and sports sections of the paper will continue to print “Redskins”. But it’s something.

As of June, The Seattle Times won’t use the name at all. It’ll be interesting to see how they cover the Seattle-Washington Monday Night Football game on October 6. Maybe this article from The Kansas City Star could be a model.

Wednesday it came out that longtime NFL referee Mike Carey had been quietly boycotting Washington games since 2006. When confronted with the fact that he had not refereed a Washington game in many years, Carey owned up:

The league respectfully honored my request not to officiate Washington. … It just became clear to me that to be in the middle of the field, where something disrespectful is happening, was probably not the best thing for me.

Carey has retired from the NFL and now works for CBS’ football coverage team as a rules analyst. He was the first African-American to referee a Super Bowl. A coaches’ poll once named him (tied with another guy) as the league’s best referee.

CBS’ Phil Simms and NBC’s Tony Dungy have said they will try to avoid saying “Redskins” while announcing or commenting on games.

Sooner or later, these little grains of sand will turn into a landslide. For now, not cooperating with the misnamed team requires an explanation. But we’re approaching a tipping point, where those who do cooperate will be expected to explain.

and let’s close with some creative law-breaking

Cracked has compiled a list of “The 7 Most Badass Acts of Vandalism Ever Photographed“. I mean, would you have thought to paint a giant penis on a drawbridge, so that would rise every time the bridge goes up? Or turn a Soviet monument in Bulgaria into colorful American comic-book characters and other mythical beings like Santa Claus and Ronald McDonald? Or let half a million brightly colored plastic balls bounce down the Spanish Steps in Rome? Somebody did.

No Sift This Week

Sorry for not putting out an announcement sooner. (I’m on vacation and have been driving all day.) The Weekly Sift will be back next week. Posts will appear on Monday the 28th in the general vicinity of noon (eastern time).