Politics has never been nastier, and in the middle of this September in a presidential election year, this sitting president, doing all he can to win a second term, was nastier than usual, and his usual is studiously and quite intentionally nasty. The Associated Press covers the sneering and insults:
Kicking off a Western swing, President Donald Trump barreled into Nevada for the weekend, looking to expand his path to victory while unleashing a torrent of unsubstantiated claims that Democrats were trying to steal the election.
Trump defied local authorities by holding a Saturday night rally in tiny Minden after his initial plan to hold one in Reno was stopped out of concern it would have violated coronavirus health guidelines. Unleashing 90-plus minutes of grievances and attacks, Trump claimed the state’s Democratic governor tried to block him and repeated his false claim that mail-in ballots would taint the election result.
The Associated Press may be being a bit unfair there. The claim that mail-in ballots would taint the election result is not false. It’s just not true, yet. Trump offers no evidence at all that this claim is true, but he says everyone knows it true. Everyone says so. That’s what he’s heard, even if no one else has heard that. That makes the claim unsubstantiated, so far, but not false at all. It’s just not true quite yet. But why wait? Think like the Trump crew. They act on their thinking:
As part of his ongoing crusade against mail-in voting, lawyers for the president’s reelection campaign are urging a federal judge in Las Vegas to block a state law and prevent mail-in ballots from going to all active Nevada voters less than eight weeks before the election.
That federal judge in Las Vegas will want proof that mail-in ballots would taint the election results. The Trump team wants an injunction to stop the vote-by-mail process until they have time to gather and then provide that proof. They’re making a “better safe than sorry” argument. Wait. They’ll have the proof a few weeks after the election, or perhaps they’ll say sorry, they couldn’t find any proof, and apologize for the misunderstanding – after Trump wins the state. They’re a clever bunch.
But that was just one issue:
Addressing a mostly mask-less crowd tightly packed together, Trump spoke in front of mountains draped in haze, the scent of smoke in the air from wildfires raging a state away in California. The president expressed his condolences to the victims but, declaring that “I don’t have to be nice anymore,” focused on tearing into his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden.
Trump claimed that the Democrat’s running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, would be president “in about a month” if Biden won, asserting that the former vice president would be but a figurehead and that Harris would hold power.
He didn’t have to say the rest. She’s BLACK! And she’s A WOMAN! But he did say this:
He claimed that the media would treat Biden “like Winston Churchill” if he was able to merely stand on the debate stage in three weeks. And embarking on a swing that would also include stops in Las Vegas and Phoenix, Trump mocked Biden’s slower travel schedule. “You know where he is now? He is in his damn basement again!”
And, for good measure, Trump invoked his 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton, leading the crowd to launch into its traditional “Lock Her Up!” chant. The president claimed he usually tried to stop the chant but on Saturday declared, “I don’t care if you say it anymore” and, breaking yet another norm of the office, suggested that Clinton “should be in jail.”
But there was a bit more:
President Donald Trump on Saturday once again suggested interest in serving three terms in office, claiming that he was “probably entitled” to an additional four years following a hypothetical second term at a campaign event in Nevada.
“And 52 days from now we’re going to win Nevada, and we’re gonna win four more years in the White House,” Trump told the mostly maskless, non-socially distant crowd of his supporters on Saturday. “And then after that, we’ll negotiate, right? Because we’re probably – based on the way we were treated – we are probably entitled to another four after that.”
That would require a change to the Constitution, but if his Republicans keep control of the Senate, and still control a majority of the state governments too, an amendment is possible. Mitch McConnell wouldn’t object. Even most Republicans have the impression that if Donald Trump told Mitch McConnell to shave his head, divorce his wife, and marry a chipmunk, that’s exactly what Mitch McConnell would do. It’s called loyalty. This is the Age of Trump.
But this is getting weird. At Media Matters, Timothy Johnson covers this oddity:
Roger Stone is urging Donald Trump to consider several draconian measures to stay in power, including having federal authorities seize ballots in Nevada, having FBI agents and Republican state officials “physically” block voting under the pretext of preventing voter fraud, using martial law or the Insurrection Act to carry out widespread arrests, and nationalizing state police forces.
Stone, a longtime confidant of the president, made the comments during a September 10 appearance on far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ Infowars network.
Alex Jones once maintained that there was no Sandy Hook Massacre and 9/11 was an inside job by our own government and no one ever landed on the moon. He knows the truth about such things, and Roger Stone is much like Alex Jones:
On July 10, Trump commuted a 40-month prison sentence that was handed down to Stone after he was convicted of lying to Congress and tampering with witnesses as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into 2016 election interference. Namely, Stone lied to Congress about his contacts with WikiLeaks, which released hacked emails with the aim of boosting Trump’s prospects. In the weeks leading up to the commutation, Stone made a number of media appearances where he asked Trump to grant him clemency and said that in exchange, he could be a more effective campaigner for the president’s 2020 reelection efforts.
Trump commuted his sentence. Stone is returning the favor:
During his September 10 appearance on The Alex Jones Show, Stone declared that the only legitimate outcome to the 2020 election would be a Trump victory. He made this assertion on the basis of his entirely unfounded claim that early voting has been marred by widespread voter fraud.
Stone argued that “the ballots in Nevada on election night should be seized by federal marshals and taken from the state” because “they are completely corrupted” and falsely said that “we can prove voter fraud in the absentees right now.”
That was false – the Trump team has asked for more time to dig up that proof from somewhere or other, sooner or later, but Stone was on a roll:
He specifically called for Trump to have absentee ballots seized in Clark County, Nevada, an area that leans Democratic. Stone went on to claim that “the votes from Nevada should not be counted; they are already flooded with illegals” and baselessly suggested that former Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) should be arrested and that Trump should consider nationalizing Nevada’s state police force.
Beyond Nevada, Stone recommended that Trump consider several actions to retain his power. Stone recommended that Trump appoint former Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA) as a special counsel “with the specific task of forming an Election Day operation using the FBI, federal marshals, and Republican state officials across the country to be prepared to file legal objections and if necessary to physically stand in the way of criminal activity.”
Stone also urged Trump to consider declaring “martial law” or invoking the Insurrection Act and then using his powers to arrest Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Apple CEO Tim Cook, “the Clintons” and “anybody else who can be proven to be involved in illegal activity.”
There he goes again. Johnson points out that Stone was one of the organizers of the “Brooks Brothers riot” during the 2000 presidential election that led to vote-counting being suspended in Miami-Dade County. The Supreme Court said there was no way to resume vote-counting down there after that. Stone made Bush president [I was in Paris for that] so surely he can get Trump another four years, or eight, or more.
This seems like nonsense. And “responsible” Republicans will say that it’s nonsense, but these ideas are out there now – something to work with. So, should America end?
That’s the question, and Daniel Politi reports more of that sort of thing:
President Donald Trump appeared to give a nod to law enforcement officers killing suspected criminals, describing the death of an alleged shooting suspect by U.S. Marshals as “retribution.” Speaking in an interview with Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, Trump spoke of the incident in which a law enforcement officer killed a self-described anti-fascist activist earlier this month in Washington as they sought to arrest him on suspicion that he fatally shot a right-wing protester in Portland. Trump seemed to endorse the killing. “This guy was a violent criminal, and the US Marshals killed him,” Trump told Pirro. “And I will tell you something, that’s the way it has to be. There has to be retribution.”
The police know who the bad guys are. Trust the police:
Trump was referring to the killing of Michael Forest Reinoehl on Sept. 3. Reinoehl was a key suspect in the killing of a member of the far-right group Patriot Prayer during a protest in Portland on August 29. In an interview published by Vice News hours before he was killed, Reinoehl said he acted in self-defense. “You know, lots of lawyers suggest that I shouldn’t even be saying anything, but I feel it’s important that the world at least gets a little bit of what’s really going on,” Reinoehl said. “I had no choice. I mean, I, I had a choice. I could have sat there and watched them kill a friend of mine of color. But I wasn’t going to do that.” Reinoehl, an Army veteran, said during the interview that he provided “security” at Black Lives Matter protests.
Shortly after that interview was published, law enforcement agents shot and killed Reinoehl as they moved to arrest him. Officers claimed Reinoehl was brandishing a weapon but it isn’t clear whether he fired at police. No law enforcement officers were injured.
Perhaps they just took him out:
Witnesses have differing accounts of what happened that day. One person who witnessed the killing said Reinoehl was clutching his cellphone when two unmarked cars showed up and officers began firing. “Officers shot multiple rapid-fire rounds at Reinoehl before issuing a brief ‘stop’ command, quickly followed by more rapid-fire shooting by additional officers,” according to a statement provided by the witness. Two other witnesses who were nearby though say they saw Reinoehl open fire and the officers fired back. “It reminded me of a video game,” one of the witnesses said.
That may be what this was, but Charlotte Klein notes this:
From the rally stage in Minden, Nevada on Saturday night, Trump continued to fan the flames, cheering on federal forces involved in the fatal shooting. “By the way, the U.S. Marshals did a great job in Portland. They did a great job. You know what I mean,” he said, drawing applause from the crowd.
Trump’s apparent glee at the killing of Reinoehl – who was never charged with a crime – follows his defending Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old MAGA supporter who was charged with intentional homicide in the killing of two protesters last month in Kenosha, Wisconsin, just days before the Portland shooting. In response to Trump’s comments on Fox News, Rep. Eric Swalwell tweeted that “we need a president who understands the difference between retribution and justice.” Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, warned: “We are on our way to normalizing the execution of criminal suspects before arrest, trial or conviction.”
Well, that has been normal elsewhere. There were the Rio Death Squads twenty years or more ago in Brazil – mysterious groups of active duty and retired police that took out useless thugs in the slums, and did a little torture of women and children on the side, just for the fun of it. There’d be bodies in the gutters at dawn. This kept crime down, and, from two years ago, there is that man Trump has said he admires:
President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines on Thursday said for the first time that extrajudicial killings had happened under his government’s brutal war on drugs, an admission that could bolster two cases filed against him at the International Criminal Court.
In a rambling speech before government executives at the presidential palace, Mr. Duterte again touched on the government’s drug war that has left thousands dead, a common theme in his two-year-old presidency.
He said he had challenged the country’s military and police brass to remove him from office if they were not satisfied with the way he was running the country.
“I told the military, what is my fault? Did I steal even one peso?” Mr. Duterte said. “My only sin is the extrajudicial killings.”
He likes to throw these bad guys out of helicopters himself – no charges, no trail, no nothing – he gets a kick out of that. Trump calls him a strong leader. Putin just poisons pesky people. Trump has said nothing about that. That’s just the way it has to be.
Something might be wrong here:
More Americans say former Vice President Joe Biden has the mental clarity to be president versus Donald Trump, according to the latest Fox News poll released Sunday.
Despite the Trump campaign and the president himself repeatedly questioning the mental acuity of Biden, a larger percentage of U.S. adults say they believe the Democratic presidential candidate has the traits best suited for the job. A slight majority of likely voters – 51 percent – told Fox News they believe Biden, 77, has the “mental soundness” to be president, compared to 47 percent who say the same about Trump, 74.
Why would anyone think that? The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd may have an answer:
During his 2016 bid, Donald Trump would sometimes pause from bashing elites and the media to speak with awe about a phone call he had with a Very Important Journalist.
Trump puffed up with pride as he told the story to bemused rally-goers, who only moments before had been jeering at the press.
It was, to say the least, a mixed message from the phony populist.
During an interview in June 2016 at Trump Tower, Trump bragged to me about the call with the journalist, who turned out to be Tom Friedman. Lately, Trump has been boasting about Tom’s praise for the White House’s Israel-United Arab Emirates peace plan.
The man is unstable:
Donald Trump has always had his nose pressed up against the window of the elites.
“For a man who has risen to the highest office on the planet, President Trump radiates insecurity,” former Ambassador Kim Darroch wrote to his colleagues in London, in a leaked cable.
Steve Bannon once told me that Trump was much more concerned about CNN’s coverage than Fox’s. Trump was not seeking affirmation from the nighttime slate of Fox knuckleheads; they were in the bag. Unserious though he may be, Trump covets praise from serious people. And serious Sean Hannity is not.
And that led to Trump’s current problem:
Fresh off his win in 2016, he was eager to come and talk to The New York Times. I’ve never seen Trump happier than in that hour with the “failing” New York Times. (He even got to upbraid me in front of my boss.) As we wrapped up, he told the assembled editors, reporters and Times brass: “It’s a great honor. I will say, The Times is, it’s a great, great American jewel. A world jewel. And I hope we can all get along.”
That same eager tone was echoed in the audio of Bob Woodward’s tapes with Trump, as the president warmly spoke the name “Bob” again and again, yearning for acceptance from the very establishment that he had denounced to win the Oval Office.
Even though Woodward keeps writing books about Trump with titles that sound like Hitchcock horror flicks – first “Fear” and now “Rage” – Trump somehow thought he could win over the pillar of the Washington establishment.
That wasn’t going to happen:
Trump bragged to the man who helped break the Watergate story, which sparked an impeachment inquiry, that he handled impeachment with more aplomb than his predecessors.
“Nixon was in a corner with his thumb in his mouth,” Trump said. “Bill Clinton took it very, very hard. I don’t.”
Woodward once told me that every president gets the psychoanalyst he deserves.
But at least with Nixon, Woodward had to follow the money to expose the venality. With Donald Trump, he simply had to turn on a recorder. Trump is his own whistle-blower…
He is fact-based and cogent on the Woodward tape talking in early February about how the coronavirus is airborne and deadly and dangerous for young people. But he vitiated that by publicly downplaying the vital information for his own political advantage.
And endless trouble followed that, because he is who he is:
Trump desperately wants approval even as he seems relentlessly driven to prove he’s not worthy of it.
He may be ludicrously un-self-aware, but even he sensed that his tango with Woodward would end badly. It was fun for a while, bro-ing out in the Oval with his fellow septuagenarian big shot, batting around the finer points of white privilege. But it could not last.
“You’re probably going to screw me,” the president told the writer. “You know, because that’s the way it goes.”
He was right about that, but damage to the nation has already been considerable, and E. J. Dionne sees this:
It’s hard to remember a gloomier time in our public life. So much of the analysis we read, the news we consume and the hot takes that fly by us on social media suggest that the exits from this dreadful era are blocked. We’re led to believe that our country faces inexorable decline and that those who see the possibility of reform and redemption are deluded.
We owe much of this pessimism to the presidency of Donald Trump, and not just because of his blindingly obvious failures. Unlike most incumbents in our history, he has bet his political survival on the proposition that the country is living through a dystopian nightmare that only he can dispel.
Trump talks relentlessly about a crisis of crime and violence, says that our electoral system can’t be trusted, and argues that those who are against him are enemies of the country itself. He promises yet more division if he is reelected, threatens his political foes with prosecution, and hints now and again that he would like to be our leader for life.
And then there’s that other guy:
It is former vice president Joe Biden, the challenger, who has the sunny view. The heart of his argument is that there is nothing wrong with our country that can’t be cured as long as we throw Trump out of office.
From the first day of his campaign to this moment, he has made the same case: We can view four years of Trump as an aberration that we can put behind us. But eight years would set us on a course from which there would be no return.
What’s striking is that many who are Biden’s strongest supporters and Trump’s most fervent foes are deeply skeptical of the old warhorse’s optimism.
In short, it’s too late now:
There is, first, the fear that even if Biden wins the popular vote – this now seems nearly inevitable – he might lose the Electoral College. And if Biden prevails there, too, it is easy to imagine Trump trying to cling to power by discrediting the result with a pack of lies about the voting process.
This, in turn, means that Trump’s most fervent loyalists will never accept a Biden victory. The new president will thus take over a nation torn asunder, and the most somber pessimists predict that armed militias could threaten public order.
Ah, but on the other hand:
It is equally plausible from current polls to predict a close outcome or a Biden landslide – which is to say Biden’s current lead could shrink or grow. An overwhelming Biden victory, which becomes more likely if he performs well in the debates, would obviate many of the problems outlined above. In particular, a Biden sweep would make Trump’s fraud claims look absurd to many of his own voters. A big Biden win would help Democrats take control of both the Senate and the House, creating a real opportunity to govern effectively.
That could happen:
We’re a better country than Trump thinks we are.
Hope is not a feeling, it’s a virtue. We have good reason to practice it right now – and no alternative but to embrace it.
That’s what suckers and losers do. This will not end well.