Those Sociopathic Tendencies

The Grinch didn’t steal Christmas. Six days before America was going to wake up on Christmas morning with millions in despair, facing eviction, not knowing where the next meal would come from, or if there would be a next meal ever again, the government finally got its act together:

Senate leadership announced a bipartisan deal on an approximately $900 billion economic relief package late Sunday afternoon that would deliver emergency aid to a faltering economy and a nation besieged by surging coronavirus cases.

After months of contentious negotiations and seemingly intractable partisan gridlock, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) took to the Senate floor to say that a deal had been finalized and could be quickly approved.

And that was that:

The emerging stimulus package was expected to direct hundreds of billions of dollars in aid to jobless Americans, ailing businesses and other critical economic needs that have grown as the pandemic ravages the country and batters the economy.

“More help is on the way. Moments ago, in consultation with our committees, the four leaders of the Senate and House finalized an agreement. It would be another major rescue package for the American people,” McConnell said. “As our citizens continue battling this coronavirus pandemic this holiday season, they will not be fighting alone.”

And no one mentioned President Trump, because he had nothing to do with this. He will sign into law what these people came up with, without question. No one imagines he’ll read what he signs, but this is not a matter of trust. This is a matter of indifference. Sure, people shouldn’t starve homeless in the streets. Who, other than a few Darwinian libertarians, would argue otherwise? It’s just that Donald Trump has other things on his mind. The Washington Post offers a comprehensive review of what really has occupied the president, and it’s not pretty:

President Trump has intensified efforts to overturn the election, raising a series of radical measures in recent days, including military intervention, seizing voting machines and a 13th-hour appeal to the Supreme Court…

He is increasingly reaching out to allies like Rudolph W. Giuliani, his personal lawyer, and White House trade adviser Peter Navarro for ideas and searching his Twitter feed for information to promote, according to Trump advisers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

That search, for information, or something that might seem like information, that he can use to prove, once and for all, that he actually won the election in a landslide in every single state, is everything now. He needs ideas. Any will do:

On Friday, Trump met with Giuliani and disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn, among others.

Flynn had suggested on Newsmax that Trump could authorize the military to rerun the election. “He could order that, within the swing states, if he wanted to, he could take military capabilities, and he could place those in states and basically rerun an election in each of those states,” Flynn said.

Flynn is suggesting what he calls limited martial law. Suspend the Constitution just enough to send in the Army to take over and occupy and run the governments of Pennsylvania and Michigan and Wisconsin and maybe Georgia – sideline their governors and legislatures and state and local police and have the Army run everything while conducting a new election in each of those states, a new election where the wrong sorts of people are not allowed to vote. And then, when Trump wins each state’s “real” election, the Army returns the states to their governors and legislatures and leaves. It’s quite simple. Just do it:

The next day, Flynn was in the Oval Office to discuss the idea. Flynn’s attorney, Sidney Powell, who has promoted outlandishly false claims about this year’s election, including a disproved allegation that Venezuelan communists programmed U.S. voting machines to flip votes for Biden, was also in the meeting.

That didn’t go well:

Officials inside the White House said Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and White House counsel Pat Cipollone pushed back “strenuously” on the idea of martial law. Two officials, who like others for this story spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private matters and conversations, said that there have been no efforts inside the White House to actually deploy the military and that the idea was quickly dismissed at the meeting.

Experts also agree the president does not have the authority to order such an action.

Apparently, this got ugly. There was a lot of angry shouting back and forth. Flynn and Powell lost the argument, but the president persisted:

Trump suggested naming Powell as special counsel on voter fraud, an appointment that appeared to be a non-starter.

“The fact that she’s in there, it’s totally nuts,” a senior campaign official said, referring to Powell. A second official noted that Matt Morgan, a lawyer for the Trump campaign, told employees Saturday that they should preserve records related to Powell. Dominion Voting Systems has threatened to sue Powell and the Trump campaign for what it described as “wild, knowingly baseless and false accusations.”

The lawsuit scared them. Shred nothing. But not everyone was scared:

Powell was at the White House again on Sunday night, according to a Trump adviser. The adviser said Powell was lobbying Trump to seize voting machines. The adviser said Powell was also arguing that some of the president’s advisers, including Meadows and Cipollone, are not fighting hard enough for him.

She was revving him up, but she is nuts:

In recent days, Trump and others have been urging that homeland security officials should seize state voting machines and investigate alleged fraud.

Acting homeland security secretary Chad Wolf and other homeland security officials have previously told the White House they have no authority to do so unless states ask for inspections or investigations, and they have not.

DHS officials were not present for Friday’s meeting and have not had subsequent conversations with the White House. Ken Cuccinelli, acting deputy secretary of homeland security, also told Giuliani in a call last week that they could not take the machines, said officials.

Okay, fine, but there was this:

On Sunday, the Trump campaign said it was filing a suit with the Supreme Court over Pennsylvania’s mail-in voting rules. The U.S. Supreme Court has twice declined to take up challenges to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decisions regarding the state’s voting procedures. Generally, the court does not get involved in state court decisions on state law.

Okay, that’s also a long shot, as is this:

Efforts to persuade Trump to do a valedictory tour for some of his accomplishments, or focus on the coronavirus vaccine, have been futile, said two advisers. Advisers say they hope Trump going to Mar-a-Lago this week will calm his anger about the election, but Trump has shown no signs of pulling back.

That’s how he is, but martial law is hard:

Public officials and military leaders have refused to be drawn into Trump’s post-election maneuvering. On Friday, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and Gen. James C. McConville, the Army’s top officer, released a joint statement that said: “There is no role for the U.S. military in determining the outcome of an American election.”

Acting defense secretary Christopher Miller, who was installed after the post-election firing of Mark T. Esper, was not present at the meeting Friday night at the White House, a senior U.S. official said. Neither was Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was traveling in the Middle East last week.

In recent days, Milley has stressed that the U.S. military will follow U.S. law, without directly criticizing the president or his most partisan supporters.

“We are unique among militaries,” Milley said in a Nov. 12 speech at the new National Museum of the United States Army. “We do not take an oath to a king or a queen, a tyrant or a dictator. We do not take an oath to an individual. No, we do not take an oath to a country, a tribe or a religion. We take an oath to the Constitution.”

Trump can expect no help from them. Fox News could run hourly specials on “our disloyal military” but that would be unlikely to change anything here. And there’s more:

The Justice Department also has not acquiesced to Trump’s pressure campaign to appoint special counsel to explore his unfounded claims of fraud, though officials say privately they are worried about what might transpire in coming weeks, as the president becomes increasingly desperate.

After the election, the Justice Department greeted Trump and his allies’ claims of grand election fraud mostly with silent skepticism. Barr loosened longtime Justice Department restrictions that might discourage prosecutors from publicly investigating fraud before results were certified, sparking internal and external outcry that he was seeking to bolster Trump’s contention that the election was stolen. But even then, officials found no evidence to support the idea that there was fraud that might have changed the election’s outcome, and no new cases were announced.

Then, early this month, Barr told the Associated Press that he had “not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election,” undercutting the president. Although Barr noted the department had examined some allegations of fraud, he seemed to specifically rebut one particular claim by Powell, who alleged a grand conspiracy in which election software changed votes.

And then he resigned. Trump didn’t exactly fire him. This was a matter of mutual consent. Trump had no more use for Barr and Barr was tired of playing along with all the crazies around Trump. And there were lots of those:

Trump’s efforts to persuade congressional Republicans to question the legitimacy of the vote seem to be gaining traction.

Some current and incoming Republican members of the House, including Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Reps.-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) and Barry Moore (Ala.), have suggested they will join Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) in using an 1880s law that allows members of Congress to dispute a state’s results and make the House and Senate vote on the challenge to the electoral vote tally on Jan. 6.

The effort is certain to fail in the Democratic-led House and will meet resistance in the Senate, where several Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), have dismissed the idea. Both chambers would have to vote in favor of any challenge for it to succeed.

Yes, they will lose on this. Joe Biden will be the new president, but they will earn their merit badges that read “Official Martyr for Donald Trump” or some such thing – not really, but the Trump base will love them. They will be reelected over and over. They’re realists. They know what’s what. They know their constituents.

Good for them, but Max Boot knows this:

Trump met at the White House with retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, a pardoned felon, and attorney Sidney Powell, who was fired from the Trump legal team after promoting conspiracy theories about the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez too wacky even for Trump. Trump reportedly discussed with the duo Flynn’s idea of declaring martial law and having the military “rerun” the election – or, failing that, appointing Powell as a special counsel to probe (nonexistent) election fraud.

These dangerous ideas may not be implemented, but simply the fact that they are being discussed marks a new low. Never before in U.S. history has there been a record of a president discussing a military coup to stay in office.

Is there any doubt that if Trump could find any active-duty generals willing to carry out this plot against America, he would give it the go-ahead? In this instance, all that is preserving the Constitution is the military’s fidelity to the rule of law.

Well, there is the rule of law, and then there’s Rudy. Josh Feldman has been listening to talk radio:

Rudy Giuliani continued to dig in on conspiracy theories about voting machines on Sunday, after a series of legal threats to himself and others who have made similar claims.

Claim after claim Giuliani and others have brought to court have been rejected by judges, including ones appointed by President Donald Trump. Republican officials in the states they have contested have defended the integrity of the elections in their states, but Giuliani continued digging in on his insistence that it’s going to turn out President Donald Trump won.

Giuliani raised his voice on his radio show Sunday as he complained that the voting machines were not “honest” and that states don’t want to take up his wild claims.

He “guaranteed” that once the voting machines are inspected, “Donald Trump will be president of the United States.”

But who will inspect the voting machines? No one knows, but Rudy doesn’t do details:

Giuliani flipped out on the radio Sunday and attacked Dominion, accusing them of being crooked and going “all the way back to a bunch of communists!”

And he got even angrier:

“I can smell crooks! Smell ‘em! And these crooks smell so bad, you can smell ‘em from a mile. Now PROVE ME WRONG! PROVE ME NUTS! They love to say I’m nuts on left-wing bullcrap companies, so prove me wrong.”

A few minutes later, Giuliani attacked the CEO of Dominion as a “Canadian liar” after he publicly pushed back on these conspiracy theories.

But Giuliani also turned his ire on Republicans, asking if they’re “too afraid of Dominion.”

“I find you, the Republican turncoats, the Republican quislings, the REAL villains there!” he declared. “You’re acting like Dominion owns you!”

Okay, let’s prove him nuts:

Later in the program, Giuliani said he wants people to go to state capitols to “put pressure on these quisling Republicans.”

Giuliani also entertained a wild conspiracy theory about Dominion votes being sent to and tabulated in Germany, “based on its connection with Smartmatic, which it denies.”

“It denies that it sent any votes out of the country. We have definitive proof that it did. Definitive proof,” Giuliani really, seriously said.

The conspiracy-mongering continued as Giuliani said “they were also counting votes in Barcelona, and they were sending folks to Venezuela… and Iran!”

He again attacked Dominion’s CEO and accused him of lying.

That was a bad move:

Both Dominion and Smartmatic have publicly demanded retractions and threatened legal action over claims made by Giuliani and others.

Smartmatic sent a letter to Fox News about claims made on Lou Dobbs Tonight, Justice with Judge Jeanine, and Sunday Morning Futures with Maria Bartiromo. All three shows aired the fact-check one after another with an expert debunking claims that Giuliani himself was making.

Fox’s legal team forced the issue. These two companies can prove defamation and real financial and reputational harm in the millions. Swallow your pride. Run the damned de facto retractions. They did, and now it’s just Rudy:

Smartmatic’s demand to Fox News cited comments from Giuliani like “the machines can be hacked” and “they have no ability to audit meaningfully the vote” and “there is a backdoor and we actually have proof of some of the connections to it” and that Smartmatic owns Dominion and that “they use a Venezuelan company to count our ballots” and “our votes were sent overseas” and other wild claims. The company apparently sent a letter to Giuliani himself in addition to Fox, Newsmax, and OANN.

Meanwhile, Dominion recently sent a letter to Sidney Powell demanding she retract her “wild, knowingly baseless and false accusations.”

Even the relatively new conspiracy-laden One America News Network (OANN) doesn’t want to get sued into bankruptcy. But Trump is who he is. Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin open the long analysis of what might become of the Republican Party with this:

It was among the most consequential weeks of President Trump’s tenure: Across the country, health care workers began receiving a lifesaving coronavirus vaccine. On Capitol Hill, lawmakers closed in on a deal for economic relief aimed at averting a deeper recession. And on Friday, federal regulators authorized a second vaccine.

Yet Mr. Trump was largely absent from those events. It was Vice President Mike Pence who held a call with governors on Monday to hail a “medical miracle,” and who received the Pfizer vaccine at week’s end on live television. Legislative leaders were the ones working late into the nights on a stimulus deal eventually reached on Sunday.

All the while Mr. Trump was conducting a Twitter-borne assault on Republicans for not helping him overturn the election results, even warning Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, to “get tougher, or you won’t have a Republican Party anymore.”

By this weekend, the president was considering naming a conspiracy theorist as special counsel to investigate voting fraud, for which there’s no evidence, asking his advisers about instituting martial law and downplaying a massive hack his own secretary of state attributed to Russia.

No one expected this:

Seldom has the leader of an American political party done so much to strike fear into the hearts of his allies, but done so little to tackle challenges facing the country during his final days in office. Far from presenting the vaccine breakthroughs from Pfizer and Moderna as testaments to private-sector ingenuity and innovation – once a conservative creed – he was fixated on menacing Republicans who might dare to acknowledge Joseph R. Biden Jr. as president-elect.

Burns and Martin call this a preview of Trump’s post-presidency.

He has shown no interest in shaping the debates that lay ahead for Republicans, or in tending to the party’s electoral health or in becoming a champion of America’s recovery. Rather, he seems intent on using his political platform to wage personal vendettas and stoke a shared sense of grievance with the voters he has long cultivated as a fan base.

That’s it? That’s all there is to the man? Peter Wehner suspects so:

None of this should come as a surprise. Some of us said, even before he became president, that Donald Trump’s Rosetta Stone, the key to deciphering him, was his psychology – his disordered personality, his emotional and mental instability, and his sociopathic tendencies. It was the main reason, though hardly the only reason, I refused to vote for him in 2016 or in 2020, despite having worked in the three previous Republican administrations. Nothing that Trump has done over the past four years has caused me to rethink my assessment, and a great deal has happened to confirm it.

It was those sociopathic tendencies:

Given Trump’s psychological profile, it was inevitable that when he felt the walls of reality close in on him – in 2020, it was the pandemic, the cratering economy, and his election defeat – he would detach himself even further from reality. It was predictable that the president would assert even more bizarre conspiracy theories. That he would become more enraged and embittered, more desperate and despondent, more consumed by his grievances. That he would go against past supplicants, like Attorney General Bill Barr and Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, and become more aggressive toward his perceived enemies. That his wits would begin to turn, in the words of King Lear. That he would begin to lose his mind.

So, he has. And, as a result, President Trump has become even more destabilizing and dangerous.

Crazy people with almost unlimited power are rather dangerous:

Even amid the chaos, it’s worth taking a step back to think about where we are: An American president, unwilling to concede his defeat by 7 million popular votes and 74 Electoral College votes, is still trying to steal the election. It has become his obsession.

In the process, Trump has in too many cases turned his party into an instrument of illiberalism and nihilism. Here are just a couple of data points to underscore that claim: 18 attorneys general and more than half the Republicans in the House supported a seditious abuse of the judicial process.

And it’s not only, or even mainly, elected officials. The Republican Party’s base has often followed Trump into the twilight zone, with a sizable majority of them affirming that Joe Biden won the election based on fraud and many of them turning against medical science in the face of a surging pandemic.

COVID-19 is now killing Americans at the rate of about one per minute, but the president is “just done with COVID,” a source identified as one of Trump’s closest advisers told The Washington Post. “I think he put it on a timetable and he’s done with COVID. It just exceeded the amount of time he gave it.”

Those are sociopathic tendencies that really are deadly:

This is where Trump’s crippling psychological condition – his complete inability to face unpleasant facts, his toxic narcissism, and his utter lack of empathy – became lethal. Trump’s negligence turned what would have been a difficult winter into a dark one. If any of his predecessors – Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan, to go back just 40 years – had been president during this pandemic, tens of thousands of American lives would almost surely have been saved.

Those sociopathic tendencies do tend to kill people, but we’re a bit safer now:

Donald Trump will leave the presidency, with his efforts to mount a coup having failed. The encouraging news is that it never really had a chance of succeeding. Our institutions, especially the courts, will have passed a stress test, not the most difficult ever but difficult enough, and unlike any in our history. Some local officials exhibited profiles in courage, doing the right thing in the face of threats and pressure from their party. And a preponderance of the American public, having lived through the past four years, deserves credit for canceling this presidential freak show rather than renewing it. The “exhausted majority” wasn’t too exhausted to get out and vote, even in a pandemic.

But damn, that was a close call. How did that happen? That’s the worry now.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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