Believe in QAnon? Here’s the reality of government from one who spent 32 years inside it

Who doesn’t like a good conspiracy theory? It used to be that our conspiracy theories had a little bit of plausibility to them. When I was growing up, the big conspiracy theory was that Lee Harvey Oswald didn’t actually kill John F. Kennedy. Hundreds of books were written, each with a different conspiracy theory that its author asserted had to be correct. They covered quite a breadth of theories, but a lot of them were tied somehow to the USSR and/or Cuba. Some of them talked about the Deep State which could not allow a Catholic president, at least not for long. A mysterious entity called The Trilateral Commission seemed to be behind a lot of it.

Today, that particular conspiracy theory looks pretty tame. With the rise of QAnon we get conspiracy theories so outlandish that sane people like me figure no one sane could possibly believe it, not even those who wrote JFK assassination conspiracy books. But of course, you would be wrong. Trump is catering to the QAnon crowd, but really anyone who will vote for him. It’s estimated there are millions of QAnon followers and not just here in the USA. Some are likely to be elected to Congress in the coming election. QAnon-ers believe that someone with the code name Q, who has ties to the deep, deep state knows what’s really going on. He(?) will place his bursts of insight out on the dark web. QAnon wants you to know … oh heck, I’ll just quote from Wikipedia:

QAnon is a far-right conspiracy theory. It alleges that a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles is running a global child sex-trafficking ring and plotting against US President Donald Trump, who is battling against the cabal. The theory also commonly asserts that Trump is planning a day of reckoning known as “The Storm”, when thousands of members of the cabal will be arrested. No part of the theory is based on fact. QAnon has accused many liberal Hollywood actors, Democratic politicians, and high-ranking officials of being members of the cabal. It also claimed that Trump feigned conspiracy with Russians to enlist Robert Mueller to join him in exposing the sex-trafficking ring and preventing a coup d’état by Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and George Soros.

The most well-known QAnon conspiracy you probably heard about: Pizzagate. Apparently, Comet Ping Pong Pizza in Washington, D.C. was running a pedophilia ring in its basement. The minor fact that Comet Pizza doesn’t even have a basement, of course, was immaterial to those who believed in the theory.

I spent thirty-two years working for Uncle Sam. I held a number of security clearances over those years, including one that gave me access to Sensitive Compartmentalized Information. To this day I still feel I can’t utter two words they told me (except to those with the same clearance) because it was so super-secret, even though I have seen it repeatedly used in public. I’m still afraid if I utter them, some FBI agent will haul me away – they put the fear of the law in me back then. Fifteen of those years were with the U.S. Department of Defense, nine of them in the Pentagon where I worked hand in hand with members of the U.S. Air Force staff, specifically the people that put the budgets together (I helped maintain their information systems.) I also spent a year between jobs working for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and saw lots of politicians, including Ted Kennedy.

My time at the DCCC was illustrative. Rather than learn of any vast conspiracy theories, I discovered the business of political fundraising was sleazy; the more you contributed, the more access you had. For example, contribute a certain amount and you got into the Speaker’s Club (the House was then run by the Democrats), and in theory had the ear of then-Speaker Tip O’Neil at regularly scheduled events that you had access to because you gave them enough money. It was all spelled out in the brochure. That was a depressing lesson about how politics really worked, as it confirmed what I already knew but hoped was wrong. Rather than working on vast conspiracy theories, the people there tried to elect Democrats already compromised by selling their souls to special interests. In their spare time, the staff spent time at their PCs playing Leisure Suit Larry – someone had gotten a bootleg copy and passed it around.

Sadly, to your conspiracy buffs, I saw no evidence of a Deep State. I understand the appeal of conspiracy theories though. We want to find a simple explanation for the mammoth complexity of our government as it actually is. We want to put things in a comfortable frame, and a conspiracy theory as outlandish as it is at least is simpler than and easier to wrap our minds around than the complexity of our government on all levels as it actually is. Our government is no House of Cards, although the show was great entertainment.

But the good news is that 32 years in the system made me appreciate government. It was then a more coherent institution. If you want a disruptor, Donald Trump is doing a good job. He is working hard to get rid of civil service protections for many employees now, the sorts like Dr. Anthony Fauci who work in the public interest. Trump wants them all to be toadies and we can see how well that’s worked out in his first term.

Sadly, some of these institutions have been bent unacceptably, particularly the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). In general, I found my time as a civil servant inspiring in many ways. Trump’s children and in-laws may not follow the Hatch Act, but annually I had to take online training to make sure I remembered the rules, and the consequences of breaking them. There were all sorts of rules which often didn’t make a whole lot of sense. When I worked for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), I was not allowed to own any energy or mining stocks or mutual funds, even though there were relatively few geologists in the agency. But the rules did keep us from using insider knowledge to our own benefit. In general, I deeply respected my chain of command and felt confident that they were doing their best to work in the national interest and according to the law.

But our government’s complexity is mind-numbing. It’s the price we pay because we live in an increasingly complex world. I don’t expect it to get any better because the world is not going to become a simpler place, however we might want it to be. If it was, we could at least understand it. Since we can’t, it’s easier for many of us to imagine there is some secret cabal controlling it all and that Donald Trump of all people is going to expose it. In reality, it’s all a sort of organized chaos overseen by often inept elected politicians who come and go as elections are won and lost. It’s amazing it functions as well as it does.

 

Trump to flee the USA? I’d bet on it

At one of Trump’s recent rallies he said this:

Running against the worst candidate in the history of presidential politics puts pressure on me. Could you imagine if I lose? My whole life, what am I going to do? I’m going to say ‘I lost to the worst candidate in the history of politics.’ I’m not going to feel so good. Maybe I’ll have to leave the country? I don’t know.

This was supposedly said in jest. There’s just one problem. Have you ever heard Donald Trump laugh?

Not me, not once. Trump has no sense of humor at all as best I can tell. That’s because he doesn’t understand the root of humor. What makes something humorous varies from person to person. Mostly it’s about surprise. You expect to hear something but what you get is not what you expect and it’s usually something off the wall, and that’s often what makes it humorous. Would it surprise you at all if Donald Trump left the country after he is badly defeated? It wouldn’t surprise me. In fact, I’m expecting he’ll do just this.

There’s also the benign violation theory of humor. Humor arises in if there is both a violation from civil norms and it’s a non-threatening violation. Leaving the country to live elsewhere (likely a country without an extradition agreement with the United States, in Trump’s case) is definitely a violation of a civic norm. Is this non-threatening? Not to most of us. If Trump committed any crimes, we would like him to be held accountable for them. We’d feel threatened if he put himself outside of the law.

He wouldn’t emigrate unless he felt he would be held accountable for violating the law. It would be humorous if Trump chose to move to, say, Sweden. It would be funny because we don’t expect that Sweden would let him become a permanent resident and because it’s a socialist state. But we already sense Sweden wouldn’t have him, so that suggestion would be funny, but it’s not one that Trump uttered. He’s incapable of making this mental leap and seeing the humor in it. We all know what he’s really talking about: moving somewhere outside of the reach of U.S. law and which would accommodate his lifestyle. Offhand, only Russia comes to mind but he wouldn’t be too happy there. Now Trump moving to Iran, now that would be funny.

Trump raises this because it’s on his mind. As I posited in my last post, he knows he’s going to lose. Moreover, he’s getting desperate. In today’s Washington Post we learn that he’s considering firing FBI director Christopher Wray because he won’t indict Joe and Hunter Biden, like he wants him to do. The lack of evidence doesn’t bother him. The same fate may await Attorney General Bill Barr, who generally has bent over backward to accommodate Trump. Waiting until after the election to fire them though assumes that Trump wins. There’s little chance of that. Firing them after an election he loses is kind of pointless. It won’t change the fact that he lost.

Trump is privy to his actual crimes. Even non-lawyers like me can see there would be no problem filing charges. Once he is out of office, there’s no reason not to, as he is no longer untouchable. It’s likely that New York State has a set ready to file on January 21. Trump though doesn’t want to live elsewhere, which is why I suspect before he leaves office, he will try to pardon himself. If he gets too much heat for the idea, he’ll plan to resign on the condition that Mike Pence will pardon him.

Pardoning himself looks legally dubious at best, but with three of nine justices appointed by him, it’s not out of the question they would decide it’s legal. Actually, the constitution seems to forbid it. The clause is:

The President … shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.

Trump has been impeached, but not convicted, so there is some wiggle room there. But grant on the other hand has a more specific meaning. In most interpretations, granting is something done to someone else (the grantee) by the grantor. It would take some stretching to interpret it otherwise.

In either event, the safer course for Trump will be to go somewhere else until courts rule in his favor, somewhere outside of U.S. law. So, I can certainly see him holing up in some country like Russia hoping to eventually come home. Better safe than sorry, though.

We’ll just have to see how this all plays out. But if you are looking for someone to say Trump will either try to pardon himself or resign to get Pence to do it, you heard it here first. It would not be surprising in the least. Trump has spent a lifetime dodging accountability, so it’s part of his playbook. And since most of us in our hearts know Trump is likely to do something like this, it’s not unexpected, and also not humorous.

When the extent of his crimes is uncovered, most of us will regret that witch burning was outlawed centuries ago.

Trump is planning to lose

It’s clear to me that Trump is planning to lose the election.

The evidence is hard to miss. His campaign is going broke. He’s not advertising at all in some of the swing states he won last time. To the extent he is advertising, it is down in the Deep South where some states like Georgia look to be in jeopardy. He seems uninterested in debating Joe Biden. His only interest is in holding rallies that only his supporters attend.

He’s also not doing any of the things you would expect a candidate to do to win an election. He’s not moving toward the middle. He’s not telling voters his wonderful plans for a second term; he has none.

But recall that Trump did not expect to win in 2016 either, and saw the campaign as an opportunity to rebrand himself and his image. It’s easier to see now because the New York Times story on his tax returns has documented that he was losing money. The Apprentice gig had dried up and he was piling up massive loans to overseas lenders. He was likely flabbergasted to win as it wasn’t in his business plan at all. From his governing style, it is clear he was not interested in the actual mechanics of governing a country.

The 2016 campaign was a lot of fun, though. He could do what he likes to do best: hold rallies, tweet, yell at opponents and fake enemies and promote himself as the smartest and best person in the world. That’s what he’s been doing during his presidency as well, based on how he is spending his time. Actual governing continues to bore him and he just tunes it out.

So, Trump’s planning to lose should be good news, but in Trump’s case, it’s not. He realizes he’s going to lose the popular vote and the Electoral College massively, but he’s not convinced he can’t stay in power somehow anyhow. He should have “his” new member of the Supreme Court, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, in place to hear challenges to the election. With a 6-3 conservative court, three of whom he appointed, the odds look better than they should.

He’ll try every possible path to overturn the will of the voters. He’ll try to twist states with Republican controlled legislatures to award their electoral votes to him against the popular vote in the state, a possible but dubious strategy which is actually legal, in many cases. He will spin up all sorts of spurious lawsuits, making the case that the votes were rigged and that only votes cast on Election Day should count, unless, of course, mail in ballots favor him in a particular state. It’s all going to be a huge mess and he’ll hope “his” court will twist all sorts of rules to make him president anyhow. If he succeeds, it will effectively end our republic.

In addition, you can expect him to try to foment civil unrest, unchaining groups like The Proud Boys he told to “stand back and stand by” at the first presidential debate. He thrives in a climate of fear and distraction. but it’s unclear whether much of this will materialize if he loses. In any event, the clock will be against him. The Electoral College meets on December 14, not in Washington but in fifty state capitals. If some states manage to cast their electoral votes for him when they should have gone to Biden, it likely won’t be enough to deny Biden the presidency. Trump’s own foot dragging on his own reelection suggests he’ll bank it all on some last-minute Hail Mary unlikely to work.

Trump is likely to also try tactics tried out in Washington, D.C. and Portland, Oregon: placing National Guard troops in many cities to control civil unrest. As governors control the National Guard, it’s hard to see how this would work unless he somehow overrides their authority. It’s unlikely that either the National Guard or our active military would do much to occupy state capitols and keep the Electoral College from meeting. If it happens at all, it is likely to be a muted and ineffective response. In any event, if we need the National Guard to quell unrest, it will probably be to quell unrest from right-wing fringe groups like The Proud Bois.

A more likely result will be calls from some states to secede from the country. This does nothing to make him president, but does allow certain states to express their dismay about the direction of the country. There doesn’t appear to be the passion for a new confederacy in the South there was at the start of the last Civil War, and any new confederacy would be a much more shrunken version. The only real pivotal event would be some sort of military occupation of the U.S. Capitol to keep the Congress from certifying the results of the election. With no certification though, Nancy Pelosi would become acting president.

So, most likely Trump is checkmated. There are too many loose ends, too many improbable things that have to happen, and too little time to do it. He’ll likely slink out of the White House at the last possible second. All of Trump’s actions so far have been to build a case for why he will lose. You’ve heard many of them: rigged ballots, the deep state, Never Trumpers, etc. His goal is to leave office with the hanging question that the election was illegitimate somehow. Most likely when gone he will refocus his efforts for a run in 2024, God help us.

Which is Trump’s way of winning. The presidency has never interested him, but he is very much interested in saving face, staying in the news and in everyone’s mind. Those of us hoping his defeat will mean seeing and hearing much less from him are likely to be disappointed. The best we can hope for is he spends years fighting civil and criminal charges, maybe ends up in prison, and that Twitter cuts his feed. If a criminal conviction looks likely, I expect he will simply flee the country. He lives by his own rules and won’t be held accountable. He had better hope that Vladimir Putin will be willing to take him in.

In any event we will all need extra antacids after November 3, not fewer.

My election predictions

The conventional wisdom has been that voters on both sides are pretty locked in and there aren’t many of us left who are persuadable. Unless Joe Biden does something amazing stupid, or Donald Trump shows the political savvy to move toward the middle, Biden looks to handily beat Trump.

But conventional wisdom may be wrong. It sure appears that the first and what may be the only presidential debate of the election peeled off a lot of Trump voters and moved them toward Biden. If you watched the debate (and some eighty million of us did) it becomes easier to understand. What we saw was the worst of Donald Trump, the inner child that shows up on Twitter, on full display. It was like the blinders for Trump came off for a lot of people as they realized quite literally that Trump was insane.

It’s either that and/or Trump’s acquiring covid-19, but the trend was noticed by pollsters immediately after the debate. Those queried after the debate told pollsters that they were voting for Biden by a range that increased by about five percent overall. States that didn’t look likely to be in play, like Texas, now look viable for Biden, so much so that his campaign is actually spending money in the state, which is huge and very expensive.

As for Trump, his campaign’s spending continues to diminish driven mostly by donations drying up – donors can sense he will lose and hate to waste their money. States that Trump won narrowly in 2016 now look out of the question this year, including Pennsylvania (where Biden has a ten-point lead), Michigan (ditto) and Wisconsin. If Trump wins Florida it will only be due to voter suppression as recent polls show Biden with a five-point lead in the state. The election is looking like a Biden tsunami.

Worse, millions of people have already voted so they can no longer be persuaded. We voted yesterday. Our ballots came in the mail but to make sure the U.S. Postal Service didn’t lose them I deposited them in the City Clerk’s box on the front steps of City Hall. Early voting is hugely outpacing 2016. The first day of early voting in Ohio saw lines of two hundred or more people deep. It sure looks like people are determined to vote and that voter suppression efforts will be markedly less effective this year. It will be interesting to see how many voters vote. We may reach turnout rates above seventy percent.

Real Clear Politics lets you create your own electoral college prediction map, so here’s mine. I see Biden getting no less than 351 electoral college votes.

My 2020 electoral college prediction map
My 2020 electoral college prediction map

Similarly, Real Clear Politics lets you create your own senate election prediction map. I see Democrats having at least 51 seats, with 3 toss up seats. One Georgia election is basically a primary, so it won’t be settled for some time, but it’s likely Democrats will end up with 52 – 53 senate seats overall, a likely 6-7 seat gain.

My 2020 Senate election prediction map
My 2020 Senate election prediction map

I won’t predict the House except that Democrats will retain and modestly expand their majority.

It’s unlikely that we will know the extent of Biden’s win on Election Night. It may take a week or so for it to become clear. But it should be clear that he has won decisively by the end of Election Night.

We can expect all sorts of dubious court challenges from the Trump campaign. You can also count on Trump to declare the election was massively rigged. A large Biden win may suppress actions by right-wing terrorists to try to foment violence and civil war. But we can expect some of it, and we can unfortunately expect Trump to egg these people on. So a Biden win doesn’t mean that he will be able to govern when he is inaugurated.

But at least the outlines of this election are now pretty clear to me, and if anything, it looks to be a bigger win for Democrats overall than I anticipated.

Pay no attention to that man (Trump) behind the curtain!

Most of you will understand the reference, but if you don’t, watch the classic 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz. In the pivotal scene the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz was revealed as just a man behind a curtain good at pulling levers that blew a lot of fire and smoke. That wizard, like Donald Trump, knew how to put on an impressive show.

To those of us with a brain, Trump was that always that man behind the curtain. It was obvious from the beginning. He was only something special to those who chose to believe otherwise. For many on the right, Trump is their last hope. He’s their hopelessly skewed knight in shining armor with a nontraditional way about him that somehow was going to make everything right again. “Right” in this case meant an end to the creeping anxiety they feel about a world changing too quickly. Change drives them nuts.

It’s not just a lot of Americans who have this anxiety; it’s people all across the world. Wannabee dictators are a dime a dozen and you don’t have to look far to find them. Two of the more prominent ones are Jair Bolsonaro, President of Brazil and Rodrigo Duterte, President of the Philippines. Both promise through control that they will make things right again and ease the crushing anxieties of their populaces to a world changing too quickly.

Americans who picked Donald Trump were voting their anxieties too. Trump was to bring back Leave it to Beaver America, a time when America was triumphant, whites ran pretty much everything, and life was great. Actually, the 1950s kind of sucked. A lot of our success back then was our sky-high income tax rates, which ensured tons of money went to build up our infrastructure. Naturally, this aspect of the 1950s his supporters are particularly unwilling to bring back.

Trump was never this person and in fact modeled the opposite. The breadcrumbs were all around: the many failed businesses, failed marriages, infidelities and his wacky and crazy pants ideas. Trump sold us on a vision he could not possibly deliver. The real Donald Trump doesn’t spend all his time working for you. He uses government to enrich himself, which we now understand because he’s paid little in the way of income taxes for years and he’s massively in debt. Governing bores him. What he really likes to do is tweet, hold rallies and bask in the adulation of his die-hard fans.

And now we also learn that he’s not the Great and Powerful Trump, but just another guy with covid-19. He’s 74 and obese. Statistically, he has an 11% chance of dying from the disease now that he has it. Now at Walter Reed Naval Hospital, he has a team of doctors trying to get him well.

His doctors say he may be released tomorrow, but even if he goes back to the White House it says little. The disease seems to be worst on days 8-12. It’s very likely that his actual condition is much worse than the limited facts we are learning from his doctors. He apparently traveled to a fundraiser knowing he had tested positive and while he was already declining. It appears he’s been on supplemental oxygen but doctors won’t confirm it. Meanwhile, he’s taking a crazy array of drugs not normally given to those with covid-19 and often given to only the sickest of the sick, like dexamethasone. That alone suggests he’s getting oxygen, since it’s not given to those not needing supplemental oxygen because of the possibility of harm.

He likely carried the disease during last Tuesday’s “debate” with Joe Biden. Let’s hope the social distancing keeps Biden free of the disease, but Trump’s children and in-laws showed their support by taking off their masks, a clear violation of the rules the campaign had agreed to. But, of course, Trump is all about breaking the rules as he did almost constantly during the debate itself.

Prominent Republicans all over the places are coming down with the disease or are testing positive. You can watch many of them slapping each other’s backs at the ceremony in the Rose Garden where Trump introduced his pick for the Supreme Court. No masks. No social distancing. People shaking hands and hugging. Chairs were laid next to each other.

It’s getting so bad that three Republican senators have tested positive, so it’s unclear if Trump’s supreme court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett can get a quick hearing. It’s not clear if due to the absence of these senators if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has to votes to even advance the nomination. All this is because Republicans swallowed the Trump Kool-Aid. They were too spineless to wear masks and social distance because they worried Trump would be mad at them.

Some are wondering if karma is at work. Trump has dodged it all his life. I like the idea of karma, but I’m skeptical it’s a thing. It suggests there are some higher and unseen forces at work.

Trump could die from covid-19. It’s true I would not shed any tears if he did, except possibly of joy. It would certainly feel just. But it would not actually be just. His death would simply be another way he avoided accountability for his actions; it would be anti-karmic. He deserves to get well enough to lose massively at the polls, so there is no ambiguity that voters rejected not just Trump, but Trumpism. Today’s NBC News/WSJ poll shows Biden with a 14% lead nationally. Trump is now polling under 40%, which is Herbert Hoover territory.

Much like the unpopular Jimmy Carter, Hoover went on to have a very successful ex-presidency. Assuming we can stave off civil war and put Joe Biden successfully in office, this is unlikely to be Trump’s fate. So, here’s hoping Trump survives this disease so the law can finally catch up to him. But I fear he will cheat his way out of it. Dying of covid-19 may be his only way out.

2020 Presidential Debate #1

Did you watch the debate last night? Of course, you didn’t. At least you didn’t if you were smart, unlike me. But even if you watched the debate, the obvious conclusion was no debate actually took place. I rarely swear on this blog, but what a shitshow.

The 2016 Clinton-Trump presidential debates were really bad but couldn’t hold a candle to this “debate”. A debate assumes that each participant gets a chance to expound on their views and there is some civility.

Donald Trump would have none of that and almost entirely ignored the rules to the debate that he has signed up to. Joe Biden looked like he would have preferred an enema and the truth is, I would have too, in retrospect. A bit more than an hour into it, I gave up. Literally anything I could have done would have been a better use of my time. I felt used and abused. I suspect any person watching the debate with any conscience would have too.

I’ve currently been rereading old Calvin & Hobbes cartoon books. Donald Trump is a 70-year-plus version of Calvin. He never made it out of his terrible twos. Conversation is simply not possible without a willingness to listen, and you can’t listen if you never stop talking. Trump talked over Biden, never letting him get a word in edgewise. Very little of what he said had any basis in fact. Demeaning anyone is the mark of incivility, but no one watching could have possibly objected to Joe Biden’s characterization of Trump as the worst president ever.

My Dad passed away in 2016 at age 89. Thank goodness! Not that I wished him dead, far from it. But at least he passed before Donald Trump became president. From my dad (and mom) I learned manners. To this day, it’s hard for me to swear, because I almost never heard either of them swear. They would say the kindest things about the unkindest people. But I am confident my Dad would make an exception for “President” Trump. He was running for president in his last year, but even then, he was openly appalled by his behavior. He was so circumspect and non-judgmental that we never knew for sure what political party be belonged to.

We really learned nothing from the debate because it was no debate. If there are any truly undecided voters out there, it’s hard to imagine how they could vote for Trump after watching his performance. If you met someone like Trump in real life, you would stay away from them. And while I’m met plenty of miserably awful human beings in my life, Trump stands out as the worst of the worst. And we elected him to our highest office.

I didn’t so much learn anything from Trump as confirmed my most worrisome fears. He’s not going to accept the results of any election that he loses. He’s going to encourage violence by his supporters and actually told the Proud Boys to get ready. He refused to denounce violence by white supremacists. The shitshow is going to become an epic shitstorm after he loses on November 3.

Moderator Chris Wallace lost all control over the debate, and even called out Trump for his interruptions and behavior which Trump just ignored. He ignored all the rules and just made the biggest, most obnoxious ass possible of himself.

So, it wasn’t a debate, but if we want a real debate there needs to be rules that are actually enforced. In the past, it wasn’t necessary. If I were Biden, I wouldn’t bother “debating” him again because doubtless the next two will be more of the same. The debates need a penalty box. If a debater violates the rules once they should get a warning. Twice, they should be removed from the debate for five minutes. A third time, they should be escorted out of the debating area and probably unceremoniously dumped in the parking lot.

Since we didn’t get a debate, all we really learned was how completely awful a human being Trump is. It was two hours of someone scraping their nails against a chalkboard. It was horrible and unwatchable. I felt slimed by the whole experience; I wanted a cold shower.

I feel sorry for any human being who likes Donald Trump. I understand completely why he doesn’t have any pets. Certainly, no dog would endure him.

In 2021, Democrats need to make good trouble

Like many Americans, my heart sank Friday when I learned of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death. I wasn’t surprised that before her body went cold Senate Republicans would move on and press a case to replace her as fast as possible. Both Trump and the Republican Party have every incentive to do so. For Republicans, what’s not to like about a 6-3 conservative majority, particularly since they sense they will lose the Senate in the upcoming election? Also, for them, wielding power means forcing people to do what they want. They lust for overturning the ACA, for a court that makes denying coverage for preexisting conditions illegal, and for overturning Roe v. Wade. For Trump, the impetus to get a replacement on the court before the election is vital to his plans to corrupt the upcoming election.

George W. Bush infamously found a path to 270 through the Supreme Court. It’s now a far more partisan institution, so getting a justice Trump considers a loyalist on the court before November 3 means that when his inevitable court cases challenging results come before the court, he is likelier to prevail. It will be 2000 on steroids. Recently Trump opined that he could issue an executive order not allowing Biden to take office. Trump never asks permission; he just goes for it and sees what happens. It’s not even clear that if the Supreme Court ruled against him that he would follow their ruling. In any event, a 6-3 conservative majority makes it less likely that they would.

The only consistent thing about Republicans in Congress is that if they can take an inch, they will take a mile instead. It’s all about maintaining raw political power. They are heedless to the consequences of doing so. A government controlled by a minority cannot be considered legitimate indefinitely.

Which is why if we get through this election, Biden wins the presidency and Democrats control Congress, it’s time for Democratic retribution. I’m dubious we’ll get it, as Biden promises to listen to both sides and stupidly thinks Republicans can be persuaded. But retribution by the majority is long overdue.

As it turns out, it’s not that hard to put Republicans in their place. Democrats though just have to show some spine. They will also have to clean up the messy mountains of trash left by the latest Republican administration. We need functional government again too.

To start, the Senate filibuster needs to end. It’s largely dead already, so it wouldn’t take much to make it die officially. The filibuster is not in the Constitution. It ends with a simple majority vote, presumably at the start of the new Congress when rules are agreed to through a simple majority.

Second: pack the court. The constitution does not specify nine justices. All it takes is a bill passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law, which will be in Democratic hands. With a 6-3 conservative court we will need at least three more, but let’s make it four for a clear liberal majority. It’s been done many times in the past. Republicans invented all sorts of reasoning for their tactics. So can Democrats. Here’s one: we’re a country of 330 million people now and too much power is in the hands of too few justices. This would more evenly distribute power making it harder for a minority to control a majority.

Third: pass a constitutional amendment that allows the Attorney General to be elected. Trump shows exactly what can go wrong when the Justice Department reports to a lawless president. I propose like the president we elect an attorney general to a 4-year term, every four years. Like the president, there would be a maximum of two terms that could be served by one person. To make it more interesting, run the Attorney General race during non-presidential voting years. It would give us a reason to vote. The amendment should provide that the Attorney General will control the budget of the Justice Department and directly submit appropriations to Congress, outside of the Executive.

Fourth: appoint an independent prosecutor to look into and prosecute potential crimes by Trump and his administration. To avoid the appearance of partisanship, he or she should be a diehard Never Trumper with a proven commitment to impartially upholding the rule of law.

Fifth: keep working with the states to pass the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. When we have states representing more than 270 electoral votes passing laws agreeing to this compact, the Electoral College is effectively dead, because these states will award their electoral votes by law to the winner of the popular vote for President of the United States. Currently states with 196 electoral votes have passed this legislation, and it’s pending in states representing another 64 electoral votes. If those states passed legislation, we’d be just 11 electoral votes from getting rid of it for good. All it does it increasingly make it likely that our president won’t represent the majority of those who voted for him or her. Biden should make this his cause, and personally coax state legislatures to give it impetus.

Sixth: expand Congress. With Democrats in charge and with no filibuster, there’s no reason not to make the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico states. DC would still have more people in it than Montana, which gets two senators. But let’s also expand the House. With 435 seats, one representative represents more than 700,000 people. That’s too many people. We need a House that changes size based on population. This too can be done with legislation: no constitutional amendment required. The number was last raised in 1929. In the first congress, one representative represented about 30,000 people.

In the words of the late Rep. John Lewis, Congress needs to make good trouble. This is all good trouble. We’ve seen a lot of bad trouble these last few decades. We need a Congress that proportionately represents us, not disproportionately conservative states.

It’s going to get crazy after the election

I’ve discussed many times my concerns for our upcoming election and specifically for the time between the election and Inauguration Day. I’m hardly alone in thinking it will be the most dangerous time in our country since the Civil War.

Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised that the results won’t be seriously contested, and a preponderance of Republicans will tell Trump to accept his defeat as gracefully as possible. As I noted in my last post, I still see Joe Biden winning it handily. Events since then – particularly the recent news that Trump knew of the likely casualty count in the United States from covid-19 in February and openly lied to the American people that it wouldn’t be very lethal – have made winning reelection just that much worse an uphill climb for him.

Polls consistently indicate people have made up their mind about Trump, as evidenced by their serene months long consistency with polling averages showing Biden ahead 7-10 percent nationally. We want him gone. So, if the election is held reasonably fairly, Biden should win handily and bring a Democratic Senate on his coattails too. With so many mail-in votes though, it’s likely we can’t say for certain for a few days after the election.

We know that Trump will dispute the results. He’ll deploy armies of lawyers to swing states to challenge mail-in ballots with little likelihood that he’ll have much success. You will hear from Trump that the election was massively rigged, and it’s invalid, and without a revote that isn’t rigged he can’t accept the results. We’ll hear stuff like because it was rigged, he has a duty to stay in office until a real fair election is conducted, an election of course where he sets the terms for what is fair. He’ll resist the voters’ verdict.

The dangerous part is when he calls on his unhinged supporters to take matters into their own hands to “Save America”, which he will likely tweet in all caps. These caravans of Trump supporters of course are already in the news, showing up at generally peaceful protests to inflame tensions and to sometimes inflict violence. All of the homicides at these events, with one exception, have been carried out by these white nationalist Trump supporters. Trump’s been egging them on and we can expect that he will do much more than that after the election. After all, what does he have to lose but otherwise likely spending the rest of his life in prison? He will try to institute martial law, initially in cities with protests. If it works there, he will try to do it nationwide as much as possible, disproportionately targeting cities that lean Blue and ethnic.

We can expect Barr’s Justice Department will largely turn a blind eye, which means we can’t expect justice from our own Justice Department. At best it will be a milquetoast appeal to law and order which of course in Trump’s mind means screw the law and just institute whatever he considers to be order.

Thus, I fully expect the crazies to come out of the woodwork in much larger numbers. The violence we’ve seen so far will seem in retrospect hardly nothing. With more guns than people in our country, and plenty of them in the hands of wannabee paramilitaries, Trump will likely light the fuse. It won’t be a firecracker going off this time, though.

It will become one fraught acme to our long constitutional crisis. These people already have their hands on the trigger so it becomes something of a guess as to what excuse they will use to start what could amount to the first rumblings of a new civil war. At this time what sane leadership that remains in the government will be key. In particular, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper will need to publicly state that troops may not engage in this civil conflict. It will probably get him fired.

If it goes the way I think it could easily go, we’ll see caravans of heavily armed militias wreaking open havoc in cities and against minorities in particular, with local police department probably staying out of the way. It’s not too hard to figure out that minorities in particular will be targeted. Leaders of color will probably seek refuge, with their lives and houses targeted by these groups. But if it gets bad, we could see variants of the Tulsa massacre in many places in this country. It could be that white people like me are sheltering these people in our homes to try to keep them safe.

It’s hard not to play through these scenarios in my mind. Many governors will resist, of course, and deploy their National Guard to try to keep order. But these state-sponsored militias have limits in their ability to control things too.

President-elect Biden can speak forcefully and I am sure will. He can warn these people that his Justice Department will prosecute these crimes to the maximum extent of the law. He can remind Donald Trump that his behavior could result in criminal prosecutions. Trump of course will try to proactively pardon all these violators, including likely himself.

It’s just going to get crazy after November 3. I don’t know what getting prepared means for something like this. What will prove more pragmatic than buying a gun will be buying lots of masks and protest signs because we’re likely to be in the streets a lot. Maybe through our overwhelming presence and the mass concurrence of most of our elective leaders, we can turn this nightmare around before it gets too bad.

Time to buy a pitchfork

So my wife is in a funk. Her dying friend finally died yesterday. Otherwise she is obsessing over the possibility that somehow Donald Trump will win reelection. She doesn’t want to live in a world with another four years of Donald Trump in it. In the event he does win, I hope I can keep her from jumping off a cliff.

While anything is possible, I still believe that Trump is destined to lose, barring some sort of turnaround that is hard to imagine and would probably require Trump getting a brain transplant. Ideally, Trump would lose gracefully but that definitely would require a brain transplant.

Much more likely is that Trump will claim he has won and will send out armies of lawyers to various swing states trying to invalidate mail in ballots and such. It’s also possible that Republicans will ratchet voter disenfranchisement up to 11, and somehow keep ten times as many people of color from voting as they have in the past. Maybe that would do it.

But Republicans don’t necessarily control all swing states, and not all Republican governors are as crazy as Georgia’s governor Brian Kemp. The Supreme Court unwisely inserted itself into the 2000 election, famously flipping Florida’s electoral votes. It’s possible they might do the same and meddle in lots of states. If they do that not only do we need to fear another four more years of Trump, but also we can effectively kiss our republic goodbye.

The party conventions have demonstrated the electorate has not moved. It’s as polarized as electorate as it’s been for many months. We can expect a so-called miracle vaccine in October that Trump will hope to ride to reelection. But voters already seem to expect this scam and at least the educated ones know a vaccine can’t be trusted until it undergoes a much larger clinical trial than can happen before the election. Also, a vaccine won’t be a cure. At best it might offer something like eighty percent immunity, and it’s likely that the coronavirus will keep mutating, requiring new vaccines and boosters over time. Things won’t go back to the way they were before but we will get better at dealing with it and its impact will lessen over time.

So other dirty tricks will likely be tried: doctored photos of Biden and some call girl, perhaps. Basically, Trump has to persuade voters that he can do a better job in the next four years than Biden. Given his track record, it’s no wonder opinions about Trump are largely set in stone by the electorate now.

Moreover, things will just get worse. They already are getting worse. Our president believes the 17-year-old gunman that killed two people in Kenosha, Wisconsin was defending himself somehow, although there is plenty of video evidence that is laughable. It’s a new level of crazy, even for Donald Trump and you know he’s only going to get crazier. Soon he will be openly supporting white vigilante groups. This does nothing to broaden his coalition and might even help fracture it. His supporters have an unusually high tolerance for disbelief, but some small minority of them must retain enough sanity to say “Enough!”

covid-19 deaths will continue to worsen as a second wave begins, with the first wave never really ending. The flu season will add to the mounting casualties and of course there won’t be anything resembling a plan to fix it. He won’t suggest that parents do something pragmatic, like keep their kids from going to school. He’s all for the Silence of the Lambs. Most parents though will keep them home, at least if their school system is stupid enough to demand they keep coming to school anyhow.

So realistically, the best and most likely case for Trump is that he will say the election was rigged and he tried all he could do to unrig it, but the Deep State had it all fixed. So he will, with much bellicose and bluster, eventually accept his defeat. He likes an audience though so most likely he will keep us guessing until the end, while groups of vigilantes supporting him raise occasional violent ruckuses and his Justice Department turns a blind eye to it all. The true impact of his defeat though will be measured in how many Republican casualties go down with Trump’s ship. The size of an expanded House Democratic majority, and a new Senate majority will indicate the real size of the Republican disaster.

So I understand where my wife is coming from. We are mostly fear-based creatures and Trump will pull all the strings, even when it gets comical. I get similar nightmares, but then when I awake I realize the fundamentals of the election haven’t changed and almost certainly won’t change. It will be hard to call the election on Election Night because of all the absentee and vote-by-mail ballots. Since Democrats will disproportionately cast them, it may appear briefly that Trump is ahead somehow. Florida will be the key. It has mail in ballots down to a science. They’ll all be counted by Election night, except perhaps for some overseas military ballots. If he loses Florida, he’s toast. If he somehow keeps Florida, he is most likely toast unless a whole lot of states suddenly flip in unexpected ways contrary to late polls.

As I’ve noted, it’s the time between Election Day and the inauguration that really has me worried. It remains to be seen if the white power structure can peacefully cede power, and Trump will find it his interest to fan the flames. A run to the local hardware store may be in order: I may need a pitchfork.

Falling through the cracks

She’s hung on for about ten days so far, but likely won’t be alive much longer. Annie is the spouse of Nansi, a same sex couple in the Amish country in Pennsylvania. They live in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, which is not too far from Allentown. If you’ve heard Billy Joel’s song about Allentown, you have a pretty good idea of what Lebanon is like.

Nansi is in her fifties; her spouse is in her sixties but has been on a disability retirement for a long time. Annie required so much care (she was effectively immobile) that Nansi had to quit her job just to take care of her. Lately though Annie has been in and out of hospitals. This time her condition is terminal. Her body is going through a slow process of shutting down. Ridden with bedsores, Annie is at least blessedly in a coma. She likely won’t be alive much longer but frankly she’s lived about a week longer than they thought she would. Her breathing is shallow and she is turning blue.

My wife is a good friend with them. I’ve met them a few times over the years. They lived in what can charitably be called the most ramshackle house in Lebanon, but probably the state of Pennsylvania. It became too much to manage. They moved into an apartment nearby and the house was demolished. Nansi worked when she could but wages in Lebanon are bargain basement. Since she quit her job, their income has been Annie’s disability retirement, which amounts to living in poverty. They have no savings. Alas, poverty is hardly unfamiliar territory for them.

Sadly they are poster children (well, maybe poster adults) for our age of neoliberalism: the idea that we must all be self-supporting no matter what. When Annie’s joints gave out, she qualified for a disability retirement, something the neoliberals would like to stop. She was frequently in and out of hospitals.

It’s not too hard to predict that Annie will soon be gone. And also gone will be her disability income, at least much of it. Nansi should get some as a surviving spouse, only possible because the Supreme Court said same sex marriage was a civil right, which allowed them to marry at last. But it will be a fraction of the income they have now which was already insufficient. Of course, Lebanon was deeply distressed before the pandemic and recession. It won’t be much longer after Annie is planted six feet underground that Nansi will have to try to find work. Oh, and pay for funeral expenses. She’s called around and it looks like the cheapest option available is cremation, which costs more than $2000 that Nansi doesn’t have.

According to neoliberal ideology, Nansi is not working hard enough because if she tried she could pull herself up by her own bootstraps. Instead, she hangs around the hospital at all hours, exhausted, holds Annie’s hand and waits for her to pass on. But she should be out there trying to get a job, any job, to support herself and to pay off those looming funeral expenses with money she doesn’t have.

These days we deal with the dichotomy of trying to live up to the neoliberalism ideal with actual facts on the ground through GoFundMe. It’s a website where you go to plead to friends and families to send you money you don’t have, generally for expenses that are wildly overpriced. Nansi had no time to set up a GoFundMe, and I don’t think she even thought of it. But my wife did. With lots of cursing, wailing and gnashing of teeth she set one up for her. Friends have contributed about $6000 so far. That should get Annie a cremation or maybe Nansi will spring for a casket.

She’d best go for the simple cremation. She will apply for survivor benefits, but at best it will take a few months. Meanwhile she gets to grieve while trying to find a job in one of the most hard pressed places in the country, find $1000 for the rent for the world’s smallest apartment, plus feed and walk the dog several times a day.

In short, the GoFundMe balance is likely already spoken for. At best it will carry her through until survival benefits come in, but those benefits won’t be enough to live on. She can’t plead for her own disability retirement as she is still mobile, and she’s not old enough to draw from Social Security. Obviously her family is not of much help, what’s left of it. She’s estranged from many of them because she happens to be a lesbian. So she has to scour the job market for a job that likely isn’t there, and if she can find one almost certainly won’t pay her a living wage.

GoFundMe turns out to be a neoliberal’s and capitalist’s dream. It profits off the misery of others. Yes, some people use it for more benign purposes, like to start a small business. But mostly the site is for people who have fallen through the cracks to try to eke out something resembling survival while GoFundMe does its best to take a cut of the contributions.

The default “tip” at GoFundMe is ten percent. We contributed $1000, so GoFundMe would have been happy for us to pay $100 for the privilege of giving Nansi and Annie $1000. But you could also give them 5%. If you look for it you can select your own “tip”. That’s what we did. I chose to tip them nothing.

GoFundMe also made it devilishly hard to for Nansi to get the money. Its site is kind of cranky. My wife uses Firefox for her browser. She was able to set it up easily with Firefox, but the next day when she tried to do something with it, she couldn’t login. She just got a spinning wheel.

As someone who previously made her living fixing Windows computers, she knew what to do and tried all the obvious stuff. Eventually she tried to reach GoFundMe, who didn’t respond, at least not right away. It took a couple of days. She won’t use Facebook, so I was asked to comment on their Facebook page. It didn’t change anything but plenty of others chimed in with their own horror stories.

Anyhow, although not mentioned on their site, she eventually figured out that if she used Chrome she could login again and make Nansi the beneficiary, but she had to remove her cookies first. Then Nansi couldn’t login to fill out the beneficiary form. So Terri got the information over the phone and filled it out for her.

It took about three days of hassle to go through this process, or rather its lack of process, but at least Nansi can now access some of the donations from her friends while she waits for Annie to die. Perhaps she can afford a trip to McDonalds.

There will likely be medical bills from all this too. Likely Medicare will pick up the bulk of it, but since Annie’s been hospitalized for weeks there are bound to be expenses Medicare won’t cover. Nansi will have to cover them, or rather friends of Nansi and Annie will. If we donate enough money, maybe they’ll get paid.

Meanwhile, Republicans are convening to renominate Donald Trump. They tell us what a great country we are and how we are exceptional. They are right. We are an exception in the first world in that we treat people like Nansi and Annie, or basically anyone crushed by our economy, disgracefully.