I was prepared for Mitch McConnell’s hypocrisy, but his brazenness left me breathless. He pledged a speedy Senate vote on a Trump-nominated replacement for Ruth Bader Ginsburg less than two hours after news of her death broke.
He couldn’t have waited, I don’t know, six hours? A day? Out of respect?
Silly question. Silly me. I sometimes forget the era we’re living in and the president we’re living under. McConnell understands that neither is about propriety, procedure, precedent. They’re about taking whatever can be taken and exploiting whatever can be exploited.
Rules are for fools. To the cheaters go the spoils. That’s President Trump’s credo. And he hasn’t been proven wrong yet.
Technically, yes, it’s Trump’s right to nominate a new Supreme Court justice as soon as he wants and for as long as he’s in office — and he indeed signaled in a tweet on Saturday morning that he wanted to move forward “without delay.” McConnell, for his part, can absolutely try to hustle that nominee through Senate confirmation.
But McConnell would be violating his own code, the one he adopted after Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016. McConnell then decreed that with an election just nine months away, President Obama should not be allowed to fill a court vacancy. The American people should first be allowed to speak through their presidential ballots in early November.
Now an election is little more than one month away. And that code — poof! — is gone. McConnell’s quickness to abandon it arises principally from his own unscrupulousness but owes something as well to his confidence about Trump’s ethically inverted inclinations, which are that it matters only whether you win or lose, not how you play the game.
Look at the unfolding election. President Trump and his allies have been stubbornly trying to prevent Americans from voting by mail, which is known to be more popular with Democrats than with Republicans. While you can call this an attack on democracy, you can instead be blunter and truer to its intent. You can call it cheating.
On his own or with the aid of apparatchiks like Michael Caputo, the president has sought to manipulate, minimize or repudiate statistics and studies that render a withering verdict on America’s battle against the coronavirus. This has been characterized, rightly, as an insult to science and to the scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It’s also cheating.
It could be that each enjoys basking at high altitudes in the other’s affluence. Or it could be that Kushner was conniving with West in violation of federal election law: in other words, cheating.
“The only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged,” Trump told supporters at a rally in Wisconsin last month. He has repeatedly made versions of that claim, at one point exhorting North Carolinians to monitor polling sites and “watch all the thieving and stealing and robbing” by Democrats, who will work to lift Biden to victory by “doing very bad things.”
And it’s a perfect example of Trump’s tendency to assign his own motives and methods to others. He worries that they’ll cheat because he has always cheated — on his taxes, on his wives, in his business dealings, in his philanthropy. He imagines them cheating because he actually is cheating.
He considers it their only hope because it may well be his only hope, given his persistently underwhelming approval ratings and some 200,000 Americans dead from causes related to the coronavirus. And when you step back and take in the scope of his cheating, it’s shocking.
But exactly no one is shocked. This is Trump, after all. He will wipe his memory clean of Merrick Garland, the Obama nominee whom Republicans refused to consider for the court, as he races to wipe the court clean of Ginsburg’s memory. He’s the bearer of double standards. Trump approaches “cheating as a way of life,” his niece Mary, a clinical psychologist, once explained. She has recordings of one of Trump’s sisters, Maryanne Trump Barry, a retired federal judge, saying that he had someone else take the SAT for him.
He is infamous for stiffing creditors and being sued by them, for using bankruptcy laws to lessen or evade the personal financial impact of corporate disasters, for inflating his net worth when that suited his image, for undervaluing his assets when that suited his tax returns, for assuming the fictive identity of a publicist to call journalists and whisper flattering secrets about himself. These behaviors could variously be tucked under the subheadings of hard-nosed business tactics, creative public relations and egomaniacal pathology. But the banner over them all? Cheating.
The presidency has no more altered that ethos than it has ennobled him. The White House is just a highfalutin stage for the same old huckster, a fact made crassly clear by his exploitation of those trappings for his big convention speech. The fireworks at the finish spelled more than his name. They spelled cheating.
Under the Hatch Act, which forbids federal employees from engaging in overtly political activities while on the job, that whole climactic evening (Ivanka as Evita!) shouldn’t have happened, and Mike Pompeo shouldn’t have stumped for Trump while on a diplomatic trip abroad, and Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of homeland security, shouldn’t have been swearing in new citizens as Trump-burnishing convention theater.
But Trump’s cheating is its own virus, infecting everyone around him. Trump’s cheating is its own ecosystem. Abandon all scruple, ye who enter here.
Trump was impeached because he tried to cheat, pressuring Ukraine to do a political hit job on Biden. But the cheating didn’t stop there: As John Bolton revealed in “The Room Where It Happened,” Trump pleaded with the Chinese president to buy more American agricultural exports, because that might help his prospects for re-election.
By refusing to condemn Russian interference in American elections — an orientation evident in the diluting of intelligence reports about Russia’s aims and activities — he’s essentially inviting a fresh round of Russian cheating in 2020 on his behalf.
Meanwhile, he and his administration take various tacks to fool voters about the pandemic’s severity. His health department, not C.D.C. scientists, schemed to change coronavirus testing recommendations in a manner sure to depress the number of recorded cases. He and his administration have tried to intimidate and discredit the C.D.C. in additional ways. And he promoted a bogus claim that the coronavirus death toll was just 6 percent of the correct figure.
But his and his Republican allies’ most flagrant cheating is in the realm of voting. Republicans in multiple states have fought against secure drop boxes for ballots that give people concerned about exposure to the coronavirus an alternative to traditional polling sites. They have opposed the expansion of such sites.
Although voting by mail makes by far the most sense during a pandemic and has gone smoothly in states that have long used it, Trump is determined to thwart it. His campaign has filed suit against three states that are trying to institute universal mail-in voting. He has advocated a slowdown in the United States Postal Service precisely because it could impede the timely arrival of ballots.
And, knowing full well that many mail-in ballots may not be counted until the days immediately following Nov. 3, Trump tweeted: “Must know Election results on the night of the Election, not days, months, or even years later!” To translate: Trump doesn’t want a full tally. He wants a partial one that’s partial to him.
And he wants the whole process shrouded in doubt. As Richard Hasen, the author of “Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks, Distrust and the Threat to American Democracy,” wrote in The Times last month, “The most benign explanation for Mr. Trump’s obsessive focus on mail-in balloting is that he is looking for an excuse for a possible loss to his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, in November. The less benign explanation is that he is seeking to sow chaos to drive down turnout and undermine the legitimacy of the election, laying the groundwork for contesting a close election if he loses.”
“Laying the groundwork” is euphemistic for cheating, and what a grand form of cheating at that: the prophylactic invalidation of any outcome displeasing to Trump. He went so far as to suggest postponing the election, and while he had to know that the idea was a non-starter, he also knew that it further seeded cynicism among some voters about a trustworthy process.
In the context of cheating as epic as that, jamming yet another of his nominees onto the Supreme Court as the clock runs out is nothing.
Graham’s words couldn’t be clearer, nor could those of Senator Chuck Grassley, the former chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who blocked Garland. Just last month, Grassley said that he “couldn’t move forward” with a Trump nominee this year because of the 2016 standard. If Republicans force a justice on us, it’s because they believe that standards are for suckers, and people who hold power need not be constrained by any pledge or institutional tradition.
According to Ginsburg’s granddaughter, the justice made a dying wish: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”
It doesn’t matter how exhausted we are, or how difficult the odds. In this hell-spawned year, we can either give up, or give everything we can to stop some of America’s worst men from blotting out the legacy of one of our very best women.
President Trump radiates so much moral toxicity, and his administration displays so much malice and ineptitude in policymaking, that his opponents often fall into the habit of making everything about him. Trump’s racism. Trump’s corruption. Trump’s demagoguery. Trump’s authoritarianism.
There’s truth to all of that. But it might not be the wisest way to wage a political war against the right. Trump’s vileness is all there, right on the surface, broadcast without shame or apology to the largest possible audience every single day. People either love it or hate it — and there are already significantly more people in the latter camp. Why not let the president’s polarizing personality speak for itself and instead take a different, broader tack against the right-wing party and movement he leads?
Every political coalition is a conglomeration of factions that put aside or suppress their differences for the sake of mutual gain. In the case of the many right-populist parties and movements around the world, those differences are especially sharp and ripe for exploitation by political opponents.
Consider Germany’s far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). The German establishment treats the upstart party as ideologically beyond the pale because of its nativist and xenophobic position on immigration. But the AfD is actually a conglomeration of two very different factions. One of them is a genuine neo-fascist movement that traffics in outright racism, but the other focuses on economic policy, advocating for lower taxes and cuts to regulations on business. The two factions fight often and bitterly, but they stick together out of electoral self-interest, realizing that they have a greater chance of gaining and holding power if they collaborate in taking aim at the political establishment (even though they disagree in many ways about what that establishment has done wrong).
This broad fissure — between hard-core nationalist anti-liberalism and an amped-up form of neoliberal or libertarian ideology — can be found embedded in nearly every right-wing populist party or movement. It certainly plays a role in the interminable Brexit debate in Great Britain. Many of those clamoring to leave the European Union do so in xenophobic opposition to the free movement of people allowed and encouraged by Brussels. But many others have no objection to high rates of migration and instead bristle at EU regulations that stand in the way of the UK becoming a free-market mecca parked just outside the over-regulated monetary union like an Anglophone Singapore ready to cash in on a craving for unbridled commerce.
The same tensions are present on multiple dimensions in the Trumpified Republican Party. A number of them have been there in the GOP since the time of Ronald Reagan. But they’ve been pushed to the edge of utter incoherence since Trump’s hostile takeover of the party in 2016.
In recent months, members of the religious right have taken a sharply anti-liberal turn, denouncing the aspiration toward liberal fairness and impartiality in government, which they now consider a sucker’s game that keeps conservatives perpetually on the defensive. In its place, the religious right increasingly advocates a politics oriented toward the “highest good,” which it defines in terms of traditional Christian morals.
As a model, this faction of the right looks longingly toward the explicitly anti-liberal government of Viktor Orban’s Fidesz Party in Hungary. A Republican Party that followed Orban’s lead would include policies designed to restrain and restrict capitalism, ultimately subordinating the economy to moral concerns. (This would likely include obscenity laws, censorship of pornography, regulations aimed at taming the “creative destruction” of markets, and the enactment of pro-natalist policies.)
Even aside from the singular absurdity of Donald Trump serving as the leader of a theologically inspired moral crusade, the Trump administration has done something close to the opposite — cutting taxes and regulations on the corporate sector and reining in government-imposed oversight and restraint, even when businesses would prefer otherwise. Far from subordinating the economy to a moral vision, this is a libertarian’s wet dream of unconstrained profit-seeking.
Another dimension to the religious right’s more aggressive agenda is an emphasis on local communities (often low-density rural areas where farming remains an important aspect of daily life) as the proper locus of the yearning for moral regeneration. Yet these hopes for the future revitalization of moral standards and limits are projected onto an administration in which the Secretary of Agriculture recently warned that family farms don’t have much of a future, because “in America the big get bigger and the small go out.” Once again, a radicalized conservative critique of liberalism sits side-by-side with a radicalized form of economic libertarianism.
Nowhere are such tensions more apparent than in foreign policy, where a sizable number of Republicans pine for a revival of realism and restraint (fewer wars and fewer obligations for American soldiers to police the world), whereas many others appear to favor bombing more people than ever as a way of throwing our weight around, showing the world who’s boss, and bullying other nations (allies and enemies alike) into doing our bidding in purely transactional terms. These two visions of America’s role in the world stand in stark contrast with one another, and the haphazard, incontinent character of the Trump administration’s foreign policy is the result.
Put it all together and we’re left with a picture of a political movement in complete ideological disarray, unsure of what it wants to do, and in constant danger of internal conflict. That’s something that Democrats can and should be attempting at every opportunity to encourage and exploit.
A house divided against itself cannot stand. And neither can a political party.
WaPo’s Robert Costa, AP’s Jonathan Lemire, former DOJ spox Matt Miller, NBC’s Carol Lee, and MSNBC contributor Karine Jean-Pierre on the divide within the Republican party over Trump’s continued attacks on the late Sen. John McCain
Roger Stone has always lived in a dog-eat-dog world.
So it was apt that he was charged with skulduggery in part for threatening to kidnap a therapy dog, a fluffy, sweet-faced Coton de Tuléar, belonging to Randy Credico, a New York radio host.
Robert Mueller believes that Credico, a pal of Julian Assange, served as an intermediary with WikiLeaks for Stone. Mueller’s indictment charges that Stone called Credico “a rat” and “a stoolie” because he believed that the radio host was not going to back up what the special counsel says is Stone’s false story about contacts with WikiLeaks, which disseminated Russia’s hacked emails from the D.N.C. and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman.
Stone emailed Credico that he would “take that dog away from you,” the indictment says, later adding: “I am so ready. Let’s get it on. Prepare to die (expletive).”
As the owner of two Yorkies, Stone clearly knows how scary it is when a beloved dog is in harm’s way. When he emerged from court on Friday, he immediately complained that F.B.I. agents had “terrorized” his dogs when they came to arrest him at dawn at his home in Fort Lauderdale.
.. Always bespoke and natty, living by the mantra that it’s better to be infamous than never famous, Stone looked strangely unadorned as he came out of court to meet the press in a navy polo shirt and bluejeans.
He has always said Florida suited him because “it was a sunny place for shady people,” borrowing a Somerset Maugham line. But now the cat’s cradle of lies and dirty tricks had tripped up the putative dognapper. And it went down on the very same day that Paul Manafort — his former associate in a seamy lobbying firm with rancid dictators as clients, and then later his pal in the seamy campaign of Donald Trump — was also in federal court on charges related to the Mueller probe. Manafort’s hair is now almost completely white.
.. One of Stone’s rules — along with soaking his martini olives in vermouth and never wearing a double-breasted suit with a button-down collar — is “Deny, deny, deny.” But his arrest for lying, obstructing and witness tampering raised the inevitable question about his on-and-off friend in the White House, the man who is the last jigsaw-puzzle piece in the investigation of Trumpworld’s alleged coordination with Russia: Is being Donald Trump finally about to catch up with Donald Trump?
Stone, who famously has Nixon’s face tattooed on his back, is the agent provocateur who is the through line from Nixon, and his impeachment, to Trump, and his possible impeachment.