Pity the transcribers who had the Herculean task of trying to accurately record what the candidates said in last night’s…last night’s what? You can’t call it a debate. CNN’s Dana Bash probably described it best. “It was a shitshow,” she said.
Before the shitshow, representatives for both candidates agreed on a set of rules: who would speak, when they would speak, how long they would speak, how long the candidates would have to respond. Both candidates agreed to those rules. Only one attempted to follow them.
Last night Comrade Trump was his own anarchist jurisdiction. He was the ‘law and order’ president who refused to follow the ‘law’ of the debate and set fire to order. The worst thing about Trump’s behavior last night wasn’t just that he was disruptive, discourteous, and dishonest (though he was), and it wasn’t just that he seemed unwilling to follow rules he’d agreed to, it wasn’t just that he seemed to think the rules didn’t apply to him. The worst part wasn’t even Trump’s refusal to denounce white supremacy. Hell, the worst part wasn’t even that he refused to say he’d accept the result of the election.
The worst part of the shitshow was that Trump seemed incapable of restraining himself. The worst part was that he appeared to lack basic self control, that he was unable to hold himself in check, that he couldn’t curb his behavior. Trump literally seemed helpless against his own infantile impulses. That’s terrifying.
To his credit (or shame) Trump did what he always wants to do. He controlled the stage, he drew all the attention to himself, he sucked all the oxygen (and intelligence) out of the room, he made everybody react to him. He didn’t do that through any sort of authority or personal charisma or a command of the subject matter. He did it by being a flaming asshole.
Biden was flummoxed, both by Trump’s antics and by Chris Wallace’s inability to hold Trump in check. Biden and Wallace were there for a debate; Trump was there to create a shitshow, to debase the process and discourage everybody from participating. Trump was there to get people to turn off their televisions and swear off politics forever. Trump was there to demoralize decent people and incite racists.
The winners of last night’s shitshow were Putin and the Proud Boys (yes, I know…band name or Saturday morning cartoon show). Russia has to be delighted to see how degraded US politics has become, how ineffectual our leader is, how chaotic the United States is under Trump. The Proud Boys have a new logo: Stand By. The racists were given marching orders: be prepared to take on Trump’s enemies.
There were no losers last night–only victims. The victims were decorum, civil discourse, the electoral process, the United States, democracy.
Vote. Everybody needs to vote. Don’t let anybody or anything stop you from voting.
Accompanying Music: Creedence Clearwater Revivial
Down on the corner Out in the street Putin and the Proud Boys are playin’ Bringing chaos and deceit.
Never mind the US$750 Comrade Trump is said to have paid in taxes. Sure, that’s infuriating — but it’s not (or shouldn’t be) the the main story. The main story is the hundreds of millions of dollars of debt. The debt that’s coming due in the next few years. The main story is this: to whom does he owe that money? From where did the cash come, the cash that allowed Trump to buy golf courses and build more hotels and condominium towers?
We know that in the mid-1980s Russian organized crime figures (and remember, there’s little to distinguish between Russian organized crime, Russian banking systems, and Russian intelligence services) began to launder money through Trump real estate. We know that because several federal prosecutions came out of it and a number of condos in Trump Tower were seized by the government.
We know that by the early-to-mid-1990s, the Trump Organization was deeply in debt. We know the Trump Plaza Hotel, Trump Regency Hotel, and Trump Castle Casino were all losing money. We also know the hotel and entertainment industries are attractive ways to launder money. We know that by 1995, US banks began to refuse loans to Trump because he was a bad risk. We also know that Trump turned to foreign banks and entities for help. First to Deutsche Bank and a few year later to the Bayrock Group. Deutsche Bank has a long history of working with Russian organized crime; they were caught in a $10 billion Russian money-laundering scheme and had to pay fines of about $630 million. Bayrock was formed by a former Soviet official from Kazakhstan. Trump’s main contact in Bayrock was Felix Sater; in 1998 Sater pleaded guilty to a $40 million stock fraud scheme run by Russian organized crime.
We know that throughout the 90s and into the 2000s Russian oligarchs (again, remember, you don’t become an oligarch without being indebted to Putin) and organized crime figures working for Semion Mogilevich (the head of an international Russian organized crime cartel) continued to buy more than 65 Trump properties in New York, Florida, and Arizona. We know the Russian state-owned bank Vnesheconombank helped Trump finance a struggling Trump-branded hotel in Toronto. We know that in 2008 Trump sold a Florida mansion to Dmitry Rybolovlev for $95 million, twice what Trump paid for it four years earlier. Ryboloblev has been indicted in Monaco on criminal charges of corruption, influence trafficking, and something called ”violation of secrets of a criminal investigation.” He was also implicated in the murder of a business rival, Evgeny Panteleymonov. However, the charge was eventually dismissed after a witness suddenly recanted his testimony.
We know another associate of Semion Mogilevich, Vyacheslav Ivankov (a vory v zakone with ties to Russian intelligence services) was a frequent guest at Trump’s Taj Mahal casino. According to the FBI, Ivankov was often comped “for up to $100,000 a visit for free food, rooms, champagne, entertainment, and transportation in stretch limos and helicopters” by the casino. Casinos, of course, are attractive sites for money laundering. The Taj Mahal casino was fined for violating anti-money laundering rules 106 times in its first year and a half of operation. Ivankov had been hiding out in Trump Tower for months before being arrested by the FBI and charged with extorting $2.7 million. When arrested, he had seven different passports under different names and countries. After serving a prison sentence in the US, Ivankov returned to Russia and was eventually murdered by a rival organized crime cartel.
We know the daughter of Viktor Khrapunov, the former governor of the East Kazakhstan Province, bought three Trump SoHo condos. We know Khrapunov has also been accused of a number of construction and real estate frauds, as well as money laundering. The $3.1 million purchase of the Trump condos was allegedly made with money stolen from the government of Kazakhstan. Khrapunov has financial ties with Bayrock. In 2008 Khrapunov chartered a Russian Tupolev Tu-154 and flew to Geneva, Switzerland with 18 tons of cargo, which reputedly included antiques, jewelry, works of art and other highly valuable items. Interpol has issued a red notice for the arrest of Khrapunov.
We know Eric Trump told James Dodson, a golf reporter, that the Trump Organization was able to expand their property holdings because “We don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.” Golf courses, by the way, are also popular with money launderers. Trump own 17 golf courses, both in the US and abroad.
We know…well, you get the picture. Over the last three decades Trump has had a LOT of financial support from Russian oligarchs, Russian banks (and banks from former Soviet Republics), and Russian organized crime. And once again, it’s impossible to distinguish between Russian organized crime, Russian banking, and Russian state intelligence services.
That Trump only paid $750 in taxes for a couple of years may be an outrage, but the more serious problem is his financial debt. That amount of debt is a clear security concern. It’s impossible to get a security clearance with significant debt (which may be the reason neither Ivanka nor Jared Kushner weren’t given security clearances until Trump insisted on it). We don’t know who floated Trump the money to make the purchases of his golf courses and hotels and condos. It’s reasonable to suspect much (or most or all) of it came from sources connected with Russia.
As I’ve said here, and here, and here, and here, and probably elsewhere, I think Putin has something on Trump. I think Trump is in Putin’s pocket. I think Trump is compromised and that explains why he so often seems to be furthering Russian interests and ignoring the interests of the United States.
Imagine a collection of ancient pottery shards and some twisted lumps of barbed wire jammed inside a bit of stiff, old fire hose. That’s my knees, after years of injury and abuse. They creak, they pop, they snap, they grind, they rasp. They hurt. At some point I’ll have to return them to the shelf and get some new ones.
But mostly, I’m used to them. I know how to deal with them. I can get them to do most of what I want to do. There’s only one aspect of my life that’s been buggered up by my wonky knees. Cycling. Riding a bike. I used to ride a lot; it was my favorite mode of transportation. I used my bike for fun and to run errands. But it hurt my knees. Seriously hurt them. So a couple of years ago, I put the bike away for the winter; hung it from some hooks in the garage ceiling. Never took it down.
This summer I bought an electric bike, thinking I might be able to ride it with minimal knee pain. When I say I bought an ebike, I don’t mean I went to my local bike shop, examined a wide selection of bikes, and made an intelligent, informed purchase. I mean I bought a bike online. Which even now strikes me as a phenomenally loopy thing to do. Who buys a bike they’ve never actually seen except in a photograph? Who buys a bike you can’t test-ride, a bike that costs US$1500 (more than any two bikes I’d ever bought), a bike that has to be shipped from Seattle and would require some assembly on arrival? Who does that?
Me and, it turns out, lots of other folks. And I got to say, it’s the best purchase I ever made.
I bought a Rad Rover Step-thru. It’s an improbable bike. Massive. The damned thing weighs about 70 pounds. More than twice what my trusty old Trek mountain bike weighs. It’s a fat tire bike, and when they say ‘fat tire’ they’re serious. Four inches wide. It’s got disc brakes. It’s got a goddamn brake light in back. What sort of bike has a brake light? When I finished putting it together (with the overly enthusiastic help of my brother), I have to admit being a tad intimidated by the scale of the beast. It’s big.
But once I got on it and started riding, that massive beast of a bike became weirdly tame. It rides easily. It’s not what you’d call ‘nimble’ compared to my mountain bike. Because of its size, the turning radius is slightly larger than I’m used to. But it’s rock solid and steady. And surprisingly fun to ride.
Best of all? No knee pain. I’d been hoping for minimal knee pain–an amount of knee pain I could tolerate. The notion of pain-free cycling hadn’t even occurred to me. But I’ve had the bike for about three months and I’ve put just over 500 miles on it–and dude, no knee pain at all. That’s because of the pedal assist function. Everything I’d read about ebikes (before committing to the insane act of buying one) talked about this weird techno-magical whatsit called pedal assist. I never quite understood it what it was or how it worked; they just said it made pedaling easier. Pedal assist was the reason I gambled on the bike.
It works. It really does make pedaling easier. Or it can if you want it to. It turns out pedal assist is exactly what it says it is. It provides a measured boost to the energy with which you pedal, which makes pedaling more efficient and effective. You can ride this bike without any pedal assist, but it wouldn’t be easy; we’re talking about a 70+ pound bike with four inch tires, so you’d have to be desperate or masochistic to do so. At PAS 1 — the lowest level of pedal assist — it makes riding a 70 pound bike feel pretty much like riding a normal bike (except even then it’s easier on the knees). I spend most of my riding time in PAS 1 or 2. I’ve used PAS 3 for a few steep or long hills; I’ve had no reason to use PAS level 5 yet.
I did use PAS 4 once, but it was an emergency. I’d stopped to visit with a county worker who was doing some obscure chore in what will eventually be a new suburban neighborhood. As we were chatting, the tornado siren went off. He checked his phone and told me it looked like it wasn’t a drill. I’m fairly casual about bad weather, and since I was only 3-4 miles from home and didn’t see any of the usual signs of a tornado, I wasn’t too concerned. I headed homeward, but I didn’t rush. Until a second tornado siren went off. Two tornado sirens is serious. So I began to hurry a bit. The sky got really dark. A third tornado siren sounded. I’d never heard a third siren before. I put the bike in PAS 4 and was easily doing over 20mph through neighborhoods.
I made it home about three minutes before the storm hit. It wasn’t a tornado. It was a derecho — a fast-moving straight-line storm with hurricane-force winds. And I made it home without knee pain. Totally winded, but no knee pain. I’m a big fan of pedal assist.
Something I hadn’t expected: the bike gets attention. People are curious about it. At stop lights, people will roll down their car windows and ask me questions. People on sidewalks and bike paths often shout out questions as I’m riding by them. Sometimes I’ll stop and chat with them. “How does it work? How fast will it go? Does it have a throttle? Can you ride it without pedaling? What’s the battery range? Can you get a good workout with an ebike? Isn’t it cheating if the bike does all the work?”
Here are the answers. I’ve had it up to about 25 mph on flat ground; it can go faster, but I’ve never had the need to do it. Yes, it has a throttle, which is handy at stop lights and stop signs; even with pedal assist, it can be a struggle to get a 70 pound bike in motion from a dead stop. The throttle makes it easy to get started, and that’s all I’ve ever used it for. But yes, you can ride it without pedaling, using just the throttle like a moped. The advertised battery range is 25-45 miles, but I’ve ridden 53 miles through hilly terrain on a single charge and the battery wasn’t quite dead. And finally, you sure as hell can get a good workout on an ebike. The pedal assist allows you to make riding as easy or as strenuous as you want. By the way, if you bike for exercise, folks tend to ride farther and longer on an ebike, which increases the amount of exercise you get.
Me, I don’t ride for exercise. I ride for the joy in it.
The ‘cheating’ question always throws me. I’m not even sure what it means. How can you cheat at recreational cycling? It’s not like you’re competing with anybody. Using electric pedal assist isn’t really any different than using 21 mechanical gears to make pedaling easier. If riding an ebike is cheating, then so is riding a bike with multiple gears. You’re still using the energy of your body to propel the machine.
That said, I do feel a wee bit awkward about overtaking a cyclist in spandex riding up a hill on a 20 pound road bike. Awkward, but not guilty.
Every so often I’ll go on a ride that takes me by a two-story fitness center. The parking lot, even during this pandemic, is usually full of cars. I know that some of the people who drove those cars to the fitness center are inside on stationary bikes, pedaling in a frenzy. They’re undoubtedly getting a more efficient workout than I am. They’re using their time a lot more effectively than I am. But I suspect I’m happier in the saddle than they are, and having more fun.
I’ve nothing against exercise, but I ride just for the pleasure in it. With this bike, I get to go places. I get to see stuff and talk to strangers. I get to turn down streets and pathways with no real sense of where they’ll take me; sometimes I get to be lost and have the tiny adventure of finding my way back. I get to be harassed by Canada geese and chased by storms.
I did a 30 mile ride a couple of days ago, the last half of it into a stiff 18-23 mph headwind. When I got home, my legs were wobbly from exhaustion. But my knees? My knees were laughing their ass off. I love this bike.
“Will you commit to making sure that there is a peaceful transfer of power after the election?”
In a normal, functional, representative democracy, that question would never be asked. It wouldn’t even be considered. It’s like asking ‘Is water wet?’ or ‘Is the Pope Catholic?’ It’s a question that doesn’t need to be asked because the answer is glaringly obvious. To almost any other political figure, the question itself would be an insult. The fact that a reporter — any number of reporters and a big chunk of the voting population — felt the need to ask that question is a measure of how far we’ve moved toward an authoritarian regime.
But even so, Comrade Trump’s answer should have been immediate and straightforward, because there’s only one acceptable answer. “Yes, of course, I’ll commit to a peaceful transfer of power. Is the Pope wet? Is water Catholic?”
That wasn’t Trump’s answer. Instead, he said this:
“Well, we’re going to have to see what happens.”
The horrible thing about that answer — one of the many horrible things about it — is that we already know what’s going to happen. We don’t know how the popular vote will turn out, but we know what’s going to happen. We don’t know what the electoral vote will be, but we sure as hell know what’s going to happen. We don’t know who’ll legitimately win or lose the 2020 election, but we absofuckinglutely know what’s going to happen.
What’s going to happen is this: Comrade Trump will declare himself the winner.
We know that’s going to happen because he’s publicly stated that’s the only election result he’ll accept. He’s said that repeatedly. It’s one of the few things he’s said that we can believe. Worse, when he says, “The only way they can take this election away from us is if this is a rigged election,” he’s not just declaring any other result would be invalid, he’s also prepping his followers to take the same position. He’s prepping his followers to take action.
They will take the election from us. That’s it, right there. Trump’s power depends on dividing the nation. It depends on his followers seeing themselves as victims. It depends on scaring his followers. Frightened people are easier to lead.
Trump is entirely shameless about frightening his followers and laying a foundation to declare the election invalid. He’s willing to make up the most ridiculous lies and spread them as widely as possible, without any sense of embarrassment or guilt. He’s not afraid of getting caught in a lie because he knows his supporters either don’t care about the lies or stupidly believe them. Like this one:
This is about the stupidest fucking thing possible. Foreign countries (and others? WTF does that even mean? other what?) printing millions of ballots. That’s stupid on about nineteen different levels. Even if foreign countries (and others) DID print millions of ballots, how would they get them to the voters? Do they mail them from North Korea and Iran? How much is postage for a million ballots from Tehran to Kansas City? Do they fill container ships with ballots and ship them to the US and…what, take them to the post office in rented semi-trucks? Wouldn’t somebody notice that?
The scandal of our times isn’t that foreign countries will print millions of fake ballots; it’s that we have a president who can say astonishingly stupid shit like this and get away with it. The scandal of our times is that his followers will repeat it — and maybe even believe it.
Actually, the scandal of our times is that Comrade Trump is the President of the United States. The scandal is that he’s willing to do and say almost anything to remain in power. It’s that he might actually succeed.
We know what’s going to happen. We know that regardless of what the votes say, Trump will claim a victory. We know, regardless of the voting, he won’t concede.
As a nation, we aren’t prepared for that. We’ve always assumed our presidents would be decent, honorable, conscientious people. We were wrong.
I like Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. He’s a solid Democrat of the old school. He’s a nice guy with liberal beliefs and has, as far as I know, always tried to do the right thing. So would somebody please take him aside and slap some sense into him?
Wait. I’ll do it.
First off, Chris, those people across the aisle? They’re not your friends. Not really. They may be nice to you, they may laugh and joke with you, they may even say they agree with you, but don’t think they’re your friends. Down at the bone, they’re Trump Republicans. They may disagree with Trump, they may actually despise him, but they’re going to do what he wants. Trump Republicans support Trump, period.
Second — and Chris, I shouldn’t have to tell you this — they’re not going to respect tradition. They’re not going to respect precedent. They’ve shown you that repeatedly. What in the hell makes you think they’d start respecting those things now? What they respect is the exercise of raw political power.
And finally, because they’re not your friends and because they’re not going to respect tradition or precedent and because at this point they only respect political power, they’re not going to be persuadable. They’re just not. A few may be willing to agree that it’s wrong to rush a SCOTUS nomination through 43 days before election day (votes are actually being cast right now, for fuck’s sake), but Chris, they’re not motivated by respect or friendship; they’re motivated by the only thing they fear more than Trump: losing their election.
I hate to say this, Chris, I really do. But right now the only way to get Congressional Republicans to do what’s right is to use their own tactics against them. Do it reluctantly, but do it. Let them know that if they replace Justice Ginsburg before the election, you’re going to go Outlaw Josey Wales on their ass. Tell them that, and mean it. Follow through on it.
Don’t waste your time trying to persuade Trump Republicans. Instead, persuade your Democratic colleagues in the House to go Josey Wales with you. And let Trump and his Congressional co-conspirators know you’re willing to burn the motherfucker down.
If they hold a confirmation hearing, Democrats in the Senate and House should walk out. Walk right the fuck out, and don’t go back. When they want to pass the next continuing resolution in order to fund the government, tell them to piss up a rope. Start another round of impeachment hearings in the House. Impeach Trump again. Hell, impeach Justice Kavanaugh for lying to Congress. Launch an investigation into how Kavanaugh paid off all his debts before his confirmation hearing. Investigate the Russian bounty on troops in Afghanistan. Investigate the Trump family’s alleged financial crimes. Investigate and call witnesses and don’t do a damn thing else until the election.
I really hate to say that. I can’t think of anything more corrosive to effective governance than deliberate sabotage by one political party. But that’s just it. That’s exactly what Republicans have done since Obama was elected. If Democrats win in the 2020 election — if they take the White House and the Senate — then we can try to return to some sort of normal governance. If Democrats lose — if Trump remains in office — then normal governance will be dead. It’ll be four more years of fighting a losing battle against authoritarianism.
The Josey Wales Way is a lousy way to run a government, even for 43 days. But as Granny Hawking said, Josey Wales was “a hard put and desperate man” and that’s where we are as Democrats. Against the blatant power grab of a hurried SCOTUS nomination, J. Wales might be the best chance we have. Because things are looking bad, and “when things look bad and it looks like you’re not gonna make it, then you gotta get mean. I mean plumb, mad-dog mean. ‘Cause if you lose your head and you give up then you neither live nor win. That’s just the way it is.”
EDITORIAL NOTE: I don’t know if I’ll feel this way tomorrow. But this is how I feel today. Republican hypocrisy and double dealing will only get worse if we try to play by normal rules.
The grim and sorrowful constellation of thoughts and emotions we’re experiencing right now, that’s grief. The word comes from the Old French term grever meaning “afflict, burden, oppress,” which is from the Latin gravare, which meant “to make heavy.” Grief is heavy; it weighs us down.
The outward expression of grief, that’s mourning. Mourning has a more complex origin. It comes from a Proto-Indo-European root which, because of linguistic convention, is usually written as *(s)mer. It refers to the act of remembrance, reflection, recollection. Mourning is how we use our memories and understanding of the dead to gradually reduce the awful weight of our grief.
Grief is what we feel; mourning is what we do.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is dead, and there’s absolutely nothing we can do about that. Our grief is both personal and communal. We grieve for what she means to us personally, we grieve for her family and friends, we grieve for what her death might mean for the concept of equal justice under law in the United States. It’s good that we grieve; it’s right that we grieve.
But our grief is less important than how we mourn her — how we collectively express our grief and how you as an individual will express your grief. Is making RBG your Facebook icon enough to lighten your grief? Will wearing your Notorious RBG t-shirt alleviate your grief? What about voting, will that help? What about getting others to vote? Volunteering to drive others to the polls? Donating money or labor to a candidate? What about calling both of your senators on Monday, and asking them NOT to vote on a successor to RGB’s seat until after the election/inauguration? Will that do it?
Here’s a True Thing: your grief is your grief. Nobody gets to tell you how to express it. Nobody gets to tell you the proper way for you to mourn. Nobody gets to tell you how much you have to mourn or what that mourning should include. Nobody gets to tell you what RBG would want from you. Mourn her in your own way.
But mourn her. Right now, it’s enough to grieve. Right now, it’s okay to give into your grief. Let yourself fully experience your grief. Then start actively mourning.
Obscure and Semi-inappropriate Addendum: That Proto-Indo-European root *(s)mer is also the source of the name of Mimir, the Norse god who guarded the Mímisbrunnr, the Well of Wisdom. Mimir, not surprisingly, was known for his judgment, his sagacity, his knowledge. None of that, unfortunately, prevented him being beheaded in the battle between the Æsir and the Vanir (don’t ask; we’re talking Norse mythology, so it’s complicated). After the battle, Odin found Mimir’s body and collected his head (as gods do). He did some sort of god-thing to Mimir’s head so he could tote it around with him and continue to get Mimir’s advice.
Metaphorically, we can do the same with RBG. We can carry our memory of her around with us. We can ask ourselves ‘What would RBG do?’ and then try to do it. That’s proper mourning, right there.
It never stops, does it. Last week yet another whistleblower filed a complaint with yet another Inspector General accusing the Trump White House and Trump-appointed agency officials of yet another abuse of authority by censoring yet another report outlining ongoing attempts to interfere with the 2020 election by Russian intelligence agencies.
This time it was Brian Murphy, the Principal Deputy Under Secretary in the Office of Intelligence and Analysis. Before he went to work for DHS he was a Marine and an FBI agent. Not what you’d call a ‘liberal’. He was ordered “to cease any dissemination of an intelligence notification regarding Russian disinformation efforts…because it ‘made the President look bad’.” Murphy objected (because Russia was running a disinfo campaign) and complained to his superiors. He was subsequently demoted.
There are very few core principles in the Trump administration, but included in them are the need to protect Putin and to deny Russian ratfucking of the 2016 election and the upcoming 2020 election. You have to wonder why that’s so important.
In May of 2018 I suggested that Trump’s insistence that the FBI ‘infiltrated’ his 2016 president campaign in an effort to ‘spy’ on it and entrap his campaign staff into breaking the law was a matter of ignorance rather than complicity. I was giving him the benefit of the doubt. I thought perhaps he simply didn’t understand that the FBI, by opening a counter-intelligence investigation into his campaign, was trying to protect him from some of his campaign staff who were in wildly inappropriate contact with Russian intelligence agents and/or Russian criminal elements. If the FBI hadn’t attempted to find out what the Russians were up to, they’d have been derelict in their duties.
What the FBI discovered was a series of attempts by Russian intelligence operatives to penetrate Trump’s campaign. Sadly, those attempts were actually welcomed by some campaign members. Not only were they eager to accept material that had clearly been stolen from Democrats by Russian intel agencies, they never considered reporting it to the FBI. Worse, when confronted by the evidence, those staffers lied about it. Lied repeatedly, and actively hampered the investigation. That’s a clear demonstration of guilt.
By July of 2018, after the weird and horrifying Helsinki summit, I was far more willing to believe that Trump’s currying to Russia wasn’t just a matter of ignorance. I began to accept the probability that Putin had something on Trump himself — some sort of kompromat. I figured it was likely something to do with money laundering and/or criminal conspiracy rather than something personally embarrassing (like the alleged ‘pee tape’). In any event, it looked less like stupidity from inexperience and more like cooperation and complicity with Russian influence agents. I couldn’t think of any other probable explanation for his behavior at Helsinki.
By January of 2019, I was ready to accept that Trump was, in fact, a Russian intelligence asset. Not a ‘spy’; Trump lacks the emotional stability and the skill set required to be a spy. But he has a personality that makes him exceptionally vulnerable to Russian exploitation as an asset: he’s emotionally needy, he’s driven by greed and ego, he’s at least immoral if not amoral, he’s both shameless and easily insulted, he has no real sense of loyalty or patriotism, he has no qualms about cheating and assumes everybody cheats, and he’s willing and able to lie about anything. Trump is easy to manipulate.
The sad fact is, willing or not, since he took office Trump has furthered Russian interests and increased their international presence, and at the same time damaged US interests and surrendered US leadership on the world stage. He’s created a wedge between the US and NATO — to Russia’s benefit. He’s given Syria a free hand to commit war crimes — to Russia’s benefit. He’s withdrawn US influence in Iraq by abandoning the Kurds, allowing Russian troops to assume control of military bases and stations built by the US military. He’s essentially legitimized Russia’s illegal seizure of Crimea. He’s fought against and/or failed to impose sanctions against Russia despite bipartisan support in Congress. He’s refused to acknowledge, let alone act on, reports that Russia has paid the Taliban bounties to kill US troops serving in Afghanistan.
Domestically, he’s been willing to disregard the collective opinions of the US Intelligence Community on issues like Russian interference in the US election, and accepted Putin’s claim that Russia wasn’t involved. He’s not only undermined the efforts of the FBI and CIA to disrupt Russian interference, he’s appointed agency administrators who have leaned on their agencies to mute any criticism of Russia.
I’m NOT saying Trump is run by Putin or Russian intelligence agencies. They don’t need to run him. On his own, he’s brought chaos and exacerbated existing divisions in US society. Russia helped him get elected (and are trying to help him stay in office), but after that all they had to do was stand back and let Trump be Trump. It was a low-cost, low risk, high reward black op — almost certainly the most successful and cost effective black op in modern history.
The idea that the President of the United States might be — and probably is — a Russian intelligence asset should be absurd. It should be laughable. Sadly, it’s not. The evidence keeps mounting up. It’s entirely possible — and, again, this is shocking for me to say — it’s entirely possible that if Trump is re-elected, representative democracy in the US may come to a crashing halt.
Lawdy, I hate saying that. I hate that it’s actually necessary to say it.
Let’s just acknowledge this reality: anybody who seriously uses the phrase ‘Russian hoax’ can be immediately disregarded. Doesn’t matter whether they’re referring to the Mueller investigation or just generally talking about Comrade Trump’s insidious machinations with Russia, if they say the terms Russia and hoax together and mean it, anything else they say can be dismissed.
I know, I know. That sounds extreme. And it is. Under normal circumstances, I’d argue against a policy like that. But the phrase has been in use long enough that anybody who offers it as a serious explanation for Trump’s various scandals has lost all credibility. In fact, the notion that there is such a thing as the Russia hoax is, itself, a hoax.
Okay, wait. We need a tangent here. A big meandering tangent taking us back to the 17th century and a guy named Thomas Ady. Ady was interested in witches and witchcraft. Not in the standard 17th century ‘How to Catch a Witch and Do Terrible Things to Her’ way, but in a more intellectually rigorous way. He wrote a couple of books to expose of the various bullshit techniques used in that time to identify and convict alleged witches. He also wrote that what passed for ‘magic’ or ‘witchcraft’ was mostly either natural phenomena or trickery.
In his book A Candle in the Dark he wrote about “common Juglars, who go up and down to play their Tricks at Fayrs and Markets.” He spoke about one such person:
[M]ore excelling in that craft than others, that went about in King James his time, and long since, who called himself, the Kings Majesties most excellent Hocus Pocus, and so was called, because that at the playing of every Trick, he used to say, Hocus pocus, tontus tabantus, vade celeriter jubeo, a dark composure of words, to blinde the eyes of the beholders, to make his Trick pass the more currantly without discovery.
A ‘juggler’ back then was an entertainer who performed tricks of dexterity and sleight of hand. Not just the sort of toss juggling we see now, but also ‘magic’ tricks. The name by which this one most excellent Juglar performed gave us the term hocus-pocus as a sort of ‘magical’ invocation. And hocus-pocus is where the term ‘hoax’ comes from. A hoax is deliberately creating a malicious fabrication and convincing people to believe it.
Comrade Trump’s entire career has been built on a foundation of hoaxes. The hoax that he was a good student, that he was a successful entrepreneur, that he was a financial genius, that he was a savvy businessman and a brilliant negotiator. His history suggests none of that is completely true, and much of it is a lie.
Perhaps his greatest hoax has been convincing his followers to believe that secretive Deep State government officials and career federal law enforcement officers (most of whom are lifelong Republicans) in conjunction with leaders of the Democratic Party collaborated to create a massive cabal designed to thwart the improbable presidential campaign of a failed businessman and reality television showman. He’s convinced his followers that these three groups, despite their long-standing ideological differences and hostility, came together in the short time after his nomination but before the election and agreed to impede his agenda by waiting until after the election to accuse him of colluding with Russian intelligence agents.
Now that is some serious hocus-pocus, right there. That’s a hoax on a galactic scale. Anybody who believes that — anybody who is capable of believing that — is somebody whose opinions can dismissed. Normally, I’m willing to entertain almost any argument if it forces me to support my position. That’s healthy, I think. But there comes a point at which you just have to accept that verifiable evidence doesn’t matter to Trump’s most faithful followers.
Let’s go back to Mr. Ady for a moment. He had to deal with the 17th century version of Trump supporters.
[T]hey ingage me to answer to a story, which they would compell me to beleeve, or else to goe see where it was done; but if it happeneth (as often it doth), that I make it appear by Scripture, that it is absurd or impossible…or that I shew them the story, in any of the afore said Authers, who have been the Authors of many vain fables, then they presently fly to another story, as vain and absurd as the former, and that being answered, they fly to another, saying, Sir, what do you answer to this? in which manner of disputes I have heard sometimes such monstrous impossibilities reported and affirmed to be true, (for they had it by credible report) as would make the Angells in Heaven blush to hear them.
This morning Comrade Trump is frantically trying to defend himself against the revelations in Bob Woodward’s soon-to-be-released book. His defense is full of ‘such monstrous impossibilities…as would make the Angells in Heaven blush.’ I don’t believe in angels or heaven, but I do believe in an open exchange of ideas and views. However, that sort of exchange is no longer possible with anybody who, at this point, believes in the ‘vain fable’ of a Russia hoax.