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Amanda Marcotte

Trump's election plot is backfiring — but he still has one more shot to pull it off

Donald Trump's war on mail-in voting seems, like many of his schemes to steal the election, to be backfiring.

As much as he may publicly deny it, Trump knows he's unpopular and cannot win a free and fair election. So he has determined that the best way to hang onto power is to keep as many Americans from voting as possible. Since nearly the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Trump has been waging war against mail-in ballots, which many millions of Americans are using this year in order to avoid crowded and unsafe polling places.

Trump has repeatedly and falsely declared, with the help of Attorney General Bill Barr and White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, that such ballots are dangerous and fraudulent. He has threatened to use mail-in ballots as an excuse to reject the results of any election he loses. His postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, has been shamelessly taking measures to slow down delivery of the mail. And the Republicans, under Trump's leadership, have done everything in their power on the state level to keep as many ballots as possible from being cast and counted.

And yet, likely because of the very public nature of Trump's war on voting, the whole scheme seems to be backfiring. Since he isn't even hiding what he's doing, it's been easy for Democrats to communicate the importance of voting early, to protect votes from Trump's machinations, without facing a wall of skepticism from the usual suspects in the media.

The result is a wave of early voting unlike we've ever seen in the United States. As of Tuesday morning, over more than 31 million Americans have cast their ballots, which amounts to at least 20% of the expected vote total for this election. And that's with two weeks to go. Americans, or at least those Americans likely to vote for Democrats, clearly understand that Trump is trying to deny them their right to vote — and they're doing what they can to stop him.

Supporters of democracy secured another win late Monday, when the Supreme Court threw out a Republican challenge to Pennsylvania's decision to extend the deadline for ballots to be received up to three days after Election Day. That temporary measure was put in to deal with the pandemic and the expected surge of people voting by mail for the first time. Pennsylvania is a swing state that was crucial to Trump's Electoral College victory in 2016, so he's especially keen on suppressing Democratic votes in that state.

This is the second fight Republicans have lost in their efforts to prevent people from voting by mail in Pennsylvania. The Trump campaign also sued to keep the state from establishing drop boxes that allow voters to skip the Postal Service — and the slowed-down mail — by handing ballots directly over to election officials. That lawsuit was thrown out earlier this month and voters in the state have started casting ballots at the boxes.

Unfortunately, there's a fly in the ointment, the nature of which was neatly laid out by Ian Millhiser at Vox: Four of the five Republican justices on the Supreme Court, in the face of all law and precedent, were ready to entertain Trump's obviously illegitimate challenge to the Pennsylvania election deadline.

This is terrible, because, as Millhiser points out, election law is determined by the states and "in questions of state law, the state Supreme Court is supposed to be the final word on such disputes."

"Indeed, if state supreme courts cannot interpret their state's own election law, it's unclear how that law is supposed to function," he adds.

In other words, rejecting the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's ruling to uphold the law shouldn't even have been an option. That four Republican justices feel otherwise suggests, unfortunately but unsurprisingly, that there's no legal argument Trump could make that is so preposterous that these four justices would reject it, so long as it serves the end goal of securing Republican power, including a second term for Donald Trump.

Trump has made it clear that he's looking to the Supreme Court to save him from facing the judgment of voters. That four right-wing justices are willing to go along with this, no matter how much doing so violates the plain wording of the law, is terrifying. That's especially true in the face of the Republican rush to seat Amy Coney Barrett on the court before the election, since she's almost certain to be a fifth vote for the principle that Republicans deserve to hold power, law and democracy be damned.

This is why it's not hyperbolic to see the Barrett as the last leg being kicked out from under our fragile democracy, which can only be restored by expanding the Supreme Court, if and when Democrats regain the power to do so. It's hard to imagine democracy surviving if a Supreme Court with six conservative justices gets the ultimate say over elections, and if their guiding principle is that any Democratic victory is illegitimate, regardless of the low-quality, bad-faith arguments presented. The goal of Republicans, under Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is to make the U.S. a one-party state and shut out any voters who resist that. They are shockingly close to achieving that goal.

It's easy to give into despair, but let's be clear: All is not lost. For one thing, even this corrupt slate of current justices probably wouldn't go so far as to completely vacate the results of an election, simply because Trump wants them to. They'll want to be a bit more subtle about it, using measures like trying to stop vote-counting as early as possible. But if Joe Biden wins the November election in a blowout, as now seems possible, that strategy will become impossible. The fact that so many people are voting early is a good sign — it means vote-counting will be well underway before the Barrett court can rush in to stop it.

In addition, while Barrett's confirmation is looking likely, Democrats haven't given up completely on trying to slow it down or even stop it before the election. Late on Monday, Democrats tried to force a vote to adjourn Senate business until after the election, which would keep Barrett off the court. That move failed, but Senate Democrats have indicated they'll keep trying to use procedural moves to slow Barrett's confirmation down until after the election, which is only two weeks away.

There's no reason to be Pollyanna-ish here. Things are bad. Republicans are doing everything in their power to end democracy and render the right to vote meaningless, and using the courts as their main weapon on that front.

But so far they haven't succeeded, in no small part because the American people are still resisting, the courts haven't completely sold out to anti-democracy ideologues, and Trump himself is as bad at staging a coup as he was at running his business. Moreover, time is running out on the plot to keep people from voting and more votes are being banked every day. There's still a chance to pull our democracy back from the abyss, but it's going to require ordinary people doing everything they can to save it.

Misogyny helped Trump in 2016 — and he wants to repeat by attacking Gretchen Whitmer. So far it's not working

Donald Trump is getting hammered, badly, by female voters in the national polls. In the lastest NPR/PBS poll, Democratic nominee Joe Biden is leading Trump among women by 25 points. The Washington Post/ABC News poll shows a similar spread, with Biden beating Trump by 23 points with women. Even the Fox News polling data puts Biden ahead of Trump by 19 points among female voters. Trump is doing much better with male voters, but considering that women tend to vote at higher rates than men, Trump simply can't count on male support to push him to another Electoral College victory.

Facing a very high chance that female voters will send him packing next month send Trump packing in November — FiveThirtyEight's odds of a Biden victory, as of Monday morning are at 88% — how did the pussy-grabbing president react? By laughingl encouraging a crowd in Michigan, at another of his largely mask-free rallies, to chant, "Lock her up!"

"Lock her up? Lock them all up!" Trump responded in glee.

That chant was a Trump-rally greatest hit in 2016, aimed at Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton on the fallacious grounds that she had supposedly committed some crime for which she was escaping justice. (As usual, this was pure projection from Trump, who knew at the time he was a tax fraud and serial sexual assailant, whereas decades of effort to turn up some kind of malfeasance to pin on Clinton have resulted in bupkis.) This time, even that thin pretense was dropped, as the chant was aimed at Michigan's Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, who hasn't been accused, even falsely or facetiously, of committing any crimes.

Whitmer's only "crime" is being a woman — and a conventionally attractive woman, at that — who Trump can't control. Trump has spent months publicly lashing out at Whitmer, who, like most Democratic governors, rejected Trump's demands that she ignore public health recommendations to slow the coronavirus spread. Instead, Whitmer instituted restrictions that have likely saved tens of thousands of lives. Trump and his loyal followers haven't let go of this, and keep obsessing over what he clearly sees an unforgivable act of female defiance.

"Lock her up!" was always a misogynist battle cry, a prescription offered by Trump and his followers for any and all women who commit the "crime" of thinking themselves equal to men. Aimed at Whitmer, the charade that this was ever about anything but misogyny has been dropped.

The sadism of all this is particularly gruesome, in light of the recent arrest of a group of would-be domestic terrorists who were plotting to kidnap Whitmer, and perhaps murderer. The all-male would-be kidnappers fantasized about holding a "trial" for Whitmer on made-up charges before killing her, showcasing the extremely toxic, anxiety-ridden masculinity that Trump is calling forth from his most avid supporters.

It is traditional in more Politico-style publications, to attribute Trump's behavior in cases like this to some kind of "strategy," perhaps complete with quotes from Republican consultants eager to spin this to make their candidate look savvy. Hell, maybe Trump really does think this sort of grotesque malice toward women he's marked as disobedient will drive up his margins among resentful white men, and drag more of them to the polls.

But it's more likely that this is just Trump and his voters, throwing a massive temper tantrum, exposing the immaturity and insecurity that has always underpinned right-wing notions of masculinity. After all, Trump — who always had poor impulse control — has been even less in charge of his motormouth lately, complaining even more than usual during his speeches about how he doesn't want to lose and lashing out at voters, especially women, for rejecting him.

It's rational to be concerned this might work, of course. While racism was a leading factor in driving voters to Trump in 2016, sexism was right up there with it. Research shows that harboring beliefs characterized as "hostile sexism" — which is to say anger at women for speaking up or wanting equality — was as strong a predictor of a Trump vote as harboring racist beliefs. Those same voters are out there, chanting "lock her up" at rallies.

But what may have changed is that there's a strong feminist response to this misogyny this time around. In 2016, American women who didn't like this kind of sexism were cowed by sneering accusations of being "vagina voters," sometimes even from the left. There was a general fear of being seen as hysterical for raising the alarm about sexism, especially when it seemed almost certain that Clinton would win the election.

Clinton's defeat came as an emotional shock to the system, not just for many American women, but also for men who feel repulsed by the levels of sexism that clearly still exist in our society.

While it feels roughly one billion years ago in Trump years, it was less than four years ago that millions of people (most but by no means all of them women) hit the streets for the Women's March, likely the biggest single-day protest in American history. That anger and momentum fed into the 2018 midterms, where a record number of voters turned out and Democrats swept to victory in the House on the backs of female voters, 59% of whom voted for the Democrats, whereas just 54% of women voted for Clinton in 2016. Even among white women, a slight majority of whom supported Trump in 2016, shifted left, even as 60% of white men stuck with Republicans.

"Barring a giant polling error, the 2020 election will witness the largest gender gap in partisan preference since women gained the franchise," Eric Levitz writes in New York. "In 2016, the gender gap in voting preference was 20 points; if current polls hold steady, it will be 28."

It's telling that Trump and his followers respond to this not by considering what it would take to attract more female voters — dialing down the misogyny a bit, perhaps? — but instead by chanting "Lock her up" at yet another female politician. Fear of women's autonomy, along with racism, has been one of the twin carburetors driving Trumpism.

The irony is that Trump and his largely male supporters, by expressing such overt hatred, have caused exactly what they fear to happen: Women turning away from them in increasing numbers. Plenty of women didn't want to believe that patriarchy is still a problem, but it's hard to deny that when men are literally demanding women be locked up. Two weeks remain until the election, of course, and it's conceivable that some of the women who currently tell pollsters that they're voting against men's wishes will chicken out by Election Day. But right now, there's a good chance that women are hearing Donald Trump and his fans chant "Lock her up" and realizing that they have to fight for their freedom.

Trump is playing a dangerous and cynical game with QAnon

Last night, during the shameful town hall NBC gave Donald Trump so he could avoid another humiliating debate defeat at Joe Biden's hands, Trump played the same game with QAnon that he does with white supremacists and right wing terrorists: Played dumb while giving winking encouragement to his more unhinged followers.

After repeatedly pretending not to know what this "QAnon" thing might be, when asked about it by journalist Savannah Guthrie, Trump then exposed himself as a liar by proving he does, in fact, know what QAnon purports to be about.

"I do know they are very much against pedophilia," he said. "They fight it very hard."

As most people not caught up in the cult of QAnon understand, the loosely organized online movement does not actually fight pedophilia. Its adherents promote a conspiracy theory that claims Trump is some kind of secret warrior in a fight against a worldwide liberal cabal of pedophiles, which leads to accusing innocent people of being sexual predators. That is very different from fighting child sexual abuse in the real world. But by framing QAnon as a sincere movement promoting well-meaning convictions, Trump is establishing a poisonous narrative that threatens to help mainstream it.

This is, after all, how the anti-abortion movement mainstreamed their fringe views, by portraying themselves as good-hearted people who just love the children. That gave pundits and other political gatekeepers permission to look away from their true purpose, which is stripping women of the basic human rights. By claiming to be fighting against child abuse, QAnon appears to be trying to pull off the same trick. And they got a big assist from Trump Thursday night.

So let's be quite clear here: QAnon is not about helping, protecting or saving children from actual sexual predators. They are people who promote lurid and made-up accusations of pedophilia as cover for their true purpose, which is to spin out ever-wilder rationalizations for continuing to support Trump in the face of economic collapse, racist oppression and an out-of-control pandemic.

If anything, the rapidly growing cult is making it much harder for people who are doing the work to fight sexual violence.

"It is not helpful to present child sexual abuse as a shadowy conspiracy, when we know that most perpetrators are actually known to the child," Debra Hauser, the president of Advocates for Youth, told Salon.

"People who commit child sexual abuse are not strangers or monsters they read about online," Laura Palumbo, the communications director of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, added in an email. "The hard reality is that parents, family members, neighbors, mentors and coaches are most often the ones who commit sexual abuse."

This idea that "the danger lurks outside" can make it harder for victims who are seeking help, Hauser noted, because if they tell their story to an adult "it becomes harder for that person to believe" if that adult has bought into QAnon-style images of what child sexual abuse looks like.

In the real world, sexual abuse — both of children and adults — rarely fits the QAnon-style dramatic fantasies of Satanic rituals and kidnapping rings. Instead it looks a lot like, well, the kind of thing Trump was on tape bragging to Billy Bush about — people, mostly men, who exploit their power over another person they know personally in order to sexually violate them.

We can already see evidence of the poisonous way that QAnon directs attention away from serious efforts to combat sexual abuse, especially of minors, and towards their ridiculous conspiracy theories by putting a strain on non-profit organizations that do the real life work of helping children and fighting human trafficking.

QAnon has been using the hashtag #SaveTheChildren on social media as a way to launder their radical views and recruit unwitting new followers. This has presented a problem for the very real child welfare charity Save The Children, who finally responded with a press release in August complaining that the use of their "name in hashtag form" is "causing confusion among our supporters and the general public." They also pointed people to a FAQ sheet debunking the kinds of myths about human trafficking that QAnon promotes.

When QAnon adherents spread an urban legend falsely accusing the furniture company Wayfair of enabling child sex trafficking, the Polaris Project — an organization that fights real human trafficking — was forced to issue a press statement after getting slammed with an "extreme volume" of contacts from people reporting the fake story, which "made it more difficult for the Trafficking Hotline to provide support and attention to others who are in need of help."

Similarly, officials in Oregon reported that 911 and other emergency hotlines were overwhelmed with false reports during the wildfires that swept the state recently, when QAnon accounts started spreading urban legends accusing "antifa" of starting the fires. These calls made it harder for people in distress to get help from first responders, which is alarming considering how dangerous and deadly the fires were. While that example doesn't directly involve sexual abuse, it does illustrate how QAnon whips credulous adherents into a frenzy over fake threats, which then creates a burden and drain on resources needed to fight real dangers in the world.

Zooming out a little more, it's also important to understand that, by supporting Trump, QAnon actually enables many real threats to the welfare of children. Trump's Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, has undermined regulations meant to protect K-12 students from sexual harassment, a critical tool in fighting child sex abuse. Trump has also cut funding to sexual health care clinics, such as Planned Parenthood, that have long served as safe spaces for young people to report sexual abuse.

We know what's actually needed to fight child sexual abuse, Hauser explained.

"It is helpful to be honest, and to provide young people with honest education about what child sexual abuse actually is," she said. "It's really, really important for young people to understand, and for children to understand that their body is theirs and that they have the right to say no."

And it's important for "young people to be able to be trusted when they say this happened to them."

This kind of advice isn't as exciting as going on a QAnon message board and swapping wild tales of kidnapping rings, but it is the sort of thing that actually stops child abuse. Unfortunately, by spreading misleading tales about what child abuse looks like, QAnon isn't just concocting a silly cover story to justify unjustifiable support for Trump. This movement is flooding the discourse with noise, and making it harder for those who have useful information and advice to be heard.

How Democrats guaranteed Rudy Giuliani's 'October surprise' would backfire spectacularly

The case of Rudy Giuliani will go down as one of the more perplexing mysteries of our time. Even though the man was a terrible mayor of New York City, he was likely going to be remembered fondly as the guy who actually stepped up and did his job on 9/11. But instead of spending his retirement years sipping martinis and resting on that particular laurel, Giuliani has apparently decided that being a basement-level launderer of Russian disinformation is the best use of his dotage. And all on behalf of Donald Trump, whose guaranteed role in American history will be, at best, as our nation's greatest embarrassment.

I'm reminded of the words of wisdom dropped at the the end of every beer commercial: Drink responsibly.

But Giuliani is failing. Hard. His latest apparent effort to smear former Vice President Joe Biden with false accusations of Ukrainian corruption has imploded, as the narrative has morphed into questions about what kinds of shenanigans Giuliani might be involved with and the legalities thereof rather than anything Biden has done. On the contrary, the story ends up painting Biden in a glowing light, making the current Democratic presidential nominee look incorruptible.

For that, thank the House Democrats for impeaching Trump back in December. If it weren't for the impeachment trial, there's a very good chance that Giuliani's efforts to get the mainstream media to elevate baseless smears against Biden would have worked.

To quickly recap the latest in Giuliani's impotent machinations: Steve Bannon, the former Trump strategist currently indicted on federal money laundering and obstruction charges, tips off the New York Post that the former NYC mayor has had in his possession what they claim are emails from Biden's son, Hunter Biden. Giuliani's story of how he got these emails is, to put it charitably, implausible. He says they were obtained from a computer supposedly left at a Delaware repair shop which the owner then turned over to him, for some reason. Perhaps a likelier explanation, as New York magazine's Jonathan Chait suggests, is that the emails may have been sourced from Russian agents that Giuliani knows.

The emails, which have not been independently verified, purport to show the younger Biden trying to set up a meeting between his father, who was vice president at the time, and executives at a corrupt Ukrainian energy firm, Burisma, where he served on the board of directors. Joe Biden's schedule shows he did not attend such a meeting, and the campaign says the Post didn't ask for comment on that allegation. But this is supposed to be evidence that Joe Biden is corrupt.

There's every reason to be suspicious of this weak attempt at an October surprise. It's important to remember that Trump got impeached because he tried to conjure up false evidence for these same bogus accusations by blackmailing the Ukrainian president into announcing a fraudulent "investigation" into Biden.

Moreover, it's a matter of record that Joe Biden's only involvement with Burisma was working with international authorities to fire a corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor who had failed to investigate Burisma. So even if there was an effort made by Burisma to corrupt Joe Biden, it failed. The emails, even if they're real, just prove he refused to get involved.

And so the efforts to pump this up into a big deal are failing. But without impeachment, there's a very good chance that Giuliani's gambit would have worked as intended, which is to flood baseless insinuations across the mainstream news media, including the New York Times.

These tactics worked in 2016, when Julian Assange and the Russian intelligence community — working with other Trump associates, many of whom were later convicted of crimes — were able to steer endless media attention toward Hillary Clinton's emails. Clinton's emails had nothing of note in them — we did learn she likes "The Good Wife" — but the constant repetition of the words "Clinton" and "emails" by the gullible news media lulled voters into seeing a scandal where none existed.

Giuliani appears to have been laying similar groundwork to smear Biden, starting in May 2019, when he spoke to the New York Times for a widely-criticized article about Biden and Ukraine.

We can see how Giuliani and Trump might have seen this playing out. As I wrote yesterday for Salon, these fake scandals Republicans concoct to smear Democrats work by being too complicated for anyone to follow. Instead, there's a drip-drip-drip of confusing stories filled with buzzwords and noise, all working together to build the illusion of scandal where none exists. The goal is to keep the words "Biden," "Burisma" and "Ukraine" in the headlines so people start to assume there must be something shady going on, even if there's nothing there.

But Trump got outed for his involvement in this conspiracy by a whistleblower who was, rightfully, concerned when he heard Trump blackmailing the Ukranian president into getting involved in the plot, and the impeachment trial followed. Impeachment derailed the scheme by refocusing press attention away from the smears against Biden and towards the real story, which is Trump's corruption. It was a clarifying moment, one that showed the extent of Trump's malicious intentions and exposed the workings of the machinery that exists to inject specious right wing narratives into the mainstream press.

Now every journalist knows that trying to make hay out of this latest stunt only makes you look like a stooge of Trump and Russian intelligence, and so they're staying away. The only outlet that would touch it was the New York Post. Even social media corporations, which have a terrible track record of letting Russian disinformation ops run rampant on their platforms, have gone to great lengths to push back against its spread.

There's a moral here for Democrats: It's worth it to fight back hard, even if there's no immediate payoff.

A lot of folks wonder if impeachment was worth the time and energy because, in the end, the corrupt Republicans who controlled the Senate refused to remove Trump, despite his obvious guilt. But the long-term effects of impeachment have been largely positive for Democrats. Impeachment made it toxic for even the most shameless mainstream journalists to pretend there is any legitimacy to Trump's lies. It made it so that, in these final weeks before the election, the focus is where it belongs: On Trump's corruption and failures, not on some made-up nonsense about his opponent.

There are a lot of difficult fights ahead for Democrats, starting with the fight to keep Amy Coney Barrett off the Supreme Court, but also future ones like the fight to save the economy if Biden is elected and the fight to rebalance the courts after years of Republican court-packing. Some of those fights will be hard, if not impossible, to win. But, as impeachment shows, it's worth having the fight anyway, because it often pays off in the long run. Just look at the current headlines at the New York Times.

Trump's latest harebrained election scheme goes up in smoke

Despite days of a seemingly steroid-addled Donald Trump raving about alleged conspiracies against him on Twitter and to any right wing pundit who would listen, it appears Attorney General Bill Barr — usually so indulgent of Trump's various crimes and corrupt schemes — has decided not to arrest a slate of Trump's political opponents on falsified charges.

"'Unmasking' probe commissioned by Barr concludes without charges or any public report," blares the headline at the Washington Post. With that, another of Trump's hopes that he could abuse his powers to manufacture an "October surprise" to save his re-election goes up in smoke.

At this point, it's tempting to offer an explainer about what the supposed "unmasking" scandal is all about, but the problem here is that the whole thing is equal parts opaque and confusing, even for those who are fully immersed in the Fox News Cinematic Universe. It's a bunch of gobbledygook accusations against Obama White House staff, including former Vice President Joe Biden, that amount to nothing but have been sold at length with great umbrage by the over-acting crowd at Fox News.

The whole thing is confusing by design. These falsified scandals concocted by Republicans to smear Democrats — Clinton's emails, Benghazi, Whitewater, whatever the hell Trump and Rudy Giuliani have been trying to imply about Biden and Ukraine — are deliberately dense and confusing, so that no one, not even the most avid Fox News fan, can ever fully understand what they're supposed to be outraged by.

The hope is that viewers will tune out the details (because they are indecipherable) and instead simply hear a series of sinister (or foreign-sounding!) buzzwords — "Benghazi," "emails," "unmasking," "Burisma" — and assume that something bad must have happened, even if they don't understand what. It's a strategy that's been pretty successful for Republicans in the past. To this day, no one can explain what was supposedly so bad about Hillary Clinton's emails, but enough Americans assumed that all the smoke must mean fire that they held the fake scandal against her at the polls in 2016.

Barr quite clearly opened the "investigation" into this non-scandal in order to pile on more confusing news reports and bolster the illusion that something bad must have happened. Barr likely understood that this phony investigation, like others, would amount to nothing substantive.

And it wasn't really meant to. The whole point is to drag out the Potemkin investigation until the election, creating a fake and confusing "scandal" that wannabe Trump voters could cling to in order to rationalize voting again for the racist disease vector polluting the Oval Office.

But Trump, who doesn't understand the art of subtlety on a good day, got greedy. Trump has been in an obvious downward spiral, brought on by both his humiliating COVID-19 hospitalization and the likely side effects of the powerful drugs he was given to battle it. Unsurprisingly then he's given a number of incoherent and aggrieved interviews to right wing outlets while also venting regularly on Twitter. In the process, he began screeching demands that Barr arrest a whole slew of Democratic figures on false charges in wild, over-the-top language that frankly removed all plausible deniability that there was anything substantive about the investigation.


The next morning, he appeared on Fox Business to rant at Maria Bartiromo about how this fake scandal is "the greatest political crime in the history of our country" and demanded that Barr arrest and indict Obama, Biden and Hillary Clinton.

Concocting a fake scandal to smear Democrats requires some amount of restraint. Republican officials can't just arrest Democrats willy-nilly on false charges that will get thrown out immediately in court. That's likely to blow back in their faces, as the scandal becomes about abuse of power and turns the innocent people arrested — all of whom are very famous! — into martyrs.

No, the strategy — which has worked really well! — has been to use federal resources to run a bunch of phony "investigations" that create the illusion of scandal, all without crossing the line into illegal activity that could result in actual consequences for corrupt Republicans.

But Trump, especially when he's hyped up on steroids and humiliation, couldn't help himself. He's the same guy who bragged that he likes to commit sexual assault because "when you're a star, they let you do it." He lives to cross lines and test boundaries. He's also hobbled by impulsive and short-term thinking, and couldn't see past how powerful he would feel by arresting these people to see how an abuse of power scandal would only damage him.

Trump gave the game away. Any effort to pretend this "unmasking" investigation was legitimate was now pointless in the face of the angry old psychopath raving about how people who oppose him politically should be arrested.

It's impossible to read Barr's mind and conclusively determine if he decided to wrap up this phony investigation — and allow a bunch of Trump-damaging headlines about it — because of Trump's downward spiral and very public demands that Barr cross the line into blatantly illegal behavior. But it's hard to deny the timing here.

This is just the latest in the long list of schemes by Trump to abuse his federal powers to cheat in the 2020 election. Last week, Greg Sargent of the Washington Post listed all the failed conspiracies, from Trump trying to fake a Biden-Ukraine scandal to Trump tear-gassing innocent protesters to Trump trying to rush a COVID-19 vaccine for October to this new effort to levy fake "unmasking" accusations against Democrats. Trump has definitely spent more time abusing his office to cheat in the 2020 election than he has on governing in the past four years. But he's about as good at conducting corrupt conspiracies as he was at running his business, which is to say, not at all.

All that said, it would be unwise for anyone to relax just yet. Trump has made his intentions to steal the election quite clear, and while he may be incompetent, he does have plenty of competent people working for him. The conspiracy to steal the election by attacking the mail-in voting system is still up and running. It is still critical that everyone do their part to keep Trump from monkeying with vote-counting in an attempt to steal the election.

Still, watching Trump's latest scheme implode is a good sign. He's very bad at rat-f*cking and keeps getting in the way of the people who actually know how to pull such shenanigans off. He is not the criminal mastermind so many people have convinced themselves he must be, but an incompetent fool who got really lucky in 2016. He can be defeated — as long as people don't get complacent.

Here's why Republicans are so obsessed with Amy Coney Barrett's kids

Hey, folks, did you know that Amy Coney Barrett, Donald Trump's nominee to fill Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's seat on the Supreme Court, has a lot of kids?

If not, good on you for not watching a single second of the first day of the farce playing out in the Senate chambers this week, as Republicans — who previously claimed that Barack Obama had no right to fill a Supreme Court seat a full seven months before a presidential election — rush to cram Barrett onto the court only days before the next one. Anyone who tuned in, or who simply flipped through C-SPAN on their way to watch something else, heard Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee talk glowingly about Barrett's family — she has seven children, two of them adopted — as if it was were a miracle sent directly from heaven.

Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, proving he's not "pro-life" by going mask-free despite his COVID-19 diagnosis, raved about how Barrett was "the oldest of seven children" before having seven kids of her own, offering the opinion that maternal "responsibilities have undoubtedly helped you throughout life."

Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa falsely declared that Democrats are "attacking you as a mom and a woman of faith." (This is repeatedly claimed by Republicans, but I remain unaware of any Democrat who has attacked Barrett on either count.)

"I bet there's many young women, like my own two daughters, who marvel at the balance that you've achieved between your personal and professional life," said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas. That distinguished gentleman — now facing an unexpectedly tight re-election battle against Democrat MJ Hegar — failed to note that Barrett has a net worth of $2.6 million, a $200,000 salary as a professor at Notre Dame and a husband who is a partner at a prestigious law firm. So the answer would seem to be that Barrett's family can afford to hire lots of child care while she pursues her professional goals.

And so on and so forth. Republicans were way more interested in Barrett's accomplishments as a producer and adopter of children than in her legal résumé. Part of that is because Republicans would rather talk about anything other than Barrett's legal record, since they don't want the public to know about her opposition to the Affordable Care Act, her desire to end legal abortion and strip women of contraception access or her association with anti-LGBTQ groups.

But this is also just about trolling feminists. The implicit argument in hyping Barrett's big family along with her successful career is one that anti-choice activists have been making for a long time: Women don't really need contraception or abortion access in order to succeed socially and professionally, and feminists who say otherwise have a sinister agenda.

Indeed, the longstanding claim of the religious right is that feminists aren't really pro-woman at all, but are in fact working on behalf of sleazy men who want to exploit women for their bodies. In this narrative, women do not actually enjoy sex, but instead use it solely as a tool to secure a breadwinning mate and a big brood of kids. Feminists who support abortion rights and widespread access to birth control are luring women away from their true natures for the benefit of horndog men."

Women experiencing an unplanned pregnancy also deserve unplanned joy," a famous quotation from anti-choice activist Patricia Heaton, has been adopted as the motto for this mentality.

"[S]exual equality is found not in imitating men's capacity to walk away from an unexpected pregnancy through abortion, but rather in asking men to meet women at a high standard of mutual responsibility, reciprocity and care," anti-choice activist Erika Bachiochi wrote at Politico, defending Barrett's nomination.

Feminism, according to conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, has stolen away "sex and romance and marriage and child-rearing" from women, and "conservative feminism" of the Barrett variety is about restoring those things. (He elides the fact that the plan is to restore such things by force by making alternatives illegal or unavailable.)

In this deranged worldview, any woman who says she doesn't want to get pregnant is assumed to be suffering from false consciousness. The possibility that women desire sex for reasons other than trapping a man in a domestic partnership and making a bunch of babies is treated as preposterous. Women who insist that they actually want other things are treated with pity and condescension, as if they don't know their own minds.

People who make these arguments tend to call themselves "feminists for life" or "conservative feminists." But there's nothing feminist about any of this, since it all rests on the view that women are too stupid and too easily misled to be permitted control over their own bodies.

All this patronizing rhetoric, to be clear, is just a churchy cover for deeply-rooted sadism and misogyny.

Anti-choicers know full well the misery that springs from their preferred policies. They know women may die or suffer serious injuries from illegal abortions. They know that families who have more children than they can care for suffer from poverty. They know that giving children up for adoption is usually heartbreaking. They know that shotgun marriages are often unhappy and one big reason divorce rates were much higher in the past. They know that most women simply don't have Barrett's resources to hire other people to care for their children so they can pursue their career ambitions.

They know these things, just as they know that women have sex for their own pleasure and not just to please men (or ensnare them). Just as they know that most Americans want small families, and many don't want children at all.

But that's the point: All that misery is viewed as just punishment for women who want sexual freedom and equality. But conservatives also know that the public is repulsed by open displays of sadism and hatred, so instead we get this pursed-lip, praying-for-you condescension, clad in pseudo-feminist drag.

Trolling feminists is joyful in itself for many leading Republicans, but there's another reason for the Barrett baby parade: Distracting their own voters from how radical her right-wing worldview really is.

Barrett's policy positions and her likely future judgments are deeply unpopular with Americans, including many Republicans. For instance, 72% of voters — and 62% of Republicans — want the federal government to protect insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. Barrett is expected to end that if she is seated on the court in time to hear an upcoming case meant to kill off the Affordable Care Act. On abortion, 66% of Americans, and 47% of Republicans, believe that Roe v. Wade should be left alone. Barrett is expected to be part of a conservative majority that will eventually vote to overturn it. A whopping 92% of Americans believe birth control is morally acceptable, and are likely to take a dim view of a letter Barrett signed claiming it was "morally obtuse" to require insurance companies to cover contraception.

By parading around Barrett's large family and pretending that feminists are "attacking" her for having a lot of children — when what feminists really oppose is forcing childbirth on the unwilling — Republicans can turn this confirmation into yet another culture-war conflict instead of a dispute about the issues. Now their voters are all riled up about an imaginary liberal assaults on faith and family, instead of perceiving that Barrett is there to assault both their religious and sexual freedoms.

There were many conservative judges Republicans could have picked to dismantle the ACA and reproductive rights. They went with an anti-choice fanatic with seven kids to taunt feminists with the implication that only weak and stupid women need birth control and abortion. The hope is that their own voters will be so ecstatic over "triggering" feminists that they won't notice that their own rights and health care are being stripped away too. Feminist tears won't pay for anyone's health insurance, but by the time Republican voters realize that, it will be too late.

It's time to get angry: Here are 5 steps to thwart Trump's plan to steal the election

During Tuesday night's debate, Donald Trump, who has gone pure fascist, once again escalated his efforts to scare people out of voting. He encouraged his followers to engage in voter intimidation under the guise of "poll watching," and told armed hate groups to "stand by." Trump also floated a number of baseless conspiracy theories about "voter fraud" that are clearly designed to discourage voting and rationalize legal efforts to stop votes from being counted.

Meanwhile, Trump's postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, is still slowing down the mail in what looks like a bid to make sure that many mail-in ballots miss election deadlines.

It's also clear that Trump, with the assistance of his principal stooge, Attorney General Bill Barr, plans to challenge vote-counting after Election Day, knowing full well that it may take a week or more to count all the mail-in ballots.

Trump can't win a free and fair election, and he knows it. So he's doing everything in his power to keep Americans from having one. As the New York Times reported on Thursday morning, Republicans, in their efforts to save Trump, are using every dirty trick in the book to stop people from voting.

Times are scary. It's understandable to feel demoralized, but it is more important than ever not to give into that feeling. Trump and Republicans want you to feel despair. Despair leads to inaction, which makes it a lot easier for Trump to pull this off.

Instead, it's time to get angry, and to use that anger to propel you into action. Trump may want to steal the election, but wanting isn't having. He can be defeated. He will likely be defeated — as long as everyone does their part to stop him.

With that in mind, here are five things you can do, starting today, to fight back and keep Trump from stealing this election.

1. Don't panic. Trump makes a lot of noise, but at heart, the man is a simpering coward and incompetent to boot, as his business record and pandemic management shows. While Trump has competent people working on his behalf, he is still the head of this effort and he is still an idiot who thought bleach injections sounded like a good idea.

"A lot of people don't have faith in the system for obvious reasons, but there is a constitutional process that will take place," regardless of what bad actors may insinuate, Sylvia Albert, the director of voting and elections at Common Cause, told Salon.

Trump is engaging in penny-ante stuff like tinkering with the mail because he can't do what the dictators he admires, like Russian President Vladimir Putin, do — which is simply fix to elections. His machinations may make voting more difficult, but he still won't be able to stop most people, if they stay focused.

As George Packer of The Atlantic notes, "For the election to succeed, we have to think and act as if it will succeed," adding, "Stealing an election remains extremely difficult, and almost impossible if the vote isn't close."

The good news is that Trump's efforts to use the courts to stop mail-in voting have been "uniformly unsuccessful," the Brennan Center explains.

Don't let Trump's chest-thumping discourage you. He isn't as powerful as he pretends to be. He is so incompetent that, like a villain in a James Bond movie, he's already revealed the details of his nefarious scheme to his opponents. Don't be afraid to vote, and don't allow other people in your life to be discouraged by fear.

2. Vote! Early and in person, if possible. "The most important thing voters can do right now is make a plan and make sure that their vote counts," Albert said, explaining that voters need to check their registration now and not wait until it's too late.

Democrats encouraged voters to apply for mail-in ballots early in the cycle, due to the pandemic. Trump has exploited that by threatening legal challenges to those ballots and slowing down the mail. So folks should consider voting early and in person, if that's an available option. If you wear a mask, voting early is relatively safe, since polling locations shouldn't be overly crowded.

For those who already applied for a mail-in ballot, this switch can feel fraught. The good news is that many states have what is called "in-person absentee voting," where people can turn in their mail-in ballots at early voting locations. A group called The Early Vote has an Instagram page up explaining, state by state, how early voting and in-person absentee voting works. Check out their page and then follow up with your local election office to see how you can vote.

The sooner you get your vote in, the safer it is!

3. Volunteer to get out the vote — and consider focusing your efforts on Florida. After voting, the most important thing you can do is help other people vote. Join a phone or text bank effort to get out the vote. If you live in a swing state, connect with local organizations that have voting turnout efforts. Or connect with a campaign you support — they all love phone bank volunteers, and it's something you can do from home with a cell phone.

One great way to help is to sign up through Vote Save America, which is run by the crew at the podcast Pod Save America. Their Adopt a State program connects volunteers to efforts in specific states to get out the vote, allowing people to focus on swing states in particular.

But I'd like to specifically recommend that you adopt Florida. Unlike other swing states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, Florida starts certifying mail-in ballots 22 days before the election, meaning there's a strong chance that state's results will be tabulated and announced on election night. If Trump loses Florida (and the state gets called early), that will gut his entire plan to pretend he won prematurely and fight to stop counting the vote in swing states. (Realistically, if Trump loses Florida it's probably the harbinger of a Biden landslide and we can all go to bed.)

4. Volunteer to be an election protector. Volunteers are needed to make sure everyone who wants to vote gets to vote, without being intimidated. Common Cause has a nonpartisan election protection program and needs volunteers to man phone lines and work as poll watchers. Much of the work can be done from home.

Another option is to sign up with the Frontline Election Defenders, a group set up by an alliance of progressive organizations, including the Working Families Party and the Movement for Black Lives Electoral Justice Project.

If you are a military veteran, have legal training or have professional skills in de-escalation, such as social work or psychological training, let these groups know. They might have special use for your skills in the coming weeks.

5. Prepare yourself now for the post-election fight for all votes to be counted. It's tough to say what the situation will look like after Election Day. Organizers for progressive or election integrity groups are planning for a broad spectrum of possibilities, and the situation is very fluid. It might be that Trump's noise-making amounts to nothing and Joe Biden is certified the winner quickly. Or it might be that there's a fight to count votes in the swing states. What exactly will happen, much less the when and where, is simply unknowable.

With all that said, it's good to start planning right now to be ready to spring into action if protesters or volunteers are needed to protect the vote-counting after Election Day. This is especially true if you live in or near a blue city in a swing state, such as Detroit, Miami, Milwaukee or Philadelphia, that could become the center of Republican efforts to interfere with vote-counting. Or if you live in a state like Pennsylvania, where Republicans are exploring the possibility of using false accusations of "fraud" to decertify the vote count, and might need to be overwhelmed with nonviolent protests to change their minds.

The No. 1 thing you can do to prepare is connect with groups, through social media or emails lists, such as Color of Change, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, MoveOn, People's Action or the Working Families Party. Look into local social justice organizations if you live in a swing state. Mobilization of protesters will likely happen through social media, and knowing who to turn to if things get hairy will be crucial for moving fast and putting bodies where they need to be to protect the vote.

Whatever happens, the most important thing to understand is the power of nonviolent direct action. Trump and his minions want violence so they can blame the left, play the victim and, most importantly, declare that they're ones who will maintain "law and order" and are therefore justified in their efforts to steal the election. The best way to defeat that strategy is offer the public a clear contrast between the peaceful supporters of democracy and the violent right-wing goons that Trump is encouraging.

The good news is that experts believe it's still unlikely that it will come to protests in the streets. The decentralized election system is simply too hard for Trump to control, especially since he's so lazy and incompetent. His legal efforts to keep people from using mail-in ballots are failing. Mostly, what he has is a big microphone and a deep desire to scare people out of voting.

Donald Trump is trying to terrify Americans out of holding an election, and into allowing him to hold onto power by illegitimate means. But this is still a democracy — and we can keep it, as long as we stay resolved and refuse to let his ugly bluster scare us into letting it go.

Trump's biggest vulnerability isn't his crimes — it's his humiliating failure

Using its agenda-setting powers for good instead of evil for once, the New York Times has released the second in a series of stories detailing exactly what kind of fraud Donald Trump is, using recently obtained copies of the tax returns the president has spent years desperately trying to hide.

This second one is a doozy, focusing as it does on how Trump, desperate for cash to prop up his failing empire, faked being a successful businessman on "The Apprentice." Then, because he is unbelievably bad at business, Trump managed to burn through the $424.7 million windfall he "earned" from that show, leaving him apparently dead broke before he announced his presidential campaign in 2015.

Much attention has been paid to the revelation from the first article in this series that Trump is a promiscuous tax cheat who uses all sorts of shady strategies — paying his daughter Ivanka as a "consultant" to hide money from the IRS, for one — to keep his income tax bill at zero in most years.

But this second article focuses on what is likely a far more potent slam against Trump in the eyes of the voters he'll need to win over if he wants to be re-elected in November: He is a comically terrible businessman. His real estate empire was kept on life support through ads with cartoon sheep and selling ringtones, as well multi-level marketing schemes and other ploys to defraud desperate people.

On Tuesday night we will see the first debate of the general election campaign. Right now, most liberal commentators are urging Trump's Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, to talk about Trump's extensive tax cheating. That would actually be a mistake.

Instead, Biden should focus on how Trump's entire claim to be a captain of industry is a lie, and the fact that he's barely stayed afloat through laundry soap ads and tricking people into taking phony classes at "Trump University."

This may seem counterintuitive to liberals, who are offended by Trump's immorality and want to see him held to account for his corruption and criminality. But there's a real danger for Biden in harping on the fact that Trump is a bad person: Doing so runs the risk of making Trump look tough, smart and strong. Instead, Biden should characterize Trump as weak and stupid, which is far more likely to turn off the kinds of voters Trump needs to win in swing states.

Voters already know Trump is a lying scoundrel. If anything, that's a big part of his appeal, especially to those low-information and fair-weather voters who dragged him across the finish line in 2016. For many of those voters, Trump serves up a fantasy of the tough guy who breaks the rules to get things done.

Don't just take my word for it — the data backs this up. As Dan Pfeiffer, the former communications strategist for Barack Obama, explained in a recent newsletter, focus group and polling evidence shows that Trump actually benefits from telling "voters that norms and institutions are too weak to stop Trump from doing what he wants."

Trump's propagandists on Fox News and talk radio get this. Rather than denying that Trump is a tax cheat — something Trump himself has bragged about — they're hyping the cheating as evidence that Trump is smart and knows how to work the system.

Mollie Hemingway, conservative commentator and self-proclaimed Christian, defended tax cheating on Fox News Monday, declaring, "All of these things he's doing are things that probably all of us do."

Rush Limbaugh went even further, fawning over Trump's tax cheating as evidence that he's a "master" and an "expert."

By scolding Trump for being a naughty, Biden runs the risk of looking like the nagging police chief in an '80s cop drama, scolding our rogue-cop hero for bending the rules. Instead, Biden should try to kneecap Trump's efforts to look clever or strong by focusing on the fact that Trump was such an epic failure at business he needed to shill for laundry soap to keep his companies from collapsing entirely.

Trump is not a "master" or an "expert" or someone who knows how to "game the system." Trump, in reality, is this guy:

I attended the Republican National Convention in 2016, and one of the most interesting things was how much the programming avoided mentioning "The Apprentice." Instead, Trump was portrayed as this Ayn Rand-style titan of real estate, with lots of photos of cranes and men in hard hats.

Propping up this lie that he's a successful real estate mogul is central to maintaining the Trump mystique. The truth — that his real estate empire is a failure, which was barely kept alive by cash from reality TV, commercial endorsements and fraud — offers the only hope of dimming Trump's reputation, among a certain segment of voters, as a smart and successful businessman.

Focusing on Trump's failures as a businessman is not only a delicious way to humiliate him and degrade him in the eyes of his fans, it offers a path to connect Trump's failings to the real-life impact on voters.

It's difficult, if not impossible, to get voters to understand how Trump's cheating on his taxes affects them. Yes, tax cheating reduces government income that is needed for government services, but that's abstract accounting talk. Besides, no one is under the impression that Trump's tax bill was the make-or-break number for a federal budget that runs into the trillions every year.

But there's a way to explain why voters should care that Trump is such a failure at real estate that he was forced to hawk mattresses and marketing scams in order to stay above water. Over the last four years, Trump has run the government exactly like he ran his businesses, by failing miserably to do his job and covering up his failures with a bunch of lies and TV pageantry.

For instance, in the real world, Trump failed miserably to handle the coronavirus pandemic, despite being gifted with a massive public health infrastructure that was, at one time, the envy of much of the world. There are now 7.1 million Americans who have been infected and more than 205,000 who have died — which is more than 20% of the world's cases, in a country that has only 4.5% of the world's population.

But Trump doesn't care that he failed, because he believes he can fake success, "Apprentice"-style. Just last week, Trump declared on Fox News that he has done a "phenomenal job" and deserves an "A+" for his work on the pandemic.

Trump thinks he can fake his way through the presidency, just like he faked being a successful businessman. This is an easy, simple message. It's also likelier to resonate with undecided or shaky voters than the message that he's a nefarious tax cheat, which runs the risk of making him sound more competent than he actually is.

Trump desperately wants voters to believe he's a master builder and real estate king. Biden would do well to remind them how Trump actually made the money he then proceeded to lose: By shilling for multi-level marketing schemes and cut-rate pizza chains.

Trump's taxes show he was really 'the biggest loser'

Donald Trump's seemingly immovable approval numbers are a testament, above all other things, to the power of racism, and the way that 40 to 42% of Americans will stand by their man, no matter how bad things get, so long as he keeps hating the same people they hate. But that legendary floor of his — he has almost never dropped below 40%, or risen above 45% — is also a testament to the power of narrative fiction, especially of the televised variety.

During the 2016 Republican primary, polling showed that Trump supporters were bamboozled by "The Apprentice," mistaking the fictional Trump of the "reality" TV show for the real Trump, a repeated business failure with a series of bankruptcies under his belt. To this day, about half of Americans still believe that Trump is a competent steward of the American economy, despite the worst downturn since the Great Depression, because they mistook a character he played on TV for the real thing. Trump has boosted this lie about his business acumen by concealing decades of his tax returns so that he could claim to be a successful billionaire without being fact-checked by his own accountants.

But now, after years of trying, the New York Times has successfully harpooned the white whale that journalists, prosecutors, activists and Democrats have been hunting for years: Donald Trump's tax returns.

Unsurprisingly, the documents suggest Trump cheats on his taxes, as he cheats in every other aspect of life, from marriages to presidential elections. Perhaps more importantly, the documents show that Trump's entire persona as a successful businessman isn't just a lie, but the inverse of reality. If we're going strictly on profit and loss, Donald Trump is the worst living businessman in America.

Trump has twice been basically gifted half a billion dollars by benefactors — twice! — first by his father and then by reality-show producer Mark Burnett for "The Apprentice." In both cases, tax documents suggest he took more money than most people can even dream of, and flushed it straight down the toilet. Trump isn't a successful businessman. He's the photographic negative of a successful businessman. If "The Apprentice" had been honestly named, it would have been called "The Biggest Loser."

As the Times reports, Trump's work on "The Apprentice," for which he did very little beyond showing up to perform before the cameras, earned him "a total of $427.4 million." Instead of investing this cash bonanza, which he received through no skill or effort beyond letting makeup artists and editors make him look as good as possible, Trump turned around and dumped that money into businesses "that in the years since have steadily devoured cash," such as $315 million in reported losses for his golf clubs and $55 million in losses for his Washington hotel. He does make money off Trump Tower, but the massive losses are part of the reason Trump has avoided paying income taxes for so many years.

Not only did Trump blow all the money that Burnett basically handed to him, he also appears deeply in the hole. He owes an eye-popping $421 million to various banks, most of which is coming due in the next four years. On top of that, he may owe another $100 million to the federal government, due to his shady tax practices. As Forbes journalist Dan Alexander calculated on Sunday, Trump's debts may total more than a billion dollars

.Trump isn't the "stable genius" he claims to be, but no doubt the man has a gift for losing money.

What makes this even more outrageous is this is the second time Trump was given nearly half a billion dollars that he proceeded to set on fire. As the New York Times pieced together in 2018 from documents provided by Trump's niece, his father, Fred Trump, funneled $413 million to his profligate son (often illegally), only to watch The Donald waste it all on vanity projects.

In fact, as with the "Apprentice" money, Trump not only lost the cash Daddy gave him, but kept spending. Trump's tax documents from 1985 to 1994 obtained by the New York Times show that he lost a billion dollars during that time. In 1990, in fact, Trump was so strapped for cash, despite his father's largess, that he pressured Fred, who was then 85 and suffering from dementia, to change his will in order to bail his wildly and unimaginably irresponsible son out of debt.

Trump was likely only saved from ruin in the last decade or so by the infusion of Burnett cash — but then he went deeply into debt yet again.

How does Trump keep up his lavish lifestyle? Well, no doubt a huge reason he loses money hand over fist is because he burns through it to keep up his lifestyle. He also appears to use accounting tricks to put taxpayers on the hook for his lifestyle. The Times found that by claiming all personal luxuries as business expenses, Trump "can still live a life of wealth and write it off."

Why does this matter? Trump voters already know the man is a liar and a cheat, and have clearly decided they don't care. During a 2016 presidential debate, Hillary Clinton accused Trump (correctly, it turns out) of not paying federal income taxes. He declared that made him "smart." For Trump voters, his tax cheating only adds to his mystique, and enhances his claim that, as a "successful" businessman, he knows how to run the economy, so people should set aside their concerns about his rancid personality and vote for him anyway.

As Greg Sargent of the Washington Post argues, Trump campaigned on the idea that "he enriched himself off a system rigged to enable such elite gaming" and that he could somehow "unlock its spoils for supporters." In reality, however, these tax returns show that Trump's epic cheating wasn't shrewd so much as a desperate effort to "compensate for truly epic levels of incompetence and failure."

Trump is incapable of handling a checking account, much less running the economy. He cheats, without question. But he does so in no small part because he's too stupid to make money honestly.

The deadly combination of Trump's ego and incompetence is such that he cannot help but destroy everything he touches. If Trump had simply put the money he'd been gifted into a mutual fund or other such investments, he'd be insanely rich. Hell, if he'd stuck it inside a mattress, he'd be rich beyond the imagination of the vast majority of Americans.

But Trump can't help but screw things up. He's a narcissist who wanted to show he was good at business — even though he's desperately bad at it — and kept on buying up vanity projects like golf courses that lose lots of money.

Unfortunately for the health of our nation, we can see the same tendencies playing out with the coronavirus pandemic. If Trump had simply left well enough alone, letting public health officials do their job, the pandemic would still be bad, but would now be much better contained. But Trump can't help but get in his own way. He kept interfering with the response, insisting on treating the pandemic as a PR crisis and a political issue, rather than a health crisis. In the process, he undermined testing, mask-wearing, social distancing and other measures that could have greatly reduced viral transmissions. The result, as of Monday morning, is more than 7.1 million cases and nearly 205,000 deaths.

Trump's entire campaign pitch has been that he may be an asshole, but at least he's a smart, tough asshole. His daughter, Ivanka, hit this theme hard at the Republican National Convention, joking that "my dad's communication style is not to everyone's taste" but that "the results speak for themselves."

Yeah, First Daughter: They do. It was was preposterous at face value to claim that Trump was an effective leader, in light of the rapidly escalating death toll from the pandemic and a national unemployment rate 8.4% — down from the worst months of 2020 but still more than double what it was in February. But as these tax documents prove, it's a lie that goes back decades. Trump is both an asshole and a terrible businessman, quite possibly the worst on planet Earth. He surrounds himself in gold-plated cheese, but his real Midas talent is his ability to turn anything he touches to ashes. He did it to his endlessly fake and failed business enterprises, and now he's doing it to our country.

Trump can't even keep his coup secret

Donald Trump is escalating. Wednesday afternoon, under questioning by Brian Karem of Playboy, Trump offered what the mainstream news outlets are calling a "failure to commit" to a "peaceful transfer of power." One might also call it "threatening a coup".

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