Amanda Marcotte

The debate wasn't 'civil' — Trump showed himself to be a cold-blooded psychopath

The word on the media reviews for Thursday night's second — and blessedly last — debate of the presidential campaign is that it was civil.

"It was civil, calm, sedate, substantive (at times) and, almost, even normal," Shane Goldmacher at the New York Times writes.

"It came down to muting the president," Robin Givhan of the Washington Post writes. "That's what it took to stage a reasonably civil debate between President Trump and former vice president Joe Biden."

Deirdre Walsh at NPR declared the Nashville debate " a much different — and far more civil — night than the last encounter."

I don't know what debate these analysts were watching. Because the one I saw was between a normal politician, Joe Biden, and a man whose utter lack of empathy for any other human being is only matched by his baseless self-regard. The mute button only allowed Trump to speak at greater length, showcasing for all of America to see a textbook illustration of what sociopathy looks like. Afterwards, I wondered if Christian Bale had been watching, and if so, if he was worried that his star turn in "American Psycho" was too understated.

I know we've all grown numb to Trump's casual cruelty and his obvious inability to imagine that other people are fully real, but hot damn, it is incumbent on us who carry the dubious title of "journalist" not to let that numbness cloud our vision. There is something deeply wrong with that man. Anyone who listened — really listened — to him on Thursday night could see it.

Trump's sociopathic responses to human suffering started straightaway, when moderator Kristen Welker asked about future responses to the coronavirus, which has infected more than 8 million Americans and killed 223,000 as of Friday morning. Trump talked about the pandemic as if he were cheating at golf or trying to bully some hapless tenant into agreeing that there's nothing wrong with brown water coming out of the faucet.

"So as you know, 2.2 million people modeled out, were expected to die," Trump started, in a tone so casual one would think he was talking about the weather. He went on to claim the U.S. is doing better than most of the world with controlling the pandemic.

All of this is a lie, which is no surprise. That number of 2.2 fatalities was the absolute worst-case scenario, with no mitigation practices at all. It's much lower than that, no thanks to Trump — who proceeded to hype the no-mitigation strategy for the rest of the debate, even scoffing at the idea of plexiglass barriers — but because state and local officials and the American people stepped up to save ourselves.

Trump then proceeded to downplay the seriousness of the virus, bragging "I got better very fast" when he got COVID-19 and claiming that "99% of people recover." In fact, the death rate right now is 2.6% of diagnosed cases, and an unknown number of those who survive will have long-term health effects. He then proceeded to whine like a fourth-grader, literally proclaiming, it's "not my fault."

Imagine how this felt for people who have had someone close to them die, or who have themselves survived a near-death experience with COVID-19. I've personally had multiple people in my life become ill with this virus, and was wracked with worry about losing one of them. Trump's entire soulless diatribe, especially when he mentioned that his "young son" had the disease and "was fine," was profoundly disturbing. The man has no empathy, not even for his own family.

It went on like that all night. On every issue touching human suffering, Trump sounded like a callous jerk.

On the subject of family separations and the 545 immigrant children who are still separated from their parents after Trump instituted the policy that ripped thousands of families apart?

"They are so well taken care of. They're in facilities that were so clean," Trump said dismissively, as if forcibly orphaned children should be grateful to be allowed to take a shower.

He also took time to smear people who apply for legal immigration status, saying that only "those with the lowest IQ" show up to their mandatory court appointments.

In Trump's world, only idiots and fools obey the law. In a 2016 debate with Hillary Clinton, he famously made a similar claim, saying that his long history of tax evasion makes him "smart". This time around, there was more racism, along with the president's bizarre and fascistic obsession with eugenics.

When Welker asked the candidates to talk about the struggles of Black parents faced with the need to tell their kids that encounters with police can threat to their personal safety or their lives, Biden spoke empathetically about the difficulties of raising kids in a racist system. Trump just whined that he doesn't get enough praise for his generosity to Black people.

"I am the least racist person in this room," Trump whined, adding that he "took care of Black colleges and universities," in the same tone he probably uses when listing all the jewelry he's purchased for wives irate about yet another infidelity.

Biden was a welcome contrast all night, even when Trump was turning that sociopathic viciousness towards sneering at the former veep's well-documented famil struggles. Much has been said about Biden's empathy and personal decency, but honestly, any human being without a severe personality disorder would come across as a mensch next to that sneering creep.

It may be that the loud, chaotic and disruptive aspects of Trump's personality are so annoying that they drown out what is actually most disturbing about the man, which is that he has no human feeling for other people. Or perhaps it's because the ideology of American conservatism at this point is so cruel and unfeeling that Trump seems like a natural fit with the 21st-century Republican Party. Possibly it's because the political culture of mandatory cynicism doesn't allow people to admit that they're weirded out by someone whose empathetic capacity is so busted.

Whatever the reason, it's remarkable how so many people have grown accustomed to sitting through that man's cold-blooded rants and callous affect and don't seem disturbed by it, as long as the volume is kept at a reasonable level.

But the truth is, without the yelling and headache-inducing interruptions, Trump's ruthless attitude towards any human being besides himself came through with crystalline clarity. There's nothing "civil" about a man who doesn't care about human suffering and death, and is only upset by the fact that he's not receiving the constant praise and flattery he believes is his due.

Trump did it again — the same blackmail scheme that got him impeached

Back thousands of years ago, in February of 2020, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, a "moderate" Republican, justified her vote to acquit Donald Trump at his impeachment trial — despite the mountains of evidence of guilt — by claiming that Trump had learned his lesson.

"I believe that the president has learned from this case," Collins told CBS news anchor Norah O'Donnell at the time. "The president has been impeached — that's a pretty big lesson."

That excuse was preposterous at the time, making it sound like Trump was a child who had his hand in the cookie jar, not a 73-year-old man caught abusing his powers of office to blackmail the Ukrainian president into propping up conspiracy theories about Joe Biden. But it was also hilariously predictable that Trump, who is incapable of learning or growing as a person, would absorb any moral lessons from being impeached.

Trump didn't learn anything. In fact, he's only escalated the very same botched conspiracy that got him impeached, only this time around he's abusing his power on the home front, instead of in a distant nation most Americans couldn't find on a map.

Truth told, Trump demonstrated his failure to learn within days of his acquittal, first by bragging about it and then pivoting to lying about the Democrats. Since then, he's gone right back to abusing his power to fabricate lies about his opponent. He and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani — along with Giuliani's buddy Andrii Derkach, a Ukrainian legislator with ties to Russian intelligence — eventually returned to the very scheme that got Trump impeached in the first place: am attempt to counterfeit evidence that Hunter Biden, Joe Biden's son, had somehow dragged his father into a corrupt scheme. It's a claim with literally no evidence to support it, no matter how much Trump and Giuliani repeat the accusation.

On Wednesday evening, Devlin Barrett and Josh Dawsey of the Washington Post reported that Trump has threatened to fire FBI Director Christopher Wray — who, lest we forget, was appointed by Trump after the firing of James Comey — unless Wray announces a phony investigation into Biden that Trump can use as last-minute ammunition in the presidential campaign.

"Trump wants official action similar to the announcement made 11 days before the last presidential election by then-FBI Director James B. Comey," Barrett and Dawsey write, referring to Comey's infamous announcement that "he had reopened an investigation into [Hillary] Clinton's use of a private email server while she was secretary of state after potential new evidence had been discovered."

That investigation resulted in no damning information about Clinton, which was entirely predictable. Clinton had been thoroughly investigated for years without a speck of meaningful dirt turned up on her. But that announcement did help turn an election Clinton should have won to Trump's favor: It caused a surge of undecided voters to break for Trump at the last minute, allowing him to win several important swing states by razor-thin margins.

So there's one thing Trump was capable of learning: The value of fake scandals to distract from serious issues, such as his own corruption and incompetence. And he's hoping for a repeat, which is why he's pressuring Wray to pull a Comey against Biden.

But in doing so — and in "considering" whether to fire Wray if he doesn't — Trump is doing the exact same thing that got him impeached: Pressuring a government official to announce a phony investigation into his opponent, and threatening to use the powers of his office to punish that person if they don't comply. This time Trump is targeting a Senate-confirmed official who leads a federal law enforcement agency rather than a foreign leader.

For those who have grown hazy on the details of Trump's impeachment — which is understandable, since there have been dozens, if not hundreds, of Trump-caused crises since then — a quick recap: In the summer of 2019, Trump called the newly elected president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, and told him that the U.S. would withhold military aid (which had been authorized by Congress) unless Zelensky did Trump "a favor." That favor was to announce an "investigation" into Biden aimed at propping up the convoluted conspiracy theory about Hunter Biden, a Ukrainian gas company and a fired Ukrainian prosecutor that Giuliani and Trump were trying to push into the mainstream media.

Zelensky clearly felt uneasy participating in a scheme to smear an innocent man's reputation, but Ukraine desperately needed the military aid to fight Russian aggression. Luckily for Zelensky, he was spared from this blackmail scheme by a whistleblower and Trump's eventual impeachment for abusing his office.

Now Trump is doing to Wray what he did to Zelensky. The only difference is that Trump's leverage in this case is limited: He can dismiss the FBI director at any time, having already done so once, but that's about it. With Zelensky, Trump's threats carried a lot more weight.

Either way, the basic story is the same: Trump is demanding that a government official abuse his powers and launch a completely phony investigation based on made-up charges, for Trump's political benefit. In fact, Trump has reportedly made similar threats about Attorney General Bill Barr, because the Justice Department's bogus special-counsel investigation of the Russia investigation evidently hasn't turned up anything Trump can use to bolster his conspiracy theories about the Democrats. (If Barr, the most dogged and ruthless of Trump's sycophants, is in trouble, things in the White House are getting really bad.)

There's a word for all this: Blackmail.

Unfortunately, the media coverage about the attacks on Wray (and on Barr) or about the latest ridiculous wrinkles in Rudy Giuliani's harebrained schemes all too often fails to provide the necessary context. It doesn't remind readers that none of this is new, and that in fact all these developments are part of the same conspiracy that got Trump impeached. The Washington Post article on the threats against Wray fails to use the word "impeachment" or to mention that Trump is treating Wray exactly as he treated Zelensky. And although mainstream media has emphasized the most important aspects of Giuliani's efforts to smear Biden — that Giuliani is not credible and is believed by U.S. intelligence to be spreading Russian disinformation — most articles don't explain that Giuliani is still working the same plot that got his celebrity client (quite likely his only client) impeached.

It's as if G. Gordon Liddy kept burglarizing various Democratic offices after the Watergate break-in, but the reporting on his later crimes failed to mention the first one. Our national situation is an ongoing catastrophe, no doubt. But is it really too much to expect journalists to explain that Trump keeps on doing the very thing he was impeached for doing?

Either way, the situation shows that Trump, despite all his chaotic crazy-uncle ranting, doesn't actually have a lot of tricks in his bag. The only thing he knows how to do is cheat — and the only way he knows how to cheat is by threatening and blackmailing other people to do the work for him. Without that, he's got nothing.

McConnell admits he's blocking COVID relief — while the media blames Pelosi

For months, Congress has failed to pass a coronavirus relief bill, despite the widespread economic devastation and the fact that, under Donald Trump's malicious mismanagement, the pandemic has spiraled out of control, infecting 8.25 million people and killing more than 220,000, as of Wednesday morning.

The mainstream media has firmly decided who they blame for the lack of a bill: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats who control the lower house of Congress. Blaming Democrats has been the dominant press narrative, even though it's been obvious from the get-go that Republicans don't want more relief legislation.

Now we have concrete proof that Republicans are to blame: Late Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell "has warned the White House not to strike an agreement," on the grounds that any new deal struck with Pelosi and the Democrats and "could disrupt the Senate's plans to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court next week."

To anyone unburdened by the delusion that "balance" is a more important journalistic principle than truth, it was always obvious that Republicans were the reason no coronavirus bill was getting passed. For one thing, House Democrats already passed a robust relief bill in May, which Senate Republicans have basically ignored while avoiding any substantive efforts at negotiating a bill that can pass both houses. For another thing, there are obvious ideological differences between Democrats, where even the party's "moderate" wing supports increased social spending, and Republicans, whose only real goal is moving as much wealth as possible from the hands of working people to the rich.

Even setting common sense aside, there's plenty of concrete evidence that McConnell had no intention of passing a bill to stimulate the economy and control the pandemic. When he was asked in July if such a bill was going to pass, he laughed contemptuously. Facing down an August deadline when unemployment benefits from previous coronavirus relief legislation were set to expire, McConnell chose to adjourn the Senate instead of working on a replacement bill. When Trump started getting sweaty and worried this month, believing he needed such a bill to have a chance at re-election, McConnell torpedoed the idea yet again.

McConnell's behavior is not mysterious. For one thing, he's an ideologue who actively opposes any government spending that might reduce the vast wealth inequalities that plague our nation. Indeed, McConnell's main goal these days is installing Barrett on the Supreme Court — where she will arguably be the most reliably right-wing vote, or second only to Justice Clarence Thomas — in time for her to strike down the Affordable Care Act. Moreover, Trump's erratic behavior — angrily rejecting a bill and then desperately tweeting his longing for one hours later — strongly suggests that the president is torn between his hopes that such a bill can save his fading hopes of re-election and pressure from Republican senators not to pass one.

Nor does McConnell seem worried about the electoral consequences to Republicans of a collapsing economy. For one thing, he likely thinks that Trump will lose in November, and that he can do nothing to save the president from his downward spiral. So he's setting up a potential Joe Biden presidency to fail by refusing economic relief now. For another thing, McConnell's multi-year strategy of capturing the courts, voter suppression and gerrymandering is paying off. He has good reason to believe that Republican control of government will not be seriously imperiled by democratic accountability, even if Democrats win both the Senate and the White House this time around.

Despite all this, mainstream media has been desperate to blame the Democrats for a lack of a bill. As Media Matters has documented, CNN's coverage has been tilted for months toward suggestions that Democrats are the ones blocking new relief legislation. Shows like "Meet the Press" on NBC and "This Week" on ABC have uncritically advanced the narrative that Democrats are deliberately tanking the relief bill to damage Trump, even though Democrats are the ones who are actively negotiating with the White House while Senate Republicans twiddle their thumbs.

Things came to a head last week when Pelosi lashed out at CNN's Wolf Blitzer after Blitzer said that Americans were "waiting in food lines" and proceeded to blame Pelosi, rather than Republicans, for the lack of a bill.

Pelosi responded by saying, "I don't know if you're always an apologist — and many of your colleagues — for the Republican position" and followed up by telling Blitzer, "You really don't know what you're talking about."

That response set off a predictable round of sexist finger-wagging for Pelosi's supposedly out-of-control behavior — the male-dominated media really hates it when women talk back — but whoops, it turns out she was right. Blitzer was carrying water for sleazy Republicans who want to do nothing, while pretending the entire situation is Democrats' fault. McConnell is eagerly monkey-wrenching any effort to pass a new bill, and doing so while actively trying to seat a Supreme Court justice he hopes will destroy the Affordable Care Act, further plunging the American economy into chaos and causing the pandemic to get even worse.

Why on earth is the media so devoted to blaming Democrats, when Republicans are clearly the problem here? Part of it, as the response to the Blitzer/Pelosi exchange shows, is sexism. Pelosi is the lone female leader in Capitol Hill, and despite some #MeToo purges, there are still a lot of sexist men in control of the media and eager to find excuses to pin the blame for any and all problems on women.

But mostly, the issue is the plain old "both sides" fallacy, the one that leads reporters to believe that in the interest of "balance" they must pretend that Democrats are just as bad as Republicans, even if the facts show the opposite.

Over the past year, Republicans have been especially repulsive, covering for Trump's crimes that led to his impeachment and making excuses for his refusal to deal with a pandemic that's laying waste to the country. Far too many journalists are bending over backward to find some terrible thing they can say about Democrats in the name of "balance," and they've landed on these empty accusations about a stimulus bill.

Moreover, deliberately destroying the economy in order to undermine a sitting president of the opposition party is the sort of thing Republicans would do — and indeed have done. Under the false but stalwart media belief that "both sides" are equally bad, therefore, the assumption has reigned that Democrats are doing the same that, even though there's no real evidence for that. On the contrary, it's much likelier story that McConnell knows Biden is likely to be president soon, so he's pre-emptively undermining the economy to damage his administration in advance.

The reveal that it was Republicans who were the bad guys all along is unlikely to change the media's insistence on covering national politics through a "both sides" lens. The fear of getting angry tweets from conservatives about "bias" will apparently never stop mattering more than the actual truth. But it's just possible this report will make it a little harder for the Wolf Blitzers of the world to wax sentimental about the millions of Americans thrust into poverty while pretending that this is somehow Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats' fault.

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.

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