Bob Cesca

How Trump is laying the groundwork for a shadow presidency

On Monday morning's edition of "Fox & Friends," Donald Trump's personal Wormtongue, white supremacist Stephen Miller, announced Trump's latest and most ludicrous attempt to remain president despite the incontrovertible results of the election.

Also on Monday, the Electoral College officially affirmed Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the winners of the election, 306-232. This, Miller seemed to suggest, is irrelevant.

Miller explained that Republican legislators in the major swing states will send alternate electors to Congress — electors who, unlike the actual electors, have cast their ballots for Trump in defiance of the popular-vote outcome.

"You have an alternate slate of electors in a state like, say, Wisconsin or in a state like Georgia," the lifeless-eyed outgoing White House adviser began. "And we'll make sure that those results are sent up side by side to Congress."

In other words, Miller apparently believes these "alternate" cosplay Trump electors will allow congressional Republicans to take one last stab at certifying the fake Trump electoral vote over the votes of the actual electors.

Sure enough, to this point Republicans are following through with this charade. In Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia, rosters of phony-baloney GOP electors cast their ballots for Trump. Meanwhile, the actual Texas electors even voted 34-4 to support these sham electors.

The Red Hats have gotten desperate enough to fool themselves for another couple of weeks, into halfway believing their slates of fake electors will hand Trump the real presidency. It doesn't work that way, obviously, but it further enables what I believe is Trump's longer-term plan.

For some time now, I've been predicting on my podcast and elsewhere that Trump is setting up a shadow presidency and real-life fifth column. This elector scam augments the framework for it. He's already spent most of November and December insisting that he's the actual winner of the election, "by a lot." Now he has so-called electors to backstop his claim.

It's entirely possible, if not inevitable, that Trump will hold his own swearing-in ceremony on Inauguration Day, probably in the context of another super-spreader rally. That will officially launch his shadow presidency, while conveniently distracting at least some viewers from paying attention to the actual inauguration of President Joe Biden at the U.S. Capitol. During the event, Trump will inevitably yawp his way through a "second inaugural address," laying out his supposed agenda for the next four years. From there, he'll retreat to his alternate-universe "White House" at Mar-a-Lago, where he'll proceed as if he were still the chief executive. Except now, he'll be the president of a diminishing group of loyalists who will acknowledge him as their president-in-exile, awaiting his triumphant return to Washington in 2025.

Sociopathic tyrants like Trump never abandon their power. They must be dragged away from it. Psychologically speaking, pretending to still be president will go a long way toward dampening the pain of Trump's ouster. He's like a child who's told he can't have a dog, so he buys a BB gun instead and shoots pellets at the neighbor's dog.

There's no chance Donald Trump will simply walk away. He can't physically bring himself to do it. A shadow presidency, therefore, will allow him to continue play-acting as a wrongfully deposed leader, forced by a "rigged election" to flee to Florida, where he'll continue to lament how unfairly he's been treated. He'll sign fake executive orders condemning actions by the Biden White House. He'll hold press conferences, rallies and maybe even State of the Union addresses — cut-rate imitations of all the things he'd normally do as president.

And his supporters will go along with it, while framing Biden as the fake president. After all, Trump's Red Hats have been suckered into believing that the world's most notorious con man is the only leader telling the truth, while literally everyone else, including Fox News anchors, Trump-supporting governors and Trump-appointed judges, is lying. To deny the presidential authority of Trump is to deny the existence of God. So of course they'll ride along with the shadow presidency. They'll suck it down like heroin, the same way they've sucked down every horrible deed, every trespass and every crime for the past four interminable years.

Why wouldn't they? It checks all the boxes, including the all-important victimhood box. No one loves playing the victim more than Trump and his aggrieved, mostly white and mostly male supporters. That sweet, sweet victim card will keep them sufficiently motivated to remain entrenched in their political Galt's Gulch — their involuntary exile — waiting for the moment of glorious return, when they can carry Trump's ponderous bulk back into the White House aboard a gilded palanquin.

Naturally, this vaporizes the American tradition of "one president at a time," but political traditions are meaningless to Trump and his followers. If it's not nailed down, he'll knock it over. The serious danger intrinsic to this plan is that it may further split the country, normalizing sedition and marching us toward some form of disjointed secession. Other than charging him with the actual crime sedition under 18 U.S. Code Chapter 115, however, there's not much that can be done, chiefly because we've never been down this road before. I honestly don't know how this will end up, but it won't be good for America.

Irrespective of whether Trump follows through on any of this, we live in a nation where upwards of 74 million suckers are cool with fascist tyranny. Worse yet, they believe in the small, weak, whiny man at the center of it, and buy into his harebrained schemes. I've often said that Trump could promise his Red Hats their very own jetpacks made of beef, and they'd believe him. After all, they believe he passed Veterans Choice. They believe his economy was the greatest ever. They believe Trump is a patriot who loves democracy. They'll delude themselves into believing anything, including his self-anointed status as the one true president.

Suffice it to say, this is a worst-case scenario. My ongoing disclaimer is that I hope I'm wrong. But everything we've observed about Trump surely indicates that, at the very least, he'll never acknowledge that he lost the election and he'll never shut the hell up about it either. So whether he pretends to be a second-term president or whether he simply re-litigates the 2020 election at rallies and on Twitter until ... whenever, he and his fanboys will continue to be disruptive to the functioning of the republic. It's now a matter of degree: How disruptive will they be, exactly? It would be a mistake to underestimate the extent to which they'll continue to prop up their deposed autocrat, trying anything to derail the Biden presidency. Worst of all, as soon as the rest of us let our guard down, they'll be back. And if that happens, the sequel will be far worse than the first time around.

Trump is playing his biggest supporters for suckers

It's pretty damn obvious what's going on with Donald Trump and the election, and it's probably not an attempted coup. At least, that's not necessarily Trump's primary intention with his laughably unserious procession of 50-some failed legal challenges to the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

Trump and his Republican enablers lost five cases on Friday alone, with more in Michigan and Georgia over the weekend. Meanwhile, his perpetually shvitzing lead attorney, Rudy Giuliani, tested positive for COVID after appearing in court on multiple occasions without a mask. And yet Trump and his gullible Red Hats keep reacting like Lloyd Christmas in "Dumb & Dumber." Faced with one-in-a-gazillion odds of actually winning a case, their response continues to be, "So you're telling us there's a chance!"

These suckers happen to be Trump's target customers, especially now.

Sure, Trump wants to be president for another four years. In fact, he'd probably be happy to serve in the post for the rest of his miserable life. Consequently, if there were to be an evidentiary breakthrough, which I suppose is always possible, he'd absolutely bask in the results and start planning his inaugural address.

I mean, there's a legal strategy at play here, but it's as primitive as the velociraptors in "Jurassic Park" testing the paddock fences for weaknesses. If they happen to find one, they'll absolutely exploit it, taking the opening as far as they can. In the worm-infested minds of Trump and his followers, any such opening could lead them to the Supreme Court, where Amy Coney Barrett is waiting to help.

There's no path, other than catching an extremely lucky break — a Lloyd Christmas one-in-a-gazillion fluke. The election ended the day the networks called it for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. The president-elect's margin of victory is too formidable, and considering that even Trump's personal fixer at the Department of Justice, Bill Barr, announced that his people haven't found any evidence of widespread fraud, there's no other way for Trump. He can't win. Vote certifications continue on schedule, and it's virtually certain the Electoral College will cast its ceremonial ballots on schedule on Dec. 14, all but carving Trump's loss into stone.

Despite the nonexistent odds of victory, Trump is still, for all intents and purposes, attempting to overturn the election in one of the most staggeringly obscene and unpatriotic temper tantrums in presidential history. Some are calling it an attempted coup d'état against the true winner of the election, and I agree. But it's always been more of a performative coup. It's a circus sideshow for the shrieking satisfaction of Trump's tear-stained disciples, who simply can't understand how the most destructively incompetent president in American history lost his re-election campaign.

It turns out that the performative coup, including the bogus "whistleblowers" and all of Trump's various "lookits" ("Lookit Philadelphia! Lookit Dominion! Lookit Detroit!"), is only half of our transactional president's latest transaction. He's selling his Red Hats a stack of lies and nonsensical conspiracy theories about the election disguised as hope. In return, these badly deluded suckers are handing over their checking accounts to Trump's Save America PAC in the midst of a crushing recession.

Since Election Day, around $207 million has been raised by Save America PAC as well as both the Trump Victory and Trump Make America Great Again committees.

According to numerous news sources, however, hardly any of that sum is being spent on "stopping the steal."

As Salon's Igor Derysh reported last week, fundraising emails from the Trump campaign "claim that the money is for the 'Official Election Defense Fund,' [but] no such account exists. ... The fine print on the frenzied messages says the first $5,000 or first 75% of every donation greater than $5,000 goes to Save America, a new political action committee formed by the president in mid-November. The other 25% goes to the Republican National Committee." I wonder how many Red Hat suckers have given money to the PAC thinking it'd be spent on Trump's legal shenanigans. I'd wager most of them.

Brendan Fischer of the Campaign Legal Center, told CBS News that the PAC donations can be used by Trump "to keep former campaign staff on the payroll, to fund Trump's travel and expenses when he is campaigning for other candidates, and to help finance rallies and events (as long as the rallies and events are pitched as supporting other candidates or political issues rather than as Trump 2024 events)." As we've observed, Trump's rallies for other candidates always turn out to be about him and his roster of grievances. So, obviously, Trump will fudge the campaign finance reporting to minimize time spent ranting about himself.

All told, Trump's Save America PAC is, like most PACs, nothing more than a slush fund, located in the middle of a campaign-finance gray area. Candidates often use super-PAC money to finance lavish vacations and other personal expenses. Given that the Trump Foundation was shut down because the Trumps were self-dealing — using donations for personal items, including a painting of Trump — it's safe to assume the Trumps will dip into the PAC account to pay for … whatever the hell they want.

According to recent polling, more than half of all Republicans believe Trump really won the election despite the math and despite vindication of the math by myriad state officials along with some Trump-appointed judges. Seventy-four million voters chose to cast ballots for an ungainly monster whose incompetence and irresponsibility led to the latest unforgivable spike in COVID cases, while other nations like Australia are celebrating the near-total defeat of the pandemic. (On Sunday, there were nine new cases in all of Australia. On the same day in the United States, there were 173,457 new cases.) A ridiculously large percentage of those voters falsely believe Trump won, and they always will.

It's important to emphasize that we're talking about chronological adults who believe the screechings of the world's most notorious con man, while also believing that literally everyone else in the country is lying to them. Think about that. It's like a cancer patient who's diagnosed by the world's most esteemed oncologists, but instead accepts the word of a Reddit troll while accusing the experts of being the real crooks.

Trump wants nothing more than to separate his fanboys from their money, and exclusively so. "Stopping the steal" is merely a sales ploy. He might as well be a fake Nigerian prince bamboozling his fans with an obvious phishing scam. And they're walking right into it. These are desperately confused and easily-deceived adults whose TV messiah once tried to sell raw beef in Sharper Image mall stores. Trump's selling them a phony-baloney dream of a second term — a dream he has no possibility or intention of fulfilling. In exchange, they're giving him hundreds of millions of dollars that'll be used for everything but that dream.

Granted, we shouldn't get complacent until Joe Biden is administered the oath of office on Jan. 20, but we can at least rest assured that Trump's coup has no chance of success. His fanboys, meanwhile, will keep shoveling cash into the gaping maw of a known scam artist. Ultimately, I'm fine with that.

Trump's delusional supporters will rage and scream no matter what. Democrats should stop trying to make peace

Even after the landslide defeat of Donald Trump, Republicans across the board continue to be terrified by Trump's disciples. Fear of the Red Hats has always been one of the primary reasons why the rest of Trump's party has refused to speak out against his ongoing horror show. It's not the only reason, but it's one of the more potent ones.

It's fascinating to observe how thoroughly they've painted themselves into a corner. While leading Republicans are in love with Trump's policies, not to mention the cover the Red Hats gave them to pass their agenda, they're privately disgusted by the president's total lack of personal restraint and constant self-sabotage.

In fact, Carl Bernstein wrote this week that 21 Senate Republicans have "privately expressed their disdain for Trump." Underscore "privately." Bernstein name-dropped Sens. Rob Portman, Lamar Alexander, Ben Sasse, Roy Blunt, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, John Cornyn, John Thune, Mitt Romney, Mike Braun, Todd Young, Tim Scott, Rick Scott, Marco Rubio, Chuck Grassley, Richard Burr, Pat Toomey, Martha McSally, Jerry Moran, Pat Roberts and Richard Shelby. Most of them have voted with Trump across the board, and only a few — Collins, Murkowski, Romney and Sasse, most notably — have dared to publicly criticize him. Why? Cowardice before the fury of the Red Hats.

The dispiriting enormity of Trump's following (73.8 million in this election) means the rest of the GOP can't win without the Trumpers. So Republicans routinely clam up whenever Trump crosses another Rubicon — thousands and thousands of Rubicons at this point. By clamming up, they empower Trump to curb-stomp more and more of our democratic values, while they quiver in the corner afraid of Trump deploying his Red Hats against them in another late-night tweetstorm. They're locked in a MAGA-induced torpor, unable to act even if they wanted to. After four years of irreparable damage to the country, they're impotent and powerless to stop this weirdo tyrant as he annihilates the integrity of our elections — tweet by tweet, and frivolous lawsuit after hilariously frivolous lawsuit.

While it's pathetic, infuriating and completely unpatriotic, I at least understand why they're doing it. What I don't understand is why the Normals are afraid of Trump's Red Hats, too.

Even before the 2020 election, Democratic leaders, as well as select cable news pundits, have too often repeated a variation on: "Don't do [x] because it'll make Trump's supporters angry." It's been trotted out as an excuse for not impeaching Trump and for pardoning Trump, and as a reason to argue against prosecuting Trump and his henchmen after the new administration is sworn in. Fear of the Red Hats is possibly why NBC News' Chuck Todd felt obligated this past weekend to refer to Joe Biden as the "apparent winner" of the election, days and days after Biden was declared the actual winner of the election by Todd's own network. Simply put: The truth and integrity of the press is being subverted by an irrational fear of screeching Twitter trolls who don't know the difference between "they're," "there" and "their."

Elsewhere, George Washington University Law School professor Randall Eliason published an opinion piece for the Washington Post in which he argued that prosecuting Trump would be a catastrophic error, noting, "Trump and his supporters would inevitably characterize any investigations as a corrupt attempt by the Biden administration to 'take out' a potential 2024 rival." The only response to this is: So what? They're doing that today with the 2020 election. What's another knee-jerk grievance on top of all the others?

Eliason isn't the only one. There will be many more with similarly serious warnings. And the emerging conventional wisdom on this front is entirely based on a fear of the Red Hats and their incoherent rage.

The tragic reality of the Biden years will be this: The Red Hats are going to scream about literally everything anyway. They already are. History has taught us that appeasement only makes the aggressor more aggressive, and trying to unilaterally play nice will only end in unilateral pantsing. In their deluded, brainwashed minds, Biden stole the election from Trump, while professional stooges like Charlie Kirk and Breitbart are already hyping up their fanboys about inevitable "persecutions" that will follow. Ivanka Trump, meanwhile, has expressed outrage over the New York attorney general's comprehensive investigation into Trump's alleged financial crimes. Fox News and the other pro-Trump propaganda outlets will link Biden to all of it, whether Biden wants to be linked or not.

If they don't have actual Biden scandals to latch onto, they'll make 'em up. And since they'll indiscriminately lose their shpadoinkle anyway, why not uphold the rule of law and proceed forward with accountability — whether in the form of bipartisan commissions, congressional reports or actual grand jury indictments? In other words, rather than refusing to investigate anyone and being accused of investigating everyone, why not damn the torpedoes and proceed, full steam ahead? Again, stop fearing what they'll say and just do the damn thing.

Trump's actions have been unprecedented, including the fact that he himself broke the tradition of not investigating previous administrations when he ordered Bill Barr and U.S. attorney John Durham to investigate Barack Obama and "the oranges" of the FBI's Crossfire Hurricane probe. (Notice how the Republicans never flinched over the liberal response to the Durham investigation.) Unprecedented crimes deserve bold, unwavering accountability.

We've never had a president so flagrantly violate the law on countless occasions, from a dozen instances of obstruction of justice enumerated in the Mueller report to Trump's extortion plot in the Ukraine debacle that led to his impeachment. His negligence in the face of the pandemic alone should warrant extensive investigation, and there are myriad other crimes likely waiting to be discovered. Should there be civil or criminal accountability for deliberately deceiving the public on the threat of the pandemic, as revealed by Bob Woodward? What happens if evidence is uncovered that Trump sold national security secrets to an enemy?

Unprecedented times deserve unprecedented accountability. Walking away and burying the past in the past is an excellent way to guarantee another Trump in the future — likely one who's worse than the first Trump.

Americans tend to respond to strong, unflinching leadership, and tend to condemn weakness and half-measures. So whether it's the incoming attorney general or a congressional committee or a state and local probe, if the evidence leads to indictments, Democrats should just own it and ignore the shrieking. The Lincoln Project's Rick Wilson once said, "[Mitch McConnell] doesn't care about screaming." The Democrats on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue would do well to employ the same strategy. Hold fast, power through and stop caring about the screaming.

After all, while there are nearly 74 million Trumpers, there are 80 million Biden voters.

Since 2015, Trump supporters have shown us who they really are. We've learned that they'll go along with whatever the world's most notorious con man says, no matter how ignorant, no matter how destructive, no matter how contradictory. They will continue to gratuitously worsen the spread of the pandemic, and they will absolutely continue to repeat counterfactual gibberish fed to them by the conservative entertainment complex, including dozens of made-up reasons to impeach Biden. They'll never see the light. They'll never accept an olive branch. They're gone.

Given all this, we need to stop fearing these people. If the evidence points to prosecutions, then we need to encourage the investigators to prosecute. When the next election rolls around, we need to give our leaders, including Joe Biden, the electoral cover they need by prioritizing winning at all costs. That, and a series of post-Trump reforms, is the only way to course-correct the trajectory of the republic. Cowardice will only make matters worse.

Fighting for reality: 73 million Americans just voted for a delusional fantasy. Our only choice is to defeat them

There's a visual image I'd like you to embed in your mind, to be wheeled out whenever you might feel even the slightest bit complacent about the incoming Biden administration. For many of us, it's impossible to forget.

Back in April, Columbus Dispatch photographer Joshua Bickel snapped an unforgettable image of Trump supporters — no distancing, eyes vacant and maskless mouths agape — protesting the COVID protocols in Ohio during the first major spike in cases. Bickel stood inside the lobby of the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus while the protesters shrieked and chanted outside, pounding on the locked doors. It looked almost exactly like that scene in "Shaun of the Dead" in which Simon Pegg and the rest of the cast is trapped inside the Winchester Pub with a large gaggle of zombies pressed against the front door.

Never forget that image.

It's perhaps the best illustration of the political stakes following Joe Biden's decisive and, by Donald Trump's own standards, landslide victory. While the ousting of Trump was fantastic news for the preservation of the American republic and the national values we cherish, it's become abundantly clear that the Red Hat cult isn't going anywhere. In fact, Trump managed to add millions of voters to his army of suckers.

Given the relentless horror show we've experienced since Trump was inaugurated, it should be supremely worrisome that he actually gained voters — 11 million more than in 2016, so far — and it happened in the midst of an uncontrolled and incompetently mismanaged pandemic that has killed nearly a quarter-million Americans, manifesting the steepest downturn in the economy since forever. And that's just the most recent disaster. We could be here all day listing the tens of thousands of other disasters, including the fact that Trump was impeached and put on trial for attempting to cheat in the election while running sadistic, for-profit internment camps for children — at least 666 of whom have reportedly been permanently separated from their parents.

If four years of suffocating madness didn't convince Trump's followers to abandon their messiah in droves, I seriously doubt that traveling to Midwestern diners and talking to them about health care or economic anxiety will change their badly deluded, badly brainwashed minds. They are unreachable. Seventy-three million Americans have gone bye-bye, hoodwinked by an unstable con man and the conservative entertainment complex that backstops him.

They're so unwaveringly devoted to their supreme leader that they've refused even acknowledge the results of the election, despite the fact that Fox News was one of the first to call Arizona for President-elect Joe Biden, while eventually calling the entire race for Biden. I get that they're upset, but it's entirely possible to be devastated about the results while acknowledging the reality of the numbers. That's what grownups do. But as long as Trump continues to pitch the world's most gargantuan hissy-fit, insisting he won the election, his fans will follow.

As I've written before, we've entered a dangerously precarious age in American politics in which the debate is no longer right versus left. Today, we're fighting a cold war between the forces of reality and the forces of fiction. Here. In America. On one side, there are 79 million of us who recognize things like math, science, history, expertise and the difference between "your" and "you're." On the other side is a movement of 73 million Americans whose entire worldview is based upon whatever counterfactual gibberish Trump farts into the world, along with the exact opposite of whatever the other side says. Trump supporters don't have an agenda as much as they have the politics of "nuh-uh." The politics of impotent rage. The politics of tall tales.

The other day, an emergency room nurse from South Dakota published a revealing Twitter thread about her Red Hat patients:

The ones that stick out are those who still don't believe the virus is real. The ones who scream at you for a magic medicine. ... All while gasping for breath on 100% Vapotherm. They tell you there must be another reason they are sick. They call you names and ask why you have to wear all that "stuff" because they don't have COViD because it's not real. ... And then they stop yelling at you when they get intubated.

Again, reality versus fiction. Trump supporters are so utterly devoted to the horseshit of Trumpism that they deny reality even as it's killing them.

The nurse's observations are backed up by what we observed during the so-called "Million MAGA March" on Saturday. It goes without saying there wasn't any social distancing, but there weren't any masks, either. Obviously. Why not? According to one Trump voter interviewed by ABC's Martha Raddatz, the virus can go right through a mask. (No, it can't.) So, naturally, the Red Hats in attendance acted as though they were immune, just like the alleged "immunity" of their cult leader. Proud Boys engaged in full-contact initiation rituals while other maskless disciples accosted reporters and cameramen documenting the event. The truth is that the "Million MAGA March" will surely end up causing a large and potentially deadly spike in COVID infections, and dozens upon dozens of the reckless, irresponsible attendees will soon be intubated in crowded ERs somewhere, separated from their families at Christmastime — but hey, at least they can wheeze "Merry Christmas" now. Thanks, Trump.

Likewise, at least two QAnon believers are headed to Congress in January. Not surprisingly, they're also Trump-supporting Republicans, and at this point the Republican Party has made no effort to distance itself from these knuckleheads who believe that there's a deep state of pedophiles and blood-drinkers running the government. They believe John F. Kennedy Jr. is still alive. They believe mass shootings are false flags. They make Alex Jones look like Walter Cronkite, and they're not going anywhere.

Meanwhile, the "reality" side of this new paradigm, centered in and around the Democratic Party, has to be supremely vigilant moving forward, given that the fiction side is pounding on the door, waiting to reacquire the White House and to expand its reach in Congress. Never forget what's happened here. It's immensely important that we're fully cognizant of this movement of Trump adherents, even after their guy is dragged out of the White House on Jan. 20.

The usual suspects will try to convince us that Democrats should somehow engage with them, but engagement is nothing but an archaic exercise in futility. Democrats from the Lincoln Project on the right all the way to the AOC and Elizabeth Warren progressives on the left have no choice but to refocus this newly coalesced, reality-based big tent away from trying to convince the unconvinceable and instead focus on winning as many elections as possible, starting with the Senate runoffs in Georgia in early January. Sure, all campaigns are about winning, but many more of us have to reprioritize winning as a primary goal — to embrace it and pursue it as our political destiny — to overwhelm the vote and win elections by any legal means.

Because through great pain and suffering, we have learned what the alternative will look like.

So, how do the reality-based Normals keep the Red Hats far away from the levers of power in the long run? Exit polls indicate that 14 percent of voters who cast ballots this year had never voted before. Among those first-timers, 64 percent voted for Joe Biden. What's the strategic lesson here? From today forward, we have no choice but to engage in the nation's most aggressive 50-state voter registration drive ever, adding as many Democrats as possible. From there, it's all about getting out the vote: delivering all of those new voters to polling places or making sure they vote by mail. Overwhelm every election: state, local and national. It needs to be unrelenting. The alternative is gathered at the doors, shrieking for another chance to crush American democracy beneath the ungainly bulk of Trumpism. The moment we let up, they'll be back.

Our politics have changed, and not for the better. It used to be that if the other side won, there'd be a fierce battle on policy, but neither side would necessarily have to worry about the literal end of the republic or worse. Those days are over. The old strategies of engagement and appeasement are obsolete.

Perhaps one day in the future, we'll return to rational political conversations with our opponents based on factual reality, but it'll never happen as long as there are 73 million active voters who wanted four more years of Trump's ceaseless trolling and anti-democratic politics of death, destruction and paranoia. There's no reasoning with people who unquestioningly trust a brittle, desperate and obvious liar who'd rather tear down the integrity of our elections than concede like a grownup — like literally every losing presidential candidate in our history. The only thing that will keep idiocracy securely confined to the margins is to simply overwhelm, outnumber and outhustle the idiocrats. That means you, that means me, that means everyone inside the front door.

Trump is blindingly cruel and incompetent — and his presidency has been a complete failure

In the earliest days of the Trump crisis, just about a month after the inauguration, I received the horrifying news that my best friend and podcast partner, Chez Pazienza, had died of a drug overdose.

It was the evening of Feb. 25, 2017, and the shock still hasn't quite worn off. In fact, I ask myself nearly every day what Chez might've said about the most recent atrocity committed by the chief executive. I'll never know for sure, but there's something comforting in that exercise, imagining how he'd frame this dark ride with equal parts Gen-X angst, stinging Bourdain-ish erudition and artistically worded blue streaks that would've made George Carlin applaud.

I'm convinced, however, that it wasn't really an overdose that killed him. Sure, it was the weapon of choice, but it wasn't the ultimate cause of death. Chez possessed the ability to foresee this Trump crisis stretched out in front of him — maybe not the specifics, but a general concept in his big brain for the horror show that was awaiting us. I believe it was the crushing reality of not only being force-fed a Trump presidency every day but also covering it professionally that forced him to drift back to his old addictions to ease the pain. And I wish more than anything that I could have stopped him.

Nevertheless, Chez could clearly see the incoming abuses, the crimes, the ungainly nonsense, the recklessness, the racism, the petty vindictiveness — all of it.

In 2015, he accurately forecast that Trump, if elected, would spitefully withhold federal funding from regions that refused to support his cruel whimsy. Naturally, we've watched this play out with Puerto Rico, California and most recently Pennsylvania, where Trump, this week, threatened to withhold funding for the commonwealth because of Gov. Tom Wolf's COVID plan. In Trump's view, responsible leadership is worthy of punishment because it makes him look bad by contrast, while incompetence, mainly his own, is routinely lionized.

Trump's blinding dumbness in the areas of history, the Constitution, the presidency and democratic institutions has infected him with an ugly, bastardized view of his job description, inflamed by his own biases and whatever he's picked up from watching cable news. He's a presidential dilettante, even now, nearly four years into the gig.

His wafer-thin understanding of presidential leadership contributes to his most self-defeating misapprehension: that he's only the president of the red states. Everyone else is the enemy, even more so than our actual overseas adversaries — surely more than Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin, whom Trump praises more often than many of his fellow citizens and colleagues. The rest of us are only useful to him as punching bags and targets for his screechy, obscene, misspelled tweets and, more recently, his fascist police force. The upside of his deformed view of the presidency is that if he loses this election, it'll partly be because he refused to expand his support beyond his loyalists.

This is one of the reasons why he felt compelled to cheat in the 2020 election by attempting to blackmail the president of Ukraine into smearing Joe Biden — a plot that ended with Trump's impeachment and trial in the Senate. After all, how could he win re-election with only 40-44 percent popular support without making up the difference … somehow?

His relationship with his disciples is a match made in hell, given that his Red Hat fanboys have an equally stunted view of the presidency. I assure you, they'd never allow Trump-style behavior from their doctors, their kids' teachers or, hell, their airline pilots. If they hadn't been so badly brainwashed by the conservative entertainment complex, they never would have gifted the nuclear codes and the immense power of the presidency to such an unstable, erratic, incompetent political tourist who has utterly failed to grow into the job and rise to the occasion — who has failed to accept the intense gravity of his post. As Barack Obama said in August, "It's because he can't."

At no other time has that been more evident than in Trump's response to the pandemic. For the first two years of his presidency, many of us sat on the edge of our seats wondering when Trump would be seriously challenged either by a military threat, a terrorist attack or a global pandemic. From the moment Hillary Clinton conceded, I suspected this buffoonish greenhorn would be put to the test and fail badly. I never imagined that his reaction, untethered from experts, would be quite this calamitous.

His response to the hurricanes that collided with Puerto Rico represented a harrowing preview of how he'd handle the pandemic. I was convinced at the time that he was at least temporarily unaware that Puerto Rico was even part of the United States. I mean, how could he have been so thoughtless and unsympathetic to actual Americans? Turns out, he probably knew — he just didn't give a shit. Never before has a modern president behaved so callously toward a devastated population of his own people, hurling paper towels at their heads as if he were firing a T-shirt cannon at a college basketball pep rally. Today, the island territory continues to rebuild despite Trump's reprehensible indifference.

America is better than this. We're better than him.

There have to be consequences for his indifference to the destruction in Puerto Rico as well as the 225,000 casualties of COVID-19 (and counting). Neither should have happened here. But this is what it looks like when the president and his people fail to do the paint-by-numbers things in response to a crisis — things that so many other presidents managed to achieve. Had Trump listened to the experts at the CDC and WHO, thousands of Americans would still be alive today and we might have been free and clear of this blight by now. Instead, Trump listened to the entertainers on Fox News, not to mention the shrieking voices in his head, convincing him to abandon the effort at exactly the wrong time — in April, at the initial height of the infection curve.

Before giving up, he applied travel restrictions to China, but it was too little too late. Forty thousand people arrived in the United States from China by flying through Europe and landing in New York, magnifying the catastrophic outbreak there. After that, Trump did nothing else to slow the spread, making George W. Bush's 2005 response to Hurricane Katrina look masterful by comparison. Now, eight months into this disaster, Trump continues to ignore the rules, ignore safety protocols and ignore the experts, holding maskless, undistanced rally after rally, fueling his own ego, even after being infected himself. And there's no end in sight.

Win or lose, his bungled, herky-jerky reaction to the pandemic will be remembered as the defining failure of his presidency, and it's the No. 1 reason why he deserves nothing but ignominy and prison.

Rather than accepting the challenge and rising to meet it, as any other president would have, he's spent all these months of national stress, uncertainty and illness not comforting or proactively leading the American people, but whining, whining and whining some more about how COVID ruined his presidency. Solving the pandemic could have been his greatest achievement — but Trump always makes things worse for Trump. Undermining himself and then playing the victim when things go sideways is the only thing he's good at.

He possesses the most brittle ego of any president since Richard Nixon — one of many character flaws that undermine his self-identification as a manly alpha. Indeed, he's nothing more than an easily-ruffled snowflake who constantly bellyaches about how "unfair" the world treats him — you know, the alleged billionaire president. So unfair.

Donald Trump has redefined what it means to be an empty suit. He talks an enormous game, but in reality his entire record is composed of failures and stolen successes. He claims to understand things he's never able to explain openly or in any detail. Accordingly, he's obsessed with repealing the Affordable Care Act, but only because it was Barack Obama's signature achievement, not because it's bad policy — and it's not bad policy, he just says it is and his fanboys believe him.

If challenged, I'd wager a year's salary he couldn't name anything in the law beyond the mandate and the coverage for pre-existing conditions. I'm sure he doesn't know about the myriad consumer protections or the mandatory benefits, or how the low-income subsidies work or the Medicaid expansion or the marketplaces — none of it. Yet he's seeing to it that the entire thing is obliterated mid-pandemic when Americans need coverage the most. He definitely doesn't know that coverage for pre-existing conditions is made possible, for example, by placing caps on premiums and co-pays, while banning rescission and lifetime limits on coverage. Worst of all, he doesn't know that many of his own voters are covered today because of the ACA.

Between the pandemic and the possible repeal of the ACA, America is physically sick. And because of Donald Trump, we're spiritually sick, too. He doesn't understand that the president sets the tone for the nation. He'll never grasp that the way he communicates influences the way we communicate with each other. His constant firehose of crapola encourages others to let their hatred, racism and obnoxious, crazy-eyed antagonism fly freely — playing out in our public spaces and on our social media platforms every damn day.

Trump has debased the presidency, replacing decency and humility with unearned self-praise and horrendous sadism. Our nation's most cherished values and institutions have been randomly crushed by this 90-foot kaiju monster for too long. His constant antagonism has turned father against son, mother against daughter, family against family. Over what? The damaging misadventures of a political fraud — a garish old brat who bankrupted his businesses, defrauded Americans with his sham foundation and university and is currently bankrupting the U.S. treasury while establishing himself as a Putin-style kleptocrat.

In 1860, our nation nearly crumbled under the weight of slavery and secession. Today, our nation is on the verge of collapse under the weight of a painted-up clown whose performative fascism has led to the extrajudicial murder of American citizens on American soil; the use of Homeland Security as a secret police force tasked with assaulting Americans in advance of awkward photo-ops; the use of the Department of Justice as a personal law firm; taxpayer revenue as a personal slush fund; and, worst of all, the construction of internment camps for Central American migrant children, where some have been raped by American guards. Rivaled only by the pandemic response, the Trump Cages are the most disgusting and unforgivable aspect of this presidential crisis.

The 2020 election is about ending all that, while beginning the process of a second Reconstruction — rebuilding our government in a way that guarantees this will never happen again, while convening a Trump Crimes Commission to hold the perpetrators accountable. Part of that process is about remembering what happened here, in this era. There will be voices who insist we should move on and forget about all this ugliness. We would do well to ignore those voices. The minute we forget the damage he's inflicted upon us all, the next Trump will be waiting to strike.

Indeed, the only way to move on is to punish the crimes and plug the holes. We have no choice but to use this dark ride — one that took my friend Chez and many thousands of others — as an opportunity to repair the gaping Trump-shaped craters in the system exposed and exploited by this unqualified, disgracefully unpresidential and obviously unglued president. If Joe Biden and Kamala Harris successfully oust Trump, a week from today, the Trump crisis will be on its way to ending, while the hard work of cleaning up the mess will begin. In both the election and the aftermath, we cannot fail. Everything depends on what happens next.

Imagining the unimaginable: A second term for Donald Trump

With the high-water mark of the election just 14 days away, the tragedy of Nov. 8, 2016, haunts me more and more.

Four years ago, nearly everyone, including Donald Trump himself, was convinced Hillary Clinton was all but guaranteed a resounding victory. I remember articles predicting that Clinton would win the entire East Coast, including South Carolina. Later, following the third debate of that campaign season, I distinctly recall watching Steve Schmidt on MSNBC announcing in his dramatic monotone, "Hillary Clinton will be the 45th president of the United States." Election forecasters from Nate Silver to Sabato's Crystal Ball agreed.

None of that happened, of course, for a variety of reasons, including the attack by Russian military intelligence and what I've been calling the "American nervous breakdown." Sixty-two million of our fellow citizens lost track of right and wrong — brainwashed by a daily infusion of propaganda crapped into the world by Russian troll farms and the conservative entertainment complex. Millions of us lost track of why experience and presidential character were important, and the ideals of humility, decency and honor were rejected in favor of immature trolling, and petty vengeance.

And how'd that work out, Trump voters? Our republic is in worse shape today than it's been in a century, perhaps since the Civil War. Hundreds of thousands of us are dead due to Trump's herky-jerky response to a global pandemic. America is a global pariah. The economy is considerably worse than it was four years ago and 40 percent of our nation's grownups continue to be willingly suckered by a maniacal, sociopathic con man.

So sue me for being Captain Scarypants again, but despite the polls showing Joe Biden with a seemingly formidable lead, I'm still greatly concerned that Trump will somehow scam and sue his way to a second term. If he does, what will that mean for the United States?

With Trump, there's no way to know precisely what he'll do from moment to moment, much less next year or four years from now. As we've witnessed, his thing is to jump from childish vendetta to childish vendetta, and one transactional blunder after another. His actions, as always, will depend greatly on how whiny and victimized he feels. And he's always whining.

Even though there's no time-traveling DeLorean that enables us to forecast what another four years of the Trump crisis will look like, I can think of five specific things that will absolutely happen.

Trump will prosecute dissidents. He's already started with the Black Lives Matter protesters earlier this year, but now he has a real taste for it. No matter what, Trump will sue to have vote-by-mail ballots thrown out, and will appeal any adverse decisions all the way to the Supreme Court. In the process of doing so, protests will likely erupt, giving Trump his first post-election opportunity to order his secret police to gas, shoot and arrest protesters. He's already threatened to do exactly this, telling his loyalists, "Our country is gonna change. We're not gonna allow [more anti-Trump protests] to happen." Last week Trump bragged about what looked an awful lot like the extrajudicial murder of an American citizen by U.S. marshals in Washington state. Expect much more of that. As Michael Cohen wrote in his book, "Trump never actually jokes."

Conservatives will own the Supreme Court for a generation. Unless something emerges that forces her to withdraw, it looks like Amy Coney Barrett will be confirmed, giving conservatives on the high court a clear majority of 6-3. Meanwhile, Stephen Breyer, one of the three remaining Democratic appointees, is 82 years old, so it's reasonable to assume he'll retire or pass away within the next four years. Trump will name his replacement, leaving Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor as the last remaining liberals. If Clarence Thomas or Sam Alito decides to retire, Trump could add another justice or two, extending conservative control for 25 more years, and the ideological regression of America will be turbo-boosted to "ludicrous speed."

The pandemic will continue for years, not months. Trump has no intention of doing what's right. He never has. His genocidal "herd immunity" plan will continue to infect millions, while the CDC will be neutralized. In terms of a vaccine, if the scientists vouch for it, Trumpers won't take it, and if Trump vouches for it, everyone else will refuse to take it. As long as Trump is president, we'll be dealing with COVID-19 for the foreseeable future. I have no idea how our society can endure given all that, and my worst fear is that we'll have no choice but to live with the ongoing threat of infection and death.

The best approach? Assume the worst. He's given us no reason to assume otherwise. I fear he'll attempt to establish himself as the American Putin, maybe creating a new title and post for himself so he can remain in power, while juggernauting through the last roadblocks toward a full-on kleptocracy. Suffice it to say there are untold hazards ahead, with each hammer-blow further stripping away our constitutional system until America more closely resembles Russia — dismal, depressed and undemocratic.

I hope I'm wrong about all of this. But based on what we know about Donald Trump, as well as the sinister end-of-days cranks helping him along, I can't in good faith trust that things will transpire normally. We've got a Pandora's Box full of reasons to believe our country has been seized by villains who don't care whether the entire system is crushed under Trump's ponderous bulk. Given everything that's happened, I worry that they've covered their bases with election-stealing contingencies that include shenanigans we haven't even considered yet. After the shock of election night four years ago, I'm not willing to take anything for granted, including the polls.

There is also reason to believe an unprecedented coalition of American voters will successfully oust Trump, while perhaps humiliating him and his idiocratic movement back to the permanent margins of our politics. This has to be the result of the election. After all, the choice is either a decent, experienced man (who you might disagree with on policy) or a shrieking, saucer-eyed con artist who dry-heaves lies and incarcerates children while bragging to his cult about murdering American citizens. There are 14 days left to make sure it's not the latter outcome. If everything works out the way it should, I'll be thrilled to retract everything I wrote today. Please, America — make me do it.

Trump's resort business is collapsing — is that why he pushed to reopen the economy?

For the past several decades, Donald Trump has been widely regarded as a great big phony. Everything about him is a mirage. He steals credit for the accomplishments of others, especially his predecessor, Barack Obama. His business model is all about slapping his goofy name on properties built by others. Even his outward appearance is a fraud: his unsubstantiated self-confidence, his hair, his clown makeup, his baggy suits designed to hide his doughy frame, even his shoes, which appear to have unusually high heels — it's all intended to make him appear physically more powerful than he actually is. Fake, fake and fake.

It's all a big show. In reality, he's nothing more than a petty, brittle, small man — and a business failure.

Now, thanks to the latest bombshell story from the New York Times, revealing previously unknown details about Trump's tax returns, we finally have solid confirmation that his wealth and his status as a successful businessman are just as fake as his presidential record and his dairy-swirled hair.

One of the major components in Trump's ongoing deception pertains to the alleged "success" of his various resorts and golf courses. Spoiler warning: Trump's properties aren't doing nearly as well as he says, which leads me to a theory about his response to the pandemic. More on that presently.

According to the tax returns obtained by the Times, Trump earned $427 million as the host of "The Apprentice," along with various deals linked to his network television career. Trump used his TV revenue to go on a spending spree, buying up golf courses around the world -- golf courses that turned out to be 18-hole money-pits. As of 2015, he had accumulated 15 golf resorts, and it's difficult to find one that's actually operating at a profit.

  • In 2012, Trump purchased the bedbug-infested Trump National Doral resort for $150 million. Since then, the property has gobbled up $162 million in losses, especially after Trump burned through another $213 million in upkeep. The property also has "a $125 million mortgage balance coming due in three years."
  • His golf resorts in Ireland and Scotland have accumulated "$63.6 million in losses," according to his tax returns.
  • Trump's hotel in Washington, D.C., located near the White House, had lost more than $55 million as of 2018.
  • Between 2008 and 2009, during the Great Recession, the Trump Organization itself lost $1.4 billion. Trump exploited this loss to claim a $73 million tax refund from the IRS, which subsequently launched an ongoing audit of Trump's taxes. If he ends up getting the fuzzy end of the audit, he could owe the government $100 million. For starters.

By the way, the New York Times story didn't cover losses from his other failed enterprises, including Trump magazine, Trump vodka, Trump steaks and, more notoriously, Trump University.

Furthermore, none of these losses take into consideration tax years 2018, 2019 or — gulp! — 2020. It's safe to assume that Trump's losses are continuing to stack up, especially with a crushing recession fueled by the pandemic in full swing.

Despite his garish penthouse and private jet, Trump is broke. His properties are failing and he needs the money. Badly. Turns out, not only is Trump a craptastically bad businessman, but you and everyone you know is paying to help mitigate his investment nightmares nearly every damn weekend.

Michael Cohen told MSNBC that the tax returns are a Rosetta Stone for understanding Trump's finances. Accordingly, one of the myriad secrets the New York Times story exposed is a possible answer to why he drags his entire presidential entourage to his resorts on a regular basis — at least 500 times so far, costing taxpayers more than $1 million — and why he chose to rush the nation into reopening the economy while the pandemic was at its height.

It's worth mentioning that in addition to forcing taxpayers to finance his money-losing properties, Trump paid zero in taxes during 10 of the last 15 years. Remember the debate about "makers vs. takers?" Trump is absolutely a taker. Indeed, based on these numbers, he's taken a million times more than he's paid into the federal government in recent years. Talk about a welfare queen.

Not only are we involuntarily backstopping Trump's colossal financial losses with our tax dollars, we're also backstopping his losses with our lives and livelihoods.

We already knew his zealous reopening obsession was about keeping the stock market afloat long enough 1) to keep his portfolio in good standing, and 2) to haul his ponderous bulk into a second term. But reopening too soon could also have been about those crappy golf resorts. The hospitality sector has taken a severe beating this year, thanks to COVID and Trump's inability to rise to the challenge, and that can't be good for his already failing resorts.

More than 205,000 Americans are dead, while 7.1 million have been infected, in part because Trump is desperately worried about the solvency of his vacation properties. In other words, the president of the United States is so freaked out about falling deeper into debt that he may very well be making life-and-death decisions for the entire nation based on the failing financial status of his janky resorts.

Think about that for a second. The president is metaphorically grinding down American bodies and fertilizing his golf courses with the remains. Hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens are dead so Trump can be re-elected (or so he hopes) while generating blood money for his failing golf courses. On these terms alone, he's the deadliest sociopath ever to occupy the White House.

After the Civil War, the War Department turned Robert E. Lee's Arlington, Virginia, estate into a military cemetery, burying Union soldiers as close to the Custis-Lee mansion as possible. If there's any justice remaining in America after this nightmare, Trump should be forced to give up his resorts, and the people we've lost due to his sadism and destruction in the face of COVID should be interred on those lands for free -- if the families even want that, of course. At the very least, Trump's resorts should be turned into permanent public memorials to the men, women and children who have succumbed to this otherwise avoidable virus.

Sadly, there's nothing phony about Trump's malice toward American lives as he pursues his cruel and reckless mission to keep his properties on life support. His irredeemable actions this year alone warrant the harshest prison term allowed by law, if for no other reason than to guarantee that nothing like this horror show never happens again in America.

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