alternet logo

Tough Times

Demand honest news. Help support AlterNet and our mission to keep you informed during this crisis.


Trump is collapsing into a ball of self-absorbed spite and destruction

In the last weeks of the campaign, Donald Trump is collapsing in on himself. That's the story his campaign and White House team itself seems to want to push in the scurry to avoid blame themselves. On Sunday, a New York Times piece reported on gloom, grievance, and "backbiting" among Trump's staff as his reelection prospects dim, but more of note is the blame getting directed at the big orange hateburper himself.

"Among some of Mr. Trump's lieutenants," reports the Times, there is "a sense that the best they can do for the final stretch is to keep the president occupied, happy and off Twitter as much as possible, rather than producing a major shift in strategy."

Yes, it is truly a shocking development. In the last weeks of the campaign, Donald Trump is ignoring all advice, doubling down on his most hateful behaviors, and choosing closing themes based solely on his own obsessions, grievances, and malevolence. Whoever could have seen that coming? (Aside from everyone.)

The results speak for themselves—no, are so toxic that they are noticeable even to a four-year-flaccid national press. Trump's propensity to target women, select political enemies for demonization, and his renewed vigor in seemingly attempting to goad supporters into violent acts against them are becoming topics with more public weight than any campaign message the shouting twit threatens to stumble into in these last preelection days. It turns out that Donald Trump, left to himself with campaign staff abandoning any further pretense at controlling him, is hateful, spiteful, anti-democratic, misogynistic, openly racist, paranoid, and self-absorbed to the point of self-destruction.

If there's anyone who has survived through four full years of Trump's attentions and they didn't predict that, among his inner circle, they would have to be burrowed so far up his *** that they can peek out his nostrils.

The problem here is that Trump is only going to get worse in the next few weeks—no matter what. If polls continue to look bleak, his narcissistic bitterness will overwhelm him and his demands of his supporters will get even more extreme. His attacks on Democratic leaders that take pandemic precautions—which he considers to be personal attacks on himself and therefore illegitimate, whether the moves save American lives or not—have been getting more vigorous, but his inner circle continues to support those attacks wholeheartedly. He is already obsessing over the notion of invisible election "fraud" as means of delegitimizing the results—as a malignant narcissist, he will adopt whatever delusion is necessary to protect himself from the notion that his own actions are responsible for his failures, as opposed to widespread conspiracy against him.

And if he wins? God help us. A Trump fully untethered from ever having to face voters again, supported by an attorney general who has been so eagerly crooked in tilting the scales of justice that he may already rank as the worst in history, backed by a party fully purged of any but the most obscene lawmakers hailing from the most hard-right of gerrymandered districts; there would be no institutions left. No government scientists, no statistics gatherers, no oversight, no public services, nothing but a hierarchy of sycophants from Washington down to every office. His "conservative" team is turning the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention into a Trump-tailored propaganda shop during a worldwide pandemic. There's literally nothing left they would not be craven enough to do.

The good news is it looks like he's losing. Possibly even for real this time. The transparent Russian propaganda, though propped up this time by Republican senators and the clownish Rudy Giuliani, isn't motivating his hard-right base into nearly the froth against his male opponent that near-identical hokum spurred when directed at a woman. The Trump question of what do you have to lose has been clarified to all. The notion of choosing a reality show host as world leader does not have the same appeal as it once might have across generic American suburbia.

Trump's campaign and White House staff seem to know it. Last week saw a Washington Post report of the angst of Trump's phalanx of worst enablers as they fretted over possible career repercussions of 1) endlessly lying to the American people and 2) support a corrupt, cretinous toad of a man in 3) reforming the government into a white nationalist-premised, incompetent kleptocracy while destroying longstanding democratic institutions and premises. Consequences! Can you imagine there being consequences for such things? Truly, conservative pundits are beginning to stammer, it would be the end of democracy as we know it.

Lord help us, we are almost there. Only to Election Day, mind you: After that, even under the best-case scenario of American voters delivering a thumping to Trump so severe that not even his scandal-mongers can discredit the results, we still face an embittered Trump and Republican Party willing to dynamite the country into oblivion rather than let it pass unscathed into non-Republican hands.

For now, let's take some comfort in Dear Orange Leader apparently beginning to realize that he is in deep, deep trouble. Hopefully it will unhinge him mostly in ways that harm only himself and his malevolent aides, allies, and hangers-on. If we're lucky he'll demand William Barr arrest himself, or will turn on Rudy Giuliani for failing to sell the Moist Laptop Of Secret Crimes story with enough vim.

GOP senator says he opposed Trump's worst moves in secret. How convenient

As a direct result of being a Trump-backing toady, Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn, a hack during the best of times, is in serious danger of losing his seat to Democratic opponent MJ Hegar in the November elections. In an attempt to stanch the bleeding, Cornyn met with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's editorial board to (ahem) explain himself.

The results, which are being widely mocked around the internets for reasons that will soon become obvious, are an excellent preview of the defense every Republican will be offering up if Donald Trump loses his reelection bid. The less deft ones might want to go ahead and copy-and-paste Cornyn's answers into their own notes now, rather than later; it may be, however, that the Republican Party will distribute them as talking points approximately five minutes after a definitive Trump loss. Or possibly crocheted on a pillow.

Sen. Cornyn wants the editorial board and/or Texas public to know that Actually, he has "disagreed" with Donald Blowhard Corruption Magnet on at least several important Republican things during these last four years. It is just that he did it in "private," because reasons. The Star-Telegram reports that Cornyn told them he privately disagrees with Trump on "budget deficits and debt"—telegraphing an immediate Republican Party reversal-with-somersault switcharoo on whinging about those things endlessly, after allowing and encouraging the Trump team to blow enough holes in the federal budget to make it a colander. He privately disagreed on Trump's bizarrely premised and ridiculously executed trade wars, he wants you to know—trade wars that conflicted mightily with previous conservative ideology, only to be crumpled into a pile of YOLO when Trump did the opposite. Cornyn private disagreed with Trump on pilfering military money for his stupid border wall—it's not clear if this was before or after Cornyn publicly defended Trump doing exactly that and voted to let him do exactly that, so this one was a particularly private objection. He hid it so well he even hid it from himself!

"When I have had differences of opinion, which I have, (I) do that privately," Cornyn told the board, calling it a "much more effective" approach but offering no apparent evidence that it has been "effective" even once.

The short version, then, is this: On the verge of potentially losing his office, Sen. Cornyn would like you to know that despite defending Trump at every turn, including when Trump was impeached for the criminal abuse of his office, he secretly has opposed Trump at least several times and secretly has, you know, the right and non-humiliating opinions on things. Yes, all hail the noble and brave John Cornyn, who absolutely has disagreed with the authoritarian thunderdunce's incompetent moves and incomprehensible stances, but who nobly hid his disagreements rather than take action and risk being tweeted at.

Truly, a more noble figure has never graced public life. What a hero.

Oh—and if Donald wins, please forget he said any of these things. Parkour!

Sigh. Get used to these claims of secret Trump defiance, because if Trump causes Republicans nationwide to be routed from office you are going to be hearing a lot of them, and they're all going to match. Republicans are going to claim they were "against" Trump's incompetence and criminality the whole time, they just, um, did it when you weren't looking. It isn't that they were accessories to Trump's worst behavior, and actively celebrated many of his worst actions. It isn't that they actively worked to prevent criminal acts by Trump from being discovered, whether it be the constant grifting of government funds to line his pockets or an extortion scheme that the Republican Senate scurried to declare a non-issue. It isn't that they used their offices, as lawmakers, to support Trump's racist and white nationalist edicts, or used their committees to push obvious disinformation on his behalf.

Heavens, no. Actually, Cornyn and the others will insist, we were against those things all along. We were very unhappy about all of it. Secretly. Behind the scenes. Please give us new jobs, or hire us on as pundits, or whatever.

This new alleged rediscovery of morals and principles will be the subject of at least six (6) completely ridiculous Republican autobiographies released in the next six months, two dozen eerily similar Republican op-eds, and a full-on interpretive dance pageant held at Republican National Committee headquarters. You can count on it.

If it all sounds like bullshit, congratulations: Your skull has not yet been completely hollowed out by the last four years of insanity. Of course it's bullshit. As senator, John Cornyn allied himself with nearly all of Trump's moves, including the possibly-criminal ones, much less the only stupid ones. There's no doubt he had private concerns about doing some of them, but that didn't stop him. He chose the most craven approach each time, on every topic, and is slinking back to his voters with the most craven approach now, signaling that his principles are now whatever they need to be in this moment, and will be shifting yet again if the moment changes. Whatever you want, voters. Just tell him the tune and he'll dance to it.

Hacks and scoundrels, the lot of them. There's not enough integrity left in the Republican Party to fill a mason jar. If Cornyn saves his seat—and it's going to be close, but he's still a few points ahead—he will switch messages all over again, either surgically attaching himself to Trump or re-re-inventing himself with whatever newly discovered principle each week and month temporarily requires. The Mitch McConnell-led Senate has combined the conspiracy theorizing of House Republicans with a relentless drive to maintain conservative power using every available rule and, when those are not sufficient, inventing new ones; holding power is the only ideology remaining in a party that has gleefully shed all of the others.

Hacks. Just hacks, from top to bottom. They don't even have the decency left to feel shame, when they pull this "well secretly I was actually against those controversial things I supported" nonsense.

Fascism: As polling turns against him, Trump lays groundwork for mass violence

Rattled by poor polling numbers in his reelection bid, the alleged president of the United States is encouraging domestic terrorism. That's where we're at, and everyone from top national security experts to local emergency officials are all crystal clear on that. The New York Times reports from a bunch of 'em in a piece that can both contain remarkable factual phrases like "Mr. Trump has descended into rants about perceived enemies" and still somehow soft sell the underlying message:

The nation is preparing for violence on and after Election Day because Donald J. Trump, a fascist, is goading his supporters into that violence with rally claims that any loss on his part will be proof that his enemies cheated.

There is no possible chance that Trump doesn't know what he's doing. His tweeted calls to "LIBERATE" states from governors who imposed widespread pandemic measures resulted in a Michigan militia attempting to do exactly that. Trump is back at it even today, claiming their primary target, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, "wants to be a dictator." He is attaching the legitimacy of the state to calls for mob action—only to repeat those calls when it looks like the first versions are beginning to bear fruit.

The only reason he is not being treated as a radical, dangerous figure who has irreparably violated his own oath of office, necessitating removal, is because Republican Party leadership and lawmakers have themselves embraced and defended those violations. It is self-radicalizing; the farther Trump goes into overtly authoritarian behavior, the more pressure the party feels to defend and normalize their own support for him. The more Trump's circle has succeeded in isolating and excising state and local functionaries who express alarm at his grotesqueries, the more the party has become a homogenized group of anti-democracy, authoritarian-molded radicals themselves.

Trump has clearly been unfit for office in every respect; the impeachment investigation identified his corruption, the pandemic proved his apathetic incompetence, and his continued calls for mob justice against targeted enemies have proven (as have similar quotes repeated through the last five years) that he is not just indifferent to extralegal punishments of his enemies, but publicly fantasizes about them. If Vice President Mike Pence, Sen. Mitch McConnell, Attorney General William Barr, Treasury Sec. Steve Mnuchin, Sec. of State Mike Pompeo, Rep. Mark Meadows, Sen. Lindsey Graham, Sen. Ted Cruz, and the entire rest of the party had not all decided to ally with him for their own ideological and policy ends, he would have been removed in bipartisan fashion long ago, reduced to a historical footnote.

They didn't, and now local law enforcement officials around the country are preparing for radicals among what Trump has proudly designated his "Army" intent on disrupting Election Day, sabotaging ballot-counting measures, and committing acts of coordinated terrorism targeting his opponents. It's now expected.

Once again we're in a position where the fate of democracy rests on not just beating anti-democratic forces, but doing so in such a convincing fashion that sabotage can't alter the outcome. But now it comes with the near certainty of violence. This is Mitch McConnell's fault: Remember that. This is Lindsey Graham's fault. Mike Pence, Kellyanne Conway, William Barr. Trump's suggestions to "liberate" parts of America from small-d democratic governance would be intolerable if they believed them to be intolerable. Everything Trump does and will do has happened because they allowed it.

Trump takes one more step toward becoming an autocrat — and it hardly makes a ripple

While the Republican Party, now stripped of everything but con men and fascist sycophants, drones on about What The Constitution Means To Them in virus-infected Senate hearings, they have closed their ears and pretended, to a person, not to notice Donald Trump going full authoritarian by flat-out demanding the arrest of his political enemies. You know, on Twitter. As one does.

The New York Times has taken notice, at least, providing an assortment of historians and past officials to warn in very polite terms that this is absolutely batshit crazy, that Trump is absolutely performing as an authoritarian, and that we absolutely are going down a dangerous road. No, it is not normal that Trump is getting visibly impatient with his allied attorney general, William Barr, for not producing the evidence necessary to prosecute his Democratic enemy. No, it is not normal for ex-House Republican and lifelong cretin Mike Pompeo to use his State Department perch (granted, it's not like he's using it for anything else) to push out "more" Hillary Clinton emails in the three weeks before the election.

(That Trump still considers "Hillary Clinton emails" to be an election-bending move, as an aside, is beside the point. Yes, he's an idiot. Yes, he's hopelessly obsessed with his own pet grievances, and is reliant on the whole rest of his party to be obsessed with those same grievances, and on conservative media to make them obsessed again whenever it's becoming clear that the base is getting bored.)

What is not present, in the Times' report or many others, is any sense of true desperation that (1) the nation's sitting president is calling for the arrest of his enemies, (2) the Republican Party is, collectively, either ignoring or embracing those calls, and (3) we are exactly that one inch from becoming an authoritarian regime. The Times frames it as an act of corruption not even Richard Nixon followed through on, because it was so obviously crooked. Now that the new crook has crossed the line, we will make a note of it like we have all the others, but there's no evidence of brakes being applied. There are no Republican lawmakers piping up with a now that would be too much.

Republican Party leaders are instead playing both sides of that fence. For now they are ignoring Trump's newest act of overt corruption. If Trump loses the election, they will say that it was all the ravings of a madman who is now gone—so the problem is solved. If Trump wins and demands follow through, the same Republican leaders will ... enable it. Let's be honest here: The party openly endorsed Trump's extortion of a foreign leader, something that also would have gotten a Nixon-level crook impeached back in the day. Daddy Can Do Crimes is their new thing.

So if it happens, we will likely get the Ted Cruzes and Rand Pauls of the party explaining that Democrats and government officials deserved arrest for their role in displeasing Dear Leader with evidence that his team was playing footsie with a host of foreign agents, and besides Trump's newest acts aren't anything like true authoritarianism because Republicans are only arresting critics, not poisoning them or pushing them off balconies as is done in the more sophisticated versions. And Sean Hannity will nod his enormous head until it is in danger of coming loose, and Tucker Carlson will explain to his audience why something called the "Proud Boys" are now the police force that America always needed but was too cowardly to have.

We have established, from the Senate, that Republican leaders are allowed to commit corrupt acts in service to the party. We have established, from lawmaker silence, that Republican leaders are allowed to demand the arrest of enemies on purely fictitious charges. There's not a lot of ground left between that and following through, so everyone from the Times to Republican senators are quietly hoping the election solves the problem without anyone to pipe up too loudly.

That's our best-case scenario: Trump will be turned out by a margin too large to allow for fuckery, and Every Last Republican will spend the rest of their careers lying their asses off about how much and why they supported his corruption. But the fascist agenda will remain, because the party built that. Fox News built that. It's not going away.

New report details how Trump uses presidency to hand out favors to those that support his businesses

The New York Times continues its reports on Donald Trump's taxes, this time with (more) clear proof that Trump has been making money off the U.S. presidency.

The shortest possible summary of the Times' latest story is that Donald Trump Is A Crook. Not only have "customers" of Trump, in the form of lobbyists, interest groups, and foreign governments funneled roughly $12 million into Trump's pockets by booking events at Trump's properties, buying memberships into Mar-a-Lago and his other properties, and just generally hanging out at Trump's for-profit establishments with the expectation of meeting either Trump, his sons, his toadies, or his allies, but Trump has responded in kind by doing his paying customers favors that can only be fulfilled using the office of the presidency.

If you pay for a Mar-a-Lago membership, you get to meet Trump during one of his many Florida weekends and bring up ways the government could do your company or group significant favors. If you do make those requests, it's very possible that Trump will respond, reports the Times, by calling over one of his associates and telling them to get it done.

The reverse is also true. If you're seeking favors from Donald Trump, reports the Times, Donald Trump or one of his closest associates and/or family members may contact you to point out that you have been appearing an awful lot at Mar-a-Lago, for example, without ponying up for a quarter-million dollar membership—and that Donald has personally noticed that.

The Times lays out its case solidly, with examples. Those that pay into Trump's companies are frequently awarded with White House meetings, such as when he invited restaurant-owning billionaire Tilman Fertitta. After hearing Fertitta's personal request—a new pandemic relief fund for "the larger private restaurateur"—Trump turned to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin with a directive: "Do the best you can" on that.

And so on, and so on. "Just 60 customers with interests at stake before the Trump administration brought his family business nearly $12 million" during Trump's first two years in office, reports the Times. "Almost all saw their interests advanced, in some fashion, by Mr. Trump or his government."

It's blatant corruption, of course. The payment of cash to the privately held businesses of a sitting president in exchange for that president personally bending government decision-making in your favor is definitively corrupt. It's not even the usual method of brazen American corruption, forking over huge "campaign" donations in an attempt to curry such favors; nope, this money is going into Donald Trump's pockets. He keeps it. Trump is making personal bank off the powers voters gave him.

Not that that's in any way surprising. Trump has proven time and time again to be completely disinterested in governing, in it solely for self-promotion and self-enrichment. His extortion of the legitimate Ukrainian government, withholding congressionally approved military aid to pressure the Ukrainian president into inventing a specific Trump-demanded campaign boost, was a near-perfect mirror to Trump's strong-arming of Mar-a-Lago supplicants to either pony up or get lost. Trump's demand that disaster relief be blocked after California fires, as well as the White House's disinterest in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic under the mistaken and psychopathic impression that the pandemic was doing the most damage in states that voted against him in the 2016 elections, show his eagerness to use the tools of government to punish those who Trump sees as personal enemies.

As usual, though, perhaps the only surprising discovery is that Trump really is an astonishingly petty crook. Corrupting the whole of U.S. government for $12 million dollars is dreadfully small-ball stuff; once again we see how Donald Trump, handed everything by his father and coming back for more, could manage to bankrupt even a casino. He's supposedly worth billions of dollars, and is handing out favors based on who has or hasn't purchased a $250,000 Mar-a-Lago membership? He's supposedly ultra-super-rich, and his idea of "using the most powerful office on Earth for self-enrichment" is wink-nod pressuring of supplicants to maybe rent out hotel rooms in his hotel when they're in town?

It's pathetic. He's corrupting the presidency for peanuts.

But he may have to, in his mind, if the Times' previous reporting on Trump's taxes is accurate. Trump is personally on the hook for almost half a billion dollars in loans coming due in the next few years, and there seems little chance "billionaire" Donald Trump can come up with that sort of money. He is, and always has been, a fraud. His claims of wealth are the words of a con artist.

Now he's up to his eyeballs in debt, yet again, and he clearly has used the presidency as he used his campaign: As publicity stunt, a personal brand boost, and nothing more. Even the presidency doesn't seem like it will pay out enough to keep Trump from going bankrupt in the near future.

He's just that bad at business. And that cheap in his ambitions. The world at his fingertips, and the man spends most of his time obsessing over how he can use it to boost golf club memberships and hotel room fees.

Some among Trump's White House South Lawn audience were paid to be there

Donald Trump has always been a game show kind of guy, so it's maybe not a surprise that his first public rally after his hospitalization for COVID-19 symptoms turned into a game show itself, of sorts.

Do you like prizes, kids? Do like prizes enough to listen to Donald Trump talk? Do you like prizes enough to risk your life during a deadly pandemic to listen to Donald Trump talk? Well then, you are in luck! Because conservative weirdo Candace Owens is handing out free travel and lodging to anyone willing to put on an oversized blue T-shirt and risk pandemic death on the White House's South Lawn.

Yeah, that's right. Donald Trump's White House rally on Saturday, the one that was absolutely not a campaign event, the one that featured Trump addressing an adoring teal-shirted and mostly maskless crowd wedged shoulder to shoulder, the scene right out of Evita 2: Mar-a-Lago Boogaloo, the ol' balcony Mussolini routine—an unknown number of those folks were paid to be there. ABC News reports that Owens' fake grassroots "BLEXIT" group offered to cover travel and lodging expenses for a "limited" number of people who showed up and were willing to wear the light blue T-shirts. Owens' group was already organizing a separate fake grassroots Washington, D.C., event on the same day; the White House crowd was gathered from there.

What seems to have happened, reading between the lines, is that Donald Trump was going absolutely stir-crazy and wanted to get back out on the campaign trail, contagious or not contagious, and like the previous "drive once around the hospital while unnecessarily exposing my Secret Service agents to my deadly illness," this was the hurried compromise offered to him by his staff and doctors. Bring an audience to him so that he would stay in the building a few more days rather than taking his coronavirus-infected, pneumonia-having self on a road trip.

Don't worry, though: It wasn't a campaign event. Just an event specifically for far-right voters, ones specifically gathered to encourage Black Americans to vote for Trump and Trump's allies, to hear a Donald Trump speech about "law and order," by which he means crushing the Black Lives Matter demands for police reform, with guest expenses paid by one of Trump's more visible and conspiracy-adjacent allies out of whatever slush fund first birthed the idea for their Washington, D.C. rally to begin with—one that Owens explicitly called an "anti-Black Lives Matter event," just in case people weren't clear about what the agenda was.

Eh. At this point it would be more surprising if some stunt Trump pulled wasn't a fake-ass reality show moment. The South Lawn just recovered from the totally nonpartisan (checks notes) Republican National Convention; now it's going to need repair again. It's you and me that will be paying for those repairs this time, by the way. Because all involved are insistent that this was a presidenting speech, not a campaign speech.

We do, however, have our answer. Yes, there are people willing to risk COVID-19 to see Typhoid Hitler lie to them in person, and especially so if somebody else is paying their bills. Seeing it on television is one thing, but if you go in person you can always hope that the man's spittle will land directly on you, infecting you with Dear Leader's own, um, pandemic superpowers.

Whatever. You do you, Trump supporters. Preferably over there—as far away as possible. The American version of the worldwide pandemic is slowly morphing into a partisan disease, a disease spreading most aggressively among Trump-supporting states and communities while Dear Leader rants about everything being a hoax and ... sigh. Whatever.

America needs to burn down the Republican court-packing program

Top Republicans are beginning to genuinely believe the Democratic Party is going to take the House, Senate and presidency in a rout in November's elections. That's the subtext behind a new, coordinated spate of vapor-having over the thought that the next Democratic president might "pack the courts," quote-unquote, filling new roles in the judiciary with qualified, non-arch-conservative jurors in an attempt to at least partially undo Republican efforts to stuff that judiciary with Brett Kavanaughs, Amy Coney Barretts, and anyone else willing to hew to deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's ideological belief that the Founding Fathers "meant" whatever they are required to have "meant" to defend his vote for Whatever Conservatism Wants This Particular Day.

So we're getting television appearances like this, in which Republican Sen. Ben Sasse finds it very, very upsetting that any party other than his own would engage in such alarming "suicide bombing" of gubbermint.

Or at least, that's the plan. The plan was probably not supposed to include Sen. Mitch McConnell, who may or may not be hiding a positive COVID-19 test result himself as he plunges forward on getting one last Supreme Court seat filled, flat-out admitting to and laughing about his role sabotaging the nominations process during the Obama years in order to stuff the judiciary with ideological allies when Republicanism next captured the White House.

Tee-tee. We have such fun, we do, on Fox News.

The Senate's own Grim Reaper is underselling his role, if anything. The Republican Party has worked steadily to "pack" the courts with arch-conservative ideologues for a lot longer than a few years, and adopted, to use Ben Sasse's script, a host of "weirdly Orwellian" faux-beliefs to do it. By President Barack Obama's second term Republicans allied themselves around the peculiar notion that merely nominating would-be judges to the courts amounted to "court-packing"—the theory being, in the Republican mind, that any Democratic president doing roughly anything the Constitution tasks them with doing is inherently illegitimate because it's not a Republican doing it.

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, who has been a snake for his entire career, was very insistent in claiming any nomination whatsoever counted as "packing." He was joined by, of course, Sen. Mitch McConnell in his protestations, as well as many others.

It's garbage. It's always garbage, every time, insincere and malevolent and gross. It is the reason the party slid so easily into idolatry and fascism: The combination of weaponized dishonesty with the blunt dismissal of the legitimacy of opponents to govern, even if elected by the public to do so. It's also the reason Donald Trump can commit crimes in office and count on Mitch McConnell and his party to immunize him from consequences. When the rules are "anything your side does counts as a crime, and anything my side does counts as patriotism," thuggery will inevitably follow.

The notion that Democrats were not allowed to fill any vacancies was not a McConnell invention. It was the height of conservative intellectualism, or what was left of it, to assert the new ascendency of one-party rule.

After Scalia's death and the Republican refusal to confirm any Obama-nominated replacement, qualified or not, McConnell and likeminded party authoritarians vowed that they would hold the seat open for "four years" if necessary, that is if Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton won, and that for that matter the Supreme Court didn't need nine justices at all, so there. And yes, the notion of indefinitely blocking Democratic judicial appointees, for as many years as necessary until Republicans could re-seize power, was supported by Republican senators from Ted Cruz to John McCain.

We've been here before. We've never much left this point, in fact; Republicans may have now slid into abject Dear Leaderism, but Trump's stubby-fingered notion that him breaking previous norms and rules is Legitimate while Democratic moves are relentlessly cast as either outrageous or "criminal" is how conservatism has operated for two decades. This is it. This is why their base fell so readily into the authoritarian mantras: It was Mitch McConnell's mantra long before Trump ever took up the chant.

The difference now is that Donald Trump is too brickheaded to perform the routine with even a little grace, far more comfortable with the rhetoric of overt authoritarianism than pussyfooting around on the edges, and so the full implications are on display for all to see. Long-held Republican ideologies are now being displayed in the nude, and it's not a pretty sight.

The current extremely coordinated tag-team fainting couch routines are, in other words, bullshit. We've seen that the primary rule of Republicanism is that only rules that benefit Republicanism apply. We've seen, over and over, longstanding norms be toppled and split into firewood when necessary, and whenever necessary. The Republican "president" is making millions in cash from supplicants using his businesses as the bases from which they can ask—and get—government favors. The Republican "president" is doing Not A Goddamn Thing to stifle a nationwide pandemic, in part because the Team of Elite Conservative Incompetents came to an early conclusion that the deaths would happen mostly in Democratic states. McConnell has been declaring the Senate to have new rules whenever it suits him—but by God, if Democrats take over it would be scandalous to press further.

It's bullshit. The party was willing to turn itself into an organized crime ring, if that is what it took to prop up embed often-unqualified archconservatives into roles throughout government. It can bleat all it wants about efforts to undo the damage, but it remains insincere.

Presuming Democrats ever win elections again, and that Trump's Republican allies resist the temptation to declare democracy in the United States dead and invalid rather than transfer power back to authorities who might not look the other way when it comes to widespread, maudlin corruption, there will be a host of efforts required to patch the nation's government back into something resembling working, non-crooked order. It will require—require, flat-out—prosecutions of officials who broke U.S. laws. It will require reestablishing neutrality of the judiciary, rather than abandoning it as permanent fixture of would-be authoritarian rule.

That may require expanding some courts. It may require investigations of nominees who sailed through the McConnell-led system with covered-up records.

Fascism is not something that can simply be worked around, in trying to govern. It is a wholly illegitimate form of government. It cannot coexist with democracy. It must be purged. When it comes down to repairing our systems, any judge willing to work with the absurdly crooked Donald Trump to further their own careers seems definitionally, to me, unqualified for their office, but impeaching the whole damn lot of them is not likely to be something our still-divided government could do.

Hosing down the Republican effort to corrupt the judiciary, however—turning the grand fortress of conservative obstruction into a soggy cardboard mess—is a decent compromise position. It may literally be the most "moderate" possible response.

Trump's batting a perfect zero on his claims of election fraud

Three or four apocalypses back, otherwise known as last Thursday-ish if the calendars are right, Donald Trump was still making claims about mail-in ballot fraud, claiming to co-conspirator and Fox News gaping maw Sean Hannity that military ballots were "thrown into a garbage can, and they all had the Trump name on it" and that other ballots were "thrown into a creek, or river." The Washington Post's Phillip Bump revisits those claims, just in case you were still wondering.

Short version: Yup. Still debunked. Super, super debunked.

While Trump has used both the "military ballots in garbage can" and "votes down by the river" stories incessantly, or at least did before he was hospitalized for the completely imaginary, no-big-deal plague he's been spreading all over Washington, D.C., both stories were quickly revealed to have far less conspiratorial explanations.

As far as the "river" story, it didn't happen. While three trays of mail were found in a ditch in Greenville, Wisconsin, in late September, none of that mail included absentee ballots. The incident is most likely to be determined to be one of mail theft—an uncommon and harshly prosecuted crime of stealing U.S. mail in searches for money, valuables, or materials useful for identity theft.

What it wasn't: an attempt to throw an election. Or even an attempt to intercept ballots, as far as we can tell.

The military ballots in "a garbage can" similarly turned out to be bunk. This one is particularly eyebrow-raising because Attorney General William Barr, no longer even bothering to pretend at being anything but Trump's personal propaganda-crafter, brought the story of nine discarded ballots to Trump personally as apparent fodder for Trump's frothing "election fraud" claims. Barr and his subordinates, however, may have committed a light case of fraud in bringing it up. The ballots in question were indeed discarded—due to confusion about procedures by a temporary worker hired on at the Elections Bureau two days beforehand. Trump's claim that "all" of the nine ballots recovered were votes for himself were similarly retracted, by everyone who was Not Him.

Bump's third example of Trump l-y-i-n-g about election fraud didn't make the rounds or stir up as much attention—or maybe we've blocked it out of our collective memories because of [gestures broadly]. Trump claimed that the New York primary race between Rep. Carolyn Maloney and challenger Suraj Patel had been sabotaged, and that they "have no idea where the votes are, where the ballots are."

Because Trump was a thickheaded lout even before they pumped him full of steroids, his imagined conspiracy bears no relationship to anything that actually happened in New York. The Maloney-Patel race featured slow counting and increased numbers of rejected ballots, caused both by larger numbers of absentee ballots in general and perhaps by America's ever-increasing number of hoops voters have to jump through in order to "properly" cast absentee ballots, hoops erected in nearly all cases by Donald's own party to force more ballots to be rejected. Not voter fraud; disenfranchisement, if anything.

Trump's fevered imagination when it comes to finding instances of actual election fraud continues to bat a perfect zero. He's been frantically attempting to discredit the nation's democratic processes, as his poll numbers continue to slide downward, as justification for challenging the results if he loses. Barr, in particular, seems keen on that path as well.

But there's still no evidence of coordinated fraud anywhere. Oh—except on behalf of Republican candidates, by Republican operatives.

That's not to say there isn't rampant cheating in our national elections, of course. Donald Trump, in particular, has brazenly ignored campaign finance rules to, for example, provide hush money to adult film stars. That particular fraud landed his own lawyer, Michael Cohen, in prison.

Crimes by candidates? Crimes by Trump-appointed attorney generals? Oh, for sure—we need to be investigating and prosecuting those more rigorously, to be sure. But fraud by voters or by election officials, in the United States, remains roughly as common as death by shark attack.

Here's the evidence that suggests the White House knew of Trump's illness before debate — but deliberately hid it

Even after rattling off various positive measures of Donald Trump's health in various press conferences, White House physician Dr. Sean Conley has been adamant about not answering one of the most vital questions facing those exposed to Trump in recent days: When was the last time testing showed Trump was not carrying the pandemic virus that would send him to the hospital only a day after the White House admitted he was sick?

That's important, because it would allow those who came into contact with Trump during last Tuesday's presidential debate to know whether they spent 90 minutes in an enclosed space with a COVID-19 carrier shouting at them for most of that time—one of the precise scenarios that experts warn is most likely to result in pandemic spread.

It's also important because all evidence so far points to the White House knowing of Trump's illness at least as of Monday, before the debate. And it's important because the pattern of infections coming out of the White House do not appear to correlate with people who attended the Rose Garden celebration the previous weekend. They appear to more closely correlate with people known to have spent significant amounts of time in proximity to Donald Trump himself.

On Monday, we were treated to a rare sight at the White House: An outdoor press briefing in which Trump spoke at a podium alone, while all other speakers at the pandemic-related briefing used a podium set up on a separate platform well-distanced from Trump's own.

Tuesday's debate featured another unusual sight: Melania Trump alone, among the Trump family, followed debate venue rules and kept her mask on during the full event—only removing it when approaching Donald at his podium for the usual post-debate family visuals. But the Trump family arrived at the debate venue too late to be given COVID-19 tests at the venue, debate moderator Chris Wallace said afterward. "There was an honor system when it came to people that came into the hall from the two campaigns."

There are reasons to believe the White House is lying about the outbreak timeline, and it is absolutely certain that they are hiding key elements of that timeline, as White House doctor Conley did yet again on Monday. The first known illnesses from the White House outbreak are, for the most part, those immediately surrounding Trump himself.

• White House adviser Hope Hicks and assistant Nicholas Luna

• First lady Melania Trump

• Trump's debate prep team member Chris Christie and Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien

• White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and two assistant press secretaries

But what of the multiple Rose Garden guests who tested positive after the Saturday celebration held for Amy Coney Barrett, including Sen. Thom Tillis, Sen. Mike Lee, pastor Greg Laurie, Notre Dame president John Jenkins, and Kellyanne Conway?

All of them were seen in close proximity to Trump in the Diplomatic Room of the White House, during an indoors reception for Barrett that featured a much smaller group of people. Infections during the Rose Garden event were not, as far as we know, spread evenly throughout the outside crowd. They have appeared predominantly among the most important guests, the ones allowed to sit and the first few rows—and who were invited inside for a more personal meet-and-greet hosted by Trump.

The evidence, then, is that Trump himself may have been the source of infection for most of the COVID-19 cases in his orbit. Whether he was or wasn't, the outbreak was in full swing as of Saturday, during the Diplomatic Room event.

The White House, however, is flatly refusing to tell the public, the Biden campaign, the debate staff and others Trump met with when Trump, who is allegedly as president tested daily or near-daily, was last known to be free of the virus. They either don't know—because they haven't been doing the testing—or they're hiding it because they have a reason to hide it. The White House has also announced that it will not be doing contact tracing of Rose Garden guests, nor will they allow the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention to launch that effort itself.

They are quite insistent on not finding out either the true extent of the White House outbreak, or revealing its origins.

It's reasonable to question whether the White House knew Trump was infected, or suspected it, at least as of Monday, when Trump's press event was set up to have the unusual dual-podium arrangement. It's reasonable to question whether the Trump campaign avoided testing at the venue not out of lateness, but because they did not want testing to be done. It's not just reasonable to assume Trump, a malevolent narcissist, would willingly expose others to his illness for momentary gain: It's proven, both from Trump's pointless but self-celebrating joyride around Walter Reed, unnecessarily putting Secret Service agents in an airtight container with him at the likely height of his own contagiousness, and his immediate removal of his mask upon returning to the White House.

There are very good reasons to suspect that the White House knew or believed Trump to be infected with COVID-19 before the debate with Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden took place, and that the White House covered up his infection to allow the debate to go forward. It is possible that, had Trump not become so physically ill two days afterward as to require public acknowledgement, then hospitalization, the White House intended to hide Trump's infection from the public completely.

This would be unconscionable behavior by itself, but exposing a rival presidential candidate to a deadly disease on purpose brings it past unconscionable and into the realm of the unthinkable. But here we are.

This is not an idle, fringe supposition. Senate Democratic leaders are themselves demanding that the White House explain their secrecy around Trump's initial diagnosis, accusing the White House (correctly) of "deliberately" hiding this information. The press is focusing in on this question as well. It is entirely within the realm of possibility that this White House would cover up a presidential illness even if it caused the possible death of others, and even if it exposed Trump's immediate campaign rival to the same disease. On the contrary, it is the most plausible theory we have as to why the White House is refusing to clarify the timeline of Trump's illness.

White House physician Dr. Sean Conley is explicitly hiding this information—and endangering lives. This is not tenable. If the press cannot scrape an answer from him, Vice President Biden's Secret Service detail might need to go question him directly.

Reactions: Experts alarmed by Trump treatment plan normally used only for the severely ill

A second briefing on Donald Trump's medical condition after he was flown to Walter Reed for treatment of COVID-19 was held Sunday morning, and was not much more revealing than the first.

We did get some new information. First, that Trump has had at least two episodes of hypoxia, or low blood oxygen, which required oxygen administration. And White House doctor Sean Conley stated that Trump was now taking not just remdesivir and a Regeneron-developed monoclonal antibody "cocktail," but dexamethasone, a steroid recommended only for the most serious COVID-19 cases. That and other elements of Conley's description of Trump's condition were alarming, to expert observers, because they suggest Trump's current status is considerably more serious than either Conley or the White House has claimed.

It's possible that Trump's doctors are, perhaps irresponsibly, unnecessarily dosing Trump with potentially dangerous drugs on his own demand, in hopes that something in the mix will allow him to recover faster than most patients with his symptoms. But it hardly seems likely.

Some reactions and threads, from experts and others:

What's it all mean? We don't know, but it's not good. Trump's doctors seem to be hiding the true severity of Trump's condition—or, far less likely, are overmedicating him for unknown reasons. Because this White House has relentlessly lied about even the smallest trivialities, over the last four years, we can't take anything said now at face value. Most or all of it is false. The treatment plan as announced, however, doesn't mesh with the rosy claims being made about Trump's current condition.