Joe Conason

Who will defend military ballots from Trump?

At this moment, the president of the United States is threatening to "throw out" the votes of millions of Americans to hijack an election that he seems more than likely to lose. Donald Trump is openly demanding that state authorities invalidate lawful absentee ballots, no different from the primary ballot he mailed to his new home state of Florida, for the sole purpose of cheating. And his undemocratic scheme appears to enjoy at least nominal support from the Supreme Court, which may be called upon to adjudicate the matter.

But what is even worse than Trump's coup plot — and the apparent assent of unprincipled jurists such as Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh — is the Democratic Party's feeble response to this historic outrage. It is the kind of issue that Republicans, with their well-earned reputation for political hardball, would know how to exploit fully and furiously.

They know because they won the same game in Florida 20 years ago.

During that ultimate legal showdown between George W. Bush and Al Gore, when every single vote mattered, a Democratic lawyer argued in a memorandum to the Gore team that the validity of absentee ballots arriving after Election Day should be challenged. He had the law on his side in that particular instance — but not the politics.

As soon as the Republicans got hold of that memo, they realized that it was explosive. Why? Many of the late ballots the Democrats aimed to invalidate in Florida had been sent by military voters, and the idea of discarding the votes of service personnel was repellent to all Americans. Former Secretary of State James Baker, who was overseeing the Florida recount for Bush, swiftly denounced the Democratic plot against the soldiers, saying: "Here we have ... these brave young men and women serving us overseas. And the postmark on their ballot is one day late. And you're going to deny him the right to vote?"

Never mind the grammar; Baker's message was powerful — and was followed by equally indignant messages in the following days from a parade of prominent Bush backers including retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the immensely popular commander of U.S. troops in the Desert Storm invasion that drove Saddam Hussein's army out of Kuwait. Fortuitously, Schwarzkopf happened to be on the scene as a resident of Florida.

As Jeffrey Toobin recounted in Too Close to Call, his superb book on the Florida 2000 fiasco, the Democrats had no choice but to retreat. "I would give the benefit of the doubt to ballots coming in from military personnel," conceded then-Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Gore's running mate, during a defensive appearance on Meet the Press. But Toobin says Gore soon realized that to reject military ballots would render him unable to serve as commander in chief — and that it would be morally wrong.

Fast-forward to 2020, when many of the same figures on the Republican side are now poised to argue that absentee ballots, which will include many thousands of military votes — should not be counted after Election Day, even if they arrived on time. Among those Republicans is Justice Kavanaugh, who made the opposite argument as a young lawyer working for Bush in Florida 20 years ago. Nobody expects legal consistency or democratic morality from a hack like him, but someone should force him and his Republican colleagues to own this moment of shame.

Who can do that? Joe Biden's campaign and the Democratic Party ought to be exposing the Republican assault on military ballots — and, by the same token, every legally valid absentee ballot — every day. But the Democrats notoriously lack the killer instinct of their partisan rivals, even at a moment of existential crisis like this one.

No, this is clearly a job for the ex-Republicans of the Lincoln Project, who certainly recall what happened in Florida in 2000. They have the attitude and aptitude of political assassins. They surely know how to raise hell over an issue like military votes — and now is the time to exercise those aggressive skills in defense of democracy.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

The White House under a black sky

After months of unscientific experimentation, the president of the United States has completed his transformation into a biological weapon.

Infected with the coronavirus because he rejected the advice of government experts, Donald Trump can no longer evade the consequences of the policy and political choices he has made since last winter. With every wrong move, he brought himself and the country closer to this fateful moment. How many lives his terrible exercise in deception and self-deception will cost remains to be seen, but we now know that he does not hesitate to endanger even those closest to him.

Whatever insecurities have rendered Trump and his followers so resistant to every measure that stems the infection, especially wearing a mask, their selfish recalcitrance was on public display at the first presidential debate. Seated at the front of the hall, members of the Trump family brazenly refused to wear a mask — despite an explicit request from a staffer of the Cleveland Clinic, which was overseeing health and safety at the event.

For a moment during the debate, Trump tried to sound responsible, as he occasionally does. "I'll put on a mask when I think I need it," he told moderator Chris Wallace. But he couldn't resist mocking Biden, whose entire party entered the hall wearing masks and kept them on, except for Biden. "I don't wear masks like him," Trump barked, indicating Biden. "Every time you see him, he's got a mask. You could be speaking 200 feet away from them, and he shows up with the biggest mask I've ever seen!"

Trump's debate performance showcased the only thing his cult cares about

Trump's debate performance showcased the only thing his cult cares about MSNBC

To excuse his rejection of masking, Trump distorted the advice of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top government epidemiologist, who, like every other reputable expert, has urged universal masking and other basic safety measures for many months. His infantile attitude has done untold damage. According to a new study released by Cornell University, which analyzed over 38 million articles in English-language media around the world, the American president is this planet's single most toxic source of misinformation about the pandemic.

Trump's viral spewing of lies and myths about the coronavirus has rendered society helpless to stop the spread of the disease itself. In New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo seized public attention to deliver a strong daily message of masking and social distancing, directly contradicting Trump, the upward curve of infections was "flattened," and many lives were saved. In too many other places, where Trumpian rejection of science ruled, the virus continues to rage.

At first, the president pretended that the virus was a "Democratic hoax" or a mere variation of the seasonal flu. Then, he promised it would go away, "like a miracle," even though he knew and confided to Bob Woodward that it was extremely dangerous and could kill many thousands. Rather than mobilize government against the pandemic, Trump did nothing. Or next to nothing. As the pandemic took hold, he became preoccupied by scientifically questionable tangents, such as hydroxychloroquine, and even his own bizarre speculation that injecting disinfectant might restore health (it is much more likely to inflict death). Trump and his doctors even claimed that he took hydroxychloroquine — which, as his case should now persuade him, does not work.

As the final weeks of this election unfold, we are going to learn in detail how Trump's arrogance, vanity and irresponsibility have endangered hundreds of people around him, from the White House staff to the donors and supporters who attended his most recent events in New Jersey and Minnesota. Let's hope that neither he nor anyone around him suffers the worst effects of the disease — like the late Herman Cain, who died weeks after attending the Tulsa Trump rally defiantly unmasked. But let's not forget that such casualties are only a microcosm of the American carnage caused by this catastrophic presidency.

The sky over the White House is black with chickens coming home to roost, and there is only one way for our country to emerge from the darkness.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

How a new extremist racist cult is eating a debilitated GOP alive

For a certain kind of Republican, it is hard to imagine anything worse than the party founded by Abraham Lincoln transmogrified into the party of Donald Trump. Some of those Republicans have openly abandoned the once Grand Old Party, while others quietly await a reform or restoration. Only a few have acknowledged so far that the authoritarian and racist trends in their party cannot be blamed on Trump alone and were visible well before he took over.

Keep reading... Show less

How the Trump and his allies try to distract from his sordid ties to Jeffrey Epstein

Only hours before Bill Clinton addressed the Democratic National Convention on Aug. 18, a strange thing happened. The tabloids published newly discovered photos of the former president receiving a neck massage from a young woman. The pictures were allegedly taken in 2002 during a Clinton Foundation trip to Africa on the jet owned by Jeffrey Epstein, who was revealed years later to be a rapist, thug and serial exploiter of young women. The woman in those photos is Chauntae Davies, then 22 years old and a massage therapist employed by Epstein. She accused him many years later of having raped and mistreated her.

Keep reading... Show less

Kamala Harris is exposing the right wing's dark pathologies

What was for most Americans a moment of inspiration -- the ascent of Sen. Kamala Harris, a woman of African and Indian descent, to a national party ticket -- has instead provoked paranoia and rage on the Republican right. Along with the usual petty insults spat by President Donald Trump, his minions in the media are returning to their habitual obsessions of nativism, racism and misogyny.

Keep reading... Show less

The Republicans are on a sinking ship — and they're tearing each other apart

Even if November's electoral tsunami is still just a rumor on the horizon, that big blue wave already is rocking Republican boats. We can sense something different in the distance, not only because the polls say so but because political journalism has departed from its banal narrative.

Keep reading... Show less

This is the most important election in human history — and Joe Biden finally gets why

One of the worst failings of political journalism in our time was just illustrated again. When Joe Biden delivered a path-breaking address on climate change, he drew less media coverage than a rumored shakeup in the Trump campaign. Do you care more about the fate of Republican grifters -- or the fate of the Earth?

Keep reading... Show less

Let's not kill our heroes

Among the lessons taught by the pandemic is to value the people who make life possible in this country. They are hospital employees, ambulance drivers, cops and firefighters, of course, but also delivery workers, grocery clerks, utility workers, mail carriers and a panoply of others who confronted danger every day for months and still do. Most of us didn't notice how routinely they were overlooked, underpaid, dismissed and even disparaged until they helped us survive a lockdown.

Keep reading... Show less

The ugly truth of Donald Trump's flag-flapping fakery can no longer be ignored

"Performative patriotism" is a fancy way of describing what my father -- a veteran of World War II who rarely spoke about his service -- called "jelly-bellied flag flappers." Dad always laughed at those phonies, but we now suffer a president who is exactly that type, only worse. And Donald Trump's flag-flapping fakery is no joke.

Keep reading... Show less

Here's what John Bolton's book is really telling us

What can we learn from John Bolton's new memoir? History will not absolve him, his execrable ex-boss Donald Trump or the Republican political apparatus that has enabled the toxic Trump regime.

Keep reading... Show less
BRAND NEW STORIES
alternet logo

Tough Times

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