Lucian K. Truscott IV

The Mason-Dixon line is psychological this time in the GOP's new civil war

They didn't bother with writing articles of secession this time. No, Ken Paxton, the disgraced attorney general of the state of Texas, did that for them when he filed a lawsuit directly with the Supreme Court seeking to overturn the presidential election. On Wednesday, Missouri and 16 other states filed a brief with the court seeking to join the Texas lawsuit, which alleges that the four decisive swing states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia violated the Constitution by allowing mail-in voting in the November election. On Thursday, a majority of the Republican caucus in the House, 126 members of Congress, signed on to the lawsuit along with the instigator in chief, Donald Trump. Twenty-five states and territories signed a brief opposing the Texas lawsuit. Friday evening, the Supreme Court rejected the suit out of hand.

The 18 states and 126 members of Congress, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise, are seceding from democracy. It amounts to nothing less than an act of sedition by the entire Republican Party, 70 percent of whom believe that Joe Biden's election was illegitimate, according to a Quinnipiac poll released on Thursday. In contrast, 98 percent of Democrats think Biden's victory was legitimate, along with 62 percent of independents.

The last time anything like this happened was in 1860, when the election of Abraham Lincoln led almost immediately to declarations of secession by seven states between Dec. 20, 1860 and Feb. 1, 1861. Two months later, on April 12, the bombardment of Fort Sumter began, and the Civil War was underway.

It's not a shooting war — yet — but Texas didn't just file a lawsuit this week, it set a match to the Constitution of the United States. It isn't just that these Republicans don't recognize Joe Biden as our next president. They don't want to be part of the democracy that this country was founded on. They don't respect the votes of their fellow citizens. They don't want what more than 80 million people wanted when they cast their votes in this election. They want what Donald Trump wants.

Thankfully, it's not the whole country. The Quinnipiac poll found that 60 percent of registered voters think that Biden's victory was legitimate. But it wasn't the whole country in 1860, either. It was only after the election of Lincoln that the Southern states seceded from the Union over the issue of slavery.

This time there isn't a single issue, there's a single man: Donald Trump. In this way, what's happening right now in this country is eerily similar to what happened in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s with Adolf Hitler's rise to power. Trump has identified and used the same sort of mass hysteria Hitler did — a sense of resentment among his supporters that somehow they have been left behind and misunderstood and humiliated, and that only he, Trump, understands them and is willing to stand up for them and will bring back their rightful way of life.

So far, Trump has only played around with the kind of violence that Hitler made use of to achieve power and then consolidate it. Trump used implied violence in the chants of "Lock her up" that energized supporters at his rallies in 2016 and throughout the campaign of 2020. By staying silent this year when armed protesters occupied the State Capitol in Michigan, Trump implied his support, and his exhortations to "liberate" states that were mandating lockdowns to fight COVID were taken by many as invitations to violence.

Now armed protesters have gathered outside the home of the Michigan secretary of state, and Georgia election officials report that they are receiving death threats and racist voice mails. The Republican Party of Arizona has retweeted exhortations from those who say, "I'm willing to give up my life for this fight," suggesting it's time to "die for something." The New York Times reported this week that the chair of the Wisconsin Elections Commission has said that "people on Twitter have posted photographs of my house." Another tweet mentioned her children and threatened "I've heard you'll have quite a crowd of patriots showing up at your door."

The conservative website The Bulwark reported this week that far-right websites have been posting addresses and other personal information about Republican elected officials in Georgia, superimposing target crosshairs over images of their faces. Right-wing Republicans are in full cheerleader mode trying to turn Kyle Rittenhouse, who is accused of murdering two people and wounding another at a Kenosha, Wisconsin, protest, into a hero of the Trump cause. A Democratic state representative in Pennsylvania told the New York Times that "we've been getting emails all the time, all hours of the day and night," and that "they're getting more angry, and a lot of calls are saying we won't be forgetting."

This kind of stuff is not a joke. The fantastic lie that has gripped the Republican Party started out with everyone going along with Trump's fantasy and kind of humoring him. But now it's taken a deadly turn. Trump has been calling Republican state representatives on the phone and pressuring them to go along with his demands that they ignore the votes that have taken place in swing states and appoint electors that will vote for him. If they step out of line, they're branded as traitors, cowards, RINOs. He's doing this kind of stuff to his own people, to loyal Republicans who have voted the party line since they were in short pants.

When you add in what's been happening in red states with COVID, it's jaw-dropping. Governors and Republican-controlled state legislatures are so intimidated that they won't pass mask mandates and bar closures, not to mention rules against mass gatherings. COVID cases and hospitalizations in red states are off the charts. They are lining up refrigerated trucks outside hospitals in states like North and South Dakota. Republicans are killing their own people in craven attempts to keep Donald Trump from attacking them on Twitter. God only knows what's going to happen in those states when the COVID vaccines become widely available, although we're getting some idea with reports of people standing up at meetings of county commissioners pledging not only that they won't wear masks, they'll also refuse to be vaccinated.

The Mason-Dixon line is psychological this time. These people have lost their minds. They have seceded from sanity and reason. This Civil War isn't being fought with rifles and pistols. It's a war fought with lies and delusions. This week it passed the number of Americans killed in World War II, and its victims are just as dead as the bodies buried at Anzio and Normandy. Americans are dying every time Mitch McConnell stands up and blocks a COVID relief bill. They are dying every time a Republican senator like Ron Johnson presents testimony from an anti-vaxxer as if it were a sane person instead of an outright idiot. They're dying by the thousands with their mask-less hubris. They're dying for Donald Trump, but at least for now, our democracy has not died with them.

How Donald Trump's insatiable hunger for more bilked the US government for $2.5 billion

Remember this number: $3.

That's how much Trump charged the federal government for a glass of water in April of 2018 when he and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. According to the Washington Post, Trump's company also charged the government "$13,700 for guest rooms, $16,500 for food and wine and $6,000 for the roses and other floral arrangements," over the two days he held meetings with Abe at the resort. But one day, Trump was scheduled to meet with Abe without aides and advisers, with no meal service or cocktails or any other celebratory nonsense. Just the two leaders, alone in a room, talking. According to the Post, the bill for that day contained a line item reading, "Bilateral meeting. Water. $3.00 each."

Donald Trump has been paid "at least $2.5 million by the U.S. government," since taking office, according to official documents obtained by the Post. Trump has made more than 280 visits to his own hotels and golf clubs over the last four years, and the payments covered costs for "hotel rooms, ballrooms, cottages, rental houses, golf carts, votive candles, floating candles, candelabras, furniture moving, resort fees, decorative palm trees, strip steak, chocolate cake, breakfast buffets, $88 bottles of wine and $1,000 worth of liquor for White House aides." according to the Post.

And water. A total of six bucks for water, no charge being too small to make it onto a bill to the government for a payment going straight into the pocket of the man who owns the Trump Organization and everything it comprises, including his resort in Palm Beach.

It's apparently a good part of what the Trump base likes about him — his appetites, his pure, unadulterated, money-grubbing-right-down-to-$3-for-water greed. Trump has wanted more his entire life. He wants more money, of course. He has spent a lifetime in pursuit of more money, and then some more, and more and more. He borrowed so much money in pursuit of even more money that it drove him into bankruptcy, several bankruptcies in fact. Today, as president, he is said to be in debt for nearly $1 billion to banks and other lenders, a debt that will come due within the next few years, according to the New York Times and other reports.

Trump wants more fame, a drive that started off with mentions in gossip columns like the New York Post's "Page Six," during the years he was coming into his own as a builder in New York City. He used to call gossip columnists and plant items about himself, posing as a PR person, and then he would call the columnists the next day and comment on their mention of him in order to gain yet another column inch or two in the tabloids. Some said he ran for president back in 2016 to "burnish his brand," to achieve even more fame and use it to make even more money. Since he became president, he has been relentless in his pursuit of attention, tweeting at all hours, criticizing cable networks who don't give him enough coverage, calling in to shows like "Fox & Friends" and "Hannity" both to reward them for the coverage they've already given him, and to get more coverage.

He wants more women, from wife No. 1, Ivana, when he was just starting out, to wife No. 2, Marla Maples, after he jettisoned Ivana, and now wife No. 3, Melania, who replaced No. 2 when he determined she had a few too many miles on her. And then there were all the women in between, in and among his marriages, the women he groped on airplanes and at bars and during parties, the women he (allegedly) raped in places like a Bergdorf's dressing room or a hotel room or a bathroom during a party, the women whose mouths he forced his tongue down, the women he pushed up against walls and pressed himself against, the women whose bodies he commented on in offices or across rooms, the women whose skirts he put his hand up at restaurant tables, the women whose breasts he grabbed at tennis tournaments and beauty pageants, the women whose rear ends he grabbed in green rooms before television show tapings, the women he dragged behind curtains at New Year's Eve parties and forcibly kissed and groped. All of those women. Trump wanted their bodies and their mouths and he took them without asking permission because he was Donald Trump, and he took what he wanted.

He wanted more golf, so he played more golf more frequently than any president before him. He wanted so much golf that he went around the world buying and building his own golf courses, and then he played them, because he owned them, and because he owned the golf carts, as president he could charge the government for his own Secret Service agents. He could even charge the government for the hotel rooms the agents stayed in while they protected him. He charged the government $17,000 a month for a cottage at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf course, which the Secret Service had to rent month after month just in case he had a mind to play a round of golf.

Trump wants more adulation, more love from the "base," and when he feels he isn't getting enough, he tweets. There aren't enough hours in the day for Donald Trump. He was up at 3 a.m. this week, tweeting about the Supreme Court, the court to which he has appointed three arch-conservative justices, yelling at them for their recent decisions allowing mail-in votes to be counted after Election Day, because of course, he wants more votes. He's been up at 3 a.m. tweeting before, taunting a Miss Universe contestant for a "sex tape," taunting CNN as "low rated," bragging about his debate performance, yelling at polls that show him losing.

And now Trump is making his final campaign swing through the "battleground states," feeding the insatiable need of his base for more of himself. "Four more years" has become "12 more years." Somehow Trump is owed more years of the presidency because "they" took two or three years away from him during the Russia investigation, because "they" spied on his 2016 campaign, because "they" don't deserve to win. The red-hat-wearing mobs of un-masked fans at his rallies want more of the America they think Trump is bringing back to them. It's an America that is more white, has more guns, has more churches, more of "us," less of "them."

That's what they like about him. They want it all, the same way he does. That's what opposition to affirmative action has always been. They don't want some of the college admissions, they want them all. That's what Shelby County v. Holder was about, that's what voter IDs and all the restrictive rules about voting by mail are about. They want all the votes.

For the Trump base, making America great again means making America ours again, but he's going to make sure he puts it on their tab, right there with $3 for water and $546 for rooms and $50 for decorative palm trees for table decorations and $1,005.60 for 26 servings of Patron and Don Julio tequila, 22 Chopin vodkas, and six glasses of Woodford Reserve bourbon consumed by White House staffers at the Mar-a-Lago bar. It's going to cost us more than votes to get our country back. We're going to be paying for Trump's insatiable greed long after he's gone. More than 228,000 of us have already paid with our lives. If the Friday totals keep up — 98,500 new cases and more than 900 dead — a half million of us may perish by the time Trump walks out of the White House for the last time.

Donald Trump's Hunger Games: More power. More money. More golf. More women.

Remember this number: $3.

That's how much Trump charged the federal government for a glass of water in April of 2018 when he and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. According to the Washington Post, Trump's company also charged the government "$13,700 for guest rooms, $16,500 for food and wine and $6,000 for the roses and other floral arrangements," over the two days he held meetings with Abe at the resort. But one day, Trump was scheduled to meet with Abe without aides and advisers, with no meal service or cocktails or any other celebratory nonsense. Just the two leaders, alone in a room, talking. According to the Post, the bill for that day contained a line item reading, "Bilateral meeting. Water. $3.00 each."

Donald Trump has been paid "at least $2.5 million by the U.S. government," since taking office, according to official documents obtained by the Post. Trump has made more than 280 visits to his own hotels and golf clubs over the last four years, and the payments covered costs for "hotel rooms, ballrooms, cottages, rental houses, golf carts, votive candles, floating candles, candelabras, furniture moving, resort fees, decorative palm trees, strip steak, chocolate cake, breakfast buffets, $88 bottles of wine and $1,000 worth of liquor for White House aides." according to the Post.

And water. A total of six bucks for water, no charge being too small to make it onto a bill to the government for a payment going straight into the pocket of the man who owns the Trump Organization and everything it comprises, including his resort in Palm Beach.

It's apparently a good part of what the Trump base likes about him — his appetites, his pure, unadulterated, money-grubbing-right-down-to-$3-for-water greed. Trump has wanted more his entire life. He wants more money, of course. He has spent a lifetime in pursuit of more money, and then some more, and more and more. He borrowed so much money in pursuit of even more money that it drove him into bankruptcy, several bankruptcies in fact. Today, as president, he is said to be in debt for nearly $1 billion to banks and other lenders, a debt that will come due within the next few years, according to the New York Times and other reports.

Trump wants more fame, a drive that started off with mentions in gossip columns like the New York Post's "Page Six," during the years he was coming into his own as a builder in New York City. He used to call gossip columnists and plant items about himself, posing as a PR person, and then he would call the columnists the next day and comment on their mention of him in order to gain yet another column inch or two in the tabloids. Some said he ran for president back in 2016 to "burnish his brand," to achieve even more fame and use it to make even more money. Since he became president, he has been relentless in his pursuit of attention, tweeting at all hours, criticizing cable networks who don't give him enough coverage, calling in to shows like "Fox & Friends" and "Hannity" both to reward them for the coverage they've already given him, and to get more coverage.

He wants more women, from wife No. 1, Ivana, when he was just starting out, to wife No. 2, Marla Maples, after he jettisoned Ivana, and now wife No. 3, Melania, who replaced No. 2 when he determined she had a few too many miles on her. And then there were all the women in between, in and among his marriages, the women he groped on airplanes and at bars and during parties, the women he (allegedly) raped in places like a Bergdorf's dressing room or a hotel room or a bathroom during a party, the women whose mouths he forced his tongue down, the women he pushed up against walls and pressed himself against, the women whose bodies he commented on in offices or across rooms, the women whose skirts he put his hand up at restaurant tables, the women whose breasts he grabbed at tennis tournaments and beauty pageants, the women whose rear ends he grabbed in green rooms before television show tapings, the women he dragged behind curtains at New Year's Eve parties and forcibly kissed and groped. All of those women. Trump wanted their bodies and their mouths and he took them without asking permission because he was Donald Trump, and he took what he wanted.

He wanted more golf, so he played more golf more frequently than any president before him. He wanted so much golf that he went around the world buying and building his own golf courses, and then he played them, because he owned them, and because he owned the golf carts, as president he could charge the government for his own Secret Service agents. He could even charge the government for the hotel rooms the agents stayed in while they protected him. He charged the government $17,000 a month for a cottage at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf course, which the Secret Service had to rent month after month just in case he had a mind to play a round of golf.

Trump wants more adulation, more love from the "base," and when he feels he isn't getting enough, he tweets. There aren't enough hours in the day for Donald Trump. He was up at 3 a.m. this week, tweeting about the Supreme Court, the court to which he has appointed three arch-conservative justices, yelling at them for their recent decisions allowing mail-in votes to be counted after Election Day, because of course, he wants more votes. He's been up at 3 a.m. tweeting before, taunting a Miss Universe contestant for a "sex tape," taunting CNN as "low rated," bragging about his debate performance, yelling at polls that show him losing.

And now Trump is making his final campaign swing through the "battleground states," feeding the insatiable need of his base for more of himself. "Four more years" has become "12 more years." Somehow Trump is owed more years of the presidency because "they" took two or three years away from him during the Russia investigation, because "they" spied on his 2016 campaign, because "they" don't deserve to win. The red-hat-wearing mobs of un-masked fans at his rallies want more of the America they think Trump is bringing back to them. It's an America that is more white, has more guns, has more churches, more of "us," less of "them."

That's what they like about him. They want it all, the same way he does. That's what opposition to affirmative action has always been. They don't want some of the college admissions, they want them all. That's what Shelby County v. Holder was about, that's what voter IDs and all the restrictive rules about voting by mail are about. They want all the votes.
For the Trump base, making America great again means making America ours again, but he's going to make sure he puts it on their tab, right there with $3 for water and $546 for rooms and $50 for decorative palm trees for table decorations and $1,005.60 for 26 servings of Patron and Don Julio tequila, 22 Chopin vodkas, and six glasses of Woodford Reserve bourbon consumed by White House staffers at the Mar-a-Lago bar. It's going to cost us more than votes to get our country back. We're going to be paying for Trump's insatiable greed long after he's gone. More than 228,000 of us have already paid with our lives. If the Friday totals keep up — 98,500 new cases and more than 900 dead — a half million of us may perish by the time Trump walks out of the White House for the last time.

After Trump: In a year of worsening pandemic and avoidable tragedy, we must find the strength to rebuild

How many times can you say "I'm so sorry" without the words losing their meaning? How many times can you answer a text or an instant message or an email by typing "I'm so sorry" without becoming inured to the feeling of sorrow? Even if you manage to pause your constant grief, you're hit between the eyes with another statistic, another story. The day the coronavirus death total hit 220,000, we learned that the parents of 545 children who were separated at the border cannot be found. Can you even imagine? Can you imagine being a three-year-old child and not knowing where your mommy and daddy are? Can you imagine being a father or a mother and having no idea if you'll ever see your daughter or your son again?

We are spending so much time simply coping that we don't have the time to express to ourselves the deep sense of loss and sorrow that has been with us every day. Do you remember how you actually felt the day you saw the cell phone footage of George Floyd murdered on a street in Minneapolis by a policeman kneeling on his neck? I'm sure the image is still with you, but do you remember how you actually felt? Anger? Sadness that it had happened again, yet another unarmed Black man killed by police on a street in an American city.

You lose track of the names. Who was the guy who was shot in Kenosha, Wisconsin? Was it Rayshard Brooks? No, he was the guy who fell asleep in his car blocking the drive-through lane at a fast food restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia, and was shot twice in the back as he tried to get away. It was Jacob Blake who was shot seven times in the back as he got into the driver's seat of his car in Kenosha.

You lose track of the spread of the COVID virus. Which states are the ones with the highest incidence of new infections this week? Is it Georgia and North Carolina? No, it's South Dakota, with 35 percent testing positive this week, and Idaho, with 33 percent positive. What about Montana and Wisconsin? There was something about both states being really bad, wasn't there? Well, yes, Montana is up 48 percent in new cases from two weeks ago, and Wisconsin is up 43 percent.

But the numbers just keep going up, don't they?

Yes. That's the answer, every single day. The numbers keep going up. We've now got 21 states in what they call the "red zone," which according to NPR indicates "unchecked community spread" of the disease. We've got 21 states in the "orange zone," with "escalating community spread." And we've got 8 states in the "yellow zone," where there is "potential community spread." We have zero states where the disease is "close to containment," which is how they classify the so-called "green zone." There were 81,010 new coronavirus cases on Friday, the highest number since the disease hit. Think of it. This disease has been with us for nine months, and we haven't learned a thing.

But it's not all just statistics, is it? It's sadness, deep, deep sadness at the tragedy of it all, and sadness at the individual losses, one by one as they happen. Every single one of the 223,845 deaths from coronavirus, which is the total tracked as this article was edited on Friday evening, was an unknowably tragic loss to someone, or in most cases, many someones. Mothers. Fathers. Sisters. Brothers. Husbands. Wives. Co-workers. College or high school classmates. Teachers. Neighbors. Friends. Acquaintances from the local supermarket or gas station or hardware store or school. Maybe somebody you regularly sit next to at your son's Friday night football games, or your daughter's cheer competitions. Or somebody you see a couple of times a week waiting for the subway or picking up your mail at the mailroom in the lobby.

Then there are the fires in the West, and the hurricanes along the Gulf, one, two, three of them, Hannah in Texas and Laura in Louisiana and Sally in Alabama. Laura alone caused $14 billion in damage and 77 deaths. Houses incinerated, whole neighborhoods flooded and blown away, people wandering around in the ashes and the soggy remains of fires and winds and rain, people who lost loved ones, homes, cars, businesses, everything. And still they rage, the fires now in Colorado with another month of hurricane season to come, all the destruction and death doubly tragic in the time of COVID.

You turn on the TV and you see the faces of family members of the people shot by the police, the mothers and sisters and brothers of Breonna Taylor or George Floyd or Daniel Prude, who died of asphyxiation, naked in the street, as police restrained him in a "spit hood" with a knee on his neck in the midst of a mental breakdown. You see the faces of the dead men and women in photographs taken during happy times in their lives, and you realize they weren't just statistics, another Black person dead at the hands of the police. They were real people, with real lives, and hopes and dreams and brothers and sisters and wives and lovers who cared for them and loved them deeply, and now they are gone. They won't be there on Saturday to drink beer and watch the game with the guys, they won't be a phone call away when you can't find that recipe for sausage biscuits they gave you, and you can't remember how much baking soda it calls for, or how much salt.

And then there is time, the hours and days and weeks and months we are losing to the coronavirus. Our children are losing a year out of their lives, a year they spent as an eighth-grader or a sophomore in college, a year when they didn't get the chance to stand around with their friends in the hallway of their school gossiping about who's dating who, or who got caught by their parents smoking pot in their bedroom with the window open, or whose exhaust pipes on their beater Camaro are loudest, or who's got the coolest North Face fleece jacket or hottest Lululemon yoga pants with that new cresting wave design up the sides.

We're so busy staying safe ourselves, and wearing our masks and figuring out when the Target has the fewest customers so we can safely pick up more toilet paper and shampoo and see if they've got the spray cleaner with bleach in stock that we're almost unaware of what we've lost.

And then you remember your college classmate who died from the virus, his lungs filled with fluid, struggling on a respirator in an ICU, and you remember hearing how his wife couldn't be there with him because it was too dangerous and the hospital was overrun with cases, and she couldn't see him at the morgue, they just sealed him up and put him in a coffin, and they couldn't even have a real funeral for him. His classmates couldn't come, all the guys he went to college with, and all their friends from the neighborhood, and the people he worked with, none of them could be there to say goodbye. They posted a few pictures online of the family's service at the graveside, and that was it. No celebration of his life. No remembrance of the good times we all had, those nights hanging out at the neighborhood bar, the afternoons playing pick-up touch football in the park, how he could quote Philip Larkin and Anne Sexton, whole poems from memory, how much he meant to us, how much he is missed by everyone.

Can you even imagine what it must be like for his family, for all the families out there, the hundreds of thousands of them, their grief and loss and sadness? And yet as vivid as his loss is, as profoundly as he will be missed, he is just one more death in a year of constant sorrow that is still with us and will be with us for many more months to come, so many tears, so many times you write the words, say the words, dive evermore deeply into the abyss of "I'm so sorry."

We can't be mournful enough in this plague. All we can do is go on and try to make their lives count by remembering them. We will vote and make a better world, because that is our duty, but the world will never be the same after this.

Donald Trump's reign of corruption has left the federal government in ruins

Who remembers Tom Price? Gee, you might say, that name sounds familiar … he had something to do with the Trump administration, didn't he?

This article first appeared in Salon.

You're right! He was one of those guys who resigned from a cabinet position because he was abusing something … let me see … think I've got it … he was the one who took all those flights on private jets, something like a million dollars worth of flights, including on military aircraft during trips to Europe and Africa with his wife. He refunded $51,887 to the federal government, which he said accounted for the cost of his seat on private charter flights he took before he resigned from Trump's cabinet. But that was just the cost of his seat. The total amount spent to fly old Tom Price around the world on private jets was more than $400,000 in taxpayer dollars.

What cabinet position did he hold that made it necessary for so many trips on chartered private jets and other business aircraft? What was he doing that was so important that he was flying back and forth to Europe and Africa and making trips to Aspen and Salt Lake City and Nashville, and basically jetting all over the place on the taxpayers' dime and staying in first-class hotels and eating out at expensive restaurants and taking his wife along with him a lot of the time? Oh, I remember! He was the secretary of Health and Human Services. He was the dude who resigned after only 231 days in office, the shortest term ever served by an HHS secretary. Price had been a right-wing congressman from Georgia who during his term in the House voted multiple times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, supported a Republican plan to privatize Medicare, voted to defund Planned Parenthood and sponsored the "Right to Life Act," which would have defined life as beginning at conception and banned all abortions and many forms of contraception.

Busy, busy man, old Tom, with all those flights around the world and fighting to repeal Obamacare and defund Planned Parenthood and banning abortion. Took up a lot of his time. In fact, it took up the time he could have spent studying the plan to contain pandemics which was left for him at the Department of Health and Human Services by the Obama administration. But old Tom Price didn't study that plan, did he? No, he shelved the Obama pandemic plan, where it stayed as his successor, Alex Azar, was appointed. So it was Azar who was running HHS when COVID hit in February of this year, and it was Azar who left the pandemic plan on the shelf and was first put in charge of the pandemic task force at the White House, until Vice President Pence took over that job. It was Azar who appointed Brian Harrison, a 37-year-old former labradoodle breeder with zero education and zero background in public health as the department's top man in charge of organizing the HHS response to the COVID crisis. Now he has overseen the appointment of two more nonentities with no background in public health or epidemiology to keep Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Robert Redfield "in line," and to control messaging on the coronavirus pandemic coming out of the department. Oh, I almost forgot: Azar also supports ending the Affordable Care Act and defunding Planned Parenthood and banning abortion and every other whacked-out right wing idea that ever came down the pike.

Are you beginning to get the picture here? Health and Human Services is just one Trump cabinet department that has been led by not one, but two half-wit hacks and undercut by the White House from Day One. Both HHS and CDC have been hollowed out and weakened under the control of the Trump White House while some 220,000 Americans have lost their lives and 8 million more have been infected by the COVID virus.

Trump's ravaging of the rest of the government has followed the same script. Remember Scott Pruitt, Trump's first administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency? He lasted just about a year before he resigned under the cloud of investigations by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, the Government Accountability Office, the EPA inspector general and 11 other federal agencies and congressional committees. Pruitt was another Trumpazoid incompetent who flew around on chartered jets and used EPA employees to reserve tables for dinner at exclusive Washington restaurants. He set the EPA on a course to undo nearly every Obama administration environmental accomplishment. He fired all the scientists on the Board of Scientific Counselors and replaced them with representatives of industries regulated by the EPA.

When he left the agency in disgrace, Pruitt was replaced by his deputy, Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist, who proceeded apace to continue the fine legacy left to him by his predecessor. Wheeler has weakened regulations on coal fired electrical plants and declined to raise standards for "fine soot pollution" under a mandated review. In the midst of the COVID pandemic, Wheeler's EPA announced that it would not enforce regulations for "routine compliance monitoring [of pollution], integrity testing, sampling, laboratory analysis, training and reporting or certification obligations." In other words, polluting industries, here's your get-out-of-jail-free COVID card, courtesy of your friendly EPA.

Donald Trump's pillaging of the rest of the federal government is equally astonishing. He's gone through cabinet secretaries like they were an order of Big Macs. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson? Gone early on, replaced by Mike Pompeo. Attorney General Jeff Sessions? Out the door in disgrace. In his place, the odious Bill Barr (after a brief appearance by the totally incompetent Matt Whitaker). Secretary of Energy Rick Perry? Bye-bye in a blink. Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta? Resigned in disgrace for his connection to a kid-gloves plea arrangement with famed pedophile and presidential friend Jeffrey Epstein. Secretary of Defense James Mattis? Resigned in protest against Trump's haphazard misuse of U.S. military forces. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke? Resigned rather than face federal investigation for using his office for personal gain. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats? Ousted in a Trumpian power play to politicize the intelligence community.

Trump has proceeded to appoint acting secretaries to replace expired acting secretaries. Recently, one of his attempts to get around the rules hit a wall when a federal judge in Montana ordered the removal of the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management, William Perry Pendley, who he found had been serving illegally for 400 days without Senate confirmation. Pendley has been an advocate of selling federal lands to the states or private citizens.

There is more, much, much more, but you get the picture. The damage Trump will be leaving to Joe Biden is incalculable. The death toll caused by his mismanagement of the COVID crisis and the numbers of infections increase by the thousands seemingly every day. The only good thing about a hollowed-out federal government will be the thousands of appointments Biden will be able to make upon taking office, and the dozens of executive orders he'll be able to sign reversing Trump's giveaways to polluters, drug companies and corrupt corporations.

All we've got to do is get out and vote to make that happen.

Why fact-checking may be futile against Trump's black hole of lies

Why fact-checking may be futile against Trump's black hole of lies President Donald J. Trump, joined by Vice President Mike Pence, senior White House advisors and senior military personnel, delivers remarks during a national televised address Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, from the Cross Hall of the White House, responding to the retaliatory missile strikes against U.S. military and coalition forces in Iraq on Tuesday by the Islamic Republic of Iran. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

The week Donald Trump lost the election

After the debate, he couldn't hide what an asshole he is. After he got sick, he couldn't hide how weak he is.

Trump was already down in the polls, both nationally and in many swing states, and after his unhinged performance in the debate with Joe Biden last week, his people knew he would lose more ground. Sure enough, two days later, an NBC/Wall Street Journal national poll had Biden up by 14 points, 53% to 39%, among registered voters. Biden's margin among women was 20 points last month; in the new poll, he led by 27, 60% to 33%.

A CNN poll conducted at the same time, and largely after Trump first tested positive for the COVID virus, had Biden up over Trump by 16 points, 57% to 41%. Women in the CNN poll, who a month ago favored Biden by 20 points, now favored him by 34 points, 66% to 32%.

By last weekend, Trump was tanking in the polls, he was sick with COVID and he was in the hospital. So what did he do? Almost immediately after leaving Walter Reed Medical Center and making his mock-Mussolini triumphant return to the White House, he tweeted an end to any possible new stimulus package for COVID relief, calling off negotiations with Democrats.

There are more than 213,000 dead from the virus, new coronavirus cases are averaging 45,000 a day over the last week, and there were 53,000 new cases on Thursday alone. According to National Geographic, "the virus is spreading uncontrollably" in the Midwest, new cases are up in 15 states, and "deaths are still hovering around 900 to 1000 a day."

Schools are shutting down in some places after reopening in August and September, some cities are closing bars and restaurants, and there were 840,000 new claims for unemployment last week.

This is the COVID election, folks.

But Trump has treated the virus with disdain and "played it down" from the beginning. First, he denied it was a problem at all and tried to wish it away. On Feb. 26, he said, "When you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that's a pretty good job we've done." Thirty-four times, Trump has said the virus was going to "go away" or "disappear." He and members of his administration, including Vice President Mike Pence, outright refused to wear masks to protect themselves and others around them, most recently at the infamous "super-spreader" Rose Garden announcement of Amy Coney Barrett's nomination to the Supreme Court. His own family flouted the mask rule at the debate with Joe Biden.

Now, with more than 30 people in his own White House testing positive for COVID, including himself, Trump is trying to play down the virus's ability to kill.

In a bizarre video made at the White House just after his release from Walter Reed, Trump told people "don't be afraid" of the virus, and "don't let it dominate you." It was pure, unadulterated macho posturing and angry denialism, an obsession with appearance over reality, a version of "strength" in quotes that he seems to have absorbed from Cold War era dictators and Lone Ranger-style go-your-own-way westerns. You have the feeling that every day he wakes up and sees himself as George C. Scott in "Patton," standing alone in front of a gigantic American flag, growling a bunch of macho nonsense.

But think about it: He had a perfect opportunity to pivot and put himself on a course to win this election going away. Instead of standing on the balcony of the White House and saluting God-only-knows-what, Trump could have used the occasion of his COVID infection to change his tone. and, He could have kept his mask on and made a short video in which he told his fellow Americans, OK. I get it. I caught the virus, and it's a really bad thing, and here's what we can do together to put this thing away for good.

Instead of goading his base to follow him over a cliff, he could have sought out and doubtlessly received their sympathy and support. He could have looked into the eye of the camera and said that getting sick with the virus has made him understand how tough it's been on everyone. I realize that I've had the privilege of the best health care in America at Walter Reed, treatments that are not normally available. And for that reason, from now on, we're going to cover COVID for everyone. All testing for the virus will be free, and the federal government will cover 100 percent of the cost of treating everyone who comes down with the virus. Vaccines, when available, will be given for free, and every new drug developed to treat the virus will be provided to patients for free.

Then he could have announced that he was going to pick up the phone and make a deal for $3 trillion to help his fellow Americans cope with the fallout from the virus. He could have agreed to restart supplemental unemployment payments, provide help to state and local governments to make up for reduced tax revenues, send out new checks to every taxpayer for another $1,200, include help for the airlines, provide tax relief and send cash to small business owners to get them through the next few months until a vaccine can begin to reopen normal business for everyone. He could even have included a couple hundred billion specifically ear-marked for child care to make a direct appeal to the women whose support he has sand-blasted away from himself every time he opens his mouth.

Sure, it would have blown up the deficit, but it's not his money, and the deficit has already been exploded not once but twice, with his only-for-the zillionaires tax cut and the last stimulus bill. Republicans facing re-election battles at least as tough as Trump's, or worse, would have embraced his Big Giveaway with open arms. It would have been like dropping trillions of dollars into the campaign chest of the Republican Party. Democrats, who have already passed a $2.2 trillion bill in the House, would have been forced to go along with it. Trump could have put his name on the whole thing, and Biden would have been left to endorse a plan he knew would benefit his opponent far more than himself and his fellow Democrats.

That's the way Trump could have turned his illness into his October surprise. Instead of running from reality, he could have embraced it. He could have confronted the virus he has lied about for nine months and transformed a hit on himself into help for everyone else.

Instead, he's troweling on the pancake makeup and telling lies about how long he's had the virus and how many more White House staffers have tested positive, and now he's refusing to debate Joe Biden in front of 80 million voters he absolutely needs to pull himself out of the hole he's dug. With only three weeks to go, this is the one we'll look back on as the week Donald Trump lost the election.

When did Trump get the virus — and when did he know it?

He wanted their money.

That's why Donald Trump got on Air Force One and flew to his Bedminster golf club on Thursday afternoon, not long after he had learned of Hope Hicks' positive diagnosis for the COVID virus. There were millions in campaign contributions waiting for him at his golf club in the person of dozens of VIP Republican contributors who had paid as much as $250,000 to sit down with Trump at a "roundtable" at the reception. A donation of $50,000 got you a photo-op with the president, $35,000 got you a place at a "roundtable" with an unnamed "VIP" from the Trump campaign, and $2,800 got you in the door.

Lots of money sitting around out there in New Jersey at one of Trump's favorite places on the planet. You think he was going to skip that trip and miss out on all those bucks? Not a chance.

People who attended the fundraiser reported that Trump didn't wear a mask on Thursday. Neither did many of those attending the event. Trump was reported to have mingled with dozens of VIP attendees and posed for photographs.

Trump had been told of Hicks' diagnosis on Thursday morning, according to Bloomberg News, yet he "continued on with a full schedule of events. No one knew Trump was positive on Thursday, but some suspected it, people familiar with the matter said."

Hicks, one of Trump's closest aides, had traveled on Air Force One with him to a rally in Duluth, Minnesota, on Wednesday. Then she "was separated from the rest of the White House staff on Air Force One on the trip home Wednesday night after falling ill," according to Bloomberg. Hicks was seen walking across the tarmac with Jared Kushner to Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews on Tuesday when Trump flew to Cleveland for the debate with Joe Biden, and seen again getting on the presidential plane before the flight to Minnesota the next day.

So Trump knew by late Wednesday night that he had been exposed. Hicks often sees Trump a dozen times a day, according to Jonathan Lemire, an AP White House correspondent and MSNBC contributor. Trump probably suspected that he was sick by Thursday morning. Trump looked tired and depressed walking across the White House lawn to Marine One before the flight to New Jersey, and was described as "tired and lethargic" at the Bedminster fundraiser, although he wasn't reported to have shown other symptoms. But you know how you feel with a case of the flu coming on, and the coronavirus is said to hit a lot harder than the common flu. A few hours after the Thursday fundraiser, at 1:00 a.m. on Friday, he sent out a tweet acknowledging that he and his wife Melania had tested positive for the COVID virus.

Why are all these details about the timing of Trump's COVID diagnosis important?

In addition to being contemptuous of the virus itself, Trump has been contemptuous of those who wear masks to protect themselves. Trump belittled Joe Biden at the debate on Tuesday night for wearing a mask. "I don't wear a mask like him," Trump said, gesturing toward Biden. "Every time you see him, he's got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away from him and he shows up with the biggest mask I've ever seen."

Now we know that Trump was equally as contemptuous of his fawning fans who follow his example and don't wear masks. He showed up at his Thursday fundraiser knowing he had been exposed to the deadly virus, yet he didn't wear a mask and didn't warn his campaign donors that he had been exposed and they should protect themselves from him by wearing masks and keeping their distance.

This is what the criminal codes call "depraved indifference to human life." In New Jersey, where the Bedminster fundraiser was held, a person can be charged with reckless manslaughter when you "recklessly cause the death of another under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to human life," according to the criminal code.

Trump's indifference to human life is manifest in everything he has done since the COVID crisis hit. He admitted in interviews with journalist Bob Woodward for his book, "Rage," that he "played down" the threat of the virus in the early days of the pandemic even though he knew the disease could be deadly and that you could become infected just by "breathing the air." He has played down the threat ever since, most recently continuing to tell audiences at his rallies last week that the virus "is going away," and reportedly repeating the claim at the Bedminster fundraiser. Again and again, even after the death toll hit 100,000 and continued to climb, he has praised himself for "doing a fantastic job."

Now that the American death count has hit 200,000, you could certainly make a case that Trump has contributed to the toll by encouraging the reopening of businesses and schools, which has caused coronavirus cases to rise in at least 25 states this week. Nationwide, the country has averaged 43,000 new cases a day for the last two weeks. But now, with Trump's appearance at the fundraiser in Bedminster, it's personal.

We will probably never know for sure when Trump came down with the virus, because we can't trust what comes out of his mouth or what is released on an official basis by his White House. But Trump, at the very least, had to suspect that he was dangerous to the health of others after Hicks got sick on Air Force One Wednesday night, and he knew it for sure when she tested positive on Thursday morning. Still, he went to the fundraiser in New Jersey and posed for photographs with his adoring fans and sat down with the $250,000 donors at the so-called roundtable.

Even now, with his wife quarantined in the White House and Trump himself heading to Walter Reed hospital on Friday evening — and with more positive tests of prominent political figures, so far all Republicans, being announced almost hourly — political insiders are wringing their hands over what it will all mean to Trump's electoral fate, not to mention that of the Republican Party. "It's hard to imagine this doesn't end his hopes of re-election," Rob Stutzman, a Republican consultant, told the New York Times on Friday morning, pointing to Trump's "flouting of obvious precautions." One White House political adviser told reporters for the Times that Trump's "recklessness … amounted to a political 'disaster.'"

Trump's failures with COVID have gone from the political to the personal. If only one person who attended that fundraiser with Trump dies from COVID, his "extreme indifference to human life" will make him liable to a manslaughter charge in the state of New Jersey.

That's a reminder, as if we needed one, that it's not political careers that are ending out there, it's human lives. Now Trump is sick and in the hospital. If he dies, all his life will amount to in the end will be one more statistic.

The Supreme Court is finished -- Republicans have killed it

Call it what it already is: Donald Trump's Supreme Court, and it's as corrupt as he is, as cynical as he is, as outright stupid as he is, as racist as he is, as fascist as he is. The Republican Party killed it, and Trump is driving another nail in its coffin with the nomination of arch-conservative Catholic Amy Coney Barrett. RBG is gone, and look at who Barrett will join: Clarence Thomas? A clown. Samuel Alito? A rubber-stamp hack. Neil Gorsuch? A replacement bell-ringer for racism. Brett Kavanaugh? A weepy beer-swilling prep-monster. John Roberts? He wrote the brilliant line, "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race." Tell that to George Floyd, Johnny boy.

This article first appeared in Salon.

But they know the job they've been put there to do. Trump as much as told them this week when he said, "I think it's very important that we have nine justices. It's better if you go before the election, because I think this scam that the Democrats are pulling — it's a scam — the scam will be before the United States Supreme Court."

There it is, folks, right out in the open. The "scam" Trump is referring to is voting for Joe Biden. He may look like he's contesting the election on the campaign trail, screeching and hissing and sniffling at his rallies, thumbing out his endless apocalyptic fascist tweets, threatening to jail his opponents and throwing other chunks of red meat to his ravenous racist hordes. But don't be fooled. The Republican Party has been counting on the courts to win their elections for decades. Trump's real "base" is his five, and soon six, voters on the Supreme Court.

These cynical bastards have been playing the long game. They have been looking out there on their golf fairways, and they've seen who's riding the mowers and trimming the bushes and grooming the greens. They have looked at the workers on the floors of their chicken factories, and manning the counters of their fast food empires, and they have walked past their own housekeepers and nannies who are watching over their own children. They are surrounded by brown people and Black people, even in their own homes and in their own businesses. They know what's coming. The Republican Party is out of the closet as the White Party in a country that is inexorably turning browner and blacker and more Asian, peopled with more, not fewer, immigrants. How else do you account for the rise to power of Stephen Miller and Ken Cuccinelli and their ilk? They're in government to do the bidding of their masters, to slow down the brown horde, to throw sand in the gears of a demographic machine that is slowly grinding their political future into electoral hamburger.

They know it's getting harder and harder for them to win at the ballot box. Look at what happened to them in 2018. The last two Republican presidents lost the popular vote and yet attained the White House by way of narrow wins in the Electoral College. Why do you think they established the Federalist Society, the right-wing finishing school for judgeships that has provided the Republicans with virtually every one of its 300 appointments to the federal bench under McConnell and Trump? Why do you think they consciously defenestrated the Voting Rights Act with Shelby County v. Holder, Chief Justice John Roberts' gift to his Republican masters? Because they were looking for more fairness in the nation's electoral process? Please. That decision threw the door open to the greatest racist fiddling with the electoral process since Jim Crow. It's the reason we're going into the election of 2020 with such uncertainty about who is eligible to vote and where, what the rules are for voting by mail, which polling places will be open, and whether or not the voting machines will even work. They don't want voting. They want chaos.

They've turned the courts into a kennel for right-wing puppies, willing to sit there with floppy ears and their tongues out, panting and waiting to decide cases in favor of the billionaires who put them there. That's why there is a cottage industry of right-wing legal groups like Judicial Watch, Alliance Defending Freedom, Claremont Institute and the Center for Individual Rights, all of them funded by tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions in right-wing money. They make no bones about the fact that their job is to go out looking for plaintiffs to sue on behalf of big business and right-wing political interests to overturn laws they don't like. They have been behind the challenges to the Affordable Care Act and every anti-abortion lawsuit ever filed, not to mention suits against immigrant rights, civil rights, LGBT rights — you name it. And waiting in federal courthouses all over the country are Trump and Mitch McConnell's judicial poodles.

Trump and McConnell and the rest of them have packed the Supreme Court and every level of federal bench beneath it with unqualified goofs and loons and dominionists and members of religious secret societies and misogynists and drooling, ignorant losers. Hearings of the Senate Judiciary Committee over the last three years have been overwhelmed by inexperienced hacks who couldn't answer simple questions from Democratic senators that pointed straight to their lack of qualifications for the federal bench. Every one of them was approved on party-line votes. The amazing thing is that even with all of his goofs on the court, whenever he sees a verdict or judge's sentence he doesn't like, he issues a pardon, commutes a sentence, or sics his chief attack dog, William Barr, on it.

You don't need to hear from me about the travesty of McConnell's treatment of the Merrick Garland nomination, and I'm so tired of typing the word "hypocrisy" I've got carpal-tunnel syndrome. Suffice to say the Republican Party has trashed political norms, broken promises, lied, cheated and stolen to get control of the judicial branch of government. They have turned the federal courts into an outpost of their party, and like their party, they want it all white, or nearly so. Eighty-five percent of Trump's appointments have been white.

We're at a point in our political history as a nation where the only outrage left to commit in pursuit of winning at all costs by the Republican Party is murder. With Trump's outright worship of Putin visible on a daily basis, and his celebration of violence against protesters and journalists at his rallies, we don't have long to wait.

All you have to do is recall any individual 60 seconds of the hearing to confirm their last nominee for the Supreme Court, Squi's best friend Brett Kavanaugh, to know that the Republican Party has engaged in a scorched-earth strategy when it comes to the federal judiciary.

It's time for Democrats to grab a proverbial can of gasoline and a pack of matches. McConnell and Trump want to pack the courts with obedient little Republican replicants? OK, let's put them to work. The Constitution won't allow the Congress to cut the pay of judges, but a Democratic House and Senate and a Democrat in the White House can reduce the pay of everyone else on the federal payroll in a courthouse. Most federal district court judges have one or two clerks. How about this: How about zero money for zero clerks? Let Trump's 300 judges do some work for a change. Same thing for the Supreme Court. Each justice currently has four clerks. How does providing pay for one clerk sound? And how about that Supreme Court gym? Close it. Write some rules constraining the justices' ability to accept gifts like invitations to private golf clubs and lunches at country clubs, invitations to give speeches or to accept rides on private jets. Supreme Court justices make $255,300 a year, but they live the lifestyles of corporate CEOs who make millions. Make them live within their means.

But just because we're nice, let's give them less work to do. Article III, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, enumerating the powers of the judiciary, contains this little gem: "In all the other Cases before mentioned, the supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make." That gives the Congress the power to limit which laws are subject to judicial review, and "under such regulations," how they are reviewed. I personally see a lot of opportunity for congressional meddling in the powers of the judiciary — as in, stripping away its powers.

Here's the fallacy of the Republican Party's strategy of converting the courts into a political battleground. The legitimacy of the Supreme Court and every other court depends on its decisions being respected by the Congress, the president and the people. Let's try withholding our respect for a change.

Bob Woodward may have identified Donald Trump's worst -- and most fatal -- flaw

According to interviews recorded by Bob Woodward for his book, "Rage," Donald Trump was briefed by national security adviser Robert O'Brien on Jan. 28 of this year that the coronavirus "will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency," that the virus was five times more deadly than ordinary flu, that it was spread when "you just breathe the air," and that it would soon become a worldwide pandemic. At the moment Trump told Woodward these things, on Feb. 7, the president had one job: Persuade the American people to work together to deal effectively with this threat to their health and well-being.

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Slow-motion mass hysteria at the Republican convention as Trump senses doom

I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall as Donald Trump's dosage-tuning was done by a team of crack drug-doctors in an anteroom of the White House before he gave his Big Speech on Thursday night. Hand me that penlight, Tom. I want to give his pupils another quick check. His anisocoria looked a little pronounced when we hit him with the last dose a while ago … look right, Mr. President … now look left for me … that's good … uuuhhh … just as I thought. We better hit him with another two cc's before we give the OK to push him out there. If we don't get him tuned up just right, he'll never make it down those steps from the back portico…

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