Michael Winship

Trump's childhood fear of humiliation is inspiring a petty fit of vengeance on the entire country

In Mary L. Trump's book about her family, Too Much and Never Enough, there's a moment referred to in the index as the "mashed potatoes incident."

Apparently, young Donald was a major pill almost from birth, undisciplined, rude and nasty to his siblings and his mother. One night at dinner, he was, as usual, picking on his younger brother Robert. He had the boy in tears. Older brother Fred, Jr., then 14, intervened.

"Robert's crying and Donald's needling became too much," Mary Trump writes, "and in a moment of improvised expedience that would become family legend, Freddy picked up the first thing at hand that wouldn't cause any real damage: the bowl of mashed potatoes.

Everybody laughed and they couldn't stop laughing. And they were laughing at Donald. It was the first time Donald had been humiliated by someone he even then believed to be beneath him… From then on, he would wield the weapon, never be at the sharp end of it.

On November 3, a majority of voters dumped mashed potatoes on Donald Trump's head and he's still screaming from the injustice of it all. Despite overwhelming evidence that he lost the election, he continues to falsely bellow "Fraud!" via his Twitter feed and pursues one frivolous lawsuit after another to challenge the result, all to no avail. So far. (As of this writing, he and the Republican Party were 0-25.)

Meanwhile, he fired Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, installed Trump loyalists at the Pentagon, and terminated Chris Krebs, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), who had the audacity to do an exemplary job keeping this year's voting free and clear of hacking and other interference. "In every case of which we are aware," Krebs had announced, "these claims either have been unsubstantiated or are technically incoherent"— flying in the face of Trump's post-election attempts to flood the zone and work the refs with wild-eyed lies and conspiracy theories.

Judges are viewing his legal team's frantic fantasies with derision and contempt and lawyers have been dropping the Trump campaign like the proverbial hot un-mashed potato it is to the extent that clown prince Rudy Giuliani is now heading up the legal effort.

I'm hard-pressed to immediately come up with someone who needs to be twelve-stepped more than our city's former mayor. Rudy, who has not argued before a federal court in 28 years, appeared in one on Tuesday to argue on behalf of a case claiming voting irregularities in four Pennsylvania counties.

"The Trump campaign came in through Mr. Giuliani asserting a fantasy world," Mark Aronchick, attorney for the counties, told MSNBC's Chris Hayes. "It was a case that somehow involves 11 different states in a gigantic conspiracy with the biggest cities in the United States all joining in to somehow manufacture votes and change mail-in ballots, and somehow throw the election to Joe Biden. And I sat there dumbfounded because the story that was presented by Mr. Giuliani bore no relationship to the actual complaint in the case… Nothing that they said actually makes sense."

To which the perplexed judge replied, "At bottom, you're asking this court to invalidate some 6.8 million votes thereby disenfranchising every single voter in the commonwealth. Can you tell me how this result could possibly be justified?"

None of this has deterred the Trump campaign and the GOP itself from trying to disenfranchise voters and in particular, voters of color. Republican interest in protecting the vote or preserving democracy is virtually non-existent. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham in particular seems to have shown a willingness to subvert the democratic process, allegedly approaching Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger to suggest that he "look hard and see how many ballots you could throw out." That much of their focus seems to be on voters in Black communities tells you all you need to know.

As reported in The Washington Post Wednesday night, one of Trump's latest ploys, with the help of Giuliani, is to convince Republican legislators in key states to stall certification of the election and have GOP-chosen electors disrupt the Electoral College come December.

"But that outcome appears impossible," the Post notes. "It is against the law in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin law gives no role to the legislature in choosing presidential electors, and there is little public will in other states to pursue such a path.

Behind the thin legal gambit is what several Trump advisers say is his real goal: sowing doubt in Biden's victory with the president's most ardent supporters and keeping alive his prospects for another presidential run in 2024.

Further, the Associated Press reported Thursday morning, "Getting nowhere in the courts, President Donald Trump's scattershot effort to overturn President-elect Joe Biden's victory is shifting toward obscure election boards that certify the vote as Trump and his allies seek to upend the electoral process, sow chaos and perpetuate unsubstantiated doubts about the count." Hence the craziness among Republican canvassers in Wayne County (Detroit), Michigan and in Arizona and other states.

Ugh on about 16 different levels. It's painfully clear that the next two months before Joe Biden's swearing-in will be all about Trump's petty vengeance and the Republicans building on resentments. Given what Trump's been up to since Election Day (and his sordid history embracing birtherism and other canards), it feels as if these eight weeks will be a concentrated Reader's Digest version of his entire administration, fueled with spittle, bile, ignorance and cupidity.

As insane and silly as it all seems, we cannot drop our guard for an instant. We'll need to remain vigilant; they are doing everything they can, no matter how illegal and repugnant, to stay in power. When they finally are forced to vacate, they'll leave behind a scorched earth the new Biden administration will struggle to coax back to life.

Trump never has been what you'd call a hands-on president—unless it served his self-interest or desire to create havoc. But now, as a result of his monumental, post-election petulance, even less than usual is getting done—except for his election chicanery (and the announcement of major troop withdrawals in Afghanistan and Iraq with more anticipated in Germany and South Korea, a potentially disastrous move).

Congress is hamstrung, unable to pass a new Covid-19 relief bill, and with a fully tested vaccine still weeks away, the deadly virus has exploded across the country more severely and widely than ever before, further proof of just how badly Trump has handled this disaster from the start. Now he peevishly refuses to allow the Biden transition team to work with the White House coronavirus task force—while simultaneously denying the president-elect access to national security briefings. This is graceless and stupid, verging on the traitorous.

So far, most of his colleagues at the White House and on Capitol Hill continue to coddle the infantile behavior of the president, perhaps hopeful that his legal eagles accidentally will stumble into some mass plot that upturns the results. Keep in mind that there are motives behind this effort that go beyond Trump's whining Baby Herman act—he and the party are raising significant amounts of money for his so-called defense fund. And Republicans leaders continue to placate their nutty boss, hoping he'll campaign for the two GOP U.S. Senate candidates in Georgia's January 5 runoff and allow them to hold onto the Senate majority.

As childish as Trumps' tantrums are, as mentioned, he's also hard at work using the attacks to keep his base in line for a 2024 candidacy—all (gulp) 73 million of them. There will be a huge advance for a memoir for sure, and his own TV network, maybe a radio talk show. Perhaps his pal Mark Burnett will come up with a new reality game show, a cross between "The Apprentice" and "Dancing with the Stars." Trump will serve as sole judge, kneecapping with a baseball bat the contestants he just doesn't like.

Also part of his rage, of course, is the knowledge that even if he pardons himself or a freshly sworn-in temporary President Pence does it for him right before Biden's inauguration, state and local lawsuits are out there waiting for Trump, and no presidential pardon can protect him unless, foolishly, prosecutors decide to drop charges in the name of Americans' purported need for harmony, peace and a return to normal. Gerald Ford fell for that trick when he pardoned Nixon in 1974; this is no time for Mister Nice Guy.

In the end, Republicans, all you're doing is delaying the inevitable while grievously damaging the country and its democracy. This isn't governing, it's thuggish stalling, damaging the transition by choosing malignant selfishness over patriotism and truth.

And for what? Face it, you're covering for a psychopath, a petty tyrant with the scruples of a scorpion. You'll look swell in the history books kissing the hem of your two-bit Caligula. Please pass the mashed potatoes, there's a job to be done.

Michael Winship is the Schumann Senior Writing Fellow for Common Dreams. Previously, he was the Emmy Award-winning senior writer for Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, a past senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos, and former president of the Writers Guild of America East. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWinship

Trump has found his very own Dr. Death

After all this time, most of us realize that Donald Trump is a Russian asset. Not that he's a secret mole necessarily or even The Manchurian Candidate, but Vladimir Putin plays him like a balalaika strumming Song of the Volga Boatmen.

No one but the two of them knows with absolute certainty why this is—whether it's money-related (probably) or something else—but unwittingly or not, the cash-strapped president's certainly playing the "useful idiot" role so beloved in spy fiction and such TV shows as "Homeland." Doubtless to Putin's delight, a second term would see an even more concerted effort on Trump's part to tear apart the NATO alliance and other vital international coalitions, not to mention a further fracturing of these United States.

What's more, the intelligence community has made us aware, in no uncertain terms, that Russian cybermeddling in our election is still hammering away at American social media with trolls, bots and fake websites favoring Trump, and that he has been informed that Rudy Giuliani is a primary conduit for made-in-Russia leaks and misinformation about Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Trump waved the allegations aside.

One of Rudy's main sources is discredited Ukrainian Andriy Derkach, described by the US Treasury department as "an active Russian agent for over a decade, maintaining close connections with the Russian intelligence services." Nonetheless, Rupert Murdoch's New York Post has been publishing this rubbish (to the horror of many in its newsroom) and the primetime marionettes of Fox have pumped and bumped the story like a trumpet, even though the channel's own news department doubted its veracity.

But this week, what strikes me as particularly in the style of the old Soviet Union are the actions of Dr. Scott Atlas, the neuroradiologist with absolutely no experience in virology, immunology or public health who Trump has plucked from the toxic airwaves of Fox to take over the increasingly moribund coronavirus task force.

As per The Washington Post:

Atlas shot down attempts to expand testing. He openly feuded with other doctors on the coronavirus task force and succeeded in largely sidelining them. He advanced fringe theories, such as that social distancing and mask-wearing were meaningless and would not have changed the course of the virus in several hard-hit areas. And he advocated allowing infections to spread naturally among most of the population while protecting the most vulnerable and those in nursing homes until the United States reaches herd immunity, which experts say would cause excess deaths, according to three current and former senior administration officials.
Atlas also cultivated Trump's affection with his public assertions that the pandemic is nearly over, despite death and infection counts showing otherwise, and his willingness to tell the public that a vaccine could be developed before the Nov. 3 election, despite clear indications of a slower timetable.
Atlas's ascendancy was apparent during a recent Oval Office meeting. After Trump left the room, Atlas startled other aides by walking behind the Resolute Desk and occupying the president's personal space to keep the meeting going, according to one senior administration official. Atlas called this account 'false and laughable.'

Colleagues described Atlas as "ill-informed, manipulative and at times dishonest." So as I read and listened to these reports, the someone who Atlas' actions and personality reminded me of the most was a controversial figure from the Soviet Union's Stalinist era: Trofim Lysenko – a man who, as Sam Kean wrote for The Atlantic a few years ago, "probably killed more human beings than any individual scientist in history."

Lysenko, a biologist—sort of—rejected the science of genetics in favor of screwy theories that said the environment in which crops are grown was far more important than a plant species' genetic code. Food could be made to grow in the dead of winter, for example, if you soaked the seeds in cold water.

His nutty ideas were embraced by Soviet officials as properly Marxist. Russia was wracked by famine and death. Collective farms were a failure so Stalin put Lysenko in charge. The pseudoscientist helped make it even worse. Kean notes, "Wheat, rye, potatoes, beets—most everything grown according to Lysenko's methods died or rotted… Stalin still deserves the bulk of the blame for the famines, which killed at least 7 million people, but Lysenko's practices prolonged and exacerbated the food shortages. (Deaths from the famines peaked around 1932 to 1933, but four years later, after a 163-fold increase in farmland cultivated using Lysenko's methods, food production was actually lower than before.)"

Communist China adopted his methods, too—30 million died from starvation.

Russian scientists who dissented from the Lysenko school of humbug wound up denounced and jobless. Many were sent to prison and several were executed. His influence finally waned after the death of Stalin in 1953 although he remained at his job until 1965. Lysenko set back Russian agriculture by at least half a century.

Oddly enough, in Putin's Russia today, there has been a bit of a revival of interest in Lysenko's crackpot theories, in part because of an overall distrust in science and expertise. In other words, if Trump and Dr. Scott Atlas are any indication, Lysenko would fit right in at this White House.

Despite having contracted coronavirus himself, Trump still eschews masks and social distancing, attacks the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the FDA, then insults Dr. Anthony Fauci, the pandemic's trusted voice of reason, as "an idiot" and "a disaster." He mocks Joe Biden for listening to "the scientists," says he's "tired of covid," of talking about and hearing about the pandemic, poor thing. He'd rather throw mudballs, hurl scurrilous QAnon conspiracy theories, egg on armed extremists and yell at his rallies that he wants to throw Biden in jail on bogus criminal charges – anything to distract and keep from talking about an estimated 225,000 dead Americans by Election Day, 400,000 by year's end. In fact, according to the CDC, if we count undiagnosed cases and COVID-related sickness and death, the terrible human toll already is closer to 300,000.

COVID-19 is on the rise in forty states. On Sunday's Meet the Press, Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, warned Chuck Todd, "The next six-to-12 weeks are going to be the darkest of the entire pandemic. Vaccines will not become available in any meaningful way until early to third quarter of next year. And even then, half of the U.S. population, at this point, is skeptical of even taking the vaccine… [P]eople don't know what to believe. And that's one of our huge challenges going forward, is we've got to get the message to the public that reflects the science and reflects reality."

But the message from Trump and Dr. Atlas remains one of denial. Trump says the disease "is disappearing," that a vaccine is imminent. And just this past weekend, Atlas tried tweeting that masks are useless, only to have his message rejected by Twitter for misinformation. Although Atlas denies he supports the idea of herd immunity – letting the disease rage through the population until it burns out – he recently endorsed the so-called "Great Barrington Declaration," a pro-herd immunity document conjured by researchers affiliated with the libertarian American Institute for Economic Research and, as reported by The New York Times opposed by eighty "alarmed and angry" experts believing that "the declaration's approach would endanger Americans who have underlying conditions that put them at high risk from severe Covid-19—at least one-third of U.S. citizens, by most estimates—and result in perhaps a half-million deaths."

The bottom line is that Trump suffers from a different virulent disease, a callous indolence complicated by indifference and a lack of compassion, not to be unexpected from a lazy and ignorant man who has never worked an honest day in his life. When the nation fell deathly ill, he failed to do what needed to be done and now embraces Atlas as an expert who reverse engineers the president's lassitude and apathy and tries to make it look like smart policy. Marc Lipsitch, director of Harvard's Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics said it well, telling The Washington Post, "If your goal is to do nothing, then you create a situation in which it looks okay to do nothing [and] you find some experts to make it complicated."

If you would seek an elected official who seems to know what he's doing—at least on the pandemic front—look again to New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, who, for all his many faults and infuriating anti-reform efforts, has managed to preside over a largely successful statewide campaign against COVID. (Although as The New Yorker's Nick Paumgarten recently pointed out, "Many of the moves Cuomo made in the earliest days of the pandemic were indicative of a governing style often hampered by political calculation and personal pique.")

Watch his media briefing this past Sunday, when he made a thoughtful presentation on vaccines and what needs to be addressed before successful inoculations can be administered to vast numbers of people. Some have suggested that he would make an excellent pandemic czar in a Biden administration; theoretically, a job he could hold while continuing as governor—much as Fiorello LaGuardia ran the nation's civil defense during World War II yet remained mayor of New York City.

In Scott Atlas, Donald Trump has found his Dr. Death, a Lysenko-like sidekick to the Superman that the president fantasizes himself to be. Yet in reality, this horrific pandemic turns out to be the Kryptonite that may take away his real and imagined political powers and send him, weakened and alone, back to the dark Bizarro world from whence he came.

Michael Winship is the Schumann Senior Writing Fellow for Common Dreams. Previously, he was the Emmy Award-winning senior writer for Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, a past senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos, and former president of the Writers Guild of America East. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWinship

A national meltdown: Why Trump's debate ploy backfired miserably

Years ago, when I was a high school sophomore, at the beginning of the academic year one of our teachers gave us an assignment to come up with ideas to reform the American political system.

Dutiful wonk that I was even then, I came up with my list of serious, thoughtful changes not all that different from a lot of what we're still debating today—abolishing the Electoral College, an end to gerrymandering, making voter registration automatic, etc.

A friend and classmate, more sharp-witted than I, chose the satirical route instead, and to the horror of our teacher came up with a spot-on takedown of modern government, a parody of contemporary politics.

As I recall, her report ended with the presidential election being determined by a mud wrestling match in Madison Square Garden. It made more sense and possessed more dignity and class than the horror show that unfurled before the world Tuesday night in what laughingly was billed as the first debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

Just minutes in, Trump turned it into a travesty; bellowing, repeatedly interrupting and talking out of turn, lying, pigheadedly violating the agreements carefully worked out by the official Commission on Presidential Debates and both campaign staffs for a proper discussion of policy. At a time when we're desperate for rational solutions, Trump was the proverbial bull in the china shop of democracy, and when he was done there was barely a piece of porcelain left intact. He acted as if this was one of his rallies, God help us, playing to our lowest animal instincts and insulting our intelligence.

Throughout his life and so-called career, Trump has always insisted that rules are for suckers and don't apply to him—he can shoot a person on Fifth Avenue, grab a woman by her genitals, refuse to pay his millions of debt—and last night was no exception. By all accounts, what happened Tuesday is what he planned all along. Maybe it satisfied his bloodthirsty, delusional base, stewing in a toxic soup of Fox News and QAnon conspiracies, but for most of us it was one more manifestation of the tragedy imposed on the nation—and the world—by a megalomaniac with nary a scruple or a scintilla of human kindness.

Behind in the polls, perhaps it was an act of desperation on his part, as some have suggested, a ploy to make Biden seem weak. If so, it backfired miserably and was just a further demonstration of why he is the worst president in the history of the United States—and we've had some beauts. Unfit for office, corrupt, delusional: a real triple threat. He must not receive a second term.

As many have noted, the lowest moment—the Badwater Basin at the bottom of a Death Valley-like rhetorical debacle—was Trump's refusal to condemn white supremacy and issuing what essentially was a call-to-arms to the Proud Boys, the right-wing racist thugs who are welcomed by many Republicans, and who frequently show up at peaceful protests to taunt, incite and bust some heads. Trump's people deny it's what he meant but the fringe group already has made his "Stand Back and Stand By" a new battle cry.

Further, when moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump if he would "urge your supporters to stay calm during this extended period [of ballot-counting], not to engage in any civil unrest," Trump refused and said, "I'm urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully because that's what has to happen. I am urging them to do it." With that kind of encouragement, harassment on Election Day could make the 2000 Brooks Brothers riot look like a tea dance. Advice: Don't watch that movie The Purge or any of its sequels between now and the resolution of this election; it's a little too close to the bone right now.

Washington Post national correspondent Philip Bump writes, "What Trump is obviously encouraging is to poll watching what armed militias are to police: self-appointed experts whose priority is less keeping order than confronting perceived enemies. It wasn't the first time that Trump had similarly called on his supporters to serve in that capacity, but it was probably the call that had the largest audience." Very scary stuff.

In the end, few, if any, minds were changed Tuesday night: as Republican analyst Mike Murphy succinctly said post-debate on MSNBC, "Men are split on Trump and women hate him." Those against him may have been galvanized by the president's rants to work even harder to get out the vote, an excellent thing, but others may have been so turned off by this Hindenburg explosion of an evening that they won't cast a ballot at all. What does this one-man riot tell them about our political system? And as for the next Biden-Trump debates, who's going to want to watch? I live in Manhattan; if I want that kind of twisted human turbulence, I can walk around my block a couple of times and get it out of my system.

For me, perhaps one of the defining moments came when Trump had launched into another incoherent harangue about Biden's son Hunter and then falsely claimed that his own children had "lost a fortune… by coming down and helping us with governance." Biden replied—addressing the camera in the way that was his safe haven several times during this melee—"This is not about my family or his family. It's about your family, the American people… You, the American people, it's about you. That's what we're talking about here."

Would that it was so. Right now at least, our American family is dysfunctional, led by a power mad liar. And almost half our relations have lost their ever-loving collective minds.

Bring on my high school pal's mud wrestling idea; it's nowhere near as filthy or frightening as this national meltdown.

Michael Winship is the Schumann Senior Writing Fellow for Common Dreams. Previously, he was the Emmy Award-winning senior writer for Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, a past senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos, and former president of the Writers Guild of America East. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWinship

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