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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• White House adviser Hope Hicks and assistant Nicholas Luna

• First lady Melania Trump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nixon's authoritarianism led us to Trump — and we must finally address the root of the problem

After Richard Nixon resigned from office in the wake of the Watergate scandal, the Congress set out to create numerous reforms designed to rein in future presidents. After all, Nixon had set forth a view of the presidency that was downright un-American: "If the president does it it's not illegal," essentially saying that no law can apply to the executive branch.

The legal system had worked, up to a point. Twenty-two members of the Nixon administration were convicted of crimes pertaining to Watergate. Most of them did time in prison, including the White House chief of staff and the attorney general. Nixon himself was guilty of numerous crimes but was never tried for any of them because he was pardoned by his successor, Gerald Ford. But much of what Nixon did wasn't illegal. It was unethical, immoral and totally disrespectful of any and all norms of decent leadership. It turns out that those kinds of transgressions are even harder to check than rank criminality.

There were committee investigations, such as the Church Committee in the Senate and the Pike Committee in the House which delved deeply into the intelligence community's abuses, resulting in the permanent select committees on intelligence in each chamber. Later reforms required the president to inform congressional leaders of both parties prior to major covert actions, and for leaders of the CIA to regularly brief the committees.

Unfortunately, those reforms were of limited utility. The Iran-Contra scandal and the pardons that followed mocked the idea of intelligence oversight. The CIA black sites and torture program program during the George W. Bush administration pretty much destroyed the illusion that Congress had any control over the intelligence services. Throughout this period, the War Powers Act, which was enacted over Nixon's veto in the first place, has been a joke. As for campaign finance and ethics reforms, well, those were nice ideas. The Supreme Court took care of the first with the Citizens United ruling, and the second turns out to be almost entirely dependent on a sense of shame — a thing that turns out to be easily discarded.

And yet, for all of that, no one has come close to abusing the power of the presidency as Donald Trump has done. He didn't do it on his own. Yes, his personal inclination has been to treat the government as his private fiefdom, demanding loyalty oaths, conducting purges and using the office for his personal profit. But people such as Attorney General Bill Barr and others in right-wing legal circles who were politically baptized by Nixon's downfall have used Trump's authoritarian instincts to institute the "imperial presidency" that Nixon once espoused.

When Trump says "I have an Article II that says I can do anything I want," he didn't get that idea from reading the Constitution. He has obviously never done that, and wouldn't understand it anyway. He has been told this by people who believe very strongly in unaccountable presidential power: "If the president does it, it's not illegal." Barr's covering for Trump's obstruction of justice in the Mueller probe, the White House refusal to cooperate with Congress, the assertion of novel rationales that render oversight null and void and the Department of Justice claiming that personal cases against Trump come under the rubric of presidential immunity, among many other instances are not just exercises in Trumpian corruption. They are assertions of executive power way beyond anything that Nixon, Reagan or Bush ever thought of.

That's not Trump. It's a Republican power grab, and it's just one of many we've seen coming from the right in recent years. This authoritarian strain of thought has been with us at least since the Nixon era and it's metastasizing.

I wrote the other day that should the Democrats win the presidency and the Senate they must take the necessary step of expanding the Supreme Court. There has also been considerable discussion about getting rid of the Senate filibuster and granting statehood to Washington, D.C. These ideas and others are starting to make people nervous.

The Washington Post published an essay by Harvard historian and New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore this past weekend in which she argues against one of the ideas percolating on the left: that a "Truth and Reconciliation Commission" is needed to examine what happened during the Trump administration. This idea stems from the suspicion that the law will not adequately deal with a corrupt former president and his accomplices. I suspect that many people believe that our system is so damaged at this point that Congress will be unable to properly handle the task of unraveling this disaster and putting it right. So something like a truth and reconciliation commission comes into play since that would make it possible for the truth to come out, even if no legal penalties for the abuses that took place are likely or possible. At least we would know.

Lepore doesn't think the situation is grave enough for that. Trump can be dealt with by journalists and historians; Congress will carry on with passing legislation. But as you can see, we've been dealing with this for more than 40 years and it's just getting worse and worse.

Donald Trump has turned 40% of the country into his private cult. The Republican Party has become radical, corrupt and power-mad and America is now seen as a rogue superpower around the world, unpredictable and dangerous. We're being tested by foreign adversaries and we don't seem to be able to respond. The nation's economic situation is dire and nearly a quarter of a million people have died in the last eight months because our system is so broken. The racial injustice at the heart of our society has become too much to bear.

Journalism and history, in Lepore's view, are going to keep us tethered to the truth? There is an entire right-wing information ecosystem based on lies and fantasy. We live in an age where tens of millions of people live in an alternate reality, believing that the Democratic Party is run by a Satanic pedophile cult and that John F. Kennedy Jr. is coming back from the dead to help Donald Trump save the children.

We are in very big trouble.

Our immediate survival depends upon electing new leadership — that much is true. Our democracy is under stress but it may not yet be so damaged that we can't make that happen. But whether it's a truth and reconciliation commission or a "presidential crimes commission" made up of independent prosecutors, as Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., has suggested, or some other mechanism by which we document what has happened and attempt to hold people accountable, we need something. Otherwise I'm afraid we'll just let it all slide out into the ether as if nothing happened at all. Until it happens again.

For more than 40 years the U.S. has been heading down this path, sometimes pushed back by various institutions that were designed in the wake of Watergate to keep it from going too far. But those institutions have been failing for a while and I don't think we can survive another onslaught, especially if someone smarter than Donald Trump comes along and picks up the the tools that Bill Barr and others have provided them. The Democrats must do their duty and deal with this now.

Trump’s top health official lies and says the US is doing as well as the rest of the world on COVID

The Trump administration is a disaster. It was a garbage fire when it began, but that ongoing fire, stoked by the entire Republican Party, has led to an increase in authoritarian use of law enforcement and ICE forces to dehumanize people all across our country. On top of all of that, the bad economic policies and general culture of avarice and self-serving incompetence promoted by Trump and the Republican Party have led us to the precipice of an economic depression, and a public health crisis the likes of which has not been seen in generations has pushed that depression into the territory of collapse.

With just over two weeks until Election Day, Trump's surrogates—the ones not sick with COVID-19 or hiding out to pretend they aren't still milking the poisonous Trump cow—have taken to the airwaves to pretend everything is going according to plan. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar was on Meet the Press Sunday, to implore Americans in his most imploring-sounding voice, to wear masks and follow the basic general protections against spreading the COVID-19 virus that experts have been promoting since the beginning of this pandemic. Azar even scripted his statement as a plea to Chuck Todd's "viewers." This, obviously, surprised even Meet The Press host Chuck Todd, since Donald Trump and his administration have done the opposite now for, oh, about ... seven months.

Secretary Azar's message to Chuck Todd's viewers was specifically about large "indoor gatherings." This is relevant due to upcoming Halloween festivities and Thanksgiving celebrations. Todd remarked that Azar's statement was strange considering that just last week, Azar attended an indoor rally with President Trump—the same President Trump that still may very well be COVID-19 positive. Azar said that everyone at the indoor rally was socially distanced—sort of—and were all offered masks. Of course, this means nothing if you don't wear said mask. Todd pointed out that the message being sent doesn't seem consistent, as states like Wisconsin see surges in COVID-19 cases, while Donald Trump flies into those areas to promote big superspreader events.

It is here that Azar attempts to promote misinformation that does two things: It attempts at justifying the Trump administration's current anti-public health farewell tour, while also absolving the administration's criminally negligent handling of a pandemic that has claimed almost a quarter of a million American lives. Azar says that lots of countries in lockdown are having big surges. The implication here is that you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.

This isn't true. The fact of the matter is that the United States, for the first time in years, is actually No. 1 in the world in something: death rates due to COVID-19 and death rates in general during the pandemic. We are also a leader in the world in cases per 100,000 and deaths per 100,000. I guess Azar is talking about how places like Aruba and Bahrain have a worse case rate? Todd asks why it's been so "difficult for the president" to promote a public health message that would actually save thousands, if not tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of lives.

ALEX AZAR: I think it's a difficult message for all western democracies. We're seeing that in Europe. The American people have given so much. People of Europe have given so much, Chuck. They've been locked down, isolated. But they're tired. But the point is, we're so close. Hang in there with us. We're so close ...

Azar has been a Trump hack throughout this process and can be justifiably blamed for much of the misinformation and confusion among certain sections of the American public in regard to COVID-19. He has attacked Americans and frontline responders instead of the virus. If we lived in a just universe, Alex Azar would soon find himself doing some prison time along with the hundreds of Republican operatives and scam artists who have brought us to where we are now.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar says wear a mask but that it doesn't really matter www.youtube.com

Here's what Donald Trump's hatred of women reveals about his psyche

by Bud McClure

Trump's hatred of women and his rejection of the feminine are confirmed by his behavior on a daily basis. Confronted with a black woman opponent, Kamala Harris, his self-loathing is expressed through his projection of his rejected feminine side and his shadow complex. A psychological perspective on this phenomena is informed by Mary Trump's book Too Much and Not Enough which details the early childhood wounding that led to Trump's dysfunction behavior. For a full analysis of Trump's pathology read Dr. Brandy Lee's, a forensic psychiatrist, book The Dangerous Case of Donald. There is also a new film #Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump.

The psychologist Carl Jung proposed that males and females have contrasexual archetypal traits. The male has a feminine side known as the anima and the masculine side of the female is known as the animus. These archetypes are idealized images. In young people these archetypes remain undeveloped and are mainly expressed through projection onto others. For example, a young man who is attracted to a woman will project his ideal feminine, the anima, onto her. Initially she will try to match that projection through her behavior. This requires considerable energy. No matter what she does, she will never live up the man's ideal image. As the woman reveals more of her real self, the projection wanes and the real relationship can begin. The same phenomenon occurs for women through the projection of the animus onto male suitors.

Jung proposed that as we grow older, we integrate these contrasexual images. The man becomes more feminine and the female more masculine. This is known as individualization, is a lifelong process. We may ultimately integrate all aspects of the self and become whole. The more integrated we become the less likely we are to project these archetypal images onto others. However, for many males this integration never talks place. There are various reasons including the influence of sociocultural factors and family of origins.

The complex relationship between psychological development and socialization of men that begins at birth is captured eloquently by Teresa Bernardez. She suggests that because of socialization there is a cultural injunction against appearing to be like a female or exhibiting characteristics associated with being feminine. In our culture, the feminine is stereotyped as weak, helpless, and less competent than the male. Affect, empathy and other feminine characteristics are belittled and rejected as unmanly. A counter-identification process can take place. Men divorce themselves from traits that are seen as female-like or even those associated with the mother. Bernardez argues this negative view of women or the feminine causes an internal struggle within the male to control those unwanted feminine aspects of self by projecting them outward onto women.

Bernardez summarizes, "The male thus controls the female aspects of himself that he fears and devalues. The domination of women is encouraged by the culture, but its strength comes from the need of males to control and domi­nate the female-self in themselves."

From this perspective, when a man encounters a strong women, a woman in power or a woman in a leadership position, he feels out-of-control. He may even fear that the woman controls him and forces upon him the very feminine characteristics he eschews - dependency, submissiveness and compliance.

As Mary Trump reports in her book, Donald was abandoned by his mother and ignored by his father. His early socialization of women was very negative. His mother was sickly and not involved in any parenting role. His father was disinterested in him and preferred work. His father ruled his house "under a dark, oppressive cloud of psychological and emotional abuse."

Both of his parents were haunted by their own pathology and had little interest or ability to properly parent Donald. He developed a very negative view of women through his relationship with his mother. This may have coincided with his own childhood feelings, of abandonment, helplessness and being out-of-control.

To control those negative injunctions against the feminine in himself Donald projects that loathing onto women around him, particularly strong woman. His relationship with the feminine in his outer world mirrors his own internal relationship with the feminine in him. The extent to which he denigrates women and the anger and even hatred he projects onto them reflects, in equal measure, his own self-hatred of his dependency, weakness, and passivity that he associates with the feminine in him.

Donald's favorite sexist invective toward women is 'nasty.' He has used the word to describe both men and women. When referring to Kamala Harris it is often meant to demean and dismiss her as a woman and as a serious political candidate. He mispronounces her name. He calls her a monster. He called her the "meanest, most horrible, most disrespectful member of the United States Senate." These words that be used to describe Trump's own presidential behavior. The most telling comment that summarizes Trump's view of women and by extension his own feminine side occurred in 1992 when he said of women, "You have to treat 'em like shit."

Trump prefers his women to be compliant. This fits with some antiquated notion that women should be seen and not heard. Donald's own preference for models underscores this notion.

Jung posited another domain of the psyche called the shadow. The shadow is a repository for all of the unwanted and rejected aspects of self. Those characteristics we deny, those which we wish to keep hidden from others, those that cause us shame and embarrassment and those that are outside our awareness. Ideally, during the individuation process those darker aspects of self would be uncovered and integrated with all other aspects of the psyche. This reclamation can lead to a fuller, more integrated and creative life. It harnesses psyche energy rather than diffuses it. Without this reclamation process we must manage the psychic energy that is required to repress the shadow material. Like the unwanted feminine traits, we project this shadow outward onto others. Because the shadow material remains hidden and in a dark place it is most easily projected onto people of color. Trump's vile racism is again a measure of his own shadow and his efforts to keep it at bay.

This is another aspect to his projection on Kamala Harris that is a function of her being black. He labels her angry. This is a racist trope that is meant to conjure images of an ill-tempered and ill-mannered black who does not know her place. The opening salvo from the Trump camp, after Harris was nominated to be the vice-presidential candidate, was to label her a 'hoe".

His hatred of immigrants, Muslims, any person of color, Obama and now Kamala Harris are projection of his own shadow. His descriptions of these people are reflections of his own revulsion with aspects of himself. He even refers to mostly non-white countries as "shitholes." Mary Trump has heard Donald using the N-word. Trump refers to Black Lives Matter protesters as thugs, looters lowlife and scrum. Many of these same characteristics have been used to describe Trump's behavior.

Michael Cohen, Trump's former lawyer and fixer, in his forthcoming book, Disloyal writes,

"I knew him better than even his family did because I bore witness to the real man, in strip clubs, shady business meetings, and in the unguarded moments when he revealed who he really was: a cheat, a liar, a fraud, a bully, a racist, a predator, a con man,"

This race for president is extremely negative as Trump feels endangered of losing his office and by extension control of himself. Kamala Harris, and other women are perfect screens onto which Trump will project all of the unwanted and rejected aspects of himself. He will project his feminine side which he associates with weakness, passivity, and helplessness and his own dark side full of shame, embarrassment, and not feeling good enough.

Bud McClure is professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota Duluth. He is the author of Putting A New Spin on Groups: The Science of Chaos and the award-winning Divine Daisy: A Transpersonal Tale. He can be reached at bmcclure@d.umn.edu

U.S. COVID-19 cases surge as Trump continues unmasked campaign rallies

There are now over 40 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 around the world. The U.S. has topped 8.1 million cases, remaining by far the most infected country, with around 20% of known cases globally. The U.S. death toll is nearing 220,000. On Friday, the U.S. reported around 70,000 new cases, the highest daily total since July. At least 12 states set single-day case records since Friday. Only two states — Vermont and Missouri — reported significant decreases in reported cases over the past week.

In an interview with CBS's "60 Minutes," top White House Coronavirus Task Force scientist Anthony Fauci shared his reaction when he saw the Rose Garden ceremony for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett on TV last month.

Dr. Jonathan LaPook: "Were you surprised that President Trump got sick?"
Dr. Anthony Fauci: "Absolutely not. I was worried that he was going to get sick when I saw him in a completely precarious situation of crowded, no separation between people, and almost nobody wearing a mask. When I saw that on TV, I said, 'Oh my goodness. Nothing good can come out of that. That's got to be a problem.' And then, sure enough, it turned out to be a superspreader event."

At around the same time as Fauci's interview aired Sunday, Trump spoke at a campaign rally in Carson City, Nevada, where he mocked Joe Biden, warning there would be more lockdowns if Biden is elected.

President Donald Trump: "If I listened totally to the scientists, we would right now have a country that would be in a massive depression, instead of we're like a rocketship."

In response, the Biden campaign said in a statement, "Donald Trump tanked the strong economy he inherited … by continually discounting and attacking warnings from the scientific and medical experts working around the clock to save lives. Now new coronavirus cases are surging and layoffs are rising." Joe Biden campaigned in the key battleground state of North Carolina this weekend, as running mate Senator Kamala Harris is back on the campaign trail and will appear today in Orlando and Jacksonville, Florida.

Trump also held rallies in two other coronavirus hot spots over the weekend — Michigan and Wisconsin — just as state officials reported record-high COVID-19 cases.

Meanwhile, Trump's top coronavirus adviser Scott Atlas — known for pushing a "herd immunity" strategy — tweeted this weekend, "Masks work? NO." Twitter blocked the post for violating a policy on misleading information about COVID-19.

A federal judge struck down a Trump rule that would have thrown 700,000 people off food stamps, known as SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, amid the pandemic and record unemployment.

Presidential debate commission just changed the rules to keep Trump in line

The Commission on Presidential Debates will announce a change to the rules for Thursday night's final debate, and it's sure to anger President Donald Trump. The Commission will allow the candidates' microphones to be muted while their opponent is speaking, which is one of the reasons Trump gave for pulling out of last week's virtual debate.

"As in the first debate, each candidate will be allotted two minutes of speaking time to initially answer the moderator's questions," The New York Times reports. "But under a plan being finalized by the commission on Monday, his opponent's microphone would be turned off during that period, an attempt to ensure an uninterrupted response."

Explaining why participating in a virtual debate would be "a waste of time" for him, Trump last week specifically said one of the reasons he wouldn't is because moderators could "cut you off," meaning cut his microphone off.

Trump has yet to react to the change in the rules.

A stunning split decision at the Supreme Court may be the most significant election case of 2020

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued what may be its most significant decision involving the 2020 election, and the Democratic Party should be pleased. But there are still reasons for consternation.

Splitting 4-4, the court left in place the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's decision to extend the deadline to receive mail-in votes until Nov. 6, three days after Election Day. As long as ballots are postmarked by the end of voting on Nov. 3, and received by the 6th, election officials will count the vote.

Court watchers had noted that the decision was taking longer than expected, leading to extensive speculation about the backroom machinations. Surprisingly, there was no long dissent or other written opinion that would explain the delay. Chief Justice John Roberts joined with the three liberals on the court in favor of leaving the extension in place, and the four other conservatives voted to overturn it. Many pointed out that were Judge Amy Coney Barrett a Supreme Court justice, as she is expected to be confirmed shortly, she would likely have sided with the other conservatives and flipped the result of the ruling.

But since the court was evenly split, the Pennsylvania court's decision stands.

This is potentially significant for several reasons. First, Pennsylvania is rated by FiveThirtyEight to be the state most likely to be the "tipping point" state in 2020 presidential election. That means if the race comes down to a single state's vote, that state is most likely Pennsylvania. Second, extensive polling shows that Democrats are far more likely to be voting by mail than Republicans are. Giving voters more time to get their ballots in and have them count makes it more likely that Democrats, and former Vice President Joe Biden in particular, will prevail in the election.

Republicans brought the challenge to the Supreme Court, arguing that the states' supreme court had overruled the legislature's decision to set its elections laws. Democrats opposed this challenge, arguing that the state supreme court has protected Pennsylvanians' right to vote. Law professor Josh Douglas argued that the conservatives' vote to hear the case and possibly overturn the state court's ruling could undermine the very idea of states having their own constitutions.

Some even warned that the votes counted after Election Day may not end up counted anyway, if Republicans take their challenge back to the Supreme Court once Barrett is confirmed. However, it's not guaranteed that even the four conservative justices would vote the same way if they consider the case again.

The birth of American supremacy — and the carefully constructed myth of 'isolationism'

The so-called Age of Trump is also an age of instantly forgotten bestselling books, especially ones purporting to provide the inside scoop on what goes on within Donald Trump's haphazard and continuously shifting orbit. With metronomic regularity, such gossipy volumes appear, make a splash, and almost as quickly vanish, leaving a mark no more lasting than a trout breaking the surface in a pond.

Remember when Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House was all the rage? It's now available in hardcover for $0.99 from online used booksellers. James Comey's Higher Loyalty also sells for a penny less than a buck.

An additional forty-six cents will get you Omarosa Manigault Newman's "insider's account" of her short-lived tenure in that very White House. For the same price, you can acquire Sean Spicer's memoir as Trump's press secretary, Anthony Scaramucci's rendering of his tumultuous 11-day stint as White House communications director, and Corey Lewandowski's "inside story" of the 2016 presidential campaign.

Bibliophiles intent on assembling a complete library of Trumpiana will not have long to wait before the tell-all accounts of John Bolton, Michael Cohen, Mary Trump, and that journalistic amaneusis Bob Woodward will surely be available at similar bargain basement prices.

All that said, even in these dismal times genuinely important books do occasionally make their appearance. My friend and colleague Stephen Wertheim is about to publish one. It's called Tomorrow, the World: The Birth of U.S. Global Supremacy and if you'll forgive me for being direct, you really ought to read it. Let me explain why.

The "Turn"

Wertheim and I are co-founders of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a small Washington, D.C.-based think tank. That Quincy refers to John Quincy Adams who, as secretary of state nearly two centuries ago, warned his fellow citizens against venturing abroad "in search of monsters to destroy." Were the United States to do so, Adams predicted, its defining trait -- its very essence -- "would insensibly change from liberty to force." By resorting to force, America "might become the dictatress of the world," he wrote, but "she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit." While his gendered punchline might rankle contemporary sensibilities, it remains apt.

A privileged man of his times, Adams took it for granted that a WASP male elite was meant to run the country. Women were to occupy their own separate sphere. And while he would eventually become an ardent opponent of slavery, in 1821 race did not rank high on his agenda either. His immediate priority as secretary of state was to situate the young republic globally so that Americans might enjoy both safety and prosperity. That meant avoiding unnecessary trouble. We had already had our revolution. In his view, it wasn't this country's purpose to promote revolution elsewhere or to dictate history's future course.

Adams was to secretaries of state what Tom Brady is to NFL quarterbacks: the Greatest Of All Time. As the consensus GOAT in the estimation of diplomatic historians, he brought to maturity a pragmatic tradition of statecraft originated by a prior generation of New Englanders and various slaveholding Virginians with names like Washington, Jefferson, and Madison. That tradition emphasized opportunistically ruthless expansionism on this continent, avid commercial engagement, and the avoidance of great power rivalries abroad. Adhering to such a template, the United States had, by the beginning of the twentieth century, become the wealthiest, most secure nation on the planet -- at which point Europeans spoiled the party.

The disastrous consequences of one European world war fought between 1914 and 1918 and the onset of a second in 1939 rendered that pragmatic tradition untenable -- so at least a subsequent generation of WASPs concluded. This is where Wertheim takes up the story. Prompted by the German army's lightning victory in the battle of France in May and June 1940, members of that WASP elite set about creating -- and promoting -- an alternative policy paradigm, one he describes as pursuing "dominance in the name of internationalism," with U.S. military supremacy deemed "the prerequisite of a decent world."

The new elite that devised this paradigm did not consist of lawyers from Massachusetts or planters from Virginia. Its key members held tenured positions at Yale and Princeton, wrote columns for leading New York newspapers, staffed Henry Luce's Time-Life press empire, and distributed philanthropic largesse to fund worthy causes (grasping the baton of global primacy being anything but least among them). Most importantly, just about every member of this Eastern establishment cadre was also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). As such, they had a direct line to the State Department, which in those days actually played a large role in formulating basic foreign policy.

While Tomorrow, The World is not a long book -- fewer than 200 pages of text -- it is a tour de force. In it, Wertheim describes the new narrative framework that the foreign-policy elite formulated in the months following the fall of France. He shows how Americans with an antipathy for war now found themselves castigated as "isolationists," a derogatory term created to suggest provincialism or selfishness. Those favoring armed intervention, meanwhile, became "internationalists," a term connoting enlightenment and generosity. Even today, members of the foreign-policy establishment pledge undying fealty to the same narrative framework, which still warns against the bugaboo of "isolationism" that threatens to prevent high-minded policymakers from exercising "global leadership."

Wertheim persuasively describes the "turn" toward militarized globalism engineered from above by that self-selected, unelected crew. Crucially, their efforts achieved success prior to Pearl Harbor. The Japanese attack of December 7, 1941, may have thrust the United States into the ongoing world war, but the essential transformation of policy had already occurred, even if ordinary Americans had yet to be notified as to what it meant. Its future implications -- permanently high levels of military spending, a vast network of foreign bases stretching across the globe, a penchant for armed intervention abroad, a sprawling "national security" apparatus, and a politically subversive arms industry -- would only become apparent in the years ahead.

While Wertheim is not the first to expose isolationism as a carefully constructed myth, he does so with devastating effect. Most of all, he helps his readers understand that "so long as the phantom of isolationism is held to be the most grievous sin, all is permitted."

Contained within that all is a cavalcade of forceful actions and grotesque miscalculations, successes and failures, notable achievements and immense tragedies both during World War II and in the decades that followed. While beyond the scope of Wertheim's book, casting the Cold War as a de facto extension of the war against Nazi Germany, with Soviet dictator Josef Stalin as a stand-in for Adolf Hitler, represented an equally significant triumph for the foreign policy establishment.

At the outset of World War II, ominous changes in the global distribution of power prompted a basic reorientation of U.S. policy. Today, fundamental alterations in the global distribution of power -- did someone say "the rise of China"? -- are once again occurring right before our eyes. Yet the foreign-policy establishment's response is simply to double down.

So, even now, staggering levels of military spending, a vast network of foreign bases, a penchant for armed intervention abroad, a sprawling "national security" apparatus, and a politically subversive arms industry remain the taken-for-granted signatures of U.S. policy. And even now, the establishment employs the specter of isolationism as a convenient mechanism for self-forgiveness and expedient amnesia, as well as a means to enforce discipline.

Frozen Compass

The fall of France was indeed an epic disaster. Yet implicit in Tomorrow, The World is this question: If the disaster that befell Europe in 1940 could prompt the United States to abandon a hitherto successful policy paradigm, then why have the serial disasters befalling the nation in the present century not produced a comparable willingness to reexamine an approach to policy that is obviously failing today?

To pose that question is to posit an equivalence between the French army's sudden collapse in the face of the Wehrmacht's assault and the accumulation of U.S. military disappointments dating from 9/11. From a tactical or operational perspective, many will find such a comparison unpersuasive. After all, the present-day armed forces of the United States have not succumbed to outright defeat, nor is the government of the United States petitioning for a cessation of hostilities as the French authorities did in 1940.

Yet what matters in war are political outcomes. Time and again since 9/11, whether in Afghanistan, Iraq, or lesser theaters of conflict, the United States has failed to achieve the political purposes for which it went to war. From a strategic and political perspective, therefore, the comparison with France is instructive, even if failure need not entail abject surrender.

The French people and other supporters of the 1930s European status quo (including Americans who bothered to pay attention) were counting on that country's soldiers to thwart further Nazi aggression once and for all. Defeat came as a profound shock. Similarly, after the Cold War, most Americans (and various beneficiaries of a supposed Pax Americana) counted on U.S. troops to maintain an agreeable and orderly global status quo. Instead, the profound shock of 9/11 induced Washington to embark upon what became a series of "endless wars" that U.S. forces proved incapable of bringing to a successful conclusion.

Crucially, however, no reevaluation of U.S. policy comparable to the "turn" that Wertheim describes has occurred. An exceedingly generous reading of President Trump's promise to put "America First" might credit him with attempting such a turn. In practice, however, his incompetence and inconsistency, not to mention his naked dishonesty, produced a series of bizarre and random zigzags. Threats of "fire and fury" alternated with expressions of high regard for dictators ("we fell in love"). Troop withdrawals were announced and then modified or forgotten. Trump abandoned a global environmental agreement, massively rolled back environmental regulations domestically, and then took credit for providing Americans with "the very cleanest air and cleanest water on the planet." Little of this was to be taken seriously.

Trump's legacy as a statesman will undoubtedly amount to the diplomatic equivalent of Mulligan stew. Examine the contents closely enough and you'll be able to find just about anything. Yet taken as a whole, the concoction falls well short of being nutritious, much less appetizing.

On the eve of the upcoming presidential election, the entire national security apparatus and its supporters assume that Trump's departure from office will restore some version of normalcy. Every component of that apparatus from the Pentagon and the State Department to the CIA and the Council on Foreign Relations to the editorial boards of the New York Times and Washington Post yearns for that moment.

To a very considerable degree, a Biden presidency will satisfy that yearning. Nothing if not a creature of the establishment, Biden himself will conform to its requirements. For proof, look no further than his vote in favor of invading Iraq in 2003. (No isolationist he.) Count on a Biden administration, therefore, to perpetuate the entire obsolete retinue of standard practices.

As Peter Beinart puts it, "When it comes to defense, a Biden presidency is likely to look very much like an Obama presidency, and that's going to look not so different from a Trump presidency when you really look at the numbers." Biden will increase the Pentagon budget, keep U.S. troops in the Middle East, and get tough with China. The United States will remain the world's number-one arms merchant, accelerate efforts to militarize outer space, and continue the ongoing modernization of the entire U.S. nuclear strike force. Biden will stack his team with CFR notables looking for jobs on the "inside."

Above all, Biden will recite with practiced sincerity the mantras of American exceptionalism as a summons to exercise global leadership. "The triumph of democracy and liberalism over fascism and autocracy created the free world. But this contest does not just define our past. It will define our future, as well." Those uplifting sentiments are, of course, his from a recent Foreign Affairs essay.

So if you liked U.S. national security policy before Trump mucked things up, then Biden is probably your kind of guy. Install him in the Oval Office and the mindless pursuit of "dominance in the name of internationalism" will resume. And the United States will revert to the policies that prevailed during the presidencies of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama -- policies, we should note, that paved the way for Donald Trump to win the White House.

The Voices That Count

What explains the persistence of this pattern despite an abundance of evidence showing that it's not working to the benefit of the American people? Why is it so difficult to shed a policy paradigm that dates from Hitler's assault on France, now a full 80 years in the past?

I hope that in a subsequent book Stephen Wertheim will address that essential question. In the meantime, however, allow me to make a stab at offering the most preliminary of answers.

Setting aside factors like bureaucratic inertia and the machinations of the military-industrial complex -- the Pentagon, arms manufacturers, and their advocates in Congress share an obvious interest in discovering new "threats" -- one likely explanation relates to a policy elite increasingly unable to distinguish between self-interest and the national interest. As secretary of state, John Quincy Adams never confused the two. His latter-day successors have done far less well.

As an actual basis for policy, the turn that Stephen Wertheim describes in Tomorrow, The World has proven to be nowhere near as enlightened or farseeing as its architects imagined or its latter day proponents still purport to believe it to be. The paradigm produced in 1940-1941 was, at best, merely serviceable. It responded to the nightmarish needs of that moment. It justified U.S. participation in efforts to defeat Nazi Germany, a necessary undertaking.

After 1945, except as a device for affirming the authority of foreign-policy elites, the pursuit of "dominance in the name of internationalism" proved to be problematic. Yet even as conditions changed, basic U.S. policy stayed the same: high levels of military spending, a network of foreign bases, a penchant for armed intervention abroad, a sprawling "national security" apparatus, and a politically subversive arms industry. Even after the Cold War and 9/11, these remain remarkably sacrosanct.

My own retrospective judgment of the Cold War tends toward an attitude of: well, I guess it could have been worse. When it comes to the U.S. response to 9/11, however, it's difficult to imagine what worse could have been.

Within the present-day foreign-policy establishment, however, a different interpretation prevails: the long, twilight struggle of the Cold War ended in a world historic victory, unsullied by any unfortunate post-9/11 missteps. The effect of this perspective is to affirm the wisdom of American statecraft now eight decades old and therefore justify its perpetuation long after both Hitler and Stalin, not to mention Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, are dead and gone.

This paradigm persists for one reason only: it ensures that statecraft will remain a realm that resolutely excludes the popular will. Elites decide, while the job of ordinary Americans is to foot the bill. In that regard, the allocation of privileges and obligations now 80 years old still prevails today.

Only by genuinely democratizing the formulation of foreign policy will real change become possible. The turn in U.S. policy described in Tomorrow, The World came from the top. The turn needed today will have to come from below and will require Americans to rid themselves of their habit of deference when it comes to determining what this nation's role in the world will be. Those on top will do all in their power to avert any such loss of status.

The United States today suffers from illnesses both literal and metaphorical. Restoring the nation to good health and repairing our democracy must necessarily rate as paramount concerns. While Americans cannot ignore the world beyond their borders, the last thing they need is to embark upon a fresh round of searching for distant monsters to destroy. Heeding the counsel of John Quincy Adams might just offer an essential first step toward recovery.

Andrew Bacevich, a TomDispatch regular, is president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. His most recent book is The Age of Illusions: How America Squandered Its Cold War Victory.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer's new dystopian novel (the second in the Splinterlands series) Frostlands, Beverly Gologorsky's novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt's A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy's In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower's The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Copyright 2020 Andrew Bacevic

Here's what Bill Barr's DOJ can — and can't — do to disrupt the 2020 race

Attorney General William Barr's "slavish obedience" to President Trump, including attacking the validity of millions of absentee ballots now being cast in the 2020 general election, prompted a federal prosecutor, Phillip Halpern, to publicly resign on October 14. He is the third to publicly criticize Barr.

"This career bureaucrat [Barr] seems determined to turn our democracy into an autocracy," wrote Halpern in a San Diego Union-Tribune column. "There is no other honest explanation for Barr's parroting of the president's wild and unsupported conspiracy theories regarding mail-in ballots (which have been contradicted by the president's handpicked FBI director)."

Halpern's resignation as an assistant U.S. attorney after 36 years at the Department of Justice (DOJ) raises the question of what a politicized DOJ could do to assist Trump's re-election.

Barr's "parroting" the false claim that mailed-out—or absentee—ballots are a pathway for large-scale voter fraud was akin to becoming one of the "super-spreaders of disinformation," as Emily Bazelon discussed in the October 18 New York Times Sunday Magazine cover story. But could the Justice Department intervene in the process where returned absentee ballots are accepted or rejected by local and state election officials, or go further and disrupt the counting of votes? In short, it cannot.

"They really don't have any authority," said Justin Levitt, a former deputy assistant attorney general who led the DOJ's voting rights enforcement in the Obama administration, speaking of administering elections. "The actual disruption, if it is going to come, will come from campaigns or private parties, but not from the DOJ."

"I know of no federal law that allows the federal government to intervene in a state-based process, under state law, of counting and certifying election results," said David Becker, who was a senior trial attorney in the DOJ's Voting Section for seven years, and now runs the nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation and Research.

"There is a requirement under federal law that all [election] materials, including ballots, be maintained for 22 months," Becker said, referring to a 1960s civil rights law that was intended to help prosecutors build voting rights cases. "That is largely for evidence gathering and after-the-fact review, if there might be some issue. That's actually useful."

No Authority to Interfere

The Justice Department has no legal authority to intervene in the process of accepting or rejecting any returned absentee ballot, the former DOJ attorneys explained. Nor does it have the authority to interrupt counting votes and certifying results. But what the attorney general and the department can do (and are doing) is issue statements containing misinformation or announce investigations in the campaign's final days to cast doubts on the validity of the process in key states.

"That's a media-based, press-based disruption, but not one that disrupts the count," Levitt said. "What I have been saying of late is reminding people that a lawsuit without provable facts of a statutory constitutional violation is just a tweet with a filing fee."

For months, Trump has been baselessly attacking absentee ballots as a pathway for voter fraud, especially as many polls revealed that millions of Americans, including more Democrats than Republicans, were planning to vote by mail in response to the pandemic. Since mid-summer, Trump has said that local and federal law enforcement would be watching polls and election officials. In September, Barr amplified some of the false claims about absentee ballot fraud.

Nonetheless, Americans have been casting unprecedented numbers of absentee ballots from coast to coast, according to the U.S. Elections Project. As of October 19, more than 29 million people had already voted early or with mailed-out ballots, and more than 82 million people requested absentee ballots. In 2018's general election, 31 million Americans voted absentee.

The ongoing response by the Trump campaign, assisted by the Republican National Committee and some GOP governors, has been to keep filing lawsuits and appeals to tighten the deadlines and rules surrounding absentee ballots. As Levitt noted, these were lawsuits filed by campaigns and political parties, not by the Justice Department, because, as he explained, the DOJ's legal oversight of elections was limited and restricted to three spheres.

"They've got three things they do. One is they can file civil litigation," he said, referring to civil rights laws that arose in the mid-20th century and were mostly concerned with protecting the rights of minorities and ensuring that their votes were counted.

"It's the former statutes that I used to enforce… It's a one-way ratchet," Levitt said. "If you think of the 1950s and 1960s, it makes sense. What Congress was worried about was local election authorities, in fact, not counting the votes of people based on their race or their perceived party. So, the federal government has power to make sure that people aren't improperly excluded."

The second sphere is enforcing election-related criminal codes, such as prosecuting ballot box stuffing (which is very rare), or election-related threats or violence. Those investigations would not be allowed to interfere with the processing of ballots and counting votes after Election Day, Levitt said, because the evidence gathering could continue after the results were certified.

"When DOJ enforces the criminal law, that has no meaning for the actual count of ballots," he said. "When they want to prosecute somebody for voter fraud, that's about individual accountability. But the state and local governments still decide whether the ballots count. So even if DOJ says, 'Yeah, these are fraudulent [ballots],' that has no legal impact whatsoever on whether a state wants to count them or not."

Under federal law, the DOJ has several years to investigate and prosecute, Levitt said, which means that they have no basis to immediately seize ballots or election records. Moreover, there is nothing unusual about federal agents observing elections, which has gone on for decades. Local officials also have protocols to let agents observe and make requests for records to be turned over as evidence, he said. But they cannot step in and reject or seize ballots.

"It's not like having somebody in the room breaks a spell and the ballots are invalid," Levitt said. "What local election officials will do is say, 'Okay, you want to inspect them, great. Here's a pile sitting over here. Come in and look, or I'll go through them. But they stay in that pile.' 'You want to see who this one's [return envelope] is opened for, let's go through our process, and we'll figure out whether a person is eligible or not. And we'll make a decision whether to count it or not, and then you can see… [whose votes are] on the inside of this ballot.' But DOJ sitting in the room is not going to affect if that ballot still has all of the indicators of eligibility."

Where the Justice Department has authority to influence elections, however, is in the press—the third sphere cited by Levitt. But such information warfare is not the same as prosecuting a legal case in a courtroom.

"Will the Trump administration or President Trump be screaming about fraud in the days after the election? The answer obviously yes. Of course, yes," Levitt said, referring to the potential for disinformation. "He was screaming about nonexistent fraud in the 2016 election, which he won. Three-to-five million noncitizen ballots, which is patent nonsense, and he's been out screaming about fraud ever since, without any evidence to support it."

"If you're asking what's the predicate for Trump to make up facts and claim that the election has been rigged, he's never needed one," he continued. "And unfortunately, we've seen the attorney general behave far more like Donald Trump's personal lawyer in this administration than any other I can recall. And unfortunately, we've seen DOJ already [do likewise], with a couple of press releases that should never have gone out."

Information Warfare

In late September, Barr and Trump tried to elevate a minor procedural mistake surrounding nine absentee ballots in central Pennsylvania—a state where 6 million people voted in 2016—into a scandal implying that the 2020 presidential election would not have valid results. This incident, where nine ballots were mistakenly thrown out, followed Barr saying in early September that federal prosecutors had indicted a Texas man for fabricating 1,700 absentee ballots in 2017. There was no Texas indictment, and Barr garbled that case's facts, local officials said.

"I think the Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, case is a perfect example," said Becker, who left the DOJ after then-President George W. Bush's attorney general fired career prosecutors for failing to obtain voter fraud convictions—because alleged wide vote thefts had not occurred. In both instances, the department stepped away from its decades-old tradition of not interfering in elections.

"It is baffling to imagine that a relatively minor mistake that seems to have affected nine ballots, at the most, in a county like Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, would be somehow taken by the elected district attorney of that [county] and reported, not to the secretary of state, or the [state] attorney general, it's reported to the FBI and the DOJ took it up," Becker said. "Within three days, a press release was issued indicating, initially, that nine ballots were processed incorrectly. And also outing those voters as having voted for a particular candidate."

The department's actions were staged political theater, but not a real investigation, he said.

"First of all, three days is not sufficient for an investigation of that sort," Becker said. "Two, I really don't have any understanding about why a press release was issued about an incident where there is no crime and no criminal. By all accounts this was a mistake. It was a mistake that was fixable, because we knew who the voters were. They could have been contacted, and they could have been given another opportunity to vote, and those previous ballots spoiled."

"It was inexcusable [for the department] to release information about who those individuals had voted for," he continued. "And then, to make matters worse… this relatively minor mistake… was reported on the same day to the attorney general, who then communicated it to the president and used it in a campaign appearance that same evening."

Becker, echoing Halpern's resignation letter, said that the DOJ's reputation was, in part, based on keeping out of elections. But the department under Trump was heading in the opposite direction, at least with respect to positioning itself to issue more statements to help Trump's campaign.

"This is not the way the Department of Justice is supposed to work," Becker said. "I have further concerns about recent revelations that the Department of Justice has rescinded guidelines about interfering with the election, about putting out press releases and other things about the election, in close proximity to the election. That was an absolute tenet of ours when we worked there. We were not to become an actor in an election process. We were to investigate. We were, in some cases, to litigate and report out, but not in the context of possibly interfering in an election."

In his current role at the Center for Election Innovation and Research, Becker has been in contact with state officials—Democrats and Republicans—who are seeking to run a legitimate election this fall. Becker said that he has heard from top Republican election officials that Barr was not interested in the facts about absentee ballots.

"The attorney general is just wrong about the potential for fraud," Becker said. "He clearly doesn't understand how mail ballots work. Republican secretaries of state have offered to brief him on this and help him understand, and he has not returned their calls. He has been making claims about fraud that… have been rejected by federal courts. In some cases by judges appointed by President Trump. That is a concern."

However, when it comes to the actual processing of returned absentee ballots or counting votes, the former DOJ attorneys emphasized that neither Trump, Barr nor the Department of Justice have the legal authority to step in and disrupt the state-run election process. But that doesn't mean that Trump or Barr will cease reciting disinformation about the voting process—or that the DOJ will stop issuing press statements filled with innuendo.

"This has been this administration's modus operandi for the past three and a half years," Levitt said. "I think there will be plenty of made-for-media conflict that does not necessarily translate to any disruption of the count. But it is designed to freak people out."

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

This single sentence from a federal court's ruling exposes the dark right-wing view of voting

Three judges on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday stayed an injunction by a lower district court that sought to protect the voting rights of Texans voting by mail.

The majority decision, written by Judge Jerry E. Smith, blocked the lower court's orders to Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughs that would have required officials to notify Texans whose mail ballots were rejected because of an apparent signature mismatch and give them an opportunity to address the issue. Under current law, election officials can reject a mail ballot if they determine that the signature does not match the voter's signature on file; officials must notify the voter of the rejection within 10 days. But even then, the voter may not be given an opportunity to fix the problem.

As the result of an ongoing lawsuit, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas ordered Hughs to adopt procedures that would allow voters to address a signature mismatch, or to stop rejecting ballots based on signature issues altogether. Judge Orlando Garcia said the existing policy "plainly violates certain voters' constitutional rights." But the Fifth Circuit rejected this injunction, saying Hughs should follow the law as written — rejecting ballots without necessarily giving voters any due process.

In a remarkable sentence encapsulating the emerging right-wing view of voting rights, the decision explained:

Because Texas's strong interest in safeguarding the integrity of its elections from voter fraud far outweighs any burden the state's voting procedures place on the right to vote, we stay the injunction pending appeal.

While this may sound like dry legalese, it's a dramatically bold and unambiguously dangerous idea. The court's claim is that "any burden" on the right to vote can be justified if it is meant to restrict the opportunity for voter fraud.

This notion sounds like a farcical caricature of Republicans' views on voting, but it's an actual statement from right-wing judges defending a right-wing administration. It falls apart under even the mildest scrutiny though. While preventing voter fraud is surely a legitimate interest of the state, there must be some reasonable limits on how far the government can go in trying to prevent it. Is it reasonable to, say, create so many obstacles to voting that 10,000 fewer ballots will be cast in an election if doing so will also stop a handful of fraudulent ballots?

The answer should obviously be "no." The problem with voter fraud is that it distorts the will of the electorate, undermining the very point of a democracy. But if efforts to combat voter fraud distort the democratic process even more than fraud would, it's difficult to see how they can be justified. And all the best evidence indicates that voter fraud is incredibly rare.

But when Republicans discuss voter fraud, all they ever seem to care about is stopping the extremely rare cases of illegally cast ballots. They almost never consider balancing the risk of fraud with the risk of preventing legitimate votes from being cast. In this decision, the court made that view explicit. And it's even more absurd than it sounds, because the decision actually allows election officials to literally throw away votes that may have been legitimately cast without giving the voter any platform to challenge this decision. Isn't this at least as bad as voter fraud?

The Texas Tribune reports of this process:

The state election code does not establish any standards for signature review, which is conducted by local election officials who seldom have training in signature verification.

So at best, the disposal of ballots may be entirely capricious. At worst, it could disproportionately target groups of voters that the existing government would rather not have voting — minority groups, for instance, that may be likely to vote Democrat. It may be hard to say what the motivation is for the laws in this particular case, but the GOP's actions in the past decade have made clear that they see restricting the right to vote as a vital part of retaining electoral power. The court's reasoning lays bear this motivation: Based on the slimmest fears about "voter fraud," they can justify restricting voters' rights as much as possible. The path to illegitimately holding on to office is clear.

The Fifth Court's decision justified the stay in part by arguing against the idea that there's a due process protection for the right vote. But even if there is, the court argued, there isn't a right to vote by mail — that's simply an option that Texas provides without being obligated to.

This reasoning, though, is spurious. If Texas provides voters the option to vote by mail, it is not reasonable that it can then simply reject those ballots based on dubious and unreviewable claims of a signature mismatch that the voter may not even be alerted to until after Election Day has passed. Once it has provided the option of voting by mail, Texas is still obligated to ensure that the process provides reasonable protections for voters' rights.

In a concurring opinion, Judge Patrick Higginbotham rejected the majority's arguments for the stay. He agreed with issuing the stay, however, noting the difficulties of changing election rules while votes are already being cast. And he warned that the matter in question is grave:

In 2016 and 2018, "approximately 5,000 [Texas] ballots were rejected on the basis of perceived signature mismatches."8 Such "small" differences have the potential to decide both local and national elections. And with the large increase in votes cast by mail in our ongoing pandemic that error rate would toss out far greater numbers. There is much at stake here.

Trump lashes out at Dr. Fauci with a petty and personal smear

On Monday, President Donald Trump fired off tweets attacking Dr. Anthony Fauci — who has sounded increasingly critical of the president. Fauci has earned widespread trust from the public as one of the top government officials in the response to the coronavirus pandemic, while Trump is seen as an unreliable source of information on the crisis. But Trump decided to attack Fauci — in the last weeks before an election, no less — not simply about policy disagreements but on a petty and personal level.

During an interview for CBS News' "60 Minutes" that aired on Sunday night, Fauci candidly said that he wasn't surprised that Trump was recently infected with COVID-19 and that he wishes the president had been more careful. Trump, Fauci emphasized, could be doing a lot more to promote the use of protective face masks. Fauci has also said, as news outlets have reported, that he's been prevented from appearing before the media on numerous occasions.

Trump apparently wasn't happy with these remarks, tweeting on Monday: "Dr. Tony Fauci says we don't allow him to do television, and yet I saw him last night on @60Minutes, and he seems to get more airtime than anybody since the late, great, Bob Hope. All I ask of Tony is that he make better decisions. He said 'no masks & let China in.' Also, Bad arm!"

Trump has previously claimed that Fauci opposed the restrictions the president placed on travel from China in late January (he also exaggerates the effectiveness and importance of this move, which quite clearly did not stop the virus from coming to the United States.) But Fauci was on the record in support of the restrictions at the time. It's true that Fauci, like most of the public health community, was slow to realize the importance of widespread mask-wearing and even discouraged its use by ordinary people at the start of the pandemic. But that was the unanimous position of the administration's public health agencies, which Trump oversees, so he cannot escape blame for this grave error. And since public officials changed their minds and advocated universal mask-wearing, Trump himself has continued to cast doubt about the measure and demonstrably discouraged his followed from taking this vital precaution.

The "bad arm" part of the tweet was a baseball reference. Although the 79-year-old Fauci is a Brooklyn native, he has lived in Washington, D.C. for half a century — and in July, the city's baseball team, the Washington Nationals, announced that Fauci would be throwing the first pitch of the 2020 Major League Baseball season.

"Tony should stop wearing the Washington Nationals' Mask for two reasons," Trump continued. "Number one, it is not up to the high standards that he should be exposing. Number two, it keeps reminding me that Tony threw out perhaps the worst first pitch in the history of Baseball!"

Not surprisingly, Trump is being mocked on Twitter for his Fauci-related posts.

Travel author Kyle Robert James, @KyleRobertJames, tweeted, "This is a level of petty I hope to one day achieve." And Twitter user Frank Amari, @FrankAmari2, posted, "With each new day, this President gives new meaning to 'National Embarrassment' — to which @JPaulMurdock responded, "Make that International Embarrassment." Another Twitter user, @aosprague, posted, "That super hip reference to Bob Hope will totally draw in the younger voters."