Poll Position: The Trump Effect
“So I led this great charge and I’m the only one who lost? It doesn’t work that way…”
–Donald J. Trump
A life-long science educator with a mouth registered as a deadly weapon in ten states. First political experience: Working on John Anderson’s third party candidacy, where he learned the difference between what can happen when people believe in what’s possible and when they don’t…
While loudly crying fraud, Trump supporters and their enablers in the corporate media have also been putting forward one particularly drumbeaten explanation why the polls were wrong (in hopes, no doubt, of (further) drowning out those of us calling out the real cause), with a specific focus on the polling rollercoaster (2016, 2018, 2020) we’ve all experienced in recent years. For lack of better terminology, we call it the Trump effect, well-described by David Lauter of the Los Angeles Times thusly:
Republicans took a key lesson away from the 2020 election: Winning for their side requires keeping their traditional voters and adding in the extra dose of support that President Trump’s backers can deliver.
In 2018, when Trump wasn’t on the ballot, many of his supporters failed to show up, and Republicans lost 40 seats in the House, giving Rep. Nancy Pelosi a second stint as speaker. Something of the reverse happened in key areas this year in the presidential election: Trump turned out a huge number of his supporters, but in traditionally Republican suburban territory from Atlanta to Philadelphia to Milwaukee to Phoenix, he lost ground — and ultimately key states.
Republican congressional candidates were able to get the benefit of all those extra Trump backers without losing their usual backing from suburban and rural voters. That allowed them to cut deeply into the Democratic majority in the House.
As you can imagine, this line of reasoning dovetails nicely with the “Stop the Steal” narrative, much of which is based on the fantasy that Trump received millions more votes than he did. A sopping dream requiring a massive surge, a viagral Trump effect, one that nefarious forces managed to cut off just short of Trump triumph, but allegedly there for all to see nonetheless. Before addressing this claim head-on, we want to first make clear a fundamental mathematical fallacy underpinning the argument as a whole. Its supporters believe metrics showing that Trump “did better,” on a percentage basis, than was expected, is prima facie evidence in support of their view, and, not coincidentally, a disproof that voter suppression was responsible.
It isn’t. Or to put it another way, it most definitely is not. Because the percentage of votes a candidate receives can be just as dependent on voter subtraction as it is on voter addition.
In the chart below, for example, we start on the left with the percentage of votes the polls (as compiled and weighted by 538) predicted each candidate would receive, followed by the actual percentage of votes they got. The “unsuppressed” column, where rubber meets reality, starts with the assumption that the polls were right, and that an equal proportion of the undecideds and third party supporters in the polls migrated to each candidate, despite the normal propensity for late-breaking undecideds, in particular, to, as Trump would say, move heavily into the challenger’s column. The rest of the columns show how these percentages change as Biden’s votes are suppressed, one vote out of a hundred at a time:
By the time we get to four votes out of every one hundred suppressed, all on the Biden side, the percentages become eerily similar to the actual results recorded. Is it outlandish to think that this many voters could have been eliminated by the myriad forms suppression can take? Maybe we should ask Hilary Clinton, or Pew, who, as we’ve seen, found that non-voters in 2016 favored her by seven.
We’ve already turned up two key data points from past elections that cast serious–we would argue fatal–doubt on the Trump effect worldview:
- The disconnect between the polls and results that seems to have become a fait accompli in modern political life did not originate with Trump–it started with the 2014 election, a year before he even announced his candidacy.
- The polling error in 2016, at least in the case of the 824 polls we analyzed, without assumptions or manipulations of any kind, was greater in the case of races for the House and Senate than it was in the race for the White House, which suggests that if anyone should be viewed as the Pied Piper of the Polling Place, it’s the likes of Mitch McConnell, not Donald J Trump.
To this, let us add one more ghost from elections past to haunt “Trump effect” supporters: it’s simply not true that Trump supporters voted in 2016, disappeared in 2018, then came back in 2020, at least not any more than any group of voters does in midterm vs. presidential election years. According to Pew, Clinton supporters (that is, men and women who voted for her) only turned out at a “slightly higher rate” than Trump supporters in 2018, which, come to think of it, is what happened in 2016, too, if 3 million votes (and 2.1%) fits your definition of “slightly.” That’s far from enough of a difference to account for an election that saw Democratic candidates swamp Republicans by nearly 18 million votes in the Senate (58%-39%) and bury them by nearly 10 million votes in the House (53%-45%) Overall, Pew found that party loyalty, defections, and turnout differences within the 2016 electorate combined accounted for less than half of the Democratic gains between 2016 and 2018. Which also creates a carryover problem for the Trump effect/surge theory in 2020, because the bulk of new voters in 2020 were Biden’s, and doesn’t that mean we should be talking about the “Biden effect/surge” instead?
For anyone not yet convinced, and those who simply enjoy watching Trump lose again and again and again, we turn to the results of the 2020 contest itself, where we believe there’s really only one fundamentally objective way to test whether the “Trump effect” is really explanatory or not, or even real: his performance head-to-head ‘against’ his fellow state and local candidates. Only a fraction of House contests were held in the densely populated, make-or-break traditionally Republican suburban districts that supposedly hate him (more on that claim later)–86 out of 438 to be precise, according to CityLab, which is less than a quarter of them all. When it comes to the Senate races, only about a quarter involved two or more such districts, half didn’t have any. So no excuses: if Trump magic was responsible for some great surge that blew away the polls and delivered gain after gain in downstate races, he should be running ahead of his fellow GOPers in a lot of races. Even Trump himself acknowledged this in his own inimitable way:
So did he? Lead that charge, great or not? Let’s first take a look at the Senate, comparing the percentage of votes gained by the Republican candidate in the state vs. Trump. Cases where the Senate candidate did better are highlighted in red, the now traditional GOP color, “wins” for Trump are in unhealthy orange-brown, the color now most associated with him:
Overall he ran ahead of Republican Senate candidates in just over half of the contests (56%)–essentially a coin flip–and that’s his best result. Adding up his margin of victory in the races where he ran ahead, and subtracting the margin in those where he ran behind, results in a cumulative lead for Trump of 0.5%–that’s half of one percent, not five–across thirty-four races, which comes to 0.0147% per race, which rounds down to 0.01%, that’s one one-hundredth of a percent, not one, which is about as close to absolutely no impact at all, a coattail about the length of a loose thread on a jacket. And he did about as well in the states with dense suburbs as those without. So no excuses: let the straw-grasping begin.
Perhaps it would be fairer to just focus on the Senate races in swing states, where he did most of his campaigning, or just on the competitive races he might have put an effort into swaying, if there’s really a side of Trump that ‘no one ever sees,’ a light side of the moon for those who are on the outside of his solar system looking in, a Trump who actually cares about anyone besides himself. OK, so we took a look:
Not surprisingly, he does a bit better relative to others in the swings, where he was motivated to put at least a little work in, though not as much as he did in the three weeks after the election was over, raising his available coattail to perhaps the length of the tip of one of his extra long ties, flipped casually over his shoulder. Equally unsurprisingly, he was actually net-negative compared to his colleagues in the races where his party could have benefited from a little presidential leadership, especially in the state whose result most shocked the pollsters, Susan Collins’ (R-ME) surprise blowout win.
Decision 2020: Trump Vs. The GOP
Of course, Senate races only cover a third of the states, and really, when fans and foes alike tout the down-ballot impact of his supposed surge, it’s the House they have in mind, which allows us to take a much more granular look as his performance. The data for presidential results in Congressional districts is, unfortunately, not as widely available. We got what we used from The Daily Kos, a very liberal outlet, but with no incentive to make any of the data up, since their hope is that it will be used by the Democratic Party and its candidates to game plan for future elections. Here’s a direct link to their data set so you can play with it yourself if you like, along with details on where and how they got it, which are frankly a little shameful for a beacon of democracy.
The combination of a data set this large and human nature results in two special cases we had to decide how to deal with–ties and walk-overs, i.e. districts where the candidate of one party had no opponent from the other. In the case of ties, we decided that since Trump supporters are the ones making the case for his impact, a mere tie between him and the local candidate constitutes a disproof, and a loss for his side of the argument. In the case of walk-overs where the Republican House candidate was unopposed, we assumed that even if he/she had had an opponent, said Republican would still have rolled up a bigger victory margin in their district than Trump did over Biden, and awarded the district to the GOP. In cases where the Dem was unopposed, we made a similar, but inverse, assumption, and gave the ‘win’ to Trump. As it turned out, this was advantage Trump, not that it mattered much, as you’ll soon see.
438 districts is a lot of districts and resulted in graphics too unwieldy for WordPress to handle, so we had to break House results into a series of panels. To make them a little less monotonous to scroll through, and potentially provide a little contact high for those with fond memories of watching Trump’s so-called lead melt away on Election Night, we’ve also added a little election color commentary, replaying the event as the national election we’d really like to see, Trump versus the Republican Party. The results at the end of every panel are cumulative, just like 11/3:
The polls have just closed in states from A to D, and it’s looking like a long night for Donald Trump. Getting trounced in California, a state where he’s come perilously close to running up against the War Powers Act, is no shock, and it’s been apparent for some time that Arizona was going to be problematic thanks to his frosty relationship with the state’s First Family. Nearly half of Colorado’s districts are of the heavily populated suburban variety that’s been giving him fits since at least 2018, Alaska’s always a wild card, but Alabama and Arkansas? These are places where he was expected to run roughshod over his GOP/RINO opposition, and he just isn’t. Connecticut is a surprising bright spot for him that should be giving him hope in Mar-A-Lago…
Trump fares better in his big adopted state of Florida, but still falls to the GOP, 15-12. As expected, he gets clobbered in Illinois, with a rich downstate Republican heritage, starting with Abe Lincoln, who he’s repeatedly denigrated, and there’s no love lost between him and Chicago, either, but Georgia, Idaho, and Indiana are clearly disappointments, only partially offset by a surprise pair of triumphs in Hawaii, and Iowa where he expected to do well. Overall, he’s made up about two points in the last one to five minutes, depending on how fast you read…
Another Northeast state, Massachusetts, comes up surprisingly big for Trump against their own local Republicans (7-2), he wins Montana, battles Mitch McConnell and Bill Cassidy to draws on their home turf, Kansas & Maine too, and nearly does the same in Michigan and Minnesota. You can feel that Trump surge coming on as he picks up another 3+ points on the GOP…
Trump wins both New Jersey and Nevada–hmm, what do they have in common–but the big news is another yuge Northeast win, this time in his real home state of New York (14-11), he splits Northeast swing bellwether New Hampshire too, and takes another Big Apple bite out of the GOP lead. It’s starting to look like he’s been misunderestimated again…
Crushing blows for the Trumpster from Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Pennsylvania, with Tennessee, expected to be a Trump country landslide, only a little better. A win in another Northeast state, Rhode Island, seems like world’s smallest trumpet sounding the world’s smallest brag…
Trump gets spanked, as expected, in Utah, Virginia and Washington. He picks up expected wins in West Virginia and Wyoming, completes his astonishing Northeast performance with a triumph in Bernie Sanders’ backyard, but it turns out the poll showing him losing Wisconsin by 17 was actually vs. the local GOP, you’re just not going to win many elections losing Texas 27-9, and there’s never been an election in history that an incumbent president lost as badly as the one we just saw, to his own party, no less. It sure looks like the Republican Party pulled him across the line, or tried in vain to do so–not the other way around–but apparently he was too heavy a burden for them to carry, and he’s been sitting on them ever since.
Prop Bets Against The House
It will no doubt be pointed out by jaded political veterans that it’s not at all unusual for presidential candidates to run behind their down-ballot companions because incumbent House Republicans are often running against token opposition and can roll up the score in ways a presidential candidate, always facing a serious and seasoned competitor cannot. But the reverse is also true–House Democrats are often facing token Republican opposition as well, lightweight candidates that surely a BMI kahuna like Trump should easily be able to outperform. And yet, take a look at the chart below, which compares him to Republican House challengers who received less than 30% of the vote in their districts–in some cases, he couldn’t even elbow past ritual sacrifices scoring in the teens. The chart on the left orders these districts by how much worse Trump did than the local palooka (or palookette), the one on the the right orders them from weakest to strongest local:
The correlation shown is between the strength of the local yokel and how badly they “beat” Trump–it’s present, and positive, but not strong or even moderate, and it becomes even weaker, virtually non-existent (+0.07) if we compare the strength of these prospective dogcatchers against the relative size of their triumph over the self-proclaimed greatest and favorite president of all-time; he may not believe in affirmative action, but 44.46 is definitely an equal opportunity tomato can. We couldn’t resist including Georgia’s 14th on the list; technically it doesn’t belong, but spiritually it does, and yes, Trump couldn’t even best Marjorie Taylor Greene (Q-GA) of the Very Silly Party.
In fairness, there were a few pushovers Trump did manage to punch down on, but even here, in only a quarter of these districts did he manage as much as 3 percent of separation, and in only 10%–and less than 5% of all districts where Republican candidates received less than 30% of the vote–did he come anywhere close to the kind of beatdowns he routinely administers to women and logos in virtual WWE rings:
Of course, it would be a dereliction of duty and diligence not to also point out that if Trump underperformed nearly 70% of all down-ballot GOPers, it stands to reason that Joe Biden did better than about the same proportion of down-ticket Democrats, which appears to be the case, even though Trump had a more target-rich environment (potentially as many as 235 Failing LOSERS in his own party to body slam vs. only 199 for Biden). And if a senile old coot like Sleepy Joe can do it, what does it say about “the Trump effect” that he couldn’t? Also worth noting: while it may not be unusual for a presidential candidate to run behind his House partner, we suspect it is highly unusual for such a candidate to claim he led the party to victory while trailing 70% of the other candidates on the ticket, unless you’re the kind of person who thinks a gentleman’s C at Wharton is really an A+.
Still, perhaps we’re looking in all the wrong places; the main source of O2 fanning the flames of the alleged Trump wildfire since 11/3 has been, as he implied in his tweet above, all the districts he so selflessly flipped for the party he loves. Perhaps he was even “leading from behind,” something we thought only weak-kneed Democrats (and Nelson Mandela) stooped to. But when we look at all the seats that were flipped, in both directions–because that’s what real leaders do, and because four years of taking credit for everything, blame for nothing ended last November–said O2 is, appropriately, quickly converted to CO2 and the taste of ashes:
Apparently his magic was not at all dispositive for what he would define as a landslide proportion of these flipping flippers, who either did not require his assistance or, based solely on a ‘just the facts’ reading of his performance vs. Biden’s vs. state & local candidates, were actively harmed by his presence on the ticket.
Ah, but of course, to be fairest than fairer than fair, he was focusing the vast majority of his attention on the swing states, so that’s where the “Trump effect” would have truly been realized—after all, isn’t that the raisin’ d’etre of this entire exploration, the gravitational pull of the orange giant tearing polls up by their roots? Except, except:
Except that, as you can see above, Trump fared even worse relative to his GOP fellow–travelers in the swings than he did in districts overall. Well, but surely the Trump effect explains the most embarrassing pollster misfires—Wisconsin, where he did 9.2 points better than predicted, Iowa where he trounced the pollsters by 8.2, Ohio, where he spanked them (consensually) by 8, in Florida by 5.3, Michigan by 5.2, PA by 3.8. Here’s where we’ll find the great pumpkin of electoral politics, surely and sincerely:
Nope, the Trump reality distortion field sparks briefly to life, a point and a half back in the right=Trump, always Trump, direction, then fizzles out. One wonders what the master of “truthful hyperbole” calls a 69-31 blowout if 57-43 already crosses the “landslide” threshold.
Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!
As it became increasingly clear from the numbers trickling in and coming into focus that the mythology of the 2020 “surprise” “return of the Trump voter” was passing explanatory gas, not muster, a subtle variant took hold. In this slimmed down version of the just-so story, the reason down-stream Republicans did so well (sotto voce:) even as Trump piled up losses (/sotto voce) had nothing to do with any so-called Trump surge, but was simply the consequence of some kind of Newtonian push-pull political phenomenon. Suburban voters of 2018 who removed 41 GOP congresspersons in 2018 only did so because they couldn’t vote against Trump directly. In 2020, they could, so they did so, while returning to their Republican down-ballot ways and means.
In other words, his people turned out in droves, the suburban people turned out in droves, the combination of Trump supporters and suburban Republicans pushed the down-ballot Republicans over the top, while the ticket splitters left Trump behind; the Trump supporters did their part, but the suburban establishment Republicans betrayed them. As explanation, it’s a sauve qui peux strategic retreat, providing cover for the downstream GOP’s otherwise puzzling—if not downright suspicious—resurgence, in light of the trouncing at the top of the ticket, while throwing pollsters a bone and Trump under the bus. In consequence, it’s more than a bit surprising we haven’t heard this rephrased and expressed more often as a ‘stab-in-the-back‘ grievance of the worst kind, fratricidal, given the furocracy we’ve lived under for the last four years and Team Trump’s clear lack of interest in protecting the interests of the party. But there may be good reason.
Clearly some voters did split their tickets; otherwise Trump would have done as well as the downstream Republicans did. But the associated storyline breaks down when you look at results by district type (as defined, again, in 2018, by Bloomberg’s CityLab):
As can be seen from the chart above, on average Trump did significantly worse than his Republican colleagues in rural and semi-rural areas, and his performance relative to theirs improved in the suburbs, steadily, as population density increased, though not besting theirs until the “what have you got to lose?” desperation of the “inner cities” was reached. Since this result was so surprising, and unlike some of other other analyses, included walk-overs, we ran it again with the walk-overs excluded from the average percentages won in each district type, and therefore removed from the absolute (plus-minus) and relative (proportion of total percentage won represented) differences between the two:
As you might expect, since most Republican walk-overs happen in rural areas, and most Democratic nolo contenderes happen in the cities, this smooths out the differences between Trump and the GOP, but the pattern clearly persists, and is, frankly, reflected in the overall demographics of his support. Contrary to the mythology, Trump is no working class or rural hero; the only income bracket he won included those making $100,000 or more, who, not coincidentally in our view, also faced the fewest barriers in exercising their franchise.
But in recognition of the modern GOP’s greatest visible skill, gerrymandering, let us grant Trump and his effect one last Hail Melania pass, one last shot at redemption before he’s carted away to the cartoon graveyard where he belongs. Maybe the reason he ran behind so many other GOP office holders is that their districts were tailored for them to win, and win big, not him. Maybe if we look at the total votes cast for all House members in each state and compare it to his, the Trump effect will rise up out of the Deliverance backwoods like a liberal nightmare.
To maximize of finding the elusive Effect, we felt we also needed to account somehow, for a factor that could cause the percentages of both Trump and Biden to trail those of local officeholders, namely the presence of third parties that siphon off votes from one, the other, or both, parties that rarely, if ever, put up candidates in House elections. The best way to do this, we believe, since both candidates are affected by it, is to:
- Compare Trump’s total votes in the state to the Republican House candidates in the state, and find the percentage difference between them, positive or negative.
- Compare Biden’s total votes in the state to the Democratic House candidates in the state, and find the difference between them, positive or negative
- Compare these two differences (Trump vs. Republicans, Biden vs. Democrats) to see whether that comparison favors Trump or Biden, with ties going to Biden, for the reasons described before.
Since, again, the focus of our exploration is the polls in the swing states, why they were “wrong,” and to keep our stats guy and your eyes from quitting, we did this analysis specifically–and only–on them. And The Donald’s Hail Melania is…
…slapped away! With arguably the most prejudice of all. In 9 of the 12 swing states, Biden’s performance vs. the House is better than Trump’s; in some cases–North Carolina, Ohio, Minnesota, and Wisconsin–by substantial margins. It’s also notable that in six of the twelve states, Biden outperformed the Democratic House candidates in the state even with third parties siphoning votes away from him, whereas Trump only managed this feat twice.
Just to make sure this wasn’t simply an artifact of the ideological mix of the third parties in the states in question, we researched the parties’ platforms to see whether their members were more likely to support Biden or Trump, found out what percent of the vote they got in each state, and determined whether on balance they likely took more votes from Trump or Biden.1 Here’s what we found:
As you can see, we’ve expressed these results mainly as ranges, because the big black box in the room is the Libertarian vote and who its candidate siphoned off votes from. While the best answer to that question is generally both and neither, Libertarians have traditionally taken more votes from Republicans than from Democrats, but as with all things, Trump is a special case. Not only is he out of step with a lot of Republican orthodoxy, but he’s been a hard-right culture warrior for the religious right throughout his term, and was even more so during the campaign (Libertarians are left-wing, even far left when it comes to social issues) and clearly, by countless words and actions, he’s an authoritarian, which, speaking as something of a left-libertarian myself, is the ultimate offense to those who truly adhere to a Libertarian philosophy. I would therefore expect the Libertarian basket in his election to have been filled with Never-Trumpers who couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Biden.
David Boaz of the Cato Institute, libertarianism’s leading thinking tank, who ought to know, more or less agrees, stating that “if there had been no Libertarian candidate on the ballot, those voters would have been split among Biden, Trump, and not voting, with a tilt toward Biden (or maybe ‘against Trump’).” Nevertheless, as you can see, in our “average case” scenario, which we believe is most likely to be true, we cut Trump a break (as always) and divided the Libertarians equally between the two candidates.
When you do that, you find that actually Biden was working at a disadvantage vis a vis third parties in 10 of the 12 states, all but Nevada and Wisconsin, and only in Nevada was Trump’s putative disadvantage big enough to “flip the state” (whatever that means in this context) if all the Don Quixotes were eliminated or returned to their respective folds. And if you give a little over 20% of Trump’s Libertarian votes to Biden, as Boaz’ guidance would suggest, even that cause for whining goes away. In fact, even if you assume every Libertarian vote goes to Trump, as we do in the “Net (GOP Max)” case, the only other state he “picks up” is Arizona. Once again, the Trump effect is a failing LOSER. SAD!
There was no Trump surge. In fact, unless “surge” is a synonym for suppression, we doubt there was one in 2016. Put another way, not only didn’t he “carry” the Republican Party, as he has incessantly bragged, he didn’t do jack squat to help the GOP, at least not legitimately, in accordance with the principles our nation was built on. In the best case for human intelligence, but maybe the worst for human morality, Trump’s alleged electoral magic is and always has been just a bunch of hocus pocus to obscure and distract from what’s really going on.
Friends Like These
At this point, you may be wondering why have we belabored (and belabored) this point (besides the opportunity to declare Donald Trump a loser 629 times, in pictures, his favorite medium)? Unless, of course, you’re an MSNBC viewer, in which case you might think we’re just getting started. Maybe it’s just in hopes that if we tell the truth often enough, it becomes the truth. And by the way, there’s at least some evidence sluicing along the long moral arc that it does, from people who should know, from our top political writer(s), from our most treasured essayists, et al. Furthermore, while beating horses is always wrong, sometimes it’s all but necessary to beat an undead one, and the “Trump effect” as explanation has definitely reached zombie status––neither party will let it die, and that’s a problem we’ll have much more to say about anon.
In recent weeks, it’s been Democrats who’ve been reviving it with fresh spin. For example, while acknowledging Trump did not drive a turnout surge in his favor, a leading Dem consultant, who, to his credit, never bought that clearly bogus conventional wisdom knee jerk to the groin morning after reaction, claimed instead Trump’s persuasive powers were responsible for his overperformance. The rationale: the 2020 electorate was actually “slightly more Democratic” than it was in 2016, nevertheless Trump got a higher percentage of the vote than predicted, therefore it must be the case that he persuaded “a lot of voters” to change their minds about him in a positive way between 2016 and 2020. Specifically (and perhaps not disinterestedly, given the source2), the claim is that he persuaded a number of former Clinton supporters to side with him over law and order issues as a result of the BLM protests and the “defund the police” movement. This hypothesis, in turn, is based on “extensive post-election surveys of 2020 voters.”
So, what does “slightly more Democratic” actually mean? It’s a reference to “demographic churn,” the result of the current large partisan gap between younger and older voters and the sad/happy reality that older voters die, and younger voters become of age and maturity to take their place on the voter rolls. The researcher pegs this as a 0.4% Democratic tilt. Which is where his theory falls apart, indeed his argument makes the case for the opposite conclusion. Leave aside all the influential Republicans who opposed Trump and the followings behind them (i.e. all the line-crossing in the opposite direction); leave aside the question of why the electorate was only slightly more Democratic (cough, suppression); leave aside that knowing why Trump overperformed requires knowing the answer to that question, and that interviews with people who voted in 2020 cannot, by definition, answer it; leave aside that like every other alternative explanation, this theory can’t explain the difference in polling accuracy between swing and non-swing states (only voters in swing states worry about law and order?), nor can it explain the most direct evidence against it, that he did worse in the places where he held his late and final rallies.
Leaving all that aside, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 2.3% and 3 million votes; Joe Biden beat him by 4.4% and 7 million votes. If the turnout boost Dems had to work with was only 0.4%, and Biden won by 2.1% more than Hillary did, indeed beat Trump by more than double the number of votes (130%+), how can it possibly be argued that Trump’s overperformance is the result of his mystical powers of persuasion? More trenchantly, how can this argument justify “Why Trump Was Good For The GOP” as the headline of the article that contains it?
Frankly, like all the rest of the data we’ve sifted through with you, in the end, this flare of a theory only supports the idea that the “Trump effect” is to motivate voters to mobilize against him, and in the case of those who believe otherwise, it supports even more strongly Daniel Kahneman’s concept of “confirmation bias.” Which to be fair, is not always a bad thing–Einstein could never have come up with the Special Theory of Relativity without an unassailable belief in the constancy of the speed of light, for example. But the “Trump effect” has arguably been the worst case of confirmation blindness since Russell Wilson entered the NFL.3
Here’s another Democratic theory, even hotter off the presses, about to burn into cinders before your eyes. Since we wrote all the above, and in the face of 360+ bills worth of evidence that the Republicans know exactly what the key to their success going forward is, that it ain’t “low information voters” or any kind of “Trump effect”–virtually their entire platform for 2022 is voter suppression, or dog whistles for same–the ABS Democratic establishment (or at least the part of it that makes its livelihood from candidates) has come up with yet another variant of their “Trump effect” explanation for why the polls were wrong.
Are you ready for this?
This time what really happened is… (drum machine, please) that 44.46 attacked the legitimacy of the polls so much it had the same effect as his claim Georgia was rigged had on the results of the special Senate runoffs, i.e. it discouraged his supporters from responding to pollsters, which in turn skewed the accuracy of the polls.
Wow. Just wow. As a sometime consultant myself, I get that it’s in the interest of what Donna Brazile has felicitously called “the hacktocracy” to have its clients (i.e. Democratic candidates) believe that Trump voodoo, not voter suppression, caused the polling needle to fly off its axis again, because opposition magic, like search engine optimization, is a black box they can convince their market they have the goods to do something about, while voter suppression is something up to their clients to take care of in carrying out the duties they were elected for. Black boxes are also blank canvases upon which you can indelibly paint whatever theory of the case you’ve been pushing to your clientele, e.g. that BLM was responsible for the disconnect. But again we say: wow. Let’s count up all the ways this latest sleight of hand just doesn’t fit the facts of the case:
First of all, once again, it doesn’t account for the differences between swing and non-swing state polls, unless they’re claiming the former Occupant selectively targeted this messaging only to his swing state supporters. It’s possible swing staters heard it more often if he ran more–or any–advertising harping on this, but as we know, he was badly outspent on television, so the likelihood that he devoted much, if any, of such precious real estate to an inside baseball argument about polls seems unlikely, and in any event, said real estate was very limited to begin with. He surely raged about polling in his rallies in those states, but then he ragged on virtually everything in his scattershot 1-2 hour stem-winders, routinely creating so much grievance overload it was common for many supporters to leave or at least glaze over before he did, sometimes even boring himself. Quinta Jurecic, who shares a common bond with many of our most astute Trump observers (which we’ll discuss below) went so far as to suggest (in June of last year) he might ultimately need to resort to the desperate measure of “refusing to hand over power to his successor” to get back to the “must see” status he craves. In short, it’s highly improbable that “don’t respond to polls” was one of the real takeaways, if any, his dazed MAGAs took away from these events.
Second, it doesn’t explain why the polling was off in 2016. Oh they say it does, because they know this is a critical part of the case they need to make, and credit to them for knowing that, but such a claim is textbook revisionism (and the last edition was better) to anyone with any memory of the campaign in question. Sure, he said a lot of negative things about the fake news media and their polls even then, but far from discouraging his supporters’ responding to them, he and his campaign urged supporters to stuff every polling ballot box they could (a deliberate strategy, as Michael Cohen revealed in sworn testimony), especially those of high profile “fake media” organizations, which he would then tout as the “real polling,” a pattern that was particularly notable after the highest profile events of that campaign, the three debates, each of which he claimed polling showed he had won decisively, sharing only polls he and his loyalists had successfully rigged by over-responding. If his messaging to his supporters about poll responding changed after 2016, it would be good for those who believe what’s become known as the “partisan response discouragement” theory to share the evidence for this, because in virtually every other respect, his 2020 campaign was nothing but a re-run of 2016, pandemic edition. Meanwhile, there’s clear evidence his guidance to his followers on this topic didn’t change at all, which I’ll share shortly.
Third: Scoreboard, baby, scoreboard, where the JumboTron in this case is our Occam’s checklist of every 2016-20 electoral phenomenon any theory other than voter suppression should be able to explain. This latest theory explains exactly zero of the items on the list, so: Suppression 30, Dem Establishment 0. One item on Billy O’s list, in particular, seems worth calling out and discussing in more detail, i.e., the twists and turns in “Democratic polling bias” between 2012 and 2020, because Trump’s attacks on the “fake news media polls” weren’t limited to the 2016 and 2020 elections; they were a steady drumbeat throughout, with a midterm peak in 2018, when he infamously began calling “fake news polling” the “real voter suppression.”
Which creates two significant problems for the new new Democratic theory. The first is fairly obvious: if his attacks on polling, which began in earnest in 2016 (when it supposedly explained why polling was wrong then as well), discouraged his supporters from responding to them then, and again in 2020, then how and why were the polls so accurate during the 2018 midterms?
The second is more subtle: if someone tells you you’re being suppressed, what’s your natural reaction, especially as an American? Even “snowflake” Democrats have shown, again and again, that when we’re told (especially over and over again) someone is trying to stop us from doing something we have a right to do, our typical response is to do whatever we can to “show them” by doing what exactly “they’re” trying to stop us from doing. Because of the suppression gauntlet the GOP has created, as we’ve seen, when it comes to voting, this can be extremely difficult, but when it comes to overcoming “polling suppression,” there’s no voter ID you have to acquire with documents you might not have or be able to afford to get, no overcoming disinformation to find the right place to vote, no intimidation, no need to take time off from work you might not feel you can afford or risk taking, no childcare you might need to arrange and can’t afford, no partisans looking for any excuse to disqualify your ballot, etc. etc. etc.–all you have to do is pick up your damn phone.
Bottom line: to claim that any “discouragement” from responding to polls is analogous to being discouraged from voting, as the Democratic establishment is now doing, shows a breathtaking lack of awareness of reality on the ground, in particular the very cold and very hard reality that no country in the world calling itself a democracy makes it more difficult to vote than ours–or makes it easier to be a participant in a political poll; it’s an outrageous insult to everyone who has ever had to deal with real suppression.
Still not convinced? Let Donald Trump tell you in his own actions and words. I’ve been on his mailing and texting list for the last four years, so I know pretty much everything he’s putting out to his supporters, especially the things he wants picked up by fans only, not the media or spam-filtering liberals in general.
First of all, for a guy who supposedly disdains polls and discourages his fans from responding, he sure asks them to participate in a lot of them–at least forty-six of them between April 1 and November 3rd.Of course these aren’t “fake news” polls, and while I haven’t clicked on all of them, I wouldn’t be surprised if most hit you up for a donation right after you complete them (which would be the one way I’d agree he discouraged responding, except that the evidence is pretty overwhelming that this didn’t bother his supporters).
But in a number of cases, it’s clear the campaign intends, or wants its supporters to believe, that their responses will be shared and have an impact, which tells voters that responding to polls is a good thing, not something to be avoided, and in all cases, whether he wants/means to or not, he’s conditioning them to respond, in much the same way that American Idol and other reality shows inadvertently conditioned Clinton supporters to believe the Russians when they were told they could “vote by text or tweet.”
Beyond this, there are mailings where he’s more explicit about the importance and legitimacy of polling, even by the “fake news media.” For example, take a look at this one where, a la 2016, he boasts about the polls showing that he won big against Biden in their first debate (orange emphases mine):
How is this consistent with convincing his supporters, directly or indirectly, that polls are illegitimate and don’t matter, let alone that they shouldn’t participate in them? After the second Biden debate he made a similar boast as well, only this time publicly, not just to his mailing list.
Less directly, but still substantially, he legitimizes the polls again in the mailing below, by claiming the polls are showing Biden far behind him:
If you really believe polls are fake and misleading, and want your supporters to believe the same, why would you say you’re winning them? Further, why claim that if your opponent reveals something you and your supporters are certain will make him less popular, these instruments will show him “even further behind,” meaning they’ll accurately reflect the changes in public opinion you anticipate?
In none of the dozens of the mailings I’ve looked at does he ever urge his supporters not to respond to pollsters. And why would he? If you believe in “the Trump effect,” presumably you don’t think he’s stupid, and what could be more stupid than for a candidate who openly acknowledges his appeal depends largely on always being seen as a winner, a stance which is entirely consistent with his insistence that every post-debate poll shows him as the victor, than to directly or indirectly say anything to his supporters that would cause them to do anything but vote in any and every poll they can? In fact, even in the mailings I’ve seen where he actually calls out “fake news media polls,” he still, intentionally or not, acknowledges their power, accuracy, and legitimacy, as in this piece:
If you believe polls showing you’re behind are bogus and want your supporters to believe this too, why would you be telling them that you face an “uphill battle” to win?
So, Democratic apparatchiks? Just quit. Just quit already, instead of embarrassing yourselves further by continually conjuring up new “Trump effects” that all require, as a foundational premise, an abandonment of faith in our fellow Americans, and start acknowledging the real secret to his success, a secret that’s not really much of a secret, just un-American, with no legitimate place in our politics. Stop contributing to the problem and start becoming part of the solution.
PS The fifteen or so paragraphs you just read? That’s how you shoot fish in a barrel.
The ‘Trump Effect,’ Maybe
As you’ve probably surmised by now, I love data, and have since I was a child. A year into my first tour as a Peace Corps volunteer, a family friend, an economist, who was aware of this, sent me one of the early editions of Bill James’ Baseball Abstract. With little else to occupy my time in the evenings other than fending off flying cockroaches, I devoured it and, still freshly minted and anointed by a course on linear regression with Norman Draper in my senior year in college, I eagerly applied all the statistical toys I had been given. In the course of doing so, I discovered a far less intuitive year-over-year relationship than anything we’ve discussed about Trump here, namely a perverse positive relationship between a pitcher’s ERA and his won-lost record. That is, if the pitcher’s ERA went up from one year to the next (meaning he was giving up more runs per game), his won-loss record improved. Conversely, if he improved his ERA, his record actually got worse. I sent my analysis to my economist friend, who confirmed the accuracy of my calculations and urged me to send them to James himself, which I did, though I can’t say that he ever received it or never replied, given where I was sending from.
Periodically, in subsequent years, I’d pick up a copy of the latest Abstract to see if the relationship I’d found still held. It never did; it had vanished, perhaps in shame. This was data based on two 162 game seasons, not a snapshot from a single Election Day, and yet it was apparently a fluke. And yet-yet, there was actually a plausible explanation for what I found in the data, one that I’d seen anecdotally myself watching or listening to ballgames. It should surprise no one that pitchers with better run support from their team have better won-loss records than those who don’t, or that pitchers are, like the rest of us, human beings. It would be completely within the realm of human frailty for a pitcher staked to a big lead by his batters to lose focus and give up some runs in return, and completely within the realm of human resilience for a pitcher who realizes he can’t expect any such support to bear down more so as to give up as few runs as possible. Repeated over the course of a season, and if run support shifts sufficiently from pitcher to pitcher from one season to the next, it’s not hard to see how the old adage about the relative importance of pitchers and hitters could be reversed, with the pitchers’ performance more dependent on their batters than vice versa. But perhaps only in very few seasons is the effect strong enough to affect the nature and recording of the game itself.
Likewise, there are some all-too-human special circumstances associated with Donald Trump that do support a “Trump effect” that could, in combination with the other results we’ve discussed, explain why he lost while the Republican Party as a whole had a strong election. Unfortunately for Trump supporters, it’s a “Trump effect” that results not from a landslide victory that was stolen via the subtraction of votes from his column, but rather his unique ability to subtract votes from the other side. Which might well, by itself, have drained what he calls the swamp (i.e. Democrats) just enough for his fellow Republicans to emerge above the water line, but not enough for him to do so himself, because some portion of Republican voters across the board, not just in the suburbs, but even in areas considered his unique sources of strength, just couldn’t stomach the fraught possibilities of another four years.
And what “magic power” of this nature does Trump possess that the rest of the GOP doesn’t? Answer: close, alarmingly unprecedented ties and friendships with dictators around the world, many of them with world-beating capacities for interference campaigns (often thoroughly locally tested), electoral cyberwarfare, and removal of any/all loyal domestic opposition that might otherwise hold them back. Kris Krebs may be right, that this was the “most secure election in American history,” but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t massively interfered with; as we’ve discussed, there are lot of ways to cheat and violate the Constitution with the help of foreign operatives without actually changing any votes in the machines themselves, not that we can really be sure that wasn’t done, too.
Several times during the 2020 election campaign, officials in Trump’s own administration came forward to say the Russians were interfering on his behalf, again, and this was recently confirmed via the declassification and release of a 15 page report by the National Intelligence Council. Among other things, the Council found that Russia, under the direction of Putin himself:
- Laundered misleading or unsubstantiated allegations against Biden through US media organizations, US officials, and prominent US individuals, “some of whom were close to President Trump and his administration.” (collusion 2.0, though no mention of recent book-length allegations by an ex-KGB major that Trump has been cultivated as a Russian asset since the 1980s)
- Sought to undermine confidence in the electoral process and exacerbate social divisions while denigrating President Biden and the Democratic Party.
- Targeted and attempted to “discourage left-leaning audiences from voting by suggesting that neither candidate was a preferable option” as well as promoting COVID-19 conspiracy theories and allegations of social media censorship
- Ran this “heavily amplified” campaign through their intelligence services, Ukraine-linked individuals and their networks, Russian state media (e.g. RT), trolls, and online proxies, as well as troll farms using unwitting third country nationals from Ghana, Mexico, and Nigeria (hmm, two African countries and one Latin-American).
- Began it as early as 2014, with Biden the target throughout.
- Successfully penetrated some state and local government networks prior to Election Day, including those that “contained election-related elements like voter registration databases or static state election reporting websites,” though they say they have “no indication that these activities altered any election processes or data,” but did involve “exfiltrating some voter data.”
At least some of what was done was a bit more colorful than this dry officialese suggests. For example, in Georgia, Russian hackers executed a ransomware attack that locked up its now (in)famous voter signature verification database, “forcing poll workers to do things the old-fashioned way, pulling registration cards manually and eyeballing the signatures.” And their social media disinformation campaigns became significantly more sophisticated in general, e.g.
- Rather than writing their own material, they began seeking out American content that suited their goals, copying, pasting, and stitching it together into posts whose voice was much more authentically American and devoid of the numerous grammatical errors that gave a lot of their 2016 propaganda away.
- Rather than buying Facebook ads, they began identifying Facebook groups that were “already primed for disinformation and radicalization” (at least in part by them and the conspiracy theorist they put in power)
- Their artificial intelligence capabilities evolved to a point where Americans were duped not just into sharing content that they thought came from other Americans, but writing content and working with “individuals” in organizations who turned out to be bots.
And for all the pre-election executive bravado about digital lines in the sand, it wasn’t until an insurrection organized on social media came within a few units in space-time of violently overthrowing and decapitating the government that Facebook and others took the first real steps towards matching the performance of the Maginot Line. A VICE investigation on the eve of the election revealed that Facebook’s first serious effort to take on the responsibilities of government ended up being a parody of command and control bureaucracy, a manual filled with rules so hyper-specific that like the atomic level of its pages, most of it was empty space. Once the last votes were cast and counted, political groups across the spectrum, perhaps already jockeying for position in 2022, readily admitted that the company’s “ban on political ads” in the final weeks of the campaign was completely meaningless.
Still, in its full scope, the Russian offensive was really a heads we win, tails you lose effort that even a master of the genre like Donald Trump had to admire. As we indicated earlier in the series, stealth has long been a signature element of Russian spycraft; it’s said they “rarely leave fingerprints except when they want to be caught,” e.g. maiming or killing dissidents in other countries with poisons that could only have originated with them, a method they apparently choose so as to maximize the suffering of the individual, his/her family and friends, and their broader community of supporters by ensuring a slow and painful death. The NIC report calls them out for “denigrating mail-in voting, highlighting alleged irregularities, and accusing the Democratic Party of election fraud,” but the overall message they’ve been pushing since 2015 is much more powerful, and not one the NIC would want to even acknowledge in a report like this. It was well stated by Putin’s notorious Internet Research Agency on the day of the midterms:
“Soon after November 6, you will realize that your vote means nothing. We decide who you vote for and what candidates will win or lose. Whether you vote or not, there is no difference as we control the voting and counting systems. Remember, your vote has zero value. We are choosing for you.”
In fact, most of the time, Russian cyberattacks aren’t intended to favor one candidate or another, simply to undermine confidence that democratic elections produce legitimate results. But when they’re carried out in an atmosphere in which it’s believed the hackers involved have made a definite choice in favor of one candidate, Republicans themselves would acknowledge this definitely depresses turnout for the other side; this is exactly what they predicted would happen to them in Georgia if Trump persisted in his claims that the general and special elections there were rigged in favor of the Democrats, and in their own view, it’s exactly what caused them to lose both Senate elections, in a state ranked #2 in voter suppression that hadn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since favorite son Jimmy Carter in 1980. It’s enough to make you wonder what the true motives were behind the Trump administration’s regular warnings throughout the campaign that Russia was interfering again on his behalf, especially given the extent to which he had hollowed out and politicized our national security agencies by then.
Ditto their deliberately evidence-free, half-hearted claims that China and Iran were interfering on behalf of Biden, which were likely intended to provide “both sides” cover for Russia’s shenanigans, pre-empting damaging backlash, while intentionally far from enough to discourage Republican turnout, with full faith that the “liberal” media could be counted on to take note of and broadcast the asymmetry of their claims, which it did, of course. You might even call it an example of “vice-signaling,” reassurance to the largely anti-democratic GOP base not to worry, that our foreigners are doing a more better job of cheating than theirs are.
The idea that China, in particular, was favoring Biden and working on his behalf is risibly ridiculous. Donald Trump was the candidate with the secret Chinese bank account; the candidate who was paying more in taxes to the Chinese government than to his own; the candidate who owed China and its financial sector hundreds of millions of dollars (shell games notwithstanding); the candidate who was willing to sell out our national security for Chinese investment in yet another of his failing enterprises; the candidate who openly took bribes from them; the candidate who lauded their crushing of dissent at Tiananmen Square and supported their creation of concentration camps for their Muslim minority while looking the other way during their crackdown on Hong Kong; the candidate whose attacks on our allies and abandonment of the developing world was driving dozens of nations into China’s corner; whose deep sixing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership ceded economic dominance of Asia to the Chinese; whose supposed alternative, trade wars, accomplished absolutely nothing; whose vanity made him unconscionably easy to manipulate; who openly asked them to dig up dirt on his opponent to help him win re-election–overall, it’s hard not to believe his true mission was to Make China Great Again, not America.
Those right-wing conspiracists who are outraged by this litany and point to the alleged biological warfare unleashed against their hero (a.k.a. the Wuhan Flu) give themselves, ironically, even more, harder questions to answer. For example, why did Trump dismantle every measure and cut every resource we had in place in China to detect new pandemics? Why did it take weeks for his advisors to convince him to impose the China travel ban he later bragged about in the campaign, and why was said travel ban so full of holes hundreds of thousands were able to travel here from China after it was imposed? Why did he toe the (Communist) party line for so long? Why would China want to get rid of a “leader” whose COVID response, or lack thereof, resulted in a 61% decrease in foreign investment in our country vs. only a 4% decline in their own during the worst worldwide economic catastrophe since the Great Depression?
Were Trump still in office, having left no evidence he had a clue about how to distribute the vaccines (even if he had a plan) or any sign that he finally took the disease seriously (he wasn’t even willing to be filmed getting the vaccine he bragged about), we would have been India, still struggling with its own Trumpian leader. While China would be playing the role of post-WWII America, surveying the damage all around it, picking up the pieces in its own order, just like we did. Frankly, it’s well past time to teach these conspiracists a hard lesson: that those of us who oppose Trump are a lot better at creating conspiracy theories than they are, less creative perhaps, but a lot more logical and factual. I can tell you that every time I’ve encountered Trump supporters peddling “Beijing Biden” theories, for example, they’ve quickly scattered in the light of the much greater body of evidence that Dear Leader was helping his Chinese masters use COVID to destroy our country. Not that I believe that, of course.
Not surprisingly, once the intelligence agencies were out from under his thumb, they declared that China had not taken either side in the campaign. In light of the number of reasons–approaching terra cotta orders of magnitude–that Xi actually had to take Trump’s side, and past experience with sweeping under the rug assessments of this kind, we’d encourage them not to draw this conclusion too quickly, at least where Chinese interference on Trump’s behalf is concerned. After all, these same agencies first told us the Russians had hacked two states; by the end of 2017, it was 21 (after briefly being reported as high as 39). It wasn’t until late 2019, three years after the election, that we learned what many of us had suspected from the beginning, that in fact Putin’s Army had hacked multiple jurisdictions in all fifty.
In fairness–as illustrated in election centers from Chicago to Nashville to Louisville to Durham to Tallahassee and beyond–the same decentralization supposedly preventing mucking with our elections also means a diffusion of expertise that leaves its local protectors (let alone individual actors, aka voters) no match for the real hacktocracy, especially in the Internet era when, ironically, virality knows far fewer borders than existed when and why the Net was first deployed; we’ve just exchanged radioactive fallout for information packets, and the packets are a lot smarter. A telling sign of how overwhelmed we are, even at the federal level–thanks to Republicans’ multiyear campaign to starve real election security of necessary resources–the report makes literally no mention of the “very talented” “historic” “beautiful” artist & lover Kim Jong Un, whom Trump remained intimate with even after the supposed rationale for his flattery collapsed. This despite the fact that, unlike GOP bugbear Venezuela, the North Koreans have well–proven to our nation’s helicopter parents that taking the TV (and everything else) away from the kids can make you a world–class black hat cyberpower, and, more importantly, despite there being plenty of publicly available evidence shedding illumination on the regime’s election–related activities.
Meanwhile, the NIC continues to insist Iran did try to interfere on Biden’s behalf by seeking to derail Trump’s re–election, albeit fairly ineffectually in their view. Which, like anything giving the slightest aid and comfort to Donald Trump, demands careful scrutiny, given the now too well-known consequences of same (we’ll have more on this in the last section of the piece). In this case, the agencies have taken what may well be accurate intel, that Iranian Supreme Leader Khatami ordered a cyberattack on our elections, and apparently used it to make an ass rather than a donkey out of you and me.
The first, and most basic, assumption made is that the Iranians wanted Trump to lose. At the risk of sounding naive: why? Because here’s why not:
- Their most radical and suppressive elements had done business with him, business that helped them acquire weapons of mass destruction (kabuki, anyone?), before he was “elected.”
- Thanks to the deal they negotiated with Obama, they’d already gotten all their frozen assets back, pallets and pallets and pallets of them, as GOPers never cease to remind us, humiliatingly hand-delivered by our military.
- The hardliners in black who are the ultimate decision makers never liked the quo they had to give up for that sixty-nine billion quid; when Trump reneged on the deal (out of a very personal version of ODS), they got to have their nukes and feed themselves too.
- The new sanctions and other aggressive actions Trump took against them very likely only strengthened the hand of the regime, as US attacks on their sovereignty have been doing for decades. And since we first wrote these words, oops, looks like we did it again.
- In the unlikely event that he ever succeeded in squeezing them beyond diminishing returns, they could count on Trump’s puppeteers in Russia and China to bail them out.
- Finally, perhaps most importantly, for countries like Russia, China, and Iran, there’s no more valued and valuable quality in a foreign leader than incompetence. So what’s not to like?
Frankly the rationale for Iran to support Trump is so strong that even if our intelligence agencies had audio, video, and written proof they didn’t, the possibility all such was just disinformation (surely the Russians, at least, would have taught them that bit of statecraft) would have to be strongly considered.
Beyond this, the most notorious tactic they deployed–contacting voters in swing states pretending to be Proud Boys and threatening them with retribution if they didn’t vote for Trump (oh, how the mighty have fallen–in the salad days of the Islamic revolution, they could’ve just IDed themselves as Iranians)–raises any number of too true flags. First of all, this has been a regime that’s maintained control largely by empowering and arming conservative rural militias to intimidate and terrorize its literally more urbane (and restless) city dwellers into submission to its will, an approach/scenario that’s becoming increasingly familiar in our own country as well–why would such a regime believe calling voters and telling them to “vote for Trump or else” would goose support for Biden? Khatami et al have never seemed like the kinds of guys who take delight in bank shots–in fact, they probably think they’re degenerate–unless someone who wanted to make it look like foreign interference was a level playing field this time were telling them this was the way to do it, but again, if so, why?
Secondly, while this wouldn’t be the first time Iranians used impersonation as a tactic, there were only two major parties to this election with an extensive track record of impersonating for political gain in an election, and neither was the Democratic one. Republicans have been doing it since Nixon unleashed his Tricksters in 1972, a campaign in which, among other choice tactics, they fabricated correspondence and flyers in the name of Democratic candidate they feared most, Edmund Muskie, and deluged New Hampshire voters in the middle of the night with calls, purportedly from Muskie staffers in Harlem, enthusiastically talking up everything he would be doing “for the Black man” if he were elected. Another infamous example: the “Brooks Brothers riot” of 2000, when the GOP flew in lawyers from around the country to impersonate angry Miami-Dade County residents and storm the county’s election center to stop the Miami-Dade recount of votes in the presidential election, which they did, a key turning point in the selection of Republican George W Bush as president.
In fact, Repos might be considered Masters of the Tactic (one that Trump was clearly familiar with from his days playing “John Barron,” his own publicist, to inflate the size and scope of his operation and trick Forbes into putting him on their annual list of the wealthiest Americans) had we not borne witness to the capabilities of Iran’s Trump-supporting ally, Russia, and the seemingly limitless (and certainly infinitely scalable) arsenal of interpersonal fakery they’ve unleashed in our last two presidential elections. As a side note, if you’re suffering election season withdrawal the way I do, you can use Hamilton 2.0 to keep up with the permanent campaign in close to real time by tracking and monitoring Russia, China, and Iran’s social media activities. Think of it as electoral spring football.
Finally, it behooves us to revisit the question we asked a paragraph ago in a different context. Irrespective of what Khatami and the Iranians intended, is it actually at all likely such a campaign (which, btw, sounds suspiciously like what was done to rural students of color in Texas) would boost, rather than suppress Biden’s totals? It might if they somehow managed to psychographically target people like me; if I got a call like that, sure, not only would I be even more certain to vote against Trump, assuming even greater certainty on that score were achievable (I keep hearing, contrary to conventional athletics wisdom, that it’s not actually possible to “give 110%”), but it would motivate me to give (more) ground game money to as many anti-Trump candidates as possible as well.
That said, one of my more discouraging learnings of the last four years is that upwards of 99% of Americans don’t feel quite as strongly about Trump as I do, plus frankly many people I know were–and still are–scared trumpless of the Proud Boys, and I suspect a group of Proud Boys sporting Middle Eastern accents might tighten that feeling and associated body parts even further for any voter over the age of 20 or 21, depending on how far back their childhood memories extend. So I’m pretty sure the tactic backfired unintentionally, rather than intentionally, meaning that if the intent was to help Biden, it almost certainly had the opposite effect. Even if its exposure caused some countervailing outrage, do you remember what else happened in October? Neither do I, not in the unprecedented deluge and tangle of storylines generated daily, mainly by the Trump campaign, always erring on the side of chaos vs. concern over stepping on is own message.
Which brings us back to first causes, credit and blame, which, in this case, both illuminate the same man, and the one special power, the one “Trump effect” that actually exists. Whether you believe the Iranians were trying to help Trump or Biden, whether they were receiving inspiration from the Republicans or the divine, nobody believes Ali Khamenei was working hand in glove with the Biden campaign. Pre-Trump, we didn’t have a foreign interference problem with our elections. Whether he provoked them or not, no matter how you look at it, it’s Trump who emboldened the mullahs to take the actions they did, by trafficking in foreign interference, getting away with it, defending it, normalizing it, and broadcasting calls for more.
Have we said enough about Trump now? Can’t we just move on, as the left told Republicans during the real “WITCH HUNT” of modern politics, the oceanic fishing expedition that was the “Whitewater” investigation? In a word: no. It might seem like the previous discussion is gratuitously sharting on the skunk cabbage (or the dead corpse lily), but Trump’s relationships with authoritarians and their regimes are at the core of why there’s no such thing as overkill where he’s concerned. The Human Simulacrum has been left for dead many more times than Napoleon, and if we can no longer hear him on El-be-lago, what’s periodically pronounced to be signs, even proof, of his disintegration, dissipation, and dissolution is nevertheless no more cause for gloating and celebration than a relative lack of chatter signals the end of terrorism–we are a long way from turning him from a pathogen into a vaccine.
It’s said that in politics, the fiercest disagreements are between close allies on the political spectrum. And I have to confess, as angry as Donald Trump makes me, my center-left moderate friends who think people like me are “obsessed” with him, that he lost, he’s over, and we should let it/him go, anger me more. Of course, we have better things to do that we’d rather be doing! Of course, we’d rather “treat ourselves” for surviving the last four years, the last one in particular, by bingeing Netflix in its entirety, taking breaks to watch grass and paint do their thing. Instead, it feels like we’re conducting an exorcism on ourselves and others every day, with our minds perpetually on a Linda Blair swivel.
That said, as far as I’m concerned, people who are tired of hearing or talking about Trump are tired of being Americans too. Let’s review just a few examples of what’s been said, done, or happened since January 20, 2021:
- Despite passage of a massively popular COVID relief bill, a rapidly growing economy, a vaccine rollout that had us lapping the world in doses administered, and continues to place us, for the first time since the pandemic started, high on COVID leaderboards we actually want to top, not to mention action after action after action on a wide range of policy issues that are popular as Trump’s were not, plus daily gusts of basic competence, decency, and service, Joe Biden’s approval ratings have barely budged from just over 50%, while his disapproval numbers have slowly but surely risen, and in the “swing states,” they’re worse. What happens when things are less the optimist’s view of the world, and more the pessimist’s?5
- Informed speculation has already begun as to what the next pandemic will be, with a high degree of certainty based on climate change and other factors that it’s coming. In the meantime, the current one is wreaking havoc in states with low vaccination rates, causing mask mandates and restaurant closings even in blue strongholds, as we continue to be unable to escape the caves of our past in the relative weight we give to stories and anecdotes vs. statistics and science. Meanwhile, pandemic-inflected inflation looks like it’s going to be with us longer than expected.
- The latest count from the Brennan Center shows that since the last election, there have been 389 bills designed to restrict voting introduced in 48 of the 50 states, many of them Republican-controlled, including two of the big five (AZ, GA) that powered Biden to electoral victory, with only Democratic governors, all up for re-election in 2022, standing in the way of Republican control of all five. 17 states, including just under half (6/13) of the 2020 swings, have already passed 28 of these laws, many of them (like Georgia’s) with a multiplicity of anti-democratic warheads attached.
- Of these bills, 216 pieces of legislation in 36 states would allow partisan state legislatures to seize control of election administration itself, even overturn the clear popular will. 24 of them have already passed. The Bulwark’s take: far from a traditional post mortem, the GOP’s autopsy on 2020 amounts to a strategy and tactics to win without winning either the popular or the electoral vote.
- In two recent voting rights cases, our nation’s most anti-democratic and anti-Democratic branch strongly signaled, as we predicted nearly a year ago, that passing H.R. 1 would most likely accomplish nothing.
- Since the Progressive Era of the early 20th century, we the people have always had a way to overrule hyperpartisan state legislatures, no matter how gerrymandered: the referendum. Now GOP legislatures across the country are quietly dismantling it, just as their brethren (and they are nearly all brethren) in the courts did to the class action lawsuit.
- Nationwide, and especially in the swing states, state and local election officials are being targeted by Trumpists for vicious campaigns of intimidation and terror, resulting in a mass exodus of fair minded, nonpartisan individuals, and in key states such as Georgia and, especially, Michigan, those who have shown or seem likely to stand in the way of the GOP’s next Orwellian “Stop the Steal” initiative are being systematically purged from their jobs. Meanwhile, the next generation of rising Republican leaders looks to be even more united behind that false narrative than the party’s current officeholders.
- Like an angry, ugly boil on the body politic, the grotesque, ridiculously unprofessional, and hyperpartisan Arizona election audit has turned out to be only a symptom of a blood-borne infection that has quietly spread to Pennsylvania (where the concept originated), Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan, Texas, and other localities across the country.
- Trump and his supporters are convinced he will be “reinstated” as president sometime in August. Yeah, that’s crazy talk, at least until you find out the Department of Homeland Security is taking it seriously. It’s also worth boning up on what cults are willing to do to help prophecies come true, and what happens when they don’t.
- 44.46 also appears to be seriously considering the possibility of running for Congress next year in a safe district,6 then take over speakership of the House (which, thanks to their census and redistricting machinations, plus genuine population shifts and the seasonal currents of history, the GOP is widely expected to flip in 2022), and use this position to impeach Biden as a springboard for 2024. You may well scoff–there are, as always, a complete set of “obvious reasons” why it couldn’t happen. But before you dismiss it, count to 10, and to each number attach something you thought could/would never happen that’s happened in the past four years. Here; we’ll help (though as you’ll see, this resource is more than a little out of date).
- Right wing media are also putting out a chillingly rational plan (and case for) him to get Joe Manchin to switch parties and thus flip the Senate over to Republican control as well.
- More than half of all Republicans believe “violence may be necessary to preserve the American way of life,” 40% believe that violence may need to be “political” in nature, and Vladimir Putin continues to have a place in the heart of nearly a quarter (in fact, according to one recent poll, he has a higher approval rating among the GOP than Biden; according to another, nearly a third trust him to “do the right thing”).
- A commentator on Trump’s new favorite media outlet, One America News, casually suggested that the thousands of election officials who are “in on” the plot to steal the election from Trump be executed as traitors.
- Facebook’s review board punted on the decision to ban Trump for its platforms, paving the way for him to be reinstated as early as January 7th, 2023, just in time for the 2024 campaign.
- Biden is finding how badly Trump has poisoned the well with our Allies, limiting the extent to which he can get them aligned for unified action against our economic competitors and military adversaries, which, in turn, is likely to limit his impact without limiting the blame the GOP will assign to him for problems of Trump’s making.
- The latest scientific research is revealing that the politics of grievance Trump pushes and his followers increasingly share is literally addictive, leading to binges of retribution and revenge, and that the pathological narcissism he embodies is actually contagious, leading those close to the narcissist to increasingly mirror his grandiosity, entitlement, and contempt as they increasingly become an extension of him.
- From the secret seizures of Congressional phone records recently uncovered to the alarming manuevering the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff felt he had to do in Trump’s final months to prevent a coup, not to mention Mike Pence’s apparent suspicions that even the Secret Service might be in on the plot, we are steadily learning just how much of an authoritarian state Trump already had in place by the time he was finally forced to leave office, which likely could easily be revived and continued, and we’ll almost certainly learn more as investigations proceed and those involved feel increasingly at liberty to speak.
- From conspiracy theories, misinformation, and disinformation spread to the politicization of prophylaxis to legislation passed in GOP-controlled states around the country designed to stop public health authorities from taking measures proven to tamp down disease, it’s clear the Trumpian right will stop at nothing to undermine and sabotage Biden’s greatest success and contrast with Trump, his handling of COVID-19, periodically walking back their efforts just enough to maintain plausible deniability against what should otherwise be a devastatingly accurate charge: that they continue to be willing to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of American lives, including many of their own supporters, for raw political gain and power.
- Trump himself recently gave up the game when, like the model mobster/terrorist he is, he opined that our vaccination rate would be much higher if he were president because “people would trust the government more,” especially if it would fess up to stealing the election and return the presidency to its rightful owner. Which begs the obvious and rhetorical question: which “people” is he talking about? Why, his own supporters, of course, whom he is cultivating and deploying as biological suicide bombers to prove his point.
- Alarmingly, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), who voted to convict Trump after his second impeachment trial echoed, amplified, and expanded on this pitch, making the blatantly extortionate claim that more people would get vaccinated if the federal government would stop calling the voter suppression laws his state and others are fervently working to pass “the new Jim Crow” and cease trying to overturn them.
- Maybe even more alarmingly still, even a serious progressive like Ed Kilgore has since volunteered that “if it saves lives to make his fans open to vaccination by making it a MAGA-approved activity [i.e. by giving Trump credit for the vaccines], it’s worth the risk of marginally improving the former president’s odds of returning to office and throwing me and other elements of the “fake media” in jail for disrespecting him.” In case it’s not obvious why this is a bad idea, feel free to skip ahead (and back).
- Even dyed-in-Merino conservatives like David Frum are reluctantly coming to realize what the post-modern Republican Party (aka the POT–Party of Trump) is becoming.
To be fair, some of the above may simply be the byproduct of the milking motions of the media as it continues to do its best to extract nourishment from its cash cow–he’s dead, he’s alive, he’s dead, he’s alive… But there’s more than enough smoke here for multiple Reichstag fires, though we know it can be hard to see in the haze that used to be the western United States.
Are you hoping or even counting on the legal system to solve a problem like The Donald for us all? Don’t. Recall that the Paul Manafort trial, in which the feds had him dead to rights on, among other things, not reporting $65 million in taxable income (and wearing an ostrich skin suit while doing it) was nearly blown up by a single completely irrational juror whom even the Trump supporters on the panel found unfathomable. Now we’re thinking we can put their messiah on trial and get a unanimous verdict on anything? How? By keeping Trump supporters off the jury the way the South used to eliminate Blacks? That’s not only logistically impossible, it’s optically and politically impossible as well. By only allowing individuals who’ve never voted or evinced any interest in politics to serve, assuming you can really verify this? That will almost certainly get you twelve versions of the Lone Juror, all of whose up, charm, top, down, strange, and bottom qualities you have to get aligned. Furthermore, anyone who isn’t already ideologically or just plain crazy would be hard- pressed to be unaware of the extent to which anyone who crosses Trump receives, at a minimum, a deluge of death threats against themselves and family, at a time when Ronald Reagan’s nine scariest words can really be reduced to four: “we can protect you.” All this assumes we ever even get a case against him that can be charged and won under the best of circumstances, which so far seems unlikely, especially when the U.S. Justice Department, which should have been a key ally, is already taking a global damn the consequences, hands off approach to even obvious malfeasances like Wilbur Ross’ repeated lies under oath. Even if you get a conviction, there will be years of appeals, during which time, thanks to his followers, he’ll be out on bond (later to be repatriated for personal use), and even if you finally succeed in putting him behind bars, there’s the very real possibility he could run from prison and, thanks to all of the above, still win. No, all of the above is a perfect example of why Rule #3 when dealing with an autocrat is: Institutions Will Not Save You.
So instead, we’re for “going there,” and not looking back. It’s time to call him and it out for who and what it is, and act accordingly. For starters, with the help of people we know who grew up under the Nazis and hundreds of op-eds collected, we’ve compiled a list of more than 60 similarities (and counting) between Trump and Hitler, their tactics and regimes, which we invite you to contribute to so that we are all much better-versed to deal with his supporters and other deniers, and more confident and less willing to back down telling it how it is.
The H Word
Why are we so seemingly cavalier and heedless about making what the tut-tocracy of pundits considers such “loose” and “careless” comparisons? Because there’s no dictator of any stripe or inclination who should ever be considered anything but anathema in the land of the free. In this context, and only in this context, even the Holocaust becomes nothing but an irrelevant red herring, unless you believe a totalitarian who is like Hitler in every meaningful respect except that he hasn’t committed mass genocide is really any more acceptable. Surely the line in the sands of the Rio Grande is crossed well before that. The reality: comparing Trump to Hitler does not trivialize the Holocaust; rather, denying, dismissing, and/or minimizing their many similarities trivializes what Trump has said and done.
But does it have to be Hitler, you might ask. If putting him side by side with Nixon, Andrew Jackson, Millard Fillmore, Jimmy Carter, Herbert Hoover, or Ben Franklin (not in a good way) no longer does the trick, why can’t we just compare him to Mussolini, Stalin, George III, Louis XIV, James II, Juan Peron, Hugo Chavez, Silvio Berlusconi, Kaiser Wilhelm, Nero, Caligula, or someone, anyone else, anyone but he who shall not be named? Yes, it does, and no it can’t be, not anymore. For most Americans, Hitler is the only totalitarian we know viscerally enough to really understand and, as a result, stop onanistically bingeing and start making the sacrifices necessary to prevent him–or anyone like him–from coming to power ever again. Hitler is truly the only comparison that’s really actionable.
Some, like Mitch Daniels (R-IN), will persist, claiming that using such language to describe Trump “cheapens it,” draining it of power against the time when “we may [really] need to use it.” But Mitch et al, don’t you get it? We don’t want to wait until we’re under a full totalitarian regime before we call it like it is, any more than we want to wait until we can say with certainty that every extreme weather event is the result of climate change before we acknowledge it’s happening (side note to Tucker Carlson: do you ever bring an umbrella to work, or are you waiting until the weatherman can tell you how many raindrops will fall on your home, your place of work, and the route you take between the two?) We don’t want to be sitting here saying, “OK… those things really are concentration camps… and it looks like… yup, there’s smoke coming out of the chimneys; now is the right time to start paging through the history books to properly identify which totalitarian movement it’s most appropriate to compare it to [answer: pretty much all of them].”
Just as it’s been more than reasonable for more than three decades to take action against climate change even if one doesn’t completely believe it, as a kind of “insurance policy,” because the outcome is so much worse if we’re wrong, can anyone who professes to believe in liberty truly not consider with foreboding what Trump’s past behavior foreshadows he’d do if he were to be “reelected” or “re-selected,” namely, almost inevitably, engage in a Hitler-like consolidation of power, since such an eventuality would certainly be considered by him to be a mandate in favor of everything he’s done or tried to do to date, especially given how severe and disqualifying all such should have been, much as Hitler doubtless considered that his “election” despite his leadership of the Munich putsch gave him free reign to do as he pleased in the wake of the Reichstag fire?
The whole point of using words like “Nazi” and “fascism,” Mitch, is to make sure we never get to that point, because, as the Germans, and many others in those books, would tell you if they could, by then it’s too late. Every step towards authoritarianism, every line crossed and norm broken makes it harder to go back while creating its own momentum, like a black hole, with a small, darker than dark mass, the authoritarian, at its core. Furthermore, while we know you and your ilk like to point out how often the words “Nazi” and “fascism” were flung around during the Bush and Obama administrations, even as far back as Reagan, have you ever considered the possibility that if those warnings and warning signs had been heeded then, premature and immature as you may have seen them, we might not have gotten Trump and be where we are today? We didn’t wait until Hitler committed mass genocide before we decided he needed to be stopped by any means necessary. We didn’t even know the extent to which he had done so or, in some cases, at all, until the final days of the war.
In any case, all of the above misses the larger, more essential point. Trump doesn’t have to be Hitler, he doesn’t have to become president again, he doesn’t have to be the 2024 nominee or even run for office ever again to do irreparable damage to our country, democracy, and the world. With our two greatest enemies, two greatest authoritarian nations in the world, Russia and China, increasingly aligned and allied (and, not coincidentally, both with Trump in their pockets), surrounded by a club full of satellite autocracies who have more common ground–and even culture–with each other (thanks to the leveling effects of tyranny) than with any democracy; with the world far more on a knife’s edge than 1939 in every possible way, in a state of play where virtually everything is “war by other means,” all he has to do is keep dividing us when we can least afford it, keep distracting our gaze from the North Star of our ideals to the breathtaking constellation of negative traits that he embodies, keep devolving our world from the beauty of America and humankind to the surround-sound ugliness, in every respect, of him.
All he has to do, with the received authority of a president, is keep saying things like “Who shot Ashli Babbitt? [aka the new Horst Wessel] We all saw the hand. We saw the gun. You know, if that were on the other side, the person that did the shooting would be strung up and hung. Now, they don’t want to give the name. It’s a terrible thing,” Which is something he does, if anything, ever more frequently and outrageously, in his endless quest for “ratings,” for undivided attention, now that he no longer has the bully pulpit of the presidency and has been banned from all major social media platforms. Yes, it’s true Trump didn’t invent polarization, but can there really be any question that he has made it worse, and continues to do so every day, not just by keeping fires stoked, but adding new sources of energy to the fire, rather than changing the climate? Can anyone seriously argue that it wouldn’t be better not to have the leader of one of our two major parties continue to push discredited lies daily, demanding, on pain of political death, that all others in the party follow suit? Every Trump supporter, especially those claim to support law enforcement, should be required to watch this video, and these, over and over, until they understand why Ashli Babbitt was shot, why that shooting was more than justified, why the officer who shot her should never be identified, and why their “leader” could not be more obscene within the limits of his powers for suggesting otherwise. Or stop claiming you support the police, because you don’t; only when it’s convenient to do so.
Republican friends, especially those in power, we urge you to recall the Hitler of 1944, increasingly erratic, delusional, paranoid, vindictive, volcanic in temperament, steadily dementing, often addled by ‘vitamin’ cocktails provided by his personal physician (you know you’ve suspected it, and more than once), given to holding forth for hours in endless monologues, convinced by his repeated narrow escapes from political and physical death he is invincible. 1943 Hitler was as obsessed with Stalin as Trump was with Obama, which is why he insisted on capturing and holding on to Stalingrad, a target of limited strategic value (the badly needed oil fields of Baku were supposed to be the strategic focus of the 1943 campaign), which resulted in the complete destruction of his 6th Army and the loss of the Eastern Front.
1944 Hitler is the stable genius who ordered up the Battle of the Bulge, a plan which involved moving his best troops from the Eastern front, where 80% of the war was taking place, to the Western, then punching through Allied lines, which was supposedly going to compel the same England that survived the Blitzkrieg to sue for peace, all the while banking on an extended run of bad weather (because weather forecasters control the weather, like dictators, right?) to keep the Allies, who by then enjoyed complete air supremacy, from raining a pre-enactment of the Iraqi Army’s retreat from Kuwait down on their heads. Everyone in his administration, his military, and his party knew this was pure lunacy that could only result in catastrophic disaster, but no one felt they could tell him he was wrong. Does any of this sound familiar, Republican friends? Does any of it not? The only real difference we can see is that this time we could lose the Battle of the Bulge to burned steaks, Diet Coke, and ourselves.
Whenever someone mentions Hitler in a political discussion, someone is sure to intone sagely about Godwin’s Law—an inevitability so predictable it should be considered a corollary to the law itself–but the law isn’t, as most wishmember it, “the first person to invoke Hitler in an argument loses;” it’s simply that the longer a political argument continues, the more likely that Hitler will be invoked, which is actually something we’ll be able to say about Trump as well for the foreseeable future (when’s the last time you had a political debate where his name didn’t come up?); just another of the many similarities between The Donald and Der Führer. It also validates our “break glass in case of emergency” invocation: when we reach existential extremis in political warfare, we all go there.
Of course, the semaphoric reason some invoke Godwin is to signal that calling Trump who he is just ends debate and shuts people down. Which people? The comparisons we are making aren’t for the lost souls among the 22‰ of the population who voted for Donald Trump who still truly believe he was robbed. At least some of these so benighted find the comparison flattering, wish Donald were more like Adolf, and think they are courageously “saying what everyone is thinking,” rather than spewing intellectual pollutants, when they voice this. “Going there” is for everyone else not yet willing to lay everything on the line to crush him, everyone who has not yet seen, in themselves and in our people, that adaptability is not only one of humankind’s greatest strengths but also one of our greatest weaknesses.
Why are we so concerned if only 22‰ of the population really supports Trump? Leaving aside that a majority of Germans never voted for Hitler, and that the Three Percenters have more history on their side than democracies do, let’s begin with how rarely we hear Trump’s popularity represented like this, as what it really is. Instead, we hear nothing but chatter about how the nation is “split down the middle.” And frankly, that only provides cover for, and makes us ripe for, elections stolen by voter suppression and foreign interference. In fact, there might not be a better time to steal an election outright than right now, after the Democrats and their supporters will have spent the better part of two years swearing to the security and integrity of our election systems as they bat down wilder and wilder conspiracy theories to the contrary. What will they be able to say if an electoral event really is stolen by their opponents? Most likely they’ll find themselves sputtering helplessly like Robert Shaw after Paul Newman beats him at cards. Furthermore, everyone who plays sports on even a casual basis or works out on a regular basis knows a key to success is to switch up tactics and intensity. Vladimir Putin might not be the sharpest sickle in the shed, but as a fitness (nearly in the) buff, surely he understands this; just look at the variance in Russian involvement in our last three elections.
What makes the efforts to separate Trump from Hitler particularly galling is a real distinction of another kind, between the life experience of those who have been most steadfast in calling out Trump’s authoritarianism and those who have minimized it. By and large, those who raised the earliest and most eerily accurate alarms have been those who’ve either lived under totalitarian regimes, inherited that experience, or have made the study of totalitarianism their life’s work, beginning with German sociologist Leo Löwenthal who, in 1946, identified the atomization created by the kind of “individualism” and “personal responsibility” the post-modern Republicans have been pushing since Reagan (as opposed to the group identities they scorn as “identity politics”7), as key to creating fertile ground for authoritarian regimes to arise, even as it purports to be anti-government in nature, a lineage that continues with Hannah Arendt, of course, and thence through to Masha Gessen (11/16) Timothy Snyder (11/16), Garry Kasparov (3/17), and others.
Whereas, with a degree of correlation normally only seen between warmongering and draft deferment, those who have pooh-poohed the threat almost never have any such experience at all, to the point where “have you ever lived under an authoritarian or totalitarian regime?” really ought to be a gating, litmus-level test of one’s credibility to comment on the subject, because those who have, have been right, again and again and again,8 while those who haven’t have been wrong, again and again and again. How about it, Mitch “Reckless & Historically Inaccurate” Daniels—have you ever lived under a dictator? Have you, Ross Douthat? If not, maybe it’s time for you and the rest of y’all to shut the **** up, listen, and learn for a change. You can start by taking to heart the truth-singed advice of another of autocracy’s children, Zeynep Tufekci: the best way to prevent a coup is to act as if it’s already happening.
I probably feel particularly strongly about this because my father and siblings grew up in Germany, first under the Nazis, then under the Stalinist “communists.” I myself also lived in an authoritarian regime in West Africa for several years, and got in political hot water a few times there (to the point where afterwards, my postal mail back to friends there was apparently blocked, nor were letters from them reaching me–we were lost to one another until one of my former students sent me an email in 2009 asking me if I was the same person who had taught him biology and math back then).
I feel, in consequence, like I’ve got more than a bit of that nazdar prescience myself. In fact, this entire series exists because of an email I sent the day after the election to one of my favorite political writers, who had trashed the polls, asking him whether he was “considering the possibility that what we really have is not a polling crisis, but a suppression crisis instead?” followed by a number of speculations about what happened (all of which we’ve since proven right), and concluding: “For the GOP, suppression is really a twofer. Not only does it prevent people from voting who they don’t want to vote, it also helps discredit the polling industry which, as we know from Ukraine and other cases, is democracy’s last best defense against outright fraud in the counting. I urgently hope that a thought leader like yourself won’t contribute to that.”
To his immense credit, imnsho, he replied to me the next day, observing that while I had “asked excellent questions” he had been “relatively heartened by the evidence on suppression so far, at least insofar as I expected it to be worse,” noting there was “less outright intimidation, fewer long lines, fewer 2018 Georgia-style catastrophes,” acknowledging that “of course, you can’t measure people who decide not to vote because they’re intimidated,” and concluding with a question back at me: “if polls can’t account for suppression, that’s a good reason why we should de-emphasize or de-center them in coverage anyway, right?” All of what you’ve read in part I, II, and up to this point was intended to be a response to his note in general, and to that question in particular (which we’ll answer in the final part of the series). And not for nothing, but the first two paragraphs of this section were written in early February, not July-plus.
The Hope Ray
All of the above raises, uncomfortably, the same question for the Democratic Party that they’ve been asking Republicans for the last four years: will they put country before party, ever? Republicans have looked at the same data we have and, being more intelligent and rational than Trump, at least in private, cannot help but be drawing the same conclusion, that not only didn’t he “carry” the Republican Party, as he has incessantly bragged, he didn’t do jack squat to help the GOP, at least not legitimately, in accordance with the principles our nation was built on. The only reason they won’t toss Trump overboard (besides the risk of back injury, heightened by years of spinelessness) is that they’re afraid of being primaried.
The Democrats are going to make hay out of this (and eat it too); they’re going to hang Trump around the neck of every GOP candidate like a 300-pound orange albatross. And they’ll probably get some wins out of it, but here’s an axiom I’d write in first-in–the-nation granite: the longer you live, the less likely you are to believe the ends justify the means. Because short-terms gains by any dubious means–like keeping a Donald Trump viable to use him as a weapon–always seem to backfire many-fold in the long term. Liberals cheered all the times the Warren Court usurped the prerogative of the legislative branch, a ten year ideological joyride that led to 40 years of activism by what became the most conservative Court in US history. For example. And closer to ideological home, a séance held for German industrialists and church leaders from the 1930’s would be very interesting.
Moreover, there’s a big difference between the pieces of paper that make up a piece of legislation and a law that’s effective because it’s meaningfully obeyed and enforced. At a time when we face existential challenges like climate change that will require the commitment of many more than 50%+1 of the citizenry, the feel-good election of a few Democrats to pass laws rendered meaningless when 40% of the population not only refuses to obey them, but actively sabotages their intent, will lead to no joyride at all, except for the politicians who are only in it for their own self-aggrandizement, the consultants who are only in it for the money, and the cynics who believe all politics is just WWE in a martini glass. Putting country before party means destroying Trump politically and completely as quickly as possible before he succeeds in irrevocably dividing and permanently crippling the nation on the global stage.
That begins with breaking his hold on the Republican Party, which begins by guaranteeing every Republican Senator and Congressperson, at least in those races where the only hope of a Democratic victory is a divided GOP, that if they break with Trump and are primaried as a result, we (Dems & Independents) will support them with every available resource if they’ll run as independents in the subsequent general election, no strings attached. We can no long wait, as Obama coolly advised up, “for the fever to break;” we don’t have time; we must break the fever instead.
The good news is that what we’re proposing is, as we say in the tech biz, eminently doable. Take the results of the last election the “Impeachment Eleven” ran in as a starting point. Take the results of the most pro-Trump post-1/6 poll of GOP voters you can find. For us, it’s one that was taken in early February, at the height of GOP defensive indignation over Impeachment 2.0. In it, 69% of Republicans said they would be “much less” or “somewhat less” likely to vote for a candidate who voted to impeach Trump. Assume all 69% support Trump’s proposed replacement, but that the remaining Republicans would stick with the incumbent if he/she ran as an independent, which seems like a reasonable assumption–by turning down such an easy no cost way to register disapproval of impeachment, it seems clear they meant to send the opposite message. Assume that, in addition, those who voted for the Democrat in the last election (in each district) throw their support behind the pro-impeachment Republican turned independent incumbent. Here’s how the next election turns out:
As you can see, with the exception of Liz Cheney, every one of the eleven wins, and most of them do so by landslide proportions, five of them by 20 points or more, ten of the eleven by 10+, collectively by an average of 17.2 (57.2%-40.0%). And this is while making the most favorable pro-Trump assumptions supported on the ground. As the emotions of impeachment fade, Trump’s hold appears to be fading, too, not enough to keep him from becoming the 2024 Republican nominee, but more than enough to give even Liz C a realistic shot at retaining her seat with a little help from the rest of us. By the end of April, for example, NBC News found that, for the first time since July 2019, Republicans who prioritize supporting the party over Trump outnumber those who support Trump now, Trump tomorrow, Trump forever. And the recent special election in Texas, an R vs. R affair in which Democrats and moderate Republicans joined forces to help Jake Ellzey (R) beat Trump’s anointed choice, Susan Wright (R), by 6 in an election Wright expected to win by double digits after beating Ellzey by 5+ in a jungle primary where more than 60% of the votes went to Republicans, shows what we’re talking about is no pipe dream.
Of course, given the tight margins Democrats have to work with in the House, it might seem suicidal for Nancy Pelosi & Co. to support rather than oppose any Republican, but as you can see from the column on the right, only one of the eleven is likely to be competitive enough for the Dems to win anyway (a threshold generally defined as a >5% margin of victory—only David Valadoa’s seat in California qualifies), and frankly given the upside for the country if all eleven win versus the questionable downside,9 this should be a no brainer for any Democratic patriot. If you’re a Democrat or Independent who agrees, here’s a potential first stop in taking action (as I already have).
Partisan Democrats should also consider the real possibility that backing the Never-Trumpers could split the Republican Party. For the rest of us, it could finally result in the return of bipartisanship, but not the bad old good old days when such consensus meant surrounding the wagons to lock in the establishment and lock out everyone else; the threat of Trumpism on the one hand and the changing demographics & psychographics that inadvertently created the conditions for both Trumpism and, in a more inexorable way, we hope, for a new era of American greatness–the choice between them is ours–will force establishment liberals and conservatives to work together for the benefit of all, as they did against Hitler, which also marked a period of breakthrough for diversity and inclusion, leading to the feminist and civil rights movements of the 1960s. More broadly, the historical record suggests it may well be that democracies depend, for their sustenance, on existential threats that the citizens of the nation join together to overcome. Trump and Trumpism would certainly appear to qualify.
Unity and bipartisanship don’t mean “my way or the highway.” Democracy doesn’t mean we agree on everything–at its frictionless best, it’s completely iterative, like a well-run company built to survive the long haul or the macroscopic version of a good marriage. Continuing the analogy, the seeds of Trumpism lie deep in the concept of irreconcilable differences, which are rarely as irreconcilable as they seem. The success of Republican governors in deep blue states like Maryland, Massachusetts, and Vermont gives the lie to the claim that those differences are irreconcilable politically; on the national stage, it’s worth spending time perusing the policy engagement between Democrats and Never Trump Republicans in The Bulwark or listen to the testimonies of conservatives in Republican Voters Against Trump or consider the wide range of issues pollsters have actually found broad majorities of the American people in agreement on (a recent report found nearly 150 such policy areas), or bookmark our own Bill of The Day, which tracks the wide range of substantive bipartisan legislation that’s been passed in the House, Senate, or both.
On Relentlessness (and Revisionism)
But while our elected representatives grope their way back to the better bipartisan angels of their nature, the rest of us must strictly adhere to Gessen’s Rule #5 For Surviving Autocracy: Don’t Make Compromises. In our most ahistorical of societies, for better and worse, this starts by stopping every scintilla of Trumpian revisionism about his term in office by anyone anywhere dead in its tracks every time it appears, as each were the political equivalent of the brown marmorated stink bug it is, invasive and un-American.
If you’ve lived for multiple decades, you know stories have an organic dimension; they grow over time, naturally, and this is, for the most part harmless, because the growth rate is too slow for the story, in its growth, to maintain its hold and impact on the passage of events. But when fertilizer is applied to the story, singularly and mechanically? Here’s a little example of why every creeping revision goosed in this fashion needs to be called Every. Single. Time. Donald Trump received 74.2 million votes. There is no numerical system anywhere in the world in which 74.2 rounds up to 75 million, and at first Trump & Co sort of acknowledged this by claiming to have received “almost 75 million votes,” though this is already dishonest—the correct way to describe any number between 74 million and 74.5 million is “more than 74,” not “almost 75;” the “truthful hyperbole” had begun.
Then the number became 75 million, repeated over and over again. There were articles in the press calling out this exaggeration, but the Trumpkins kept on keeping on. And then they began to break through, at first in ways that were hard to see, often turning the media’s battlements of vigilance against it. In this CNN article, for example, Trump impeachment lawyer Bruce Castor is quoted as saying impeachment “is about canceling 75 million Trump voters.” The article also promises a fact check on the claims, but when you read the fact check, there’s no challenge to the 75 million included. Perhaps CNN’s fact checkers felt they had debunked this one enough, but what are the odds that the average CNN reader has read even one of its fact checks, let alone enough to draw the same conclusion, assuming the average reader has the magical power to read fact checkers’ minds? In reality, Trump has lied so frequently for so many years, most Americans stopped reading fact checks a long time ago.
Does this kind of slippage, slight as it is, make a difference? You tell us. Here’s an article written by a well-known Wisconsin politician who is clearly no friend of Trump’s; the article is about Donald Trump as a “public health problem.” Yet in it, as you’ll see, how many votes does he say Donald Trump received? Not 74 million, not 74.2 million, not “more than 74” or “almost 75,” but a full 75 million. As this dynamic continues to blossom, how long do you think it will be before Trump supporters start claiming (over and over again) he received “nearly 80 million votes,” then “80 million,” and then…OK, maybe they don’t ever get brazen enough to start citing totals that exceed Biden’s on a regular basis, but they don’t have to. They will already have reduced Biden’s blowout to a nail-biter; they can let “fraud” close the rest of the distance and, in any case, they’ve already given greater weight to their voices vs. ours than they deserved and created more credibility for a 2024 Republican steal. What CNN et al should be doing is calling out exaggerations like this every single time, and not in a separate fact check that no one ever reads, but right in the face of every reader in the articles themselves. What should we be doing? Bombarding their bulletin boards, mailboxes, and phone lines until they start doing this.
Beyond this, for at least the next four years, we will need to be continually alert to the sleeper cell lies that will be activated as memories of the past four years dim; for example, the Big Lie that Trump would have won but for the pandemic, that in every other area he was a huge success, but where the pandemic is concerned, he was just unlucky, undermined by a cabal of doctors, scientists, vaccine makers, and the Chinese, none of whom wanted him to win. We’ve destroyed this argument before; we all need to be ready to trash it again and again.
Give him credit for the vaccines? Who are you kidding, Ed Kilgore? The amount of credit he deserves is less than zero. The first vaccine to hit the market, Pfizer’s, didn’t take a dime of money from Operation Warp Speed, so clearly Trump’s program isn’t how or why a vaccine was developed, and nothing Trump did, not the guaranteed purchase of doses (Pfizer certainly wasn’t waiting for that, especially given that it was only guaranteed if the vaccine worked and was approved), not the “strong working relationship Pfizer had with the FDA” (Trump was responsible for that? C’mon, man) caused their vaccine to be developed, or completed a day earlier than it was. Furthermore, it can be reasonably argued that the only reason the vaccine was the game changer it turned out to be is because Trump and Trumpian leaders in India, Brazil, England, Russia, and Italy let the virus get so out of control that not only did millions die, but it was given the world’s biggest petri dishes to mutate into forms so virulent and contagious even countries that did everything right, like Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Australia, and New Zealand (which collectively have the same number of people as we do, but had only 14,000 deaths as of this writing) are now under threat from it.
Consciously or unconsciously, because his only real talent is a limitless capacity to divide and con, Trump has spent his whole life playing some version of the playground game “saved your life” over and over again, creating needless crises that he then “solves.” In this case, the number of “mistakes” he made was breathtaking in their scope and particulars. Literally the only thing he did right is what any toddler of average education would have done: pump dollars into research to find a vaccine and, if possible, a cure (seriously: put a toddler in the Oval, tell him or her the situation, give him/her the option, as Trump’s advisers did, of putting money into medicine to stop the disease, and even a Terrible Two isn’t going to say no).
Then, having made that “tough” “decision,” he did nothing else to do anything but make the pandemic far worse, because he expected the vaccine to become his October Surprise (after it had done maximum damage to every constituency that opposed him) and insure his victory,10 which is why he whines and whines about the pharma companies’ “sabotage.” As the Washington Post points out, the vaccine was the product of six decades of basic research by a scientific community whose work Trump did nothing but trash and undermine in every possible way throughout his term. To give him credit is like praising an arsonist for getting rescued by a fireman.
As above, the attacks on his revisionism must be relentless, unyielding, and withering, like highly targeted radiation therapy, with a particular emphasis on destroying his greatest source of strength, the perception that he always wins, and never loses, which is why he’s gone to such extraordinary lengths, up to and including violent insurrection, not to mention contempt for the police officers–backbone of his base–who bore its brunt, in an all-out effort to wipe away the ketchup stain on his long red tie created by his resounding defeat in the 2020 election. And why every mention of his wealth and/or success as a businessman should be “show me the money/debt” challenged, every single time. Without the perpetual aura of a winner, he’s just another pathetic man behind the curtain.
Critically, we should never assume that people and publications that seem to be on our side aren’t, in fact, (un)witting dupes. For example, there’s recently been a run of books covering Trump’s final days that, while sensational, all share a common flaw: a necessary dependence on individuals “close to Trump” as sources, including one by an recidivist who used Steve Bannon as his ‘source of sources’ for his first Trump “tell all.” In the telling of these “definitive” accounts, Trump comes off as alternately impulsive and befuddled, not the deeply malevolent individual he’s proven time and again to be. After months of signaling he intended to use the late counting of heavily Democratic mail-in ballots as a way to declare victory on Election Night after the in-person ballots favoring him were fully counted (why else would his party have systematically blocked the counting of mail-ins until after the polls closed?), Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker’s account in I Alone Can Fix It would have us believe this was done on a whim at Rudy Giuliani’s sole urging. Rucker is a great reporter (see below), but in a case like this you can only be as good as your sources, and Trump is far from the only liar and spinner in his White House.
Similarly, to hear Michael Wolff tell it in Landslide, on January 6th Trump was childishly delusional, confused, out of touch, appalled by his supporters, apparently had no idea who they were or what they were doing there, paralyzed into inaction, anything but the man who planned a “wild” rally timed to disrupt the certification of his opponent’s election, who used language that he knew had goaded his supporters to violence many times before, then urged them to march on the Capitol, and…was surprised by what happened? No, Jason Miller (the insufferably smug and roguish Trump aide playing Bannon in this installment of Wolff’s trilogy), sorry, but no, Jason, and no Michael, he wasn’t surprised at all.
Then there was the New Yorker article fulsomely attacking his “winning” mythology by noting that he ran “only two percent ahead” of Congressional Republicans. As we’ve shown, he actually ran behind Republican candidates for Congress in nearly 70‰ of the districts across the nation–how could he then have received 2‰ more votes than the House candidates in his party? As it turns out, this very special tabulation of the Trump vote included districts where the Republicans’ congressional candidates received no votes at all, either because they were running unopposed and were therefore not on the ballot, or, alternatively, because the Republicans were shut out after a “jungle primary,” or never fielded a candidate at all. Since we can’t guess at how many votes a Republican would have received in these districts, the only fair and appropriate way to compare Trump’s performance against his party’s House candidates in terms of total votes received, given these anomalies, is to count up the votes with those districts excluded.
When you do so, you’ll find that once again, Trump’s claims to have won the election are crock-blocked (sorry, just love saying that) by his own party’s performance in the same contest. In fact, as shown in the Politico-style reporting of results below, if Trump had been running against his own “weak” party, not only would he have received fewer votes than the GOP, but he would have lost the Electoral College by an even greater landslide than he did to Biden, thanks to that institution’s profoundly anti-democratic bias towards small rural states (scrumptious, delectable, and savory are all synonyms for crock-blocked, too). Feel free to print out the map, have it laminated, and pass copies out to all your Trump-supporting friends.
It’s well worth emphasizing that what looks like so much effort to, yet again, simply reconfirm, yet again, what we already knew, so much effort you’d think even we would have to confess to obsessive overkill, nearly always proves to be far from gratuitous when The Occupant is involved. Put another way, though thoroughly unreligious, and nothing like King Cyrus in recompense, Donald Trump has proven to be arguably the greatest unwitting proselytizer for Drake’s Prayer in history. For one thing, it turns out that Trump has actually been using the specific factoid we just debunked as a talking point for his fraud claims. Here he is, at CPAC, talking it up:
I received almost, listen to this number, because you know, the fake news doesn’t ever talk about these numbers. I just heard this one for the first time. I received almost 1.5 million more votes than all of the Republican House candidates combined. So how the hell is it possible that we lost? It’s not possible. I got more votes.
Given that the article which first brought this propagandoid to our attention was written after CPAC, it looks like its friendly fire author was yet another victim of a Trump White lie, seeping by persistent repetition into the fact base of even those who oppose him. Which only reaffirms that unless we want to spend all day reading Breitbart and The Daily Caller while watching Fox & Friends, we’re going to have to fact-check even those on “our side,” while giving props to those among us with the titanium-plated stomach to keep up with the other.
In this case, that’s the Post’s Philip Rucker, who actually listened to the Trump speech in full, was struck by the passage above, conducted an analysis similar to the one we did, and came to the same conclusion. But Rucker’s take is only one article, an article we only came across ourselves by accident months later. Now, with our own piece live, there are two, but you can bet that Trump and his allies have told and spread that lie many times more than twice; it’s a perfect example of why we need what we called an online Debunko Squad in Part 2 of this series–and a voluminous one at that.
The other reason why these exercises are decidedly not a waste of time, as I hope you’ve seen time and again in this series, is that every time we pick up the propagandists’ gauntlet like litter from the sidewalk, what we find seems only to further strengthen the case against the would-be autocrat in favor of the truth. In this case, actually totaling all the votes for all the other Republicans running federally, as opposed to just debunking his alleged coattails on a race-by-race basis, puts a real childproof cap on the number of votes Trump could possibly have received, even in a completely fraud-free election, given the known high proportion of straight-ticket voting.
More to the point, even if he’d managed to get the same number of votes as his GOP wingmen and women, it’s still nearly 4.7 million short of Biden’s totals in the same districts, even though Joe was sporting a 12 handicap in that the comparison took 19 heavily Democratic districts in which no R was running off the table (including the District of Columbia, where he won 93% of the vote), versus only seven where the reverse was true.11 You can’t block crock any better than shedding a triple team like that. When combined with the myriad ways and means we’ve shown and documented Repos used to steal Democratic votes, there is, in the end, only one conclusion you can come to, and it deserves to be in pull-quote bold:
If anyone has a right to claim they were robbed in the 2020 election, it’s Joe Biden, not Donald Trump. And the American people. Robbed of a cleansing, crushing repudiation of Trumpism that his supporters would be forced to accept and come together with the rest of us, robbed of the opportunity to restore our status internationally, in the community of nations, a status that conferred advantages that cannot be overestimated. As such, his and his followers’ ongoing efforts to dispute and overturn the election are not only wrong-headed, but disloyal to our country.
Were the shoe on the proverbial other foot, Donald Trump would go on to opine that “when we were smart,” we used to treat disloyalty “a little differently than we do today,” except he would almost certainly swap out “disloyalty” for the t word he deployed so liberally in office, even for ‘offenses’ as trivial as not giving him a standing ovation. But of course, this is one of the many differences between we, the people, and Donald Trump; in fact, most of us would want to make clear that disputing the results of an electoral college selection, for example, couldn’t be more appropriate for a nation founded as a democracy and birthed out of protest and revolution. We mean disloyalty here only in the sense that Trump and his supporters mean it, as something inimical to the nation’s (and particularly their own) material interests, not a betrayal of our founding ideals, which they seem to care quite a bit less about.
What Else, Else?
Having said that, it’s clear, given the gravity of the situation, that we can’t do too much, so what else is there to do? Well, we firmly believe almost any of our proposed political projects, many of which we’ve already discussed, could help. Here are three more, with more to come, two of them already in progress:
For decades, c & s has been a proven name-brand technique to move the politically recalcitrant from sabotage and violence to, at a minimum, quiescence about, or grudging acceptance of, the direction leaders want to take the country. We’re in the process of developing a unique high-tech/low-tech community-based grassroots version designed to nudge Trump supporters back from the edge of the cliff (where he’s playing his trademark version of the old “saved your life” playground game with them). If you want to see what we have in mind, and potentially join us in the effort, click here (no difficult or confrontational convos with Trumpkins required)
It’s time to change hotels. Pre-Trump, when you thought of political scandal, who was the first name that came to mind? Nixon, right? Well, after the exceptionalist quick fade of the American memory, and despite the fact that the Trump administration is easily the most corrupt in history, worse than Nixon, Harding, and Grant combined (none of whom put our country up for auction to the highest bidder or violated the emoluments clause of the Constitution every day they were in office), Nixon will soon be the first name we think of again. Why? Because ever since Watergate, every new scandal has been appended with -gate. It’s time to swap that loose caboose out for the primary location of Trump’s corrupt wheeling and dealing; it’s time to get every scandal A.T. appended with -a-lago instead. We’ll never get a better modifier to make politicians who violate the public trust sound as loopy and dopey as they almost always are. Come join us!
As the great linguist George Lakoff would tell us if he were less polite, the post–modern Republicans have been kicking our ***** year after year in one of the most important eternal battles in the permanent campaign, the war of the words, from “pro-life,” “entitlements,” and “enhanced interrogation” to “death panels,” “fake news,” and “election integrity.” We’re smarter, funnier, and more creative, by far–as DJT would say: how the hell can we lose to them? Could it just be because the hacktocracy making up our words simply isn’t as good at it as theirs? Is that a rhetorical question? Let’s find out, and while we’re at it, let’s start going on offense in the culture wars for a change. In the Glossarium, we’re creating an entire new lexicon of political lingo franca, and throwing back a lot of the psychological projections that have been fired at us–enjoy! And then start passing ammunition.
Some will say relentlessly shooting down every “misstatement,” as we’ve proposed, will only harden support for the lies. We’ve called BS on this before and we do so again—ask the “good Germans” how well ignoring the brownshirts, looking at them with contempt, and refusing to engage worked out. The only way to defeat the Big Lie is with the Big Truth. And part of that Big Truth, beyond the green shoots of bipartisanship we’ve already called out, is that “they” aren’t as monolithic as you think at any level, from the theoretical—a robust study in Wisconsin, for example, found it’s quite possible to separate Trump supporters from mythological belief in his economic policies and prowess—to the electoral—e.g. Democrats in Nebraska used climate change to reconnect with rural voters and win 73% of the state and local races they put up candidates for in 2018—to the martial—the Civil War was really two wars in one: one between the North and the South, the second within the South itself, between the wealthy planter-driven Confederacy and the upcountry small farmers and herdsmen who saw no point in maintaining slavery at the cost of the union.
To be clear, when we talk of crushing Trump, we do not mean physically; to do so, like rupturing an appendix in which all toxins are gathered and tucked away, would result in peritonitis of the body politic. Nor should the goal be to erase Trump in any other way. While we’re not as Marxist as the apologist media, apparently, in believing that if Trump had not existed, he would have been invented (like Hitler??)—in the war between the great man and zeitgeist theories of history, we choose peace, believing, with the interactionists, the path forward is determined via a mix between the two—we know enough of human history to know that authoritarianism is always a threat to democracy, one that, perversely, seems to grow with distance, so it’s vital we do whatever we can to survive the diabolical game of blackjack that’s been left to us, to remember everything that happened the last four years without normalizing it for the next would-be dictator, to understand without forgiving. Once it’s in your body, you don’t “beat” cancer, you survive it, and you never let your guard down again. In the end, the Germans decided Nazism and all its symbology was so inevitably toxic that it had to be outlawed. But we don’t have that option in the land of the free, so we’re left to do the next best thing, relentlessly crush Trumpism politically and, especially, person-to-person whenever and wherever we see it. This is not something we can leave to the media or to the Democrats; it took all of us to defeat Hitler and Nazism, and it will take all of us to beat Trump and Trumpism as well.
Even if hearing and believing this makes you feel all is lost, there are still at least three good reasons to keep fighting the best fight against autocracy:
- If the end of America as we know it is truly nigh, none of us should mark its passing with that mfwpos (figure it out) still cocking his head for the cameras and lying, lying, lying, lying; nor allow it occur while watching a President Carlson spewing scattershot chaos or Snakehead Miller telling us he will not be questioned, though in fairness he’s only repeating, just with less elegance and tact, what Karl Rove taught him. We owe it to our forefathers to show we’re better than that, and owe it to ourselves to show we made good on their promises better than they did.
- To do something, anything, in response to evil, no matter how small and insignificant it seems, is never futile; if it does nothing else, it denies those who just went along with the unspeakable the comfort of believing they had no choice.
- If you’ve truly given up hope for our country and even for humankind, there’s still life itself that’s worth saving, the miracle of which no one has done more to imperil, in our last, best window of opportunity to change course, than Donald J Trump, while we’ve so far mostly watched, agape. He continues to do so to this day.
Nobody who knows what we’re up against believes it will be easy. As Michigan Republican State Senator Ed McGroom, head of MI’s Oversight Committee noted, after issuing a stinging report demolishing the election conspiracy theories that continue to swirl and refuse to go down, threatening to permanently clog democracy in the Great Lake State:
Even while he recommends possible prosecutions, the urgency McBroom feels at this moment has less to do with going after bad actors and more to do with reaching “the good people who are buying this junk.” This includes people in his own district, friends and community members McBroom has known his entire life who refuse to accept what he is telling them.
“It’s been very discouraging, and very sad, to have people I know who have supported me, and always said they respected me and found me to be honest, who suddenly don’t trust me because of what some guy told them on the internet,” McBroom said. “And they’re like, ‘Yeah, but this is a good guy too.’ And I’m like, ‘How do you know that? Have you met him? You’ve met me. So why are you choosing to believe him instead of me?’”
His wife of more than a decade added:
After having kept quiet for much of the day—cooking, sweeping, applying Band-Aids, directing traffic, shooing the children outside to complete their chores—Sarah McBroom spoke up.
“That’s what has struck me. It’s seeing people that we know—some of them we know very well—who are choosing not to believe Ed, because they believe someone on Facebook they’ve never met,” she said. “I just don’t understand. Like, really? You believe that person over Ed?”
But even staunch conservatives like Liz Cheney, another member of the brother and sisterhood who have experienced autocracy firsthand, who often find bleeding is all they can staunch these days, believe that still, we must press on:
I am a conservative Republican, and the most conservative of conservative values is reverence for the rule of law. Each of us swears an oath before God to uphold our Constitution. The electoral college has spoken. More than 60 state and federal courts, including multiple Trump-appointed judges, have rejected the former president’s arguments, and refused to overturn election results. That is the rule of law; that is our constitutional system for resolving claims of election fraud.
The question before us now is whether we will join Trump’s crusade to delegitimize and undo the legal outcome of the 2020 election, with all the consequences that might have. I have worked overseas in nations where changes in leadership come only with violence, where democracy takes hold only until the next violent upheaval. America is exceptional because our constitutional system guards against that. At the heart of our republic is a commitment to the peaceful transfer of power among political rivals in accordance with law. President Ronald Reagan described this as our American “miracle.”
While embracing or ignoring Trump’s statements might seem attractive to some for fundraising and political purposes, that approach will do profound long-term damage to our party and our country. Trump has never expressed remorse or regret for the attack of Jan. 6 and now suggests that our elections, and our legal and constitutional system, cannot be trusted to do the will of the people. This is immensely harmful, especially as we now compete on the world stage against Communist China and its claims that democracy is a failed system.
We called this section the bottomless line, but there is a rock bottom, and like all rock bottoms, it’s a source of support to take the first steps back up, not the memorial marker for a long fatal fall. We didn’t get here by falling, not helplessly at least. We made the pit we’re stumbling and swaying in, and our message to our fellow Americans, all of us, must be this: It’s time to stop trying to change the facts, and get back to changing the future, to stop looking for conspiracies and start looking for solutions. Changing the facts is something you do when you’re stuck; finding solutions and changing the future are much more in our DNA, more so than in any other nation. We need to become Americans again.
We’ll be endeavoring to do our part in the final part of this series, with a specific focus on killing voter suppression once and for all, and, not coincidentally, saving polling in the process.
(ed. note; since we published this piece, the attempted rehabilitation of Trump by the media, presumably to fatten its bottom lines, continues apace, especially on the part of the Post. In another excerpt from “I Alone Can Fix It,” , for example, the authors interview him as if he were no more harmful than a crazy, delusional, dementing uncle who just can’t face facts, further indulging him by engaging in typical access-driven bothsiderism, accepting what they apparently see as token concessions to his ‘facts’, most notably and dangerously agreeing he’s “correct” when he brags that “he pushed scientists at the FDA “at a level that they have never been pushed before.”” We challenge the Post writers involved to name so much as one thing the “FDA scientists” did, in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, as a result of Trump’s “pushing” that they wouldn’t have done if anyone else occupied the Oval , bearing in mind this is a two-part challenge–it has to be something they did only because Trump “pushed” and not something any other president would’ve “pushed” for as well. Bon chance!
Far more execrable is a piece published in the Post’s August 1 Sunday edition, titled “What Trump Got Right.” Not only do the examples pale beyond the whitest shades compared with what he got wrong–even in the fields these “nine experts” cover–but they are laughably wrong on their face. One credits him for “sanctioning Russia” (really); another for cutting the home mortgage deduction because it was only going to the wealthy anyway–the fact this was done to pay for tax cuts for the über-wealthy and hurt blue states already contributing more than their share in taxes notwithstanding; a third credits him with nuking the Washington White House Correspondents dinner (??? well, he certainly put a damper on hollow celebrations of all kinds in 2020); a fourth with changes in the Middle East that were already afoot well before he took office; a fifth with something having to do with trade (to her credit she’s never really able to articulate what he’s supposed to get credit for); a sixth with removing moral considerations from US foreign policy (because you know, we’re really no more moral than Putin and Xi, so let’s get back to the good old days of pre-WWI realpolitik), handing the Afghans over to the Taliban and presumably, the Kurds to the Turks; a seventh with “diversifying the GOP”–ROTFL; an eighth with re-legitimizing the assassination of government officials in other countries, at the mere cost of a few “headaches” for the troops he professes to love and honor so much, and the ninth with the vaccines (see above and above and above).
The comments section of this piece, by contrast, is a model for how we, the people, should react whenever anyone says something even the slightest bit positive or merely non-negative about Trump. Getting rid of Trumpism is going to require denying him credit for anything, no matter how feeble the claim. For example, the authors of the piece above state that Trump is regarded as the “fourth worst President in history,” that only Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, and Andrew Johnson are regarded as worse. Imagine what we’d be saying and thinking if Germany considered Hitler to be only the 4th worst leader in their history; imagine how much greater the odds would be of the return of a Hitler-like figure there. Saying Hitler is merely the 4th worst is tantamount to saying “he did a few good things,” and we all know anyone who says that is open to totalitarian rule.
For the rest of us, praising Hitler for the autobahn or the Volkswagen is, by definition, obscene; so is praise for Trump, and this view, fortuitously, is not merely typical political posturing; it also aligns precisely with the truth. Pierce, Buchanan, and Johnson have traditionally brought up the presidential rear because when dealt a bad hand, they did either did nothing to change things for the better or made things worse. Trump wasn’t dealt a bad hand, he created a good number of the cards in the deck, then cheated and dealt the worst ones to himself. We’re more than confident that when historians look back, in 20-30 years–or less, at all the damage he did in the area of climate alone, not to speak of his damage to our system of government, the union of our people, and our relationship with the rest of the world (and that’s still just for starters), he will be at the bottom of every heap, never to rise again. The only reason he’s not there already is that some portion of the historian community has been infected with TDS, an illness that, like the devil himself, convinces its victims it’s a disease that everyone except them is suffering from.
PS The few Trump supporters who contributed to the piece’s comments section responded mainly by pointing out that of the 6,000+ responses, 2,700+ (probably more in the end) mentioned Hitler, which they considered disqualifying on its face and reflective of the “lack of originality” on the part of progressives. We want to thank these Trumpkins for their due diligence in helping us make our case. After all, can you imagine an article in any publication anywhere about Obama, W, Clinton, or Reagan, an article moreover about positive things they did, that would elicit 2,700+ responses referencing Hitler? So what does it mean that the wisdom of crowds–or the marketplace, as they prefer–is so quick and consistent in making this analogy in one of our most widely circulated publications? If the shoe fits, why do we need to come up with a new one? If an article about the sky were published and 2,700 commentators said it was blue in their responses, would that make them wrong? Or would it rather suggest a statement scientific in its accuracy?
Creative Politics is the world’s first community-based political incubator, synthesizing the best of liberal and conservative ideals with technology and history to generate policies, strategies, applications, and actions for the post-modern era that are well outside the beltway, and well beyond just talk. All Creative Politics blog posts are collaborative, living documents, the way Madison and Hamilton would create them if they were writing The Federalist today. We welcome, nay urge, your feedback in the comment/discussion section below, and will be using it (with credit) to make what you just read more and more real–thanks much for your time and insights; they will go unpunished!
1 We assume no explanation is needed for where we placed the Green, Socialism & Liberation, or Constitution Parties. As for the others, the Alliance Party centers its efforts on “combatting…climate change, poverty, ignorance, sickness, income inequality, and injustice,” with a focus on eliminating health care disparities, providing equal opportunities in education, creating a sustainable economy that benefits all Americans, and environmental stewardship. Nuf said; the Birthday Party is Kanye West’s creation, but although its platform contains a mix of left and right (environmental stewardship, a culture of life [itself a mix: anti–poverty, anti-abortion, anti-capital punishment], supporting the arts, supporting faith-based organizations, school prayer, strong national defense), and although Forbes opined that it would hurt Trump more than Biden, it was explicitly created with the goal of hurting Biden by siphoning off Black votes from him and a number of Republican pros were involved in funding, advising, and supporting it–we presume they knew what they were doing; the Independent Party was not really a party at all, but a vehicle for was/is a vehicle for cryptocurrency entrepreneur Brock Pierce to attempt to take over the (free) world, which might not be a bad idea, all things considered. His platform centered/centers on what he called America 2.0, a government that fully embraces technology and considers it the leading issue to address. He also favored/favors a universal basic income, single-payer health care, and the legalization of marijuana; the American Solidarity Party was born as the Christian Democratic Party USA, presumably modeled on Christian democratic parties in Europe, it is center-left on economic policy (a social market economy that’s distributionist in nature, “widespread economic participation and ownership” through supporting small business,” a strong social safety net, environmental stewardship) and center-right on social policy (e.g. emphasizing “the importance of strong families, local communities, and voluntary associations” and the defense of religious freedom). Back
2 For the record, in my opinion, the source was treated very badly, a truly shameful case of cancel culture at work. Just because I disagree with him (fairly strongly at times) throughout this series doesn’t mean I don’t have a lot of respect for him and his work. We attack because we love. Back
4 For anyone unfamiliar with this history, NFL quarterback Russell Wilson was originally a third-round draft pick who the experts all intoned was a reach at that level because he was too small and, let’s face it, given that there was a Hall of Fame-bound QB of the same height (even hailing from the same college conference) at the height of his powers playing in the league, too black. The first pick in the first round of that draft was 6’4” white Stanford QB Andrew Luck, whom all the experts raved was the best, most “can’t miss” prototypical prospect in at least a decade. While Wilson led his team to the second round of the playoff his first year, won the Super Bowl in his second, and everyone outside New England knows should have won one in his third, the experts continued to insist that Luck was better, that Wilson was just a “game manager” dependent on a powerful running game (that owed at least part of its success to his own capabilities as a runner, especially in read-option mode) and defense (which he also helped by having one of the lowest turnover rates in the league and leading an offense that regularly moved the chains, both of which gave the “Legion of Boom” the breathers it needed to execute its aggressive all-out style for all four quarters). Interestingly enough, these were the same dismissives that followed, for years, another late-round Big 10 QB draft pick, Tom Brady, who was frequently unfavorably compared to the previous Indianapolis Colts QB, Peyton Manning, derided first as a “game manager,” later as a “system quarterback.”
For Wilson, the unflattering Wilson/Luck comparisons continued until Luck retired, after which there was one more flurry of statistical attempts to make the case that he was the better QB. And amazingly enough, even seven Pro Bowls later, these experts are still insisting that they were right to put a ceiling on what Wilson could accomplish, many of them tut-tutting that he’s “no Tom Brady” when he had the temerity to complain about being the most sacked QB of the past decade. Which they might be right about, just not in the way they think: through the first nine years of their respective careers, Wilson has won more games and has had more pass completions, more passing yards, a higher completion percentage, more TD passes, a higher touchdown percentage, a lower interception percentage, more game-winning drives, more yards and adjusted yards per pass attempt, more yards gained per completion, more yards gained per game played, a higher passer rating, and more than four times as many yards gained rushing than Brady has had in his 21 year career. Some of these stats benefit from the fact that Wilson was a Game 1 rookie year starter; others were likely hurt by it; all were accomplished without a decent offensive line for seven of nine years, no top-flight tight end safety valve (Jimmy Graham, whom he had for three injury-plagued seasons, is no Rob Gronkowski, or even a Benjamin Watson, given his complete lack of blocking ability, especially on a team with a weak offensive line), a receiving corps that’s mostly consisted of low round and undrafted free agents, and no offensive guru(s) calling the plays (four of Brady’s OCs have gone on to become head coaches, albeit not always with a lot of success, but neither of Wilson’s have even been considered for that role). And now you know politics isn’t the only thing we care about 😉 Back
5 As the old saw goes, an optimist believes this is the best of all possible worlds; a pessimist knows it. Back
6 Based on the evidence to date, there should be no shortage of representatives prepared to let him use them as a footstool in this way, if only to keep their place on the K Street gravy train reserved for future use. Back
7 And, in the case of labor unions, have successfully destroyed. Back
8 It even turns out they were right about what the “dirty” “dishonest” “debunked’ Steele dossier had to say about the kompromat Putin had on Trump, though our media continues to rely on the opinion of courtiers and jesters to make that determination. Back
9 Thanks to Republican gerrymandering combined with population shifts, his seat is not likely to be decisive, and until/unless the Senate removes the filibuster and the Supreme Court decides not to be a wholly-owned subsidiary of the GOP, the real implications of losing the House are as limited as those gained by winning it have proven to be. Back
10 The attitude was well-expressed by one senior administration official, who noted (and gloated), “In 20 years, you’ll look back and it’s not going to be … a story about bleach or a whistleblower, or who wore a mask and who didn’t. It’s going to be about Warp Speed and the vaccine — a thing that comes along scientifically in less than one year that ends a global pandemic.” Or as another senior administration official once said nearly two decades ago: “When we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality…we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too” Back
11 It seems worth considering what it says about the two parties that one of them failed to field a candidate in nearly three times the number of districts as the other. One party, call it Party D, believes, it seems, much more than the other that it’s important to give voters a choice, to step forward and compete even against what might seem to be insurmountable odds, to behave, in other words, like an American, as both friend and foe see us. The other’s attitude seems to be: if I can’t win, I’m just going to take my ball and go home. I can think of a lot of labels GOP voters would apply to this behavior that would get me in trouble with my liberal friends if I used them, so I’ll just say they’re all synonyms of “gutless” and leave it at that. Back
12 A man whose biography should always be read with the official video of Sympathy For The Devil playing in the background. And yes, we know the political orientation of Spartacus; feel free to peruse his full biography, The Chairman, instead for a more complete view of the iceberg. Back