Thursday, July 30, 2020

Big SmearS. Plus: Can Trump win by losing?

By now, you no doubt have heard about Trump's signal that he would like to delay the election, an idea which the Republicans in Congress oppose -- for now. Not many months ago, rightwingers sneered when various Dems, including Biden himself, predicted that Trump would try something like this. I doubt that any apologies will be forthcoming.

Do not presume that Congressional opposition will stop Trump. I direct your attention to this thread by Seth Abramson.
(ALERT) Mike Pompeo just testified under oath that Barr will decide if Trump -- despite having no constitutional authority to do so --can announce he's moving the election.

Read that sentence multiple times and then retweet this. We're witnessing a historic threat to rule of law.

PS: America needs to understand that the issue now isn't whether Trump has the authority to move the election -- he doesn't -- but whether he can initiate a constitutional crisis and national emergency by announcing the election is being moved with the backing and support of DOJ.
Abramson expanded upon this in a long thread which I've taken the liberty of publishing below. He offers a fascinating theory: What if Trump's intent is to discourage Republicans from voting?

It's a wild idea -- and it runs counter to much of what I'm about to say. I can only beg you to consider my thoughts, and then consider Abramson. 

Mail-in voting obviously represents an obstacle to Trump's plans -- otherwise, he would not oppose the idea.

If you've followed the work of Brad Friedman -- perhaps this nation's finest advocate of clean elections -- you should know that his thinking appears to have evolved. In 2008, he definitely hated vote-by-mail schemes...
For the voters, they believe such systems offer a "paper trail" not available to voters using touch-screen systems at the polling place. Many are unaware that their mailed-in ballots will be scanned by the same error-prone, easily manipulated optical-scan machines which handle paper ballots for precinct-based voting. But even worse, ballots mailed in, if they arrive safely, and are counted at all, are usually counted "in the dark," versus ballots scanned either at the polls on Election Day, or at county headquarters after the close of polls when citizens are often there to watch.
He reiterated his opposition in 2015.
As with any voting system that is not fully transparent, proving mail-in fraud can be difficult or impossible. Once we drop our ballot in the mail, we can't verify what becomes of it, and elections become a matter of faith. Additionally, should our ballots arrive in the central aggregating location untampered, they are likely to be counted by the same private, secretly programmed electronic systems that have been proven vulnerable to rigging, hacking, and undetectable error. Central counting makes fraud on a large scale easier to accomplish and harder to detect.
The pandemic seems to have forced Brad to rethink. (Example.) He now seems to think that mail-in voting may be the least bad of the available options.

My take? If Trump is against, I'm for.

The real problem, as noted above, is not with the method of casting votes but with the method of tabulation -- the "mother machines," as John Kerry's wife Teresa put it, way back in 2004. Those tabulators are just as likely to miscount mailed-in votes as in-person votes.

The difference: A mailed vote offers a paper trail. Thus, a recount becomes much more threatening to the mischief-makers.

In 2016, there were "red" counties in Wisconsin where the number of votes cast exceeded the number of registered voters. For some reason, the national media refused to pay much attention to this story -- even though it pretty much proved that Trump stole the election.

Things will be different in 2020. If there is a recount (and don't bet against the idea), the attention of the world will be on it. Fortunately, the physical existence of mailed ballots will give the recounters something tangible to count.

As you know, I've predicted that Trump will eke out a victory through a combination of truly brazen smears coupled with subtle vote-rigging. Remember, Trump need only get within three points of the 50 percent mark in key states; voter-rigging can carry him the rest of the way.

There's a limit as to how much the riggers can rig: Most specialists in computerized election fraud feel that the Republicans would not dare to nudge the numbers too far. Trump needs to get his number up to 47 percent or thereabouts -- but only in key states, or rather, key precincts. Thanks to the magic of the electoral college, he doesn't have to get anywhere near the 50 yard line nationally.

Prediction: Between now and November, Trumpists will ramp up racial tensions. Race riots help Republicans.

Expect Trump supporters to infiltrate "left" forums using assumed identities. Expect them to propagate hatred of white people incessantly. Expect to see more "All whites are born evil" opinion pieces in the New York Times, which has already published some inflammatory horrors that Roger Stone himself might have paid for. Expect to see undue attention given to the small percentage of African Americans who supported Bernie Sanders: The media will quote them as if they speak for all black people, even though they don't. (This has already happened.)

If you understand basic human psychology, you'll know that the constantly-repeated message "Hate yourself, white man" can have only one outcome: Racism will explode like a volcano.

Not long ago, I saw this comment: "The way to turn a white person into a racist is to call him a racist continually." Just so. If I place you in a "damned if you do and damned if you don't" situation, you will probably choose do.

Robin DiAngelo is not a person; she is a machine -- a machine that makes racism.

Those who insist on the white = evil formulation are working for Trump, consciously or unconsciously. Probably the former. (Note to self: Has Robin DiAngelo ever taken Russian money? Must research.) 

Trump wants race riots. If race war breaks out in key cities, Trump will have his excuse for delaying or sidestepping the election. And lefties, being their usual idiot selves, are gonna fall right into his trap. Watch it happen.

Multiple smears. In the past, I've argued that the most powerful anti-Biden smear will arise out of the Epstein/Maxwell case.

The far right has prepared the way with a propaganda campaign that started well before the rise of Q, and even before the rise of Trump. Tens of millions of your fellow Americans now believe that every rich person is desperate to rape a child. Well, not every rich person: Affluent Trump supporters are exempt. Soros wants to fuck your kid, but Peter Thiel doesn't. That's the message, and it's spreading around the world.

The "elite pedophilia" myth is the new version of the Protocols hoax.

I remain convinced that the forthcoming Big Smear against Biden will arise out of the Epstein case. When I found out that Biden used to vacation in the Virgin Islands, I thought: "That's it. That's how they'll get him."

But that won't be the only smear campaign. Looky here: Ukraine-gate is coming back. As I warned in previous posts, Ukraine swarms with shady characters who are willing to lie for money. Several big names have glommed onto Rudy Giuliani -- Andriy Telizhenko, former diplomat, being one of them.
Telizhenko’s Ukrainian collaborators, whose names surfaced during the Trump impeachment saga, include a fugitive, a tainted former prosecutor, and the son of a KGB officer who also was trained in Russian spy techniques.

Andriy Derkach was schooled at a KGB academy in Moscow. He became a Ukrainian lawmaker and is remembered for voting for a Kremlin-like set of anti-protest laws that passed during the country’s pro-democracy revolution in 2014.

Kostyantyn Kulyk is a former military prosecutor charged with but never convicted of corruption. He has been accused of pursuing politically motivated criminal cases against his opponents and has admitted having ties to a warlord in eastern Ukraine accused of working for Russian intelligence services.

Oleksandr Onyshchenko is a gas industry tycoon and former lawmaker in the now-defunct pro-Russia Party of Regions. Accused of embezzlement in his home country, he is now on the run.

Collectively, Onyshchenko said, they comprise “Team Giuliani.”
Their names are obscure to Americans now, but that situation will probably change soon. They are already circulating faked recordings of Hunter and Joe Biden allegedly saying incriminating things.

(I warned you that Deep Fake technology would place a role in this election.)
To date, three collections of recordings have been released to the public by Derkach at sparsely attended press conferences inside Interfax-Ukraine news agency. They purport to capture phone conversations between Biden and former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko while the two were in office.

Poroshenko’s office has called the recordings fake, and Biden’s campaign has denounced what it calls a coordinated effort to smear the Democratic candidate.
More recordings are coming. Have no doubt of that.
Undaunted, the Ukrainians hope to take American media by storm before November and be taken seriously by Republicans in the Senate Homeland Security Committee, which has launched an inquiry into Biden’s Ukraine interactions even as Democrats have denounced the move as political.
More from Seth Abramson. I'm not sure what to think about Seth's most recent thread, but it's definitely a mind-expander. Do I buy this theory? No. But it's still fascinating.

Apparently, Nate Silver has had similar thoughts.

(In the interest of fairness, I should remind readers that Abramson asked for the electoral college to postpone its vote in 2016.)

The words below the asterisks are his, though I've recast them into more conventional prose style.

*  *  *

Today Donald Trump and Mike Pompeo unveiled the real nightmare scenario for the 2020 election—and the question of what Trump has legal authority to do has nothing to do with it. I hope you'll read on and retweet—as what I'm describing here is what America is heading for.

Autocracies aren't born in rule of law. They're not even primarily born in violence. Rather they arise despite rule of law—often on the strength of a benighted populism, in fact just the sort of populist movement Trump is building now over false fears of a "rigged" election.

The question isn't whether Trump has legal authority to move Election Day and thereby extend his presidency—he doesn't—but a different question: what happens if he just declares that he does have this power? And what if he can do so with a false veneer of legal legitimacy?

By October 31, Trump's decision not to combat COVID-19 (indeed to worsen the pandemic with every one of his words, actions, and decisions not to act), coupled with an incipient flu season, is likely to send America's COVID-19 data—infections, deaths—into its horrifying nadir.

Meanwhile, Trump has put a crony who's likely a witness in an ongoing federal criminal probe—a man who's a peer of perjurers (and worse) Michael Cohen, Elliott Broidy and Gordon Sondland—in charge of the United States Postal Service. Already, this crony is destroying the USPS.

If, on October 30, COVID-19 is cresting—as it likely will be—and the USPS is less able to deliver mail properly than at any point in recent history, as seems likely (and on Trump's end intentional), Trump's self-manufactured "case" for a national emergency will be at its apex.

Today, Mike Pompeo told us Trump lackey Barr—who has never refused the president anything, who appears to be a Trump co-conspirator in the Ukraine scandal, and who has already shown a penchant for violating the law—gets to decide if Trump can announce a change in Election Day.

Note that each time I use the anodyne euphemism "change in Election Day," what I'm describing is in fact apocalyptic—an artificial extension of the Trump presidency corresponding with the end of American democracy and the beginning of Trump's reign as America's first autocrat.

Barr has already instructed OLC (the Office of Legal Counsel) to produce opinions that violate all existing law (for that matter, we saw that during the prior GOP administration, Bush's, as to torture). Barr can get the OLC to crush a CIA whistleblower—or change Election Day.

I ask anyone reading this to simply play out the following hypothetical—the one I offer in the next tweet—which is "hypothetical" only inasmuch as it takes everything we know about Trump, Pompeo, Barr, COVID-19, and the USPS right now and projects it 90 days into the future:

On October 30, Trump announces, with an OLC opinion "granting" him this power in hand, that he is moving the 2020 presidential election 120 days, after which time he will review the nation's ability to safely and securely conduct an election. He announces it via tweet and TV.

Understand that this would be illegal—and wouldn't change election day. But that wouldn't be the point. The point would be to convince Trump voters not to vote.

You may have to read the preceding sentence multiple times—it's counterintuitive unless you're a metamodernist.

This thread isn't on metamodernism. All you need to know is that on the day in June 2015 Trump announced his candidacy, I published a HuffPost essay declaring that what made Trump dangerous was his ability to manipulate reality (in a way theorists connect to "metamodernism").

The way to win an unwinnable election, using the sort of powerful reframing of events a certain way of thinking Trump instinctively (not intelligently or responsibly) employs, is not to turn out your voters... but declare the election invalid once your voters don't show up.

The purpose of the pre-election Trump announcement I am hypothesizing here would not be to help Trump win the 2020 election, but to convince so many Trump voters not to vote that the results of the election favor Biden by so much the election looks wholly illegitimate.

Imagine a scenario in which, with 3 branches of government—executive, judicial, legislative—you have the executive branch declaring the election was moved, the judicial branch (as yet) silent, and the legislative branch in chaos because no one in the GOP knows what to say/do.

By convincing his voters to stay home—because he's "moved the election"—Trump will have caused every GOP member of Congress to lose their reelection, forcing them to back his play and say that the election was delayed and therefore Biden didn't actually win on November 3.

The result: an executive branch that says the election was invalid; half the legislative branch (the GOP half) saying the election was invalid; election results that look invalid (as Biden has won by 50+ points); and a judicial branch that hasn't—and can't—say anything yet.

In that circumstance, what does "rule of law" even mean? You have a separation of powers issue—a conflict between branches of government—that the Supreme Court must hear, and because it's the most complex case ever heard by SCOTUS in US history, it's impossible to expedite.

The mere fact that Trump would have enacted this constitutional crisis just 96 hours pre-election means SCOTUS can't speak on it pre-election, and the complexity of the case would throw into chaos all state election deadlines. Which is basically the point of Trump's plot.

All Trump needs in this scenario is

(a) SCOTUS to move at its usual glacial pace, and

(b) GOP-run states (states with GOP secretaries of state running their elections) to refuse to certify election results or choose electors until the Supreme Court has acted on the issue.

I'm not even sure Trump would be the plaintiff in this case—as he and his GOP allies in Congress (and GOP secretaries of state) would so adamantly declare the election results invalid they might wait to make the Democrats sue in federal court, making them look desperate.

And how magnanimous Trump will be! He and his GOP allies will offer to negotiate with Democrats in lieu of them filing a federal suit. Trump will say, "We have to wait until this invisible plague is under control. That's all anyone is asking here." It'll sound persuasive!

Know what'll make it more persuasive? Election results so insane-looking—Biden 82%, Trump 15%—they'll make Egypt's el-Sisi blush. Biden will be half-inclined to agree with Trump on a do-over—knowing his term as an "illegitimate monarch" may be marked by historic violence.

Right now I need everyone in media; everyone on "legal Twitter"; everyone who's a professional political analyst to comment on this thread—or on your own feeds, it doesn't matter—explaining why this Trump plan wouldn't work. Why it isn't exactly what he's setting us up for.

Understand that I didn't develop this thread out of some fever dream. All I did was take statements and actions by Trump, Barr, and Pompeo; the current status of COVID-19 and the USPS (and who controls each); and the way of thinking Trump has exhibited since June 2015.

[Abramson added the following series of postscripts in response to his readers.]

I understand—and empathize with, as a lawyer—those who reply, "Nah, he ceases to be POTUS on January 20th at noon."

Again, that's the view that law determines if a coup is successful, not the brute force of populism and logistics—the logic undergirding Trump's actions now.

In the scenario I've described, yes, the law would suggest Biden—having won the election 82% to 15%; with less than 270 electoral votes; and with all GOP politicians and all GOP secretaries of state and most GOP voters saying he won a fake election—is the president. So what?

What would in mean—in that scenario—for someone to be "president"? And that's the question the five ultra-conservative justices of the Supreme Court would have to decide, probably on a timeline so glacial it couldn't be concluded effectively until early January 2021 at best.

More importantly, that's the question Democrats would have to decide—and would probably be deciding in the midst of historic Republican protests and threats of violence all across the country. Would Democrats consider it their best move to accept that election "victory"?

We learned in January '20 that impeachments are about politics, not law—though they're supposed to adhere to rule of law. In January '21 we may learn elections are also about politics, not law. What happens if Dems must allow a do-over to preserve the peace of our Union?

This scenario works for Trump even if early voting depresses Biden's win to (say) 62% to 36%. It may even work without Barr aboard. It may work if the "don't vote" effort is homegrown, inspired and supported by Trump but not demanded by him. The premise itself is the thing.

The solution here is for America to publicly discuss this scenario now—and invalidate it. GOP politicians must agree to abide by the election results even if Trump convinces his voters not to show up. Barr must state clearly that Trump cannot legally "move" election day.

Constitutional law experts must play out how SCOTUS would act. Election law experts must do scenario-planning on how misconduct by GOP secretaries of state could be thwarted. Dems must educate Republicans on who's POTUS on January 20 if SCOTUS is still working on a ruling.

Democrats must announce now that there'll be no "do-over" election—and anyone who opts not to vote is making a decision they must live by. Emergency assistance must be provided to USPS. Social media should deem Trump tweets on moving election day "election interference."

It's amazing to see responses saying "the military wouldn't allow it" or "Pelosi would be POTUS." Again, this sort of coup happens through politics, rhetoric, and the reframing of reality with GOP pol/voter support—it has nothing to do with law, violence or the military.


Stephen Morgan said...

This bit it wrong: "having won the election 82% to 15%; with less than 270 electoral votes; and with all GOP politicians and all GOP secretaries of state and most GOP voters saying he won a fake election—is the president"

You don't need a plurality in the electoral college, you need a majority. Less than 270 electoral votes means the election is decided by the House on a one-state-one-vote basis, meaning the Republicans win.

Anonymous said...

Clearly "less" is a slip of hand. With an 82-15 split, winning a majority of the electors is all but certain.

Also, of course, if the presidential election turned out 82-15, it would be extremely unlikely that the Democrats wouldn't also gain control of a majority of the state delegations in the house.

A Scandinavian

Stephen Morgan said...

The existing House delegations would vote, rather than the incoming group.

Anonymous said...

That was true before the adoption of the 20th amendment. Then, presidential and congressional terms both started on March 4; it fell on the outgoing congress to count the electoral votes and perform a contingent election if needed.

The 20th amendment however moved the start of the terms to January 3 for congress and January 20 for president, and ever since, it's been the new congress which has counted the electoral votes and which would have to perform a contingent election.

A Scandinavian

JZ said...

Nothing would surprise me now, based on everything that is happening. But, I think I have a more simple scenario that is worth considering. Let's say we hold elections as scheduled and Biden wins both a majority of the popular vote and enough states to get a majority of electoral college votes. But here is where it gets interesting: What if some of the electors refuse to vote for Biden and switch to Trump on the theory that Biden has become senile. The electors will argue that this is precisely the reason why the electoral college exists--to deal with contingencies that the voters are unable to react to.

margie said...

I think by law term in office will expire for all (president, house and Senate) who are up for re-election if there is no election or contested elections. That leaves only Senators that are not facing re-election still in office. They would then pick a president pro trump and resolve the dispute or set new elections. I believe that under this scenario the Democrats would have the majority in the Senate and can pick Biden as president anyway.