Hi there, here’s what you need to know for the week of July 30, 2020, in 7 minutes.
THIS WEEK INSIDE THE BIG TENT:
① The appropriate response to Trump's "delay the election" trial balloon
② Barack Obama changes the filibuster-abolition game
③ Dems take control of coronavirus relief—and how they should use it
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IN SCORNING POSITION
There’s a lot to be annoyed about these days, but I particularly hate it when the berserk president upends your entire weekly newsletter plan by idly tweeting about delaying the election on Thursday morning. Here’s the tweet in case you missed it or spent the last 24 hours in the fetal position trying to suppress the memory.
The tweet itself and the fact that he tweeted it (embarrassing a largenumber of his supplicants in the process) evokes a bunch of strong emotions. It’s both alarming and ridiculous (for reasons we’ll get into), amusing (because he senses his own impending defeat, and is terrified), and revelatory: It implicitly asks all the Republicans who’ve propped him up for years, and declined the opportunity to remove him from office, to now say they support leaving him in office indefinitely. Those Republicans have declined to do so, though some more obligingly than others,
It would be wrong to say that these Republicans "pulled the plug" on the idea of moving the election, because neither they nor Trump nor their forces combined have the authority or the power to delay the election. What they’ve done is told Trump that he’ll be on an island if he doesn’t accept the reality that Election Day is November 3, and he’ll face voters then whether he wants to or not. But a president on an island can still do a lot of damage—the fact that he made the comment automatically gives rise to the question of how Democrats should respond. Unscientifically, I’d group their responses into four categories:
Parodic normie-ness, exemplified by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) beseeching Trump to “get his priorities straight” and do the people’s business.
Mark me down as a proponent of mockery, scorn, and hypervigilance. At the risk of stating the obvious, only a desperate man would tweet impotently about delaying an election that he believes he will lose. For that he deserves mockery. Because his instinct, in the face of impending defeat, is to noodle over ways to escape accountability from voters—to cancel an election if he can’t win it fair and square—he also deserves scorn.
But just because the election will happen on November 3—because both the law and the Constitution dictate that it will, and neither will change between now and then—doesn’t mean Trump’s panicky fantasies can’t be enormously destabilizing.
A strong president doesn’t suggest election officials will rig the election by holding the election. But even a weak president has tens of millions of supporters. Trump is no different in this regard, and his most passionate supporters are notoriously prone to violence and violent fantasies. Trump’s idle musing has done nothing to help him stave off the inevitable, but that doesn’t mean he can’t convince a critical number of Americans that he’s right: that holding the election is tantamount to rigging the election.
This is why vigilance is appropriate as well. A group of academics recently conducted war games to tease out what might happen if Trump refuses to concede defeat after losing fair and square, and in every scenario the answer includes street violence and political crisis. There’s no reason to think it’d be any different if Trump stipulates in advance that the very process of holding the election on schedule is illegitimate. Indeed, the latter blends seamlessly into the former.
What does that mean? It means calibrating our responses based only on narrow readings of what the law requires is a mistake, because laws themselves are socially constructed. Like the Constitution, they are meaningless words absent a social consensus that they should be enforced and respected. Mockery is useful; scorn is useful; Election Day will not change. But if a quarter of the country decides to treat democracy itself as an act of insurrection, chaos will follow. If Trump asserts that he won’t concede defeat because the election shouldn’t count, the process says he’s screwed, but who’s to force him to run an orderly transition? Who’s to stop Republican state legislators in a critical number of swing states from mounting a procedural coup?
These things may be unlikely to happen, but they are still perfectly feasible. It’s pointless to worry that Trump will magically cancel the election—he won’t. But it is a given that he will cheat (more) and break (more) laws to try to steal it. When he’s not watching TV or tweeting or sleeping, Trump spends nearly all of his leftover time on election schemes—on how to undermine the Post Office, in order to spoil as many mail ballots as possible, on where to send secret shock troops to stoke violence in the streets, on what the Justice Department can and will do to assist his campaign, or prevent the timely counting of votes. These are things he does now, out in the open.
Would someone like that not also try to convince millions of people that the only legitimate election is a delayed one, on the off chance that his supporters make the transition of power impossible, or at least make him a martyr, rendering the country ungovernable? Of course he would.
The subtext of everything above—that Trump expects to lose the election, and Republicans in Congress also expect him to lose the election—provides useful context for Senate Republicans’ total inability to pass another emergency coronavirus bill. After lavishing wealthy individuals and corporate donors with trillions of dollars in giveaways when times were good, they have decided to pretend the national debt should be an impediment to helping Americans in the midst of a once-a-century national emergency. To put a finer point on this: If they believed Trump stood a decent chance of winning, they would happily provide him a cushion by passing more stimulus now. We should interpret their fumbling as the refined, public-facing equivalent of slipping off their MAGA hats and dusting off their trusty tricorns in anticipation of a Biden presidency and all they’ll do to sabotage it.
The good news is, I’m increasingly, relievingly convinced that Democrats will do whatever’s necessary to avoid the toxic dynamic they struggled with in 2009 and 2010, or at least the worst parts of it. In his eulogy for for John Lewis, Barack Obama encouraged Congress (but we know this means Democrats) to honor Lewis’s life’s work by restoring the Voting Rights Act, making voter registration automatic, providing statehood to Washington, DC, and U.S. territories, and enacting other pro-democracy reforms, and observed, “if all of this takes eliminating the filibuster—another Jim Crow relic—in order to secure the God-given rights of every American, then that's what we should do." This is obviously right, and it would just as obviously apply to any emergency coronavirus legislation the Biden administration might need to save the country, over Republican efforts to harm it. But, perhaps most importantly, these things can only happen if Democrats win back the Senate as well.
The fact that Senate Republicans can’t pass their own emergency coronavirus bill, even a terrible one, creates an advantageous political dynamic for Democrats, made more advantageous by surrounding events, particularly the news that Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX)—one of the most deranged, reactionary, anti-mask Republicans on the Hill—has contracted COVID-19, and quite likely spread it to colleagues and members of his own staff.
Here’s why: Once the GOP bill fails—and there’s every reason to believe it will—the only viable legislation to work from will be the HEROES Act, which House Democrats passed over two months ago. All along, as Senate Republicans dithered and pretended HEROES was a non-starter in the Senate, Mitch McConnell has issued only one consistent demand: that any new emergency coronavirus bill must immunize negligent employers who expose their workers and customers to coronavirus from lawsuits.
Nancy Pelosi, to her credit, has rejected this awful demand on the simple grounds that a good coronavirus response bill won’t create conditions that expose more people to coronavirus. But the basic dynamic is that House Democrats will drive the process, and can make categorical demands as to what must survive the final bill—money for the Post Office and election administration, expanded unemployment benefits, etc—and what absolutely can’t be in it—like McConnell’s immunity provision. And if McConnell wants to plunge the country into an economic abyss unless American employers retain the right to behave like Louie Gohmert, then he’s free to do so.
The last public appearance former GOP presidential candidate, Godfather’s pizza magnate, and consummate grifter Herman Cain made before testing positive for coronavirus was President Trump’s superspreading rally in Tulsa, OK, where Cain appeared proudly without a mask. He succumbed to COVID-19 on Thursday, having literally given his life to help Trump own the libs. As the news broke, President Trump was busy hawking some other guy’s pizza. It’s both a sad story and also a microcosm of all the pathologies, corruption, and immorality of the Republican Party.
Important reading from both Kriston Capps and Jamelle Bouie on how Trump’s desperate appeal to the racism he imagines pervading suburban life stems from his belief in a demographic reality that no longer exists. The suburbs hate Donald Trump in large part because the suburbs have become diverse.