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Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

There are four plausible interpretations of Donald Trump’s suggestion that we delay the November election over the supposed threat of mail-in voting fraud.

1. He’s an idiot who impulsively farts out whatever thought enters his brain.

2. He was trolling.

3. He was trying to distract from the abysmal economic data that had just been released.

4. He wants to delegitimize an election he’s likely to lose.

These are nonexclusive, of course, and each probably has some degree of merit. But the last is by far the most important—and the most dangerous. Trump is hardly a Machiavellian tactician, but if the stars align just right, such a pernicious effort could not just cause a Bush-Gore redux; it could create a constitutional crisis unlike anything the country has seen since 1876.

Indeed, Trump’s attacks on the election’s integrity, combined with the moral rot that has seized his party, could even present a path for the president to cling to power despite being defeated in November.

Certainly, this isn’t the most likely scenario—but it’s not impossible, either. The stage is being set, and if you put it past Trump and his cronies to try, you haven’t been paying attention.

Let’s begin with the basics: As much as Trump pretends otherwise, voting by mail is the same as absentee voting. And as much as Trump bellows, voting fraud is exceedingly rare; mail-voting fraud is rarer; and conducting a national mail-voting fraud scheme is basically impossible. Five states already use the mail as their primary voting method; in 2018, nearly a quarter of all ballots were cast by mail.

Voting by mail only became controversial during the pandemic, as voting-rights advocates sought its expansion as an alternative to forcing people to stand in long, COVID-friendly lines on Election Day. (See Wisconsin, 2020.) But Republicans have countered that more absentee voting will hurt their chances by, well, increasing turnout, which, as Georgia’s House speaker explained, “will be extremely devastating to Republicans and conservatives.” (Seriously.)

There’s no evidence this assumption is correct, by the way, but it’s become an article of faith nonetheless. And the more Trump complains about against voting by mail, the more it turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy. A poll last week from Emerson College showed that, among those who plan to vote in person, Trump is winning 65-32. Among those who plan to vote by mail, however, Joe Biden is up 76-20.

There’s another, more insidious self-fulfilling prophecy at work, too. While Trump insists that voting by mail will be disastrous, his postmaster general is making sure that happens. “Cost-saving” measures initiated by Louis DeJoy, the Trump megadonor who now leads the U.S. Postal Service, have led to a massive slowdown in mail delivery that could have huge ramifications for the election.

In 34 states—including most swing states—ballots not received by Election Day are discarded. In the other 16, ballots postmarked on or before Election Day can be received later, though many states leave little room for error. Texas, for instance, requires ballots to come in by 5 p.m. the day after the election. So if the mail gets backed up in early November, hundreds of thousands or even millions of voters could have their ballots invalidated, tipping crucial states into Trump’s column.

Of course, Biden’s camp would sue, and it’s fairly likely that a federal court would order the ballots counted.

Here’s another wrinkle: Because many states are unaccustomed to processing a deluge of mail-in ballots quickly, if there’s anything short of a blowout, we’ll probably go to bed on Nov. 3 without knowing who won. Trump might look like he’s pulled off another shocking upset — until the count of absentee ballots pushes Biden over the top days or even a week or two later.

What follows would make the Brooks Brothers riot of 2000 look like a day at the beach. 

Trump, his supporters and media allies would claim fraud. He’d sue to get mail-in ballots thrown out and block states from certifying electors. William Barr’s Department of Justice could announce a transparently bogus “investigation” intended to support the boss’ baseless allegations. Protests and counterprotests would rage, giving Trump an excuse to deploy his paramilitary goons.

By law, Congress has to accept electors properly certified by states before the so-called safe harbor date in mid-December, though (theoretically) not necessarily after. But states can’t certify their electors so long as legal battles persist. Indeed, the Supreme Court blocked Florida’s manual recount in 2000 by (dubiously) arguing that it would extend beyond the safe-harbor date and thus possibly disenfranchise all Florida voters.

Would an even more-Republican Supreme Court foreclose Trump’s challenges this year on those same grounds? Put another way: Will the fate of the republic hinge on a sickly 87-year-old surviving until January, and John Roberts not wanting an act of antidemocratic partisanship to be the first line of his obituary?

Meanwhile, at Trump’s urging, Republican legislators in battlegrounds Biden won—say, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin—would likely allege fraud in their states as well, and submit dueling slates of Trump electors to Congress.

The law tasks Congress with adjudicating Electoral College disputes on Jan. 6, but it’s ambiguous on what happens if the House and Senate disagree. If some states’ electors haven’t been certified, and no candidate garners a majority, the House of Representatives decides the next president, with each state’s delegation getting one vote—California the same as Wyoming—an arrangement that favors Trump.

Should Biden win by seven or eight points, the hand-wringing over Trump defying the voters will probably come to naught. But if Trump refuses to concede or turn over power, and if his supporters conclude that his loss was fraudulent, we’ll find ourselves in menacingly uncharted waters. If Trump’s presidency has shown nothing else, it’s that our institutions are ill-equipped to beat back even clumsy authoritarianism. 

And whatever the result, the United States will be a weaker nation when it’s over. 

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Published in National/International

I would like to officially welcome you all to the toasty portion of the Coachella Valley 2020: Pandemic Edition.

Starting tomorrow, and for the next week plus, we’re expected to hit triple-digits each and every day. And as far as sheltering in place, I am trying to decide whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.

On the plus side: I won’t want to go outside as much during the day, and that’ll make staying at home less of an issue.

On the minus side: I looooove summer evenings here—you know the kind, where you walk outside and think, “Gee, this doesn’t seem that hot,” and then you look at the weather on your phone, and it’s still 103 degrees, and you start to wonder if perhaps the heat has fried portions of your brain. Love those evenings.

Also on the minus side: most local HOA and apartment pools are still closed. And wearing a mask out when it’s 103 is gonna be less than pleasant.

Sigh.

Today’s links—and there are a lot of ’em:

• Gov. Gavin Newsom today said the state is ramping up COVID-19 testing—something that needs to happen, he says, before we start reopening the state.

• Related: Kaiser Permanente is building a new lab in Berkeley that will be able to process 5,000 tests a day by the time it opens in early June.

• The Santa Clara County health officer says a woman who died in her home on Feb. 6 was a COVID-19 victim—meaning the virus was spreading in this country a lot earlier than previously known.

• Palm Springs Mayor Geoff Kors has assembled a “Palm Springs Business Transition and Re-Entry Task Force” to guide the city’s efforts when it’s time to start reopening.

Meanwhile, the news coming out of Washington, D.C., is completely weird, with the president now saying he disagrees with the Georgia governor’s move to start reopening that state. And the director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (i.e. the government agency involved most with developing a vaccine) says he was forced out by the president because he spoke out against Trump’s touting of hydroxychloroquine.

• Oh, and Attorney General William Barr recently left open the possibility of legal action against states that go “too far” with keeping stay-at-home orders in place. Lovely.

• People who needed medical help to battle the coronavirus are now starting to get some large medical bills.

• A New York Times analysis of mortality data in 11 countries shows a lot more people are dying during this pandemic than official counts are reporting.

• The city of Indio offers this very cool video from local leaders, all of whom have one thing to say to all of the essential workers out there: Thank you.

• As a former resident of Las Vegas who still retains great affection for the city, I have a fun fact for you: Did you know that the vast majority of the Las Vegas Strip is not actually part of the city of Las Vegas? The city limits actually start at Sahara Avenue and go north, for the most part; everything south of that is just part of unincorporated Clark County. In other words, the mayor of Las Vegas doesn’t actually have anything to do with most of what people think of as Las Vegas. Keep this in mind when you hear this dumpster-fire of an interview Anderson Cooper had with Carolyn Goodman, that aforementioned mayor of Las Vegas.

• The headline of this piece from New York Magazine is, quite simply, “We Might Never Get a Good Coronavirus Vaccine.” I won’t comment further, because I don’t want to start whimpering.

• Oh, and here’s more depressing news: A number of COVID-19 victims will be dealing with the effects of the disease for the rest of their lives.

How do blood sugar levels affect COVID-19? The Conversation explains the science behind this question thus far.

• From the Independent: What happens when two bored, laid-off bartenders, who happen to be roommates, talk about cocktails, and then transcribe the whole thing? Find out here, especially if you’re a fan of pickled eggs.

• Also from the Independent: The McCallum Theatre has announced a fantastic 2020-2021 season. We talked to McCallum head Mitch Gershenfeld about it—while keeping our fingers crossed that the season actually comes to be.

• The state has launched a website where people who are able can sign up to volunteer with organizations that have a need. Check out the California Volunteers website

• This story made me laugh out loud, even though it probably shouldn’t have: The California Highway Patrol says they’re giving out waaaay more tickets to people traveling more than 100 miles per hour.

Coachella Valley Repertory is starting a series of free online classes/lectures. The first one is taking place tomorrow (Thursday), at 6 p.m.: “Broadway Musicals: Blockbusters From Gypsy to Hello, Dolly!” with Glenn Rosenblum.

That’s what we call a busy news day, and that’s enough for now. If you want to support a local small business and the Independent at the same time, please consider our Adopt a Small Business program. If you want to support the CREATE Center for the Arts, local artists and the Independent at the same time, buy our amazing Coloring Book! Wash your hands, and wear a mask when you absolutely must go outside. We’re on deadline for the May print edition tomorrow, so we may or may not have a Daily Digest for Thursday, depending on how that goes; in either case, we’ll be here Friday. Stay safe, and thanks for reading.

Published in Daily Digest

On this week's weekly Independent comics page, which is best read while sipping a beverage by a pool: Apoca Clips watches as Li'l Trumpy conjures up Lev; Red Meat wants a new pet; Jen Sorensen ponders the future of school lunches; (Th)ink pays tribute to the Year of the Rat; and This Modern World listens to the latest blatherings from The Unbelievable Trump.

Published in Comics

One of Donald Trump’s few substantive defenses against the allegations that brought about his impeachment last week is that he didn’t try to extort an investigation into Joe Biden and a crackpot DNC server conspiracy theory for his own political benefit—but rather, he sought “a favor” for the good of the country.

The evidence for this, the president and his defenders say, is in the not-quite-a-transcript that the White House released of the July 25 call between Trump and then-newly elected Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. Zelensky thanks the U.S. for pressuring Russia through sanctions, then expresses interest in buying more missiles.

And Trump, of course, replies: “I would like you to do us a favor, though, because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. … There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation. I think you’re surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the attorney general call you or your people, and I would like you to get to the bottom of it.”

Zelensky mentions that one of his assistants had spoken to Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer. Trump says, “I will ask him to call you along with the attorney general.”

In Trump’s telling, the fact that he referenced Attorney General William Barr shows that he was concerned about corruption in Ukraine.

Put aside that this runs contrary to every known fact about Donald Trump. Instead, focus on how casually Trump lumps in the attorney general of the United States with his lawyer, who’d spent the better part of a year in Ukraine trying to manufacture a sham investigation into the Bidens—and who, incidentally, is reportedly under federal investigation.

In Trump’s mind, they’re the same They’re his guys. That should be a red flag.

The attorney general is not the president’s lawyer. The attorney general is—in theory—the lawyer for the American people, whose fidelity is to the country and the Constitution.

Trump doesn’t see it that way, however. So a year ago, Trump forced out his first AG, Jeff Sessions—the first U.S. senator to endorse his presidential campaign —because he deemed Sessions insufficiently loyal during Russiagate. For his second AG nominee, Trump wasn’t taking any chances.

Bill Barr believes in the unitary executive theory—put simply, the president is essentially above the law and has total control of the government’s law-enforcement system. Barr was also willing to play lackey.

So, for instance, when the Mueller report came in, Barr dashed off a letter to Congress saying—deceptively, it turned out—that Trump had been cleared of wrongdoing, obscuring Mueller’s findings that the president had repeatedly obstructed justice and that he was only not charged with a crime because he Department of Justice policy forbade it.

And when, with Trump staring down impeachment, the DOJ’s inspector general released a long-awaited report demolishing Trump’s batshit claims about a Deep State vendetta against his presidential campaign, Barr sent out an unprecedented statement contradicting his department’s IG. If nothing else, he’s a company man.

More troubling was his speech to the Federalist Society in November, in which he leaned into his role as a partisan actor, accusing anyone to the left of Attila the Hun of “undermining (the) rule of law” and Congress of—as a “pursuit of choice”—“drown(ing) the Executive Branch with ‘oversight’ demands for testimony and documents.”

These are not co-equal branches, Barr believes. If the president finds congressional oversight annoying, he should ignore it.

Also, progressives—what with their “civil rights” and other such nonsense—are snowflakes, while conservatives are grounded in reason and as such at a political disadvantage.

“In any age,” Barr opined, “the so-called progressives treat politics as their religion. … Conservatives, on the other hand, do not seek an earthly paradise.  … Conservatives tend to have more scruple over their political tactics and rarely feel that the ends justify the means.”

Obviously, Bill Barr has never heard the name Mitch McConnell or watched C-SPAN in the last decade or so.

But gaslighting—or, more charitably, being obtuse—isn’t what bothers me most about Barr; that’s par for the course in the modern GOP. It’s this: Earlier this month, Barr told a roomful of cops that “the American people have to focus on something else, which is the sacrifice and the service that is given by our law enforcement officers. And they have to start showing, more than they do, the respect and support that law enforcement deserves. … (If) communities don’t give that support and respect, they might find themselves without the police protection they need.”

In other words, show your cops love—i.e., don’t protest if they beat up or shoot a person of color—or, well, you just never know, do you?

This is an attorney general, of course, who has criticized local district attorneys in Philadelphia and St. Louis for calling for police accountability, and has demanded zero tolerance for “resisting police.”

To recap: Trump should be able to do whatever he wants. Trump should have unchecked control over the law-enforcement apparatus. Law enforcement should be able to do whatever it wants. Resisters? Zero tolerance. Protesters? It’d be a shame if something happened to them.

All hail the police state.

Contact Jeffrey C. Billman at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in National/International

On this week's yule log-warmed weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World examines the latest case taken up by Donald J. Trump, detective-in-chief; Jen Sorensen looks at a proposed Ohio law that demands doctors perform a procedure that ... doesn't exist?; The K Chronicles shakes his head at racism in Italian soccer; Red Meat takes in a festive Christmas movie; and Apoca Clips watches as Li'l Trumpy engages in some puppetry.

Published in Comics

On this week's held-in-contempt weekly Independent comics page: Apoca Clips says goodbye to that big TV show with the help of a Trump-aided fashion show; Red Meat enjoys some arts and crafts; Jen Sorensen ponders the gradual erosion of Roe v. Wade; The K Chronicles deals with package-tampering; and This Modern World shares the latest adventures of The Unbelievable Trump.

Published in Comics