What is America really fighting over in the upcoming election? No particular issue. Not even Democrats vs. Republicans. The central clash is over Donald J. Trump.
Before Trump, most Americans were not especially passionate about politics. But Trump’s MO has been to force people to become passionate about him – to take fierce sides for or against. And he considers himself president only of the former – whom he calls “my people.”
Trump came to office with no agenda except to feed his monstrous ego. He has never fueled his base. His base has fueled him. That adoration sustains him. So does the antipathy of his detractors. Presidents usually try to appease their critics. Trump has gone out of his way to offend them. “I do bring rage out,” Trump unapologetically told journalist Bob Woodward in 2016.
In this way, he has turned America into a gargantuan projection of his own pathological narcissism. His entire re-election platform is found in his use of the pronouns “we” and “them.” “We” are people who love him, Trump Nation. “They” hate him. In late August, near the end of his somnolent address on the South Front of the White House accepting the Republican nomination, Trump extemporized: “The fact is, we’re here – and they’re not.” It drew a standing ovation.
At a recent White House news conference, a CNN correspondent asked if he condemned the behavior of his supporters in Portland, Oregon. In response, Trump charged: “Your supporters, and they are your supporters indeed, shot a young gentleman.” In Trump’s eyes, CNN exists in a different country: Anti-Trump Nation. So do the putative rioters and looters of “Biden’s America.” So do the inhabitants of blue states whose state and local tax deductions Trump eliminated in his tax overhaul. So do those who live in the “Democrat cities,” as he calls them, whose funding he has been trying to cut.
California is a big part of Anti-Trump Nation. He wanted to reject its request for aid battling wildfires “because he was so rageful that people in the state of California didn’t support him,” said former Department of Homeland Security chief of staff Miles Taylor. New York is the capital of Anti-Trump Nation, which probably contributed to Trump “playing down” the threat of Covid-19 last March, when its virulence seemed largely confined to that metropolis. Even now, Trump claims the US rate of COVID-19 deaths would be low “if you take the blue states out.” That is untrue, but it is not the point. For Trump, blue states do not count because they are part of Anti-Trump Nation.
To Trump and his core enablers and supporters, the laws of Trump Nation authorize him to do whatever he wants. Anti-Trump Nation’s laws constrain him, but they’re illegitimate because they are made and enforced by the people who reject him. So Trump’s call to the president of Ukraine seeking help with the election was “perfect.” It was fine for Russia to side with him in 2016, and it is fine for it to do so again. And of course the Justice Department, Postal Service, and Centers for Disease Control should help him win reelection. They’re all aiding Trump Nation.
By a similar twisted logic, Anti-Trump Nation is dangerous. Hence, says Trump, the armed teenager who killed two in Kenosha acted in “self-defense,” yet the suspected killer of a right-winger in Portland deserved the “retribution” he got when federal marshals gunned him down.
It follows that if he loses the election, Trump will not accept the result because it would be the product of Anti-Trump Nation, and Trump isn’t the president of people who would vote against him. As he recently claimed, “the only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged.”
In the warped minds of Trump and his acolytes, this could lead to civil war. Just last week he refused to commit to a peaceful transition of power. His consigliere Roger Stone urges him to declare “martial law” if he loses. Michael Caputo, assistant secretary of public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services, warns “the shooting will begin” when Trump refuses to stand down.
Civil war is unlikely, but the weeks and perhaps months after Election Day will surely be fraught. Even if Trump is ultimately forced to relinquish power, his core adherents will continue to view him as their leader. If he retains power, many if not most Americans will consider his presidency illegitimate. So whatever happens, Trump’s megalomaniacal ego will prevail: America will have come apart over him, and Trump Nation will have seceded from Anti-Trump Nation.
10 things that the public needs to know about Trump’s tax returns
And finally after 4 years of unfulfilled promises to release them, detailed information about Trump’s tax returns have finally seen the light of day. Here are the 10 big issues that people need to know about them:
1. Did he break the law? Almost surely. Details of tax practices suggest fraud on a massive scale. As Michael Bromwich, a former inspector general at the Justice Department, said yesterday, based on the Times’s story, Trump faces federal and state prosecution for bank fraud, tax fraud, wire fraud, and mail fraud, as does his entire family.
2. How little has he paid in taxes? In 11 of the 18 years examined, Trump paid no taxes at all. In his first year in office he paid the most income tax he had paid in a decade: $750. He has deducted taxes for almost everything imaginable, including $70,000 for hairstyling.
3. But he paid taxes in other nations where he did business? Yes, in 2017, when he paid $750 to the U.S., he paid $15,598 in Panama —$145,400 in India —$156,824 in the Philippines. So much for America first.
4. Why did Trump run for president? He was deeply in debt in 2015, and was, as his former fixer Michael Cohen said, eager to rebuild his brand by running for president. The presidency has injected cash into Trump’s businesses, as lobbyists and foreign governments have invested in them. But he’s still losing money.
5. How broke is he? He owes more than $300 million in loans and cannot repay them. His businesses are constantly losing money. He’s fighting with the IRS and could owe another $100 million to the government. So much for the “successful businessman” image.
6. Who does he owe money to? We don’t know. And that’s part of the problem. Because whoever he does has huge leverage over him.
7. Does this make Trump a national security risk? You bet. Note that a bipartisan group of nearly 500 national security officials, past and present, last week endorsed Biden for president. The list includes retired General Paul Selva, who served as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the first two and a half years of Trump’s presidency.
8. Why is he so desperate to stay in power? Presumably because a sitting president cannot be indicted, and he won’t have to face federal and state prosecution.
9. What’s Trump’s reaction to this bombshell? Not surprisingly, he claims it’s “totally fake news.” But the easiest way to refute it would be to make his tax returns public, which he refuses to do.
10. Will this bombshell affect the election? Probably not. His followers live in a Fox News bubble that this news won’t permeate. It will only confirm what the rest of us already knew. Trump is a conman and a crook.