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What got me steamed up this week

Is There a Good Reason Not to Panic? Well, No, Not Really.

The Democrats have always had three options. Sticking with Joe Biden always seemed like the least bad option. Last night, that changed.

Joe Biden looks down at the debate.
President Joe Biden looks down as he participates in the first presidential debate of the 2024 elections with former president and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at CNN’s studios in Atlanta, on June 27.

Joe Biden had barely opened his mouth last night when I gasped and said to myself, “Oh God, this might be really bad.” His voice was thin and raspy and weak. His words, ostensibly about how badly Donald Trump botched the pandemic, were unfocused and constituted a huge missed opportunity. And that kept happening over and over and over again.

Trump lied like crazy, sure. Nobody’s aborting a fetus after it’s born. “Everyone” did not want Roe overturned. Millions of people from prisons or mental institutions have not crossed the border. Food prices haven’t “quadrupled.” It went on and on—CNN’s fact-checker said he counted at least 30 outright lies. Jake Tapper and Dana Bash never stepped in to fact-check Trump. All that is true. But none of that changes the overwhelming fact. Biden confirmed Democrats’ worst nightmares. “We finally beat Medicare”? Dear God.

CNN’s flash poll had respondents saying Trump won by 67 to 33 percent. Frankly, I’m not sure who those 33 were. The die-hardest of die-hard Democrats, I guess, or maybe single-issue voters who heard Biden say one thing they liked. But 33 percent means a ton of Democrats admitted that their guy lost, and the guy they really hate and rightly consider a direct threat to the country won. And probably half of that 33 were voting with their heart.

What happens now? Let’s talk about the people who have the power to go to Biden and tell him to step aside. What kinds of conversations is Barack Obama having today? Who’s Chuck Schumer talking to? Hakeem Jeffries? Nancy Pelosi? How about Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Al Gore? The big donors and bundlers? And perhaps most of all, there’s Jill and his family.

All these people have known for a long time that the Democrats had three options. The first has been sticking with Biden. People knew he was a risky proposition. But until this debate, Biden was, plausibly, the least bad option. Because the other two options are these.

Option two is that Biden steps down and hands it to Kamala Harris. She’s his vice president, and how in the world do you sidestep a sitting vice president?

That’s the most likely non-Biden option, but I know no one who’s excited about it. She’s just not a good politician. What’s the scenario where she beats Trump? Maybe she generates some higher enthusiasm among Black women, and theoretically among younger voters to some extent. Maybe she’d have more success making the race a referendum on abortion.

Harris, though, has a huge weakness. She has never really been able to make a strong economic argument. Even back when people were gushing about her in early 2019, when she announced her presidential candidacy, I noticed she had nothing to say about economic issues. And they’re kind of important in a presidential election. And then, of course, there are the racism and sexism you have to factor in here that would hurt her unfairly. My guess is that she runs three to five points worse than Biden against Trump, and that turns a margin-of-error race into a decisive loss—and one that probably affects control of the House and/or Senate.

The final option, therefore, is to throw the thing open and try to get the nomination to one of the governors, or someone else. This has always had a lot of theoretical appeal, because several of these people look like they’d be good candidates.

But the two perceived problems with this scenario are these. First, how much bad blood would start boiling within the party if Harris were pushed aside? The assumed answer has always been: a lot. If Biden were to step aside, pollsters would start asking questions about Harris, and if those polls showed that Black women will basically bolt, going around Harris could be a nonstarter.

And second, is there really any proof that Gretchen Whitmer or Gavin Newsom or Josh Shapiro or Jay Pritzker or anyone else would be a better candidate? Governors sometimes just don’t have it when it comes to running for president. Look at Ron DeSantis.

Those are real problems. But in this break-glass moment, they start to look like smaller problems than staying with Biden or just handing it to Harris.

We’ll see what the post-debate polls say. They’ll start coming out early to mid-next week. My guess is that Biden will lose four points on average, maybe five. It might be a little less. But the coverage of this fiasco over the next two days will only amplify how bad it was.

Politicians fear the unknown. They don’t want to cast votes whose political fallouts they can’t predict. They don’t want their districts redrawn. And they sure don’t want to change a presidential candidate in July.

But this is an undeniable crisis. I don’t know the convention rules. And remember—this is made even more complicated by the fact that Democrats have decided to nominate Biden via Zoom (or whatever) two weeks before the mid-August convention, because they need to have a nominee by early August for the nominee to appear on the ballot in Ohio.

So: Is an abbreviated, multicandidate campaign even possible? Here’s a scenario. Biden drops out next week, releasing the delegates he’s amassed during the primaries to do whatever. Candidates announce—Harris, the governors I named above (along with a few others, like Kentucky’s Andy Beshear), Pete Buttigieg, Cory Booker, maybe another senator or two. Throughout July, they have an intensive schedule of debates. Six or seven. Over the course of those debates, some will rise, some will fade. In early August, in time for Ohio, let the rank-and-file decide via electronic vote. Make all the contenders commit to supporting the process and standing 100 percent behind the winner.

Weirdly enough, that could actually end up working out pretty well. A new nominee would be fresh, providing a new story and a new start. He or she would trip up Trump. This nominee could arguably then roll into the Chicago convention generating a lot more enthusiasm than Biden will. (That’s another thing—think about the anxiety that will precede his convention speech!)

Then the nominee leaves Chicago with his or her well-chosen running mate, and they spend 10 days barnstorming the swing states so that by the end of the summer, the nominee will have galvanized the party. Then that nominee would have the fall to persuade swing voters, who don’t pay attention until October anyway.

Such a process might reinvigorate a party base that today is feeling pretty dispirited and disgusted and terrified. The conversations that happen this weekend in the high precincts of the Democratic Party will help determine the party’s—and the country’s—fate. It’s risky. Lots of unknown unknowns. But it’s worth remembering that with risk comes reward.

Is Aileen Cannon Seriously Going to Shut Jack Smith Down?

The Florida judge is hearing arguments on the constitutionality of the special counsel’s appointment. And we’ve seen what she’s capable of.

This picture shows a court house.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
The Alto Lee Adams Sr. United States Courthouse, where U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon has held hearings regarding former President Donald Trump, in Fort Pierce, Florida

Starting today in her Florida courtroom, Judge Aileen Cannon, whom Trump appointed to the bench during his waning months in office, is hearing arguments about whether Jack Smith’s appointment as special counsel is constitutional. It’s staggering that this is even happening, for a couple reasons.

First, Donald Trump’s legal team is arguing that Attorney General Merrick Garland had no legal authority to hire Smith. This is absurd. Attorneys general—and, sometimes, presidents and the D.C. Circuit Court—have been appointing special counsels since Ulysses Grant tabbed John Henderson to probe the Whiskey Ring. Since the 1970s, The New York Times reports, the courts have routinely rejected such challenges. The Supreme Court upheld the appointment—by Robert Bork, no less—of Leon Jaworski as special prosecutor for Watergate. Other similar challenges have been tossed.

Second, when courts have considered these petitions, they’ve usually done so on the basis of written arguments. To schedule a hearing that will extend over two days is … is what, exactly? A show of fealty to Dear Leader, probably. In addition, Cannon is allowing three lawyers who have filed amicus briefs to make 30-minute oral presentations. As one law professor told the Times: “The fact that Judge Cannon granted the amici request for oral argument seems to suggest that she is seriously considering the constitutional argument against the appointment of the special counsel.”

So, yes. Cannon is entirely capable of ruling that Smith’s appointment was unconstitutional. Lord knows, she has shocked us before. After the FBI Mar-a-Lago raid, she barred prosecutors from using any of the evidence collected there pending a review by a special master. Earlier this year, she issued an order asking both legal teams to submit preliminary jury instructions. The order seemed to embrace a key tenet of the Trump legal defense. There’s a lot more.

Next Monday or Tuesday, the arguments about Smith’s appointment will wrap up, and sometime thereafter, Cannon will render her decision. Can you imagine this relatively minor judge, one of 29 federal judges for the Southern District of Florida, who sits in the great metropolis of Fort Pierce, can hold the fate of the republic in her hands like this?

Well, she does.

And remember—if she decides that Smith’s appointment was unconstitutional, that deep-sixes not just the classified documents case over which she’s presiding but the even more important (in my view) January 6 insurrection case that’s supposed to be heard in Washington, pending the Supreme Court’s decision on presidential immunity. (The Justice Department would presumably appeal an adverse determination, so the Smith appointment matter may also end up at the Supreme Court one of these days.)

It’s just mind-boggling to think about this. It’s just never been more obvious that a judge is doing the bidding of the president who appointed her. It’s worth taking a look, by the way, at her confirmation vote before the Senate. It happened on November 12, 2020, five days after Joe Biden was finally declared the winner of the election. She was confirmed 56–21, with 12 Democrats joining the Republicans to elevate her. And 23 Democrats, including Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, didn’t even vote.

So that’s the indifferent way she got to the bench in the first place. And now, she has the power to let a man who stole national security secrets and spent months ignoring polite requests from the FBI to come down to Palm Beach to see what he had, and who egged on a violent mob to break into the Capitol building and try to hang his own vice president get away with it all.

And of course there’s the Supreme Court too. Remember the high court’s timeline. The court announced that it would take up the immunity case on February 28. It heard the arguments almost exactly two months later, on April 25. And now here we are, creeping up on two months after that. And still no decision.

Why is all this being slow-walked? It’s obvious enough. They’re trying to help reelect Trump and hasten the arrival of the Christian nationalist post-democratic order. Federal judges and Supreme Court justices can read newspapers and polls. They’ve seen the polls showing Trump’s felony conviction in the Stormy Daniels case is hurting him, especially with independents, and they have no doubt seen this new crop of polls showing Biden creeping into the lead—Thursday, for the first time this year, Biden edged ahead of Trump on the FiveThirtyEight poll tracker. It’s 0.1 percent, but it’s a lead.

So this is what we’re going to see over these next months. The Trump campaign will be getting a push from corrupt right-wing judges, a right-wing propaganda network (actually, two, three, four, or five of them, depending on how you count), and a bunch of CEOs who want their next tax cut more than they value the continuing survival of the world’s oldest democracy. And Aileen Cannon is the most potent symbol of the whole corrupt network: She cares nothing about the law and the country’s best traditions, and there is no way for any of us to do anything about it.

Well, there’s one thing: Vote, in huge numbers. We’re still enough of a democracy that that matters.

There’s a New “Silent Majority” Out There—and It Is Not Conservative

Ever since Richard Nixon used the phrase, it’s been a Republican thing. But the Republicans are the extremists now, and the Silent Majority isn’t what it was in 1969.

A protester holds a sign reading "Abortion Access Everywhere!" in a group featuring a number of pro-abortion and pro-LGBTQ rights signs.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Abortion rights protesters rally in Chicago in 2023.

Those of you of a certain age will recall the phrase “the Silent Majority,” made popular by Richard Nixon—and his crooked, cash-thirsty Vice President Spiro Agnew—in 1969 to refer to those middle-class Americans who weren’t out in the streets making noise about Vietnam or civil rights but sitting quietly at home seeking normalcy, law and order, and someone to save the country from extremism. Pat Buchanan, the old Nazi war criminal defender, has claimed that he placed the phrase before Nixon in a memo and the president seized on it.

Republicans have used it ever since. It was used by Ronald Reagan. It was employed by Rudy Giuliani and Mike Bloomberg (when he was running, as a Republican, for mayor of New York). Donald Trump gave it a spin in 2016. Overseas, Tory David Cameron and rightist leaders in Italy and Portugal have taken it up.

No candidate on the broad left has ever, to my knowledge, invoked the phrase. It’s high time that changed.

Earlier this week, you may have noticed, there was a special election in Ohio’s 6th congressional district, which runs from Youngstown to the West Virginia border. The Cook Political Report rates that district R+16, meaning a Democrat wins it about as often as Trump emits an untangled sentence. In 2020, Trump carried it by 29 points.

And Tuesday? The Republican still beat the Democrat—but by single digits. Michael Rulli, the Republican state senator who won the seat, spent $570,000. The Democratic candidate, an Air Force veteran who most recently worked as a waiter, spent $7,000.

What’s this have to do with the Silent Majority? I suspect maybe a lot.

If an amateur Democrat who couldn’t put two metaphorical nickels together can come within nine points of an experienced pol Republican in a district as scarlet-red as the Buckeyes’ jerseys, something is up. And this result is not an outlier. As Aaron Blake pointed out in The Washington Post, there have been six special congressional elections this cycle and the Democrat has outperformed in four of them, the Republican in just one. In the sixth race, Blake notes, the results (the Democrat won) closely mirrored the 2020 results, but “Democrats swung the results by double digits from the 2022 race for the same seat and flipped the seat blue.”

Simon Rosenberg, the high priest of Democratic optimism with his Hopium Chronicles Substack, constantly preaches: Don’t look at the polls; look at election results. We do not of course know whether his optimism about this November will be validated. We do, however, know that he (and pretty much he alone) was correct that the Democrats would hold their own in the 2022 midterms. He was right then, and he’s been right about most of these elections ever since.

So, a theory for you: Maybe, just maybe, there is an army of Americans out there who may not call themselves liberal or progressive but who are anywhere from sort of turned off to massively repulsed by MAGA. And while Trump and Fox News and Steve Bannon and Marjorie Taylor Greene and all the rest of them spend their days fulminating about America dying and hyping the authoritarian tsunami coming—talk that the mainstream media picks up and that dominates our discourse—there are in fact millions of Americans sitting quietly at home who detest these histrionic harbingers of hatemongering (a Safire-esque turn of phrase for you, since I mentioned Agnew).

They are out there. And they, I submit, are your new Silent Majority.

They’re not all liberal. But they definitely support abortion rights. They’re not rushing to join trans rights groups. But they want people to be treated with empathy and tolerance. They’re not reading gender-bending young adult fiction. But they recoil against censorship. They’re not socialists. But they want the government to do more for working- and middle-class people. They’re not Earth Firsters. But they believe climate change is real. They may still tell pollsters they’re wary of “big government.” But new interstates and bridges, and airport expansions, and new light-rail tracks, and expanded broadband access? They’re great with all that.

And most of all: They, just like Nixon’s old Silent Majority, seek normalcy, law and order, and someone to save the country from extremism. But in Nixon’s time, the extremism came from the left, while today it comes from the right. It’s the Trump right that attacks normalcy, on a daily and sometimes hourly basis. It’s the Trump right that is lawless, as evidenced most obviously by the fact that all these Republicans are tripping over themselves to support a convicted felon to be the president of the United States. And it’s the Trump right that is extremist on just about every issue, from health care to foreign policy.

So they sit at home, probably not watching much cable news, not marching in any marches, but just waiting until Election Day to register their opposition to MAGA. And in case you were wondering—yes, Michael Rulli, the Republican in that Ohio district, was MAGA all the way. He ran an ad in which the voiceover said: “On June 11, vote pro-gun. Pro-life. And pro-Trump.”

I would love to see the Democrats run with this idea that they are the new Silent Majority. It would infuriate the Republicans, who have assumed for 50 years that it is they who represent “regular America.” But with their slavish embrace of a sexual assaulting, classified document stealing, insurrection leading, twice impeached, quadruply indicted, and once (so far) convicted felon, they have waved goodbye to all that. They’re a noisy minority, and they’re alienating Americans by the millions.

It’s Simple: Trump Is Treated Like a Criminal Because He’s a Criminal

Trump’s life has been one long criminal enterprise. Democrats, make sure people remember.

Trump in courtroom

You are, I’m sure, familiar with Occam’s razor. It’s the old philosophical theorem that holds that the simplest explanation for an event, the one requiring the fewest assumptions, is probably the best explanation. If you wake up in the morning and there’s snow on the lawn, there are any number of possible explanations. Maybe some friends played a practical joke on you and dumped snow in your yard. Maybe space aliens visited during your slumber and dusted your lawn with the white stuff. Or—maybe it snowed last night.

Republicans keep asking, completely dishonestly, why so much criminal suspicion surrounds Donald Trump. They say it’s all being orchestrated by Joe Biden and Merrick Garland. They insist it’s an effort to interfere with his election campaign. They say a lot of things, but if ever there was a case where Occam’s razor applied, it’s this one. Trump is surrounded by criminal suspicion because he’s a criminal.

He’s been doing criminal things for decades. He just finally got cornered and caught on something. I’ve been writing recently that Democrats have to make sure every voter in the country remembers by Election Day, having heard it said thousands of times, that Donald Trump is a convicted felon. That’s true, and so far, Democrats and affiliated groups aren’t doing a terrible job of this. It’s a little sad that the best expression I’ve seen of this so far comes from a Republican—fiercely anti-Trump Republican Sarah Longwell’s group, Republican Voters Against Trump, has put up some blunt billboards around the country featuring photos of voters, with their names, under the statement: “I won’t vote for a convicted felon.”

But Democrats need to do more. Trump’s criminality, both past and future, should be central to the campaign. There’s a story to tell here, and it’s all true. No matter what the pollsters and the messaging gurus say, it’s impossible that all of this, taken together, doesn’t matter to swing voters.

To tell the story, you go through Trump’s record:

  • convicted on 34 felony counts
  • determined by a court to have raped a woman and ordered to pay her $83 million
  • found by a court to have overvalued his assets and ordered to pay $364 million
  • ordered to pay a $2 million settlement after admitting that he misused his charity, which the state of New York shut down
  • found by the Justice Department to have refused to rent apartments to Black applicants; settled out of court
  • sued by the Justice Department for violating proper procedures in the purchase of stock; paid $750,000 in civil fines
  • charged by the New York State Lobbying Commission with violating state lobbying laws while purchasing a casino; paid $250,000 to settle fines
  • found by the courts to have grossly defrauded students at the so-called Trump University and ordered to pay them $25 million in restitution

This list isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. It’s the tip of the tip. Trump has spent four decades being sued for something or other, typically not paying his bills, like those famous cases where he stiffed the poor vendors for his casinos, filing his own ridiculous countersuits and libel suits, and paying fines to make things go away. If indeed he actually paid the fines. I wonder if anyone has ever really gotten to the bottom of that. And I haven’t even mentioned the current charges around January 6 and the stolen classified documents because, so far, they’re just charges. But whatever the courts end up saying on those two matters, we’ve all seen with our own eyes the insurrection that he obviously incited (as of this January, 718 rioters had pleaded guilty to various federal charges, and 139 had been found guilty in court) and the photos of the boxes of documents at Mar-a-Lago that he refused for months to turn over to the FBI.

Another important point: The criminality around Trump isn’t limited to Trump. Eight Trump associates were sentenced to prison time: Steve Bannon, Michael Cohen (joined the good side but still served time), Rick Gates, Paul Manafort, Peter Navarro, George Papadopoulos, Roger Stone, and Allen Weisselberg. Others copped pleas: Michael Flynn, Sidney Powell, Kenneth Cheseboro, and Scott Hall, another Georgia defendant.

This is not a coincidence. As GOP strategist Rick Wilson said, “Everything Trump touches dies”; he corrupts everything and everyone around him. And does anyone seriously think that if he gets back to the Oval Office, the same thing isn’t going to happen again? It’s going to be worse.

It’s going to be far worse. First, he’s going to start, on that dictatorial day one, by pardoning himself. Joe Biden and the Democrats need to try to get voters focused on this. If it happens, people will be completely outraged. Yes, the 38 percent or so who are MAGA world will be fine with it, but majorities will be flabbergasted at such an act. Is it possible to get voters pre-outraged about something that hasn’t happened? The polls will say no. But as I’ve written over and over lately, polls can either be accepted—or they can be changed.

Right now, what’s most terrifying to me about the polls is that they tell us emphatically that people forget. They forget all the horrible things Trump did. That includes presidential actions, like his lies to the American people about the pandemic, but it also includes his history of criminality and the way that history guarantees he’ll keep behaving that way.

In sum: Trump’s criminal record hardly begins and ends with Stormy Daniels. Somebody needs to make sure that, by November 5, voters know the entire, sordid history.

Susan Collins’s Really Dumb Trump Defense Reveals the GOP’s Sickness

Will one elected Republican—one—say we need to respect the legal process?

Senator Susan Collins behind President Trump
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Senator Susan Collins behind President Trump on October 10, 2018

The only thing that was more fun yesterday than watching the Trump verdict come in was watching Republicans and assorted right-wingers sputter in outrage. I flipped on Fox News not long after the verdict was announced and caught Jeanine Pirro in the middle of an unhinged rant. “We have gone over a cliff in America,” she howled, concluding: “And in the end, with all this smoke and mirrors, at 34 counts, and a hooker, and a guy [who] according to a federal judge is a serial perjurer, we have convicted a former president of the United States of America.”

In a way, she got that last part right, even if her description of Stormy Daniels is unfair. But yes, Jeanine: That’s how the legal system works. If a jury returns 34 guilty counts in less than 10 hours of deliberation, it’s pretty clear that the prosecutor made his case. The jury of Donald Trump’s peers found Daniels and Michael Cohen to be credible witnesses. That must really frost the MAGA elites on Fox. Trump lawyer Todd Blanche tried and tried to discredit them, especially Cohen. Obviously, the jury wasn’t buying what he was selling.

And by the way: If Cohen and Daniels were such terrible witnesses, you know what action by the defense could have immediately canceled them out? Having Trump take the stand! He threatened that he was going to, but that was obviously bullshit, just like everything he says. Trump can’t take a witness stand, as any credible lawyer knows, because he lies every time he opens his jowly mouth. But if the alternate universe they live in on Fox was real, then Trump should definitely have taken the stand, because he would have obliterated Cohen and Daniels with his righteous truth-telling.

But of course he didn’t. Because every word he has said about this is a lie. He had sex with her. He paid her off. It was obviously about the 2016 campaign. We’ve known all these things for years, but, the law being what it is, we had to say “allegedly” and “if proven” and things like that, and we had to print Trump’s disavowals. Now we don’t. He did it.

Not in that alternate universe, though. Republicans … well, you know what they did after the verdict. Especially the vice presidential supplicants. Senator Tim Scott was maybe the most extreme, but actually all of them—Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton, Elise Stefanik, J.D. Vance, and more—were over the top.

That, we’d expect. More interesting were the elder statespersons of the party, who are to a person moral cowards but aren’t exactly card-carrying MAGA-heads. Senator John Barrasso: “The case in New York against President Trump has never been about justice. Democrats are weaponizing the justice system against a political opponent.” Mitch McConnell: “These charges never should have been brought in the first place. I expect the conviction to be overturned on appeal.”

But the dumbest of them all was Susan Collins’s statement, especially this part: “The district attorney, who campaigned on a promise to prosecute Donald Trump, brought these charges precisely because of who the defendant was rather than because of any specified criminal conduct.”

She got pounded on X/Twitter all night. It’s pretty hard to say that criminal charges are corrupt and illegitimate after a jury handed down an unequivocal thunderclap of a verdict like that. We should pause for a moment and think about the contempt for the justice system inherent in Collins’s words. Maybe she became disillusioned after her buddy Brett Kavanaugh voted to overturn Roe.

Her smear of Alvin Bragg is a common one on the right. The reality is more complicated. Bragg was running for district attorney in 2021. Of course, Trump came up during the campaign—a lot. The incumbent D.A. at the time, Cy Vance, had opened an investigation into the Trump Organization. So naturally, Bragg and his main opponent were frequently asked what they’d do about Trump. And Bragg did boast about his prior work in the office of the state attorney general bringing “hundreds” of actions against Trump. But he did not say he was going to pursue Trump, and the campaign also turned on other issues.

And when Bragg did take office, what did he do? He ended the Trump Organization probe that Vance had opened. Two of his top prosecutors resigned in disgust over it. That probe was taken up by Letitia James, and it resulted, as we know, in a judge ruling that Trump had committed fraud for years and levying a hefty fine.

One has to wonder why Collins went out of her way to make this kind of statement. Maine isn’t exactly MAGA-land. She’s probably in her last term. On a personal level, Trump probably has very little use for her, and she probably doesn’t care much for him. So … why?

Because the cancer runs so deep now in the organs of the Republican Party that no officeholder is cancer-free. Did one GOP officeholder say we should respect the jury system? Yes, I know of Larry Hogan’s statement. But he is not currently an officeholder, with constituents to offend. And look at what Trump’s campaign manager said in response to Hogan. That guarantees that no one else will try to say anything measured.

The party is an appendage of one man. Republicans want to talk about banana republics? They are the Banana Republicans. This is like Argentina under Perón or the Philippines under Marcos.

And to what manner of man are they appended? Let’s review. He’s a rapist—yes, a judge used that word and said it was accurate, after, remember, another jury of Trump’s peers ruled against him. He’s a massive tax cheat. Six of his political associates, plus Allen Weisselberg (and Cohen, if you want to count him), have been sentenced to prison. Three took plea deals to avoid prison. And now, he’s a convicted felon.

The emperor is stripped barer and barer with each passing month, and the Republican response is to praise his finery more passionately than ever.

This article first appeared in Fighting Words, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by editor Michael Tomasky. Sign up here.

How the Hell Can People Be Nostalgic for Donald Trump? Yet—They Are

Joe Biden’s real opponent isn’t inflation or Gaza or even Trump himself. It’s nostalgia bias vs. negativity bias.

Trump at a campaign rally in the South Bronx in New York City
Trump at a campaign rally in the South Bronx in New York City on Thursday

By now, we’ve seen poll after poll showing that voters look back fondly on Donald Trump’s presidency. The polls suggest that millions of people forget completely, for example, Trump’s shambolic panic when the pandemic was coming, his total failure to order up ventilators and masks, his serial lies that the 15 Covid cases would soon be down to zero, and so on—behavior so obviously disqualifying that failing to see it is, to my mind, akin to seeing a man holding a smoking gun over a dead body and denying that the man was the shooter.

Lately, these polls have been joined by other polls that say something just as false and just as dangerous. These polls show people giving Trump credit for things that Biden has accomplished and people being miffed at Biden for all manner of bad stuff that just isn’t real. In the latter category, we find a Harris Poll (yes, Mark Penn, but even so) showing the following hall-of-mirrors results, as Harold Meyerson wrote in The American Prospect: 56 percent of Americans think the country is in a recession, 49 percent believe the stock market is down, and 49 percent also believe unemployment is at an all-time high.

We are not close to a recession, which is a decline in gross domestic product in two consecutive quarters. That did happen in early 2022, but the second-quarter dip was very shallow, and most economists didn’t call it a recession. The Dow is up 8,000 points since Biden took office. Unemployment is at its lowest level in half a century.

Meyerson fingers—correctly, I think—the fact that so many people get their “news” from social media, which is usually just a collection of video and photo images that can pack an emotional punch but that explain and contextualize nothing. Social media, as Meyerson wrote, “has a built-in bias for the negative, the apocalyptic, the unedited, and uncurated.” A steady stream of clips showing high gas prices or rubble in Gaza or students being arrested is bound to lead the consumer of said clips to some dark conclusions about the country teetering on the knife’s edge of chaos and collapse, which, once formed, facts are powerless to dislodge.

There’s another recent survey, one of the most depressing and telling I’ve seen this year, that seems to confirm this too. This was an NBC News poll that divided respondents based on where they got their news. Pay attention here. Among people who don’t follow political news at all, Trump led Biden 53–27. Among social media users, Trump led 46–42. But among people who actually read newspapers, Biden led—ready?—by 70–21.

Pretty grim. But it’s even worse. This week on his Substack, New America fellow Lee Drutman wrote a really interesting piece about how our brains process thoughts about the past and the present. When we think about the past, he writes, we always remember it as better than it was. It’s called nostalgia bias.

But when we think about the present? We tend to think of it as worse than it actually is. This is called negativity bias. As Drutman put it: “Our brains are deeply attuned to possible threats, and so we have a strong negativity bias in how we process the present. In an environment of nonstop national media and hyper-partisan confrontational politics, we are constantly getting triggered. This makes us especially likely to see the present moment as a crisis.”

Social media of course plays a key role here too. A 10-second video of undocumented people crossing the Rio Grande tells the brain: “Chaos!” And Biden is doing nothing. The people may have been apprehended or turned back, who knows. But those 10 seconds have done their job.

Our brains have always worked liked this, as Drutman readily acknowledges. But Trump has made it all worse by constantly carrying on about how awful things are today—the sweeping and totally false generalizations about how no one is safe anywhere anymore; the unprovable (but, crucially for his purposes, un-dis-provable) assertions that Ukraine and Gaza and so on would never have happened if the election hadn’t been stolen from him.

And what Trump is doing, by the way, isn’t simple nostalgia. Nostalgia is an innocent pining for our younger days, when we looked better and our backs didn’t hurt and we had more sex. What Trump is doing is much darker. What Trump is doing is fascism, which throughout its history, as Drutman notes, is obsessed with tropes of social decline.

This is where we are, and this is really what Biden is up against—what perhaps any president would be up against in this jittery and overcaffeinated age. Even Trump fell victim to it in 2020 to some extent. But on balance, Trump benefits, and I’d say tremendously, because a media environment that encourages people not to think but only to react is a perfect mate for a political candidate who does the same.

Yet I’m not saying all is lost. I don’t think it is. There are millions of Americans who reject Trumpism outright. There are millions of people who seek facts, remember the awful things Trump did, read newspapers. Trump has lost a lot more elections (if you count the ones since 2016 when he was “on the ballot,” as it were) than he’s won. Still, it’s different now that Trump is out of office and can spin myths about his tenure and himself that too many people are willing to believe.

The best counter to Trump’s mythmaking about the past? Insistently telling people about the ugly future Trump promises. Read Jamelle Bouie today on Trump’s deportation plans. I have to believe most Americans do not want their country to do that. The Democrats’ answer to Trump’s obsession with the past is to warn people about a Trump-led future.

This article first appeared in Fighting Words, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by editor Michael Tomasky. Sign up here.

Biden Might Not Win the Debates—but Trump Will Definitely Lose Them

Trump was terrible in the 2020 debates, by every measure. And he’ll be terrible again. If he even participates.

Trump closes his eyes during the first presidential debate in 2020
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Trump during the first presidential debate in 2020

Donald Trump came out shooting blanks with his usual baggy, insecure rhetoric after agreeing to two debates with Joe Biden. “Crooked Joe Biden is the WORST debater I have ever faced,” “He can’t put two sentences together!” et cetera. He does it because he knows the media reports it and there are still people who fall for it.

The truth, of course, is that Trump is a terrible debater. In this as in everything else, he wants people to forget the past and ignore the truth. So let’s remind him, and everyone, of what happened when Trump and Biden met in 2020.

The first debate, hosted by Fox, took place in Cleveland on September 29. Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died; Trump had nominated Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court three days before, so the court was on everyone’s mind, and of course the pandemic.

Trump did two main things. First, he lied a lot. He’d reduced prescription drug prices by “80 to 90 percent”; insulin was getting “so cheap, it’s like water”; he’d “brought back [college] football.” Second, he interrupted and interrupted. He turned the whole thing into a shitshow, because he knows that shit benefits from shitshows.

But the main thing he did was send that little message to the Proud Boys: “Stand back and stand by.” Those words seemed self-contradictory to me, but not to the Proud Boys themselves, who took it as a clear order to await his further instructions, which came in the build-up to January 6, 2021.

Result? Biden mopped the floor with him. A CNN poll found that viewers favored Biden’s performance by—get this—60 to 28 percent. Think about that 28. It means that even a good chunk of MAGA-heads couldn’t bring themselves to say he won. Some polls were closer, but Biden won them all.

For the second debate, October 22, 2020, in Nashville, NBC decided to cut the microphones when Biden and Trump weren’t speaking, which limited the interruptions. Well, wait! Actually, Nashville was supposed to be the third debate. The second debate, scheduled for October 15 in Miami, never happened; it was canceled because Trump had tested positive for Covid. The debate commission suggested holding it virtually. Biden said yes. Trump backed out and held a rally instead. This is worth remembering.

OK, back to Nashville, which did happen: Trump said he’d done more for Black Americans than any president with the “possible exception” of Abraham Lincoln. He made a lot of comments ducking responsibility on the pandemic. It was less of a madhouse. And Biden won that debate, CNN found, by 53 to 39 percent.

Flash-forward. Biden is four years older and definitely a step slower. No use denying it. It’s hard to imagine him delivering a dominating performance. For my money, the best thing he can do on a stage with Trump has nothing to do with policy. He should needle Trump and get under his skin: about Trump constantly confusing Biden with Barack Obama; about confusing Jimmy Carter with Jimmy Connors; about praising Hannibal Lecter as a “wonderful man.” And about more consequential things too, like his stated plans for his second term that would turn the country into a fascist state (on this, read our new issue, it is excellent and chilling). But no, Biden probably does not have it in him to crush Trump in a debate.

In sum: Biden may not win these debates, but Trump will definitely lose them. He’ll lose them the same way he lost them last time, by lying and interrupting and sneering and being an off-putting bully. It’s true that Biden has a record to defend this time, and Trump will attack attack attack. He’ll probably score some points. But he’ll overdo it. He always does.

That is, if he shows up. This week, he started yelping instantly about the debate format—the absence of an audience, the cutting off of the mics. Amanda Marcotte in Salon noticed that Republicans “are already spinning Trump’s faceplant even before it happens.” Lara Trump whined on Fox that the debates are “rigged so heavily in Joe Biden’s favor, but everything always is.”

My guess is that the first one will happen. Trump is delusional enough to believe that he’s going to wipe the floor with Biden. Then he’ll see that Biden isn’t the blithering idiot he believes him to be and can actually hold his own on a debate stage, and the debate won’t have any clear winner or loser, but because Biden simply isn’t an aggressive asshole and raging egomaniac and will come across as more empathetic, he’ll win the insta-polls by 10 to 15 points, and Trump will eventually find an excuse to skip the second one and identify some little Nuremberg where he can hold a rally and whimper about being the most persecuted man in the history of the planet.

The last few days remind me more broadly that we must always bear in mind all the constituent elements of authoritarian fascism. There are the obvious ones we think of immediately, like contempt for democracy and reliance on a narrative of resentment against the “vermin” who are destroying the country. But the less obvious ones are important too. Staggering corruption is always, always, always a characteristic of fascist regimes, and Trump already proved this in term one, with the flagrant and constant violations of the emoluments clause.

And another constant feature is the whining. The system is so unfair to us. Mussolini used this trope, as did Hitler, as have they all. Everything is everybody else’s fault. And these people try to say that liberals are snowflakes?

This article first appeared in Fighting Words, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by editor Michael Tomasky. Sign up here.

Tim Scott’s Stated Willingness to Crush Democracy Is an Ominous Moment

We crossed another Rubicon this week with these veep wannabees parroting Donald Trump’s line about not accepting election results.

Tim Scott speaks at a podium, with Donald Trump beside him and others in the background.
Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Senator Tim Scott, a Republican from South Carolina, speaks during an primary election night watch party in South Carolina with former U.S. President Donald Trump on February 24, 2024.

As many have observed, democracies don’t die overnight. There’s no One Big Event that does it. It happens bit by bit. Noticing it requires paying very close attention and connecting the dots as you go along, and most people don’t have the time or dedication to do that.

So I draw your attention to a new and ominous development this week: It’s now basically settled that Donald Trump’s running mate will be with him 1000 percent on denying unfavorable election results. Doing so became a litmus test this week. South Carolina GOP Senator Tim Scott is chiefly to blame, but of course it’s also Trump, and the entire cast of craven jellyfish who are today’s Republican Party.

As you’ve probably read, Scott was on Meet the Press Sunday and, under questioning from host Kristen Welker, refused six times to say he’d accept the election results. The things he did say were ludicrous: “This is an issue that is not an issue so I’m not going to make it an issue.” “I’m not going to answer your hypothetical question when, in fact, I believe the American people are speaking today on the results of the election.” “This is why so many Americans believe that NBC is an extension of the Democrat Party.”

The same day, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum ran for the hills when CNN’s Jake Tapper asked him about potential political violence after the election. He spat out some evasive nonsense about how the important thing about the election is that “both sides feel good about how it was counted.” We all know what that means: If one party (gee, which one?) doesn’t “feel good” about the vote count, then violence might be justified.

These are, in one way, dismissible men. But these are not dismissible comments. This is new. And it’s worth thinking about.

In 2016, Trump went around saying things like, “I will totally accept” the election results “if I win.” But it wasn’t yet holy scripture. In fact, that fall, Trump’s running mate avowed that the GOP would play by the rules. “We will absolutely accept the results of the election,” Mike Pence told Chuck Todd on Meet the Press on October 16.

This was very important at the time. It allowed people to think Trump was just blustering, wasn’t to be taken seriously. And his position was seen as a clear liability. Three days after Pence’s Meet the Press appearance, Trump debated Hillary Clinton. Trump refused to affirm to moderator Chris Wallace that he’d accept the election results. Even Republicans asked by Politico agreed that it was Trump’s worst moment of the debate. Said an Ohio Republican: “His answer on not accepting the results of the election [is] disqualifying—and that’s not an ‘elite’ position.” Added a New Hampshire GOPer: “Refusing to accept the outcome of a legitimate American election and refusing to commit to the peaceful transition of power is disqualifying. Stunning.”

Those Republicans reflected a consensus then among the Republicans Politico asked, and to some extent among rank-and-file Republicans too—53 percent of Republicans even told Politico that Clinton won that debate. The idea that a major party candidate would reject election results was disqualifying, or seemed to be.

Of course, Trump won, so the proposition wasn’t tested then. In 2020, he did the same thing, casting doubt on the veracity of the pandemic-era results throughout the campaign. And we know what came of that: January 6. On that day, remember, 139 House members voted against certifying the election results, while 72 voted to certify (or were absent). Eight GOP senators voted not to certify, while 43 voted to certify Joe Biden’s victory.

Those voting results were depressing enough, but it must be asked: Would we get similar results today? Or will we next January 6, if Trump is declared the loser and contests the results, as he all but inevitably will?

I think this time it would be worse, maybe far worse. As Scott’s and Burgum’s dodges testify, conventional wisdom has changed. Now, it is assured that Trump’s vice presidential choice will, instead of offering Pence’s 2016 reassurances, be right there with Trump in threatening not to accept the results. The new Trump-installed chair of the party, Michael Whatley, is a 2020 election denier whose chief appeal to Trump was that he’s “a Stop the Steal guy.” And the new co-chair, of course, is Lara Trump. Around 60 RNC employees were handed their papers in March. The new application process includes asking job-seekers whether they think the 2020 election was stolen.

The upshot here should be clear enough. This November, the entire party will be armed to fight an adverse election result. This is new—worse, even, than 2020 and 2021. Scott and Burgum helped cement this posture as the new conventional wisdom this week. But really, they were shaping conventional wisdom far less than they were allowing themselves to be shaped by it. If they hadn’t said what they said, they’d be instantly tossed from Trump’s short list.

And the rest of the party? Please. They’ll fall into one of two camps. They’ll enthusiastically parrot the accepted line. Or they’ll use the “It’s not an issue, because Donald Trump will be elected our next president” dodge. And those in the latter camp know very well that the road is littered with the political carcasses of Republicans who defied Trump.

So, again: If January 6, 2025 comes around, and Congress is confronted with a situation similar to that other January 6, how many Republicans will stand up for democracy this time? Jellyfish may not have backbones, but they can still sting.

A Dem’s Principled Opposition to a Grandstanding GOP Antisemitism Bill

Why Jerry Nadler and four other Jewish Democrats voted “no”

Rep. Jerry Nadler
David Dee Delgado/Getty Images
Representative Jerry Nadler in 2022

It’s always worth taking note when a legislator casts an unexpected vote. So it caught my eye Wednesday morning as I was scanning the House roll-call vote on H.R. 6090, the Antisemitism Awareness Act.

It passed by a wide margin, 320–91; 187 Republicans and 133 Democrats voted for it, and 21 Republicans and 70 Democrats against. I scrolled down to look at the “no”s, because votes like this one—which right and left approach, let us say, from different moral universes—always offer an amusing coalition of the unwilling. GOP “no”s included hard-rightists like Lauren Boebert, Paul Gosar, Matt Gaetz, and Marjorie Taylor Greene. Democratic “no”s mostly all came from the Progressive Caucus, even the progressive wing of the Progressive Caucus—Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cori Bush, Rashida Tlaib, and more.

Then a surprising name caught my eye: Jerry Nadler of Manhattan. And another: Jan Schakowsky of Evanston, Illinois. These are both liberal Democrats, of course. But they’re also both Jewish, and they represent heavily Jewish districts. This was interesting.

Thursday, I spoke with Nadler about his vote. I should say that I’ve known and respected Jerry for many years. We met (can it be?) in 1987, when I was a young reporter covering New York politics. Before I get to the matter at hand, a quick story from those days that made me realize that Nadler was willing to take unpopular positions.

There were neighborhood political clubs in those days in Manhattan (they still exist, but their heyday was long ago). In Greenwich Village, there were two clubs: an older and more established one that opposed Mayor Ed Koch, very unpopular by the late 1980s among progressives, and a newer, pro-Koch club. An issue arose at some county Democratic meeting I was covering, I don’t even remember what it was exactly, but I do recall that Nadler, then a state assemblyman, rose to speak in defense of the pro-Koch club’s First Amendment rights. He was booed. I was no Koch fan then, but I thought it was kind of a gutsy thing to do.

Flash-forward. Why did a Jewish congressman from the most famous Jewish district in America (the Upper West Side) oppose an antisemitism resolution? “It’s violative of free speech,” Nadler told me, “and it’s totally unnecessary.”

H.R. 6090 would require the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to use the definition of antisemitism adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Association in 2016 when investigating complaints of bias at institutions that receive federal funds. That means college campuses (even private universities like Columbia receive federal grants and so on).

The IHRA definition, debated for years, has been adopted by around 20 countries, including the U.K., Canada, Germany, and more. Its definition is mostly nonproblematic, but to Nadler, one aspect of it threatened to squelch free speech on campuses. “You could read it as saying that criticism of Israel is antisemitic,” he said.

And this is where we get to the question of the Republicans’ motivation in introducing this bill. The IHRA definition is not without controversy, precisely because of some language about criticism of Israel that many consider blurry. Two other definitions of antisemitism have been promulgated—the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism and the Nexus Document. Choosing to rely solely on one of the three definitions struck some critics as concerning. Even the author of the IHRA definition, Kenneth Stern, has become a sharp critic of using it with respect to speech on college campuses, and Nadler told me that Stern opposed this bill.

But: The IHRA definition did have a notable champion in the United States: Donald Trump. As president in 2019, he signed an executive order to protect Jewish students under the Civil Rights Act, using the IHRA definition. Sounds good and uncontroversial, but numerous critics, including progressive Jewish groups, worried about its potential chilling effect on campuses. Stern, writing in The Guardian, argued that his definition “was created primarily so that European data collectors could know what to include and exclude.… It was never intended to be a campus hate speech code, but that’s what Donald Trump’s executive order accomplished this week.”

The Biden administration never rescinded that executive order. However, Biden did launch a different approach. In May 2023, he unveiled the first-ever national strategy to combat antisemitism. The 60-page plan outlined 100 steps that federal agencies committed to complete within a year and was based on input from 1,000 stakeholders.

Biden also proposed increasing the 2024 budget of the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights by 25 percent. Republicans proposed cutting it by 25 percent. The ultimate compromise, says Nadler, is that it was flatlined. That battle is being repeated for 2025. House Republicans could shift their position on that, if they want to show that they wish to combat antisemitism in a real way. There’s also a House bill, sponsored by North Carolina Democrat Kathy Manning, that would codify the Biden administration’s approach, and it has an impressive 15 Republican co-sponsors (and 24 Democrats).

Speaker Mike Johnson could put his weight behind that. But as we see on an hourly basis, he (while pretty extreme himself) is dealing with a whole different universe of crazy. Marjorie Taylor Greene explained her opposition to the bill by saying that under it, Christians could be convicted “for believing the Gospel that says Jesus was handed over to Herod to be crucified by the Jews”—an age-old and classic antisemitic fable.

I’m not sure this bill is dangerous. A lot of solid liberals voted for it. I just think it’s worth noting that some Jewish members opposed it (there were three more, in addition to Nadler and Schakowsky: Sarah Jacobs of California, Jake Auchincloss of Massachusetts, and Rebecca Balint of Vermont), in part out of concern that criticism of the policies of Israel could be construed under law as antisemitic.

Antisemitism is certainly all too real, on college campuses and across the country, and obviously, there are times when criticism of Israel can and does include antisemitic tropes. But the laws of the United States should help clarify the difference between antisemitism and criticism of Israel, not obscure it.

This article first appeared in Fighting Words, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by editor Michael Tomasky. Sign up here.

Samuel Alito’s Resentment Goes Full Tilt on a Black Day for the Court

The associate justice’s logic on display at the Trump immunity hearing was beyond belief. He’s at the center of one of the darkest days in Supreme Court history.

Samuel Alito
Alex Wong/Getty Images

On the day Donald Trump took office in January 2017, pondering what he might do to the country’s democratic norms and institutions, I wrote these words: “Trump will destroy them, if keeping Trump on top requires it. Or try to. He might not succeed. And that is where we rest our hope—on conservative judges who will choose our institutions over Trump. Mark my words: It will come to this.”

That hope seemed not misplaced back in 2020 and 2021, when a number of liberal and conservative judges, some of the latter appointed by Trump himself, handed Trump 60 or so legal defeats as he attempted to unlawfully overturn the election results. But after Thursday at the Supreme Court? That hope is dead. The conservative judges, or at least most of them, on the highest court in the land are very clearly choosing Trump over our institutions. And none more belligerently than Samuel Alito.

His line of questioning to Michael Dreeben, the attorney arguing the special counsel’s case, was from some perverse Lewis Carroll universe:

Now if an incumbent who loses a very close, hotly contested election knows that a real possibility after leaving office is not that the president is going to be able to go off into a peaceful retirement, but that the president may be criminally prosecuted by a bitter political opponent, will that not lead us into a cycle that destabilizes the functioning of our country as a democracy?

Let’s look to something I’d have thought lawyers and judges took seriously: historical evidence. American democracy has existed for nigh on 250 years, and power has been transferred from a president to his successor a grand total of 40 times (not counting deaths in office). On 11 occasions, a challenger has defeated a sitting incumbent—that is, a situation that creates the potential for some particularly bitter and messy post-election shenanigans.

Now, if Alito’s question really spoke to a malign condition that had hobbled American democracy throughout history and that loomed as a real problem that we had to take very seriously, it would stand to reason that our history suggested that these power transfers had had a wobbly history—that maybe, say, 12 of 40, and four or five of the 11, had been characterized by violence and unusual threats of retribution against the exiting executive.

But what does the record show? It shows, of course, that there is only one case out of the overall 40, and one case out of the more narrowly defined 11, in all of U.S. history where anything abnormal and non-peaceful happened. That, of course, was 2020.

And there was a lot of bad blood in previous transfers of power. You think John Adams loved the idea of handing power to Thomas Jefferson? John Quincy Adams was popping champagne to turn things over to Andrew Jackson? Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison, who traded wins, weren’t bitter in defeat? These people couldn’t stand each other. But they did what custom required—a custom never questioned by anyone until Trump came along.

So in other words: Alito throws all that democratic history out the window and treats Trump as the new normal, assuming that the American future is ineluctably strewn with a series of lawless Trumps. Alas, with respect to the Republican Party, there’s a chance time will prove him right about that (but only a chance; my cynicism about the depths to which this GOP will sink is almost limitless, but even I think that Trump is most likely sui generis in this respect, and that your average Republican, even the neofascist ones like Tom Cotton, should we be cursed with a Cotton presidency someday, would probably yield power peacefully if he lost).

But think about what it says about both where Trump has delivered this country, and about Alito’s assumptions about democracy. On the former point: Have we now reached a place where challenges to election results are going to be the norm? Where an opposition party can be counted on to find some legal technicality on which to prosecute a former president, rather than leaving him or her in peace as we have throughout our history?

This is another twisting of reality. Trump, his defenders would protest, is the one former president who has not been left in peace. Well, that is true, I confess. But maybe there’s a reason for it! Actually, there are two. Trump has not been left in peace because a) it was always obvious he was not retired, and b) he’s the only ex-president who tried to foment a coup against the United States of America and who declassified sensitive national security documents with his beautiful brain.

And on the latter point: When George W. Bush named him to the court in 2005, experts told us—of course—that Alito was conservative, yes, but not an extremist (interestingly, Maryanne Trump Barry, Donald’s sister under whom Alito had worked as a prosecutor, was among those recommending Alito’s nomination). As The New Yorker reported in a 2022 profile, Alito was asked in 2014 to name a character trait that hadn’t served him well. His answer? A tendency to hold his tongue. Well, that problem’s been solved, eh? As writer Margaret Talbot noted of the justice, who ignored Chief Justice John Roberts’s importunings to strike a balance in the Dobbs decision, which he wrote: “He’s holding his tongue no longer. Indeed, Alito now seems to be saying whatever he wants in public, often with a snide pugnaciousness that suggests his past decorum was suppressing considerable resentment.”

And this week, he told us, in essence, that in his view democracy depends on allowing presidents to commit federal crimes, because if ex-presidents were to be prosecuted for such things, the United States would become a banana republic. That’s a Supreme Court justice saying that. And while Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and even Clarence Thomas didn’t go that far Thursday, it was obvious that the court’s conservatives are maneuvering to make sure that the insurrection trial doesn’t see the light of day before the election—in other words, that a sitting president who very clearly wanted Congress to overturn a constitutionally certified election result (about this there is zero dispute) should pay no price for those actions.

When I wrote seven years ago that we rested our hope on conservative judges who will choose our institutions over Trump, trust me, I wasn’t saying I was confident that they would. I was terrified that that day would eventually come. It came yesterday. The conservative jurists chose Trump. It will stand as one of the blackest days in Supreme Court history.

This article first appeared in Fighting Words, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by editor Michael Tomasky. Sign up here.