politics Trump

Sheriffs

Friday finds the world considering the prospect that America might manage to reestablish a functioning government in the months ahead.

Joe Biden implored Americans to follow him down what he called the “path of hope and light” in his speech accepting the Democratic nomination on Thursday evening. The former vice president’s remarks capped off days of impassioned pleas from Democrats (and some Republicans), all of whom warned voters that America is on the brink of a chaotic spiral into what might as well be failed state status.

That Tulsi Gabbard ended up trending on social media during Biden’s speech was no coincidence, of course. Gabbard garnered sympathy from netizens ostensibly representing both parties on Thursday night, when she lamented (after being prompted in a tweet) that she wasn’t invited to speak at Democrats’ virtual event this week. Fox promptly jumped at the opportunity to feature Gabbard.

The reaction across social media to Gabbard’s feigned incredulity served as a reminder that most Americans still do not understand how perilous things truly are right now. Gabbard is, at best, an unwitting accomplice in efforts to sow confusion among the US electorate. I won’t delve into the specifics around the (admittedly speculative) “at worst” scenario, but suffice to say it’s wholly unfortunate that the voting public still doesn’t seem to possess the rudimentary critical thinking skills inherent in the phrase “when someone seems too good to be true, they usually are”.

Donald Trump, meanwhile, delivered some of his most foreboding remarks yet about the election, telling Sean Hannity he may deploy “sheriffs” (among other law enforcement officials) to “verify” ballots.

“We’re going to have sheriffs, and we’re going to have law enforcement. And we’re going to have hopefully US attorneys, and we’re going to have everybody and attorney generals”, the president mused.

 

He also suggested his prospective monitoring regime would only apply to Democratic districts.

“They may send them to all Democrat areas, not to the Republican areas as an example”, he said.

As ever, it’s not clear what’s more remarkable — the message or the explicit way in which it was delivered. Election monitoring isn’t problematic as a concept, but the idea of an executive who recently deployed federal agents to states and who orchestrated the disbursement of peaceful protesters using tear gas and rubber bullets in order to clear the way for a symbolic stroll with his military commanders, now saying he intends to use “sheriffs” in Democratic “areas” to ensure election “integrity” is comically ominous.

That Trump would say such a thing on national television betrays either complete obliviousness to the parallels with how “elections” are held in autocratic regimes, or else an overt nod to establishing just such a regime in America.

At the same time, the misinformation looks poised to continue apace. The White House continues to foist a manifestly false narrative on the public about the administration’s economic track record.

On Thursday evening, during his own address to the DNC (photobombed by a pesky fly, much to the delight of right-wing media), Michael Bloomberg said the following of Trump’s economy:

Donald says we should vote for him because the economy was great before the virus. Huh?

Joe Biden and Barack Obama created more jobs over their last three years than the Trump administration did over its first three, and economic growth was higher under Biden and Obama than under Trump. In fact, while Biden helped save 1 million auto industry jobs, Trump has lost 250,000 manufacturing jobs.

This is still largely lost on the public and even on some Trump critics. There is a pernicious tendency for Americans to believe things that simply are not true because even after witnessing three solid years of misinformation, voters still cannot quite wrap their heads around the notion that a public figure would tell outright lies about relatively petty things.

That’s not to say jobs and the economy are “petty”, but they are in the context of government lies.

Everyone understands the government lies to the public about, for example, matters of foreign policy and, in some cases when it’s deemed “necessary”, matters of national security. That is almost never a good thing. In the case of Iraq and WMDs it led directly to one of the most ill-fated military incursions in modern history.

But for an administration to habitually lie about readily observable facts — verifiable with a single check of publicly available data — is unprecedented. Bloomberg’s remarks on Thursday evening underscore how brazen these lies really are. What makes them so brazen isn’t necessarily that they are verifiably false. Rather, what makes the situation so unnerving is that these lies aren’t necessary.

The visual (below) drives home the point. It accounts for the “Trump bump” (which, on nonfarm payrolls, doesn’t really look much like a “bump”, but to placate the president’s demands, I incorporate it), and shows that not only are Trump and Mike Pence lying about “their” labor market versus the previous administration’s jobs record, but that the difference between the two isn’t embarrassing enough to explain why someone would feel compelled to lie about it.

The same is true for GDP (i.e., for the economy more generally).

In keeping with the (very simple) methodology used to construct the figure above, I give Trump the election “bump” and exclude the pandemic plunge (it’s shown in the figure below, but it’s clearly separated to account for Trump’s assertion that the damage from the virus was not directly his fault). The results are the same.

Trump’s most ardent critics lampoon the president for his entirely unrealistic characterization of the pre-pandemic US economy. For example, just prior to the epidemic, Trump told Davos that he had created “an economic boom the likes of which the world has never seen before”. That is a quote. As you can clearly see from the figure (above) that is in no way, shape, or form the case.

If I wanted to be cruel, I would pan out on that visual to show Trump’s economy in a historical context, but the point isn’t to maximize the comedic value. Rather, my point is actually to say that there was nothing wrong with Trump’s economy. It was on par with the Obama/Biden economy (slightly better, actually, depending on what window you use), and certainly nothing to be ashamed of. And yet, the president made claims so out of step with reality, that it was impossible to construe them as anything other than lies.

And for what? There isn’t anything worth lying about in either of the two figures above.

That, I contend, is one of the most damning aspects of the current administration. While lying about “big” issues (e.g., WMDs in Iraq) can lead to disastrous, deadly, horrific outcomes, the gravity of the situation at least explains the temptation to resort to lies, although it most assuredly does not excuse it. The current president’s lies are, in many cases, totally inexplicable. He lies compulsively, even when he doesn’t have to — he lies even when reality is favorable to him (see the charts above).

Little wonder, then, that when confronted with objectively terrible numbers (i.e., America’s “performance” in the pandemic), the president simply resorts to outright fantasy, claiming the country’s “numbers” are the “best in the world”, four words Trump has used to describe the US epidemic on innumerable occasions. In fact, America’s numbers are the worst in the world on any number of metrics.

Now, this president stands accused of tampering with the post office to undermine mail-in ballots during an election when record numbers of Americans are expected to vote by mail. He said, on national television Thursday evening, that he intends to deploy law enforcement to opposition “areas” during the election. He continues to insist that the results will be fraudulent. This week, the White House said Trump would judge the election’s fairness after the vote.

This is, objectively, a crisis of democracy. It now seems entirely unlikely that the president will willingly leave office in November.

In January, I presaged this after the Senate voted 51-49 against calling further witnesses in Trump’s impeachment trial, setting the stage for the president to be acquitted. The passages below are even more applicable today than they were seven months ago.

Even if he were to lose in November, Trump would likely claim massive voter fraud and move to nullify the results. After all, he claimed massive voter fraud even when he won, in 2016.

After that, he’ll look for an excuse to extend presidential term limits.

Again, none of that is an effort to resort to hysterics. Rather, it increasingly seems like the most plausible trajectory.

Having crumbled the country’s institutions and having essentially antiquated the whole idea of “checks and balances”, Trump now faces a new challenge: Shaping and defining autocracy in America.


 

13 comments on “Sheriffs

  1. Two quick thoughts on this… First, since when has Tulsi Gabbard been someone who “seems too good to be true”?

    Second, everyone needs to calm down about Trump and the sheriffs. Yes, it’s absolutely crazy and it’s thoroughly undemocratic, but also, it’s entirely absurd because he simply doesn’t have the authority to order county sheriffs to do anything. The statement is appalling, but the reaction it deserves is ridicule, not handwringing. If he said he planned to use CBP agents or other DHS officers to provide “security” at polling stations that would be an entirely different matter, but sending in the sheriffs is laughable (and he should be laughed at, because he hates that).

    • How many things has Trump done over the past three years that folks said “he simply doesn’t have the authority to do”?

      The truth appears to be that he can do whatever he wants, because America’s democracy was far more fragile than anyone imagined. In fact, I would argue it is on the brink of extinction. And just think: all it took was a reality TV show host to call the Constitution’s bluff.

      • On Tulsi, you must not be apprised of her social media following. Trust me, there are millions of people who think she is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Just because you are in full possession of your analytical abilities does not mean the average person is.

        • Rational and informed people (read not Fox viewers) are still not taking this situation seriously. There is nothing about Trump, the Republican party, or their followers that invites ridicule. Rather, fear should be the appropriate reaction.
          We are so close to losing the United States as we have known it. If Trump wins, there will be no recovery from the current trajectory. It will be 1930’s Germany once again. And since the “economic recovery” is non-existent for anyone below the upper middle class, the parallels will only grow stronger. Having caused a US decline, and with the backing of the right wing media, Trump has the skill to channel citizens’ future growing resentment in any direction that he chooses.

          • Please don’t think that the fact that I think this particular statement is more deserving of ridicule than being taken seriously means that I don’t take seriously the threat that Trump represents. I believe Trump is a potentially existential threat to American democracy. If you’re looking for a real and very serious example of the threat that he poses to the integrity of the election, then look no further than the actions his crony DeJoy is taking at the USPS in the run up to an election that will be reliant on the mail to a previously unheard of degree.

            I think that in the (highly likely) event that he loses the election, there is zero chance that he will concede defeat. I think that the best-case scenario is one where he whines about a “rigged election” but takes no real concrete steps to remain in power (beyond, perhaps, some perfunctory lawsuits). In the worst case, I fear he will use all the levers of power available to the Presidency to actively oppose his removal from office in defiance of the Constitution.

            I’m deeply concerned by the fact that he’s spent the last 2+ years replacing middle and upper management at the DHS with cronies who are unlikely to refuse to carry out illegal orders issued by him. I think that what happened in Lafayette Square this past June was a potential preview of what may come this fall/winter.

            I’m also worried that, in the worst-case scenario, Trump will use his platform to issue a (literal) call to arms to his supporters to oppose the results of the election on the basis of some unfounded conspiracy theory. Furthermore, I’m worried that, given how primed parts of his base are to buy into such a conspiracy theory and how the political environment has devolved from a battle of ideas to a battle of good vs evil, such a call to arms will be heeded and the result will be blood in the streets.

            So, I take very seriously the idea that Trump may shred the Constitution and burn American democracy to the ground in the process. I just don’t take seriously the idea that the county sheriffs are going to be the means through which he accomplishes that end.

        • Oh, I’m aware of Gabbard’s following. It was just that I (mis)read the phrasing of your sentence as providing support for the idea that she was “too good”, and that left me a bit confused.

          • Anonymous-

            We share the same views.
            I look back on the last 3 years and recall the late night show hosts and much of the media treating Trump with ridicule. I now realize that they have only inoculated the US citizens against viewing Trump as they should- with horror.

      • Oh, you’ll get no argument from me that America’s democracy has been exposed as far more fragile than previously understood. There’s also no question about the fact that Trump has done a ton of things that he “doesn’t have the authority to do”. However, my point here is that this particular instance is different from others. In this case, it’s a matter of a lack of chain of command, rather than a lack of legal basis.

        I think this distinction can be clarified with the counterexample I gave. In both the case of Trump ordering the sheriffs to monitor polling stations and the case of Trump ordering DHS personnel to monitor polling stations, Trump lacks a legal basis for taking such action. There’s no law allowing the President to order law enforcement to monitor polling stations. The distinction between these two things is in the chain of command.

        In the case of DHS personnel, while it may not be valid (legal) for Trump to order them to monitor a polling station, the burden is on the DHS personnel to disregard an order from the President (their boss) on the basis of it being illegal/invalid. In the case of county sheriffs, the president is not part of the chain of command. Trump can order them to do something, sure, but that order is really nothing more than a request. He isn’t their boss and doesn’t sit above them in any command structure. Unlike federal agents, they are no more obligated to take orders from him than they are to take orders from me.

        I get this might seem like nitpicking, but I think it’s important to make these distinctions. Trump says a lot of crazy shit, and because people have a finite attention span, it’s important to focus on the crazy shit he says that he can actually try to deliver on. This isn’t one of those instances.

  2. Mr. Lucky says:

    It occurs to me that the current situation, such as with “sheriffs,” is a bit like asset value. Value isn’t what Ben Graham or any other pundit might have said it was, it is the price at which an asset sells in the market. Power turns out to not be what the Constitution or the law says it is, it’s what the guy at the top does and is allowed to get away with. If the people don’t start pushing back, hard, soon, the US will, in fact go away. The only people who will be safe then are the moderately well off who can dine on crumbs and be ignored, along with the 0.1% who don’t piss off the boss. And I guess, those farsighted enough to have bought a bunch of guns.

  3. dayjob says:

    2020 has certainly shown us how fragile many of our institutions are. I remember being happy when Christie knee-capped Rubio thinking it would pave the way for Trump to win the Republican primary because I didn’t think Trump could possibly have a shot at winning the presidency. I’ve clearly learned some hard lessons about being careful about what you wish for and how quickly people will fall in line if they feel it’s an “us vs. them” situation.

    I do wonder what China’s approach will be with the election. It’s not surprising in the least that they would want Trump out, but are they doing anything to make it happen or is it a passive wait-and-see approach? I would think that China is capable of generating their own October surprise if they should so choose. However, I could also see them sitting it out as they have the luxury of time and an iron-grip on their country. However, I think the market is underestimating the tail risk of China’s reaction to a Trump re-election. I seriously doubt they’ll sit on their hands another 4 years while Trump becomes unshackled from electoral restraints and takes even bigger whacks at their tech crown jewels. All China would need to do is target one or two companies that are currently playing the role of Atlas in the US markets to potentially send the market into a tailspin. We might end up with the exact opposite election night reaction we saw in 2016 if Trump is re-elected.

  4. Sheriffs? For amateurs. There will be armed troops stationed at all voting locations checking IDs and generally scaring away minority voters. The authority for this will derive from general emergency powers upon declaring a “national emergency” due to some unsupported allegations of attempted election fraud/outside election meddling, possibly by China or Iran (which would inevitably lead to a military attack on the latter). Such emergency powers are permitted by a score of statutes that have been passed over the years by Congress which have expanded their scope, such as 9/11, all of which assumed that the president would have the national interest in mind in declaring an emergency. Also, I’ll note that the emergency powers utilized by the president in a national emergency don’t have to have any relationship to the emergency being alleged. You may, for instance, see the president seize control of the communications networks.

    I hope I am wrong. But i am planning to buy puts on SPY in the weeks ahead.

  5. The talk of Sheriff’s is a way to gaslight all. He used that as a means to allow himself to not be taken seriously by the good people. Be assured Sherrif’s as a word may one day be replaced by posse or military troops. All manning Democrat leaning areas. Voter suppression via guns.

  6. Sheriffs may not be necessary. Dejoy made claims in the congressional hearings that sounded a lot like he was guaranteeing that ALL ballots would be delivered on time. He also refused to reinstall the removed equipment as un-needed. He will make whatever promises are needed to make people think he will deliver. The fact that he won’t deliver millions of ballots won’t be realized until election day. Then with the boss delivered into his second term who is going to come down hard on Dejoy?? And as to sending the sheriffs to all the Democratic states…i would think someone should be attending the Republican states. That’s where the voter fraud is actually taking place and has been for some time.

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