Trump’s GOP has become the Party of Liars

Sometimes politics can be very simple to comprehend. Sometimes things can get quite complicated. Sometimes, truth in politics can be hard to discern. Sometimes it’s surprisingly easy.

The current situation — namely Trump’s attempts to undermine the 2020 election results and the GOP’s complicity in doing so — is both incredibly simple to understand and easy to know what is true. In a nutshell:

• Biden won the election. Trump lost. Despite the difficulties of campaigning in a pandemic and contending with a dishonest incumbent, Biden will be inaugurated as POTUS on January 20.

• Trump and the GOP are claiming that there are serious voting irregularities and/or instances of fraud that could lead to overturning the election results — and a Trump victory. The claims are completely without merit. Regardless, Trump is refusing to concede the election.

• Trump and the GOP know the claims are false — but don’t care. They have engaged in a deliberate campaign of lies for the sake of a political advantage. Trump, of course, is a serial liar. But the situation has become so extreme that the entire GOP has become the Party of Liars.

Here’s the fuller version of what’s going on:

• The other day, Mitch McConnell said: “Let’s have no lectures about how the President should immediately, cheerfully accept preliminary election results from the same characters who just spent four years refusing to accept the validity of the last election.”

This “what-aboutism” is a complete fabrication. The 2020 election was called for Biden via major organizations (such as the AP) that have long been trusted to be definitive. In 2016, for example, Hillary Clinton conceded the election within 24 hours of the race being similarly called. Then-President Obama followed by inviting Trump to the White House to begin the transition. There was no effort by the Democratic Party to undo the election results or delay the transition. There was no claim that the results were only “preliminary.” What is happening now is the complete opposite of what happened four years ago. What is going on now has never occurred in any previous national election.

Trump’s refusal to allow Biden to have the office space, funds, and security access he is entitled to as President-elect represents a reprehensible pettiness that is without precedent and dangerous to the health and security of our country. The GOP’s response to these concerns is a collective shrug.

I would add that, back in 2016, it was Trump (not the Democrats) who promulgated falsehoods about the election results — notably his baseless claim that 3 to 5 million people had voted illegally.

• Trump continues to file fruitless lawsuits challenging the election results — and the vast majority of the GOP shockingly continues to back him up. Their justification? “Trump has the right to pursue all legal challenges to the election.”

Let’s be clear. While Trump has the legal right to pursue his fantasy version of events, that doesn’t make it the right thing to do. No investigation into vote counting this year has found any significant irregularities. And even if all the most serious of Trump’s lawsuits were found to have merit, the number of votes that would shift would not be sufficient to reverse the outcome. Biden would remain the winner. So there is no legitimate point to pursuing this. Every norm in our politics says, for the good of the country, it’s long past time to put an end to this. Unfortunately, Trump doesn’t care about the country’s welfare. It is his self-interest that remains his only interest.

• Most egregious of all, Trump continues to make false claims of substantial deliberate voter fraud (not simply voting “irregularities”). Yet there is zero evidence of any fraud. Despite years of claiming “rigged” elections, Trump has yet to provide even one substantiated example. And once again, the GOP is largely supporting Trump’s dive into the swamp. The vast majority of the Republicans in Congress still refuse to even acknowledge that Biden is the President-Elect.

It is all such an obvious untruth that virtually no one in the Trump administration or in Congress actually believes this bullshit about voter fraud. Indeed, privately, most of the GOP has already acknowledged as much. However, in a show of profound cowardice and willful deception, they just won’t do so in public.

In other words, the GOP has become the “Party of Liars.” Their survival has come to depend on spinning falsehoods — with the hope of convincing Trump’s base that the lies are true. They are playing their own voters for suckers. We are living in true-life version of 1984.

What’s the goal?

To what end are Trump and the GOP doing this? Theories abound. More than one may be true.

One says it is Trump’s delusional aversion to ever admitting he is a “loser.” As a result, he will probably never publicly concede the election, even though he will eventually agree to leave the White House. Once gone, he will continue to assert the election was “stolen” — and use this as a basis for maintaining support for himself. Already, in what is basically a scam, fund-raising appeals to supposedly pay for Trump’s court fights are actually going to pay off his campaign debt.

As for the GOP’s acquiescence, one theory sees it as due to their fear of appearing disloyal to Trump — possibly causing him to use his influence over the more than 70 million people who voted for him to harm the GOP. This is particularly worrisome in regard to the upcoming Senate run-off elections in Georgia.

Still others suggest the lies, lawsuits and obstruction are all part of a broader effort to undermine the success of the incoming Biden administration before it even takes power. It’s a “If I can’t be the winner, I will burn down the house” tantrum by Trump — with the GOP as the nervous parents who enable him. More frightening (but less likely), the firing of Defense Secretary Mark Esper — and the subsequent post-election turnover of top officials at the the DOD — suggests a possible move to lay the groundwork for a coup.

Thankfully, almost everyone agrees that, whatever the motivations behind Trump’s and the GOP’s actions, they won’t succeed in reversing the results of the election. But that doesn’t mean they are harmless. By falsely sowing mistrust in our core institutions, Trump and the Party of Liars have undermined democracy at home and emboldened our enemies abroad. What Trump and the GOP are doing is shameful, despicable and {fill in your own critical adjective}. I don’t know if a “day of reckoning” will ever come. But if “the arc of the moral universe” truly “bends towards justice”…the reckoning will come eventually. It can’t come soon enough for me.

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The 2020 Election Results: Trump vs. Trumpism

The good news from this election…and it is IMMENSELY good news…is that Trump is on his way out. Barring an unlikely shift in voting trends in the remaining states, or a Trump success in the courts, Biden is headed towards victory. Trump will no longer be POTUS! The Trump administration is over!!

The bad news…and it is very bad news…is that Trumpism is still very much alive and well. And it’s not going away. Biden’s margin of victory (or in some cases, loss) in all the battle-ground states turned out to be much smaller than we had anticipated. Disappointingly close. Incredibly, more people voted for Trump in 2020 than did in 2016. The Trump vote out-performed his lower approval rating. The Democrats’ dream of a repudiation of Trump did not happen.

It gets worse. Instead of a gain of seats in the House, we had a net loss. And our hoped-for Senate majority is very much in doubt — after key races in Maine and North Carolina failed to flip. We also failed to flip any state legislatures — a critical loss in a census year. That’s why, even with the glow of a Biden victory, I feel less than victorious.

Amidst all of this, a key question keeps nagging at me: After the catastrophe that is the Trump presidency, how can there be so many people who voted for him?

What is going on? Who are these people?

When I calm down and reflect on this, my best answer is that there is more than one answer. Trump voters are not a unified monolith. In fact, there are at least three broad categories of Trump (and Trumpism) voters.

The first are the die-hard supporters. These are the people who love Trump for precisely the reasons we despise him. In fact, our outrage at Trump is part of what delights them. We are the “coastal elites.” And, despite being a pseudo-billionaire con artist, they view Trump as the hero of the working man. To them, Trump is close to god-like. If Trump says something, no matter how delusional and obviously false the statement, it is taken as gospel. It is both true and morally right, by definition. This is equivalent to a cult.

While I obviously oppose this cult, I can understand it. If I could accept their ill-founded assumptions, their support of Trump would make sense.

The second category are the duped. These are the people who have been fed a steady diet of disinformation and lies — and have come to believe it is all true. They aren’t members of a Trump cult, but they have become convinced Trump is their best option. These are the people who believe, for example, that if Biden becomes President, America will become a Socialist country. Or that antifa anarchists are destroying our cities.

This is the by-product of Trump’s assault on truth. The duped get their news primarily from Fox. They live in a separate universe from the rest of us — with their separate “alternative facts.” There is overlap with the die-hards here. The difference is that the duped could be “persuadable” if only they could break out of their bubble. As such, I have some sympathy for them. 

The third category are the “transactionalists.” They are the ones that trouble me the most. I have no understanding or sympathy here. Just disgust. To understand why, I need to back up a bit and define what I mean by a “transactionalist.”

Once you get past policy differences (where there can be legitimate disagreements), my overwhelmingly biggest objection to Trump is his “character.” This is an umbrella term meant to cover a host of sins: his lack of empathy, his narcissism, his ignorance, his bullying, his racism, his misogyny, his mistreatment of immigrants, his assault on science, his constant lying, his autocratic behavior, his destruction of almost all norms and institutions of our democracy, his crass politicizing of even the most non-partisan departments of our government. Added to this are his multitude of borderline or outright criminal actions: his obstruction of justice, his strange tolerance of all things Russia, the actions that led to his impeachment, his payoffs to porn stars, his fraudulent Foundation and University, his taxes, and his abuse of presidential powers to enrich himself and his friends at the expense of the interest of the country. And on and on. Add them all together and you get disasters such as Trump’s gross mishandling of the pandemic.

You would think we could all agree that such a person is unfit to hold any public office. But no. The transactional supporters of Trump attempt to minimize just how bad all of this is.

Their key attribute, however, is that they accept Trump’s transgressions as the bargain they strike in exchange for the one or two things they expect to get in return. They say: “I’m fine with Trump’s lies and crimes. Why? Because Trump lowered my taxes.” End of story. Nothing else matters. Or “Because he’s against abortion.” Or “Because he supports Israel.” Or “Because of the Supreme Court.”

Unlike the Republicans in The Lincoln Project who could rise above their political party preferences to see Trump as the existential threat he is — the transactionalists remain blissfully unconcerned. They turn a blind eye as Trump sets America’s house on fire. As the saying goes: “You don’t have to be a racist to support Trump, but you do have to say Trump’s racism is not a deal-breaker.” I have no tolerance for the people who have made this sort of deal.

What all three groups share…and what I find ultimately the most disturbing…is the apparent willingness of a large segment of our country to acquiesce to (even welcome) the rise of autocracy and the destruction of our democracy…in the name of supporting Trump. I thought America was better than this. Clearly, I was wrong.

[A postscript: Even if you accept that we (Progressives/Democrats) are not the cause of how we wound up where we are today, we still need to share responsibility for where we go from here. We can’t easily dismiss the fact that tens of millions of people voted for Trump — whatever the reason. But that’s a subject for another day.]


[Update (November 6): “All you offer are critical explanations for why people support Trump. Can’t there be positive reasons — such as the pre-COVID economy?” On balance, no. Sometimes the scales tip too far in one direction to allow for consideration of the other side. This is one of those times. As it turns out, Trump himself just offered further proof of this — at a news briefing of “historic dishonesty.” His remarks were so egregious that the major networks cut their coverage of it. It is beyond me how anyone can listen to this and conclude: “Yes, this is the person I want to vote for.”]

[Update (November 8): New York Times columnist Frank Bruni (whom I greatly admire) recently tackled the same basic question I asked above: “Why were so many of my fellow citizens so content {to vote for Trump}?” He offers answers that are more generous to Trump voters than I was: “That Democrats didn’t triumph even bigger in 2020 seems impossible — unless and until you…re-examine your assumptions through a lens other than the one you’re partial to. Those of us obsessed with what a miserable person Trump is lost sight of what a mighty candidate he is.” Perhaps. But even if there are separate lenses, it doesn’t mean they represent equally valid views. For example, if you’re attracted to Trump’s “we’re rounding the corner” assessment of the pandemic, you’re supporting Trump because of a lie – a complete fiction and a dangerous one. There is no equivalence of views here. Regardless, the article is definitely worth a read. And it forced me to continue to re-examine my own thinking — which is always a good thing.]

[Update (November 9): I have received feedback that I did not go far enough in my condemnation of Trump voters. Trump has openly stoked our country’s long standing undercurrents of racism and xenophobia — encouraging divisiveness, grievance, and anger. And many Trump voters have sadly responded by saying “Yes. I’m on board.” Numerous articles I have read, such as this one, similarly support a sense of grief at the extent of Trump’s support.

On the other side, several post-election articles I’ve read suggest a greater legitimacy to Trump’s support than I have been willing to admit. For example,  a column in the New York Times explores the depth of evangelicals’ support for Trump. While it remains transactional — it is perhaps not as hypocritical as I have implied. More generally, conservatives can have justifiable concerns about a leftist agenda (even though it’s not Biden’s agenda) focusing on Medicare for all, a Green New Deal, defunding the police and open borders.

Regardless, the bottom line for me remains that Trump himself should be an unacceptable choice for everyone — no matter what concerns one has. It’s like the famous (actually false) claim about Mussolini and trains: “Rather than serving as a fictitious symbol of the benefits of fascism, it is now offered as a sardonic example that something good can result even from the worst of circumstances. As Montagu and Darling wrote: Mussolini may have done many brutal and tyrannical things; he may have destroyed human freedom in Italy; but ‘one had to admit’ one thing about the Dictator: he ‘made the trains run on time.’”

I continue to struggle with the yin and yang of this difficult and complicated question. I could post further updates indefinitely. I have to draw the line at some point. This is the point.]

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Trump’s Coronavirus Rallies

For a brief moment, I thought that the White House daily briefings might reveal a Trump that, at last, was taking the virus threat seriously; that he would provide helpful information about what we should be doing and what actions the government was taking. Silly me. I should have known better. It’s now obvious that these “updates” have rapidly devolved into propaganda opportunities — a substitute for the rallies that Trump can no longer hold — complete with lies and misinformation, undeserved self-praise, phony plaudits from sycophants, lambasting his favorite targets (e.g., the media) and attacking made-up enemies (“the Chinese virus”). To the extent that people believe this crap, the briefings are actually harmful — which is why there is an increasing call to stop live-broadcasting the briefings .

As always, Trump is most concerned with how people perceive what he is doing. He wants to be admired. But again as always, he has no clue how to do this in a way that would gain deserved wide-spread approval. Rather than taking actions that might get the approval he seeks, he views this as a PR opportunity. It’s all a show. It’s all about marketing — creating the impression he is doing something worthy — even if he is doing nothing but harm.

When the history of this time is written, there is no doubt that Trump’s early refusal to take the virus seriously — even when he had overwhelming evidence to the contrary — will be cited as a major cause for why things got so bad. My concern is that, in the short run, as the situation gradually improves months from now, all of this will be temporarily forgotten. Once again, Trump will not be held accountable.

Even now…too many people are not taking the virus threat seriously. Just today, a WaPo article offered this quote from a man at a Florida lunch-spot: “We all started laughing and agreeing because we all said, ’We’re here, we’re going out, and the media is hyping this to get at Trump.’”

I take some solace in knowing that not all people are that crazy; there are still many people who are working hard and working together to stop this virus. But it’s hard for me not to hate what this country has become under Trump. I am both enraged and despondent. The branch I cling to is that Trump will not get re-elected. That cannot happen.

Update: April 1: A president unfit for a pandemic. Whoa! This Boston Globe editorial lays out the case against Trump as well as anything I have read so far.

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The case against Trump: a rebuttal

When I posted my “case against Trump” last week, I hoped it would provide encouragement to the choir as well as adding converts to the congregation. However, especially in these polarized times, I realized that not everyone would be convinced by what I wrote. That got me to thinking about plausible (and some not so plausible) rebuttal arguments that others might make — from both the right and (perhaps surprisingly) the left ends of the political spectrum. Admittedly, I’m speculating here — but here’s what I believe the most common objections would be — followed by my counter-replies.

The right

From a hypothetical spokesperson for the conservative wing: 

“Many of your objections to Trump are the very things that we applaud. The most obvious one is the Supreme Court. While you blanch at the prospect of Kavanaugh’s appointment, because it might lead to the overturn of Roe v. Wade, that’s precisely why we support him. Similarly, where you fret about what Pruitt did at the EPA, we cheer his deregulating pro-business approach. We simply disagree.”

My reply:

If your examples represented my only objections to Trump, I’d accept that these are legitimate political divisions — and move on. I obviously don’t agree with your positions. For example, it’s hard for me to grasp how destroying the environment is an appropriate goal for the head of the EPA. Still, I understand that Pruitt’s actions are in line with GOP dogma and not unique to Trump. That’s why these items were not among my primary objections to Trump; I placed them in the “(Dis)honorable mention” section at the end.

The problem is that Trump, in my view, remains a qualitatively different — and far worse — chief executive than a “normal” GOP politician  — for all the reasons cited in the rest of my prior column. You can’t (or you shouldn’t) ignore the destructive, racist and criminal actions of the President — and say it’s all okay because you approve of some of his policies. You can’t minimize his lies and insults as just Trump speaking “off the cuff.” They have a corrosive effect on the entire country.

Similarly, you can’t assert, as some on the evangelical right have done, that it’s okay to give Trump a “mulligan” for his deplorably unethical, corrupt and immoral behavior — simply because you support his position on abortion. A complete lack of ethics — a “full-spectrum corruption” — looms over much of what Trump does, a point well made in a recent article (by a Republican!). Now that I think about it, a “lack of ethics” could have been justifiably added as an eighth item to the listings in my prior column.

“You overlooked all the positive things Trump has achieved — a booming economy, low unemployment, passage of a tax cut bill, a strengthened military, stronger borders and more.”

This is almost the reverse of the previous point. Once again, we see things through different lenses. For example, where you tout the supposed economy-boosting benefits of a tax cut, I see a spiraling out-of-control deficit and cutbacks to needed services — all to benefit primarily the wealthy and further widen an already huge income disparity.

Worse, there is an inherent hypocrisy in the pro-Trump positions that should disturb you. In many ways, they run counter to traditional conservative values. Conservatives are deficit hawks; they oppose tariffs and promote free trade. They have been strong supporters of law enforcement agencies and very anti-Russia. Trump is the opposite of all of that — and  what remains of the Republican party has followed him (a point effectively satirized in a recent Doonesbury strip). The guiding principle of what remains of the Republican Party appears to be this: “If Trump says it, we support it — even if he (or we) said the opposite previously.” It’s a matter of loyalty, not principle.

To be fair, there are significant numbers of Republicans who agree with me. It’s one reason why prominent conservatives — such as George Will — are abandoning the party. From the original “never Trumpers” to those who have only recently recoiled from the GOP’s descent into the mire, their numbers are growing. Despite this, there appears to be no elected Republicans willing to take any action against Trump, no doubt fearful for their political survival.

“You’ve got it all wrong. The mainstream media is fake. The FBI is engaged in a ‘deep state’ conspiracy to bring down Trump. Everything is exactly as Trump describes it. That’s we cheer him at his rallies; that’s why we proudly wear t-shirts that proclaim ‘Fuck the media.’  So get lost.”

A rebuttal here would be a waste of breath. These are his most ardent supporters. Nothing I can say will have any effect on them. We’ve left the realm of the reasonable. They are as racist and xenophobic as Trump is. In the short term, they have clearly had success — helped out by gerrymandering, voter suppression, an electoral college bias towards minimally populated rural states, the Russians and a largely ineffective Democratic party. But demographics suggest their days are numbered. A party that depends mainly on the support of older, undereducated, white men cannot maintain a majority in the coming years.

The left

Okay. That was all fairly straight-forward. But what about the other side of the fence? The left/progressive side? Here, things get a bit more complicated and nuanced.

For starters, I expect that the majority on the left agrees with what I wrote. That’s my home territory. But the farther to the left you move, the more likely you will hear objections, with an increased emphasis on attacking moderate Democrats. While the far left are clearly not Trump boosters, they do tend to minimize the claim that Trump is uniquely terrible. As such, they might reject the underlying premises of several of the items in my “top seven” list (from the previous column) — often employing “what-aboutism” rebuttals. I imagine it would go something like this:

“You’re distressed at Trump’s attacks on the Justice Department? Come on! This is the FBI. Remember Hoover, the Director who put Martin Luther King on his ‘enemies’ list? Remember the 60’s, when a uniform meant you were a “pig” — guilty of tear-gassing, beating up and even killing protestors? What about the domestic spying by the government uncovered by Snowden? What about racially-motivated shootings by white cops, still happening today? You want us to feel sympathetic to police institutions because Trump is — fairly or unfairly — attacking them? Sorry; not gonna happen.”

“As for the media being “fake,” we have three letters for you: WMD. The media abandoned their oversight responsibility and enabled W to use false pretenses as the rationale for a years-long costly war. How much worse can it get? One could even argue the media were complicit in getting Trump elected — with the way they gave live extended coverage to everything he did — while largely ignoring Bernie Sanders and even Hillary Clinton by comparison. And don’t get us started on their “false equivalences” — where the media feel compelled to equally present “both sides” of a debate — even when one side clearly doesn’t deserve it (‘The earth: flat or round? You decide’).”

“Trump likes autocrats? Big deal. The United States government has supported autocrats for the past 75 years. Remember the CIA’s long history of aid to right-wing Latin American dictators (because they were anti-Communist)? And the U.S. has certainly meddled in the elections of some of those countries. And what about our decades of support for Middle Eastern repressive regimes — such as in Saudi Arabia? Who knows? Maybe Trump’s attempt to get along with Russia and North Korea will turn out to be a ‘good thing.’ It’s certainly better than nuclear war.”

“You’re upset because Trump is a liar? Get real. How naive. All politicians lie, as you admitted. Republicans and Democrats. Hillary lied. Bill lied. Obama lied. This is not just a Trump or a GOP problem.”

“You imply that the way to deal with Trump is to get Democrats to take back control of Congress? Really? What have they done that is so great? That half-baked Obamacare? We don’t think so. In the end, the mainstream Democratic party is just as beholden to big donations from large corporations and super-rich individuals as are the Republicans. To a large extent, GOP vs. Democrats in Congress is frying pan vs. fire.”

“And while we certainly don’t support Trump (we agree that he is a terrible person), we are sympathetic to the populist message he at least pretended to espouse. He legitimately appealed to increasingly disenfranchised Americans — in a way similar to Bernie Sanders. Not all Trump voters were racists.”

My reply to all of the above:

As someone who leans distinctly to the left, I am sympathetic to your critiques. I share many of them. However, I don’t see them as a rationale for taking one’s foot off the gas pedal when it comes to opposing Trump. You don’t have to approve of moderate Democrats in order to be solidly against Trump. There are substantial qualitative differences between the critiques from the left and what Trump is doing.

As one example, it’s one thing for citizens to assert that the press makes mistakes and shows evidence of bias at times. It’s quite another for a President to assert that virtually the entire news establishment is suspect; that they regularly, deliberately, knowingly and recklessly publish false information and are joined together in some dark conspiracy against the White House — especially when such assertions are so clearly self-serving. The laudable goal of the left’s critique of the media is to promote the veracity of news coverage; Trump’s goal is intended to make the media weaker, more subservient to Trump and complicit in his lies. There is very little in common here.

I would make a similar response to the other critiques. Yes, we have meddled in international elections in the past; but that is no justification for giving Trump a pass to dismiss (even encourage?) the hacking and other interfering with our elections that the Russians are doing now. Yes, the Justice Department has stains on its record; but that does not provide a rationale for Trump’s smearing of the entire federal system of justice — primarily so he can avoid the consequences of his criminal activity. As for Trump’s supposed pursuit of “good relations” with Russia and North Korea, it’s primarily a sham — as the disastrous Helsinki news conference made clear. And there is certainly no defense for Trump’s constant drumbeat of racism and xenophobia — dividing the nation and encouraging it closer and closer to a boiling point for violence.

While I concede that not every Trump supporter is a racist, I contend that one has to at least excuse Trump’s racism — and a whole lot more — to find one’s way to voting for the man. Some of his supporters have legitimate gripes, but they wrongly see Trump as the solution.

Finally, there are some on the far left who still contend that Hillary Clinton would have been just as bad a President as Trump. I can’t even begin to comprehend this view. I don’t want to defend Hillary too much; I’m not one of her fans. But even ignoring Trump’s personal attributes, his “fake news” fakery, twitter rants and such — just consider: the Supreme Court, immigration policy, environmental policy, education policy, consumer protections, international relations, election integrity, and perhaps the preservation of democracy itself. Do you really think the results here would be equivalent with either candidate? Can you honestly assert that it didn’t matter which candidate won? [That’s a rhetorical question.]

In summary: When a house is on fire, your first and pretty much only focus has to be dousing the flames. If you’ve been concerned about whether firefighters are paid a fair wage or whether the Department discriminates in hiring or whether moderate Democrats are addressing these issues — or even who or what you think may have been responsible for starting the fire — those are all legitimate issues. But they need to be put on hold while the fire is raging.

In my view, Trump is the equivalent of an out-of-control fire. He does untold — likely long-lasting — damage to this country with each day he remains President. He is a serial liar who has contempt for the rules of law. He is dismantling decades of beneficial international relations and destroying worthwhile governmental agencies. He actively works to divide the country with racism. He seeks to tear down core institutions of our democracy for his personal gain. No one who has held this office in my lifetime is comparable — not Reagan, not Bush, not Clinton, not Obama — not even Nixon. That’s why I oppose Trump above all else.

When the ashes are cooled, and the building is hopefully saved from total destruction, that’s the time to worry about rebuilding a better safer house — and creating a more just fire department (mixing metaphors a bit). Until then, fight the fire!


Update: Minor edits made on 8/26/2018

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