If you are reading this post, you probably paid more in taxes than Donald Trump.
I never sleep, because sleep is the cousin of death.
Well, it looks like the New York Times basically got a hold of President Donald Trump’s mysterious tax records. There have been a number of weird explanations for Trump’s defensiveness on this issue over the years, which ranged from, “He is paid by Putin,” to, “He is paid by some other Russian oligarch” to, “He is actually paid by me, since he lives rent-free in my head.” The simplest explanation that has emerged seems to have also been the one that is the most accurate (call it Trump’s Razor, if you will): He is actually not as rich as he has pretended to be. In fact, one could quite honestly say that Donald Trump is broke (again). The Times summed it up nicely with this quote:
“Ultimately, Mr. Trump has been more successful playing a business mogul than being one in real life.”
So, the real question is: Where is the story here? A normal, run-of-the-mill Trump supporter would probably have the following response to this bombshell (after saying the NYT is fake news): “So, Donald Trump is a smart businessman with good accountants. Who cares?” In reality, the Trump supporter is probably half-right. Matt Tait has a good point about why they are half-wrong:
Smart accounting or not, the last point sticks: Donald Trump has a debt of roughly 400 million dollars and the bills are coming due. That makes this case a little different. This alone can make someone desperate, and even susceptible to blackmail.
I think if you do not like Trump, your mind is immediately jumping to a familiar place: “He is paid off by the Russians.” It’s not a silly thing to think about, but you should consider how you think about it, so that you seem less silly when you do.
Kompromat (in layman’s terms, blackmail) by Russia is somewhat complex but also relatively simple. You would assume that a video of you sitting in a room with prostitutes peeing on a bed would be something you’d be embarrassed about, right? The problem arises though, that you may be a normal person, and that would color your own judgement about what is “normal,” or perceived as “normal” to other people. On the other hand, Donald Trump may be an abnormal person. For someone like Trump, the idea of him getting women to do whatever he wanted, especially if it embarrassed the women personally, would probably enhance his reputation as a Big Macho Strong Man™ rather than detract from it. The idea of a pee tape being held over Trump as some sort of serious blackmail has always been a progressive fantasy. However, something that would detract from the Big Macho Strong Man™ vision he has of himself? The idea that he’s broke.
Robert Mueller reported that Michael Cohen was sent to hunt down the “pee tape” after Trump heard about it. But Cohen was always a bag man for Trump, i.e., someone who would do the work that was both unseemly and unimportant (if you wanted someone who knew the ins and outs of Trump’s financials, that would be Allen Weisselberg). In other words, if Trump sent Cohen on the wild goose chase, it meant that it was something that Trump was not overly concerned about.
There is a really good quote in the first Mission: Impossible movie, where Eugene Kittridge says, “Everybody has pressure points…you find something that’s personally important to him and you squeeze.”
For Trump, that pressure point would never be sex; it would always be money. This is a good time to remind everyone that Andrew Weissman - who was on Mueller’s team - has a book coming out soon and he re-emphasized that Cohen paid off the pornstar(s) that Trump slept with out of an account that also had some funds mixed in from Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg. As we should all know by now, most of the financial information related to Trump and the debts he owes to foreign actors (not just Russians) are a counterintelligence matter, which for now remains shrouded in mystery. In terms of the money he owes to people overseas: There could be absolutely nothing, and there could be everything. We have no way of knowing, which is why ultimately beating Trump in November is of paramount importance if you care about getting to the heart of these matters.
The Times helpfully compiled 18 revelations from their reporting if you don’t have the energy to read the entire piece.
The obvious question is will this move the needle at all? My gut feeling (which is worthless, so read the next paragraph with caution) is that the race will remain stable. Joe Biden will maintain his lead and the story will have no major effect on the race. The first debate is on Tuesday and it will suck up all of the news coverage, which will inevitably push this story into a dumpster behind a 7-11 by the end of the week.
I think the reason for this is because almost everyone - even Trump’s own supporters - know he is a crook. This is a level of crookmanship that is on a different level, but it is crookmanship that is baked into Supreme Candidate Donald J. Trump nonetheless.
Oddly enough, this story would have been much worse for Trump had he been behind Biden by 1-2 points rather than the 7-8 points where he currently stands. A story like this could conceivably pull from Trump’s support if he were running close to Biden.
Where this hurts Trump is that it is another news cycle where he is on defense. At this point, Trump has to make up ground against Biden. He can obviously do that, given that there are 40ish days until the election, but every day that he is not on offense is a day that is good for Biden.
Obviously, we should talk about Amy Coney Barrett. Leaving aside the politicking about appointing a judge so close to an election, I think there are two additional things to consider:
Dems in Congress seem to have gotten the message that going after a pious Catholic lady’s religion is a bad play, so they will be putting a heavy focus on healthcare. That will not be damaging to her chances, but it could be damaging to Republicans and to Trump.
Due to the fact that Barrett has not been a judge for an overly long time, people on both sides are misinterpreting her past statements.
Many Democrats (read this to include a significant number of people in Congress but mostly people on Twitter) have painted Barrett as an “Aunt Lydia” in Handmaid’s Tale who would send women back to the stone age. But interviews with Barrett reveal a much more nuanced perspective and one that conservatives would probably wince at in different circumstances:
After 40 years, the Court is unlikely to overturn Roe v. Wade, [Barrett] said. The political opposition to the case has for the most part changed tactics from fighting to overturn it to preventing public funding of abortions.
“I think it is very unlikely at this point that the court is going to overturn Roe [v. Wade], or Roe [v. Wade] as curbed by [Planned Parenthood v.] Casey. The fundamental element, that the woman has a right to choose abortion, will probably stand,” she said. “The controversy right now is about funding. It’s a question of whether abortions will be publicly or privately funded.”
Barrett said it is important to recognize the emotional and physical difficulty of carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term.
“Motherhood is a privilege, but it comes at a price,” she said. “A woman who wants to become pregnant accepts this price, but in an unplanned pregnancy the woman faces the difficulties of pregnancy unwillingly.”
You should read the whole interview, because Barrett comes across as both incredibly intelligent and also sympathetic. I don’t want to be misunderstood: Barrett is going to be a conservative justice, and she will shift the Court to the right. But to me, the interview sounds more like someone who has given a lot of thought and care to an issue rather than someone who is itching to bring the Republic of Gilead to America. I do not think Barrett is the angel of death that the Left assumes she is, and I do not think she is the angel of light that the Right assumes she is; as with many things, the truth is in the middle. Based on her (limited) record, I think she will be a complex justice in the same vein as Gorsuch. She has at least shown that she is willing to take on qualified immunity for police officers, which would - in a normal environment - be something that the Left would be extremely supportive of, leaving aside her “conservative” disposition on other issues, like healthcare, where she has given signs that she will be terrible for progressives.
As for “should-reads” this week: Radley Balko has an incredible piece on the Breonna Taylor case. He debunks talking points on both the left and right.
There was an investigation of Hunter Biden - Joe Biden’s son - that was published by the Senate this week. I will talk about that more in a mid-week update, but it’s worth noting that the probe into Hunter Biden actually produced some evidence of Trump’s corruption in Ukraine, according to Democrats who were involved. Talk about an own goal.
I want to return to the major focus of this post, which has been Trump’s tax records, and the defense his supporters will inevitably produce. At the very least, I think this is clear: Trump is using the Presidency to benefit himself financially, which is something we have all known he would do since day one. But imagine a Trump supporter who dismissed the entire New York Times story as Fake News™ and gave no thought to how their own tax dollars were going into the pocket of a rich businessman from New York. Should you be heartless and laugh at that person, or should you feel mercy and pity? Donald Trump is actually ripping off most of the people he promised to save. That kind of breaks my heart. It’s why this picture is relevant:
I finished my weekend off with a Martini, as is becoming my routine (I have welcomed a new habit of only drinking alcohol on weekends, which makes for a far more productive workweek). The Martini fills me with pity for Donald Trump himself, because - as a teetotaler - he will never know the joy of a crisp and well-made cocktail on a Sunday night. But if you look on the bookshelf to the right of the Martini, you will see a book by Wayne Barrett (no relation to Amy) called, Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth. It is a re-print of Barrett’s tome on Trump from the 1990s, Trump: The Deals and the Downfall.
If you’ve read Barrett’s book, you will know that Trump will use any and all means available to him to make more money. This includes using his father’s connection to the NYC mayor or cheating on tax documents (and the Times’ report makes it clear that Trump is cheating) to ensure financial gain. Whenever I hear a story about Trump skirting tax laws to shield his losses or corruptly acquiring means to inflate his wealth, I think back to Barrett’s reporting. The reality we all live with is that there is no bottom with Trump; when it comes to his financials, assume the worst, and you will never be disappointed.
To begin putting a bow on this long email: The obituary by Wayne Barrett’s son feels appropriate in this moment. And Trump’s former campaign manager, Brad Parscale, needs prayer from all Christians.
The picture this week is a hike Elisabeth and I did in Winter Park. Absolutely stunning, but a sobering reminder that the window for outdoor activities is closing, and COVID-19 will become a more stark reality as we are all pushed back inside for the cooler months.
Most importantly, here are my rules for a Martini:
2 oz Gin (do not make a Martini with Vodka, which is a garbage liquor)
1 oz Dry Vermouth (I like Dolin, but there are a ton of other choices available)
1 dash of orange bitters
Some recipes in cocktail books that I like a lot will say you should use a lemon instead of an olive. I think this is bad advice because there are 20 million cocktails that use a lemon and there is one cocktail that tells you to use an olive. If you are making a Martini, you should use an olive, but here is the trick: Do not use one of those goofy pre-packaged cocktail olives stuffed with a neonish red pepper. Instead, find a nice olive that you actually enjoy eating and rinse it with water beforehand so you can get rid of the oil that is on the olive (because who likes an oily Martini?). Pop it in the glass and use that instead. Finally, James Bond is dead wrong: Do not shake a Martini. Cocktails that are 100% alcoholic ingredients (like a Martini or an Old-Fashioned) should be stirred, not shaken.
I hope all my beautiful babies have a great week. I’m sure there will be a mid-week update this week because the debate is going to be CRAZY.