Guilty but acquitted

The US Senate voted 57–43 in the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump. 57 votes to convict, short of the two-thirds necessary. I’m disappointed that I’m not surprised.

I had been harboring a hope, a pipe-dream, that the Republican Party (as represented by those 50 Senators) would choose to repudiate the growing Trump Party within its ranks, and return to its role as a mature party representing rational conservative points of view. Sadly, 43 Senators said “No, we really are the Trump Party, not the Republican Party.”

The other disappointing-but-not-surprising facet of the proceedings was that so few Senators (if any) actually sat as impartial jurors, judging the trial solely on the cases presented to them (I watched it all; I found the argument for conviction to be convincing).

But after the vote, after the impeachment trial adjourned, Senator Chuck Schumer spoke (saying very little of surprise), and then Senator Mitch McConnell spoke. His speech was a surprise. McConnell spoke for probably fifteen minutes, and his words (in my mind) boil down to “Donald Trump was guilty of the crime imputed to him, but the Senate couldn’t convict because impeachment is accuse-try-convict-remove from office, and since he’s a former President, we couldn’t remove him from office. But some other court should definitely try him.” Those words resonate with me.

But Mitch McConnell has lost all credibility with me. Starting with his February 2016 statement that the Senate could not consider a Supreme Court nominee during an election year, and then completely reversing himself with his October 2020 rush to confirm a Supreme Court nominee days before an election, he has proven himself to be nothing more than a political opportunist, blowing whichever way the wind takes him. And let’s not forget, it was McConnell himself who determined the Senate could not be in session to receive the impeachment article from the House before the end of President Trump’s term. The trial lasted five days. The article of impeachment was adopted by the House on January 13. Had McConnell chosen to receive it, and held the trial in a timely manner, it would have concluded before the end of Donald Trump’s term. So McConnell “had” to vote to acquit based on a technicality, but it’s a technicality he himself caused.

So I want to believe what he said, but because he said it, I can’t. But it certainly does seem that there is emphatic evidence of Donald Trump’s guilt in inciting an insurrection.

Mitch McConnell can, but maybe we don’t want to convict Donald Trump. Not guilty by reason of…

A lot of the talking heads on my television news programs are handicapping the upcoming impeachment trial of Donald Trump. The prevailing comments seem to be that the Republican Senators are going to try to avoid taking any position because they fear what Trump and the Trump Party may do to them. They’re expressing incredulity that seventeen Republican Senators could possibly vote to convict.

But what seems to be missing in these analyses are, first, that this is (or at least ought to be) a trial in which the Senators, sitting as jurors, really ought to be deciding on their vote (verdict) based on the evidence which will be presented at the trial (I was pleased to hear Senator Toomey say just that today on CNN). We didn’t get a lot of that in the last three presidential impeachment trials, and we probably won’t see much of it this time around, but just think how refreshing it would be.

The other thing that is missing is the potential for Mitch McConnell to grow a backbone. McConnell is a smart politician, who has ruled his faction in the Senate for quite a while. He appears to be the leader of the entire Republican party today (except for Trump and his insanity). The time appears to be ripe for him to wrest control of the Republican name back, and to marginalize the aberration that is the Trump Party. By convicting former President Trump of inciting an insurrection, and by barring him from ever holding office again, the Republicans in the Senate would be clearly telling their party members that the insanity is done; that it is time to go back to being members of a government, rather than a bullying, rampaging mob of divisive haters.

Donald Trump managed to grab the White House, and drew out of the woodwork a gang of passionate thugs, but even Mitch McConnell, in his more lucid moments, must realize that Donald Trump’s Presidency was bad for the country. Now, McConnell has a few days to spread the word among his forty-nine Senate colleagues that they can retake the party, that they can once again look like mature adults in the government.

Of course, it wouldn’t be so simple as casting the vote (and convincing a few other Senators to do the same). If McConnell and other rational Republicans really want to regain control of the runaway train the Trump has turned their party into, it’s going to take effort. They’re going to have to speak about what they’re doing and why. They’re going to have to educate their party members, pointing out the lies and misdirection Trump spews as naturally as breathing. In short, they’re going to have to work to get there, and it won’t be easy. But nothing worth doing ever is easy.

Mind you, while I’m expressing hope that Mitch McConnell can work for the good of the country, I really don’t repose that much trust in him. Especially not after watching his actions of the last few years. In 2016, he said the Senate could not consider a Supreme Court nominee during an election year. In 2020, he said it was fine to do so, since the same party controlled the Senate and the White House. He has shown himself to be completely untrustworthy (so I am continually amazed that anyone is willing to negotiate with him). He is apparently not a Senator serving the nation, but a political opportunist seeking out any avenue to accumulate more power for himself and his cronies. In other words, I don’t hold out much hope that he will lead his party to convict Trump and blossom as a high-minded collection of political leaders. But I can continue to hope.

I wrote the above a few days ago, but then let it sit before posting it. I still think it’s valid reasoning, and that if they want to remain relevant, the Republican Party will have to repudiate the Trump Party and Donald Trump. But I’ve also started wondering if conviction in the Senate is necessary for that, or if it even is the best possible outcome.

Consider this alternative: what if the United States Senate, sitting as the jury in the impeachment trial of now-former-President Donald Trump, determines he is not guilty by reason of mental defect or diminished capacity (or some other such synonym)? Indeed, that may be why the House managers asked him to testify. If they can get Donald Trump on the stand to publicly state that he still believes he won the election, despite all evidence to the contrary, it becomes easier to find that he is out of touch with reality. Casting his actions in that light puts the onus on Congress to strengthen the 25th Amendment, and on future Cabinets to keep a better watch on their Presidents. It gives the Republican Senators—fearful of fringe party nut-jobs—an out of not voting to convict. And it means that, even without a separate finding that Donald Trump is ineligible to hold office in the future, he’s done.

Don’t get me wrong: I think the evidence is overwhelming that he did incite a mob to insurrection that resulted in damage, death, and the disruption of the normal functioning of the United States government. The impeachment was completely warranted, because he was the President when it was voted. But now we need to temper our need for vengeance with our need to try to bring his followers back into the fold of decent human beings. Convicting Donald Trump, at this point, will not change any minds, will not convince the rest of the Trump Party that he is wrong. But recognizing his diminished capacities might be a step toward allowing them an out from their own descents into madness.

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Is Donald Trump working for Russia?

Apparently everyone who knows—including, surprisingly, the Secretary of State—says that Russia has perpetrated (and is continuing to do so) a massive intrusion into the computer systems of multiple departments of the US government. (Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said “…we can say pretty clearly that it was the Russians that engaged in this activity.”)

Finally, President Donald Trump chose to tweet about it just a few hours ago. He wrote “The Cyber Hack is far greater in the Fake News Media than in actuality. I have been fully briefed and everything is well under control. Russia, Russia, Russia is the priority chant when anything happens because Lamestream is, for mostly financial reasons, petrified of discussing the possibility that it may be China (it may!). There could also have been a hit on our ridiculous voting machines during the election, which is now obvious that I won big, making it an even more corrupted embarrassment for the USA.”

Why?

After four years of his presidency, this is not Trump’s first attempt to deflect American attention from bad actions perpetrated by Russia.

Why?

Donald Trump never released his tax returns, never provided any financial information, either as a candidate or president.

Why?

The questions I am now asking are:

1. How much money did Donald Trump owe to Russia or Russian entities when he was elected president?

2. How much has he paid on those debts during his term as president?

3. How much money does he currently owe on those debts?

4. Do those numbers show that the amount he owes has decreased more than the amount he has paid?

Where are the Republicans who want to run for president in 2024?

I’m surprised no Republican leader has taken what seems to be a very obvious opportunity to take control of the party. I would think that any legitimate Republican could publicly announce that this year’s election is over, and Donald Trump lost, and that it’s time for the party to return to rational, good leadership that cares about the people. I should think any Senator doing that, heck, even most of the Representatives or Governors, would automatically become the party’s front-runner for the next Presidential nomination.

The pundits keep talking about President Trump’s hold on the voters, pointing to the 74 million people who voted for him. But how many of those voters, when given the choice between some other non-Trump Republican and any Democrat, would vote for the Republican? Most of them, I’d wager.

Donald Trump is a loud, rampaging bully, but he’s over. He lost the election, and in 2024, he’ll have been a fuming, bloviating, irrelevant ex-president for four years; not the least bit appealing to voters. Imagine a rational candidate standing up and saying “okay, we tried an experiment. Now we know what happens when a plutocrat with no governmental experience gets elected. We know it’s not for the best. So let’s instead elect a rational Republican, someone who can work with the other branches of government—rather than trying to ignore or dominate them—and someone who can work with other countries around the world.”

This is the United States of America. We know the government should not be a cult of personality. And at home, behind closed doors, I’m sure every would-be Republican leader knows the same thing. I guess they’re waiting until after Inauguration Day to start showing their mettle, but in the meantime, the country continues to suffer from the buffonery emanating from the White House. Showing true leadership, breaking with Donald Trump now, before he is an ex-president, could be an incredible boost for the party’s fortunes, as well as the personal political fortunes of whoever steps up to take the lead.

Donate to Ian Randal Strock’s very much tongue-in-cheek 2024 presidential campaign fund at paypal.me/ianrandalstrock .

Failed Wartime President Trump

On March 18, referring to the then-brand new Covid-19 pandemic just sweeping the country and the planet, President Donald Trump called himself “a wartime president” (https://www.npr.org/2020/03/22/819672681/trump-tries-on-the-mantle-of-wartime-president).

It’s nearly nine months later. Lame duck President Donald Trump has given up doing his job as President (though he’s still rampaging all over the place claiming he won re-election). Should we hang the mantle (shackle?) of “wartime president” around his neck? As of December 2, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports 249,570 Americans have died of Covid-19 (https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/covid19/index.htm).

For comparison, the Department of Veterans Affairs lists Battle Deaths in America’s Wars (https://www.va.gov/opa/publications/factsheets/fs_americas_wars.pdf):
World War II (1941-45): 291,557
Civil War (1861-65): 214,938 (Union and Confederate combined)
World War I (1917-18): 53,402
Vietnam War (1964-75): 47,434
Korean War (1950-53): 33,739
American Revolution (1775-83): 4,435
War of 1812 (1812-15): 2,260
Mexican War (1846-48): 1,733
Indian Wars (1817-98): 1,000
Spanish-American War (1898-1902): 385
Desert Shield/Desert Storm (1990-91): 148

In other words, of all American wars, more soldiers died on the field of battle only in World War II than people have died in nine months of Covid-19. More people have died this year of Covid-19 than our number of war dead in every other war in which the United States was involved. More of us have died in 2020 of this virus than the number of American soldiers who died on the field of battle in all the wars we fought, combined, except World War II and the Civil War.

My point? My point is: yes, he’s leaving office in seven weeks, but he’s not doing his job now. He seems to be unable to carry out the duties of President. The Vice President and the Cabinet should activate section 4 of the 25th Amendment, and try to show a little leadership, a little class, on their way out the door; try to help us survive the next few months, which CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said will be among “the most difficult in the public health history of this nation.”

I spent the last twelve years, since the publication of my book, The Presidential Book of Lists, trying to avoid one word in the subtitle. Every time someone looked at that book, they saw the one word, “worst,” and asked me who the worst President was. And every time, I would demur, avoid answering, and turn the conversation to another point. No longer. We now have a clear “winner”: Donald John Trump is clearly the worst President in American history.

Election day continues, despite the candidates

If you missed it, President Trump just made a speech from a stage in the White House’s East Room, in which he declared victory in the presidential election, and announced that all vote counting should cease immediately. I’m outraged. I delivered my ballot a week ago, but as with most mail-in ballots, it probably hasn’t been counted yet, because the counters can only go so quickly, especially when they don’t even open the ballots before “election day.” So I called the White House to express my “concern” (well, I used slightly more forceful language). If you’re in a similar situation, I urge you to call, too. The phone number for the White House is 202-456-1414.

Voting Day

I delivered my absentee ballot today to a nearby early voting location. As I’ve said several times, my vote probably doesn’t matter, because of where I live. Yours may be far more important.

Something odd about this ballot, for me: this is the first time that I’ve voted a straight party ticket. I voted for the candidate representing the Democratic Party in every single race. And this ballot is my response to the actions (and inactions) of President Donald Trump, and to the leaders of the Republican Party who have rolled over and allowed the president’s nonsense and villainy to run rampant and unchecked through the government and the country. (Yes, villainy: he frequently seems to think he’s still playing the villain on a reality television show, rather than realizing that he is the President of the United States, and that his words and actions have very great impact on the planet.)

I regret that my votes are against candidates, rather than for candidates (and this is also notice to the Democratic Party not to take my action in this election as an indicator of my future votes), but I’ve decided that a continuing Trump Presidency is a danger to the continued health and well-being not only of the country, but of each one of us individually. Joe Biden is not my ideal choice for President, but he is a much better choice in this election, and my vote for him and the rest of the Democratic ticket is my attempt to emphasize how much I think Donald Trump is the wrong choice in this election.

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Late news: President Trump tests positive for Covid-19

Off-the-top-of-my-head theorizing regarding the late-breaking news about President Trump’s health. Happy, light thoughts: rational Republicans are ecstatic that the president has a legitimate external reason to skip or cancel the upcoming debates. Darker, more sober thoughts: the president has another reason to push for a “delay” in the election.

Caveat: in addition to being a political scientist, I’m a science fiction writer, so I often theorize far beyond the probable.

For those who haven’t heard the news: senior presidential advisor Hope Hicks tested positive for Covid-19 Wednesday. About 1am Friday, President Trump Tweeted “Tonight, [Melania] and I tested positive for Covid-19. We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately….”

At the moment, I’m watching CNN live and occasionally jumping to the other news channels. More data in this CNN article.

Our Aged Presidents and Candidates

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Ronald Reagan

On Tuesday, September 29, the two oldest people ever are going to square off in a debate as candidates for President of the United States of American.

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Donald Trump

Before Donald Trump, Ronald Reagan was the only person to pass his 70th birthday before being inaugurated as president, and at that, it was Reagan’s re-election (he first took office 17 days before his 70th birthday, in 1981). But now, we’re looking at an election in which whoever wins (ignoring the chance of a third-party candidate winning),

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Joe Biden

we’ll be inaugurating the oldest person ever to take the oath of office. On Inauguration Day 2021, Donald Trump will be 74 years 220 days old. That same day, Joe Biden will be 78 years 61 days old. And yes, Reagan is—at the moment—still the oldest president ever, having retired at the age of 77 years 348 days.

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Hillary Clinton

And the combined ages of the major party candidates so far outstrips any other election that it’s truly remarkable. Before 2020, the oldest combined ages of a two-candidate race was… well, in 2016, when 70-year-old Donald Trump defeated 69-year-old Hillary Clinton. But before that, we have to go back to 1984, when 73-year-old Reagan defeated 57-year-old Walter Mondale, and 1848, when 64-year-old Zachary Taylor (who died in office) defeated 66-year-old Lewis Cass.

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John McCain

In fact, the only candidates who’ve run for the presidency in their seventies were Trump, Reagan, Bob Dole (who lost the election of 1996 at the age of 73), and John McCain (who lost the election of 2008 at the age of 72). That’s it. Out of 57 elections, more than 75 major party candidates, and only four (now five) candidates more than 70 years old.

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Bob Dole

At the other end of the scale, everyone remembers that John Kennedy was the youngest president to be elected (he took office at the age of 43 in 1960), and all you trivia mavens also remember to correct that record, because Theodore Roosevelt succeeded to the presidency at the age of 42, upon William McKinley’s death in 1901.

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William Jennings Bryan

But how many of you remember that the youngest major party candidate was actually 36 years old? Had William Jennings Bryan won the election of 1896 (the first of three in which he was the Democratic nominee), he would have taken office 15 days before his 37th birthday (he was born March 19, 1860). Instead, he lost to William McKinley, who was born January 29, 1843, and took office 34 days after his 54th birthday. (McKinley won the popular vote, 51.0% to 46.7%, and the electoral vote, 271 to 176.) So the election of 1896 was the youngest campaign in history. Bryan went on to run again in 1900, again losing to McKinley, and then suffering a further defeat, against William Howard Taft in 1908. Bryan died at the age of 65, in 1925.

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George B. McClellan

The second youngest candidate was West Point graduate George B. McClellan, who was the commanding general of the Union Army early in the Civil War, and governor of New Jersey from 1878 to 1881. But when he lost to Abraham Lincoln’s re-election campaign of 1864, he was only 38 years old (he was born December 3, 1826). McClellan died at the age of 58, in late 1885.

The youngest campaigns were the elections of 1896, 1960, and 1860. In 1896, as I said, 54-year-old William McKinley defeated 36-year-old William Jennings Bryan. In 1960, it was the youngster John Kennedy defeating Vice President Richard Nixon, who was four years older than Kennedy.

On March 4, 1861 (Inauguration Day was March 4th, until the 20th Amendment changed it to January 20th, effective in 1937), Abraham Lincoln was 22 days past his 52nd birthday. In the election of 1860, he had defeated Vice President John C. Breckinridge (and also 64-year-old John Bell and 47-year-old Stephen Douglas—all four received electoral votes).

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John Cabell Breckinridge

Breckinridge accomplished a great deal very early in life. Born January 16, 1821, he represented Kentucky in the House of Representatives from 1851 to 1855. In 1855, President Franklin Pierce appointed Breckinridge US Minister to Spain (and the Senate confirmed him), but he declined the appointment, and returned home to resume his law practice. In 1856, he was elected the youngest Vice President in US history, on James Buchanan’s ticket (he took office just after his 36th birthday). He lost the election of 1860 to Lincoln, but was elected to the Senate at the same time. He took his seat on March 4, 1861, but that summer, Kentucky seceded from the Union, and Breckinridge went with it. He was declared a traitor and expelled from the Senate on December 4, 1861. He served as a general in the Confederate army, and was the fifth (and final) Secretary of War of the Confederacy for a few months in 1865. After the war, he went into exile in Europe and Canada, and returned home in 1869, following President Johnson’s proclamation of amnesty. He died May 17, 1875.

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Richard Nixon

The second youngest vice president to take office was Richard Nixon (he celebrated his 40th birthday 11 days before taking the oath of office). After serving two terms as Dwight Eisenhower’s vice president, Nixon lost the very close presidential election to John Kennedy in 1960, and then became the only former vice president to be elected president in 1968 (and the only president to resign, in 1974).

The Five Oldest Presidents

Considered by age at inauguration, the list runs as follows:

1. Donald Trump was 70 years 220 days old when he was inaugurated on January 20, 2017. If Joe Biden wins this year’s election, he will break that record at the age of 78 years 61 days.

2. Ronald Reagan was 17 days shy of his 70th birthday when he was inaugurated on January 20, 1989, and 17 days shy of his 78th birthday when he retired eight years later.

3. William Henry Harrison was 68 years 23 days old when he was inaugurated on March 4, 1841. The president who served the shortest term (31 days), he was the first to die in office, so he was only 68 years 54 days old when he left office.

4. James Buchanan was 65 years 315 days old when he was inaugurated in 1857, and 69 years 315 days old when he retired from office.

5. George H.W. Bush was 64 years 222 days old when he succeeded Reagan, in 1989, and 68 years 222 days old when he left office.

Considering age at the time the President left office, Dwight David Eisenhower moves into third place. He was only 62 years 98 days old when he was inaugurated in 1953, putting him seventh on the list, but serving two full terms (he and Reagan are the only two on this list to have served eight years as president), he was 70 years 98 days old when he retired.

The Five Youngest Presidents:

Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution requires a president to be at least 35 years old.

1. Theodore Roosevelt. Born on October 27, 1858, he was 42 years 322 days old when he was inaugurated on September 14, 1901, after William McKinley was assassinated. To beat Roosevelt’s record as the youngest president in the election of 2024, the newly elected president will have to have been born after March 4, 1982.

2. John F. Kennedy. Born on May 29, 1917, he was 43 years 236 days old when he took the oath of office on January 20, 1961, after winning the election of 1960. To beat Kennedy’s record as the youngest president elected, the winner of the election of 2008 will have to have been born after May 29, 1981.

3. Bill Clinton. Born on August 19, 1946, he was 46 years 154 days old when he was inaugurated on January 20, 1993.

4. Ulysses S. Grant. Born on April 27, 1822, he was 46 years 311 days old when he was inaugurated on March 4, 1869.

5. Barack Obama. Born August 4, 1961, he was 47 years 169 days old when he was inaugurated on January 20, 2009.

In order to join this list (and knock Obama off), the president who wins the election of 2024 will have to have been born after August 4, 1977.

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Donald Trump may have said something mean. Why do you think it’s news?

I had the television on in the background while I was working today, and eventually realized I was listening to CNN talking about the article in The Atlantic which claims President Donald Trump said nasty things about American soldiers. They spent half an hour talking about it. Half an hour wasting their time and efforts, talking about something absolutely meaningless. Then I heard similar discussions on other news programs, read headlines pointing to several articles on line, and even my mother mentioned it to me on the phone.

If he said those things the article claims, no one’s opinion of him is going to change. No staunch Trump supporter is going to read that and say “Oh, well, that changed my mind. I can’t support him.” Neither will it change the mind of anyone who disagrees with him. And it’s doubtful such a comment—reportedly from an anonymous source—will have any effect on those who are undecided.

But what all that half hour of talk, all those articles, Joe Biden’s commentary in today’s speech, as well as every other pundit talking about it… what all of that did was make the Trump re-election campaign chortle with glee. Now, all they have to do is say “no, he didn’t say that.” They don’t have to say anything about what Donald Trump is actually doing, don’t have to talk about the fact that he is not only a bad president, but is actually malfeasant in office. They don’t have to talk about the fact that rather than uniting the United States of America, he is actively trying to divide us. They don’t have to talk about the fact that rather than leading the drive to minimize the damage of the pandemic, he’s leading the drive to ignore it and let it run rampant. Heck, they don’t have to do anything positive for as long as this distracting story lasts.

It’s part of an ongoing theme, Donald Trump’s entire presidential strategy: “What can I do to distract people from reality, so they’ll waste all their time and effort on irrelevancies?” It’s just the latest irrelevancy.

I can’t really fault the news media: their job is to sell advertising, and they do it by attracting viewers and readers. And we are weak-willed enough to truly lap up this nonsense, each time it appears.

But we, the consumers, the citizens, the people who truly matter in this country: we are failing. We are failing by allowing ourselves to be distracted by this nonsense. I came to this realization, and I turned the channel. I didn’t bother reading those news articles. I tried to point out this campaign of diversion to my mother.

Donald Trump babbles. He talks and talks, throwing out whatever nonsense he can in a never-ending attempt to distract and appall his viewers. The more appalled we are, the more we’ll watch. And the more distracted we are, the less we’ll pay attention to the things that matter.

What matters? Treating each other with dignity, the way we wanted to be treated.

What matters? Working together to keep each other safe from a deadly virus, while our scientists work to find a cure and a vaccine.

What matters? Treating the environment with the same dignity with which we should treat each other, so that our children have a healthy world in which to live.

What doesn’t matter? Whether or not Donald Trump said something that insulted some people. Take it as a given: he insults people. How many other adults continue to use insulting nicknames for people they don’t like, after they leave high school?

What matters? Voting in this year’s election. Not just for president, but also for Congress.

I’m not a big fan of Joe Biden, but you can bet your ass I’m going to vote for him. Because I think he understands what it truly means to be the President of the United States of America, rather than Donald Trump’s position as president of doing whatever he wants for the people he likes and flipping off everyone else.

I live in New York’s ninth Congressional district, so my vote matters not at all. The straight Democratic ticket is going to take far more than 50% of the votes in this district. The votes that matter are the votes of the people who live in Florida, in Pennsylvania, in Ohio, Virginia, Minnesota, Michigan, North Carolina, Wisconsin… Are you one of those voters? Seriously consider your options. Do you know someone who lives in one of those states? Tell them why their vote is important.

But stop falling for the sleight-of-hand that is Donald Trump’s way of life. Stop being distracted by his theatre meant to grab your attention. Instead, keep your attention where it needs to be: on his never-ending campaign to divide and conquer his own country, his never-ending campaign to enrich himself and his friends, his blatant incompetence, and his villainy in the face of a major crisis that would have caused any other president to rise to the challenge.