All the Snowflake King’s Men

On Tuesday, January 9, 2018, California US Senator Dianne Feinstein released a full transcript of Fusion GPS Glenn Simpson’s extensive 21-hour testimony before 3 Congressional committees. According to her, “The innuendo and misinformation circulating about the transcript are part of a deeply troubling effort to undermine the investigation into potential collusion and obstruction of justice. The only way to set the record straight is to make the transcript public.” The move follows a decision by Republican Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley and Senator Lindsey Graham, who after months of testimony, issued a criminal referral for Steele, alleging the committee had reason to believe the former spy has lied to the authorities about his conversations with the press regarding the dossier. His spokesman, Taylor Foy called it, “confounding” that Feinstein released the transcript “unilaterally” over the Republican majority’s objections. Well, of course, she did because she knew the Republicans were cover up that testimony to protect Trump’s ass. But according to Foy, “Feinstein’s unilateral decision was made as the committee is still trying to secure testimony from other witnesses, including Jared Kushner. Her action undermines the integrity of the committee’s oversight work and jeopardizes its ability to secure candid voluntary testimony relating to the independent recollections of future witnesses.” By releasing the transcripts against objections from Republican colleagues, Feinstein didn’t cause much harm. She broke no law. Though Simpson testified in a closed session, he wasn’t a government official. Nor did he discuss classified information or anything about anyone’s private life. Besides, Simpson had already called for his testimony’s full release. What Feinstein violated was the normal rules of Senate decorum, which Republicans had been using to cover up a key point that debunks some of their own talking points about this matter.

Simpson’s testimony contains many revelations. He touches upon how the Trump Organization handles taxes saying, Donald Trump’s relationship with gangster Felix Sater, how his country clubs aren’t making any money and that someone might’ve been killed as a result of the dossier. But most importantly, his testimony revealed that the FBI was already investigating potential links between Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russian government before they even heard anything about Christopher Steele’s infamous dossier on the matter. During the hearing, Simpson stated when Steele spoke to the FBI about his findings, the bureau, “believed Chris’s information might be credible because they had other intelligence that indicated the same thing, and one of those pieces of intelligence was a human source from inside the Trump Organization.” That along with a report from the New York Times suggests that Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos who during a night of heavy drinking in May 2016, accidentally kicked off the Trump-Russia investigation by telling an Australian diplomat that Russia had political dirt on Hillary Clinton.

We must not forget that Feinstein released this transcript over her Republican colleagues’ objections. Recently, conservatives had been pushing a theory that the basis for the FBI investigation was an opposition document compiled at the Clinton campaign’s behest. On January 3, key House conservative Rep. Jim Jordan rolled out a tweetstorm of 18 questions about the FBI and Russia, many of which centered on the Steele dossier. Along with another leading House conservative Rep. Mark Meadows, Jordan is calling for Trump to fire Jeff Sessions and put in a new attorney general to oversee and possibly quash the Russia investigation. This is part of a broader effort to discredit the Robert Mueller investigation which in turn is part of the conservative counternarrative on the whole Russian scandal. The dossier plays a key role in this conspiracy theory. By putting the dossier on trial, they have tried to impeach the basic case that people in Trump’s circle may have coordinated with the Russians who attacked the election. Trump allies have also used the dossier to go on offense against the FBI and the Justice Department, charging that “biased” federal investigators used what Republicans call partisan, Democratic-funded propaganda as the basis for the whole Russian investigation. However, the reality is that while intelligence circles hold Steele in high regard, there’s no evidence that the FBI has ever used his work as the basis of its Russia investigation. Besides, the case for collusion goes beyond the dossier and includes outreach by Russian agents to the Trump campaign as well as meetings between Trump associates and Russians.

Now who is this Glenn Simpson and what is Fusion GPS? Simpson is one of the co-founders of Fusion GPS which is a “strategic influence” firm first hired by the conservative publication called the Washington Free Beacon in 2015 to conduct opposition research on Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee contracted the firm once Trump’s Republican nomination became more imminent. In turn, Fusion hired former MI-6 Russian specialist Christopher Steele to specifically look at Trump and Russia. The former British agent used his Russian contacts to compile a dossier describing efforts by Russian President Vladimir Putin to cultivate a relationship with Trump and his entourage and to gather material to blackmail the candidate if necessary. He did not pay sources for the information. His investigation ended with a several allegations including that Russian security services are blackmailing Trump with a recording of him paying prostitutes to pee on his bed at the Moscow Ritz Carlton presidential suite. And that Trump’s campaign was the beneficiary of a multifaceted Kremlin plot to interfere in the 2016 US election. Obviously, Steele felt his findings went beyond political campaign fodder and made him worry that there was a genuine threat to US national security. So he took the info to the FBI who was already getting tips and reports something was going on. Steele’s information just confirmed the seriousness of the situation. Buzzfeed published Steele’s dossier in January 2017 which set off a firestorm of controversy and intrigue which neither man intended to happen. But in recent months, it had taken new life as the centerpiece of a conservative counter-conspiracy theory that Trump’s political enemies cooked up the whole Trump-Russia investigation. Simpson’s testimony primarily debunks the conservative narrative placing the infamous dossier at the center of the story and confirms the Times account of a drunk Papadopoulos kickstarting the Trump-Russian investigation.

But how could a drunk Papadopoulos be the start of the Trump-Russian investigation? Let’s just say that it all boils Papadopoulos having a drunk conversation with Australia’s ambassador to the UK, Alexander Downer about Russia having dirt on Hillary Clinton. Downer, of course, shared the details with other Australian officials who ultimately passed word of it to their American counterparts once the hacking of Democratic email accounts became a big deal. And thus the FBI investigation ensued that July. All because Papadopoulos said the wrong thing to the wrong guy while under the influence. They listened to Steele because they already had an investigation into the Trump-Russia question underway. While the investigation hasn’t yet proven the existence of anything like the vast conspiracy Steele alleges, it certainly has uncovered a real evidence of wrongdoing. This consists of a Papadopoulos guilty plea along with serious criminal charges against former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. We’ve also learned that key Trumpworld figures like Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr. were at least eager to potentially collaborate with the Russian government into revealing anti-Clinton “dirt.” Rather than taking a cue from Downer in alerting the authorities to the existence of the of an active Russian intelligence effort aimed at the United States. There also continues to be an ongoing investigation that might yet reveal other criminal activity. Or it might not. Either way, Simpson’s testimony is more evidence that law enforcement took the Trump-Russian collusion question seriously for reasons that had nothing to do with the Steele dossier.

Steele may have overreacted as well as got things wrong. Yet, fundamentally, it doesn’t matter since the investigation doesn’t rise or fall on his credibility. Even so, he turned the dossier to the FBI for no obvious reason other than his allegiance to our closest ally. Despite what the Republicans think, the Steele dossier was not a purely political document paid for by Democrats to hurt Donald Trump. Else Steele wouldn’t have reported such information to the FBI. In fact, the Democrats hardly made a concerted effort to hit Trump where it hurts during the 2016 election and they didn’t need a dossier suggesting treason to do it. For Trump’s history of corruption of dubious business practices is simply mindboggling. Also, he’s a narcissistic sociopath who has consistently abused any position of power he’s had to enrich himself. Besides, allegations of collusion with a foreign power to interfere in an election are far more serious than the traditional political punches.

While Republicans decry that Feinstein’s decision to make the Simpson testimony public undermines the congressional investigations, it was the their own efforts to obstruct inquiries that prompted to her to release the documents in the first place. Because they’d rather stick with Trump for their own selfish interests despite the damage he’s done to this country, how many norms he’s violated, and how he’s enriching himself. In an op-ed Fritsch and Simpson write, “We suggested investigators look into the bank records of Deutsche Bank and others that were funding Mr. Trump’s businesses. Congress appears uninterested in that tip: Reportedly, ours are the only bank records the House Intelligence Committee has subpoenaed. [We] found widespread evidence that Mr. Trump and his organization had worked with a wide array of dubious Russians in arrangements that often raised questions about money laundering.” The House committee investigating Trump’s Russian connections was an utter joke while led by Rep. Devin Nunes who was on Trump’s transition team! Last year, the California Republican betrayed his oath of office on behalf of a faction within the Trump administration. Hell, he practically went to and from the White House telling Trump and his allies the House committee’s activities. In siding with Trump, Republicans have put their party over nation and principles. In essence, instead of pursuing what Fusion GPS found out about Trump, they’ve become enablers to a possible traitor who has no love for the country he’s supposed to lead, no respect for the democratic values he’s supposed to protect and promote, and no affinity for the rule of law he’s supposed to abide.

Nevertheless, the fact Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans didn’t want the Simpson testimony released to the public speaks volumes about their motives. As Simpson and Fusion GPS co-founder Peter Fritsch wrote in an op-ed that the committees have “known for months” of credible collusion allegations but have chosen instead to “chase rabbits.” And yet, Republicans tried pushing a conspiracy theory that Trump’s political enemies created the dossier to defame him and launch an FBI witch hunt. It’s clear conservatives in Congress have been misleading people about the origins of the FBI investigation into Trump and Russia with hopes in discrediting it. We all know that Republicans want to hold on to their power to enact policy they want no matter how unpopular it is. We know they’re willing to support Donald Trump so they can get their way. It is one thing for a major political party to unite behind a corrupt president. But it’s a very serious concern when the GOP unites behind a campaign of willful disinformation at the country’s expense. As Joshua Marshall wrote in Talking Points Memo, “What’s happened is that we’ve had a year tarnishing the reputation of a man who did right by the United States for no obvious reason other than his allegiance is to our closest ally and creating a comic, degenerate alternate reality in which the people who alerted us to the problems and those who first sought to understand them are the malefactors rather than the people who were at a minimum cozying up to a foreign power. It is actually quite like the cliched story of the whistleblower who speaks up and then becomes the scapegoat in the cover-up of the bad acts he was trying to bring to light. In fact that’s exactly what it is.” Now that Republicans have chosen to protect their Snowflake King, we must remember how their selfishness at Capitol Hill has disgraced the nation.

Advertisements

The Madness of the Snowflake King

In this winter of our discontent, there is a term flying around conservative circles called “snowflake” used to describe liberal extremists who get offended by every statement and/or belief that doesn’t exactly match their own. To them, these individuals think they’re just unique as “snowflakes” when they really just have fragile feelings. To be fair, I do believe there are some liberal snowflakes who do exist. But when it comes to fragile feelings and offense by every statement and/or belief not aligning theirs, I think the “snowflake” label describes conservatives much more. For one, conservatives have an entire media ecosystem to insulate them from uncomfortable mainstream truths and assure them their views are perfectly reasonable. I mean when other networks air rather damning stuff on Donald Trump, Fox News runs stupid shit and peddles conspiracy theories. Secondly, conservatives go absolutely apeshit over race related issues such as Black Lives Matter calling attention to police brutality, NFL players taking a knee, and removing Confederate monuments. Third, those so-called “snowflakes” conservatives refer to have had to deal with all kinds of offenses and systematic injustices against them for perhaps their whole lives.

But in the United States, there is no bigger snowflake in the country than Snowflake King Donald Trump. Even before he ran for president and disastrously ended up in the White House, we all know that this guy has a massively inflated ego and self-delusions of grandeur. He sees himself as a successful and brilliant businessman despite being an outright fraud who’s shamelessly engaged in unethical practices and corruption that have ruined hundreds of people’s lives. His presidency will become legend for his incompetence, his Twitter tantrums, his lack of regard for the law, democratic principles, and norms, and his corrupt administration that’s loaded with sycophants. Still, Trump is known to burst over the slightest insult that he’s referred the mainstream media as “fake news” whenever they run a negative story about him. For a president, to discredit the media over the negative stuff about him whether it be his unethical business practices, his flagrant disregard for democratic norms, his lack of respect of democratic values, openly racist tirades, his Twitter tantrums, his incompetence and mental instability, and pathological dishonesty. Even before he became president, Trump was known to at least threatening to sue those who dare challenge him or at least said stuff about him he didn’t like. Sometimes this has resulted in real life consequences. In 1990, he threatened to sue Janney Montgomery Scott unless they fired their securities analyst Mark Roffman. His crime? Issuing a negative forecast for Trump Taj Mahal which was later proved correct. Nevertheless, Roffman lost his job and spent the next few years in a living hell. A year later, Trump threatened to sue any broadcaster or distributor who’d show an 80 minute documentary about him called Trump: What’s the Deal?, which powerfully and disturbingly portrayed him as the fraud he actually is. His effort to suppress the film proved successful.

Recently, a book has been recently published called Fire and Fury: Inside the White House which has been dominating the political cycle this January. Written by longtime New York columnist Michael Wolff, media outlets have run excerpts from it which has resulted in a furious response from Donald Trump. In fact, his lawyers sent a cease and desist letter to the book’s publisher, demanding to stop publication. Not surprisingly, it has become a bestseller as copies fly off the shelves. Still, while Fire and Fury isn’t the most factually accurate account of Trump in the White House, it nonetheless confirms a lot of the dysfunction and disorganization that has characterized the administration. Specifically, Wolff’s book depicts a deeply unprepared, incurious president surrounded by toadying advisers concerned about his ability to do his job. Knowing how willfully ignorant Trump is about how government works during the 2016 Election campaign, this isn’t surprising at all. His lack of knowledge of the US political system was a source of constant criticism. One big instance of that on display was when he promised to pick a Supreme Court Justice who’d “look very seriously” at Hillary Clinton’s e-mails. However, the Supreme Court tries laws, not people. In a primary debate in Houston, Trump referred to federal judges “signing bills” a task the president does in a federal system. As Wolff recalled in his book on how some of Trump’s closest aides spoke of him behind closed doors: “This—insulting Donald Trump’s intelligence—was both the thing you could not do and the thing—drawing there-but-for-the-grace-of-God guffaws across the senior staff—that everybody was guilty of. Everyone, in his or her own way, struggled to express the baldly obvious fact that the president did not know enough, did not know what he didn’t know, did not particularly care, and, to boot, was confident if not serene in his unquestioned certitudes. There was now a fair amount of back-of-the-classroom giggling about who had called Trump what. For Steve Mnuchin and Reince Priebus, he was an “idiot.” For Gary Cohn, he was “dumb as shit.” For H. R. McMaster he was a “dope.” The list went on.”

Now we all know that Donald Trump doesn’t like to read which is a very terrible sign. Because on any given day, a president is expected to read about as much as a college student cramming for a big exam. Thus, as Cracked reports, intelligence agencies have to keep their reports 25% shorter than Obama’s and allow no space for dissenting opinions. Policy papers are trimmed from 3-6 pages down to a single page with lots of graphics and maps. The National Security Council has taken things a step further by “strategically” including Trump’s name as often as possible since he usually keeps reading if he sees it mentioned. But a bigger problem than these oversimplified briefings is that Trump apparently doesn’t even bother to read them. This can lead Lord Cheetohead to embarrass himself in talks with foreign leaders, drafting woefully inept executive orders, or signing off on documents he doesn’t even understand. As Wolff recalls: “Here was, arguably, the central issue of the Trump presidency, informing every aspect of Trumpian policy and leadership: he didn’t process information in any conventional sense — or, in a way, he didn’t process it at all. Trump didn’t read. He didn’t really even skim. If it was print, it might as well not exist. Some believed that for all practical purposes he was no more than semiliterate.” He even quotes Gary Cohn stating, “It’s worse than you can imagine. An idiot surrounded by clowns. Trump won’t read anything — not one-page memos, not the brief policy papers; nothing. He gets up halfway through meetings with world leaders because he is bored.”

Furthermore, Wolff notes how Donald Trump doesn’t seem to understand the kind of responsibility being a president entails. Most Americans are familiar with the idea as of the president as a political and institutional concept, with an emphasis on ritual and propriety. Well, Trump isn’t most Americans since he’s prone to his ongoing Twitter tantrums over stuff that pisses him off. As Wolff writes, “Here was another peculiar Trump attribute: an inability to see his actions the way most others saw them. Or to fully appreciate how people expected him to behave. The notion of the presidency as an institutional and political concept, with an emphasis on ritual and propriety and semiotic messaging — statesmanship — was quite beyond him.”

Wolff also describes him as anti-intellectual as he noted, “For anything that smacked of a classroom or of being lectured to — “professor” was one of his bad words, and he was proud of never going to class, never buying a textbook, never taking a note — he got up and left the room. This was a problem in multiple respects — indeed, in almost all the prescribed functions of the presidency.” Such conduct is very unbecoming of a vast array of occupations, especially if they require a college degree. But if you’re the President of the United States, it’s incredibly unforgivable. Though we know that Trump’s brand contains a very anti-intellectual streak, eschews the advice of experts, doesn’t sponsor any cultural events, and doesn’t express any form of curiosity in anything. He sees no value in science, history, or education. And his campaign might be responsible for why more Republicans might have more negative opinions about colleges and professors they see as liberal elites in their ivory tower. If Trump should call himself a “stable genius” then he’d probably buckle up in the Oval Office, listen to criticism, and take notes. Despite that academics might seem to be in their own little worlds at times, a politician advocating anti-intellectualism is a very terrible thing since it encourages willful ignorance and disinterest in learning and education. And Trump’s willful ignorance and disinterest in anything but his own vanity and enrichment is rooted into his own narcissism and sociopathy since he worships no god by himself and he has no faith than in the almighty dollar.

Nor does Donald Trump seem to have the proper temperament or understand his role to lead a nation. As Wolff recalls, “What was, to many of the people who knew Trump well, much more confounding was that he had managed to win this election, and arrive at this ultimate accomplishment, wholly lacking what in some obvious sense must be the main requirement of the job, what neuroscientists would call executive function. He had somehow won the race for president, but his brain seemed incapable of performing what would be essential tasks in his new job. He had no ability to plan and organize and pay attention and switch focus; he had never been able to tailor his behavior to what the goals at hand reasonably required. On the most basic level, he simply could not link cause and effect.” Cracked has reported that American agencies are withholding an unusual amount of information from Trump. Though Trump has expressed scorn for the intelligence community (particularly when it comes to Russia). However, a bigger concern for them might be his habit of casually announcing classified information to rival governments. In May 2017, during a meeting with Russian officials, Trump reportedly boasted about the quality of intelligence he received every day. He also revealed details of a terrorist plot he’d recently been informed of. The problem with that is that revealing you know something can let someone guess fairly quickly how much you know it which can compromise the original intelligence source who may not have wanted the Russians to know about it. Though America doesn’t need to be hostile with Russia anymore, we know it has very different goals and ambitions than we do. Meaning that we need to exercise a degree of caution when dealing with them. But Trump’s carelessness with intelligence can be more than a one-time problem since in the wake of this story, an unnamed European country warned that they may stop sharing intelligence with the United States because they don’t like Trump compromising sources while trying to impress people.

Nevertheless, Donald Trump’s bizarre behavior has often compelled about his mental state long before Fire and Fury. Just last week, he unleashed a series of tweets which culminated in a nuclear threat of nuclear war with North Korea. On January 2, 2018, he tweeted, “North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!” In fact, the book’s very title came from a Trump speech back in 2017 over North Korea when he said, “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” This at an event that was supposed to focus on opioids. Such statement terrified North Korean experts who worried about Trump provoking a war with another nuclear-armed power. Yet, Wolff noted such words also scared the bejesus out of Trump’s staff as they spent the next week trying to get him to stop talking about it. As Wolff wrote, “North Korea, a situation the president had consistently been advised to downplay, now became the central subject of the rest of the week — with most senior staff occupied not so much by the topic itself but by how to respond to the president, who was threatening to ‘blow’ again. Charlottesville was a mere distraction, and indeed, the staff’s goal was to keep him off North Korea.” To use Charlottesville to distract Trump from North Korea just makes me cringe. This is one of many examples illustrating that Trump is incapable of understanding the consequences of his actions. When Trump does something like fire James Comey, bomb Syria, or threaten North Korea, he does so without any sense of how human beings might be affected. As Wolff writes, “One of Trump’s deficiencies — a constant in the campaign and, so far, in the presidency — was his uncertain grasp of cause and effect. Everyone [in the White House], in his or own way, struggled to express the baldly obvious fact that the president did not know enough, did not know what he didn’t know, did not particularly care and, to boot, was confident if not serene in his unquestioned certitudes.”

But while the White House tries to write off Fire and Fury as “trashy tabloid fiction,” its fallout suggests otherwise. Already, Donald Trump has treated its revelations as gospel truth has launched a blood feud with his former strategist and campaign CEO Steve Bannon. Because on January 3, 2018, the Guardian posted excerpts from Wolff’s quoting Bannon saying some remarkable things about the Trump family. In these excerpts, Bannon called Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower “treasonous,” speculated that Trump might’ve been involved as well, and asserts that Jared Kushner is involved in some “greasy” business that could expose him to money laundering charges. These revelations not only cut into Trump’s denial of wrongdoing in the Russian scandal but also insulted his family members as well. Neither of which will put you in Trump’s good graces. Interestingly, Bannon’s Brietbart website reproduced some quotes sometime later without disputing them, giving a seeming impression of accuracy. Furious at the Bannon revelations, Trump released an infuriating statement reading, “Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind. Steve doesn’t represent my base — he’s only in it for himself.” Except that Bannon’s Brietbart website is called “the platform of the Alt-Right” who mostly comprise of white supremacists which number among Trump’s most ardent supporters. Anyway, Trump goes on to minimize Bannon’s role in his 2016 victory and complain that he helped cost Republicans a Senate seat in Alabama by endorsing Roy Moore. Look, we all know that Bannon played a pivotal role in the Trump campaign or otherwise the alt-right wouldn’t be a thing. Furthermore, he also accused Bannon of constantly, leaking false information to the media to make himself seem far more important than he was” since it “is the only thing he does well.” Now Bannon is even out at Brietbart over the Trump book controversy over his comments.

It’s not hard to imagine that Donald Trump’s staff never thought he should be president. Nor is it difficult to think that Trump never wanted to be president in the first place. As Wolff frames it, “The Trump campaign had, perhaps less than inadvertently, replicated the scheme from Mel Brooks’s The Producers. In that classic, Brooks’s larcenous and dopey heroes, Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom, set out to sell more than 100 percent of the ownership stakes in the Broadway show they are producing. Since they will be found out only if the show is a hit, everything about the show is premised on its being a flop. Accordingly, they create a show so outlandish that it actually succeeds, thus dooming our heroes.” Though at least Bialystock and Bloom ended up in prison and didn’t doom a whole country. Still, Wolff believes that the Trump administration’s problems currently lie at the concept that even his staff didn’t think he’d win. Why release your tax returns if he’s going to lose? What’s the harm in sucking up to Russia’s government if he’s likelier to build a hotel in Moscow than occupy the White House? Why bother with educating the candidate on major policy issues or build a real platform when he’ll never govern? Or why worry about conflicts of interests or business entanglements if they’re never going to matter? This might explain so much. Yet, even if he was just running for president, those things will still matter.

Still, Fire and Fury paints a picture of Donald Trump through his own tweets, speeches, comments, and actions as well as the constant on- and off-the record statements from his staff. It’s similar to what reporters have heard from top staff at the White House. And similar to what I and much of the American public have long suspected. Trump is not cognitively up to the job of the presidency. He’s not just someone who doesn’t know much about policy or foreign affairs. It’s that he’s someone who doesn’t want to know about policy or foreign affairs. And he dislikes the methods by which you actually could learn about policy and foreign affairs. Thus, Trump’s ignorance isn’t an absence of knowledge. It’s closer to a personality trait and possibly even an ideology, which is even worse.

Naturally, when a man so unqualified for the presidency that his campaign wants him to lose unexpectedly wins the White House, chaos ensues. Suppose you work for Donald Trump at the White House. How would you please, placate, manage, constrain and inform a raging child king? Though the answer is embarrassing. But it’s one Trump’s staff and any foreign government wanting America’s favor know all too well: flattery and sycophancy. Trump’s staff tries to keep their boss from social media with constant praise and putting lots of media in front of him. Also, his staff worry about leaving him alone for hours at a time because he watches too much TV, gets annoyed with what he sees, and throws a Twitter tantrum. Other techniques for keeping Trump happy include hanging a map displaying his electoral victory in the West Wing, planting supporters and planting supporters in crowds as he gives a speech. One instance of the latter had him being passionately cheered while he gave a speech at the CIA headquarters by non-CIA supporters in the front rows for that specific purpose. This pissed off the CIA who consider themselves apolitical and don’t appreciate being herded into a meeting to listen to someone complain about how hard or unfair their job is. He thinks that no politician has been treated more unfairly than him despite that the TV news media has treated him much better than he deserves to be.

And how do you harness the remarkable opportunity you’ve been given to actually build something of value? The central struggle of Trump’s early months was between chief strategist Steve Bannon, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, and chief son-in-law Jared Kushner. All of them in their proximity to power, saw the potential to build a presidency they could be proud of or at least less disgraced by. As Wolff recalled: “Each man saw the president as something of a blank page — or a scrambled one. And each, Walsh came to appreciate with increasing incredulity, had a radically different idea of how to fill or remake that page. Bannon was the alt-right militant. Kushner was the New York Democrat. And Priebus was the establishment Republican. “Steve wants to force a million people out of the country and repeal the nation’s health law and lay on a bunch of tariffs that will completely decimate how we trade, and Jared wants to deal with human trafficking and protecting Planned Parenthood.” And Priebus wanted Donald Trump to be another kind of Republican altogether … As Walsh saw it, Steve Bannon was running the Steve Bannon White House, Jared Kushner was running the Michael Bloomberg White House, and Reince Priebus was running the Paul Ryan White House.” This struggle was hardly a civil conflict ideal as Wolff records the tree factions’ endless squabbles comprising of leaks, schemes, backbiting, and the outside heavies brought in to change Trump’s mind at the last minute. But the conflict was so immense because Trump is incapable of and uninterested in resolving. Trump never gave a damn about Trumpism since he’s not sufficiently interested in policy, ideology, or ideas to direct his own presidency’s course. Thus, the course will be directed by the most firmly established interests around him like his family the congressional GOP.

Nonetheless, Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury contains a mystery it never resolves. As he wrote, “It was obvious to everyone that if [Trump] had a north star, it was just to be liked. He was ever uncomprehending about why everyone did not like him, or why it should be so difficult to get everyone to like him.” However, it would be easy enough for Donald Trump to run a presidency that left him better-liked. He could work with the Democrats, ease up the culture war, and give some gentler speeches. There has never been a president for whom the bar is lower than for Trump. It would be so easy to clear it and he’d have people around him happily acting as guides and cheerleaders. But he didn’t do any of that and Wolff’s book doesn’t provide a satisfying answer since it’s a portrait of a man undone by the very forces he unleashed. Because Donald Trump doesn’t care about policy, politics, ideology, or coalitions. All he cares about is Trump. He wanted to put his name on buildings and in tabloids. Now he has his name on the most important building on the planet and on the front page of most every newspaper in the world. Yet, outside a few conservative outlets, the coverage he receives is horrible, the worst of any president in memory. He can’t perform his job well enough to be liked or respected. But he only wanted the job in the first place because it would force the whole world to like or respect him (except it people still don’t like or respect him, including me). And he’s driven to rage and paranoia by the resulting dissonance, disappointment, and hurt. Mostly because he doesn’t understand that running for the most powerful office in the land will not get people to like and respect you. You have to do something to earn that adoration and respect. Sure he might be a rich businessman, but his career and life have been marked by unethical business practices, baffling corruption, inflammatory statements, and other dubious deeds. Trump wants the adoration and respect for doing nothing besides being a rich businessman and TV star.

This wasn’t what Donald Trump wanted and it’s not clear whether it’s something he can bear. A more capable, competent, and stable person would by now, have either changed their behavior to receive more of the response they crave or just given up on getting that kind of attention. Yet, Trump exists in an unhappy middle ground, starting his day with morning rage tweets, spending weekends retreating to one of his golf clubs, searching for validation he craves in his Twitter feed and on Fox and Friends but never getting it from the elite taskmasters he’s always sought to impress. The pressures of the presidency are enough to break almost anyone but Trump is less suited for the work and backlash than most. The strain’s already showing as his workday’s reportedly shrunk to 11am to 6pm. Yet, the bulk of his first term remains to the detriment of us all and it can include his financial secrets being revealed to the world, his family being indicted, and a crisis he mishandles exploding into a catastrophe (like that didn’t happen already in Puerto Rico). The question now is whether Trump’s staff can keep governing around him and whether a dysfunctional president can have a semi-functional White House. And so far, I don’t really know if that’s possible with a narcissistic sociopath like Donald Trump. Because he’s a man who cares nothing about America, has no respect for democratic values, and doesn’t think the rule of law applies to him. A man like him only inspires more chaos and internal stripe which won’t end until he’s out.

General Ripper Sings Like a Canary

 

In the biggest development yet in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn agreed to a plea deal with prosecutors on Friday, December 1, 2017. The legal move poses the most direct threat to the Trump presidency itself so far. Flynn pleaded guilty to a single count of lying to the FBI on or around January 24 about conversations with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December 2016. However, Flynn did not admit to colluding with Russia during the 2016 presidential election. Nevertheless, Flynn’s plea deal will strengthen Mueller’s sprawling probe into the Trump team’s possible criminal acts and Russian ties.

Of course, once Paul Manafort and Rick Gates were indicted while George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty, it was only a matter of time when Michael Flynn would flip. In fact, it’s been speculated for weeks that Flynn wanted to protect himself from a more serious criminal indictment. As with Manafort, Mueller had a solid case against the retired general. Earlier this year, Flynn offered to testify in exchange for full immunity from prosecution but Mueller refused. On November 23, The New York Times reported that Flynn’s lawyers told Trump’s lawyers they could no longer share information. Four days later, ABC News reported that Flynn’s lawyers met with Mueller’s team, a strong sign a plea deal was imminent.

Michael Flynn’s plea deal is the most significant moment in Mueller’s probe to date since he is the first person who had actually served in the Trump White House to admit breaking the law. Nor was he just any old official either since Flynn’s role as national security adviser is one of the highest-level and most powerful posts in Washington. The retired three-star general temporarily had enormous influence over Donald Trump’s early policy and personnel choices. And due to his unique ties to both the Trump campaign and Trump White House, he’s particularly well-suited to answering the Mueller probe’s central questions on whether the Trump campaign knowingly colluded with Russia and if Trump obstructed justice by trying to derail the FBI’s investigation. Flynn’s plea deal gets Mueller closer to finding that out. Now Mueller gets Flynn to talk along with an admission of guilt. Obviously, this is bad news for Michael Flynn but it could be even worse news for Donald Trump. As legal expert Asha Rangappa noted, “When you flip somebody, you’re using them to go up the chain. This suggests that Mueller’s investigation is going to go into the even-tighter inner circle of the campaign and possibly the administration.”

A retired lieutenant general who served in the Army for over 30 years, Michael Flynn is a quintessential General Ripper. Hell, take General Jack D. Ripper’s line “I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids,” and replace each mention of “Communist” with “Islamic” and you basically have Flynn. And let’s just say if it weren’t for his soft spot for Russia, he’d feel right at home among the trigger happy military brass in Dr. Strangelove. Anyway, in 2012, he was named head of the Pentagon’s intelligence arm, the Defense Intelligence Agency. During this time, he clashed with other Obama administration officials who viewed him as sloppy with facts and incompetent with management. Soon he was pushed out and resigned from his post in 2014. Technically, President Barack Obama fired him but you know how they do things in Washington. Furious, Flynn began his post government public life commenting on foreign policy and military issues in the media, becoming infamous for his extreme Islamophobic rhetoric. For example in February 2016, he tweeted, “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL.” Such language combined with his poor DIA track record made Flynn a pariah in the mainstream foreign policy community. For the Trump campaign that championed a Muslim ban, he was a perfect fit.

In fall 2015, Michael Flynn began occasionally briefing Donald Trump on foreign affairs and his involvement in the campaign gradually deepened. By late May 2016, he was mentioned as a potential vice presidential pick for Trump. In July of that year, Flynn gave a now ironic speech at the Republican National Convention in which he riled the crowd with “Lock her up.” But while Flynn advised the Trump campaign, he operated a lobbying and consulting firm called the Flynn Intel Group which importantly, also employed his son. He was also a frequent guest on the Russian government’s English-language propaganda outlet RT, where he’d often espouse the idea that Russia and the US should team up against Islamic extremism. And it’s Flynn’s lobbying and work for the Russian government which first led into dangerous legal territory. In December 2015, Flynn traveled to Moscow for a gala celebrating RT’s 10th anniversary. He sat next to Vladimir Putin and delivered a speech about his foreign policy vision. For his services, RT paid Flynn a $45,000 speaker’s fee while Russian companies him $22,500 for speeches during the same trip. Now that in itself isn’t necessary illegal. However, Flynn reportedly lied about the source of the payments in his security clearance renewal form, claiming they came from “US companies.” Lying on this form is equivalent to lying to federal investigators which is a felony and perhaps one of the reasons why Flynn took the plead deal. In August 2016, an entity called Inovo BV hired Flynn’s consulting firm. Though it claimed to be Dutch company, Inovo BV turned out to be a shell corporation for a wealthy member from the Turkish government. Flynn seems to have continued working for Turkey until November at the earliest while Ankara paid him at least $530,000. Under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, Flynn had to publicly disclose any lobbying work for the Turkish government when he started. His FARA paperwork said he worked for a Dutch company, not the Turkish government. In March 2017, Flynn filed paperwork correcting the error, admitting that Inovo really paid him to work on behalf of Turkish interests. If that’s all he did, then Michael Flynn would’ve been fine. After all, the US government typically doesn’t arrest people for filing incorrect FARA paperwork after they correct it. But if there’s more undisclosed lobbying for foreign governments like more Turkey payments or undisclosed Russian activity than he revealed in March, then he’d be in deep shit.

Still, you’d think Flynn’s legally questionable shenanigans would’ve ended in November 2016, when Donald Trump made him his national security adviser in his new administration. Though outgoing Obama officials warned the Trump transition team about appointing the guy. But if anything, it got worse. Throughout the transition, Flynn had several contacts with Kislyak. In one early December meeting at Trump Tower, he and Jared Kushner talked to the Russian ambassador about setting up a secret channel through which they can communicate. On December 29, 2016, the day Obama announced sanctions on Russia in response to the country’s hacking efforts, Flynn and Kislyak reportedly exchanged 5 phone calls. One of the discussion topics was sanctions. But Flynn reportedly told Vice President-elect Mike Pence and others on the Trump team that sanctions never came up in his calls with the Russian ambassador, spurring them to make false statements to that effect in public. This conversation between Flynn and Kislyak is part of the just-released document Mueller had sent to court.

On Donald Trump’s Inauguration Day, Michael Flynn’s former business partner allegedly bragged that he told him that Trump would quickly lift US sanctions on Russia, which would pave way for a controversial plan to build nuclear plants across the Middle East with Russian help. While this is an explosive but unverified allegation coming from a whistleblower cooperating with House Democrats, there have been reports over the last few months that Flynn continued to promote this Middle East nuclear project after the election and even as national security adviser. In the Trump presidency’s first week, Flynn was questioned by the FBI in which he denied contact with Kislyak during the transition. That same week, then acting-Attorney General Sally Yates warned the White House that intelligence showed Flynn had lied about his conversations with Kislyak and he was vulnerable to Russian blackmail. Unsurprisingly, the Trump White House did nothing about this until it leaked to the press a few weeks later, when they were spurred to fire Flynn on February 13, 2017. Then there’s an entirely separate matter of whether Flynn improperly acted on Turkey’s behalf during the transition or while in office. According to the Wall Street Journal, Mueller is investigating an “alleged plan” in which Flynn and his son would be paid as much as $15 million for forcibly removing Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric living in Pennsylvania, from the United States and delivering him to Turkey. Flynn discussed this possibility with Turkish government representatives at a December meeting during the transition as incoming national security adviser.

Altogether, there’s plenty of circumstantial evidence that Michael Flynn broke the law. The plea deal where he’ll admit to lying to federal investigators confirms he did and he’s trying to get a lighter punishment. The best Flynn can do is tell Mueller everything he knows abut Trump and Russia. The next important question is whether other Trump officials aided Russian efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential campaign. If there was collusion, Flynn most likely knows about it. This is why Mueller wanted Flynn to strike a deal. Particularly, one where Flynn agreed to a lesser sentence in exchange for giving an honest accounting of what he knows about Trump-Russia ties. Sure getting Papadopoulos to agree to cooperate with Mueller’s team was pretty awesome. But getting Flynn to flip is a much bigger prize.

And it’s possible that Flynn has more Russia ties than known since there’s already some reporting suggesting we don’t have the full Flynn and Russia story. In June, The Wall Street Journal reported that a Trump supporting GOP operative and private equity executive Peter Smith embarked on an effort to track down Hillary Clinton’s infamous 30,000 or so deleted emails during the fall of 2016 and contacted Russian hackers to ask if they had them. Smith wasn’t part of the Trump campaign. But according to sources, he told people working with him that he was coordinating with Flynn. While trying to recruit for the effort, Smith also distributed a document naming the Trump campaign as one of the 4 groups involved. Another piece of information pointing to Flynn was that US officials were aware of some intelligence that Russian hackers had at least discussed sending leaked emails to Flynn through a third party. As Shane Harris wrote for the Wall Street Journal: “Investigators have examined reports from intelligence agencies that describe Russian hackers discussing how to obtain emails from Mrs. Clinton’s server and then transmit them to Mr. Flynn via an intermediary, according to U.S. officials with knowledge of the intelligence.” Smith died this year, reportedly by his own hand and Flynn hasn’t said anything about the Journal report. Nevertheless, all this is enough to raise serious questions about just what Flynn knew about this or any other attempted outreach to Russian hackers or other Russian entities. However, we don’t know yet if this led to actual collusion implicating Flynn or anyone else on the Trump team. Perhaps Smith made his effort seem important by name dropping Flynn, rather than working closely with him. In addition, Smith’s efforts to find Clinton’s deleted emails have failed since they never surfaced.

Michael Flynn’s is also central to determine whether Donald Trump obstructed justice as president, essentially by unlawfully interfering with former FBI Director James Comey’s inquiry. Since Flynn is a central character in this entire drama and fate could shape Trump’s. As Rangappa told Vox, “I think Flynn’s value to Mueller is less on the collusion part and has more to do with obstruction of justice. If Trump had any knowledge of any kind of criminal liability that Flynn may have had — and he was trying to get Comey to drop the investigation — that essentially seals Mueller’s obstruction case.” After Flynn was fired, Trump held a counterterrorism meeting with his national security officials which ended when he ordered everyone except then-Director Comey to clear the room. According to Comey’s written notes, Trump asked him to lay off the investigation into Flynn’s Russia statements. He said that Flynn “is a good guy” and urged the then-FBI director “to see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.” Comey refused so Trump eventually fired him a few months later.

Flynn’s testimony could help answer if Trump wanted to protect him out of fear on what he might know. It’s not enough to show that Trump didn’t like where the Russia investigation was going. A prosecutor or member of Congress pushing for impeachment would need to show that Trump actually tried to cover up some kind of wrongdoing on his part to establish an obstruction case. As federal prosecutor Alex Whiting explained the specifics of Trump’s relationship with Flynn matter a great deal, noting: “Did [Trump] know that Flynn’s story was an important piece in the larger picture, one that he did not want revealed? Or did he know that the FBI’s pressure on Flynn could force him to give up other incriminating evidence? Far from simply acting to shield a former subordinate and ally, was Trump actually just trying to protect himself, and those close to him? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then Trump’s actions will have a very different feel to them, and his potential defenses much harder, if not impossible, to swallow.” Flynn may know the answer to Whiting’s questions which Mueller will likely hear soon.

Still, former US attorney Preet Bharara isn’t convinced that Michael Flynn received “a sweetheart deal of a lifetime” in exchange for hugely important cooperation. On the latest podcast episode, the former New York prosecutor disputed that the relatively light charge against the former 3-star general clearly showed he must’ve agreed to provide especially valuable information to Mueller’s investigation. Bharara refers to his own experience supervising similar high-profile cases.  He claimed, “When we had evidence against somebody and wanted them to flip, we made them plead guilty to every bad act that they had ever done. Especially if we were later gonna be alleging other people had engaged in that activity as well.” Such actions, the former prosecutor argues makes a witness like Flynn more credible in court if he has to testify against someone else. “Otherwise, the only thing the jury will know for a fact about your witness is that he is an admitted, convicted liar,” he said. What he suspects is that Mueller doesn’t’ have anything else on Flynn that might stand in court. But he also suggests that Mueller is “holding back on other charges to which Michael Flynn will plead guilty if and when they form the basis of charging some other folks.” In other words, certain potential charges against Flynn could implicate others in Trump’s team as well and that Mueller’s team just isn’t ready to make those charges yet (and may never be). Yet, this case could be different than Bharara’s own past prosecutions. For one, Mueller’s potential endgame might be impeachment referral rather than a high-profile court trial. In addition, Mueller could be concerned about Trump’s pardon power, possibly holding off some potential charges against Flynn so he could bring them later, in case of a pardon. And seeing how quickly Trump pardoned infamous former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Mueller might’ve taken a cue.

On Saturday December 2, 2017, Donald Trump tweeted that he fired his former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn because he lied to the vice president and the FBI. If that’s the case, Trump knew that Flynn lied to the FBI when he asked then FBI Director James Comey to drop his inquiry into Flynn and then fired him when he failed to do so. This could play into an obstruction of justice case against him. Looking into Trump’s history which shows unparalleled disrespect for the rule of law, committing obstruction of justice shouldn’t come as a surprise. Donald Trump’s corruption is mindboggling beyond any measure that anyone could imagine. He has already abused his power as president in order to enrich himself as well as constantly lies about everything whenever he opens his mouth. But should Mueller’s team find compelling evidence if the Trump team engaged in a criminal conspiracy to help hack Hillary Clinton’s email (since stealing documents is illegal), violated campaign finance laws through soliciting foreign help like from the Russian government, or committing crimes against the investigation itself like witness intimidation, perjury, obstruction of justice, and the like, Mueller can convene a federal jury and seek a criminal indictment against the person. If the grand jury signs off, that person is then arrested and charged. Eventually Trump can be forced to make a terrible choice. He could risk a close associate or family member going to jail or possibly making a deal with federal prosecutors in return for testimony that could incriminate others. Or he could use his pardon power to shield his cronies from federal charges. Should he go the second route, expect a massive political conflict with Congress because of the obvious impropriety of President Pussygrabber pardoning family members or close associates for crimes committed to help him win the presidency in the first place.

Then there’s the question of what happens if Mueller finds evidence of criminal behavior by Donald Trump himself. Granted that Trump is a narcissistic sociopath with a history of abusing his power for his own enrichment, disrespecting the rule of law, and getting away with egregious corruption practices, this is extremely likely. As special prosecutor, Mueller has the legal authority to file charges against any Trump associates or family members. But there’s another legal debate as to whether it’s constitutional for prosecutors to indict a president on criminal charges. Because no state or federal attorney has ever indicted a president on serious criminal charges and we have no Supreme Court precedent to answer that question. Mueller would likely sidestep that whole minefield and simply make a report to the House of Representatives documenting evidence of Trump’s “high crimes and misdemeanors,” the constitutional standard of impeachment. Should Mueller’s report contain damning evidence, it would put a lot of pressure on the House to begin impeachment proceedings. In short, Mueller could take the first step toward ending Trump’s presidency. So Trump really needs to be afraid. Especially since Mueller is currently looking into his business practices and finances which contain plenty of shady stuff less wealthy people have been arrested for.

 

The Great American Tax Swindle

Last week, the United States House of Representatives passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act which seeks to dramatically cut corporate taxes and consolidate benefits for individuals. In addition, the legislation eliminates the alternative minimum tax and estate tax as well as pare back certain individual deduction. This bill would also offer a new tax rate for owners of “pass through” businesses like LLCs and partnerships whose income from their businesses is taxed as personal income. It’s very clear that the House Republican tax bill will disproportionately benefit wealthy Americans, who’d more likely profit from corporate tax cuts more than non-wealthy Americans and likely exploit the pass-through rate by setting up dummy corporations. According to the Tax Policy Center, the absolute richest Americans such as the top 0.1% earning at least $5 million a year, would receive an average income tax cut of 3% which can translate into $320,640. The middle fifth of taxpayers earning between $54,700 to $93,200 a year would get a 0.5% income boost which will only consist of $360. Nearly half the cut will go to the 1%. Though 61.4% of Americans would receive a tax cut by 2027, 24.2% will see their taxes rise by an average of $2,080. Nevertheless, this bill will almost certainly not become law in its current form since the current version will certainly increase the budget deficit by trillions over 10 years and beyond. But it nevertheless, reflects the Republican Party’s values and priorities which don’t translate into the kind of tax reform America needs as well as disproportionately punishes hardworking Americans and the poor for no reason. Because this isn’t a tax reform bill with ordinary Americans in mind, but major Republican donors and corporations.

Who Wins:

Corporations– Since they’re the main focus on most of the tax cuts. According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, cutting the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20% (like this bill does), costs nearly $1.5 trillion over 10 years. They also gain new, more favorable treatment of income earned abroad, which either isn’t taxed or taxed at an even lower rate than 20%.

The Wealthy, Particularly the Ultrarich– Because they tend to earn a disproportionate share of their income from capital (like stock sales and dividends) and thus benefit from cuts to the corporate tax, which is largely a tax on capital. Should the corporate tax also reduce wages (as some conservative economists allege), corporate tax cuts still disproportionately help the wealthy as huge wage shares go to high earners, not low or median-wage earners. In addition, the pass-through cut could lead some wealthy people who either own pass-throughs or create new ones to shelter some of their income from high rates. Both Tax Policy Center analysis and the Joint Committee on Taxation confirm that the richest Americans will receive the biggest cuts as a percentage of their income.

People Making Mid-to High Six-Figure Incomes– They should arguably count as wealthy or rich, too. By raising the threshold for the 39.6% rate on individual income to $1 million for couples, up from $470,000 today, those with incomes in the $600,000 to $700,000 range will receive a sizeable reduction alongside to the low-end tax cut they get because the new 12% bracket will apply to income now taxed between 15% or 25%. The Tax Policy Center finds that once you reach the 95th percentile like earning $304,600 a year or more, over 70% of them get tax cuts in 2027, with the average change amounting to 1.4-3% of their income.

Pass-Through Companies– Companies like the Trump Organization get a new very low rate. Though the bill includes some provisions meant to prevent rich individuals from using this tax break to shelter income, it only limits the benefit in many cases. Overwhelmingly rich owners of these pass-throughs will still come out ahead. We know this because Kansas entirely eliminated state taxes on pass-through companies which mainly resulted in people to simply reclassify their income to dodge taxes while not actually starting any new businesses.

Heirs and Heiresses– Because this bill first reduces the estate tax (through increasing exemption and applying it to even smaller sliver of the ultrarich) and then eliminates it entirely. Keep in mind this is on those who earn at least $5 million anyway.

Who Loses:

Blue State Residents– Since they will pay higher taxes since this legislation eliminates state and local income/sales tax deductions while somewhat curtails those for property taxes. Wealthy people benefitting from these deductions will likely see this tax hike offset by the other tax cuts in the package. Though this may leave a silver lining when you realize that many blue states are home to Wall Street, Silicon Valley, major media organizations, Hollywood, many large corporations, and high earning Americans like Donald Trump.

The Housing Sector– Since it faces a new limit on mortgage interest deduction. Though the rate cuts largely make up for this in regards to some individual taxpayers, it reduces the incentive to build and buy homes, which could affect lenders, construction workers, real estate firms, etc.

Poor Families– Though they were rumored to receive a tax cut due to change in the refundability formula for the child tax credit, that measure didn’t make it in the bill. Because that credit only goes to families with $3,000 in earnings or more and phases in slowly. Though some in Congress did push to lower the threshold to $0, they didn’t succeed. Instead, the bill includes a provision denying the child tax credit to American citizen children whose parents are undocumented immigrants. Because Republicans don’t want undocumented immigrants having anchor babies to take advantage of that tax credit. Despite that fear of deportation keeps more undocumented immigrants from seeking benefits their citizen children could desperately use. Furthermore, fees extracted by tax preparers standing between the low-income and earned income tax credit aren’t deductible under this plan.

Higher Education– The House bill eliminates student loan tax exemptions and treats graduate tuition reimbursements as income. The Senate bill contains an excise tax on earnings of big university endowments. This will increase the cost of college for many students, result in more borrowers struggling to pay their loans, grad and doctoral students in terrible financial situations, as well as hit colleges and universities hard. Not to mention, such measures will dramatically hurt the economy in the long run by undermining human capital developments and creating a less educated workforce. In addition, it might even cost lives by impeding biomedical research.

Workers– The Republican tax plan treats union dues as taxable income. Poor and middle class people will also see their taxes increase across the board, especially if they earn between $40,000 and $75,000 a year. In addition, it taxes contributions to 401 (k) plans.

Healthcare– The House bill proposes eliminating medical deduction exemptions which will devastate many middle-class families with an illness. Republican Senators are proposing to repeal Obamacare’s individual mandate which will result in 13 million people uninsured, hurt enrollment in Medicaid and Obamacare exchanges, increase premiums on those who purchase insurance, and increase preventable deaths by 15,600 people per year. Not to mention, the Senate bill cuts alcohol taxes which are effective at reducing drink driving, violent crime, and liver cirrhosis while increasing them saves thousands of lives per year. Add to that cuts to Medicaid by $18 billion by 2021 and Obamacare subsidies. All this will only make the healthcare markets worse, not better.

The Deficit– As the Joint Committee on Taxation has reportedly determined that the House Republican tax bill will cost $1.51 trillion over 10 years, which is what the House/Senate allocated for the bill. But it’s still a sizeable increase in public debt.

As you can see, this Republican tax reform effort reflects the conservative allergic reaction to progressive taxation and goes beyond undoing the most progressive gains achieved during the Obama and Clinton administrations. 3 changes stand out in this legislation. First, these taxes are far more focused on owners than workers, even by Republican standards. Second, they take advantage of the ambiguity on what counts as income. Third, it weaponizes that vagueness to help their friends and hurt their enemies. Though to be fair, I’m not sure who counts as which in this scheme. After years of pushing for a safety net that works through the tax code and keep more social democratic forms at bay, Republicans now seem willing to even demolish even those modest protections, some of which benefit many of their voters. And they make it clear that a welfare state based on tax credits and refunds, rather than universal commitments, is all too vulnerable.

The House “reform” bill illustrates that Republicans understand how the economic game’s rules are shifting toward capital and away from labor (even from the rich’s labor). Since 2000, income growth among the 1% has accrued people making their money from owning money, stock, and other financial instruments, rather than to people making money via skills and labor. As a result, corporate profits have skyrocketed since then and increased faster during the Great Recession. However, such growth hasn’t trickled down to ordinary Americans. Wages have been flat since 2000 and recession recovery featured the weakest business investment of the postwar period. This marks a genuine shift in the economy’s organization which economists still struggle to understand. But the Republican tax plan supercharges these changes which are about benefiting not just the well-off, but those well-off because they own capital.

But why? Because the Republican tax plans mainly focus on corporate income tax reductions which will largely benefit concentrated owners of stock, passive owners of pass-through businesses who don’t actively work for the firm, and those inheriting their money. We should also understand that foreigners hold about a third of US-based stock, meaning there will be a significant amount of benefits not going to US citizens. In fact, the Institute of Tax and Economic Policy estimates that foreign investors would receive benefits roughly equal to those going to the bottom 3/5 of Americans.

Much of the Republican tax plan involves changing the definition of “income” in various ways. Now most people usually think of income as whatever their salary is. But it’s more complicated than that. And Republicans are redefining different kinds of income to benefit their friends as well as harming their enemies. Under the plan, Passive owners of pass-through entities get their income redefined in a way that minimizes taxation. Those inheriting money get their inheritance redefined to hide it from taxation. And those wanting to stuff money away to send their kiddies to private school, get that savings defined as non-income, too. All these are payouts to key Republican constituencies.

But Republicans are also defining income in other ways to punish their opponents. State and local tax deductions Republicans want to repeal primarily benefits those in blue states where those taxes are higher. They also want to treat graduate education tuition reimbursements as income, hitting higher education (which is home to climate scientists and the “politically correct” anti-right) hard. Union dues would suddenly become taxable income. And fees extracted by tax preparers who stand between low-income people and the earned income tax credit aren’t deductible under their plan.

Yet, it’s not just their opponents they want to punish either. House Republicans also propose eliminating all of the medical deduction exemption which would be devastating for middle class households with an illness. And the latest Senate tax bill calls for eliminating the individual mandate which could result in 13 million uninsured. In short, not only are Republicans are using the tax code to swipe at the Affordable Care Act, they also want to do away with their own tools for making medical expenses more bearable. In the past conservatives have explicitly stated that they hoped the growing use of tax-deferred 401(k) savings plans would weaken support and possibly replace Social Security. But today’s GOP almost reduced the cap for 401(k) contributions. What about the Adoption Tax Credit that was part of the 1994 Republican Contract with America? Well, the House tax plan got rid of that, too. And what about students investing in their own educations through student loans? The bill also puts student loan tax exemptions on the chopping block. Tax exemptions, deductions, and benefits are usually considered regressive, poorly targeted, and too reliant on the market. But they do form a coherent social insurance system for middle-class and upper-middle class families. Many of them number among Republican voters. Yet, it’s this very safety net via tax code that Republicans have declared war on in their new tax bill. They could’ve crafted these various deductions into a more coherent system, they’re axing them to cut taxes on the rich. Republicans are so indebted to capital owners that they’d destroy their system in order to appease them. Even if it means proposing a tax plan whose benefit are permanent for owners yet expire for everyone else. They’ve taken the worst trends in the American economy and hit the accelerator.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Trickle down economics has been implemented in US tax policy time and time again since the 1980s and has been shown not to work. When you cut taxes for the rich, you don’t create jobs nor raise wages. If anything, the rich just become richer while corporations make higher profits. Meanwhile, wages remain stagnant while ordinary Americans increasingly find themselves less able to adequately support themselves thank to inflation and rising costs of living. But according to free market purists, market competition should ensure low prices. Except that it doesn’t, especially if it results in large corporations expanding that they either become monopolies or conglomerates. Corporate increases in profits and size don’t translate into higher wages, more jobs, or lower prices. Nor will it benefit the economy or solve any of its problems. The Republican tax plan’s regressive nature is reason enough to oppose it. Should the United States run a deficit, then it shouldn’t be to reduce taxes paid by those at the top. Given recent economic developments, it’s especially irresponsible. Corporations are flush with cash thanks to large profits and aggressively low interest rates. But they’re not investing. Thus, these large tax cuts for corporations will have very little effect on the economy and only amplify the deleterious trends we’re still trying to comprehend.

I don’t doubt that the United States needs to reform its tax code. Wealthy Americans and corporations shouldn’t be the main beneficiaries in tax legislation. If anything, the rich should be made to pay more taxes as well as be held accountable for tax evasion and other financial shenanigans like everyone else. Should we need to eliminate deductions or benefits, let it be rich stuff like any measures pertaining to private jets. After all, if you could afford a private jet, you don’t need subsidies or tax breaks. In addition, we need to tax capital gains from which the wealthy primarily earn their money. The American people deserve better than an egregious tax scam that only benefits the few at the expense of the rest.

Have You No Sense of Decency?

On Thursday, November 9, 2017, the Washington Post revealed that Alabama Republican Senate frontrunner Roy Moore had allegedly made sexual advances on or engaged in sexual activity with a number of teen girls as young as 14 while in his 30s during the late 1970s. The next day, another woman came forward alleging that Moore sexually assaulted her at 16 and showed his signature on her high school yearbook as proof. For any politician, allegations of pedophilia would’ve resulted in nothing less than widespread condemnation and an end to their political careers. In an interview with Sean Hannity, Moore has called the Washington Post story, “completely false and misleading,” he said he “didn’t dispute” that he “dated a lot of young ladies.” He noted that he “recognized the names” of at least two of the women named in the Post investigation. On CNN, former prosecutor Tessa Jones stated, “it was common knowledge that Roy dated high school girls,” and that “everyone we knew thought it was weird.” She then added, “We wondered why someone his age would hang out at high school football games and the mall.” A dozen people in Gadsen, Alabama remarked on how Moore used to frequent the mall and was reportedly banned for trying to pick up teenage girls.

Not surprisingly, politicians from both parties are calling for Roy Moore to step down from the Senate race against Democrat Doug Jones. The Republican establishment has severed all ties to Moore. But Moore still has a chance to win while many of his supporters have remained noticeably silent. Those who did speak out dismissed the allegations as a Democratic plot or smear campaign and questioned the report’s timing weeks ahead of the December special election. His brother even compared the guy to Jesus. Others implied that Moore’s acts aren’t that bad because, according to Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler, “Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter.” He then added, “There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual.” Really? A little unusual? When Brietbart Milo Yiannopoulos earlier was caught speaking light on pedophilia, nobody remarked how it wasn’t illegal or immoral. In fact, he lost his book deal with Simon and Schuster, lost his spot at CPAC, lost speaking gigs, and had to resign from Brietbart. In short his career was ruined. But here we have Moore who’s reputed to date teenage girls and people rise to his defense.

To invoke Mary and Joseph to excuse pedophilia is absolutely disgusting on so many levels. First of all, it implies that Roy Moore’s desire and behavior toward these teenage girls was normal (even if the Alabama age of consent is 16). Except that a 30-some-year-old man’s conduct toward teen girls is not. In fact, an adult dating teenage girls is immoral and in some states illegal, especially if the girl is 14. If a grown man pursues teenage girls, it’s about control. Second, using religion to excuse such egregious behavior is nothing short of abhorrent whether it involves Mary and Joseph or not. People have used religion to justify so many horrid things like terrorism, slavery, oppression, as well as all-out war and genocide. Third, to use Mary and Joseph to explain child molestation accusations is a textbook example of blasphemy, especially among Catholics. Regardless of what you believe about these two, most Christians believe they didn’t have premarital sex. Mary was a virgin when she became pregnant with Jesus. Even if she was a teenage girl and he was an adult man, Joseph’s willingness to stay with the pregnant Mary wasn’t an endorsement of underage sex. Furthermore, Ziegler’s defensive statement totally ignores the cultural context of Mary and Joseph’s relationship.

Even without the sexual assault allegations, Roy Moore is a terrible candidate who shouldn’t have won the Republican Alabama Senate nomination in the first place. A former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, he’s best known for his history of fringe views, religious extremism, and refusal to obey federal court orders. He gained national spotlight by installing a large monument of the Ten Commandments in the state’s Supreme Court building and refused to remove it despite federal court orders, which resulted in his removal from office in 2003. But he ran for his old job in 2012 and won it back. But then in 2015, he refused enforce the US Supreme Court’s decision legalizing gay marriage which resulted in his suspension from the bench again and later his resignation. And while he once called being gay as “detestable,” his extremist views don’t just denigrate the LGBT community, He’s also stated that Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to serve in Congress and that some American communities in the Midwest lived under Sharia law. He’s even a birther while his foundation has held events for Neo-Confederates that “promoted a history of the Civil War sympathetic to the Confederate cause, in which the conflict is presented as one fought over the federal government violating the South’s sovereignty as opposed to one fought chiefly over the preservation of slavery.” In 2007, he proclaimed that state involvement in early childhood education was characteristic of totalitarianism. Then there’s a campaign speech over racial divisions in which he said, “Now we have blacks and whites fighting, reds and yellows fighting, Democrats and Republicans fighting, men and women fighting. What’s going to unite us? What’s going to bring us back together? A president? A Congress? No. It’s going to be God.” Stuff like that alone should make any candidate unelectable. But since Alabama is a deeply conservative state, it’s entirely possible that conservative Alabama voters will back Roy Moore despite everything. In fact, a recent poll showed that 29% of the state’s voters say the allegations make them more likely to vote for Moore because of the sexual allegations. Whatever that means, it’s not an encouraging sign.

Still, the fact Republicans stand by Roy Moore despite the recent sexual misconduct allegations is extremely troubling. Of course, Alabama Republicans are defending him because they don’t want that Senate seat to go to a Democrat, let alone a former US Attorney who successfully prosecuted the 2 remaining KKK perpetrators of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing which killed 4 black girls. Because that would mean weaker control of the US Senate. Since Donald Trump ran for president, the Republican Party seems to think that the ends justify the means, especially among his white evangelical supporters. During the 2016 campaign, a Public Religion Institute poll found that the percentage of white evangelicals who thought immoral personal acts should disqualify a candidate from office fell from 64% in 2011 to 49% in 2016. By this time, the culture wars have become so toxic that many evangelicals saw getting “their guy” in power is more important than ensuring that “their guy” lives up to evangelical Christian standards of sexual morality. Now this isn’t just apparent among conservative evangelicals, but these facts indicate where the Republican Party is going. Sure they may call themselves good holy Christians and indeed they may be. But their support for Moore seems like they’ve sold their souls to the Devil. You have to wonder if they have any sense of decency to dump this guy. Or are they just too keen about holding power to care.

Whether their candidates fail to denounce white supremacists, sexually assault women, steal from employees, beat up reporters, have no qualifications, run fake charities, commit rampant fraud, enlist foreign power to meddle in election campaigns, or sexually prey on teenage girls, Republican voters tend to excuse, defend, and/or vote for them. No matter how reprehensible a candidate, they’ll support that person if they believe the right things, are in their party, and give these voters what they want. Even if their candidate wasn’t the person they wanted, they’ll support them anyway since anyone is better than a Democrat. However, voting for a thoroughly despicable candidate who shouldn’t be in office will only make you seem like you’re abandoning your principles for your own selfish interests and don’t care about the consequences. Supporting a candidate like Roy Moore or Donald Trump in any capacity will only make other people think less of you, especially if they win and turn out to be as bad as people said they are or worse (like in Trump’s case). In fact, I already think less of the people I know who voted for Trump which include friends, relatives, neighbors, and others in my community because supporting that unrespectable man in any capacity is completely indefensible. Personal morality might not be everything. But if a candidate’s personal behavior pertains to neglecting responsibility or inflicting terrible harm on others, then they shouldn’t be elected to public office. And from how I see it, it would be better for the Republican Party if conservative voters in Alabama dump Roy Moore and let the Democrat win. It might not be politically expedient to do so, but at least it shows they have a shred of character that many of his vocal supporters seem to lack.

Signs of a Sociopath (with Donald Trump)

f5b80c7e02f2a97d8d607a49bfde8981

According to the Mayo Clinic, a sociopath is “a person with a psychopathic personality whose behavior is antisocial, often criminal, and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience.” Medical studies approximate that sociopaths consist of 4% of the population. Though we like to view them as serial killers and rapists on the 6 o’clock news, most live among us. It is possible you might know someone who’s a sociopath and not even be aware of it. They can be our neighbors, co-workers, friends, family members, and even our so-called “soul mates.” Most of the time you wouldn’t know how to identify a sociopath if you saw one. Since they’re usually members of a community people would never suspect of evil deeds and who can seamlessly blend into society like the rest of us. Nevertheless, sociopaths use and abuse people around them whether they be a serial killer, criminal, CEO, or anyone else. They may seem like normal or even likeable at first. But once they gain your trust through manipulation and lies, they will be your worst nightmare. Enter a romantic relationship with one, they will abuse you, neglect you, cheat on you, gaslight you, and break your heart. Do business with them, they will screw you out of the money and leave you having to take the fall. Be their friend and they’ll take every advantage of your kindness until you’re no longer useful to them. Work for them, and they’ll rule over you like a tyrant, exploiting you as they see fit as well as abusing their power for personal enrichment. Sociopaths can’t be trusted, can’t love you, and won’t own to their mistakes.

1295ckcomic-trump-con-man

Donald Trump has never been formally diagnosed as a sociopath. Nor do I have any professional credentials to make that diagnosis. Yet, he has exhibited the kind of behavior to merit such serious accusation that’s well worth considering. His Art of the Deal ghostwriter Tony Schwartz has a compelling case that Trump is this and he deeply regrets promoting his image. “I put lipstick on a pig,” he told the New Yorker in 2016. “I feel a deep sense of remorse that I contributed to presenting Trump in a way that brought him wider attention and made him more appealing than he is.” To have a president who’s a sociopath is very scary and dangerous prospect. Already he has put the United States at grave risk of involving it in a war and undermining democracy itself. So much so that Trump’s presidency presents an emergency not only allowing, but possibly requiring, psychiatrists to deviate from the Goldwater Rule, which holds that it’s unethical for shrinks to give professional opinions about public figures without examining them in person. This year, 27 psychiatrists, psychologists, and mental health professionals assessed Trump’s mental health based on his speech and behavior over the long course of his public life and conclude he’s a serious danger to the US and the world. And they argue that his mental health is affecting American people’s mental outlook. In October they released their findings in a book called The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump. Even so, I bring my compelling case to state that Donald Trump is a sociopath based on these findings. Nevertheless, Trump is a very dangerous human being who shouldn’t be trusted. Though he claims to be a successful businessman with the best brain, he’s nothing but a complete and total fraud who wouldn’t be where he is if he wasn’t rich. He is and never will be your friend. He has no conscience and has no respect for America, its democratic values, or its people. He abuses his power for his own self-enrichment. To support him is to enable his destructive behavior to wreak havoc on the US and the world. And to have him as President of the United States is morally indefensible and supporting him should never be tolerated.

1. Superficial Charm-Sociopaths know they don’t have a conscious and don’t feel the same love, empathy, and remorse “neurotypical” people do. To conceal their “strangeness” and get what they want from others, they learn how to “pass” in society. As they mimic “neurotypical” people, they become adept at charming them through “mirroring” those they meet. In other words, they get to know and use what they know about them in order to appear to have the same interests and values. Sociopaths can also mimic non-sociopaths’ facial expressions to more effectively charm them. In the beginning, being mirrored can be quite enchanting. But it’s just a mask they wear in order to get what they want from you. As you get to know them better, the superficial charm wears down as the victim starts noticing red flags such as lying and cheating. Such awareness creates a cognitive dissonance or a feeling that the image the sociopath projects doesn’t reflect their actual self. Though a sociopath’s victim might find cognitive dissonance rather confusing and disturbing. But it’s a sign of emotional abuse though victims mentally push it away. (Even I can’t doubt that Donald Trump is a very effective self-promoter who has been able to resonate with a significant legion of loyal supporters. Even before that, he was able to convince enough people to invest or work in his business projects even if they got nothing in the end. Still, whenever you hear anything bad about Trump from the media, expect Trump voters to view it as fake news. Still, those who believe and trust in Trump with running the country are enabling him to inflict his destructive tendencies on the American people, if not the world.)

2. Glibness– To be glib is to speak seemingly off the cuff but often to deceive. Sociopaths can use jokes, puns, and deflections to avoid serious discussions about real problems. Though it may seem unintentional, it’s not and it’s a sign the sociopath wants to move the conversation away from difficult issues which they don’t want to address head-on. (Donald Trump has often attacked his opponents personally or ignite some controversy to distract the media from negative press about him or his policies. Or when approached on some matter he really doesn’t want to discuss. Let’s just say glibness is Trump’s PR strategy and it’s one that works for his supporters. He may seem like he’s speaking from the heart at his rallies, but he has deceitful ends for doing so.)

3. Egoism– Sociopaths have swollen egos with narcissistic features and often see their lack of emotional depth and incapacity to love as weapons in their private (and sometimes public) wars they wage against those they want to manipulate and/or ruin. They feel an “edge” over non-sociopaths who feed into their sense of superiority. Since society often rewards those moving through life with an obvious self-love, their incredible confidence might seem exciting at first. Thanks to their sheer impact of their epic and outsized self-confidence, younger sociopaths tend to reap quite a few rewards and open a lot of doors. Signs of a narcissistic ego include bragging about their looks, vanity, bragging about positive encounters with celebrities or other VIPs, and bragging about sexual performance and/or exploits. Though the braggart might initially come across as a lovable clown, their potent egoism extends to grandiosity and indicates that something is really wrong with them. A sociopath’s sense of their own abilities and looks is insanely elevated which means they will put others on lower rungs. In other words, you will be below them and so will everyone else. You are there to be led by a puppet-master who’s chosen you as his toy. Sociopaths also enjoy belittling others and this type of bullying is indicative of egoism. Many sociopaths may give clues to who they really are, even if they frame it as a joke. If they call themselves “bad” or “evil,” they’re actually bragging what’s inside and want this darkness recognized. (Egoism is Donald Trump’s defining trait. He often notes how he’s such a good businessman or how smart he is. And yes, he’s bragged about his looks, positive encounters with celebrities, and even his sex life. Not to mention, his incessant bullying of those who challenge or criticize him is legendary. His insanely inflated ego might make comedians look forward to see him as a joke before he ran for president. But anyone who’s been on the receiving end of his attacks or exploits sees his excessive egoism as much more sinister.)

4. Grandiosity– This refers to a sustained view of oneself as better than everyone which causes the individual to view others with disdain or as inferior and sometimes reaching to delusional proportions. To spot grandiosity, look for disdain in others. A sociopath may regularly make racist statements. They may relate to individuals or creatures notorious for inflicting significant damage to humanity or God like the Devil, gangsters, or war criminals. (It’s very clear that Donald Trump has a disdain for others including people who support him. He’s made appallingly racist statements in public to the glee of white supremacists. He has spoken highly of dictators notorious for inflicting human rights abuses and suppressing civil liberties like Vladimir Putin, for instance.)

5. High Sensation Seeker– Sociopaths live in a state of constant boredom since their inner lives are virtually non-existent. Most of them seek out constant stimulation to make up for emotions they can’t feel as well as the dulled emotions they do. Since any feelings they do experience like lust, anger, irritation, envy, and fleeting happiness are usually quite weak, flickering into their consciousness before dissipating as quickly as they come. Since fleeting emotions come and go so rapidly to leave them empty, sociopaths find boredom as their biggest challenge in life. The most powerful emotion a sociopath feels is anger. Hell, they may even like to be angry since it’s better to feel something than so little (as they typically do). A sociopath may try to access sensation through creating drama and chaos on purpose and at frequent intervals. A lot of a sociopath’s bad behavior, including lawbreaking, cheating, and mind games (or worse), are related to alleviating boredom and accessing higher sensations. And since they don’t feel bad about what they do, they’re able to push things to the edge. Still, sensation-seeking can happen in many ways like juggling multiple romantic relationships, reckless driving, substance abuse, or seeking out deviant adventures in riskier locales. (Unlike many sociopaths, Donald Trump doesn’t drink {though there are rumors he uses cocaine}. However, he often creates drama and chaos through this Twitter rants over things he doesn’t like or his feuds with the media and celebrities. He’s also a sexual predator known to cheat on his wives. Not to mention, Tony Schwartz has told the New Yorker that he has a stunningly short attention span, “Trump has been written about a thousand ways from Sunday, but this fundamental aspect of who he is doesn’t seem to be fully understood. It’s implicit in a lot of what people write, but it’s never explicit—or, at least, I haven’t seen it. And that is that it’s impossible to keep him focused on any topic, other than his own self-aggrandizement, for more than a few minutes, and even then.”)

6. Frequent and Compulsive Lying– Sociopaths lie constantly to everyone in their lives, even when it’s not strictly necessary. In fact, people may begin to suspect that someone in their life is more evil than anticipated because they’ve uncovered lies. Things stop adding up because words and actions don’t agree. Once you get to know a sociopath, they often seem shady and dishonorable. A sociopath often wears a different mask customized just for the people in their lives since it’s all about manipulation and reputation management. Some lower-functioning sociopaths have great difficulty getting their lives straight and will try to rewrite history or change the subject if called out. A sociopath will lie to protect oneself to from the exposure they dread above all else. They will lie to manipulate people to give them what they want and keep them under their control. They don’t love or respect the people around them. They might like them, but they’re just simply pawns to be used to get what the sociopath wants. And they take equal advantage of everyone. Their desire to win for rewards often drive their lies. When someone believes them, the sociopath feels an addictive surge of raw power that might be seen as a pure sensation taking away the sense of “black hole” where a loving heart and conscience should be. (This is another one of Donald Trump’s defining traits. He constantly breaks promises he’s made, most of which he never intended to follow through in the first place. He peddles conspiracy theories on his Twitter feed, even if they’re blatantly ridiculous and thoroughly debunked. He propagates false, often malicious stories while using his time-honored high office to blame and squash high level public servants, judges, and his own subordinates. He constantly tries to discredit the media whenever they release negative stories about him. His dishonest in his business dealings is shocking and unprecedented as he’s been a defendant in thousands of lawsuits brought upon by service providers and vendors whom he failed to pay for services rendered to him or his business organizations. And it’s abundantly clear that failing/refusing to pay vendors is part of Trump’s business model. As Tony Schwartz said about him, “Lying is second nature to him. More than anyone else I have ever met, Trump has the ability to convince himself that whatever he is saying at any given moment is true, or sort of true, or at least ought to be true.” As of writing this in 2017, the Washington Post fact-checkers determined that Trump has chalked up 1,100 false and misleading claims in the first 10 months of his presidency. These include outrageous lies about Obama bugging his phones and his inauguration crowd size.)

7. No Guilt or Sense of Responsibility– Lacking a guilty conscience, a sociopath can move from one bad act or another without feeling any sense of moral wrongness or personal responsibility. Sociopaths can’t feel your pain unless they make a conscience effort to do so, which doesn’t happen very often. This guiltlessness is accompanied by lack of shame and no sense of responsibility. And it’s one of the primary reasons why most sociopaths seem extremely immature. It’s like they’re adults frozen in a permanent adolescence since they lack the emotional tools to learn from experience. They might claim they want to do better in the future and sound very believable saying so. But they can’t learn for their impulsiveness and desire to win at the game of life always leads them repeating the same mistakes and following the same patterns. Since guilt doesn’t touch them, they can’t mature. Sociopaths are wild creatures who only focus satisfying their base appetites and urges. In their inner lives, their absence of shame, guilt, remorse makes them dangerous individuals whether they’re violent or not. One red flag to watch for is a sociopath who tells you about morally questionable things they’ve done without a shred of guilt. A textbook example of a someone to watch out for would be a man who matter-of-factly tells you how he walked out on his family and devastated them. And he places all the blame on the spouse left behind. Because to a sociopath, anyone who has a problem with them is insane. While people who are guilty examine their own role in things and understand there are at least 2 sides, a sociopath can’t understand in emotional sense, how other people feel. Nor will they feel guilty about anything that happens. This chilling sense of “disconnect” from actions which hurt others (demonstrating a total lack of empathy) is a prime indicator of sociopathy. (This is a defining trait of Donald Trump who feels absolutely no guilt, shame, remorse, or sense of responsibility for his actions. Throughout his life, he’s done truly mindboggling and reprehensible shit that’s hurt hundreds of people over the decades such as family members he’s mistreated, employees he hasn’t paid, investors he’s swindled, and so many others. He never apologizes for any missteps or intemperate attacks and has demonstrated a remarkable lack of empathy for people he’s attacked, injured, or harmed. Nor has he taken any responsibility for all the bad stuff he’s save from settling a lawsuit to evade more serious charges. And due to his impulsiveness and desire to win, Trump has never learned from his mistakes nor cares to. As president, he’s been no different. As for talking about morally questionable things he’s done without a shred of guilt, well, check out his Access Hollywood interview with Billy Bush in which bragged about sexually assaulting women. The first part recounts how he failed to seduce Nancy O’Dell in which he said, “I moved on her, and I failed. I’ll admit it. I did try and fuck her. She was married. And I moved on her very heavily. In fact, I took her out furniture shopping. She wanted to get some furniture. I said, “I’ll show you where they have some nice furniture.” I took her out furniture—I moved on her like a bitch. But I couldn’t get there. And she was married. Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything. She’s totally changed her look.” Later referring to Arianne Zucker whom he and Bush were about to meet, he told the guy, “I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.” As Americans, we must acknowledge that Trump’s unwillingness to own up to his mistakes makes him a very dangerous man in the White House.)

8. Shallow Emotions– Sociopaths do shocking and horrible acts whether leading double lives, stealing money from other’s savings account, or sabotaging others at the workplace may not be readily apparent or discovered for years. Part of the problem is that sociopaths don’t feel all emotions while the ones they do feel are fleeting. In their world, emotions don’t carry much weight save for anger and even that doesn’t last long. To illustrate this further let’s take a real ear and a cochlear implant. Now the human ear processes thousands of sounds with thousands of “channels.” Whereas a cochlear implant is only a synthetic version of an ear with only a fraction of a real ear’s channels. In regard to emotions, the sociopath is a cochlear implant while you’re (assuming you’re not a sociopath) are the real ear. Both may seem alike but they’re very different. A non-sociopath experiences emotional richness and depth. The sociopath doesn’t have it. For people to understand each other, they must be able to share one another’s emotional range. When they can’t the relationship is doomed in only a matter of time. While many sociopaths would like to feel what the rest of us feel instead of knowing they’re on the outside, most are quite happy to be sociopaths. So you shouldn’t pity them. Since they use pity to control other people and they don’t love those they control. Sociopaths don’t have the capacity for authentic love. Sure they might believe they’re in love in a romantic relationship, but their idea of love is mostly about lust, fleeting infatuation, and possessing and controlling another. That’s not love like other people feel it. (Other than anger {or possibly lust}, there are few emotions Donald Trump seems to display with any great intensity. He’s admitted that he doesn’t even cry. Nor has there ever been any evidence he’s ever been in love with anyone or even understands it himself. To say that Trump has an emotional shallowness similar Lord Voldemort isn’t much of a stretch. Nevertheless, since anyone can fake emotion to people who don’t even know them, only Trump and those closest to him know if he has any capacity for love. But I highly doubt this.)

9. Empathy-Free– Since sociopaths typically don’t even bother to put themselves in anyone’s shoes, they don’t experience a sense of humanity and oneness. Thy can’t feel sympathy for others or understand the emotional consequences of their actions. Though studies have shown they can turn empathy on and off, theirs is mostly in the default “Off” setting. Everyday con artists are all too happy to trick others into giving them things under false pretenses. Since they don’t emotionally understand how other people feel, they make false promises without feeling the pain of those they deceive. Sociopaths make lots of promises and these promises just don’t come through. Whether it’s a man who talks about marriage to his girlfriend but never manages to make it to the altar. Or a coworker who promises you credit on a big project then stabs you in a back. False promises are indicative of sociopathy. (Donald Trump’s record of false promises is absolutely staggering. He constantly makes promises often with no intention to follow through with them. As a businessman he’s hired people for his projects with no intention of paying them for their work. He’s promised to donate to charity countless times despite that he runs his Trump Foundation as a personal piggy bank with other people’s money. Then there are plenty of promises on the campaign trail he’s already broken, particularly when they pertain to healthcare, jobs, or draining the swamp. Then there’s the time when he mocked Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer for crying “fake tears” during his Muslim ban condemnation. Never mind that Schumer’s great-grandmother and seven of her children died during the Holocaust. A president who makes life-or-death decisions on a daily basis without comprehending the possibility of what another person might experience is a very scary thing. Trump has shown a profound lack of empathy on several occasions during his presidency, sometimes to mindboggling proportions. He has no sense of shame and spews rhetoric that’s often degrading, disingenuous, or sarcastic. He gains satisfaction from mocking people and thinks mercilessly degrading opponents makes him tough. He casually brags about forcing unwanted sexual contact on women. Sorry, Trump supporters, but your man doesn’t feel your pain or ever will.)

10. Trivial Sex Life– If you’re on a date, one thing to watch for is someone who stares at the opposite sex a lot while you’re out and about. If that person seems on the prowl, even when with a partner, they’re seeking sexual attention which is akin to narcissistic behavior. It’s called the predatory stare which is about inappropriate eye contact which can make you feel quite uncomfortable like you’re their next meal. Since sociopaths don’t have deep emotions, they may use sex to kill the boredom and in order to enjoy sensation. Combine this lack of depth with higher-than-average testosterone levels and vaulting egos, it’s no surprise that most sociopaths are promiscuous. And since they want higher and higher levels of sensation, they may become sexual deviants. This means cheating, using prostitutes, sleeping with people under the age of consent, sex tourism, and so on. Sex will be skillful yet not emotional. We should also note that promiscuity is such a common trait in sociopaths that it’s one of the factors psychiatrists look for when diagnosing the condition. (Tales of Donald Trump’s sexual exploits are the stuff of tabloid legend. He’s bragged about multiple infidelities and sexually assaulting women. Not to mention, he’s had plenty of sexual assault allegations against him, one pertaining to raping a 13-year-old girl. Oh, and let’s not forget the one about the prostitutes peeing on him at the Moscow Ritz Carlton presidential suite. Or how he liked to frequent beauty pageant contestants dressing rooms, especially if they consisted of teenage girls. Then there’s the infamous Billy Bush tape where he said “grab em’ by the pussy.”)

11. Conduct Problems Prior to Age 15– Sociopathy starts young and manifests in one way or another before age 15. Teens might be diagnosed with Conduct Disorder. Others may have no formal diagnosis, but they may have trouble following rules at school and home. They may show general disrespect for the truth, parents, siblings, and authority figures. Quite often, but not always, a juvenile delinquent is a budding sociopath. Some young sociopaths hurt animals and don’t understand why it’s wrong until they’re told. Others are violent with people. All will be rule-breakers and most will experiment alcohol and drugs, along with sexual contact long before their peers. To find an adult sociopath who wasn’t a problem child is rare. (Donald Trump has bragged about punching his music teacher in the face when he was in 2nd grade and almost got expelled over it. As he “wrote” in The Art of the Deal, “In the second grade…I punched my music teacher because I didn’t think he knew anything about music….I’m not proud of that, but it’s clear evidence that even early on I had a tendency to stand up and make my opinions known in a very forceful way.” Of course, there’s no evidence he did this since people who knew him denied the story. Childhood friends and teachers describe the young Trump falling into a crowd of boys “who pulled girls’ hair, passed notes, and talked out of turn.” In fact, he ended up in detention so often that his friends nicknamed the punishment, “D.T.” Steve Nachtigall said he once saw Trump and his friends jump off their bikes and beat up another boy. He told the Washington Post, “It’s kind of like a little video snippet that remains in my brain because I think it was so unusual and terrifying at that age.” Furthermore, his father sent him to the New York Military Academy when he was 13 to straighten him out and keep him out of the trouble he liked to get into as a boy.)

12. Sadism and Mind Games– People with empathy don’t enjoy hurting others while a sociopath does. Even those they legitimately enjoy spending time with will be subject to sadism and mind games. If you know someone who seems to enjoy hurting you like a cat with a toy mouse and you find the mind games monotonous and repetitive, it might be time to cut them off from your life if you can. Sociopaths enjoy degrading, humiliating, dominating, damaging and belittling others. (Donald Trump seems to have a certain bloodlust as long as he’s not the one getting beat up. He’s endorsed and condoned police brutality as well as denigrated football players for kneeling during the national anthem to peacefully protest it. He’s repeatedly given license to his base to inflict violence. In fact, during a presidential campaign, Trump stated that he’d pay the legal costs of a thug who attacked a black protestor. He seems to revel in producing representations of violence suggesting it as how to deal with the “fake news” media that hold him accountable for his actions and policies. His domestic policies have been designed not only to harm or kill but also to instill fear through intimidation or coercion in specific populations. Not to mention, despite calling himself pro-life, his policies emanate what Pope Francis has indicated, “an economy that kills.” Trump relishes using violence and warmongering brutality to inflict humiliation and pain on people. Then there are the mind games in which he inflicts on the populace he continuously gaslights with conspiracy theories on a regular basis whenever his team’s embroiled in scandal. All too often.)

13. Has Few Friends– Sociopaths tend to have few friends, at least not real ones anyway. As psychiatrist Ross Rosenberg noted, Sociopaths don’t want friends, unless they need them. Or all of their friends are superficially connected with them, friends by association.” We should also note that many sociopaths have many short-term marriages which might begin with them idealizing them before devaluing and ultimately discarding them for a newer and more interesting partner. Since they never truly bond with their spouses, walking away from a marriage or relationship is quite effortless. And they’ll blame the relationship’s failure on their ex. (Most of Donald Trump’s relationships appear transactional. Whenever any of his associates get into trouble, he will deny he even knew them.)

14. Shows Disregard for Societal Norms– Sociopaths break rules and laws because they don’t believe society’s rules apply to them. A run of them mill spoiled brat may eventually learn that everyone needs to follow rules to be a part of society. A sociopath never does. They do what they need to gain pleasure which remains about all that keeps them in line. Because for a sociopath, rules are for other people, not them. They may not be a problem for the law but they will seek loopholes to rise to positions of power or move to another area where their behavior is tolerated. (Donald Trump has shown this time and time again. He has skirted rules and norms whenever it’s convenient for him. He doesn’t pay his workers. He’s used his charity as a personal piggy bank with other people’s money. He’s profiting off his presidency which is a clear violation of the Emoluments Clause in the US Constitution. He’s never released his recent tax returns. As a businessman, he’s used money and attorneys to find loopholes to bail himself out of several lawsuits generated from the infamous Trump University scam. As we speak, there are investigations currently determining whether if Trump or his campaign made illegal deals with the Russian government regarding possible tampering in the 2016 campaign. Let’s just say, if Trump can get away with breaking the law or social norm, he’ll surely do so.)

15. Explosive Temper– When things don’t go the way a sociopath has planned, they react in explosive anger. Even if the ugly meltdown was over a minor sleight whether real or imaginary. Such anger stems from the fact the inner narcissist is seemingly out of control with their surroundings which doesn’t jive with their worldview. Sociopaths can get mean if they’re challenged or if someone gets in the way of their goal. With domestic violence, you’ll see verbal and physical aggression again and again. Outside of a relationship, they might have road rage or constantly get into arguments. They can turn mean but only if challenged or if someone gets in the way of their goals. A sociopath’s charm usually covers their anger tendencies. But when it’s off and targeted at you, then God help you. (Donald Trump’s explosive anger is legendary which erupts whenever things don’t go his own way as reflected on his Twitter feed. Even before his presidency, he’s been known for this. He’s sued or threatened to sue people for criticizing or challenging him. One instance has him beating up Donald Jr. in college for not wearing a suit for a baseball game. He’s exploded over people making jokes about him to ridiculous levels. The New York Times lists 382 people, places, and things Trump has insulted on Twitter.)

16. Has Major Problems with Criticism– Sociopaths are extremely hostile to criticism since they often desire approval from others and may even feel like they’re entitled to it. They exercise extreme hypersensitivity when they feel, slighted, criticized, or challenged. They can’t tolerate weakness being highlighted by anyone speaking to them in a manner implying they’re inferior. And many will attack anyone they feel committed such an infraction. Question their behavior and they will react with anger or rage. (Donald Trump can’t tolerate any form of criticism no matter how slight and he is vindictive in the extreme. He often calls negative media stories about him as “fake news.” His obvious animosity towards reporters who “fabricate” stories manifesting by his thirst for taunting them. He uses hit and run tweets to demean, embarrass, and attack all who criticize him but lacks courage to hold Q&A press conferences for fear of being challenged over his wild assertions. His staff is also afraid to criticize him. He likes to brag but usually blames his failures on others. Also, erupts in Twitter tantrums over people joking about him. Also, take note on how his cabinet seems to praise him during meetings. There’s also evidence that hasn’t been yet publicly disseminated is that Trump has misused New York City Police Department officers to retaliate against his perceived enemies in New York City and to harass and threaten his opponents’ personal safety. This is a man who doesn’t take criticism well, like at all.)

17. Induces Drama Fatigue– Sociopaths’ behavior is so strange and outrageous that you actually become desensitized to things that would otherwise deeply upset you. Essentially, your “baseline normal” begins shifting to accommodate their increasingly abnormal behavior. And that’s when they start causing the real damage. Then they will induce fear to gradually wear you down to accept their control through a cycle of emotional and possibly physical abuse. (Donald Trump has put the United States through his crazy antics since he began running for president. Whether drama fatigue has set in at this point, I’m not exactly sure. However, the Republican establishment’s “baseline normal” has significantly shifted to accommodate Trump’s increasingly abnormal behavior just to get what they want. And since they control all 3 branches of the federal government, the country has to live with it for the time being.)

18. Gaslighting- A sociopath may say or do things before blatantly denying those things ever took place. In essence, they reinvent history and blame you for “misinterpreting” them. Their gaslighting clouds your sense of reality that you soon doubt yourself. Thus, you become more vulnerable to their manipulation. (Donald Trump has been gaslighting America on a regular basis since 2015. He peddles conspiracy theories. He’s denied telling some of his own lies. Thankfully, he’s not always successful thanks to video cameras catching him in the act. But he has the right-wing media to convince his supporters to take him at his word.)

19. Polarized Reputation– Sociopaths love to turn people against each other, especially if it results in a fight over them. By turning you against people you might otherwise get along with, you start thinking in extremes. Once your thinking slips from gray to black and white, sociopaths are able to paint “enemies” as good guys and bad guys. This keeps their victims divided and distracted. Sociopaths don’t want people to like or get along with each other and will try to “divide and conquer.” (Donald Trump is very polarizing figure who never misses an opportunity to inflict his appalling racism, conspiracy theories, or inflammatory rhetoric to fuel hyper partisan political polarization. His attacks on the national anthem protests are a prime example of this. So, Democrats, even if reaching out to Trump voters gets you nowhere, you should probably make some concerted effort to do so as a way to resist him.)

20. Intentionally Provokes Reactions– Sociopaths intentionally provoke reactions in you and then blame you for reacting. Causing you to become “hysterical” or to act “crazy,” enables them to write you off as an unstable loon or worse. And they’ll do this by preying on people’s suspicions, insecurities and resentments. They’ll often play the victim after provoking you, shifting people’s focus on you, and away from their behavior. They will turn people against each other if it works in their behavior even if it means destroying families, friendships, relationships, marriages, and entire communities. A good example in this is Iago engineering brawls to ensure Cassio’s ruin and preying on Othello’s insecurities by alleging that his wife is cheating on him. Nevertheless, Shakespeare’s Othello is a perfect example of how sociopaths can bring out the absolute worst in the people around them and ruin their lives. Everything a sociopath touches will go to shit. (Donald Trump does this all the time whenever there’s a negative story about him in order to deflect or distract people from more serious matters. Hell, he became president through tapping into white people’s racial resentment and xenophobia. His tendency to provoke reactions from people is dividing the country and undermining American democracy as we speak. Like Iago, Trump’s provocations will only divide us further and eventually destroy us all.)

21. Parasitic Lifestyle– Sociopaths really can’t see the point of working hard for long hours and little pay. There are far easier ways for them to get things for free. Often they’ll see their romantic partners as their career option. As Dating a Sociopath notes, “He will give glib promises, of how he will repay you, how special you are. You are made to feel like he is doing you a huge favor. He tells lies, so that you think that he isn’t just some deadbeat loser. He will talk of business plans, or a great career, and that maybe he is just temporarily down on his luck. But he sells you a good, honest moralistic man, with great prospects (it is all a lie).” Cary Grant’s performance in Suspicion offers a perfect example of this. Sociopaths love getting anything for free. They see it as “winning” and it makes them feel good for 2 reasons. First, it shows how stupid people are (and therefore, how clever they are to fool them). Second, it enables them to have the very best in life, with very little stress, effort, responsibility, or commitment. By the way, all sociopaths do this even those who work. You can even include high functioning sociopaths like certain politicians who put in false claims for expenses and live off a great life at the taxpayers’ bill. (Despite claiming to be a successful businessman, Donald Trump has often sought plenty of government funds to build his projects for decades. Even when the money was certainly meant for someone else like small businesses in New York City after 9/11. He has profited from his own presidential campaign. As president, he’s all too happy to spend his weekends at his resorts profiting off his Secret Service protection on the taxpayers’ dime.)

22. Is Very Dramatic– Sociopaths are always dramatic. In fact, they love drama and are drawn to it like magnets. They tell big stories filled with manipulation and deceit. They appear as larger than life characters who are always charming with a story to tell. They love to be the center of attention. They don’t mind having dramas or whoever has to put up with them because they simply don’t care. You often find sociopaths either dramatically telling lies, manipulating, deceiving, being dramatic victims, or dramatically pleading that they’ll change. Whatever they do, they’ll always appear larger than life. And if there isn’t any drama, they will create some. (Donald Trump thrives on drama as anyone could see on the news or on his Twitter feed. He always has to peddle conspiracy theories pertaining to his critics and opponents.)

23. Immaturity– Sociopaths are typically immature since they can’t learn from their past, keep repeating the same mistakes. Thus, they are unable to grow up and act in a more mature way that has respect for other people. Sociopaths don’t care for the rights of others. But they may pretend to act responsible and caring if it gets them what they want. Like a bratty teen, sociopaths are demanding and very selfish. They only think about their own needs and think the entire world revolves around them. Thus, a sociopath will never put other people’s needs before their own. (Donald Trump acts incredibly immature and never learns from his mistakes. He always thinks the world revolves around him and will only act nice if it gives him what he wants. He may seem like he cares about his supporters or the United States. But though he may demand loyalty from those below him, don’t expect him to give it in return. Trump is a very selfish man who sees nothing wrong with abusing his power to get what he wants even if it means destroying people’s lives, undermining the democratic process, or emboldening white supremacists. And he is certainly abusing his presidential office to personally enrich himself.)

24. Has No Realistic Long-Term Goals– Sociopaths don’t make long term goals like everybody else since they’re so busy lying, cheating, manipulating, and scamming. Unless given an easy route to working, many think work is beneath them and treat it with contempt. Sociopaths who work can rarely hold down a job for too long as they don’t like routine or being told what to do. And often they lose their jobs or have a history of trouble in the workplace. It’s not that they don’t work hard, they do but only in scamming and cheating others for themselves. And because sociopaths are so consumed in the present drama, what’s going on the next few months doesn’t seem important. They’ll lie today and not think how it will affect them in the future. (Donald Trump doesn’t really plan ahead or think about the destructive long-term implications of his actions. As long as it gives him immediate gratification or benefit, that’s all that matters to him. He also detests being told what to do.)

25. Jealousy and Paranoia– Sociopaths are extremely jealous and paranoid. They’ll accuse you of things you haven’t done (that they often have done). And you’ll feel you often have to constantly defend yourself against false accusations. They also stalk their principal targets as well as suspect other people of being as manipulative, deceitful, and unscrupulous as themselves. They will check on their partners and keep track of where they are and who they’re with. If their significant other speaks to someone of the opposite sex, then the sociopath will ask several questions on how they know that person. If their victims don’t answer their calls, they’ll ask where they were, what they were doing, who they were talking to, etc. (Donald Trump has displayed some degree of paranoia and jealousy, especially towards Barack Obama. Trump sees Obama beneath him being the kind of racist he is {I mean he once alleged he wasn’t born in the US for years}. He can’t stand the idea that Obama is a far more loved and respected than he ever could be. So much so that he’ll try to destroy Obama’s presidential legacy out of spite. As for paranoia, well, he certainly thinks the mainstream media has it out for him.)

26. Always Blames Someone Else for Their Transgressions – Since they completely lack remorse, guilt, or shame and will never admit to their wrongdoings if caught. Instead, they will blame someone else for their actions or ignore their victims and their pain before moving on. They may experience a sociopathic, narcissistic meltdown which will make you see signs of insanity. But they will not care how you feel. Because a sociopath feels they’re never to blame, everything is someone else’s fault. (Donald Trump will always blame the news media for making up stories about him whenever they portray him in a negative light. He’ll blame Republicans for failing to pass policy that he endorsed. He’ll blame Democrats for conspiring against him. He’ll even blame his victims for getting into their terrible situations in the first place. But he’ll never own up to his mistakes or take responsibility for his actions.)

27. Unpredictability– Sociopaths can seem to change their entire personality depending on the situation. In fact, they may like a lot of change in their atmosphere which might include changing team members, jobs, opinions and relationships. They can dramatically shift from friendly neighbor to cold, dispassionate stranger. Sociopaths can alter who they seemingly are to get what they apparently want given on how well they believe that specific mask will benefit them at the time. (Donald Trump often adapts the kind of personality that will most help him at some moments, particularly when he’s on his best behavior with dignitaries.)

28. Public Contempt for Social Inferiors– A sociopath views everyone beneath them. But there are some people who they view as more inferior than others. In fact, a sociopath might see these people as so beneath them that they don’t even bother to hide their true selves to them. Normally, these public targets are poor people, ethnic minorities, those in the LGBT community, or people with disabilities, many of whom the rest of society doesn’t think much of. And if it helps him, he’ll use that bigotry to tap into people’s resentment and get what he wants. A good example of this would be a seemingly charming and likeable guy you meet at a restaurant for a date. He may seem nice talking to you. But if he epically flips out at the waiter for whatever reason, then that’s a clear red flag he’s not a good guy. Yet, since you’re receptive to his superficial charm, you might just ignore it. After all, you really like the guy who seems to have a lot in common with you. And perhaps maybe that waiter didn’t give you adequate service. Sure he might be all charm to sweep you off your feet. But if he treats that waiter like garbage, chances are he will treat you like shit somewhere down the line, too. And maybe worse. Besides, if he’s willing to inflict harm on marginalized groups, chances are he’ll put you through hell, too. (Donald Trump often talks crap on undocumented immigrants, Muslims, blacks, and other groups of people he doesn’t like. His supporters love it since his hateful screeds seem to resonate with them, while tapping into the vast reservoir of white racial resentment won him the White House. However, it’s very clear that he doesn’t think much of his supporters’ real needs and will only appeal to his base with racist screeds so he could exploit their anger and bigotry. Yet, he’ll support plutocratic policies that the GOP establishment and their donors want because that’s who’s giving him money.)

29. Isn’t Nice to the Waiter– You can tell a lot about how a person will behave in the future by how they treat others who aren’t immediately useful to them. Those who are uncaring and unethical to others will most likely also be that way to you when you no longer serve their interests. In a romantic relationship during the dating phase, the sociopath will treat a waitstaff or any other neutral person of the opposite sex the way they’ll treat you in the next 6 months. They may treat you like a prize in the honeymoon phase. But even during that time, the sociopath hasn’t forgotten how they feel actually feel about the opposite sex. They will treat waitstaff, clerks, and other neutral individuals badly. If they’re cheap, you’ll never receive anything once the honeymoon’s over. If they whine, complain, criticize, and torment, they’ll do the same to you come 6 months later. They lack consistency in their “good” behavior because for them “goodness” is only a façade. How they treat people has strictly to do with that person’s perceived use value. When people are useful to the sociopath, they will treat them (superficially) well. When they aren’t, they ignore and mistreat them. (Donald Trump is only nice to people who are useful to him and can give them what he wants. When he feels their association doesn’t benefit him, he will drop them with a drop of a hat. In fact, he will distance himself from them, pretending they weren’t very significant or denying that he knew them at all.)

30. Shows a Pattern of Misbehavior– Though we may all have road rage or fantasize about being a famous movie star or inventor, that will only happen to us once in awhile. With a sociopath, these things happen over and over again. Sociopathy is a personality disorder that manifests at work, school, with friends, while they’re young, during adolescence, and in adulthood. Unless you observe that jerk at the office in all aspects of their lives, it’s impossible to see if their attitude just might be an ill temper at work or signs of a darker issue. Sociopaths may learn how to adapt but they can never change and see no reason to. (Though since Donald Trump is a public figure, we can observe him in all aspects of work. And whenever he’s in a position of authority, he’s consistently abused his power whether he’s head of the Trump Organization or in the White House. Just look at his articles the media has written about him. You’ll find he’s basically the same person now as he was then.)

31. Plays the Victim– Sociopaths are experts at manipulating emotions and insecurities into causing you to view them as the victim. This helps lowers your guard and makes you vulnerable to future exploitation. Because when we feel sorry for someone, we can easily excuse their transgressions. Sociopaths use this manipulation tactic precisely for this reason since it lets them off the hook for egregious behavior they’ve engaged in for selfish reasons. If a person’s victim mentality is continually combined with unacceptable and evil actions, you should be wary of their real nature. Think Eric Cartman in South Park. (Donald Trump does this all the time to his supporters whenever the media reports anything negative about him. He will often try to discredit them as “fake news” who work for the liberal agenda. Even though reporting negative stuff about him just happens to be part of the mainstream media’s freaking job.)

32. Is All Take and No Give– Sociopaths are selfish people who seek constant attention and adoration, even from total strangers. If you’re in a relationship with a sociopath, your wants and desires will take a backseat, particularly after the honeymoon’s over. Your basic boundaries will not be respected. But there will be absolutely no tolerance for the reverse. Partners of sociopaths often find that when they engage in normal inquiries regarding their absence or requests to discontinue their rudeness and aggression in which the sociopath lashes out. And since they have very little tolerance for a secondary position, sociopaths will tread boundaries in most of their relationships, including professional ones. They may refer to their doctor or attorney by their first name because they want to remove any possible power differential they feel between themselves and others. (Donald Trump is a phenomenally selfish individual who has no respect for people’s needs or constitutional rights. But at the same time, he’s very secretive about his finances, particularly his tax returns. Then there’s the fact he holds rallies and has to have people shower him with praise.)

33. Exhibits Poor Self-Control– Since they live in the present, sociopaths can’t easily refrain from acting on an urge. They can’t contain their anger if provoked. They can’t resist temptation even if it pertains to skipping an immediate reward for a larger one later. They may act threatened, annoyed, and angry in normal encounters or everyday situations. And they exhibit difficulties controlling their own emotions which can lead to mood swings or irrational behavior. With a sociopath, you’ll often see irritability, annoyance, impatience, threats, aggression, verbal abuse, inadequate anger and temper control, and acting hastily. (Nothing shows Donald Trump’s poor self-control like his response to the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville or his inflammatory Twitter rants.)

34. Has a Strange Network of Enablers– Though a sociopath may not have many real friends, they do have allies who vouch for them. These can range from “consultants,” to skilled workers, to enabling co-dependents who back them up whenever they want to go after their targets. Many of the support people may have their own share of psychological problems, ulterior motives, or just like what the sociopath says. But all will be sycophants in one way or another while some may even be sociopaths themselves. (Though unpopular, Donald Trump has plenty of people who support him that they will swear by every word he says and excuse every horrible thing he does. This includes the Republican Party establishment, conservative media, and nearly a third of American voters, especially if they’re white. Not to mention, many of his close associates are also horrible people while some of his most ardent supporters are white nationalists willing to commit violent acts in his name.)

35. Flagrant Hypocrisy– Sociopaths have extremely high expectations for fidelity, respect, and adoration. But once they win you over, they will give none of this back to you. They will lie, cheat, insult, and degrade you. But you will have to remain perfect despite all the shit they make you put up with. (Donald Trump will expect people to be absolutely loyal to him under all circumstances. But once someone is no longer useful to him or gets into some kind of trouble, he’ll stab them in the back with a drop of a hat. Oh, and despite seeing no qualms to his associates using private e-mail servers for their jobs, he absolutely crucified Hillary Clinton over her e-mail habits in 2016.)

36. Sadistic Sense of Humor– Sociopaths find humor in things most people find unlawful or disgusting. While it might not seem strange at first, it evolves over time and becomes creepy or disgusting. (I’m not sure if Donald Trump has a sense of humor. But he seems to take a casual attitude toward sexual assault and nuclear annihilation. Then there is how he talks about Ivanka which is just absolutely creepy.)

37. Has an Inflated Sense of Entitlement– Sociopaths feel entitled to act the way they do. If someone slights them, they feel they have a right to retaliate. If someone fails them or if anyone says anything bad about them, they feel entitled to revenge. Or if they do something nice for you, they feel entitled to a reward. And if you don’t give them what they want, they’re entitled to punish you. Laws, ethics, and other people’s feelings don’t matter to them. Furthermore, winning is extremely important to sociopaths and typically don’t accept being in a lesser situation, regardless of how small the situation. (Donald Trump feels entitled to act the way he does. And he’ll often retaliate if someone doesn’t do what he wants or says anything terrible about him. Even if it’s just the news media trying to do their job. If he sees anyone not lavishing him with praises, he’ll certainly lash out at them. Also, he really hates to lose.)

38. Isolates Willing Victims– In nature predators isolate their prey from the rest of the herd to better attack and devour it. And that’s what sociopaths do to their targets. They isolate their partners from their friends, colleagues, and families. Sometimes it might be through overt criticism or following them around when they meet with others. Sometimes it could be through more subtle manipulation such as by covertly turning the victim against their own family and friends (and vice versa). Because sociopaths feels that their partner’s support system might influence them or offer negative opinions about their behavior. Eventually rather than face verbal punishment, interrogation, and abuse, the victim will develop the feeling that it’s better not to talk to family and friends and will withdraw from them. Yet, they also not only just isolate their partners from other people, but also narrow the range of their interests and activities. This leads their significant others to focus exclusively on them. They may give their partners money and gifts, not out of real generosity but to keep them financially and emotionally dependent on them. They may discourage their partner from working outside the home or possibly follow them everywhere to see if they’re seeing anyone of the opposite sex. This puts their partners on edge about any kind of activity or pursuit external to their relationship. (Donald Trump has done this from his supporters in regards to the mainstream media which he calls “fake news” since they report negative stories about him. Yet, he’s also broken up families, friendships, and the like.)

39. Massive Control Freak– Sociopaths need to maintain control of everything in their lives, particularly in romantic relationships. When they get bored with one partner or find a replacement, they will leave them on the spur of the moment, heartlessly and often without bothering an explanation. But they get very angry when the tables are turned and their partners leave them. Sociopaths will put down their partners not only in private, but also in public to embarrass and isolate them. Sociopaths can’t tolerate any real assertion of independence from others. They are so self-involved and self-worshipping that they think their own beliefs and opinions are absolute authority and consider others’ feelings and opinions as worthless. In the workplace, the sociopathic boss will be the tyrant who’s surrounded by sycophants and makes their employees’ lives hell. (Like anyone with authoritarian tendencies, Donald Trump is a massive control freak who has to maintain control in everything in his life, especially when it comes to his businesses and public image. Trump has attacked even fellow Republicans who speak out against him. Using dominance or intimidation to control others shows up time and time again in Trump’s history. He’s attempted to silence not just the media, but also protestors at his rallies where he’s implied support for violent retaliation and publicly suggested he’d pay legal fees for one assault subject.)

40. Has a Very Shady History– It’s said that the best indicator to predict future behavior is past behavior. There may be exceptions to this general principle since some people can improve their behavior and character with genuine and consistent effort. However, a sociopath can never be one of these people. If a man cheated on every wife he’s been with, it’s very likely he’ll cheat on the next one. Obviously the problem isn’t any of the women he’s with, but his underlying lack of character. Similarly if he’s abused previous partners, he’s very likely to abuse the next one as well. Not to mention, since sociopaths don’t see anything wrong with their harmful behavior, they’re likely to boast about it. They may tell stories of violence, aggression, being insensitive to others, rejecting others, etc… They may brag about their temper and outbursts because they don’t see anything wrong with violence and actually take pride in the “I didn’t take nothing from nobody” attitude. Best to listen to these stories since they tell you how you’ll eventually be treated and what’s coming your way. (Donald Trump’s past contains a decades long history of mindboggling corruption and abuse of power. If he abused his power to enrich himself as a businessman, then nobody should be surprised how he’s abusing his power as president. Look at his history on my blog and you’ll find unbelievable tales of corruption the world has never seen before. Believe me, did a whole post of it during the 2016 campaign. The epic tales of deceit are absolutely staggering. Trump writes off the media as “fake news” for reporting negative stories about him {which are very important to know about}, not because the media has it in for him {though I wouldn’t blame them if they did}. But because the media’s covered him for decades and knows exactly who he is. So, whenever the mainstream media reports a story casting Trump in a negative light, believe the media. For the love of God, believe them for at least they have a better track record at telling the truth than Donald Trump.)

41. Jekyll and Hyde Personality– Sociopaths are often described as two-faced. The Jekyll side is a mask they use to attract, fool, and use others. The Hyde side represents their true identity which becomes increasingly dominant over time. To buddies, a sociopath may appear easy-going, nice person. But that’s because the buddies only see one side of them, the jovial side the sociopath wanted them to see. To spouses and families or rather anyone who’s had intimate contact with them, the sociopath exposes another, much more menacing side of their personality. They may be occasionally nice to keep their partners from straying, but they will revert back to their mean, nasty selves in only a matter of time. And over time, that meanness will escalate in severity and duration while the “nice” moments become increasingly few. (When Donald Trump acts presidential, it’s just a mask and it won’t stay on for long. Because he’s a very volatile man who cares for nobody but himself and lashes out whenever he doesn’t get his way.)

42. Secretiveness– Sociopaths reveal little about themselves though they talk incessantly about various subjects. Their partners aren’t likely to meet someone important in their past or witness the sociopath’s family members visit or interact with them in any meaningful way. Some sociopaths conceal a significant portion of their lives for fear they may expose their dark past. They don’t like exposure and usually ask their lovers not to share too much about them. (Though he brands himself as incredibly rich, Donald Trump keeps his true wealth secret such as his tax returns he still hasn’t released. However, as a public figure, his past is very well known thanks to the media reporting on him for decades. Not to mention, Trump’s White House has been notoriously less transparent than previous administrations. When the facts make him look bad, Trump absolutely hates transparency and tries to discredit the media like some asshole boyfriend attempting pass his ex-girlfriend as a crazy bitch.)

43. Has a History of Financial or Occupational Instability– Sociopaths often can’t keep jobs or uphold financial commitments. Their sense of entitlement leads them to dismiss work rules like arriving on time, staying awake, or not stealing. Moreover, the reason for their termination includes insubordination since they have no respect for people with control over them, including bosses. (Donald Trump may not have occupational instability due to being born into wealth with connections. But many of the financial records we do know about don’t give us a good impression on his money managing abilities. Besides, he’s experienced bankruptcy 4 freaking times as well as multiple business failures over the years. Not to mention, his reputation for failing to repay debts was so notorious that Wall Street banks stopped lending money to him. He may brand himself as a successful businessman, but his personal and business suggests he’s a complete fraud.)

44. Lacks Basic Social Skills Despite Charm– A most jarring and easily noticeable sign of a sociopath’s behavior is a lack of basic conduct rules. Sure they may be quite social. But their lack of empty they don’t understand how to treat other people with the basics of human kindness, fairness, and respect. (Donald Trump’s conduct to Gold Star families and hurricane victims in Puerto Rico certainly illustrate how he can’t even comfort people who’ve experienced terrible tragedy.)

45. The Predatory Stare– Sociopaths have no problem maintaining uninterrupted eye contact. Failure to politely look away could be perceived as being seductive or aggressive, which can make a non-sociopath uncomfortable. There is some evidence that people experience unnerving physical sensations when present with a sociopath. They can come up close as they focus their gaze onto you. Their body language can give little space for breath. Sometimes a sociopath can look at you like you’re their next lunch. This stare may seem flattering at first but later can feel suffocating. (Donald Trump’s dinner with James Comey is a perfect example of this. Comey testified he didn’t feel comfortable alone with the guy. This coming from a man who’s 6’8.” Also note how he was standing over Hillary Clinton during the town hall debate during the 2016 campaign. When you see him, he appears to have some crazed look in eyes like a monster.)

46. Stays Eerily Calm in Spite of Circumstances– Sociopaths don’t register events the same way as non-sociopaths and may barely react in dangerous and scary situations. And they can experience highly emotional events without feeling any emotion. Studies show that sociopaths don’t demonstrate anxiety when shown images that would disturb others or when expecting to receive small electrical shocks. Meanwhile, non-sociopaths certainly register fear and anxiety in these situations. (Donald Trump doesn’t seem very anxious when it comes to scary hurricanes, white supremacist violence, and a nuclear war with North Korea.)

47. Engages in Risky Behavior at Theirs or Others’ Expense– Sociopaths engage in dangerous, risky, and self-damaging activities, unnecessarily and without regard to the consequences. They’re prone to boredom and thoughtlessly initiate activities in order to counter it. And they lack concern for their limitations and deny the reality of personal danger. (Running and becoming president aside, Donald Trump has made risky business moves for decades which resulted in so many disasters, which characterize his risk-taking abilities quite well. He could burn everything to the ground and won’t care who has to be burned in the process.)

48. Displays Authoritarian Tendencies– Sociopaths see themselves as a necessary authority and are in favor of totalitarian rule. Put them in a leadership position and they will run their charge like tyrant. They will abuse their power to their personal ends and at their underlings’ expense. They will promote sycophants to high power positions. And they will go to great lengths to quench anyone who’d hold them accountable. It’s little wonder that many of the world’s authoritarian dictators display sociopathic tendencies. (Donald Trump has difficulty getting along with senior advisers and is swift to fire those who don’t agree with him. He often makes egotistical comments such as boasting how he knows more about ISIS than the generals. He uses intimidation and fearmongering tactics to verbally attack federal judges, the FBI, the CIA, and US generals. He feels a menacing sense of confidence thinking he can alienate government experts and run the country primarily on family members’ advice. He daily attacks the media for reporting stories he doesn’t like and even threatened to deny NBC News a broadcasting license. In September, he took on the NFL in an attempt to suppress the players’ constitutional right to free speech. These are the actions of dictators, not presidents.)

49. Impulsivity– Because they lack regret and empathy, sociopaths act on the spur of the moment in response to immediate stimuli and on a momentary basis without a plan or consideration of outcomes. They have difficulty establishing and following plans. And they don’t think things through. (Donald Trump delivers immediate vicious attacks on those who criticize him. He often undermines high-level specialists by speaking without knowing the facts. And he’s shared juvenile anti-media cartoons on Twitter exhibiting an impulsive nature unbefitting of a president.)

50. Cold-Calculating Manipulation– Sociopaths have the ability and willingness to use others around them for personal gain. They will frequently use subterfuge to influence and control others through seduction, charm, glibness, or ingratiation to achieve their own ends. (Donald Trump has hundreds of lawsuits against him met with his high-priced battery of attorneys that leaves little chance for plaintiffs to prevail. In the 2016 campaign, he likely relied on his personnel to surreptitiously deal with Russian operatives. He will say or do anything to retain support of his base and generally uses Twitter to chastise and divide, rarely posting uplifting words save when praising himself.)

The Fall of the Low Hanging Fruit

On Monday, October 30, 2017, Donald Trump’s former presidential campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his former business associate Rick Gates were indicted as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. The two men face a total of 12 charges mostly focused on alleged money laundering, failure to disclose financial assets, and false statements regarding their work for the Ukrainian government and a Ukrainian political party. Particularly, it’s about how Manafort and Gates hid their lobbying work for the pro-Russian Ukrainian political party and used elaborate schemes to funnel more than $75 million through offshore accounts to conceal their activities and avoid paying taxes on the proceeds. Manafort’s history of pro-Russian consulting work and experience with international skullduggery make him a prime suspect for potential collusion. But the indictment actually doesn’t have anything to do with possible Russian interference in the 2016 campaign and whether Trump associates played any role in it. Instead, it’s almost entirely related to Manafort’s work for foreign interests predating the 2016 campaign which were already under FBI investigation. For months Mueller seemed to have zeroing in on Manafort. In July, the FBI raided his house for documents and there was a report he’d been wiretapped. Emails then revealed he tried to set up private briefings for a Russian billionaire while Trump’s campaign chair. It’s long been speculated that if Mueller’s team finds damaging evidence, they’re reportedly hoping they can use charges to get Manafort to give them more information on the collusion matter. In other words, they want to flip him against Trump, other Trump associates, or potentially Russians.

Paul Manafort has had a decades long career as a Republican operative and lobbyist who’s worked on several GOP presidential campaigns and representing several controversial dictators such as Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines and Mobutu Sese Seko of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He’s also been a longtime business partner of Roger Stone, with whom he founded a famous lobbying firm. In the mid-2000s, Manafort began focusing on business activities in Eastern Europe. Initially, he mostly advised oligarchs such as Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska and Ukrainian steel magnate Rinat Akhmetov. In 2005, he advised the Ukrainian pro-Russian Party of Regions led by Viktor Yanukovych. After Yanukovych lost a presidential election, Manafort’s team helped them formulate a comeback strategy. In 2010, Yanukovych won Ukraine’s presidency. Manafort had other dealings with wealthy people in Ukraine as well. In one instance, he tried to develop a luxury apartment with energy oligarch Dmitry Firtash, who was later charged with money laundering and bribery. Yet, these business ventures fall apart in 2014. Protests and clashes with pro-Russian policies forced President Yanukovych to flee Ukraine. Meanwhile, Manafort had a large falling out with Deripaska who claimed he cheated him out of millions in a lawsuit.
So why would Donald Trump appoint an operative who’s done so much pro-Putin work as his campaign chair? Well, consider the situation in March 2016. Back then, despite Trump winning several flashy victories in early primary elections. But Ted Cruz proved adept at locking down delegates even in states Trump won. Since delegates technically determine the nominee, Trump became convinced he needed an expert who understood the byzantine party rules actually governing delegate selection and the convention, else he could lose. Since Manafort had helped Gerald Ford lock down delegates in 1976 and managed Bob Dole’s convention 20 years later, he fit the bill. Even better, Manafort was also the former business partner of longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone. Though Stone had been pushed out of the Trump campaign some time ago, he kept informally advising Trump and to intrigue against campaign manager Corey Lewandowski whom he loathed. At first, Manafort’s job was merely leading a delegate wrangling operation. But when Lewandowski became enmeshed in scandal over grabbing Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields at a campaign event, his portfolio gradually expanded until he was effectively running the campaign. In May 2016, he was officially made campaign chair and chief strategist while Lewandowski was fired. Manafort would remain in charge through the last through GOP primary elections and the Republican National Convention. By mid-August Trump had sunk in the polls while damaging news reports about foreign worked dogged Manafort. Thus, Trump brought in Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway to take over while Manafort had to resign. Of course, the Trump administration has recently attempted to distance itself from the former campaign chairman with then Press Secretary Sean Spicer claiming, he “played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time.” However, it widely understood that Manafort was a linchpin in the Trump campaign. As New Gingrich told Fox News in August 2016, “Nobody should underestimate how much Paul Manafort did to really help get this [Trump] campaign to where it is right now.”

Paul Manafort’s time with the Trump campaign may have lasted less than 5 months but it was an eventful and crucial period for Trump/Russian activity. For one, the Trump campaign transitioned from the primary to the general election in which finding a way to defeat Hillary Clinton would be top priority. Second, there’s the e-mail exchange between Donald Trump Jr. and Rob Goldstone who offered to set up a meeting in which he’d receive incriminating information on Clinton “as part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Trump Jr. forwarded the e-mail thread about the meeting to Manafort and Jared Kushner and invited them to it. That meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and potential spy Rinat Akhmetshin took place on June 9, 2016 with Manafort and Kushner in attendance. Though the parties involved claimed the meeting lead nowhere, NBC News states that Manafort’s notes on the meeting included a reference to donations, “near a reference to the Republican National Convention” though the full context remains unclear. In July, Manafort oversaw the Republican National Convention. But as the Republicans assembled their platform some controversy spilled over whether Trump staffers pushed to dilute an aggressive anti-Russian amendment calling for arming Ukraine. The controversy seems somewhat exaggerated and there hasn’t been any indication that Manafort was personally involved. The existing platform wasn’t changed but a Ted Cruz supporter’s proposed amendment was modified before being added to it. Later in that same month, Wikileaks posted hundreds of hacked e-mails from the Democratic National Committee. The dumps showed certain DNC staffers saying unfriendly things about Bernie Sanders were perfectly timed to cause chaos at the Democratic National Convention the following week. US intelligence later claimed the Russian government orchestrated the DNC hack.
Nevertheless, Mueller’s indictment of Manafort was a long time coming. Even before the indictment, Manafort was already seen as astonishingly corrupt with longstanding interests in tilting the Trump campaign’s platform in a pro-Russian stance. The gist of the 12 charges against him and Gates is that they “acted as unregistered agents” of the Ukrainian government and politicians, generating “tens of millions of dollars in income” which they then “laundered” through “score of United States and foreign corporations, partnerships, and bank accounts.” In other words, taking a bunch of illegal Ukrainian money and actively lying about it to the federal government which is a criminal offense. On former front, Manafort and Gates are both charged with a “conspiracy to launder money” and separate specific charges on failing to report foreign bank and financial accounts. Together to hide their Ukrainian work, both men laundered their Ukrainian payments through a complex network of companies and bank accounts they set up in both the United States and abroad which included tax havens in Cyprus, Saint Vincent and the Grendines, and Seychelles. More than $75 million is said to flow through their offshore bank accounts. The indictment then reads: “Manafort used his hidden overseas wealth to enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the United States, without paying taxes on that income.” It then alleges that Manafort laundered over $18 million through offshore accounts, making various payments to businesses including a home improvement company, a men’s clothing store, a landscaper, and an antique rug store. In 2012, he’s said to buy a Manhattan condo for $2.85 million he rented out using Airbnb to generate cash.

Thus, it’s obvious that Mueller wants to know whether there was any follow-up to the meeting Trump Jr. set up (despite Trump Jr. claiming there wasn’t). And whether Manafort had any knowledge about the email hackings which he’s denied. There are also questions about Manafort’s emails with his Ukrainian business associate Konstantin Kilimnik about his old client Oleg Deripaska. On July 7, 2016, he e-mailed Kilimnik about the Russian aluminum oligarch saying, “If he needs private briefings we can accommodate” according to the Washington Post. Kilimnik wrote back a few weeks later, seemingly cryptically about Deripaska, claiming he met the guy in person “who gave you the biggest black caviar jar several years ago” and that it would take time to explain this “long caviar story.” He and Manafort then set up a meeting in New York that took place a few days later. By the way, he did this while chairing Trump’s campaign. And even though his Ukrainian baggage forced him to leave the Trump campaign, Manafort was known to be in contact with Trump. Mostly because investigators had been surveilling him thanks to a secret court order since September 2016.

As Mueller’s main goal is to investigate potential collusion between Trump associates and Russia, he can see charges against Manafort as a means to an end. The stronger the evidence the special counsel has against the former Trump campaign manager, the more pressure he can exert to get him to cooperate in the collusion probe. But the charges are serious enough to warrant prison time that Manafort and Gates turned themselves in to the FBI to face those charges. Thus, the men turned themselves in. Then there’s the foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos who’s plead guilty of lying to the FBI about his conversations with a Joseph Mifsud, a professor with close ties to the Russian government who told him that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, including “thousands of emails.” Such disclosure confirms at least one Trump campaign adviser knew of Kremlin efforts to help Trump win the White House and was open to accepting that assistance. But whether Papadopoulos shared that information with others within the Trump campaign remains a mystery. Yet, Mueller’s team has said in a court filing that Papadopoulos “has indicated that he is willing to cooperate with the government in its ongoing investigation into Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.” This begs the question what kinds of information Papadopoulos has already provided to Mueller’s team. Did he wear a wire? Did he try to help the special prosecutor gather information on other Trump associates? Are other Trump team members quietly working with Mueller? Nonetheless, Mueller’s moves increase the likelihood that campaign advisers or administration staffers finding themselves in his crosshairs might want to strike plea bargains in which they trade damaging information on Trump in exchange for lesser charges. This who don’t cut a deal will be prosecuted.

Though the investigation into Donald Trump’s ties to Russia has simmered for months, it’s wasn’t clear if, or when, it would move from a political scandal to a legal one. Thanks to Mueller’s indictments on Manafort and Gates, it has. Now the question is how far Trump will go to protect himself from an investigation that threatens the future of his presidency. And whether the Congress and the courts will be up for the challenge. The time may come when Donald Trump decides he has no choice but try to protect himself by firing Mueller or issuing preemptive pardons to Manafort or others ensnared in the investigation. Either move can trigger a legal and political crisis in Watergate level proportions such as breaking decades of if not centuries of precedent for how American presidents treat the criminal justice system. Federal courts may have to decide whether to overturn any Trump pardons. Republicans could face a moment of truth about their willingness to actually stand up to Trump instead of publicly bashing him. Though a handful of GOP lawmakers have introduced legislation designed to protect Mueller from Trump firing him with bipartisan support. But such legislation has gone nowhere. So far, Robert Mueller has the upper hand but that could very literally change at a moment depending on what Trump does next. The US political and legal systems did their jobs during Watergate. But it’s profoundly depressing to ask whether they’ll do their jobs during the Trump presidency. It’s even more heart wrenching they might not.

So far the Republican Party has done nothing. Earlier in October, House Speaker Paul Ryan reputedly joked at the Al Smith Dinner, “Every morning I wake up in my office and I scroll through Twitter to see which tweets I will have to pretend I didn’t see later on.” Later, when a Wisconsin radio station asked his opinion on the Mueller indictments, he said, “I really don’t have anything to add other than nothing is going to derail what we’re doing in Congress.” There was nothing on his website even addressing the indictments. But there was a post summing up a busy month cheekily titled, “Not Another Tax Reform Post” and included photos of Ryan signing bills, handing out medals, and meeting interns. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell didn’t even make himself available enough to dodge any questions. The top story on his website that time was “McConnell on IRS Targeting During Obama Administration.” There is no mention of Mueller whatsoever. Had Hillary Clinton been in this situation you’d bet Ryan and McConnell would be all over it. Instead, they’re mounting a defense of Congress’s priorities in the face of Trump and the media’s distractions. Yet, these near-daily acts of silence and cowardice abdicate Congress’s role to contain a clearly rogue, lawless, and undisciplined White House. The Founding Fathers could see Americans electing a demagogue to the White House to the White House despite that their mistrust of the popular will and Electoral College system enabled just that. But instead of ambition counteracting ambition as they intended, it’s ambition enabling ambition which wasn’t what the Founding Fathers had foreseen. Today, Ryan and McConnell’s ambition to pass tax cuts for the rich and hold the Republican base is enabling Trump’s ambition to act without proper sanction or oversight. Congress has plenty of power to check Trump, but its leaders are too nervous to use it, or even signal that they might use it in the future.

Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell could’ve said or done so much to protect both the process and the country. They could’ve remarked how troubling Mueller’s indictments are for anyone caring about the sanctity of elections. They could’ve assured that Mueller had their full support for the investigation to run its course as well as endorse one of the bipartisan bills to safeguard his job. Even if it just in the name of self-preservation. Because Donald Trump firing Mueller will ignite a major political crisis that will be far more of a distraction from tax reform. But the GOP has come to bind and blind so effectively that congressional Republicans have lost sight that they, too, have an interest in the political system’s fundamental stability and indicating what behavior will or will not be acceptable from the president. And it’s not Ryan and McConnell who could act to safeguard Mueller’s investigation in advance. Senators John McCain, Bob Corker, and Jeff Flake have all decried Donald Trump as a threat in apocalyptic terms. They can join the Democrats to create a 51-vote majority blocking action on any bills until the protective legislation Republican Senator Tom Tillis introduced was passed. But so far, they too, have done nothing of the kind.

The Trump era is an extraordinary time in American politics that’s a test not just to our institutions but also our leaders. Republicans are failing that test. It’s well known they’re more despairing than liberals in the back rooms and background briefings. They know that Donald Trump is a dangerous and impulsive man in the White House. Those who take their conservatism seriously and believe the best for their party keenly feel the consequences of Trump’s behavior. But because they’re so afraid of his wrath, confused by their base, and somewhat hopeful that something good can arise from this crisis, they regularly talk themselves into small acts of cowardice and silence. Yet, these small acts lead to committing larger ones when the party is too invested and too culpable to change. Now like hungry gamblers deep in a losing streak, they need to win something to justify all they’ve done and excused. But like all hungry gamblers, more likely than not, they’ll just keep losing while making everything worse for themselves and the American people. For the sake of the country, Republicans need to start taking Trump as a serious threat now.