Donald Trump, Grand Prix, Race
Former President Donald Trump saluting at the F1 Miami Grand Prix Race in Miami, FL, on May 5, 2024. Photo credit: © Jan Kolodziej/ZUMA Press Wire

Make it a double.

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I’ve been taking it all in: the lies, the threats, the twisted logic, the it-does-not-compute absurdity of the polls. Every day, for much of the day. It’s my job, the mission I chose to accept, to make sense of it somehow, to find the key(s) to understanding, to awaken others from sleep or torpor, to offer some sort of guidance about what to do and how to get through.

It builds up, like mental and emotional lactic acid. I’ve become exhausted, disoriented, confused. It gets to be almost impossible to know what to say. I look back at my writing over the past couple of years and it seems as if I’ve said it all already — described, explored, warned, urged. Here, if you’ve missed them, are a few of those pieces:

What — halfway through 2024, five months away from this existential election — can I find to add? What is there left to say?

Once Upon a Time in a Democracy

Well, I watched two horror shows yesterday that, together, prompted this column. The first was Donald Trump’s Sunday speech in Las Vegas. The second was footage from January 6, 2021, seen by the public for the first time when shown by the House Select Committee during its 2022 hearings into that dreadful day’s events.

The first was new and the second new-to-me. I had long since stopped watching or listening to Trump in any form; I don’t own a television and would hit mute on my radio the instant I recognized his voice. Call me closed-minded but he’d lost me at “hello” and there was no point perforating my stomach lining to hear him spew more lies, threats, and warped logic; to hear him stoke fear and rage and resentment and contempt and hate, literally in every sentence. Transcripts, taken with a Nexium® chaser, were bad enough.

And I had had no stomach either for the recorded rage and violence of January 6. I have attended more than my share of peaceful protests, and know all too well the righteous frustration of perceived powerlessness. In fact, one of my clearest memories is of January 20, 2001 — gathering and marching at George W. Bush’s inauguration. You know, the one where the Supreme Court came up with a novel legal theory to snuff out the Florida recount and install him as president.

We believed that the election was stolen, believed it with all 100,000 of our hearts. And, unlike the January 6 rioters, we had real evidence to back up our belief: Bush’s 537-vote Florida “victory” margin; the “butterfly ballot” and “hanging chads”; at least one glaring computer glitch leading to Fox’s (where his cousin sat on the decision desk) premature call for Bush; recounts underway — which, in spite of the thuggery exemplified by the GOP staffers’ “Brooks Brothers riot,” showed every sign of reversing the result — suddenly shut down by a partisan SCOTUS majority relying on a bizarre new “equal protection” jurisprudence ginned up by Justice Antonin Scalia. (And this was all before we learned of the targeted voter-purging that selectively disenfranchised tens of thousands of likely Floridian Gore voters!)

Jonathan D. Simon, Bush v. Gore, oral argument, 2000

The author at Bush v. Gore oral argument, December 11, 2000. The sign’s reverse side said “Let Them Count.” Taken with the author’s camera by an unidentified bystander. Photo credit: Courtesy of Jonathan Simon

What we did not have was a sore-loser candidate with zero qualms about endangering the safety of countless individuals, as well as the republic itself, because he had been brought up to think only of himself and regard losing in any game or competition as a fate worse than death. There was no one to egg us on and send us on rampage.

So we gathered and we marched; we carried bitterly sarcastic signs (“President-Appoint Bush,” “Hail to the Thief,” etc.); we shouted and sang. One of several gathering places was Washington’s Dupont Circle, a venue I knew well, having worked for a nearby polling firm for a couple of years fresh out of college. It’s a big circle, at least 150 yards from rim to rim, which means — at two people per square yard, and we were packed in tighter than that — about 30,000 at that site alone. The plan — such as it was, this being before social media — was to march from the various staging sites and converge upon the inauguration route and ceremony.

But crowd control inc. was on its game that day, and — with the aid of the Park Police, a couple of other forces we couldn’t identify, and a dozen or more helicopters — the authorities succeeded in breaking up the massed marchers into smaller, “manageable” groups. They did this by herding us into cordoned-off areas of two or three blocks and then holding us there until we had been effectively atomized, letting us out only after the rest of the march had long passed. The result was separation and disorientation, with most of the protesters wandering aimlessly around DC trying to find their way back to the inauguration zone. It was an effective, if perhaps unconstitutional, strategy; and, yes, we were mad as hell about it.

But we were not violent. Not at any point. No one, to my knowledge, was seriously injured. A fundamental, foundational respect prevailed, held sway over our anger.

We arrived home to find media reports of “scattered protests” and “several thousand demonstrators.” We — the hundred thousand — had been effectively disappeared. It seemed clear that the media — always keen on access — wanted to get off on the right foot with the new Bush administration. We concluded we were going to be in for a long rest of our lives.

In 2004, following another dubious election (I was, by then, involved in election forensics work and coined the term “red shift” for the situation where the vote counts, as they did in 2004, come out to the right of baselines such as tracking and exit polls), concerned groups again came to Washington in the post-election period. 

As in 2000, we had no encouragement from the losing Democratic candidate, John Kerry, who, in spite of frantic overnight efforts to get a forensic analysis (based on over 300 pages of eyebrow-raising, if not outright damning exit poll crosstab data I had printed out late that night) into his hands by dawn, had conceded defeat before noon. 

Jonathan D. Simon, National Press Club, 2004

The author at National Press Club presentation, December 2004. Photo credit: Courtesy of Jonathan Simon

That December, I highlighted a presentation at the Washington Press Club, showing how the red shift was not only well outside the measure of polling error but strangely concentrated in the battleground states, a major forensic red flag. We brought suit in Ohio (2004’s Florida) — whose state Supreme Court, with its 6 to 1 Republican majority, made short shrift of it — and we lobbied Congress.

We were able to persuade Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) to object to the certification of the Ohio electors, which sent the two chambers of Congress into their separate sessions to vote on the challenged Bush slate. I was in the gallery for the Senate session, on January 6, 2005, in which Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) rose to dispute a charge of election night irregularities in several of the counties. A woman seated near me shouted “Liar!” In less than 10 seconds, she was arrested and removed from the gallery and the proceeding continued uninterrupted.

Fast Forward…

That was then. Now — nearly 20 years, a few technological “advances,” and one sui generis demagogue later — is now

If you haven’t already (and can bear it), watch the January 6 (2021) video. Peaceful tourism? Political prisoners? Innocent hostages? I think I need say no more — it screams for itself, does it not? Please share it with anyone who may have forgotten, anyone who may be wavering. You have my permission to ruin their day, and ask that they ruin the days of yet others.

Now, in the Trumpocene, anger and disappointment don’t go home and plan how to reform a suspect process — they break windows, batter law enforcement personnel, rampage through the heart of democracy like an invading army drunk on its sudden power. Their Supreme Leader lies and threatens and abuses; his minions and wannabe clones follow suit — virtually every one of them. What, then, can we expect from their rage-filled foot-soldiers, the MAGA masses?

Which brings me back to Trump’s Las Vegas performance Sunday. If you want it — and have your antacids handy — here it is, courtesy of C-SPAN. I’m just going to provide a sample of a few of the lies, insults, rank selfishness (or, if you prefer, malignant narcissism), projection, threats, and warped logic, roughly categorized.


“We put out a notice saying don’t come. So only 20,000 people showed up.” (Referring to the debilitating heat; six rally-goers were taken to the hospital; another dozen received medical attention onsite. Las Vegas police estimated a total attendance of 6,900, but Clark County Parks and Recreation stated the maximum capacity of the outdoor venue was 2,000 to 3,000. So roughly the same order-of-magnitude exaggeration of crowd size as we saw for last month’s Bronx rally.)

“We’re leading here [in Nevada] by like 12 points.” (Polls show Trump leading by 5 points.)

“We built 571 miles of border wall.” (About 10 percent of that was new wall; the rest was replacements, repairs, and upgrades to already existing barriers.)

“The entire world is emptying their prisons and jails, insane asylums, and mental institutions.” (This qualifies as a lie only if we consider wild, baseless assertions or exaggerations that create utterly false and dangerous impressions of reality to be lies.)

“So in Venezuela, in Venezuela, they took all of their criminals, a very heavily crime-ridden country. They took all of their criminals and they dumped them into a place called the United States of America… Their crime rate, they just announced, is down 72 percent.” (Ditto. And, for what it’s worth, it’s the US violent crime rate that’s dropped dramatically, MAGA mythology notwithstanding.)

“The election was rigged. The election was a rigged election.” (The granddaddy of them all; specialty of the house, always on the menu.)

“Virtually 100 percent of the new jobs under Biden have also gone to illegal aliens. Did you know that? 100 percent.” (We’ll let The Washington Post’s Philip Bump unpack this one. Suffice it to say that conflating foreign-born citizens with illegal aliens is about as ridiculous as conflating Ivanka with Melania.)


“If this guy [Biden] just, you know, he goes to the beach all the time. Somebody thinks he looks good in a bathing suit. I don’t think so.” (Baywatch Biden?)

“This was a made-up deal from a magazine that’s failing, financial disaster, by a guy that is a horrible radical left lunatic named Goldberg.” (Jeffrey Goldberg is editor-in-chief of The Atlantic, a profitable magazine with over a million subscribers. Trump is referring to its reporting that, according to multiple sources, Trump questioned why he should visit an American WWI cemetery in France “filled with losers.”)

“If you go back 30 years ago, [Biden] was considered the dumbest person in the US Senate. Ted Kennedy told me that himself, who is a friend of mine, which is shocking.” (A thorough search turned up no evidence of any such friendship, even before Kennedy’s death in 2009, which makes this vicious insult also a candidate for the Lies category.)


“Everybody was so worried yesterday about you. And they never mentioned me. I’m up here sweating like a dog. They don’t think about me. I’m working my ass off. I’m working hard. This is hard work.” (This to people who waited in line for hours and are packed in like sardines. A typical display of empathy.)

“Nobody loves the military more than me. Nobody. Nobody respects it. And nobody’s treated it better. Nobody’s done as much for the military as I have.” (Given his record of serial disparagement, also another lie — though he does have a thing for The Insurrection Act and pavement-crushing military parades.)

“So I said, let me ask you a question. And he said, nobody ever asked this question. And it must be because of MIT, my relationship to MIT. Very smart.” (Trump’s “relationship to MIT?” His uncle was a professor there. QED.)

“And by the way, isn’t that breeze nice? Do you feel the breeze? Because I don’t want anybody going on me. We need every voter. I don’t care about you. I just want your vote. I don’t care.” (Talk about wearing your selfishness on your sleeve. MAGAs — who, on hearing this, laughed heartily — have shown that they crave this kind of undisguised abuse — which they call “honesty.”)


“[Biden’s] cognitively impaired. Oh, no, no. You know, I had a second test. I aced it. I aced both of them. Not easy to ace.” (Repeat after me: “Person. Woman. Man. Camera. TV.”) 


“We’re going to knock off the Biden crime family as a Biden family of crime, including the fact that they’ve weaponized the Department of Justice like has never happened in this country.” (This would also fit nicely in the Insults and Lies categories, with a touch of Warped.)


“They have a man that’s not so good. And I think Bernie Moreno in Ohio is going to win, but it’s the same thing. So these things are virtually useless. But I’ll refer to them every once in a while for this. It is crazy. The illegal immigrants are.” (If you want to verify that this, word for word, is the salad he said, you’ll have to go to the tape — or spare yourself and just trust me.)

“He goes, I say, what would happen if the boat sank from its weight? And you’re in the boat, and you have this tremendously powerful battery, and the battery’s now underwater, and there’s a shark that’s approximately 10 yards over there. By the way, a lot of shark attacks lately. Did you notice that? A lot of sharks. I watched some guys justifying it today. Well, they weren’t really that angry. They bit off the young lady’s leg because of the fact that they were not hungry, but they misunderstood who she was. These people are crazy. He said, there’s no problem with sharks. They just didn’t really understand a young woman swimming now who really got decimated and other people, too. A lot of shark attacks. So I said, ‘There’s a shark 10 yards away from the boat, 10 yards, or here. Do I get electrocuted if the boat is sinking, water goes over the battery, the boat is sinking? Do I stay on top of the boat and get electrocuted, or do I jump over by the shark and not get electrocuted?’ Because I will tell you, he didn’t know the answer. He said, ‘You know, nobody’s ever asked me that question.’ I said, ‘I think it’s a good question. I think there’s a lot of electric current coming through that water.’ But you know what I’d do if there was a shark or you get electrocuted? I’ll take electrocution every single time. I’m not getting near the shark. So we’re going to end that, we’re going to end it for boats, we’re going to end it for trucks.” (It was a dark and stormy night…)

Where We Are, Where We’re Headed

There was, needless to say, more. A full hour of whoppers, of simpering, sneering, complaining (“Are the teleprompters not working? Not even a little bit. Great job. And then I don’t pay the company that does it, right?”), threatening, and mangling — including some gems I left out because I just couldn’t find a category for them. It’s all in the video for your viewing pleasure (go ahead, make your day). 

Nor was this rally atypical. In fact, if you’ve been following along you’ll know that he’s said far worse — especially in the threat department — elsewhere, and may actually be toning it down a bit on the sage advice of those who care more about his election than his reaching oratorical orgasm on a regular basis. But this video just happened to be the one I decided to subject myself to — to get the full flavor of his bile.

This will go on, and almost certainly intensify, for the next five months. We try to understand but let’s just admit that we really have no idea how it can be that this obscenity isn’t down by 25 points in every poll. 

To go back to where I started, the picture those polls have painted of America is unrecognizable — too dark and disturbing to contemplate and analyze. Even a glance leaves me shuddering and sick at heart and to my stomach. I have examined the foibles of polling previously and will go still deeper in an upcoming column but, for now, they are what they are and it is what it is. And I really don’t know what to say, what anyone can say.

That said, there’s this: Although there are several major tests coming in the months ahead (the debates, the conventions, the sentencing, and always the wild cards of economics, war, and even weather), the reality is that a Biden landslide is not much more likely than a collision with the moon. The Trump base is simply too impervious to any revelation.

This means that, from a fate-of-the-republic standpoint, our best hope for November is a narrow Biden win, which will be followed, as night follows day, by tumult that will make 2020-21 look like a Zen retreat and January 6 (2021) like very peaceful tourism. In short, Trump will call the MAGAs to arms, they will rampage, and we will likely be well on our way to some form of civil war

And that, my friends, is the best case scenario. Worse would be a Trump win, legitimate or rigged, with Project 2025 teed up and no adults in the room to stand in the way of the dictator-only-on-day-one’s invocation of the Insurrection Act, achieving his long-incubating goal of annihilating those who can’t bring themselves to love him.

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Or who knows — maybe the worst case is really the best case and the best case the worst. Little is certain other than that our democracy is in immediate and grave peril and November 5 is not likely to put an end to that peril. 

My bottom-line point? Far too many of us remain unengaged, too perplexed or disgusted or frightened to come to grips. And we can look away, cover our ears, call such alarms overwrought — as most called it overwrought when a few “catastrophists” floated the idea in 2020 that a defeated Trump would not “go.” 

We can have a nice summer and enjoy the leaf-fall in autumn — and we should.

But we, who care for our democracy, have a duty. We’ve had — most of us, let’s face it — pretty much a free ride. At last, courtesy of Donald Trump and some very sinister anti-democratic forces, our obligations have come due. Each of us has a vital role to play. All of us. 

Communicate (even when it seems useless); contribute (wisely, strategically, generously); prepare (for battle in its many possible forms). And if you feel sickened, as I do, know that you are not alone. We are a multitude. We too have strength and determination.

Voting is essential. It’s not enough. We can’t just vote while they maraud. 

I’m sorry if this is not something you want to hear or contemplate; I’m sorry if it seems to be hyperbole. Concerns about what might happen on January 6, 2021, seemed like hyperbole until January 6, 2021. Consider how much more human uranium has been enriched since then, and how much shorter the fuse. I take no pleasure in scaring the hell out of you. But right now I see it as a big part of my job as a journalist.


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