The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

First Tuesday in October

Starting in March, this year has seemed like a weird anthology TV show, with each month written and directed by a different team. We haven't had Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme yet; I'm hoping that'll be the season finale in February. This month we seem to have Armando Iannucci running the show, as the President's antics over the weekend suggest.

So here's how I'm spending lunch:

Tomorrow night will be the vice-presidential debate, which I will again live-blog. I can't wait.

The damage he's done, personal edition

First, a quick note: Joe and Jill Biden have tested negative for the virus.

Many of my friends, who I consider reasonable people, have spent the morning freaking out on social media about the President's Covid-19 infection. I'm a little alarmed and a little sad. Alarmed, because an unhealthy proportion of my friends seem to believe that the President or the White House is lying about it, perhaps to get out of the debate in two weeks, or perhaps to set up a hero's narrative when the President gets better.

I absolutely do not believe these conspiracy theories, not just because Occam's Razor says that someone who meets with dozens of unmasked people every day while spreading more disinformation about the disease than any other single source on the planet is pretty likely to catch it. I see also that the White House has (a) failed to provide information about how or when he may have contracted the virus; (b) downplayed his symptoms; but (c) already put the Vice President on stand-by, as further confirmation that he's actually sick. He's also a well-known germophobe who hates the thought of being infected with something more than he hates the thought of answering questions about his taxes. The evidence that he really has Covid-19 seems convincing, regardless of how he or his campaign may try to spin it later.

That aside, I'm also a little sad. Five years of constantly lying and actively tearing down our institutions has led to very smart people (e.g., my friends) immediately suspecting that this is just one more lie. The President and his pack of lickspittles and cronies have so damaged the country that people I love are wondering what his angle is in this announcement. He's 74 years old, obese, with some evidence of frontotemporal dementia—there is no angle here. If his disease progression is typical for someone with his comorbidities and age, he could be very sick two weeks from now. The Administration invoking the 25th Amendment—mere days before an election, something no president would ever want to happen for any conceivable reason—is now likelier than at any previous moment in his term.

The President contracting Covid-19 after nine months of lying about it and refusing to observe even the simplest prevention techniques in his own house is a breathtaking example of literary irony. That smart, thoughtful people on both sides of American politics immediately thought he was lying about it is its own irony. With only the slimmest apologies to Marx, the first is tragedy; the second, farce.

I sincerely hope the President and First Lady recover quickly, so he is fully aware and healthy when he loses the election, faces multiple criminal indictments in New York and other states, and pays hundreds of millions of dollars back to the US in tax penalties, as the institutions he's spent years trying to break show they still function just fine. Let him live to old age a pauper or an exile.

The President has Covid-19

After presidential adviser Hope Hicks tested positive for the coronavirus yesterday, he and the First Lady have also tested positive, and he showed symptoms at a fundraiser in New Jersey last night:

President Trump is showing symptoms of the novel coronavirus, but mild ones, according to two people familiar with his condition.

The president, who said on Thursday night that he had tested positive for the virus, has had what one person described as coldlike symptoms. At a fund-raiser he attended at his golf club at Bedminster, N.J., on Thursday, where one attendee said the president came in contact with about 100 people, he seemed lethargic.

A person briefed on the matter said that Mr. Trump fell asleep at one point on Air Force One on the way back from a rally in Minnesota on Wednesday night.

A White House official said that as of Thursday night, the president’s treatment plan was still being discussed. So was a possible national address or a videotaped statement from the president to demonstrate that he was functioning and that the government is uninterrupted.

The Vice President tested negative; the Speaker got tested this morning, but her results have not come back as of this writing.

Tragedy is a genre of story in which the protagonist is brought low by his own character flaws. We knew the President was a tragic figure, and many predicted this turn of events. That makes it even more tragic, in my opinion.

The most timely video you can watch this month

On 30 April 2011, President Obama addressed the White House Correspondents Dinner.

The funniest bit starts 9 minutes in, when he takes on his successor, so many years before anyone thought that would ever be a true sentence. And at 12:45, roasts the 46th president, even more years before anyone expected that to happen.

And he's really funny:

Oh, one other thing. Don't forget that the next evening (Washington time), the US Navy killed Osama bin Laden, for which Obama took complete responsibility—as he would have done had the raid failed. Which Obama had ordered just a couple hours before attending the dinner.

After that, watch his roast from 2015 for another dozen laughs. Man, I miss him.

The morning after

Last night's, ah, debate between the president and Joe Biden raised eyebrows worldwide:

The Chicago Tribune: "But despite his efforts to dominate the discussion, Trump was frequently put on the defensive and tried to sidestep when he was asked if he was willing to condemn white supremacists and paramilitary groups. ... The scattershot debate bounced from topic to topic, with Trump again refusing to embrace the science of climate change while Biden accused Trump of walking away from the American promise of equity for all and making a race-based appeal."

Josh Marshall: "Beyond all the individual offenses one of the underrated sub-themes of anti-Trumpism is exhaustion. One of the deepest traumas of living in the home of an abuser stems not from the outbursts of physical violence, verbal abuse or manipulation but the accumulated stress of ambient tension, uncertainty, the reflexive, unshakeable hyper-vigilance. It is exhausting in a profound way. Trump is exhausting – I suspect even for some who share his dark values. This was 90 minutes jam-packed with everything that makes Trump exhausting. ... The most important thing remains that Trump had to shift things in his favor and he failed. Since he’s already losing that’s a big loss. I suspect it was even worse for him. Maybe a turning point."

NBC: "It was unclear that Trump made up ground in an evening during which he put his brash and petulant style on full display, with the apparent intention of appearing dominant and making Biden look weak. Trump's approach to date has hemorrhaged support among seniors, suburban women and white college graduates, and those constituencies are likely to decide the election."

The New York Times: "For four years, Mr. Trump has rarely strayed from the warm confines of his own informational bubble. Any exposure to the outside world — a White House news conference, a friendly media interview, a rally with adoring supporters — has generally gone forward on his terms. But on Tuesday, this was a picture of a presidency stripped to its studs: an unpopular incumbent unfurling an often dubious defense."

Fox News: "'On the Trump side, it was too hot,' [former New Jersey governor Chris] Christie said. 'You come in and decide you want to be aggressive, and I think it's the right thing to be aggressive, but that was too hot. With all that heat, you lose the light. That potentially can be fixed. Maybe, maybe not.'"

The Washington Post: "Donald Trump came to heckle. He came to interrupt and to pontificate and to flail his arms, batting away questions and facts in a chaotic fury. He was a boor and a troll, holding up his stubby mitts in an angry pantomime as he tried to halt the words coming from former vice president Joe Biden’s mouth. Trump seemed to believe that with a single rude hand gesture, one that he regularly uses to assert his dominance, he could hold back the truth so he could be free to spin and hype and vent. It was an exhausting mess that spun beyond moderator Chris Wallace’s control and outside the bounds of anything that could reasonably be called a debate. It was a 90-minute display of a president’s testosterone-fueled, unmanaged rage and insecurity. Biden came to debate, God bless him."

NPR: "This was maybe the worst presidential debate in American history. If this was supposed to be a boxing match, it instead turned into President Trump jumping on the ropes, refusing to come down, the referee trying to coax him off, and Joe Biden standing in the middle of the ring with his gloves on and a confused look on his face."

The Toronto Star: "Trump’s onstage intensity and logorrhea have proved a formidable challenge for some of the nation’s leading interviewers. And with the president ignoring the traditional parameters of debate decorum, Wallace was left with few good options to keep Trump from chattering without pause."

The Guardian UK: "The looming question is whether Tuesday night’s performance will sway voters. While nearly three in four voters said they planned to watch the debate on Tuesday night, according to a recent Monmouth University poll, just 3% of voters said it was “very likely” to affect their vote in November."

The BBC: "[I]f Trump's goal was to turn this campaign into an ugly scrum, leaving voters alienated from the process and uncertain about whether there will be any kind of clarity or resolution at the end, it was an evening's work well done."

La Prensa: "Durante 90 minutos de debate el mandatario interrumpió constantemente a Biden y lo corrigió varias veces. Incluso el moderador Chris Wallace le pidió que dejara hablar a su oponente ante lo cual Trump increpó al periodista: 'Parece que estoy debatiendo contigo, no con él'. Este momento cristalizó un desempeño positivo de Biden, sobre el cual planeaban dudas ante sus conocidas equivocaciones y lapsus, que fueron aprovechadas por los republicanos para señalar que el exvicepresidente de 77 años tiene un deterioro mental."

Der Spiegel: "Soon you felt like you were in an elementary school yard - until presenter Chris Wallace of Fox News, who found himself unable to moderate the president at times, stated exhausted after an hour and a half: 'This is the end.'"

Betcha can't wait until October 15th!

What the ever loving fuck was that?

Every single talking head in the US is now saying "I've never seen a debate like this one." No kidding.

Judy Woodruff: "I can say we broke new ground with presidential debates."

I'm going to watch PBS's talking heads for a bit, until my head explodes, and then I'm going to read some of Kay Ryan's poetry because...because I need to.

I promised some reactions from friends:

  • "Joe's inherent goodness is actually breaking through."
  • "I wish I hadn't stopped drinking right now."
  • "Biden lost. He should have taken the power. All the actors see it."
  • "I don't think they should have the next two debates. Biden was far too decent to respond more than once or twice [to the president's bulldozing]..."
  • "Embarrassing."

Yeah, to everything but the third bullet point. I think Biden held his own, despite the president's schoolyard taunting.

I need another drink. I was way too sober for this clusterfuck.

Debate Live-Blogging

Start refreshing this page around 21:00 EDT. I'll be watching the festivities intently and reacting in real time.

The best idea for a drinking game I've heard is to take a drink every time the president tells the truth. (It's the best way to stay sober throughout.) In no small irony, neither of the candidates drinks, and both for largely the same reason (alcoholism in a close family member). I think the public will drink enough for both of them tonight, though.

All times below are Eastern US time, 4 hours behind UTC.

20:37: If you want to get warmed up, here are previews from Josh Marshall, Amber Philips, and James Fallows. And for the record, I'm having an old fashioned.

20:44: You can also read this fascinating article on hacking coffee makers. It's funny until it's not.

21:00: I'm watching PBS (WTTW-Chicago). In my experience, PBS tends to have the least hype and the calmest presentation after NPR. I would have NPR on instead, but radio and TV never line up in these things. Judy Woodruff has kicked it off...

21:04: And they're off! Chris Wallace lays out the rules. The woman directly behind him to the left is wearing a Biden/Harris mask. Both campaigns agreed the candidates will not shake hands at the start of the debate, which knocks everyone's bingo card off by a square right away.

21:09: Wallace starts with a question to both about the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett. The president: "We have the Senate, we have the White House. ... They had Merrick Garland, but they didn't have the election." Biden: "We should wait for the outcome of this election. ... The president wants to get rid of the Affordable Care Act...which will strip 20 million people from health care." The president: "There aren't 100 million people with pre-existing conditions." That's false; there are 129 million.

21:12: Biden: 200,000 deaths already; what does that mean if the ACA is struck down? The president is talking over him; Wallace is trying to get in there.

21:13: The president: "[Roe] isn't on the ballot. You don't know what's on the ballot." What?

21:14: Now Wallace and the president are arguing about Obamacare. Wallace says the president has no plan to replace it; the president says getting rid of the individual mandate is a plan. And now drug prices are coming down 80-90%? Insulin is so cheap it's like water?

21:17: Biden, on beating Bernie Sanders: "I'm standing here facing you, buddy." On the president: "Everybody knows he's a liar." On the president letting him finish: "He doesn't know how to do it." The president is trying to derail Biden with all his noise; Biden is just ploughing forward. But wow, as Quinta Jurecic wrote, the president is just so tedious.

21:21: Wallace asks about ending the filibuster and packing the court; is he willing to say whether he supports this? Biden: "That's a distraction. Go out and vote."

OH HO! Biden to the president: "Will you shut up, man?" Wow.

21:23: Biden: The president knew, and 200,000 people still died. Get out of your bunker and off your golf course and save lives. The president: It's Jina's fault. You don't know many people died in Jina, or India.

21:25: There it is! "Fake news!"

21:26: Biden, talking directly to the people at home: "How many of you lost your mom and dad with the nurse holding the phone up?" The president keeps interrupting, the picture of confidence.

21:28: The president on the vaccine: "It's a very political thing. [Drug companies] can go faster but the left won't let them." What? "We have the military all set up" to deliver the vaccine. Biden: "This is the same man who told you that, by Easter, it would be gone. ... Maybe if you inject some bleach in your arm."

21:31: Biden: "Unless he gets a lot smarter more people are going to die." The president: "Don't say 'smart'," you public schoolboy. Biden: "Oh, please."

21:32: The president: "Nancy Pelosi." Biden: "Oh, hush."

21:36: The president, on holding big rallies: "People hear what I want to say." Wallace: But, virus? "We do them outside. We have tremendous crowds. And Joe does the circles and has 3 people." Biden: "He's not worried about you, he's worried about himself."

21:37: "The Jina plague." "Two million people would be dead. ... It should never have happened from Jina."

21:39: Biden: "Billionaires have made another $300 billion...but you people at home, how well are you doing?" Here comes the $750 tax payment.

21:41: Biden on opening the economy is tying the policies back to the entire Republican Party. The president brought back Big-10 football.

21:42: And here it comes: Wallace asks about the Times article. The president: "I paid millions of dollars in taxes." Biden: "Show us your tax returns."

21:44: Now the president is trying to explain how the Obama administration gave him all the tax cuts that he used because he's not stupid. That's going to play well in Scranton. Biden: "I'm going to eliminate the ... tax cuts." "You're the worst president America's ever had."

21:48: The president is saying Obama had "the slowest recovery ever." Oh? Biden: "We had the worst recession since the great depression, and he blew it."

21:50: I can't imagine that most Americans find this at all useful. The president is just bloviating. Biden: "It's hard to get any word in with this clown."

21:52: Wallace has lost control.

21:54: Wallace: Why should the voters trust either one of you on race? Biden: "We have never walked away from trying to achieve equality." Brings up the KKK rally, and "very fine people."

21:57: A friend of mine who's a teacher says "As someone who commonly gets interrupted by children for a living, [Biden is] doing pretty decent."

21:59: Biden says nonviolence and peaceful protest work. The president interrupts with accusations about violence at protests.

22:00: Wallace: "Do you believe there is systemic racism in the country?" The president says he saved the military by getting rid of "bad and sick ideas" about sensitivity training. "They were teaching people that our country is a horrible place, that it's a racist place." Biden: "He's the racist. ... People have to be made aware of what other people feel like. ... There is nothing we [Americans] cannot do if we do it together." The president: "There was violence and racism under Obama" because of the Democratic mayors are radical lefties.

22:05: The president has insulted Chicago. Biden: "He wouldn't recognize the suburbs. This isn't 1950."

22:06: Biden: "The police need more resources. Where the officers get to know the communities."

22:08: One of my friends texted, "no legitimate candidate should get on the stage and debate [the president]." Another person texted me: "I think they should cancel the next two debates. This is totally useless. I agree with [you], Wallace has lost control." Another friend: "[Biden] cannot start acting like [the president]. ... if he does that, we've lost."

22:11: The president is boasting that Obama left him 128 judge vacancies. Will Biden say why? Hmmmm?

22:13: Biden: "He's Putin's puppy." But nothing about the judges.

22:15: The president is going after Hunter while Biden is talking about Beau. Wallace finally jumped in, but Biden didn't get his full time. The president's entire strategy is to disrupt and posture.

22:17: The president wants "immaculate air and immaculate water" but won't answer the simple question on whether he believes in climate change.

22:19: I'm annoyed with some of my friends, whose responses I will post (anonymously) at the end, who are bending over themselves trying to find ways Biden lost. I'm finding it very frustrating. I think Biden is holding his own, without getting into a shit-slinging contest.

22:21: Biden lays out a cogent, thoughtful plan to address climate change. This is what a candidate should do.

22:23: Biden goes after the president's existing climate policies. The president once again interrupts with nonsensical fear-mongering about taking out the cows or something. Wallace redirects, cuing up Biden to point out that we can create millions of jobs in environmental remediation.

22:26: The Biden campaign is already selling "Will you shut up, man?" t-shirts.

22:27: Election integrity question. Whoo boy. Biden tells people where to find good information, points out that mail-in ballots are safe according to the FBI director. Blames the president for scare-mongering; "vote, vote, vote. Vote early. He cannot stop you."

22:29: The president says "there was no transition." Crooked Hillary; a coup; they spied on me. He's getting all of the crazy in this answer. Wallace gave him a wide-open door to go off on scare-mongering about the election. But...Wallace is now following up with actual facts.

22:32: The president just admitted he wants Barret to be on the Supreme Court, and SCOTUS to decide on the ballots. "This is not going to end well," says the guy in charge.

22:33: Biden: "He's just afraid of counting the votes."

22:36: The president is "urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch."

22:37: Of course Biden will wait until the election is independently certified. (Does Wallace sound nervous? There's a definite quiver in his voice.)

22:38: Biden: "I'll be the president for everyone."

More fallout from the Times report

Daniel Shaviro, a veteran tax attorney, lays out 10 takeaways from the New York Times story Sunday about the president's tax returns:

1) Tax is the least of it. The article offers direct evidence of Trump’s impending financial liability to unknown lenders, and of pervasive conflicts of interest as president, that are of grave national security concern.

6) The consulting fees that Trump’s various foreign businesses paid to Ivanka Trump and others look potentially fraudulent

Based on what the article says, several different types of fraud may have been involved here. Fees paid to family members who did not provide services in return would be improper deductions. Fees paid to “consultants” who were employees might be properly deductible by the business – as salary – but would potentially trigger 3.8 percent payroll tax liability by the recipient under the so-called Medicare payroll tax. Fees that were actually gifts to family members were not properly deductible, and also may have generated gift tax liability on Trump’s part that the mislabeling helped to conceal.

10) There is an old saying that one can never detect tax fraud purely on the face of a tax return – but this comes closer than usual. – Even wholly fraudulent tax returns generally do not proclaim their fraudulence on their face. The Trump returns presumably are no exception, and much of the evidence suggesting possible fraudulence was developed in the Times article through the use of other sources. Nonetheless, with that aid, the Times article makes a powerful initial case, clearly meriting investigation, that substantial tax fraud may have occurred.

Over at the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin sees this as yet more evidence that "Everything [the president] touches dies:"

Trump will surely need to account for the latest bombshell at the debate on Tuesday, but Democratic nominee Joe Biden should be clear that Trump’s financial losses are far from his most egregious failure. Instead, Biden should point to the loss of more than 200,000 American lives, of millions of jobs, of America’s international prestige, of the Supreme Court’s integrity, of the presidency’s dignity, of the country’s unity and of the justice system’s credibility. Everything Trump touches is made worse. His rallies bring super-spreaders to America; his policies bring one catastrophe after another.

The latest revelations — and those the Times promises are to come — make it much harder, if not impossible, for Trump to find safer terrain in the waning days of the race. He has failed to come up with a coherent (let alone winning) argument against Biden, and worse, has handed Biden one devastating argument after another to deploy against him. He generates devastating stories faster than Biden’s opposition research team can compile them. We have every reason to believe things will get even worse for Trump in the days ahead.

As for tonight's debate, tune in to The Daily Parker. I'll be live-blogging.

All the president's taxes

The New York Times dropped a bomb over the weekend with its revelation that it obtained 20 years of the president's tax returns. The documents show that either the president is one of the worst businessmen in American history, or he has committed (and indeed may still be committing) one of the largest tax frauds in American history. Actually, it looks like both:

The tax returns that Mr. Trump has long fought to keep private tell a story fundamentally different from the one he has sold to the American public. His reports to the I.R.S. portray a businessman who takes in hundreds of millions of dollars a year yet racks up chronic losses that he aggressively employs to avoid paying taxes. Now, with his financial challenges mounting, the records show that he depends more and more on making money from businesses that put him in potential and often direct conflict of interest with his job as president.

The picture that perhaps emerges most starkly from the mountain of figures and tax schedules prepared by Mr. Trump’s accountants is of a businessman-president in a tightening financial vise.

Most of Mr. Trump’s core enterprises — from his constellation of golf courses to his conservative-magnet hotel in Washington — report losing millions, if not tens of millions, of dollars year after year.

His revenue from “The Apprentice” and from licensing deals is drying up, and several years ago he sold nearly all the stocks that now might have helped him plug holes in his struggling properties.

The tax audit looms.

And within the next four years, more than $300 million in loans — obligations for which he is personally responsible — will come due.

I've had a security clearance, and let me just say that debt will keep you from getting one. You can be a paid-up member of the Communist Party and have a secret drug stash in your basement and still get a top secret clearance—as long as you have no significant debts and you admit the drug stash in your SF-86. But that's just one of the president's problems, according to the documents:

He appears to have paid off none of the principal of the Trump Tower mortgage, and the full $100 million comes due in 2022. And if he loses his dispute with the I.R.S. over the 2010 refund, he could owe the government more than $100 million (including interest on the original amount).

In the 1990s, Mr. Trump nearly ruined himself by personally guaranteeing hundreds of millions of dollars in loans, and he has since said that he regretted doing so. But he has taken the same step again, his tax records show. He appears to be responsible for loans totaling $421 million, most of which is coming due within four years.

Should he win re-election, his lenders could be placed in the unprecedented position of weighing whether to foreclose on a sitting president. Whether he wins or loses, he will probably need to find new ways to use his brand — and his popularity among tens of millions of Americans — to make money.

You can predict the reactions. The president called it "fake news," which means it's true. The Wall Street Journal appears to have ignored it—there's not a single story on their main or opinion pages about it at this writing. Fox News highlighted the president's and his press secretary's responses, but below the fold, in small headlines.

On our side, NBC's Jonathan Allen believes this is "devastating for his campaign:"

The vast majority of his base voters won't care whether he paid taxes or lied about being a successful businessman. His ability to pull one over on the public or the government — perhaps both — will be accepted by most of his supporters as evidence of his cunning, his acumen and his strategic brilliance.

But that base is simultaneously Trump's greatest strength and weakness on the electoral battlefield.

His inability to expand beyond his base and court the less strident is the main challengeto his re-election hopes. And the tax records make things worse. The documents reinforce narratives about Trump that fire up Democrats and give pause to Republican-leaning voters who might be persuaded either to cast ballots for Democratic nominee Joe Biden or simply stay home.

So while the tax records don't contain many surprises for those who have paid close attention to Trump's business dealings — and the distance between his boasts and the reality of his record as the head of the firms that make up "Trump Inc." — they do put Trump in a position he would like to have avoided.

Catherine Rampell of the Washington Post agrees with me:

For his part, Trump has previously argued that shirking his tax obligations made him “smart.” He suggested that he merely took advantage of legal loopholes, the kind available to deep-pocketed Americans who can afford top-notch tax preparation advice. And as I’ve written before, the real estate industry enjoys tons of loopholes and other opportunities for legally minimizing tax obligations, most notably through depreciation deductions. But per the Times, Trump’s “three European golf courses, the Washington hotel, Doral and Trump Corporation reported losing a total of $150.3 million from 2010 through 2018, without including depreciation as an expense.”

That is: They were money pits.

Additionally, Times reporters Russ Buettner, Susanne Craig and Mike McIntire include details of tax practices that were, at best, extraordinarily aggressive and, at worst, suggest possible fraud on a massive scale.

These include deducting lifestyle expenses, such as the cost of haircuts, as if they were business expenses. Or appearing to pay Ivanka Trump consulting fees on the same hotel deals that she helped manage as part of her job at her father’s business, an arrangement that may have been a way to transfer assets without paying gift taxes.

One might reasonably wonder why Trump, who appears to tweet, watch TV and golf more than he exercises his duties as president, has ever wanted a second term. Well, in addition to his desire to finally build his border wall or continue dodging potential indictments, we now know that Trump has about a half-billion dollars’ worth of motivation to stay in office four more years.

These documents show what we've really known all along: the president has perpetrated the biggest con on the American people in the country's history. But you can't fool all of the people all of the time.

Will this really change the election? Well, a 1% swing in any of the battleground states would have done it four years ago.

In related news, Showtime's The Comey Rule will frustrate the hell out of you. I strongly recommend it.

The Little Dictator

Nicholas Kristof reminds us that you can beat a narcissistic authoritarian by laughing at him:

That’s one gauge of the power of humor: Dictators fear mockery. The Committee to Protect Journalists says it has intervened this year alone to defend seven cartoonists around the world who were arrested, threatened with prosecution or threatened with death.

Leaders like Trump who pose as religious are particularly easy to skewer, as Iranians have shown in their use of humor to highlight the hypocrisy of their own mullahs. Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi is still nicknamed “Crocodile” because of a cartoon many years ago by Nik Kowsar, who now lives in exile in America because hard-liners arrested him and threatened to murder him.

Citizens who aren’t political are often wary of pro-democracy leaders who are perceived as radical, as irreligious or as overeducated elitists. But those ordinary citizens appreciate a joke, so humor becomes a way to win them over.

“The grins of the people are the nightmares of the dictators,” wrote Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese dissident who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 while in prison. He is best-known for his eloquent essays calling for democracy, but he argued that humor is also essential in undermining authoritarian rulers.

Liu generously added — and this may be relevant to a polarized country like the United States — that satirizing an authoritarian is good for the nation because it makes the eventual downfall and transition softer and less violent.

I sincerely hope that Joe Biden mocks the president mercilessly on Tuesday.