Thousands of student-loan borrowers are set to get emails from Biden that their balances are wiped out. Here’s what happens next.

Business Insider

Thousands of student-loan borrowers are set to get emails from Biden that their balances are wiped out. Here’s what happens next.

Ayelet Sheffey – February 21, 2024

  • Biden announced $1.2 billion in student-debt cancellation for 153,000 borrowers.
  • It’s a result of early implementation of a SAVE plan provision to shorten the timeline for debt relief.
  • Biden is notifying impacted borrowers on Wednesday, and it could take a few weeks for servicers to apply the relief.

Student-loan borrowers, check your emails — you might find a message from President Joe Biden in your inbox telling you that your debt is canceled.

On Wednesday morning, the White House and Education Department announced it would be canceling $1.2 billion in student debt for 153,000 borrowers — the result of early implementation of a provision in the SAVE income-driven repayment plan that shortens the timeline for borrowers to see relief.

Specifically, borrowers who originally took out $12,000 in loans or less and have made as few as 10 years of qualifying payments are becoming eligible to have their remaining balances wiped out.

Beginning on Wednesday, borrowers in the first batch of relief will receive emails from Biden stating: “Congratulations—all or a portion of your federal student loans will be forgiven because you qualify for early loan forgiveness under my Administration’s SAVE Plan.”

“I hope this relief gives you a little more breathing room,” the email, a draft of which was reviewed by Business Insider, said. “I’ve heard from countless people who have told me that relieving the burden of their student loan debt will allow them to support themselves and their families, buy their first home, start a small business, and move forward with life plans they’ve put on hold.”

A White House fact sheet stated that the shortened timeline to forgiveness will especially help “borrowers with smaller loans and put many on track to being free of student debt faster than ever before.” Additionally, per the fact sheet, 7.5 million borrowers are enrolled in the SAVE plan, and 4.3 million of them have a $0 monthly payment.

Here’s what will happen next for borrowers who are, or hope to be, eligible for SAVE plan relief.

Next steps for SAVE plan debt relief

Biden’s email noted that the Education Department has already informed impacted borrowers’ loan servicers that they are eligible for relief. The relief will happen automatically, and borrowers who are notified will not need to take any action.

Servicers will notify borrowers that their forgiveness has been applied, but “it may take some time for your account with your servicer to reflect this change,” per the email. It recommends borrowers wait at least 21 days after being notified of the relief to contact their servicers if they still do not see the relief applied to their accounts.

The Education Department also said that beginning next week, it will start emailing borrowers not currently on the SAVE plan that they could become eligible for relief if they enroll. Borrowers already enrolled in SAVE but not included in the first batch of debt relief will have their loans automatically discharged once they meet the criteria, and the department will continue evaluating borrowers’ accounts “on a regular basis,” per its press release.

Biden’s email also cautioned borrowers to watch out for scams and said that any notification regarding debt relief would come from,, or

More upcoming student-debt relief

While the relief announced on Wednesday was a result of early implementation, other provisions of the SAVE plan will be going into effect in July. Those include cutting payments for undergraduate loans in half and allowing periods in deferment of forbearance to count toward forgiveness progress.

Beyond the SAVE plan, the Education Department is also planning to complete its one-time account adjustments for borrowers on income-driven repayment plans and Public Service Loan Forgiveness by July 1. The adjustments have so far given thousands of borrowers relief, but the department recommends borrowers who are not in the federal direct loan program or have federally-held loans in the Federal Family Education Loan program consolidate their loans by the end of April to benefit from the adjustment.

More broadly, on February 22 and 23, the department is holding its final negotiation session with stakeholders to help craft its second attempt at student-debt relief after the Supreme Court struck down the first plan. Once negotiations conclude, the department will prepare proposed text on the borrowers it’s seeking to include in this new relief plan.

Presidential greatness is rarely fixed in stone – changing attitudes on racial injustice and leadership qualities lead to dramatic shifts

The Conversation

Presidential greatness is rarely fixed in stone – changing attitudes on racial injustice and leadership qualities lead to dramatic shifts

George R. Goethals, University of Richmond – February 18, 2024

A statue of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, sits in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. Historians consistently have given Lincoln, the Great Emancipator, their highest rating because of his leadership during the Civil War. <span>Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images</span>
A statue of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, sits in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. Historians consistently have given Lincoln, the Great Emancipator, their highest rating because of his leadership during the Civil War. Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Every American president has landed in the history books. And historians’ assessments of their performance have been generally consistent over time. But some presidents’ rankings have changed as the nation – and historians themselves – reassessed the country’s values and priorities.

Historians have been ranking presidents in surveys since Arthur Schlesinger Sr.’s first such study appeared in Life magazine in 1948. The results of that survey categorized Presidents Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Franklin D. RooseveltWoodrow Wilson, Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson as “great.”

At the other end of the ranking, Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Warren Harding were labeled “failure.”

There have been numerous surveys ranking presidents since then, including a 1962 survey by Arthur Schlesinger Jr., which showed Jackson dropping into a “near great” category.

Changing views shift rankings

While the surveys point to Americans’ evolving social attitudes, with implications for our electoral politics and governance, they don’t always ask historians the same questions. Some simply ask them to rank presidents. Others ask them to also judge specific aspects of leadership, such as economic policy or international diplomacy.

Despite the relative stability of the ratings across surveys – especially at the top, where Lincoln, Washington and Roosevelt consistently hold sway – there have been some dramatic changes. C-SPAN’s four surveys on presidential leadership, for example, show some shifts in historians’ ranking of presidents over time.

Since 2000, the cable network has polled prominent historians every time there has been a change in administrations. So, C-SPAN conducted surveys in 20092017 and 2021 as well.

The surveys offer not only an overall ranking of presidents, but also rankings in each of the following 10 categories: public persuasion, crisis leadership, economic management, moral authority, international relations, administrative skills, relations with Congress, vision and agenda setting, pursuance of equal justice for all, and performance within the context of the times.

While Lincoln has ranked at the top of each survey, the two presidents who served right before him – Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan, both sympathetic to slavery – and his immediate successor, white supremacist Andrew Johnson, have consistently ranked at the bottom. Donald Trump debuted in C-SPAN’s 2021 survey near the bottom. He was ranked 41st of 45 presidents.

A suited man, with ear-length hair, sits with his left hand resting on a side table.
Andrew Johnson was Abraham Lincoln’s vice president and successor. As president, he vetoed legislation designed to help African Americans during Reconstruction. The Print Collector/ Hulton Archive via Getty Images
What is a good leader?

As a social psychologist and leadership scholar at the University of Richmond’s Jepson School of Leadership Studies, with long-standing interests in presidential leadership, I believe these surveys can be best understood in terms of psychologist Dean Keith Simonton’s model of evaluating presidents.

He maintains that historians generally view leaders, including presidents, positively to the extent that they fit a deeply ingrained image of someone who is strong, active and good. And that image comes to mind when they think of attributes and events linked to a president that suggest he was a good leader. Examples include how long he served, whether he was a war hero and whether he was assassinated, and in that sense, was a martyr.

On the other hand, historians also easily recall scandals, such as Richard Nixon’s Watergate and Harding’s Teapot Dome. These detract from these presidents’ “good” image, as evidenced by Nixon’s and Harding’s rankings of 31st and 37th, respectively, in C-SPAN’s 2021 survey.

Race matters

In recent years, presidents’ positions on race and racism have been important factors in historians’ evaluations of their records. For example, Wilson’s rather startling efforts to segregate federal offices and the military are becoming more widely known as scholars explore that aspect of his presidency.

His actions in that regard may overshadow his international idealism, which favored morality over materialism and has been viewed positively. He is no longer considered one of our “great” presidents. In Schlesinger Sr.’s 1948 survey, he ranked fourth of 29 presidents. But in 2021, historians ranked him 13th of 45 for C-SPAN.

Jackson dropped the most in C-SPAN’s surveys, from 13th in 2000 to 22nd in 2021. His commitment to Indian removal from Southern and Midwestern states, not unique for the time, and the resulting Trail of Tears – the forced and violent relocation of Native Americans from their homelands – are important topics in today’s political discussions.

A suited man stands with a top hat in his right hand as his left hand rests on a side table dressed in a table cloth.
President Grover Cleveland, in office from 1885 to 1889 and 1893 to 1897, opposed efforts to integrate schools or give African Americans, whom he considered inferior to white people, voting rights. Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

Several other presidents who lost ground, including James PolkZachary TaylorRutherford B. Hayes and Grover Cleveland, were associated with efforts to extend slavery or with failure to protect African Americans following Reconstruction.

Then there is the case of Grant. Ranked at the bottom as a failure in the mid-20th century, he had the largest ranking change of any president in the C-SPAN surveys. He jumped 13 places from 33rd in 2000 to 20th in 2021. He had already moved up from second-to-last place in the 1948 and 1962 Schlesinger surveys to somewhere in the bottom quartile in 2000, to a position in 2021 where more presidents ranked worse than he did.

The 2021 C-SPAN survey ranks Grant sixth on “pursued equal justice for all,” behind only Lincoln, Lyndon Johnson, Barack Obama, Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter. Given the centrality of equal justice, which may overshadow whatever connection Grant may have had to scandals in his administration, such as Crédit Mobilier and the Whiskey Ring, Grant rises in historians’ overall evaluation.

Moral authority

This all suggests historians have quite simple ways of evaluating presidents. We have an image of the ideal leader. Just a few pieces of information relating to that ideal make a big difference in whether we view presidents as fitting or not fitting that image. This is particularly true of our perception of how good they were. Presidents’ moral commitments speak loudly to whether or not we view them as good.

Interestingly, on the quality of “moral authority” in the C-SPAN surveys from 2000 to 2021, Grant’s ranking rose 14 rungs, from 31st to 17th, even more than it did on “pursued equal justice for all,” where it rose 12 rungs, from 18th to sixth. Wilson and Jackson dropped 13 and 18 places, respectively, on “moral authority.”

Clearly, moral judgments loom large in historians’ assessments of presidential leadership.

A bearded man, dressed in a suit, sits with his right leg crossed over his left. His left hand rests on a book, atop a side table.
Ulysses S. Grant, once ranked poorly by historians, now gets high marks. His advocacy for African American voting rights stands out among his efforts for the freedmen during Reconstruction. Print Collector/Hulton Archive via Getty Images

New presidential rankings place Obama in top 10, Reagan and Trump below Biden

Fox News

New presidential rankings place Obama in top 10, Reagan and Trump below Biden

Michael Lee – February 18, 2024

New presidential rankings place Obama in top 10, Reagan and Trump below Biden

A new ranking of presidents by a group of self-styled experts determined that Abraham Lincoln is America’s greatest president, while Donald Trump ranks last.

Lincoln topped the list of presidents in the 2024 Presidential Greatness Project expert survey for the third time, following his top spot in the rankings in the 2015 and 2018 versions of the survey.

According to a release from the Presidential Greatness Project, which touts itself as the “foremost organization of social science experts in presidential politics,” the 154 respondents to the survey included “current and recent members of the Presidents & Executive Politics Section of the American Political Science Association…as well as scholars who have recently published peer-reviewed academic research in key related scholarly journals or academic presses.”


Split image of Obama, Reagan, Trump, and Biden
Former Presidents Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump, and President Biden

The respondents were asked to rank presidents on a scale of 0-100, with 0 being a failure, 50 being average and 100 being great. Rounding out the top five in the rankings were Franklin Delano Roosevelt at number two, George Washington at three, Theodore Roosevelt at four, and Thomas Jefferson at five.

Trump was ranked in last place in the survey, being ranked worse than James Buchanan at 44, Andrew Johnson at 43, Franklin Peirce at 42, and William Henry Harrison at 41.

Respondents were also tracked by their political affiliation and ideology, which the release argues did not “tend to make a major difference overall” in the rankings, though there were some outliers, mainly with recent presidents.

Lincoln portrait
Abraham Lincoln topped the list of presidents once again.


Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Trump were more likely to be ranked higher by conservatives or Republicans, with Reagan being ranked an average of 5th by Republicans respondents, Bush 19th and Trump 41st. Among Democrat respondents, Reagan was rated an average of 18th, Bush 33rd and Trump 45th.

A similar partisan divide was noticeable for Barack Obama and President Biden, who ranked an average of 6th and 13th, respectively, among Democrat respondents, and 15th and 30th by Republicans. Bill Clinton, a Democrat, was ranked higher by Republican respondents (10th) than he was by Democrats (12th).

Obama speaks at podium
President Obama

The divide resulted in an overall ranking of 7th for Obama, 12th for Clinton, 14th for Biden, 16th for Reagan and 32nd for Bush.

While men ran for cover, women rose and stared down Donald Trump

The Charlotte Observer – Opinion

While men ran for cover, women rose and stared down Donald Trump | Opinion

Gene Nichol – January 27, 2024

I’m much taken with a particular photograph of Nancy Pelosi. It’s from October 2019. In it, Pelosi stands across the White House Cabinet Room pointing an accusing finger at a seated Donald Trump. The president and the speaker are only a few feet apart. Still, Pelosi is resolute, undaunted. Punctuating a heated foreign policy disagreement, she was reportedly saying that, with Trump, “all roads lead to Putin.” Frosty and fearless.

But that’s not what I find most remarkable about the photo. Pelosi and Trump were not alone in the room. They were surrounded by executive officials and congressional leaders. None, except Pelosi, seemed comfortable with the turn of events. The AP reported:

“Eyeballs – most belonging to men – are averted. Heads are bowed around the table, including those of Joint Chief of Staff Chairman, Mark Milley and House Republican Whip Steve Scalise. House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy’s eyes are closed. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is leaning back, a few chairs down from Trump.”

As the males looked for cover, Pelosi rose, and led.

It reminded me of video clips I’d seen from the Oval Office. President Trump would meet in the lavish room with Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to hammer out their multifaceted differences. Schumer might be energetic and forceful at the press conference afterwards, beyond the confines of the famous building. But when sitting across from Trump, Schumer seemed afraid to look him in the eyes. Only Pelosi fixed her gaze on the bully. Brave, resolute, mission-driven. Never, even for a moment, contemplating fear. Courage occupied only one seat in those meetings. And it wasn’t companion to the males.

The picture I describe points to a growing reality – the outsized role of women in modeling courage, teaching fearlessness, in the new American battle for democracy. We’ve all seen this, thought of it, been marked and altered by it.

Liz Cheney stood not only against Trump, but almost every shamed and humiliated enabler of her caucus and political party. She put her leadership position and her congressional seat on the line in favor of her sacred oath and love of country. She did it all knowingly, without a conceivable doubt about what was to come. I can’t forget the words:

“Tonight I say this to my Republican colleagues who are defending the indefensible. There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.”

Nathan Hale had nothing on Liz Cheney.

Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, election workers from Fulton County, Georgia, refused to surrender to the intimidation, slanders, and threats of Rudy Giuliani in one of modern America’s starkest contests between good and unrelenting evil. Their prior lives and attachments to beloved community had been sundered by darkness. Trump boasted on a fateful call to Brad Raffensperger that “Freeman’s reputation is done – she is known all over the internet for fraud.” But unlike the fabulist of Mar-a-Lago, Freeman and Moss’ character abides. It gleams. And teaches.

Cassidy Hutchinson, with astonishing stoicism, quietly insisted on the truth, under unspeakable pressure, as Mark Meadows hid, dissembled and conceded his powerlessness before the master — as if gutlessness is all one can expect from human beings.

And E. Jean Carroll, an 80-year-old sexual assault survivor, reclaimed her life, amid continuing taunts by Trump, even at the cost of having to face down her vile assailant. It’s not right to force “a woman to be quiet,” she explained. Even if supposed toughs depend on it.

If we see more women leaders, we’ll see more courage.

Contributing columnist Gene Nichol is a professor of law at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

Back in the USSR: New high school textbooks in Russia whitewash Stalin’s terror as Putin wages war on historical memory

The Conversation

Back in the USSR: New high school textbooks in Russia whitewash Stalin’s terror as Putin wages war on historical memory

Anya Free, Arizona State University – January 23, 2024

Hey, kids, meet Josef Stalin.

New Russian high school textbooks – introduced in August 2023 on the instruction of President Vladimir Putin – attempt to whitewash Stalinist crimes and rehabilitate the Soviet Union’s legacy. While schools and teachers previously could pick educational materials from a variety of choices, these newly created textbooks are mandatory reading for 10th and 11th graders in Russia and occupied territories.

As a scholar of Russian and Soviet history, I see the new books as just another example of state-sponsored efforts to use history and scholarship to serve Putin’s agenda and goals.

Other recent attempts along these lines include the establishment in November 2023 of the National Center of Historical Memory, tasked with preserving “traditional Russian spiritual and moral values, culture and historical memory”; the creation of a sprawling network of historical parks called “Russia: My History,” with new branches in occupied Ukrainian cities Luhansk and Melitopol; and the 2023 publication of a collection of archival documents called “On Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians.”

These projects not only demonstrate Putin’s desire to control the historical narrative but to serve the goal of promoting Russian cultural and educational imperialism.

Putin’s efforts to redeem the Soviet past may help explain why Stalin is up in the polls, with 63% of Russians asked in June 2023 expressing a positive attitude toward the Soviet dictator behind widespread purges, mass executions, forced labor camps and policies leading to the deaths of millions of his own compatriots.

But Stalin’s place in history remains divisive within the nations he once ruled over, especially where Russia retains significant political and cultural influence.

Russian President Vladimir Putin walks by the grave of Soviet leader Josef Stalin on June 25, 2015, in Moscow. <a href=
Russian President Vladimir Putin walks by the grave of Soviet leader Josef Stalin on June 25, 2015, in Moscow. Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images

In January 2024, a newly installed icon honoring Stalin in his homeland of Georgia was defaced – an act exposing deep divisions.

The number of privately funded monuments to the dictator is increasing, while the memorials to victims of political repression in Russia are disappearing. Yet, activists are still fighting to commemorate those who perished.

Whitewashing history

Putin, famously obsessed with history, has been talking about the creation of national history textbooks since 2013. In August 2023, Putin’s wish was finally granted when one of his closest associates, former Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky, presented new textbooks for 10th and 11th grade students: two in Russian history and two in World history. Medinsky co-authored all four.

The 10th grade textbooks cover the period from 1914 to 1945. The 11th grade textbooks cover history from 1945 to the present day and include sections on the current Russian-Ukrainian war, called in Russia a “Special Military Operation” as an official euphemism.

Warping historical narratives

The new school textbooks maintain some nuance in their coverage of Stalinism, yet that nuance can be described as “yes, but,” which makes it even more effective in warping the historical narrative.

The 10th grade Russian history textbook, for example, briefly mentions the dramatic consequences of collectivization of Soviet agriculture, including the 1932-33 man-made famines in UkraineKazakhstanNorth Caucasus and other regions. Yet it puts the blame exclusively on the poor harvests and mistakes of the local leadership rather than the Stalinist policies that caused and exacerbated the famines. Ukraine’s great famine, or Holodomor, in particular is considered by many historians and international organizations to be a genocide.

Mugs decorated with images of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Soviet leader Josef Stalin are seen on sale among other items at a gift shop in Moscow on March 11, 2020. <a href=
Mugs decorated with images of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Soviet leader Josef Stalin are seen on sale among other items at a gift shop in Moscow on March 11, 2020. Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP via Getty Images

Additionally, in the section on World War II, the students learn that the “collective feat of the peasantry” during the war would have been “impossible in the case of the domination of the private landholdings” – in other words, it was only possible under the Soviet system.

The Russian history textbook briefly mentions the “Great Terror” of 1937-38, in which millions were arrested and an estimated 700,000 to 1.2 million were executed. Mention is also made of the personal role of Stalin, while also emphasizing the role of private denunciations and authorities of various Soviet republics and regions. But the creator of the Soviet secret police and an architect of the post-revolutionary “Red Terror,” Felix Dzerzhinsky, is praised for his role in “combating counter-revolution,” “creation of the professional educational system” and “restoration of the railroads.”

All national histories are inherently biased, even in democratic societies. Medinsky’s textbooks are, however, a distortion of history. The authors lose any attempt at objectivity while discussing Soviet foreign policy as always defensive and serving to protect everyone whom the USSR occupies and annexes.

The whitewashing of Stalin and his crimes is, I believe, crucial for understanding Putin’s creep toward ever more imperialist ideology and goals. In 2017, Putin participated in the opening ceremony for the memorial to the victims of political repressions in Moscow, during which he acknowledged the violence of Stalin’s terror and argued that it cannot be “justified by anything.” Yet his obsession with World War II led him to just that.

Putin and ideologists in the Russian leader circle have increasingly asserted that Stalin’s foreign policy and his leadership in World War II supersede his crimes against his own people. In his 2020 article in the U.S. journal National Interest, Putin praised Stalin for his great “understanding of the nature of external threats” and actions that he undertook to “strengthen the country’s defenses.”

The war on historical memory

The more aggressive Russia’s politics are, the more protective the state is over the Soviet historical legacy. Since 2020, Moscow authorities have not allowed demonstrations traditionally held in Moscow on Oct. 29 to commemorate victims of the Great Terror of the 1930s.

In December 2021, Russian authorities ordered the “liquidation” of the human rights group Memorial , fully unleashing the war on historical memory. The organization, which was among the three recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2022, was blamed by the Russian Supreme Court for “distorting memory about the War,” “rehabilitating Nazis” and “creating a false image of the USSR and Russia as terrorist states.” It is not a coincidence that an attack on the organization that for decades documented the Soviet terror came in the midst of the anti-Western and anti-Ukrainian hysteria and right before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Memorial, however, still stands, despite immense pressure from the authorities, attesting to the great power of resistance.

In the newly written Putinist narrative of history, the state and its expansion is always at the center, just as it was during Stalinism. The people are treated according to a proverb favored by Stalin, which sums up his attitude toward the ruthless and brutal measures he imposed: “When the wood is cut down, the chips are flying.”

This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit, independent news organization bringing you facts and analysis to help you make sense of our complex world.

Trump Chooses Absolutely Baffling New Topic For Latest Rambling Aside


Trump Chooses Absolutely Baffling New Topic For Latest Rambling Aside

Ed Mazza – January 22, 2024

Embedded video

Donald Trump’s speech on Sunday took an unexpected turn when he went on a tangent about the names of U.S. military installations.

“We won world wars out of forts,” he said at an event in Rochester, New Hampshire. “Fort Benning, Fort This, Fort That, many forts. They changed the name, we won wars out of these forts, they changed the name, they changed the name of the forts. A lot of people aren’t too happy about that.”

Trump then essentially repeated what he’d just said.

“They changed the name of a lot of our forts. We won two world wars out of a lot of these forts and they changed the name,” he said. “It’s unbelievable.”

Nine U.S. military installations named for Confederate generals have been renamed to honor people who didn’t fight against the United States.

The Fort Benning that Trump mentioned was named for Henry L. Benning, who NPR noted was not just a Confederate general but a “virulent white supremacist.”

The Georgia installation was renamed Fort Moore last year in honor of Lt. Gen. Hal Moore and his wife, Julia Compton Moore, whom called “one of the Army’s most influential couples.”

Trump’s critics on X, the former Twitter, noted the strange digression:

Paul Waldman: Understand that Trump is mad because military facilities named for treasonous white supremacist slavery advocates who waged war against the United States were renamed to honor actual American heroes. That’s what he and his audience are pissed about.

Sophie Persists: We can’t forget the brave soldiers stationed at Fort This.

Chris Taylor: I was stationed at Fort This in 2009. They wanted to transfer me to Fort That. Lol a commander in chief that can’t even remember the names of the bases, yet he’s so upset the names were changed.

Bryan: I know by now I shouldn’t be surprised at his ignorance. Yet here we are…

Rick Wilson: Grandpa Ranty’s Ahistorical Ignorance Tour, 2024 edition.

Ron Filipkowski: Attached to this post is an excerpt from the speech Henry Benning made at the Virginia convention with his reasons for secession. Trump is bemoaning not having a base named after him.

Wu Tank is for the Children: Stay in school kids…there is so much insanity in this clip

Pro Lib: “Where were you stationed?” “Fort This, you?” “Fort That!” “Oh weird!”

Sue Z: Good God. And you MAGA people still love him. He’s an incoherent buffoon.

Keith Edwards: Trump is experiencing huge mental decline. The media has to start taking this seriously.

The ‘old American Dream died,’ Realtor details salary needed to buy a home, afford a middle class life in 2024

Fox Business

The ‘old American Dream died,’ Realtor details salary needed to buy a home, afford a middle class life in 2024

Kira Mautone – January 15, 2024

Americans now need to make $120K a year to afford a typical middle-class life and qualify to purchase a home, one expert discusses.

“I think most of us in America would define the middle class as somebody who can work a 40-hour-a-week career and can have the income to purchase the average home in America,” Freddie Smith, an Orlando realtor and TikTok creator, told Fox News Digital.

The TikToker, whose videos explore millennial and Gen Z struggles to afford a home and the general cost of living in today’s economic climate, dissected the common factors of living a middle-class existence.

“A lot of us grew up middle class, and we watched what middle class was in the 80s and 90s as millennials. And nowadays, what has moved the goalpost more than anything is the housing market,” the relator said.

Home in Summerville
Home in Summerville listed for $765,000.

Smith explained how, just a few years ago, $60-$70K a year would have been sufficient to qualify for a home.

With the average cost of a house being around $400K-$420K in 2024, people’s salaries would need to be around $120K a year for people to even qualify, Smith explained.

The realtor highlights how this wage-to-housing gap has forced many people to rent for a longer period.

“Rent prices are taking up 30-40% of people’s income, making it harder for them to save for a house. So it’s this perpetual cycle that is keeping people out of the middle class,” he explains, noting this trend has been continuing at a rapid pace over the last few years.

Smith also explained how a $120K salary, even without children, becomes a far lower number when confronted with the crippling debt most Americans are facing today.

“Most people are carrying student loan debt, which is at an all-time high, and the average payment in the country is $500 a month for your college degree. [There are] some people I’m seeing in my comment section saying ‘$500, I wish, it was $1,200 a month for me’,” said Smith.

Credit card debt is also at a record high in America, and while Smith acknowledges that reckless spending could be a factor, he has learned from many Americans commenting on his posts that many are forced to use their cards for groceries because they ran out of money.

According to DQYDJ, the average American income in 2023 was roughly $69K a year, with only 18.8% percent of Americans reaching $100K or more a year. According to the same source, the top 10 percent of individual earnings started at $135,605 a year.

The middle class is in a segmented state, Smith argues, largely determined by how much debt one finds themselves in.

“If you are someone who bought a house before 2020 and you have it paid off or you have a 3% interest rate, you are not burdened by the housing costs like the 2024 adults are now,” the relator said, explaining how debt, especially college debt, housing costs and childcare are burdening millennials and Gen Zers starting their lives.

home with sold sign in front
A sign outside a home for sale in Atlanta, Georgia, on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023. Home prices in the US climbed for a fifth month as buyers competed for deals in the least affordable market in decades.

“People are spending about $1,200 to $1,500 a month on daycare, and I’ve even heard it as much as $3,000-$4,000. So when you add in somebody who’s renting for $2,500, $2,000 for daycare, $1,000 for two college loans, just that alone, you need $100,000 as an income just for that,” said Smith.

For slightly older individuals who had a chance to pay off their debt and have grown-up children, $70K remains a comfortable middle-class wage to them.

“‘These millennials are whining. These Gen Zers just work harder.’ If you bought your house before and don’t have those other payments, that’s really the three-layered cake. Housing, college [debt] and daycare” explained Smith, highlighting these three factors greatly determine your middle-class placement.

As a result of high housing costs, many young people are choosing to stay at home with their families to save funds. Smith explains how he is seeing communal living go even further in Florida, where separate families are choosing to live under one roof.

“Many families [with] 3 or 4 adults and [say] five children, they all split a big house, and they all take care of each other. You can see that they have a lot of toys and they’re pooling their money,” Smith detailed.

A house is for sale in Arlington, Virginia
A house is for sale in Arlington, Virginia, July 13, 2023.

The TikToker enumerates how millennials and older Gen Zers had a “difficult” hand dealt to them. Younger Gen Zers, however, have a lot of “opportunity” to “crush in today’s economy” if they plan carefully to avoid debt and make smart financial choices.

“The millennials, they’re the pinched generation where college essentially stopped working for most. The debt piled up, and the old American dream died, and we got left holding the bag,” he said.

The creator said that through posting on TikTok, he has learned a tremendous amount about the everyday struggles real Americans are facing through his comment section.

“People in America, real society, are sharing all this with me. And I’m learning at a rapid pace from all different individuals. It’s not just googling it, or asking 100 college students what they think. It’s thousands and thousands of people sharing what’s going on,” said Smith.

The realtor discussed how there is a “bigger conversation” around an evolving American Dream that we’re likely to see take place over the next few years.

“We’re basically redefining the American dream from top to bottom, like the way that we see work and work-life balance,” said the creator, explaining how the idea of owning a home might grow old alongside past generations.

“I don’t even know if millennials and Gen Zers want to follow that path of buying a house and living in it for 40 years and staying at the same job for 40 years. I don’t think creatively, work-life balance wise, is also what our long-term play is,” he said.

For Some Young People, a College Degree Is Not Worth the Debt

The New York Times

For Some Young People, a College Degree Is Not Worth the Debt

Emily Withnall – January 14, 2024

Soleil Revell, who dropped out of college after losing a scholarship, sits at a restaurant in Albuquerque, N.M., on Jan. 9, 2024. (Adria Malcolm/The New York Times)
Soleil Revell, who dropped out of college after losing a scholarship, sits at a restaurant in Albuquerque, N.M., on Jan. 9, 2024. (Adria Malcolm/The New York Times)

When Alex, my elder child, who identifies as nonbinary, was ready to apply for college in 2022, I felt ill-equipped to help them navigate the process. I was raised in a low-income household and had been unprepared to figure out how to make my own college experience affordable.

I have been a single parent for 17 years. I have never earned enough income to have to make payments on my student loans, which total $81,000 for two degrees. I assumed I would carry the debt to my grave.

Alex is neurodivergent — their brain processes differently than what is considered to be typical for a majority of people — so we looked for schools that centered hands-on learning, where they would have a better chance of succeeding. We landed on the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. The application of the Western Undergraduate Exchange — an agreement among various public colleges in the West — reduced the annual out-of-state tuition costs to $13,000 from $29,000. But even after financial aid was applied, the remaining cost of attendance came to $15,500 per year.

Alex’s financial aid package included $5,500 in federal student loans — the maximum that freshmen can take out. The rest was designated to me in the form of Parent PLUS loans, which allows parents to borrow money directly from the federal government. I was floored. After filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, my expected family contribution was zero. How could the school and the loan carrier know I didn’t have money and still approve me for a debt of $40,000 over four years?

By researching Parent PLUS loans, I learned that the parent alone carries the debt, there are fewer forgiveness options than other federal student loans, and the loans carry a current interest rate of 8.05%. There was no way I could sign. I’m a renter, and until two years ago, I didn’t have a retirement account. So instead of taking out Parent PLUS loans, I secured a private loan with a much lower interest rate through my credit union. Although I had to co-sign, Alex was designated the primary borrower.

Alex understood that this was the only option to pay for college, but as they struggled to adjust to college life in the years following the start of the pandemic, the debt began to weigh on them. This led them to drop out of college after two trimesters.

Although they have $7,000 in loans to pay off from their short stint, Alex knew the implications of accumulating even more debt over the course of four years. I did my best to alleviate their worries, but my own student loan debt wasn’t reassuring. Alex believed that even with a minimum wage job, they could pay off their debt and continue to support themself with jobs that didn’t require a degree.

Alex is not alone in this belief. Because of the combined costs of tuition and living expenses, some young people have opted to delay, drop out of or forgo attending college altogether to avoid student debt that could hang over them for decades. A recent report from the National Student Clearinghouse, a nonprofit provider of educational reporting, showed that freshman enrollment declined by 3.6% last fall, reversing recent gains. In addition, the share of students who left college without a degree rose to 40.4 million as of July 2021.

Although Americans are questioning the value of college, research shows that people with college degrees typically earn nearly 75% more than those without them. Jobs that require a degree also often come with a range of benefits: flexible schedules, paid time off and sick and parental leave.

But there is no clear path toward those benefits.

Michele Shepard, senior director of college affordability at the Institute for College Access & Success, said that while she still has faith in the value of a college degree, obtaining one is becoming increasingly inaccessible.

“If you just look at the amount of college costs that are covered by Pell Grants, it used to cover about 80% of the average cost of a four-year degree in the late 1970s, and now it covers 25%,” Shepard said.

Burned Out

For much of her life, Soleil Revell’s mother, Reina Fernandez, was a single parent working multiple jobs while raising her children on a tight budget. When it came time for Revell to go to college, a small university in her hometown in New Mexico was the most affordable option. The state offers a scholarship that covers tuition and is available to in-state residents enrolling in college right after high school who meet certain criteria. Revell took advantage of this option by going to New Mexico Highlands University and living at home to save money.

But when the pandemic hit, trying to keep up with online classes and the pressures of family life became too difficult for her. Revell lost her scholarship after her grade-point average dipped, which left her owing $2,700 to the school. She dropped out after a year and a half and moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 2021, where she now waits tables full time and has a part-time job creating social media posts for a car dealership. She said that, given the loss of the scholarship, she would have accumulated $20,000 in debt if she had stayed in school.

“I was really driven to go to school in the beginning, but after I took a break, I kind of lost that drive,” Revell, 23, said. “My mom told me not to take a break because it’s going to be a lot harder to go back, but I was just really burned out.”

In addition to her bills, Revell has some medical debt. She has recently learned that a friend’s employer is considering removing a degree requirement for potential new hires, so she plans to apply. It’s a work-from-home job that pays more than her current role. Revell said a remote position would allow her to pick up more social media gigs.

Her plan is to save enough to cover the costs of rent and tuition so that when she returns to school, she can do so without going into debt. She hopes to study psychology at the University of New Mexico.

Sandy Baum, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, says it can be difficult for students to go back to college later if they’ve dropped out.

“For adults, it’s really clear that going back to college has a lot to do with unemployment,” Baum said. “But when the economy is strong, when employment is strong, then you just get a job.”

A Military Alternative

Maria Han, 20, has just entered the third year of her contract with the U.S. Navy. Because of an unstable home life, she moved in with a classmate when she was 16. While in high school, Han was enrolled in an accelerated program that would have helped her earn an entry-level nursing degree by the time she graduated from high school in 2021. But because she was estranged from her parents, she did not have the resources to cover the $1,500 in fees for the program.

Instead, she took interest in joining the Navy as an option to pay for college when recruiters came to her school. Han is stationed in O‘ahu, Hawaii, after spending two years training to become a fire controlman. She said that, through the Navy, she has multiple options to complete a college degree or receive training in a trade. One option is to have the full cost of college attendance covered by extending her contract for five additional years. Another is to complete her current contract, which runs through 2027, and have tuition costs covered by the GI Bill of Rights when her time is up.

At this point, Han doesn’t think she’ll extend her contract. “I feel like the schooling part of the Navy kind of gave me a false picture of what was going to actually happen,” she said. “Then I went on my boat that I’m on right now, and it was a big reality check. Like, it’s just a little bit more scary than I thought it was going to be.”

For Han, confinement on the ship paired with limited connectivity to friends back home and a steep learning curve even after basic training made the transition more challenging than she expected.

Still, Han said she doesn’t know what she would have done without the Navy and that there are a lot of other people on her boat who feel the same. “Some people were homeless, and they joined the Navy, and it gave them an opportunity to start their life again,” Han said.

Challenges and Opportunities

There are few options for people who don’t have sufficient income, savings or financial aid to pay for college, said Laura Perna, an expert on college affordability, access and success at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. “You can borrow what’s available to borrow, or you can work more hours for pay, and both of those have different types of consequences,” she said.

While attending community college is often touted as the easiest, most affordable choice for those who can’t pay higher prices to go elsewhere, it is not always a solution, especially in places where there are no local options. In addition, some four-year institutions do not accept credits from community college classes.

Perna believes free tuition programs are an important step toward reconsidering education costs and who is responsible for paying them.

“State governments have a role in funding public higher education through appropriations and financial aid,” Perna said. “The federal government has a role, especially through the Pell Grant. Government should have a role if you know there are so many public benefits of higher education, in addition to those ways that individual participants benefit. And so I think I’m hopeful that we can have some kind of rethinking on this. Because higher education matters.”

Alex, my older child, is 20 now, and they work in ecological monitoring earning $15 an hour. It’s a field they are interested in, and they see some limited paths toward career advancement. But they don’t see a clear path to financial security.

Part of this, no doubt, comes from them watching me continue to struggle financially even after earning a master’s degree. In Alex’s view, if they’re going to be living paycheck to paycheck because of the debt they’ll need to pay off from obtaining a degree, they would rather avoid the debt and earn what they can without a degree.

They understand that this route will still leave them living with fewer means, but they prefer it to the one that comes with the financial and mental weight of enormous student loan debt.

After so many years of watching me struggle, Alex finally had the opportunity to witness some relief: In December, my loans were finally forgiven through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. I don’t know if the program will last or if Alex will ever need it, but I hope it’s one of many solutions that could help make college more accessible for everyone.

Biden has forgiven billions in student loans, but his allies say voters aren’t giving him enough credit

NBC News

Biden has forgiven billions in student loans, but his allies say voters aren’t giving him enough credit

Gabe Gutierrez and Ghael Fobes – January 14, 2024

Kent Nishimura

WASHINGTON — More than six months after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down President Joe Biden’s ambitious program to erase $430 billion in student loan debt, the White House has been rolling out smaller, more targeted relief programs that it says have now canceled $132 billion in debt for more than 3.6 million Americans.

At the time of the court’s decision, it appeared that Biden wasn’t going to be make good on one of the biggest promises he made to young voters, who helped propel him into the White House. But as he’s gone about doing the same work more slowly, he seems to be getting little credit from those same voters.

On Friday, the administration said that it’s fast-tracking a key provision of the Saving on a Valuable Education plan — known as SAVE — that was scheduled to take effect this summer. Starting next month, borrowers enrolled in SAVE who took out less than $12,000 in loans and have been paying them back for at least 10 years will get their remaining debt canceled right away. With each additional $1,000 of debt, the window for forgiveness increases by a year. For example, a student who took out $13,000 in loans will now have their debt wiped out if they’ve been paying it back for 11 years, or in 12 years for those who borrowed $14,000 — and so on.

Separately, eligible borrowers don’t need to wait 10 years to get some financial benefit from the SAVE plan, which has a more generous formula for calculating income-based repayments than previous government programs. Most low-income borrowers will pay less. For example, a borrower making $38,000 a year with $25,000 in public student loans would see their payment drop from $134 to $43 a month, according to the Department of Education.

The White House said almost seven million borrowers have signed up for SAVE.

“I won’t back down from using every tool at our disposal to get student loan borrowers the relief they need to reach their dreams,” Biden said in a written statement.

Democrats are trying to motivate younger voters ahead of crucial months of the 2024 presidential campaign. According to an NBC News poll in November, Republican front-runner Donald Trump holds a slight advantage within the margin of error in the survey among voters ages 18 to 34 (46% to 42%) — a reversal from past election results and past NBC News polls.

Biden initially announced his broad student debt relief forgiveness plan in 2022, ahead of the midterm elections. The Supreme Court struck it down the following summer, ruling that a president doesn’t have the authority for such a broad policy under the law.

Since then, the White House has used other tools that no president had ever used to this extent. For example, using anti-fraud and consumer protection regulations, the administration has forgiven $22.5 billion for more than 1.3 million borrowers who claim they were cheated by their schools or that their schools closed.

The administration is now ramping up efforts to communicate that to voters. In South Carolina, some Democratic voters that NBC News spoke with said they were disappointed with the Biden administration — and cited what they perceived as a lack of results on student loan debt forgiveness as one of the reasons.

“I feel like my generation, we were promised that student loans would be erased and that hasn’t happened,” said Nashonda Hunter, 41. “We see how much aid that we’re sending over to foreign countries, and there are so many Americans that are suffering.”

That comment, while anecdotal, reveals some of the challenges that the Biden campaign is facing: ensuring that voters give the president credit for policies he has focused on.

Some Biden staffers have been frustrated that the president’s efforts on student debt relief haven’t gotten more attention. Acknowledging that, last week Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., introduced Biden at Mother Emanuel AME Church and highlighted the administration’s efforts to revamp loan assistance program for public workers such as teachers, police officers, firefighters and federal and state employees.

“But for some strange reason,” Clyburn said, “we don’t see reports about that.”

Diane Stuckey Bruce, who works at South Carolina State University, said she’d been paying off student loans since 2002 and never missed a payment. But the debt was crushing — and didn’t allow her to buy a home.

Then, in late 2021, she said she had her entire remaining student loan debt — $263,585.35 — forgiven through the program known as Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF).

“I’ll never forget that day for the rest of my life,” she said, calling it a game changer. “It was the biggest blessing I have ever received.”

The White House has touted that it receives notes from constituents thankful for the loan relief.

“I actually sat and cried,” one writer who was worried they’d have to refinance their home to pay off the debt. “I am so relieved and my heart overflows with gratitude.”

Still, while the debt forgiveness programs have been popular on the political left, many Republicans have come out strongly against them and praised the Supreme Court for striking down the administration’s wide-ranging debt forgiveness plan, arguing that it was unfair for people who paid off their debts to have their tax dollars used to subsidize others who didn’t. GOP presidential candidates sounded off on the issue last year.

“Why should a truck driver have to pay for somebody that got a degree in zombie studies?” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said at an Iowa event in August. “It doesn’t make sense.”

On Friday, Republican members slammed the White House and the Department of Education for the new debt forgiveness plan that they argue is too expensive.

“President Biden is downright desperate to buy votes before the election — so much so that he green-lights the Department of Education to dump even more kerosene on an already raging student debt fire,” said the Republican chair of the House Education Committee, Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, after Friday’s announcement. “It’s clear that the Biden administration needs a good old-fashioned dose of fiscal common sense — all it knows how to do is spend like a drunken sailor.”

‘This to Him Is the Grand Finale’: Donald Trump’s 50-Year Mission to Discredit the Justice System

Politico – Magazine – The Friday Read

‘This to Him Is the Grand Finale’: Donald Trump’s 50-Year Mission to Discredit the Justice System

The former president is in unparalleled legal peril, but he has mastered the ability to grind down the legal system to his advantage. It’s already changing our democracy.

By Michael Kruse – January 12, 2023

Michael Kruse, senior staff writer at POLITICO and POLITICO Magazine.

An illustration showing Donald Trump, crumbling marble columns, a statue of Lady Justice holding the scales of justice, and indictment documents.

POLITICO illustration by Emily Scherer/Photos by Getty Images, iStock

NEW YORK — What happened in Room 300 of the New York County Courthouse in lower Manhattan in November had never happened. Not in the preceding almost two and a half centuries of the history of the United States. Donald Trump was on the witness stand. It was not unprecedented in the annals of American jurisprudence just because it was a former president, although that was totally true. It was unprecedented because the power dynamic of the courtroom had been upended — the defendant was not on defense, the most vulnerable person in the room was the most dominant person in the room, and the people nominally in charge could do little about it.

It was unprecedented, too, because over the course of four or so hours Trump savaged the judge, the prosecutor, the attorney general, the case and the trial — savaged the system itself. He called the attorney general “a political hack.” He called the judge “very hostile.” He called the trial “crazy” and the court “a fraud” and the case “a disgrace.” He told the prosecutor he should be “ashamed” of himself. The judge all but pleaded repeatedly with Trump’s attorneys to “control” him. “If you can’t,” the judge said, “I will.” But he didn’t, because he couldn’t, and audible from the city’s streets were the steady sounds of sirens and that felt absolutely apt.

“Are you done?” the prosecutor said.

“Done,” Trump said.

He was nowhere close to done. Trump’s testimony if anything was but a taste. (In fact, he said many of the same things in the same courtroom on Thursday.) This country has never seen and therefore is utterly unprepared for what it’s about to endure in the wrenching weeks and months ahead — active challenges based on post-Civil War constitutional amendments to bar insurrectionists from the ballot; existentially important questions about presidential immunity almost certainly to be decided by a U.S. Supreme Court the citizenry has seldom trusted less; and a candidate running for the White House while facing four separate criminal indictments alleging 91 felonies, among them, of course, charges that he tried to overturn an election he lost and overthrow the democracy he swore to defend. And while many found Trump’s conduct in court in New York shocking, it is in fact for Trump not shocking at all. For Trump, it is less an aberration than an extension, an escalation — a culmination. Trump has never been in precisely this position, and the level of the threat that he faces is inarguably new, but it’s just as true, too, that nobody has been preparing for this as long as he has himself.

Former President Donald Trump and his attorneys Chris Kise, Alina Habba and Robert Clifford, sitting at the defense table in a full courtroom.
Former President Donald Trump, flanked by his attorneys, waits to take the witness stand at New York Supreme Court on Nov. 6, 2023, in New York City. | Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/AP

Trump and his allies say he is the victim of the weaponization of the justice system, but the reality is exactly the opposite. For literally more than 50 years, according to thousands of pages of court records and hundreds of interviews with lawyers and legal experts, people who have worked for Trump, against Trump or both, and many of the myriad litigants who’ve been caught in the crossfire, Trump has taught himself how to use and abuse the legal system for his own advantage and aims. Many might view the legal system as a place to try to avoid, or as perhaps a necessary evil, or maybe even as a noble arbiter of equality and fairness. Not Trump. He spent most of his adult life molding it into an arena in which he could stake claims and hunt leverage. It has not been for him a place of last resort so much as a place of constant quarrel. Conflict in courts is not for him the cost of doing business — it is how he does business. Throughout his vast record of (mostly civil) lawsuits, whether on offense, defense or frequently a mix of the two, Trump has become a sort of layman’s master in the law and lawfare.

“He doesn’t see the legal system as a means of obtaining justice for all,” Jim Zirin, the author of Plaintiff in Chief: A Portrait of Donald Trump in 3,500 Lawsuits, told me. He sees it rather as a “tool,” said Ian Bassin, a former White House lawyer in the administration of Barack Obama and the current executive director of Protect Democracy, “in his quest to command attention and ultimately power.” But it’s not merely any tool. It’s his most potent tactic and fundamental to any and all successes he’s had. “There’s probably no single person in America,” said Eric Swalwell, the Democratic member of Congress from California and a former prosecutor and Trump impeachment manager, “who is more, I would say, knowledgeable and experienced in our legal system — as both a plaintiff and as a defendant — than Donald Trump.”

Many have been confounded by the legal system’s inability to constrain Trump, by his ability to escape at least thus far any legal accounting for behavior that even some leaders of his own party excoriated — and why that reckoning might never come. To understand this requires seeing Trump in a new mode — not as a businessman-turned-celebrity-turned-politician, or as a nationalist populist demagogue, or as the epochal leader of a right-wing movement, but rather as a legal combatant. “This is not a political rally — this is a courtroom,” the judge admonished him at one point in November in New York. It was only in the most technical sense correct. Just as he had upended the norms inside the New York courtroom, Trump has altered the very way we view the justice system as a whole. This is not something he began to do once he won elected office. It has been a lifelong project.

Starting in 1973, when the federal government sued him and his father for racist rental practices in the apartments they owned, Trump learned from the notorious Roy Cohn, then searched for another Roy Cohn — then finally became his own Roy Cohn. He’s exploited as loopholes the legal system’s bedrock tenets, eyeing its very integrity as simultaneously its intrinsic vulnerability — the near sacrosanct honoring of the rights of the defendant, the deliberation that due process demands, the constant constitutional balancing act that relies on shared good faith as much as fixed, written rules. He has routinely turned what’s obviously peril into what’s effectively fuel, taking long rosters of losses and willing them into something like wins — if not in a court of law, then in that of public opinion. It has worked, and it continues to work. Trump, after all, was at one of his weakest points politically until the first of his four arraignments last spring. Ever since, his legal jeopardy and his political viability have done little but go up, together. Deny, delay and attack, always play the victim, never stop undermining the system: Trump has taken the Cohn playbook to reaches not even Cohn could have foreseen — fusing his legal efforts with his business interests, lawyers as important to him as loan officers, and now he’s done the same with politics. He’s not fighting the system, it seems sometimes, so much as he’s using it. He’s fundraising off of it. He’s consolidating support because of it. He’s far and away the most likely Republican nominee, polls consistently show. He’s the odds-on favorite to be the president again.

Top: Members of the media gather outside of the New York State Supreme Court building. Bottom:  Justice Arthur Engoron presides over the civil fraud trial of former President Donald Trump.
As Trump was on the witness stand on Nov. 6, Judge Arthur Engoron (bottom) all but pleaded repeatedly with Trump’s attorneys to “control” him. “If you can’t,” the judge said, “I will.” | Spencer Platt/Getty Images; Pool photo by Brendan McDermid

“He has attacked the judicial system, our system of justice and the rule of law his entire life,” said J. Michael Luttig, a conservative former federal appellate judge and one of the founders of the recently formed Society for the Rule of Law. “And this to him,” Luttig told me, “is the grand finale.”

The 2024 presidential election, in the estimation of Paul Rosenzweig, a senior counsel during the investigation of President Bill Clinton and an assistant deputy secretary in the Department of Homeland Security in the administration of George W. Bush, isn’t a referendum on Joe Biden. It isn’t even a referendum, he said, on Donald Trump. “This election,” he told me, “is a referendum on the rule of law.”

Portrait of Donald Trump


Tracking the Trump criminal cases


More unnerving, though, than even that is an idea that has coursed through my conversations over these past several months: That referendum might already be over. Democracy’s on the ballot, many have taken to saying — Biden just said it last week — but democracy, and democratic institutions, as political scientist Brian Klaas put it to me, “can’t function properly if only part of the country believes in them.” And it’s possible that some critical portion of the population does not, or will not, no matter what happens between now and next November, believe in the verdicts or other outcomes rendered by those institutions. What if Trump is convicted? What if he’s not? What if he’s not convicted and then gets elected? What if he is and wins anyway? More disquieting than what might be on the ballot, it turns out, is actually what might not.

“Our democracy rests on a foundation of trust — trust in elections, trust in institutions,” Bassin said. “And you know what scares me the most about Trump? It’s not the sledgehammer he’s taken to the structure of our national house,” he told me. “It’s the termites he’s unleashed into the foundation.”

Donald Trump stands with his father, Fred Trump, on the roof of a building in Brooklyn in 1973.
Trump (left) stands with his father, Fred Trump, in Brooklyn in 1973. That year, the federal government sued Trump and his father for racist rental practices in the apartments they owned. | Barton Silverman/The New York Times via Redux Pictures
A photo illustration featuring a statue of lady justice
‘Attack, attack, attack — no matter what the merits are’

The United States v. Fred C. Trump, Donald Trump, and Trump Management, Inc., filed by the Department of Justice on October 15, 1973, put a 27-year-old Donald Trump for the first time on the front page of the New York Times. He also used it to introduce himself to a man who was already an infamous rogue — Cohn becoming because of this case Trump’s most indispensable mentor.

Cohn, “clearly one of God’s most imperfect vessels” but “one of the most extraordinary, demonized, and misunderstood figures of 20th-century American politics,” Steve Bannon wrote in the 2023 Skyhorse Publishing reprint of Nicholas von Hoffman’s biography, “is more relevant today than when the book was originally published in 1988.” Bannon’s not wrong. And that’s because of Trump and what Trump has become. Pre-Trump, though, and before Cohn was disbarred and died in 1986 from complications from AIDS, Cohn was in post-World War II America a particular sort of poisonous force — the top attorney and aide to red-baiting Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s who then in the ’60s and ’70s turned his ill repute into a career as “ a legal executioner” for celebrities, executives and mob bosses. He didn’t pay his bills. He didn’t pay his taxes. He was shameless and remorseless and “ famous among lawyers for winning cases by delays, evasions and lies.” He was indicted four times, for bribery and conspiracy, for extortion and blackmail, for stock-swindling and obstruction of justice and filing false reports — and never once convicted. He was, to the people who knew him and watched him with some combination of wonder and disgust, “a bully,” “a scoundrel” and “as politically incorrect as they come.” Trump was transfixed.

Top: People sitting outside of Trump Village, a two-building apartment complex, in 1973. Bottom: Donald Trump and his father, Fred Trump, visit a tenant in one of their apartment buildings in 1973.
Top: People sit outside Trump Village, a two-building apartment complex, in Brooklyn in 1973. Bottom: Donald and Fred Trump visit a tenant in one of their Brooklyn apartment buildings in Brooklyn in 1973. | Barton Silverman/The New York Times via Redux Pictures

And the federal race case was Trump’s first tutorial. “He went to court,” as Trump would put it, “and I went with him.” Cohn said the Department of Justice had “no facts to support the charges” that were “barebones” and “without foundation.” Cohn accused the feds of going after the Trumps’ organization because it was “one of the largest in the field.” He accused them of a “smear” that caused “damage” that was “never going to be completely undone.” Cohn filed a countersuit for a stunning $100 million that a judge tossed out as “frivolous” but not before it generated headlines and attention for a young Trump spoiling for a publicized fight. He accused a young female prosecutor of staging a “Gestapo-like investigation” with “undercover agents” wiretapping Trump offices and “marching around” like “storm troopers banging on the doors” — all charges the judge was forced to take the time to dismiss. And Cohn delayed, and delayed and delayed, frustrating for years a series of government attorneys who in court briefs repeatedly bemoaned Cohn’s “noncompliance” and “dilatory tactics” and “blithe disregard.” The director of the Open Housing Center of the New York Urban League worried that Cohn on behalf of Trump was, in spite of the evidence, actually “winning.”

Donald Trump, with attorney Roy Cohn seated beside him, speaks during a news conference in 1984.
Trump, with Roy Cohn beside him, speaks during a news conference where they announced a lawsuit against the National Football League in 1984. | Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times via Redux Pictures

They weren’t. At least not officially. Because the DOJ got Trump and his father to sign a consent decree promising they would comply with the Fair Housing Act and create preferential vacancies and pay for ads for those vacancies and hire and promote minorities and self-report their progress. The agency called the agreement “one of the most far-reaching ever negotiated.” But Trump? He called it a win. He had been allowed to sign the decree without copping to guilt, and if that wasn’t quite a triumph, it also wasn’t in any real way a defeat. “Did Trump get nailed? No,” Cohn’s cousin, David Lloyd Marcus, told me. “He basically got out of it.” Trump had siphoned from Cohn lasting lessons. “He learned that the evidence can be irrelevant,” Zirin told me. He learned that “the law doesn’t matter, the government’s mission doesn’t matter,” Marcus told me. He learned “that you could use the law to sort of bend circumstances to your will,” former Trump attorney Ty Cobb told me. “Attack, attack, attack — no matter what the merits are — fuck the merits — attack, attack, attack,” longtime New York attorney Marty London told me. “That was Roy Cohn’s methodology that was adopted by Donald Trump.”

More than anything, though, Cohn had shown Trump not simply how to turn a loss into a win but how to turn a case on its head — how, in other words, to take the United States v. Trump and make it Trump versus the United States.

Cars pass the Trump Parc East building in New York City in 2016.
The Trump Parc East building, which was formerly known as 100 Central Park South, is seen in New York City in 2016. | Frank Franklin II/AP
‘Suddenly you are being sued. It gives you a headache’

If the ’70s were a training ground, the ’80s were a proving ground. And if Cohn was a weapon —“a weapon for me,” as Trump told the writer Ken Auletta — so, too, was the law and the legal system itself. Lawsuits were as central as public relations or loans from banks to the building of Trump’s business and the burnishing of his brand. And he came to understand during the decade of the ’80s that he didn’t have to play defense. He could just start on offense.

“He sues,” former Trump Organization vice president Barbara Res told me. “He sues, he sues …”

He bought the New Jersey Generals of the United States Football League and sued (or at least got the USFL to sue) the National Football League because he wanted to be in the first-rate league and not the second-rate league. He sued the architecture critic of the Chicago Tribune because he wrote something he didn’t like. He sued fellow New York businessmen Jules and Eddie Trump — because they had the same last name.

But the signal legal squabble of the ’80s was the saga of Central Park South.

Trump bought the 15-story apartment building at the prime location of 100 Central Park South in 1981. He wanted to turn it into a fancier condominium. He just needed the mostly rent-controlled tenants to get out, and he quickly began legal proceedings to try to make that happen, filing with the city applications for permits for eviction and demolition. He sued one tenant for not paying his rent even though he had. He also got the company he had hired to run the building to cut back on services, like security, hot water and heat. At one point he made a plainly disingenuous offer to the city to house free of charge some of the area’s homeless in the building’s few vacant units. “I just want to help with the homeless problem,” he told the Times. He put tin on the windows of the empty apartments to make the whole building look shabby. One of the tenants told the Times, it felt like they were “living under a state of siege.”

So the tenants pooled money to hire attorneys to sue back. And judges sided with the tenants, not him, and so did state and city agencies, ruling that Trump had initiated “spurious” and “unwarranted litigation” that added up to “an unrelenting, systematic and illegal campaign” to “force tenants from their housing accommodations at the earliest possible time.” By 1985, Trump had built Trump Tower, opened two casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and been on the cover of GQ. But Central Park South? This, as New York magazine put it on its cover, was “A Different Kind of Donald Trump Story” — “a fugue of failure, a farce of fumbling and bumbling.” The tenants had had it. “This merchant, this gambler, this Atlantic City man-whore,” one of them told a reporter for a British magazine. “He wants to be Jesus. He wants to be Hitler. He wants to be the most powerful thing in the world.”

Stymied, Trump in December of that year filed, of all things, a $105 million racketeering suit — in effect accusing the tenants’ attorneys and state and city agencies of conspiring against him in a criminal enterprise. He shared the details with the New York Post before he even filed the papers in court.

Donald Trump standing in front of the Central Park's Wollman Skating Rink in 1986. Right: An aerial view of the southern part of Central Park and the Manhattan skyline in 1980.
Trump, shown above in 1986, wanted to turn 100 Central Park South into a fancier condominium after buying it in 1981. He just needed the mostly rent-controlled tenants to get out. | Mario Suriani/AP; Bettmann Archive via Getty Images

“He had a temper tantrum,” Rick Fischbein, one of the attorneys for the tenants, told me recently. “He sued the firm. He brought a RICO action,” said David Rozenholc, another one of the attorneys for the tenants, “to try to get leverage.” It was “frivolous” and “absurd,” Rozenholc told me. But still: “You are an attorney representing a client, and suddenly you are being sued. It gives you a headache, it gives you a problem, it gives you an issue — you have to deal with it, you have to hire a lawyer …”

That lawyer was Marty London. “We attacked the claim on the merits, and quickly,” London told me. And time was of the essence, he explained, in large part because the firm’s bank account had been frozen because of the size of Trump’s claim. Any undue delay would accrue to the benefit of Trump and to the detriment of the defendants — and the judges seemed to understand. “It took a month to get it dismissed,” London recalled, and the appeal was similarly fast-tracked. “Further pleading would merely waste the time and resources of the litigants as well as divert scarce judicial resources,” an appellate judge concluded, denying Trump’s motion to replead “with prejudice.”

“Trump saw that the way to beat these people, these tenants, it was not on the merits, because there were no merits,” London told me. “So what you do is attack the lawyer,” he said. “You make the lawyer so afraid of Trump that he quits. That’s what he tried to do.”

But the lawyers did not quit. London even got a judge to order Trump to pay Fischbein’s firm $700,000 in fees, including London’s costs in the RICO case. Fischbein hung on the wall of his office a framed copy of Trump’s check along with a blue-T-shirt with a boast: “ I was sued by Donald Trump for $105 million.”

“He lost,” Fischbein told me last month.

Eventually, though, Trump turned 100 Central Park South into a condo called Trump Parc East. “His public position now,” Wayne Barrett would write in his book about Trump published in 1992, “was that the tenant battle had delayed his project just long enough for him to benefit from the boom in the market. So he announced that he had made money from the protracted conflict.” The upshot in The Art of the Deal: “All’s well that ends well.” A legal loss, Trump reasoned, didn’t have to be a loss overall.

A portrait of Donald Trump hanging on a wall inside his Mar-a-Lago Estate in 1995.
A portrait of Donald Trump hangs inside Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., in 1995. | Ron Galella via Getty Images
A photo illustration of a set of scales
‘He uses the legal system to tire people out’

Trump was in deep financial distress in the early ’90s. The arc of his life could have been irrevocably altered — and that of the nation, it turns out — had he been truly brought low by his debts, and had a passel of people with power made different decisions. That image he sought to convey, that brand he wanted to burnish — money maestro, billionaire business boss — in this window of time might have been tarnished forever. “Survive ‘til ’95,” Trump liked to say. He did it with family money. He did it through bankruptcy. He did it by turning his casinos into public money — a lifeline that was “the general public” in “middle America” trusting Trump and buying literal stock called DJT. He did it by turning Mar-a-Lago into a private club — and a lawsuit into a golf course. And he did that by opening up a whole new legal front in Florida — in Palm Beach.

“He sued the county,” former county commissioner Karen Marcus told me, “over airport noise.”

It was June of ’95. This had been a Trump pet peeve for years — almost ever since he had bought Mar-a-Lago 10 years before. But now he actually filed a suit for $75 million in damages because one of the flight paths for Palm Beach International Airport took low-flying planes directly over Mar-a-Lago. “Mar-a-Lago can no longer be enjoyed for its original purposes of relaxation, entertaining and everyday living,” the suit said. The next week, county commissioners sued him back, hiring a law firm for $190 an hour. “I think it’s ridiculous Mr. Trump has taken on the taxpayers of Palm Beach County,” commission chairman Ken Foster said at the time, “thinking his pockets are deeper than ours.” It’s exactly what he was thinking.

Top: A plane flies over Mar-a-Lago in 1999. Bottom: Businessman Alfons Schmitt, Donald Trump, and golf course architect Jim Fazio each dig with a golden' shovel at the Trump International Golf Club groundbreaking ceremony in 1997.
Top: A plane flies over Mar-a-Lago in 1999. Bottom: (Left to right) Businessman Alfons Schmitt, Trump, and golf course architect Jim Fazio at the Trump International Golf Club groundbreaking ceremony in Palm Beach in 1997. | Art Seitz/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images; Davidoff Studios/Getty Images

“I first met Trump in the late ’80s,” former Palm Beach town councilman and mayor Jack McDonald told me. “And for all those years,” he said, “the strategy’s been quite clear.”

“He uses the legal system,” said Alan (no relation to Karen) Marcus, a Trump publicist at the time, “to tire people out.”

“He thinks the lawsuit will be easier for him to bear than his opponent,” a person in Palm Beach familiar with Trump who requested anonymity to speak candidly told me recently. “He doesn’t think he’s going to win necessarily,” this person continued. “He thinks that he’ll spend more money than the other side will, including municipalities, even Palm Beach, and that all of those expenses are much more wearing on government officials than they are on Donald Trump.”

And he was right.

By November ’95, the county’s attorneys told the county commission the Trump airport suit was going to cost the county perhaps more than $1 million. By April of ’96, the county’s attorneys and Trump’s attorneys were talking about a settlement. By September, it was official: Trump agreed to drop the suit. In return he got the right to lease at $438,000 a year — for at least 30 years, and up to 75 — 214 acres of untouched scrub land by the very same airport so he could build the golf course that is now Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach. To boot, the county promised to keep the planes from flying directly over Mar-a-Lago.

Trump’s attorney called it “a win-win.” Plenty of people in Palm Beach had feelings that were decidedly more mixed. “I realize you’re settling a lawsuit, but you’re giving up the use of that land for 75 years,” former county commissioner Bill Medlen told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel at the time. Said the Palm Beach Post’s editorial board: “Rather than getting him out of their hair, they have gotten themselves into a 30-year lease with the litigious Mr. Trump.”

Indeed, for the litigious Mr. Trump, a Palm Beach coda came a decade later. In 2006, he put up in front of Mar-a-Lago an American flag that was so big it was against town code — 15 by 25 feet of the Stars and Stripes mounted atop an 80-foot pole. It was bait. The town took it. The fine was $1,250 a day. Trump sued — for $25 million — arguing his giant flag was constitutionally protected speech. “No American should have to get a permit to fly the flag,” he crowed in interviews. Eventually, of course, Trump and the town settled — he made the flag a little smaller, the town waived the fines — but for Trump it was another legal draw that was in all other ways nothing but a win.

A large 15-by-25-foot American flag flies over Mar-a-Lago.
A large 15-by-25-foot American flag flies over Mar-a-Lago in October 2006. | Alyssa Schukar/The Palm Beach Post via AP

“It was a success for him in terms of how he was viewed across America,” McDonald, who was the mayor of at the time, told me. “Because that all of a sudden,” said McDonald, who was once a member of Mar-a-Lago but not anymore and told me he’s never voted for Trump, “made him this great American patriot.”

“I think he learned right on this little island a lot of the techniques that he used to become president,” said Laurence Leamer, the author of a book about Trump, Mar-a-Lago and Palm Beach. “Trump came down here just not giving a damn, pushing and pushing, pushing the town, pushing the law.”

A sign advertising the television show The Apprentice hangs at Trump Tower in 2004.
According to Tim O’Brien, who came out with a book about Trump in 2005 and and was sued because of it, Trump sued him because of the brand — “to create it, maintain it, and cast it forever in amber.” | Peter Kramer/Getty Images
‘The Rosetta Stone of Donald Trump’s hallucinations’

By the time of the Palm Beach flag flap, any ’90s taint was gone, the overwhelming initial success of “The Apprentice” having reintroduced Trump to much of the country not as a hokey, aging emblem of the high-flying, go-go ’80s but as a still preeminent and ubiquitous tycoon — as a billionaire. The brand was somehow intact, and now again on the rise, and it needed to be protected at all costs.

So he sued Tim O’Brien.

“This book,” O’Brien told the Palm Beach Post when TrumpNation came out in the fall of 2005, “is about how a cartoon character became one of the most famous businessmen in America.”

Plenty of things in the book were unflattering. O’Brien quoted Trump, for instance, saying he had been “bored” when Marla Maples was walking down the aisle at the second of his three weddings. He pegged the Trump Organization as “a teeny operation.” And Trump told the author some things that stood out then and stand out even more now. “If you don’t win, you can’t get away with it,” Trump said. “And I win, I win, I always win …” He also said he considered crying a sign of “weakness” and as an example brought up mob boss John Gotti — the “Teflon Don.” Gotti, Trump told O’Brien, “went through years of trials. He sat with a stone face. He said: ‘Fuck you.’”

None of that, though, is why Trump sued O’Brien. He sued O’Brien essentially because of two sentences that cut straight to the core of the brand.

“Three people with direct knowledge of Donald’s finances, people who had worked closely with him for years,” O’Brien wrote, “told me that they thought his net worth was somewhere between $150 million and $250 million. By anyone’s standards this still qualified Donald as comfortably wealthy, but none of these people thought he was remotely close to being a billionaire.”

Executive Editor at Bloomberg View and Bloomberg Gadfly Timothy O'Brien listens on stage during the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit in 2017.
Tim O’Brien, shown above in 2017. After O’Brien’s book came out, Trump in the press described him as “a third-rate writer,” a “loser” and “a whack job.” | Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

Donald J. Trump v. Timothy L. O’Brien was in some sense a direct extension of Trump versus the other Trumps — Jules and Eddie Trump — from the suit back in the ’80s.

Those Trumps’ use of their own name, Roy Cohn wrote in court papers in December of 1984, “can only be viewed as a poorly veiled attempt at trading on the good will, reputation and financial credibility of” his client. Their use of the corporate name of the Trump Group, Cohn concluded, was therefore “untenable.” It was a bold claim not least because Jules and Eddie Trump, South African emigrants, were big businessmen themselves — by some measures bigger, in fact, than Donald Trump. One of the main reasons Donald Trump even knew of Jules and Eddie Trump, after all, was that the other Trumps had just bid to buy a drugstore chain for $360 million. The other Trumps’ attorneys’ response was basically bafflement at the notion of “barring the defendants from using their family name.” The legal back-and-forth nonetheless went on for five years.

The other Trumps’ attorneys during their deposition of Trump in not so many words tried to make the case that Trump was a serial legal scourge. They peppered him with questions about the number of times he’d been deposed.

“I really don’t know,” he said. It “unfortunately” was “a part of doing business.” Trump grew testy the longer this line of query lasted. He called their questions “ridiculous.” He complained they were “trying to harass me.”

The other Trumps’ attorneys astutely went back to the beginning. They brought up the DOJ’s case from 1973. Trump bristled. “We acknowledged no wrongdoing,” he said before quickly attacking the inference of racism that hung in the air. “Your clients come from South Africa,” he said, “so don’t tell me about it.”

It was a split decision in the end. A judge concluded that “the name ‘Trump’ is well-recognized in the New York real estate development community, but the court does not think this is the same as being ‘unique.’” Trump did, however, successfully petition the Patent and Trademark Office, which ruled the other Trumps could keep using the name the Trump Group but could not keep the Trump Group trademark. The other Trumps had spent $250,000 in legal fees, because they could, but still: “It was very costly,” Jules Trump would tell the Miami Herald, “and a huge waste of time.” Not for Donald Trump. In his mind, the name was the brand, and the brand belonged to him.

Left: Eddie Trump in 2011. Right: Jules Trump in 2016.
Trump sued fellow New York businessmen Eddie (left) and Jules Trump in the 1980s because they had the same last name.The legal back-and-forth nonetheless went on for five years. | Paul J. Richards/AFP via Getty Images; Monica Schipper/Getty Images

Now, though, in 2005, here was O’Brien’s book. “The thrust of the book,” the suit stated, “is that Trump is an unskilled and dissembling businessman” — his attorneys saying Trump was worth at least $2.7 billion, seeking $5 billion in damages and calling the book “defamatory,” “malicious” and “egregiously false.” Trump went on the offensive in the press as well, describing O’Brien as “a third-rate writer,” a “loser” and “a whack job.”

A judge at first ruled that O’Brien had to reveal his sources, those three people “with direct knowledge” of Trump’s finances — but O’Brien’s lawyers won a series of appeals based on the broad protections for reporters provided by the nation’s libel laws. “The libel laws are very bad,” Trump told the New York Post in 2009. Those laws in essence said O’Brien had to have demonstrated “actual malice” and a “reckless disregard” for the truth in reporting what he did, and an appeals court finally in 2011 reaffirmed “no triable issue as to the existence of actual malice.”

“That case never had a chance of success,” Michael Cohen, Trump’s fixer of a lawyer at the time, told me. “His hope was that he could intimidate O’Brien,” he said. It was also, Cohen added, a threat of sorts meant for other reporters — “a warning shot,” he said.

But that’s not really why Trump sued O’Brien, O’Brien told me when I told him what Cohen had said. It was all about the brand, O’Brien said, just as it’s always been — “to create it, maintain it, and cast it forever in amber.”

“And his deposition was an eternal embarrassment,” O’Brien added. “That deposition is the Rosetta Stone of Donald Trump’s hallucinations, about how he runs his business, how much money he has, how he values things, and who he is in this world.”

“Have you ever lied in public statements about your properties?” Trump was asked.

“When you’re making a public statement, you want to put the most positive — you want to say it the most positive way possible,” he said.

“I’m no different from a politician running for office.”

Donald Trump  signs copies of his new audio business course, How to Build a Fortune, at a book store in 2006, with a crowd of photographers in the background.
Trump signs copies of his audio business course — produced by Trump University — called “How to Build a Fortune”, in 2006 in New York City. | Louis Lanzano/AP
‘The Roy Cohn stuff is still really ingrained in him’

Trump University, Donald Trump had announced in 2005, was going to be “Ivy League-quality” with “world-class faculty” ready to “teach you better than the best business school.” What it ended up being, according to “students” and staff, was “a joke” and “a lie.” So some of them sued him. Customers filed class-action suits starting in 2010. And then the attorney general of New York filed a sweeping $40-million civil suit in 2013, charging that thousands of people paid up to $35,000 for what in the main was a sham, leaving them with scant lessons of any value but mired in mountains of debt and regret. “Trump University,” Eric Schneiderman said, “with Donald Trump’s knowledge and participation, relied on Trump’s name recognition and celebrity status to take advantage of consumers who believed in the Trump brand.”

Trump was on defense again — reminiscent in this respect of the DOJ case from a full 40 years before. And even without Cohn in his corner, of course, Trump went to work in time-tested ways. “The Roy Cohn stuff is still really ingrained in him,” said Ty Cobb, the former Trump attorney. “I have thoughts about Roy Cohn,” longtime politically connected New York P.R. man George Arzt said, “almost every time I see Donald Trump.”

Trump’s new Cohn?

It wasn’t Michael Cohen, and it wasn’t anybody else, said Lawrence Douglas, an Amherst College professor who’s written extensively about Trump and the law.

“It’s Donald Trump.”

The big difference, though, was that Trump now was much more squarely playing politics, too. He had talked about running for president in the late ’80s. He had launched a brief third-party bid in 2000. But by this point he was considering more seriously a run for the White House. He spent a lot of 2011 stoking the racist “birtherism” lie that Barack Obama had been born in Kenya and therefore was not a legitimate commander in chief. He thought hard about running in 2012, and though he didn’t, his endorsement meant something in the GOP. And he had his eye on 2016 — and the damning, mounting legal problems stemming from his for-profit “school” were a problem.

“No one, no matter how rich or famous they are, has a right to scam hardworking New Yorkers. Anyone who does should expect to be held accountable,” Schneiderman told the New York Daily News. Trump is “going to have to face justice,” he said on CNBC. “And he doesn’t like doing that.”

A demonstrator holds a sign with Trump U in a circle with a line through it, and Wrong! written at the top.
What Trump University ended up being, according to “students” and staff, was “a joke” and “a lie.” | Gregory Bull/AP

Trump attacked Schneiderman personally, calling him “a lightweight” and “a sleazebag” and countersuing for (a familiar) $100 million. He hit him legally, calling the suit “incompetent.” And he attacked Schneiderman politically — the suit, he said, was “thug politics.”

Trump had made to Schneiderman in 2010 a $12,500 donation. “He was very unhappy because he wanted me to do much more than that,” Trump said on Fox News. “He wanted me to introduce him to a lot of my friends, my big business friends. I didn’t have time for it. He came up to my office. And, in fact, I actually gave him a contribution before he was elected. I think he was down in the polls. But it was never enough for him.”

“By the way,” Trump told George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America” on ABC, “he meets with President Obama on Thursday evening in Syracuse. He meets with him. On Saturday at 1 o’clock, he files a suit. So I’m gonna ask you …”

“So you’re saying President Obama is behind this?”

He didn’t answer. He just repeated himself. “He’s been looking into this thing for two years. He brings a lawsuit on Saturday afternoon, right after he meets with President Obama …”

Two and a half years later, obviously, Trump was at the very center of American politics, and the Trump University suits were not only still active but getting closer and closer to going to trial. And Trump was railing away not on TV talk shows but at packed rallies as the would-be Republican nominee. At a rally in Arkansas in late February of 2016, he attacked one of the class-action plaintiffs, mispronouncing her name and calling her a “horrible witness.” He attacked the attorney general for “doing a terrible job.” And he attacked one of the judges, whom he called “very hostile,” referring, too, to his Hispanic heritage in a plain, race-baiting dig.

Copies of How To Build Wealth, which is a series of nine audio business courses created by Trump University, lie on display at a Barnes & Noble store in 2005.
Copies of “How To Build Wealth,” a series of nine audio business courses created by Trump University, lie on display at a Barnes & Noble store in New York City in 2005. | Scott Gries/Getty Images

“But I believe I can turn it around,” Trump told the crowd, “just to show you how dishonest these people are.” And the crowd cheered. And then Trump won on Super Tuesday, and then the party’s nomination, and then the November election. And then the president-elect settled with the attorney general and the class-action plaintiffs, agreeing to pay an aggregate $25 million.

That Trump would win the White House on a populist platform while preying on poor people — it’s a paradox that confounds his critics. “He has these people that are drawn to him because of his charisma and this image that he projects, and then the people that loved him the most, he actually hurt the most,” Tristan Snell, the lead prosecutor in the attorney general’s case, told me. “That’s the thing that people don’t get about this — still to this day — and it’s been replicated with the people who support him politically now.”

Snell has a book due out later this month. It’s called Taking Down Trump.

“There is still understandably a great deal of mixed feeling, of cautious optimism and bitter pessimism, on the question of whether justice will one day come for Donald Trump — or whether justice in America still exists all. It is perhaps the most important question,” Snell writes. “The answer to that question may well determine much of our collective fate.

“If the greatest malefactors are, in effect, untouchable, beyond the reach of the law, subject to a different set of rules — or no rules at all,” he continues, “then we will likely slip into a spiral from which we may never recover.”

A vendor moving his cart, with Trump-branded clothes and flags in it, outside of a convention center in Waterloo, Iowa.
A vendor moves his cart, which includes a flag that reads “THE RULES HAVE CHANGED,” outside a Trump rally on Dec. 19, 2023, in Waterloo, Iowa | Charlie Neibergall/AP
A photo illustration of a crumbling stone column
‘He’s pushing the system to the breaking point’

“Waterloo,” said Donald Trump.

“We cover all corners of your great state. You know that,” he said at the start of his rally late last month in this small city in eastern Iowa. “And they said, ‘What about Waterloo?’ I said, ‘We gotta get to Waterloo.’”

In spite of the potentially inauspicious name of the site of this event, Iowa, it seems, will not be Trump’s end. He enters Monday as maybe the biggest Republican favorite in the history of the state’s caucuses. At Trump’s rallies these days the most notable addition to the standard red MAGA hats and the vulgar Biden signs and the “Macho Man” soundtrack are the mug-shot shirts — with Trump’s glowering face on the front coupled with his message of “NEVER SURRENDER.”

At this particular convention center, I met a 55-year-old “semi-retired” independent contractor from Evansville, Indiana, who was attending his 86th Trump rally. “I’ll still vote for him if he’s in a prison cell,” Mike Boatman told me. “They can bring the Oval Office desk right inside of the prison cell.” I met a 27-year-old Muslim from the suburbs of Chicago who is training to be a police officer and was wearing a red hat. He asked that I not name him because his immigrant father detests Trump and didn’t know he was here. “My faith in the justice system, because of the indictments,” he said, “is at an all-time low.” I met a couple from nearby Charles City. Trust the justice system? “Why the fuck would I?” said Jeannie Waddingham, 53. But Trump? “I do,” she said.

“This is the lawfare by the Democrats to take him out, and people see that as unjust,” said Mike Davis of the Trump-supporting Article III Project. “No way” Trump would be looking like the runaway nominee, Davis told me, if not for the indictments.

And that’s because people don’t trust the system. They trust Trump. And that’s because Trump’s told them to — for 50 years. He started doing this in the ’70s, teaming with Cohn and accusing the government of “Gestapo-like” tactics and “smears.” He kept doing it in the ’80s, always playing the victim of Central Park South, claiming people were out to get him and using the courts to do it. “Trump,” Trump told the Times, “is not going to be harassed.” He did it in Palm Beach, and he did it when he sued O’Brien, and he did it with Trump U., and he only escalated the efforts once he came down the escalator in Trump Tower in 2015 and especially after he lost to Biden in 2020. He sends to supporters email after email every day asking for money for his campaign by attacking “Crooked Joe” and “the Radical Democrats” and “villainous forces” and “crooks” and “thugs” and “fools” and “their phony charges” and “this vicious witch hunt” and their “SHAM TRIALS.” Nothing is on the level, and the institutions can’t be trusted, and the system can’t be trusted, he has insidiously hammered home, and so he is free, he suggests, to go after the people he says have gone after him. It is, as George Conway said at the opening gathering of the Society for the Rule of Law in early November in Washington, “an infectious disease that is affecting the entire body politic.”

“He has made himself the arbiter of fairness,” Hank Sheinkopf, the longtime New York Democratic strategist who has watched Trump work for decades, told me, “for those who feel that they have been unfairly put upon.”

“He is wearing our institutions down to their nubs,” lawyer and legal analyst Danielle McLauglin told me, “and the judicial system, the system of justice, I think, is particularly vulnerable to him.”

“He’s pushing the system to the breaking point,” Ian Bassin told me.

“He’s poisoned the well,” Brian Klaas told me.

“It’s of surpassing importance what happens,” Judge Luttig told me, “but that still doesn’t change the fact that he’s already laid waste to our democracy and to our elections and to the rule of law.”

Left: Guests listen to the opening prayer during a campaign rally. Right: Gifts wrapped in Christmas wrapping paper featuring the likeness and mugshot of Donald Trump sit on a stage. Bottom: The shadow of Trump is cast against a Make America Great Again-branded backdrop, with a Christmas tree beside it.
At Trump’s December rally in Waterloo, the most notable addition to the standard merch were the mug-shot shirts — with Trump’s glowering face on the front coupled with his message of “NEVER SURRENDER.” | Scott Olson/Getty Images

“That’s really the greatest danger he poses to our democracy,” Zirin told me. “Not that there would be a Muslim ban, not that he would give tremendous tax breaks to the rich who support him, not any of the Republican plans that he associated with, and not even that he would disengage us from foreign alliances,” he said. “The greatest danger is his undermining of the rule of law.

“Trump,” as Swalwell put it to me, “is a legal terrorist.”

“We’re about to go through a great trial in this country. … We’re going to be testing the proposition that the rule of law applies to everyone and no one’s above the law,” California congressman and Senate candidate Adam Schiff told me. “It will be particularly wrenching because Trump will continue to make the false claim that he’s being politically persecuted,” said Schiff, a former federal prosecutor and an impeachment manager in Trump’s first impeachment, “and it will also give Trump the continuing opportunity to tear down the system.”

And now here in Waterloo I heard Trump say immigrants “coming from all over the world” were “destroying the blood of our country.” I heard him say he will “begin the largest domestic deportation operation in American history.” I heard him say “slum areas will be demolished.” I heard him say he “will rout the ‘fake news’ media.” I heard him say he’d never even read Hitler’s Mein Kampf. I heard him call the 2020 election “rigged.” I heard him call Biden “truly the worst, most incompetent and most corrupt president in the history of our country.” I heard him call Biden “crooked” — 12 times. I heard him say, “They say, ‘I’m a threat to democracy.’ No, Joe Biden is a threat to democracy.” I heard him call the FBI “the Biden FBI” and the Department of Justice “the department of injustice.” I heard him say he “will direct a completely overhauled DOJ to investigate every radical, out-of-control prosecutor.” I heard him call special counsel Jack Smith “deranged.” I heard him call the documents case a “hoax.” I heard him say he “can’t get a fair trial in Washington.” I heard him say “Biden and the far-left lunatics” were “willing to violate the U.S. constitution.” I heard him say they were “weaponizing law enforcement.” I heard him call the indictments against him “a great badge of honor.” And I heard him say he had good news. “The good news is people get it. That’s why my poll numbers are so high,” he said. “I think we’d be winning by a lot, but now we’re winning by numbers that nobody can believe.” I heard the crowd roar. “This is the single biggest election in the history of our country,” Trump said. “This is going to determine whether or not we even have a country.”

And when the rally was over, I watched the people walk out into the cold, dark night, past the mug-shot merch, past the bumper stickers saying RIGGED, past the flags saying THE RULES HAVE CHANGED.