THE MORNING PLUM:

Let’s be clear about this: President Trump regularly goes out of his way to attack prominent African Americans not just to “stoke the culture wars,” as this euphemism often has it — but, more precisely, to stoke the sense among many of his supporters that the system is unfairly rigged on behalf of minorities, and that he’s here to put things right.

This morning, Trump once again tweeted angrily about LaVar Ball, the father of a UCLA basketball player who, along with two others, had been released by China after getting arrested for shoplifting. But what’s particularly noteworthy is that only minutes later Trump then tweeted about kneeling football players. What’s the connection there? Here’s Trump’s tweetstorm:

It wasn’t the White House, it wasn’t the State Department, it wasn’t father LaVar’s so-called people on the ground in China that got his son out of a long term prison sentence — IT WAS ME. Too bad! LaVar is just a poor man’s version of Don King, but without the hair. Just think LaVar, you could have spent the next 5 to 10 years during Thanksgiving with your son in China, but no NBA contract to support you. But remember LaVar, shoplifting is NOT a little thing. It’s a really big deal, especially in China. Ungrateful fool!

The NFL is now thinking about a new idea — keeping teams in the Locker Room during the National Anthem next season. That’s almost as bad as kneeling! When will the highly paid Commissioner finally get tough and smart? This issue is killing your league!

Ball had previously refused to thank Trump, and the president had responded by tweeting that “I should have left them in jail!” Today’s tweets go further, suggesting Ball was insufficiently thankful to Trump personally for actions that are expected of U.S. presidential administrations.

The immediate segue to kneeling football players is suggestive, and reminds us that we’re seeing a pattern in Trump’s public flaying of prominent African Americans. It is true that in some of these cases, Trump was attacked or at least criticized first. But it’s hard to avoid noticing a gratuitously ugly pattern in Trump’s responses, in which Trump vaguely suggests either that his targets are getting above their station, or that they’re asking for too much and are insufficiently thankful for all that has been done for them.

Kneeling football players are protesting structural racism, hideously unfair racist prison sentencing disparities, and police brutality — i.e., profound injustices that our society inflicts on countless African Americans who have not enjoyed the success that star black athletes have, sometimes to the point of having lost large chunks of their lives to imprisonment or having been wrongfully killed in their youth. But Trump has regularly depicted the players as “disrespectful,” as if questioning this country’s continued deeply ingrained injustices is itself an act of impudence. He has repeatedly labeled the players “privileged,” as if they’ve got no business complaining or that their achievements are vaguely suspect.

When Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.) relayed that Trump had offended one of her constituents, a war widow, Trump accused her of “secretly” listening in on the call, as if she had rigged the game for self-promotional purposes, rendering him the aggrieved party. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly called her an “empty barrel” (a showboat and a hot dog), and put her in her place by accusing her of disrespecting the military. Kelly also falsely accused her of rigging a federal kickback to her district by calling up President Barack Obama (hint, hint). Kelly refused to apologize for this lie, because the details were irrelevant to the larger truism that the impudent, disrespectful loudmouth had actually gotten the appropriate smackdown that was coming to her.

Many black women see a documentable pattern in those attacks on one of their own. Now LaVar Ball is an “ungrateful fool,” as if Ball has benefited from Trump’s benevolence — rather than from his administration’s institutional responsibility — without showing sufficient gratitude for it.

Writing in the Atlantic this week, Adam Serwer suggested that Trump’s frequent race-baiting has two crucial components. First, there’s the ongoing suggestion that minorities enjoy various special privileges that unfairly rig the game against struggling white people, which Trump will reverse with justifiably discriminatory policies. (Polling has suggested many Trump voters did believe that such special privileges were harming whites.) Second, there’s the crucial ingredient of deniability — the simultaneous notion that Trump is entirely innocent of any racially discriminatory motives, and even that the very suggestion otherwise constitutes another injustice heaped upon Trump and his supporters.

Trump once again attacked a prominent African American today. But, hey, the guy had it coming. Also, it would be deeply unfair to Trump to suggest that this constitutes a pattern of race-baiting on his part, and deeply unfair to his supporters to suggest that such a pattern might be designed to resonate with them, if that pattern existed at all, which it doesn’t.

* DEAD HEAT IN ALABAMA: A new WBRC-TV/Strategy Research poll finds Roy Moore edging Doug Jones in the Alabama Senate race by a scant two points, 47-45, down from 11 points earlier this month. And:

When asked “what do you think about the allegations made against Roy Moore,” 45% believe all or some of the allegations; 34% do not believe the allegations; and 21% believe some or all of the allegations, but say it has not changed their vote. … Nearly half (48%) of Republican voters surveyed do not believe the allegations. Another 24% of Republicans say they believe some or all of the allegations, but it has not changed their vote.

The polling averages have Jones up by 0.8 points. For him to win, Democrats — particularly African Americans — will have to be unusually energized, even as some Republicans stay home.

* TRUMP PUTS GOP IN ‘DIFFICULT POSITION’ ON ROY MOORE: On Tuesday, Trump seemed to endorse Moore, blithely saying he had denied the charges, and the New York Times reports this nugget:

Party officials have worried that their connections to Mr. Moore … would taint establishment candidates across the country. Senate Republicans said on Tuesday that they were bewildered by Mr. Trump’s weighing in on the Alabama race after he had remained quiet, and they said that the president had put them in a difficult position.

Republicans will no doubt be glad to keep the seat, but if Moore wins, his lunacy and extremism in the Senate next year could conceivably have an impact on the midterms.

* MUELLER EYES KUSHNER ROLE IN COMEY FIRING: The Wall Street Journal reports that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team is looking hard at Jared Kushner’s involvement in Trump’s firing of former FBI director James B. Comey:

Mr. Mueller’s prosecutors have asked witnesses detailed questions about … whether Mr. Kushner was in favor of firing him or had staked out a position, said the people familiar with the matter. … Mr. Kushner pushed for Mr. Comey’s firing in discussions among the president and his top advisers, according to four people familiar with the matter. … Another person said top White House aides, including Mr. Kushner, viewed Mr. Comey as too unpredictable following his handling of the Clinton probe.

“Too unpredictable”? How so?

* DEMOCRATS LAUNCH BIG AD BLITZ: Reuters reports that multiple Democrat-aligned groups are launching ads bashing the GOP tax plan for cutting taxes on the rich and corporations while raising them on many middle-class Americans:

Democratic advocacy group Priorities USA [has] increased to $2 million a tax-related digital ad campaign targeting voters in 20 House districts where Republicans voted for the House bill. … The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is running digital ads in more than 40 Republican-held House districts. The group Save My Care is running digital ads in the districts of 14 House Republicans who voted for the bill, and in Alaska, Arizona and Maine.

One thing to keep an eye on: The degree to which Democrats use the GOP tax bill to target GOP-held districts that are heavy on working-class whites, who can hopefully be turned against it.

* REPUBLICANS ‘HAVE IT BOTH WAYS’ ON TAXES: Bloomberg makes a good point about the repeal of the individual mandate in the Senate tax bill: Republicans claim both that this won’t lead millions to be uninsured, and that mandate repeal will save lots of money:

This leaves Republicans in an awkward spot. While they crave the savings that come from repealing the mandate, they don’t love the reason why — namely, millions fewer people would be insured. … Republicans are trying to have it both ways.

The whole point of repealing the mandate is so millions fewer get covered, cutting government spending on subsidies and Medicaid, thus funding corporate tax cuts that benefit the wealthy.

* MILLIONS WILL SEE A TAX HIKE: Axios reports on the findings of a new Commonwealth Fund study that tries to gauge the impact of the Senate bill’s repeal of the mandate, which would cause premiums to soar:

Some people’s tax cuts under the GOP Senate bill would be canceled out by the increased premiums they would face. … And, for those roughly 7 million people who buy insurance on their own but don’t get premium subsidies, high health care costs would endure even after the bill’s tax cuts expire. … The bill would leave millions of middle-income Americans worse off financially.

This should further turn Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) against the bill, since this is the outcome she has explicitly warned about.

* AND A TIMELINE OF SEXUAL CHARGES AGAINST TRUMP: Post fact checker Meg Kelly compiles an astonishingly comprehensive list of all the people that say Trump made unwanted sexual advances, as well as people who were told about them at the time. As Kelly notes:

Many of the women have produced witnesses who say they heard about these incidents when they happened — long before Trump’s political aspirations were known. Three have produced at least two witnesses.

Such contemporaneous accounts are essential to establishing the credibility of the allegation because they reduce the chance that a person is making up a story for political purposes.

But, as Trump said of Roy Moore, “he denies it,” which settles the matter.