Psychologist On Tr-mp’s Mental Illness: “My Colleagues…Who Don’t Speak Out Are Being Unethical”

“If we could construct a psychiatric Frankenstein monster, we could not create a leader more dangerously mentally ill than Donald Tr-mp.”

—John Gartner, Ph.D, February 21, 2017

At the end of this post there is a must-see segment from (again) “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell.” The segment features two prominent “doctors of the head,” one I have mentioned before, psychologist John Gartner, and another, Lance Dodes, who was a clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. You can see their distinguished credentials here and here. Before we get to the remarkable things these two doctors say—out of a sense of “duty”—about Tr-mp’s mental health, let’s start with this:

A new Quinnipiac poll just out shows Americans are unpresidenting Tr-mp in an unprecedented way, just a month into his regime. Most voters find Tr-mp:

“does not have good leadership skills” (55-40)
“does not care about average Americans” (53-44)
“is not level-headed” (63-33)
“does not share their values” (60-37)

Those numbers are not surprising. Nor is this one, which I find fascinating:  by a 55-40 margin, most voters don’t believe Tr-mp is “honest.”

Now, that margin is fascinating because I find it hard to believe, after all we have seen since June of 2015 (and well before that), that there is even one person in America who believes Tr-mp is honest, much less 40% of voters surveyed in this poll. How can that be? How can so many Americans not see what is so obvious? This is how:

tr-mp-honest-or-not

As you can see, it is mostly Republicans who are blind, willfully or otherwise, to the dishonesty of Tr-mp, even though a disturbing number of “independents” also apparently have trouble distinguishing facts from fiction, truth from lies.

We have discussed on this blog countless times the power of tribalism. Here you can see the power of the political party tribe. There is absolutely no doubt, just judging from all the fact-checking that has been done since Tr-mp slithered onto the political stage, that Agent Orange is utterly dishonest, has no respect whatsoever for the truth or for reality. But only one in ten Republicans believe he is dishonest. Only one in ten.

But what about the 41% of independents who think Tr-mp is honest? Partisanship doesn’t explain that stunning statistic. So, what does explain it? I’m going to be charitable here. I’m going to advance a theory as to why so many people, allegedly free from partisan tribalism, nevertheless conclude Tr-mp is honest: they think he is sick and really believes the things he says.

I want to go back and look at what Tr-mp said during his disrespectful appearance at CIA headquarters the day after his inauguration:

We did a thing yesterday at the speech. Did everybody like the speech? (Applause.) I’ve been given good reviews. But we had a massive field of people. You saw them. Packed. I get up this morning, I turn on one of the networks, and they show an empty field. I say, wait a minute, I made a speech. I looked out, the field was — it looked like a million, million and a half people. They showed a field where there were practically nobody standing there. And they said, Donald Trump did not draw well. I said, it was almost raining, the rain should have scared them away, but God looked down and he said, we’re not going to let it rain on your speech.

In fact, when I first started, I said, oh, no. The first line, I got hit by a couple of drops. And I said, oh, this is too bad, but we’ll go right through it. But the truth is that it stopped immediately. It was amazing. And then it became really sunny.

Let’s forget those bogus claims about the size of the crowd. Lots of people, especially politicians, exaggerate crowd size. Instead focus in on the now infamous claim he made about the weather and the Almighty. Everyone who attended the inauguration, who was there when Tr-mp spoke, knew it was raining while he spoke.  And it did not stop raining while he was speaking. 

But even if you were ridiculously inclined to cut Tr-mp some slack and excuse his divine intervention nonsense about the rain, you can’t overlook—as part of a common-sense judgment that there is something seriously wrong with the way he experiences the world—his claim that “it became really sunny.” As many have noted, it remained cloudy throughout the ceremony. There was no sun shining on those gathered. But Tr-mp said there was. And he didn’t just say it was sunny; he said it was really sunny. It was so sunny, so bright, that it blinded everyone else there, who could only see clouds and the rain those clouds were producing. Only Tr-mp, or more to the point, only Tr-mp’s mind, could see how sunny it really was.

So, in one sense, as I have said before, it could be entirely possible that Tr-mp is honest when he says things that the rest of us know are lies. Maybe he is telling the truth, his truth, when he tells us things that are demonstrably false. And, as a purely charitable gesture, I submit to you that all those independents in the Quinnipiac poll who think Tr-mp is “honest” are really amateur or professional psychologists and psychiatrists who, through common sense or professional training, believe Tr-mp is honest, in the sense that a man claiming to be from the future may really believe he is from the future even though he isn’t. Yes, such a man appeared five years ago:

A would-be saboteur arrested today at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland made the bizarre claim that he was from the future. Eloi Cole, a strangely dressed young man, said that he had travelled back in time to prevent the LHC from destroying the world…

Mr Cole was seized by Swiss police after CERN security guards spotted him rooting around in bins. He explained that he was looking for fuel for his ‘time machine power unit’, a device that resembled a kitchen blender.

Police said Mr Cole, who was wearing a bow tie and rather too much tweed for his age, would not reveal his country of origin. “Countries do not exist where I am from. The discovery of the Higgs boson led to limitless power, the elimination of poverty and Kit-Kats for everyone. It is a communist chocolate hellhole and I’m here to stop it ever happening.” […]

Mr Cole was taken to a secure mental health facility in Geneva but later disappeared from his cell. Police are baffled, but not that bothered.

Tr-mp may baffle us with his claims of sunshine on rainy days or his countless other delusions, but we don’t have the luxury of not being bothered by him. He is, essentially, in charge of the world. As Dr. Gartner says in the video segment below, “We could not create a leader more dangerously mentally ill than Donald Tr-mp.” Watch all nine minutes with fear and trembling:

Twenty-fifth Amendment Remedies

The video I have posted below is about twenty minutes long. It’s from “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” on MSNBC. I recommend investing the time to watch it, if for no other reason than as a way to familiarize yourself with a relatively unknown part of our Constitution.

As everyone knows, the MSNBC evening lineup during the week features three left-of-center personalities: Chris Hayes, a 30-something liberal journalist from the Bronx, who has been in the trenches of progressive activism since he graduated from college; St. Rachel Maddow, a 40-something journalist from California with a doctorate in politics from Oxford, who happens to be the first openly gay person to host a big-time prime-time show on American television; then there is Lawrence O’Donnell, a 60-something Harvard graduate and self-admitted European socialist who majored in economics and became a writer, most notably a writer for, and producer of, the popular television show The West Wing, for which he won an Emmy award. Oh, and he was a senior advisor to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and a staff director for the Senate Finance Committee.

Of the three hosts on MSNBC’s evening programming, O’Donnell, in my opinion, is the most original thinker, at least in terms of what he does on his show. I like Chris Hayes and his youthful exuberance and intellectual debating style. I love St. Rachel and her ability to connect seemingly disparate stories into one coherent and informative narrative. What I enjoy about O’Donnell, though, is his willingness to go where others fear to go, as demonstrated in the following segment (actually two segments I captured into one) that explores a topic few people would dare to touch on cable television.

What lends a strong sense of legitimacy to the otherwise unorthodox discussion you will hear in the video below is the presence of Laurence Tribe, the renowned professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School who was once considered to be on the short list of any Democratic president’s Supreme Court nominee list. Tribe’s credentials as a scholar of the Constitution are beyond question, and the fact that he has argued cases before the Supreme Court some 36 times makes him arguably the preeminent source of thought on liberal jurisprudence—that is to say, common sense jurisprudence—in the country.

To provide some background, the Twenty-fifth Amendment was adopted in 1967, after the Kennedy assasination revealed the uncertainty surrounding the incapacity of the president and just how, if a president was allegedly unable to perform the duties of the office, would the system deal with the situation, not just if the president recovered from a clear incapacity but if he (or someday “she”) challenged an apparent one. How would all this work and who would decide?

For the purpose of the discussion below, here is the relevant provision in the amendment, found in Section 4:

Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.

Now, to the discussion:

Tr-mp: “I Am Your Voice”

It’s one thing that the Russians interfered with our election last November and sowed confusion and doubt about Hillary Clinton and about our electoral process, while obviously trying to get Americans to do the impossible and vote for a disturbed candidate. We should expect our anti-democratic enemies to muck up our experiment with democracy, to attack our democratic institutions, including, most important of all, a free press.

But it is another thing, and a very dangerous thing, to have the clear beneficiary of Russian interference to himself attack our democratic institutions, to especially attack and undermine the legitimacy of the real press, those outlets outside of his influence and control. Plenty of people have criticized Tr-mp for saying, four days ago via a tweet, the following:

The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!

From Chris Wallace at Fox “News” (“I believe that crosses an important line”) to Senator John McCain (“That’s how dictators get started”), many expressed their concerns about what it means to have Tr-mp say such things about the press, things like what he said in Florida on Saturday at a campaign rally just a month into his term:

They have their own agenda and their agenda is not your agenda. In fact, Thomas Jefferson said, “nothing can be believed which is seen in a newspaper.” “Truth itself,” he said, “becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle,” that was June 14, my birthday, 1807. But despite all their lies, misrepresentations, and false stories, they could not defeat us in the primaries, and they could not defeat us in the general election, and we will continue to expose them for what they are, and most importantly, we will continue to win, win, win. We are not going to let the fake news tell us what to do, how to live, or what to believe. We are free and independent people and we will make our own choices.We are here today to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Those words came from a man whose personal pathology produces lies at a faster flow rate than water draining from Lake Erie into Lake Ontario at Niagara Falls. And for those of us who know a little about Jefferson, it is nauseating to see him used in such a damned dishonest way. Jefferson, despite often criticizing what he read in the highly biased newspapers of his day, was an advocate of a free press, as most people know (“were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter”). But what people forget about Jefferson’s famous remark about preferring a free press over government, is the next line:

But I should mean that every man should receive those papers & be capable of reading them.

The crucial thing is that people are “capable of reading.” That phrase certainly goes beyond merely being able to recognize the words, either written words, as in Jefferson’s day, or spoken words on television or radio or podcasts in our time. It carries with it the idea of comprehending what one reads or hears. And such comprehension is not always easy. That’s why so many people get their “news” from headlines, which are essentially crude summaries of the gist of news stories. Headline writers are doing the hard work of comprehension. But as we found all too often in the campaign coverage last year, headline writers failed, and sometimes failed miserably (often to sensationalize stories to get attention), to accurately summarize the stories. People incapable of reading in the Jeffersonian sense were thus misled.

The biggest danger with what Tr-mp is doing, in trying to delegitimize the press he can’t control or the press that isn’t predisposed to support him, is related to people’s tendency to avoid the harder work of actually comprehending what they read, of putting it into, say, a historical context or in the context of other events happening at the same time. The people behind Tr-mp’s efforts to destroy the credibility of outlets like The New York Times or CNN or other independent sources know exactly what they are doing. Conservatives, since the movement became a more organized and media-savvy effort with the founding of William F. Buckley’s National Review in 1955, have always attacked the mainstream press as biased, as favoring liberal ideas against their own. That’s not new.

What is new is that Tr-mp is louder and uglier and more openly willing to actually tell complete and demonstrable lies about the press, to the point of now actually calling independent journalism the enemy of the people. That is unprecedented for a man holding the office, quite illegitimately, that he holds. Such an act is exactly why many of us work to unpresident him. Tr-mp is deliberately blinding people with his fierce anti-press rhetoric. He wants them to “see through” everything they read or hear, to not believe it unless he authenticates it. I often quote what C. S. Lewis wrote in The Abolition of Man, and will do so again:

You can’t go on “seeing through” things forever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. To “see through” all things is the same as not to see.

Blindness is the result of always seeing through things Tr-mp wants his followers to see through. His delegitimization of a free and independent press has a post-modernist touch to it. There is no truth out there until Tr-mp calls it truth. No facts exist until they are validated by him. Journalists lie. Tr-mp tells the truth. Journalists hate people who like Tr-mp. And Tr-mp is there to protect his people from those journalists, from their lies. All that is required is for one to take a Kierkegaardian “leap of faith” into the Tr-mp “movement” and become a believer. “I have joined the political arena so that the powerful can no longer beat up on people that cannot defend themselves. Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it,” he said during his disturbing convention speech last summer, “I am your voice.” Accept that simple claim and then quarter-truths and half-truths and lies easily become gospel.

And if enough people accept that simple claim, then our democracy perishes.

 

Sleepy Susan Sarandon And What It Means To Be “Awake”

Last night, Susan Sarandon, a leftist actress who infamously helped get Tr-mp elected, appeared on MSNBC’s “All In with Chris Hayes.” I wish Hayes had been tougher on her (especially after she asked him, “You consider yourself a journalist, right?”), but that’s not really his style. He did, though, manage to get her to say a couple of things that I want to address, mostly because I’m still pissed at so many people on the left who, because they hated Hillary Clinton so much, didn’t give a damn about the pain and suffering many people will have to endure under Tr-mpism. Some of those Hillary-hating leftists weren’t too worried about any pain and suffering because they are financially or culturally insulated from it, which makes what they did all the more reprehensible.susan sarandon.jpg

First, Sarandon had something to say to people like me, people who have attacked her for stupid statements like cavalierly suggesting Tr-mp would bring on a much-needed “revolution” and who still blame her and others for curbing the enthusiasm for Hillary among so many young voters. Sarandon asked, “Really? That’s where we want to spend our time and energy?” Well, yes. At least a small amount of time and energy.

Most of the substantive talk last night kept coming back to the Dakota Access Pipeline and fracking. Okay. Those are important issues. And they seem to be the pet issues of people like Sarandon. But guess what? To people of color in danger of being further disenfranchised, to poor and working people in need of assistance, to sick people in need of health care, to women worried about their reproductive freedoms, to undocumented immigrants being rounded up like cattle, to those who depend on Social Security and Medicare to survive, the issues of fracking and pipelines are way down their list of things to worry about, especially since Sarandon helped get a man elected who doesn’t give a damn about the environment, who, as Hayes asserted, wants to “frack the entire country.”

As for me, in a time when our democratic institutions are under assault by a deranged Agent Orange in the White’s House, the construction of another pipeline just doesn’t seem like a reason to set what’s left of my hair on fire. And as dangerous as fracking is in some places, it appears to me that the existential crisis our Republic faces needs to be the first priority for all of us who care about how this frightening drama ends.

In the context of making a choice last November, Chris Hayes asked Sarandon, “Do you feel like you properly appreciated what a Donald Trump presidency would be?” Here is her reply:

I think that I absolutely feel that talking about blaming people for what happened is really wasting your time and energy. Because what we have now is a populous that is awake.

Well, some of us were never asleep. Some of us warned the intellectually sleepy Sarandons of the world about the dangers of the game they were playing. And some people who are awake now are awake because their lives are in jeopardy due to the actions of people like Susan Sarandon. So, no, it is not a complete waste of time and energy to talk about “blaming people for what happened.” Figuring out how we got in this mess is part of what it means to be “awake.”

And make no mistake about it: Susan Sarandon and Russia-backed Jill Stein and other un-awake people on the left helped get us into this mess by playing with fire, by helping elect a dangerous, delusional man who, if we are lucky, will be booted out of office before he really does frack us all.

Professor Of European History: “We Have At Most A Year To Defend The Republic, Perhaps Less.”

“There are really no values in the world except for the stark reality that we are born in order to take things from other people.”

—Dr. Timothy Snyder, professor of history at Yale, describing Hitler’s worldview

As we watch a disordered Tr-mp bring even more disorder to his already disordered regime, and as we watch Republicans shudder at the thought of actually having to take seriously the possibility that Tr-mp has been compromised by the Russians, and as the rest of us hope the things we are seeing will not lead to a neofascist assault on our democracy, I direct you to Wikipedia’s entry on Süddeutsche Zeitung, described as “the largest German subscription daily newspaper” and “the first newspaper to receive a license from the U.S. military administration of Bavaria,” five months after the end of WWII. Wikipedia quotes from the paper’s first issue on October 6, 1945:

For the first time since the collapse of the brown rule of terror, a newspaper run by Germans is published in Munich. It is limited by the political necessities of our days, but it is not bound by censorship, nor gagged by constraints of conscience.

SZ newspaper 1945.jpgClicking on that “brown rule of terror” link will take you to Wikipedia’s extensive “Nazi Germany” page where you will find a nice summary of how “Germany was transformed into a fascist state in which the Nazi Party took totalitarian control over nearly all aspects of life.” As you will soon see, some people believe that Americans should do more reading about that ugly part of world history.

I mention Süddeutsche Zeitung (translated “South German Newspaper”and known simply as “SZ”) because of an article it recently published (brought to my attention by Media Matters) with a provocative title, which is actually a paraphrased quote from Timothy Snyder, a Yale University professor of history the paper interviewed:

“We have at most a year to defend American democracy, perhaps less”

Before we get to the SZ interview of Dr. Snyder, let us look briefly at his credentials, from his Yale bio:

Timothy Snyder is one of the leading American historians and public intellectuals, and enjoys perhaps greater prominence in Europe, the subject of most of his work. He is the Housum Professor of History at Yale University and a permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna. He received his doctorate from the University of Oxford in 1997, where he was a British Marshall Scholar. Before joining the faculty at Yale in 2001, he held fellowships in Paris, Vienna, and Warsaw, and an Academy Scholarship at Harvard. He speaks five and reads ten European languages.

As you can see, Dr. Snyder is no Bill O’Reilly, pretending to be a historian. He’s the real deal. He “speaks five and reads ten European languages,” and has written “six single-authored award-winning books,” the latest being, Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning. The man knows something about fascism and its history, and in the SZ interview he uses his world-renowned scholarship to evaluate what we have seen three weeks into the Tr-mp regime.

After noting how our American institutions were unable to restrain him, and how Tr-mp’s behavior never evolved despite his electoral success, Dr. Snyder says what most of us have known for some time:

He doesn’t seem to care about the institutions and the laws except insofar as they appear as barriers to the goal of permanent kleptocratic authoritarianism and immediate personal gratification.  It is all about him all of time, it is not about the citizens and our political traditions.

If you’ve been paying attention, you don’t need a Yale scholar to tell you any of that. It’s been obvious. But we do need a scholar of history, especially European history, to remind us that “The history of the 1930s is terribly important to Americans (and Europeans) right now, just as it is slipping from our memories.” Dr. Snyder went on to say of the election of Tr-mp,

The temptation in a new situation is to imagine that nothing has changed. That is a choice that has political consequences: self-delusion leads to half-conscious anticipatory obedience and then to regime change.

So many people, on the street and in the media and in government, think “nothing has changed.” They admit Tr-mp is a bit unusual, but will be tamed by the limitations placed on him by the political culture and our institutions. Not so fast, says Dr. Snyder. He tells the German newspaper,

at the moment it’s rather important that Germans be generous with their history and help others to learn how republics collapse. Most Americans are exceptionalists, we think we live outside of history. Americans tend to think: “We have freedom because we love freedom, we love freedom because we are free.” It is a bit circular and doesn’t acknowledge the historical structures that can favor or weaken democratic republics. We don’t realize how similar our predicaments are to those of other people.

We don’t realize it because we are taught, consciously and unconsciously, that we have some kind of immunity to what has befallen other nations. We are sold the idea that nothing like what happened in Europe in the 1930s can happen here. Dr. Snyder says that Americans need to know something we seem not to know:

…that intelligent people, not so different from ourselves, have experienced the collapse of a republic before. [The Weimar Republic, the German state between 1919 and 1933,] is one example among many. Republics, like other forms of government, exist in history and can rise and fall. The American Founding Fathers knew this, which is why there were obsessed with the history of classical republics and their decline into oligarchy and empire. We seem to have lost that tradition of learning from others, and we need it back.  A quarter-century ago, after the collapse of communism, we declared that history was over – and in an amazing way we forgot everything we once knew about communism, fascism and National Socialism.

The professor of history said it was strange to learn, for instance, that when he was on a tour in 2011 for his book, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, “that Americans had really forgotten about the crimes of Stalin.” He elaborated:

I realized that Americans had simply forgotten that there was Stalinism and terror. That struck me: What else could we forget? The idea of the Holocaust is certainly present, but it is almost totally lacking in context. And without context it is hard to see resemblance. A Holocaust that is reduced to a few images or facts cannot teach about larger patterns. And Americans risk of stressing its uniqueness is that it allows people to dismiss any learning from history. People will ask: “Is he wearing a Hakenkreuz [Swastika]Did he kill six million Jews?” If the answer is in the negative, then they will reply: “Then history has nothing to do with the present.” Over the last 25 years, we have not only forgotten much of what we once knew but we have raised a whole generation which doesn’t have these reference points.

Perhaps a lack of historical reference points is why so many young people either opted out of the last election or wasted their vote on a third party, acts which were significantly responsible for the election of Tr-mp. Dr. Snyder continues:

When an American president says “America First” or proposes a political system without the two parties or attacks journalists or denies the existence of facts, that should set off a series of associations with other political systems. We need people who can help translate ideological utterances into political warnings.

The professor from Yale is trying to be one of those people:

There was this time where we engaged in political theory and history, where people thought about what fascism and communism meant for democracy. Now, one reason why we cannot forget the 1930s is that the presidential administration is clearly thinking about them – but in a positive sense. They seem to be after a kind of redo of the 1930s with Roosevelt where the Americans take a different course, where we don’t build a welfare state and don’t intervene in Europe to stop fascism. Lindbergh instead of FDR. That is their notion. Something went wrong with Roosevelt and now they want to go back and reverse it.

Now we are getting into the meat of Dr. Snyder’s “political warnings.” I will quote from the interview at length because it is so important to hear those warnings. The SZ interviewer asked him about Tr-mp’s top political strategist, whom I have written about extensively:

SZ: Steve Bannon, has said that he wants to “make life as exciting as it was in the 1930s.” The first two weeks have shown how big his influence is, it seems much bigger than Reince Priebus’s or Jared Kushner’s.

DR. SNYDER: I can’t speak to intra-White House conflicts. I can only say that Mr. Tr-mp’s inaugural address was extremely ideological. During the campaign he used sz newspaper 2017.jpgthe slogan “America First” and then was informed that this was the name of a movement that tried to prevent the United States from fighting Nazi Germany and was associated with nativists and white supremacists. He claimed then not to have known that.  But in the inaugural address he made “America First” his central them, and now he can’t say that he doesn’t know what it means. And of course Bannon knows what it means. America First is precisely the conjuration of this alternative America of the 1930s where Charles Lindbergh is the hero. This inaugural address reeked of the 1930s.

SZ: When Bannon calls himself a “Leninist,” do Americans know what is he talking about?

DR. SNYDER: No, they usually have no idea. It is a good question. Americans have this idea that comes from Jefferson and the American Revolution that you have to rebel every so often. And they sometimes don’t make the distinction between a rebellion against injustice and the extinction of the whole political system, which is what Bannon says that he is after. The American Revolution actually preserved ideas from Britain: the rule of law being the most important. The whole justification of the American Revolution was that the British were not living up to their own principles, were not including Americans in their own system. In a broad way that was also the argument of the civil rights movement: the system fails itself when it does not extend equal rights to all citizens. So there can be resistance and even revolution, which is about meeting standards rather than about simple destruction.

What Bannon says correctly about the Bolsheviks was that they aimed to completely destroy an old regime. We can slip from one to the other very easily, from rebelliousness to a complete negation of the system. Most Americans had a rule of law state for most of their lives, African-Americans are an exception, and so most Americans think this will be there forever. They don’t get that a “disruption” can actually destroy much of what they take for granted. They have no notion what it means to destroy the state and how their lives would look like if the rule of law would no longer exist. I find it frightening that people who talk about the destruction of the American state are now in charge of the American state.

SZ: Tr-mp put a portrait of Andrew Jackson on the wall of the Oval Office, another president that was a populist. But people around him seem to have a wider agenda.

DR. SNYDER: In the same interview with the Hollywood Reporter in which Bannon talks about the “exciting 1930s,” he talks about how he is operating in the darkness. He compares himself with Satan and Darth Vader and says in essence that he misleads the public and the media deliberately.

SZ: The White House statement for the Holocaust Day on January 27 didn’t mention Jews. At first it looked like a mistake but now it is official that it was intentional.

DR. SNYDER: The Holocaust reference is very important on our side of the Atlantic. If Americans have a reference point in world history, it is precisely the Holocaust. The Holocaust, and let’s say Normandy, the Second World War, are the one aperture into a broader history, one where republics fall and extremes triumph. So if Steve Bannon turns the Holocaust into talk about “A lot of people have suffered,” what is happening is that he is closing that aperture. The next step is to say that mainly Americans are the victims. History then dies completely and we are trapped in myth.

Seeing Americans particularly, and Western Civilization generally, as “the victims” is, essentially, the way Bannon sees the world. And Dr. Snyder explains that Americans need “to see patterns, analogies, political lessons” from history, and he links a policy of Tr-mp, inspired by Bannon’s vision, to the Holocaust:

…right now the comparison we need to ponder is between the treatment of Muslims and the treatment of Jews. It is obviously the case that the point of the Muslim ban is to instruct Americans that Muslims are an enemy: a small, well-assimilated minority that we are supposed to see not as our neighbors or as fellow citizens but as elements of an international threat. More than that, Tr-mp’s policy is a provocation, which is probably meant to provoke an event like the assassination of the German diplomat Ernst Eduard vom Rath [which provided a pretext for the Kristallnacht, “The Night of Broken Glass”] on November 7, 1938. 

Such a provocation can only be pulled off if the press loses its legitimacy and credibility. A Gallup poll last September showed only 32% of Americans have “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of trust in mass media. Among Republicans, that number was only 14%. A more recent poll by Emerson College “found that 69 percent of Democrats think the news media is truthful while 91 percent of Republicans consider the Fourth Estate untruthful.” Those numbers on trusting the press have fallen since the advent of Tr-mp and that isn’t an accident. Steve Bannon recently told The New York Times:

You’re the opposition party. Not the Democratic Party. You’re the opposition party. The media’s the opposition party.

Tr-mp then confirmed that dangerous view in an interview with, of all outlets, televangelist Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network:

I’m not talking about everybody, but a big portion of the media, the dishonesty, total deceit and deception. It makes them certainly partially the opposition party, absolutely. I think they’re much more capable than the opposition party. The opposition party is losing badly. Now the media is on the opposition party’s side…The media is a disgrace, and they’ve called me wrong from the beginning.

Professor Snyder emphasizes how significant and consequential these statements are:

When you say that the press is the opposition, then you are advocating a regime change in the United States. When I am a Republican and say the Democrats are the opposition, we talk about our system. If I say the government is one party and the press is the opposition, then I talk about an authoritarian state. This is regime change.

Bone-chilling. But there is more about regime change from the scholar of European history that will chill your bones:

SZ: Last week Tr-mp called those who take part in demonstrations “thugs” and “paid protestors.” This doesn’t show respect for First Amendment right, it sounds more like Putin.

DR. SNYDER: That is exactly what the Russian leadership does. The idea is to marginalize the people who actually represent the core values of the Republic. The point is to bring down the Republic. You can disagree with them. but once you say they have no right to protest or start lying about them, you are in effect saying: “We want a regime where this is not possible anymore.” When the president says that, it means that the executive branch is engaged in regime change towards an authoritarian regime without the rule of law. You are getting people used to this transition, you are inviting them into the process by asking them to have contempt for their fellow citizens who are defending the Republic. You are also seducing people into a world of permanent Internet lying and away from their own experiences with other people.

Getting out to protest, this is something real and I would say something patriotic. Part of the new authoritarianism is to get people to prefer fiction and inaction to reality and action. People sit in their chairs, read the tweet and repeat the clichés: “Yes, they are thugs” instead of “It is normal to get out in the streets for what you believe.” He is trying to teach people a new behavior: “You just sit right where you are, read what I say and nod your head.” That is the psychology of regime change.

To warm up your bones a little bit, I will include some advice Dr. Snyder has for concerned Americans and some positive things about the American reaction to Tr-mpism so far:

SZ: Today’s media environment is very different from the 1930s, everything happens so fast.

DR. SNYDER: This is part of what contemporary authoritarians do: They overwhelm you with bad news and try to make you depressed and say with resignation: “Well, what can I do?” I think it is better to limit yourself. Read the news for half an hour a day, but don’t spend the whole day obsessing about it. Americans have to pick one thing to be confident about, and then act on it. If you care about and know about refugees, the press, global warming – choose one and talk with people around you about it. Nobody can do everything but everyone can do a little bit. And people doing their little bit will meet others doing the same, and the depression lifts.

He offers more advice:

DR. SNYDER: Americans love to use the word “playbook” which is a metaphor from sports. There is a playbook from the 1930s that some people in the presidential administration are following. This includes picking a minority in your country, associate it with a global threat and use the notion of a global struggle as a way to create national solidarity while neglecting the nation’s actual problems. The Reichstag Fire is the crucial moment when Hitler’s government becomes a Nazi regime. An event of that type, whether unexpected, provoked, or planned by the government, can be a turning point in the United States today.

This goes back to the beginning of our conversation: if we think about the 1930s, then we can be aware of events, and of certain forks in the road. If a terror attack happens in the United States, that is simply the Tr-mp administration failing to keep its most basic promise. It is not a reason to suspend the rights of Americans or declare have a state of emergency. History teaches us the tricks of authoritarians. We can’t allow ourselves to fall for them.

SZ: There were a lot of demonstrations in hundreds of cities, but the opinion of Tr-mp supporters hasn’t changed. They are not moved by the huge crowds. Would this be too early to expect?

DR. SNYDER: These are two different things. With something like the Muslim ban, it is important a lot of people react very quickly because if the government can slice off one group, it can do the same to others. This is a political logic that requires quick action rather than waiting for public opinion polls. Americans were actually better than Germans; they got out right away. Some Americans do seem understand the logic; they move quickly. So the airport protests are not in the first instance about communicating with the Tr-mp supporters; they about making clear to the administration that we recognize what you are doing and that we oppose this logic. Indirectly, the protests communicate to the majority that there are two sides to the issue, and that they should think for themselves.

Communicating with Tr-mp supporters is different. You have to have people out, waving flags and describing themselves as patriots, even as they decry and resist particular policies. It is important for people to consider that authoritarianism, though it claims all the national symbols, is not patriotism. Over time, protests that are for a better America are important to change minds and swing over Republicans – and I should say that I have already seen a number of Republicans whom I know personally in the protests. It needs time, this is more about six months or one year. They just elected him On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by [Snyder, Timothy]three months ago, for now there is still the frame in place that he will change everything and improve their lives, other things can seem like details so long as this basic hope remains.

It might take a while for people to realize that making America into a Tr-mp family welfare state is not in the interest of Americans whose name is not Tr-mp.  One of the main problems is the Internet and the polarization and simple unreality that it generates. It is important to talk about these issues in person. I have a little book called “On Tyranny” [Kindle edition only $2.99] and I will do my best to talk about it with people who think in various ways about politics.

Finally, Dr. Snyder gets down to the warning that inspired the headline of the SZ article:

The marches were very encouraging. These were quite possibly the largest demonstrations in the history of the US, just in sheer numbers on one single day. That sort of initiative has to continue. The Constitution is worth saving, the rule of law is worth saving, democracy is worth saving, but these things can and will be lost if everyone waits around for someone else. If we want encouragement out of the Oval Office, we will not get it. We are not getting encouragement thus far from Republicans. They have good reasons to defend the Republic but thus far they are not doing so, with a few exceptions. You want to end on a positive note, I know; but I think things have tightened up very fast, we have at most a year to defend the Republic, perhaps less. What happens in the next few weeks is very important.

“Epistemological Murk”

Epistemology is the study of knowledge: what we know, how we know it, how we know we know it, and how to keep track of it without driving ourselves crazy.”

Vocabulary.com

since there is a lot of moonshine, much of it toxic, being produced by the Tr-mp regime and its supporters in Congress and on cable news, let’s distill a simple truth from the cloudburst of orange urine—the lies, outrages, and absurdities—that has soaked our already piss-saturated political landscape since January 20: Republican leaders are pretending Donald Tr-mp isn’t mentally ill because they want to cut taxes for the wealthy, weaken or eliminate programs for the poor and working-class, and make it harder for people who oppose that reactionary agenda to vote against it.

Sadly, after a sober distillation of the uncomfortable facts, that simple truth is what is left, the essence of what is going on. After Tr-mp’s Electoral College-only victory in November, Speaker Paul Ryan falsely claimed Tr-mp “just earned a mandate.” But Ryan’s imaginary mandate for Trmp is very real for Paul Ryan. He sees the opportunity to get done what Image result for trump discusses north korean missile at mar a lagoonly seemed like a Randian dream before. And that’s why there is a very strange tolerance for very strange behavior, like when Tr-mp scandalously equated a murderous Vladimir Putin with past American leadership, or when he, on Saturday, discussed with dinner guests—in public at Mar-a-Lago—the launch of a North Korean missile. If any Democrat had said or done anything like that, Washington would still be on fire with conservative rage.

Republicans, as I have said many times, are the only ones who can put a stop to the madness we have seen and are seeing—including Tr-mp’s solicitation and toleration of Russian interference in our election and what may be, as the Flynn controversy demonstrates, a plan for compensation to the Russians for helping elect Tr-mp. But GOP leaders have their partisan and ideological priorities, which clearly don’t include protecting the integrity of any of the nation’s institutions from a sick, shady man who most of them know is a sick, shady man with a lot of not-so-sick but oh-so-shady men and women around him.

Image result for ted lieu on joy reidSince I have written about the issue for months now, I was glad that on Sunday, three different times, the issue of Tr-mp’s mental health came up, in a serious way, on television. On MSNBC, Congressman Ted Lieu, of California, brought up Dr. John Gartner, a psychotherapist formerly affiliated with Johns Hopkins University Medical School. Dr. Gartner, who specializes in certain personality disorders, said recently:

“Donald Tr-mp is dangerously mentally ill and temperamentally incapable of being president,” says Gartner, author of “In Search of Bill Clinton: A Psychological Biography.” Tr-mp, Gartner says, has “malignant narcissism,” which is different from narcissistic personality disorder and which is incurable.

Congressman Lieu, after quoting Dr. Gartner, properly asked, “What do I do with that as a member of Congress? Do I ignore that? Or do I raise the issue?” Well, Lieu isn’t ignoring the issue. He is filing a bill that would require a shrink in the White’s House. About Tr-mp Lieu said,

His disconnection from the truth is incredibly disturbing. When you add on top of that his stifling of dissent, his attacks on the free press and his attacks on the legitimacy of judiciary, that then takes us down the road toward authoritarianism. That’s why I’ve concluded he is a danger to the republic.

On another Sunday program, NBC’s Meet The Press, Senator Bernie Sanders chimed in about Tr-mp’s behavior, saying to Chuck Todd, “right now we are in a pivotal moment in American history. We have a president [sic] who is delusional in many respects, a pathological liar.” Todd asked Sanders, “Can you work with a pathological liar?” Sanders said,

Well, it makes life very difficult, not just for me. And I don’t mean, you know, I know it sounds, it is very harsh. But I think that’s the truth. When somebody goes before you and the American people, say, “Three to five million people voted illegally in the last election,” nobody believes that. There is not the scintilla of evidence. What would you call that remark? It’s a lie. It’s a delusion.

Just one of many lies. One of many delusions.

On CNN’s Sunday program, Jake Tapper asked Senator Al Franken about his prior remarks on Bill Maher’s show during which Franken claimed that in private some Republican senators have “great concern about the president’s [sic] temperament.” Here’s how that went:

TAPPER: So, I know that was comedy, but is it true that Republican colleagues of your express concern about President Tr-mp’s mental health?

FRANKEN: A few.

Image result for al franken on cnnTAPPER: Really?

FRANKEN: Yes. It’s not the majority of them. It’s a few.

TAPPER: In what way?

FRANKEN: In the way that we all have this suspicion that—you know, that he’s not—he lies a lot. He says thing that aren’t true. That’s the same as lying, I guess. He—you know, three million to five million people voted illegally. There was a new one about people going in from Massachusetts to New Hampshire.

TAPPER: Thousands and thousands in a bus, yes.

FRANKEN: Yes. And, you know, that is not the norm for a president of the United States, or, actually, for a human being.

Senator Franken, my early choice for president in 2020, also said to Tapper:

I think that Tr-mp and his group are trying to make Americans more afraid. I think that’s part of how they got elected: Just make us more afraid.

Of course that is true, absolutely true. That’s why Tr-mp described, and still describes, America so darkly. But what is also true, and perhaps more important in the long run, is that Tr-mp makes Republicans in Congress more afraid, afraid they are just a Tr-mp tweet away from being primaried in two years. And that fear of losing their jobs, at least for those who see how mentally disturbed Tr-mp is, is enough to keep their thoughts about Tr-mp’s instability to themselves or limit their comments to whispers behind closed doors.

I have quoted three Democrats in Congress on the subject of Tr-mp’s mental health and have criticized Republicans for staying quiet about what is so obvious. Now, to finish up, I want to turn to a philosopher I respect very much. Daniel Dennett told The Guardian:

The real danger that’s facing us is we’ve lost respect for truth and facts. People have discovered that it’s much easier to destroy reputations for credibility than it is to maintain them. It doesn’t matter how good your facts are, somebody else can spread the rumour that you’re fake news. We’re entering a period of epistemological murk and uncertainty that we’ve not experienced since the Middle Ages.

I suppose only a philosopher thinks in terms of “epistemological murks,” but that is exactly where we are. In the Middle Ages, such murks were survivable. Here in the Nuclear Age, they may not be. Truth and sanity must prevail, but there is no guarantee it will. As Dennett said, reputations for credibility have to be maintained. Right now they are under siege nearly everywhere we look. But Dennett has hope:

I’m an eternal optimist. Every Republican senator has an opportunity to grow a spine and stand up for truth and justice and the rule of law. My other hope is that if Trump has to choose between being president and being a billionaire, I think he may just resign.

I’ll leave it to the reader to calculate the odds of either one of those two hopes becoming reality. But I’d bet a tax cut for the rich that the odds are long.

Moral Confusion Demands Moral Action

The insufferable Jeffrey Lord, whom CNN shamefully hired a long time ago to defend everything Tr-mp says and does, was on television this morning, naturally, defending Tr-mp’s trashing of America on Super Bowl Sunday. The Lord was taxed to the max in trying to defend the trashing, so much so that at one point he tried to use Ronald Reagan’s old phrase about America being a “shining city on a hill.” Lord’s version came out, “America is still the city on a shining hill.” Whoops. The hill is shining and the city is dark? Hmm. If you think about it, that is closer to what Tr-mp has said and done with his Muslim ban, and closer to what Tr-mp said on Sunday, than it is to what Reagan said in is farewell speech in 1989:

I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.

For the record, here is what Agent Orange, whose affection for the honor of Vladimir Putin obviously runs much deeper than his affection for the honor of his country, said to Tr-mp sycophant Bill O’Reilly:

O’Reilly: Do you respect Putin?

Trump: I do respect him but —

O’Reilly: Do you? Why?

Tr-mp: Well, I respect a lot of people but that doesn’t mean I’m going to get along with him. He’s a leader of his country. I say it’s better to get along with Russia than not. And if Russia helps us in the fight against ISIS, which is a major fight, and Islamic terrorism all over the world — that’s a good thing. Will I get along with him? I have no idea.

O’Reilly: But he’s a killer though. Putin’s a killer.

Tr-mp: There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think — our country’s so innocent. You think our country’s so innocent?

O’Reilly: I don’t know of any government leaders that are killers.

Tr-mp: Well — take a look at what we’ve done too. We made a lot of mistakes. I’ve been against the war in Iraq from the beginning.

O’Reilly: But mistakes are different than —

Tr-mp: A lot of mistakes, but a lot of people were killed. A lot of killers around, believe me.

O’Reilly: Let’s talk about Mexico. There’s a report that you talked to President Nieto and you told him — this was the report, I want to know if it’s true or not — that if his army couldn’t handle the drug cartels, that U.S. army soldiers would. Did you say that?

Tr-mp: We have to do something about the cartels. I did talk to him about it. I want to help him with it. I think he’s a very good man. We have a very good relationship, as you probably know. He seemed very willing to get help from us because he has got a problem, and it’s a real problem for us. Don’t forget those cartels are operating in our country. And they’re poisoning the youth of our country.

Now, one would think that O’Reilly, if he had any journalistic sense at all, would continue to pursue the suggestion, from a man pretending to be the President of the United States, that our country and Russia are morally indistinguishable. But here was O’Reilly’s next move: “Let’s talk about Mexico.” That’s a little like saying to a man who just confessed to pussy-grabbing, “Let’s talk about Botox.”

Throughout the entire interview with O’Reilly, Tr-mp lied repeatedly (or passed on his delusions; your choice). But that has sort of become un-news these days. No reputable journalist expects Tr-mp to tell the truth about anything, yet his appearances and interviews are presented as if they have some meaning. Well, in a disturbing way, this particular appearance and interview did have meaning. Because it means something if the leader of a country like ours is morally confused about it and its ideals. Let’s look at his words again. Let them penetrate:

O’Reilly: But he’s a killer though. Putin’s a killer.

Tr-mp: There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think — our country’s so innocent. You think our country’s so innocent?

We all know how President Obama was vilified by right-wingers for statements he made about the United States’ past mistakes and atrocities—statements always made in the context of living up to our cherished ideals. I could go back and dig up all the nasty quotes about Obama made by some of the same people now defending Tr-mp. But that is not my aim. I don’t want the force of what Tr-mp said here to be attenuated in any way. Let’s be clear about this: Tr-mp is incapable of making a moral distinction between a Russian leader who orders the murder of people who oppose him, a leader who has purposely bombed civilians to protect another killer who happens to be the president of Syria, and the past leaders of his own country. He is incapable of making a moral distishining city on  a hill.jpgnction between the government of the United States of America and the Russian Federation.

Perhaps this moral confusion in Tr-mp’s mind—which is a confusion that used to be found exclusively on the far fringes of the left—is due to the fact that he does not see himself in any moral context. He does not see his time in office in any moral context. Perhaps it is that we have a man in the White’s House who does not himself have any morals to put in any context. And that is why it isn’t enough for a few Republicans to merely come out and defend America’s moral and idealistic honor. They should, but won’t, go further and say that a man so incapable of coherent moral thought about a Russian killer, so incapable of defending the nobility of American ideals against a thugocracy, has no business pretending to lead our country.

Democrats should, today, start putting pressure on Republicans in Congress to begin the constitutional process of unpresidenting Tr-mp. Only Republicans can rid the country of this moral menace, and such a move would be a moral action. Otherwise, Tr-mp’s confusion about America and its ideals, which Ronald Reagan envisioned as a shining city on a hill, which Barack Obama saw as extending “across continents and across oceans,” can only lead us into moral and idealistic darkness.

 

Lies, Delusions, And Guns

The government’s jobs report that came out today—227,000 jobs added last month—is, after years of being attacked by right-wingers and Tr-mp, suddenly gospel. No more talk of “phony numbers” and total “fiction” that should not be believed (all things Tr-mp said about the reports during the campaign). Those once-phony numbers were designed to make Obama’s economic “failures” look like they weren’t failing, we were told again and again. Now, with a new reality in town, Tr-mp, after only two weeks in office, gets the credit because, as he said, there’s a “great spirit in the country right now.” Yeah, I know, it makes you want to puke. Me, too.

Of course those numbers still are credited to Obama’s record. The data for last month was assembled before the middle of January while Tr-mp was still trying to get someone of stature to perform at his tiny inauguration celebrations. The Obama administration ended with about a gazillion months of consecutive job growth, after coming into office with jobs hemorrhaging and GDP growth tanking. So, as everyone on the good side is saying this morning, “Thanks, Obama!”

But the suddenness with which the new administration embraces the jobs numbers as truth is just further evidence of how selectively its members embrace what most of us know as reality. Really, though, it is worse than that. It’s evidence that these folks are willing to create a new reality they try to sell to the public. We all know how pathologically incapable Tr-mp is of telling a truth, any truth. He just can’t do it. And he largely can’t do it because of how distorted is his view of what reality is. We’ve all seen that play out time and again. Any news that runs counter to the news in his head is “fake news.”

But it’s not just Tr-mp we have to worry about. I can’t think of anyone around him, of those who have been at his side for some time now, who doesn’t have the same inability to apprehend the real or the same problem with telling the truth about a reality they can apprehend.

The latest example involves “alternative facts” queen, Kellyanne Conway, a close adviser to the man she once called out as a phony and a liar. Last night, while trying to defend Tr-mp’s Muslim ban, she talked to MSNBC’s Chris Matthews about something she called “the Bowling Green massacre.” By now, every news media outlet this side of Breitbart has debunked that nonsense, which was either a delusion or a whopper. But some pundits on mainstream outlets gave her the benefit of the doubt, saying she might just have “made a mistake,” as opposed to just flat-out lying. Conway herself said she misspoke and meant to say something else. Oh, okay. How many times does this pattern need to be repeated before we all admit what is going on here?

These are not misstatements. These are not mistakes. Not at this point. Not after all we have witnessed for months and months. These things are either delusions or lies. Take your pick. Maybe it’s a combination of both, depending on the day or issue. That’s the way it is from Tr-mp on down. We have to choose between believing these people are hallucinating or lying. The statute of limitations on getting any benefit of the doubt for mistakes or misstatements has long run out.

And the hallucinations and-or lies aren’t just confined to Tr-mp advisers or staffers or friends. I listened to a stunning segment on CNN this morning about how Republicans in Congress are going after an Obama initiative to keep mentally ill folks from buying weapons. The initiative involved having the Social Security Administration inform the FBI about people receiving disability benefits because of some kind of mental issue. The L.A. Times described it this way:

The push is intended to bring the Social Security Administration in line with laws regulating who gets reported to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, which is used to prevent gun sales to felons, drug addicts, immigrants in the country illegally and others.

A potentially large group within Social Security are people who, in the language of federal gun laws, are unable to manage their own affairs due to “marked subnormal intelligence, or mental illness, incompetency, condition, or disease.”

Now, who on God’s warming planet could be opposed to this? Well, how about House Republicans? Among their first actions this term was to stop this initiative. The vote yesterday was 235-180, with all but 2 Republicans voting in favor of making it easier for people who are mentally ill or have other defined mental issues to have access to guns just like everyone else. The measure is going to the Senate next, which is why CNN segment’s featured an interview with Senator John Barrasso this morning.

I watched as Alisyn Camerota tried several times to get Barrasso of Wyoming to answer a reasonable question about why anyone would oppose Obama’s action. Thanks to Media Matters, a transcript of this exchange is available. I will post it below in its entirety. What you will see is Barasso lying three times about Obama’s initiative being a “midnight recommendation”—when he knew damned well it was first proposed in June of 2015 and not finalized until December of last year because the Social Security Administration went through the normal process of formulating rules on how to make it work.

Besides the repeated lie, what you will also see, and perhaps it is more important than Barasso’s lie, is his inability to answer what Camerota finally synthesized into a rather simple question: “Senator, are you comfortable with somebody having a mental disability and having a gun?” As you read the entire exchange below, you can see it is not just Tr-mp and Conway and other strange people now occupying the White’s House we have to worry about, it is people like John Barrasso, people who live in a reality most of us simply can’t recognize:

ALISYN CAMEROTA: What’s going on with gun control in the House. There’s just been this measure to lift a gun control restriction that will now allow people with severe mental illness to get their hands on guns. How does that make sense?

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO: I don’t look at it this way. I’m a strong proponent of our Second Amendment rights. You know, it’s interesting. This was a rule that President Obama came out with in December, long after he was a lame duck president. If this is something he was so committed to, you would have thought sometime in the previous eight years he might have come out with such a regulation. He just came out with it in December —

CAMEROTA: Forget the timing. But what about the substance of it? I mean why allow — if there’s one point of agreement, bipartisan point of agreement that everyone has said from gun enthusiasts to gun control activists, it’s keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. This sounds like it would make it easier for them to get their hands on guns.

BARRASSO: Well I don’t view it that way at all. I look at this from the stand point, this is going against Social Security, and people who get Social Security checks, people who make financial decisions and it’s putting the Social Security Administration in a point where they would then be determining who is reported in ways in terms of our Second Amendment rights.

CAMEROTA: As I understand it, it involves 75,000 people with mental disorders so severe that they cannot work and that they have someone else manage their Social Security benefits. How does it make sense to let them have guns?

camerota an barrasso.jpgBARRASSO: Well, this is a new change by President Obama, a midnight regulation on his way out the door. It should be subject to a full debate, discussion, and the House has voted on it yesterday and voted to repeal that rule.

CAMEROTA: If someone has a mental illness so severe that they cannot work, should they be able to have a gun?

BARRASSO: The question is somebody able to have a gun at the same time they’re receiving Social Security disability benefits. You can take a look at how those decisions are being made. So up until last month, for —

CAMEROTA: Disability for a mental illness.

BARRASSO: — Seven, eight years of President Obama’s term, it was fine. And to come out with a midnight regulation at this point that maybe even members of his own party don’t support, seems like just another thing that President Obama has done while leaving the White House to try to gum up the works as he leaves.

CAMEROTA: Senator, are you comfortable with somebody having a mental disability and having a gun?

BARRASSO: You can take a look at what the Constitution says which is what I do as a physician who spent lots of time working with patients with all different backgrounds. They’re clearly people who have been labeled one way or another, and I’m not comfortable with this late midnight recommendation by the president as he’s leaving office.

A United States Senator could not tell us whether he’s comfortable with mentally disabled people having guns. He couldn’t get himself to say it. He lied to keep from saying it. The only conclusion is that, for whatever reason, he is comfortable with it. It’s either because he so hates Obama, or so loves the NRA and its money, or just thinks mentally disabled people who lack the ability to manage their own affairs nevertheless possess the ability to own not just one firearm, but an entire arsenal.

Journalists will have to, very quickly, learn to adjust to the delusions and lies that are coming at them, and us, faster than anyone can process them using normal methods. Besides not challenging Barrasso’s lie, Camerota’s problem here, which this transcript doesn’t show, is that despite sticking with the line of questioning for some time, Barrasso just kept repeating himself until she moved on to something else. That has to stop. Whether it is Tr-mp’s people or people in Congress, when they act this way, when they lie or share their delusions with us, journalists can’t just move on to the next question. Ask and ask and ask and ask. If they still don’t answer such an important question, ask again.

For journalists to move on to something else without getting an answer only encourages the Barrassos and discourages the rest of us.

 

Democrats. Filibuster Gorsuch. Period.

It’s an odd moment for me. Antonin Scalia, believe it or not, died almost a year ago. You know, he died when Barack Obama was still president, still had almost a year to go. Tonight I watched that Orange Asshole, pretending to be the legitimate successor to President Obama, ineptly and embarrassingly nominate a Supreme Court justice—a nomination stolen from our first African-American president—and all I could think of was Jill F-cking Stein. How weird is that?

Excuse me, if that language offends you. I’m sorry. But I have always been honest on this blog. My feelings are pretty much out there most of the time. And I have nothing but contempt not only for Jill Stein and her Russian-aided candidacy, but for all of those on the left who voted for her, knowing she had no chance of winning and that their vote would heJill Stein by Gage Skidmore.jpglp the Orange Asshole, and bring us to this day. This day.

Long after Stein is dead and buried—and her pro-Tr-mp legacy is sealed in history—Judge Neil Gorsuch will, if he is confirmed and his life expectancy plays out, be ruling against everything those of us who lean left—including those of us who want a country that is more than a asylum for right-wing Christian biblical bigotry—hold dear.

And, goddammit, I can’t help but think, tonight of all nights, that it is people like Jill Stein (and others I could name but won’t bother to)—pretending to be such advanced, progressive thinkers—who have helped make future reactionary rulings on the Supreme Court a real possibility.

The only thing we can hope is that Democrats in the Senate will abandon some kind of previously-reported stupid strategy to let this nomination go through without a filibuster—are you listening, Claire McCaskill?—for fear that Mitch McConnell and the Republicans in the Senate will do away with the filibuster forever for Supreme Court nominations.

Call their bluff, Democrats. Grow a damned spine. There are hints Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Senate Democrats are going to demand 60 votes for his confirmation, the ghost of a still-living Judge Merrick Garland haunting their political souls. That’s great news, if it holds up. For once, Democrats should play the game the other side plays without fear. Republicans won’t always have the Senate. If they use the so-called nuclear option and end the filibuster, so be it. This is not the end of American politics unless, God forbid, the Orange Asshole gets us all killed before midnight tomorrow or some other day. If we survive Tr-mp’s stupidity, if we survive the Holy War some of his closest advisers are waiting to wage, we will eventually get back control of the government, including the Senate.

I say again to Senate Democrats: Filibuster this nomination and demand a centrist nominee, if for no other reason, out of respect for the first African-American president who was treated like three-fifths of a person and a president, when he was denied his right to fill this seat on the Court.

We don’t need a young version of Antonin Scalia—no matter how “respectable” and “conventional” Gorsuch might be presented to us by pundits on TV—to entertain Court watchers with his writing and terrorize the rest of us with his rulings. I want to share with you a glowing review of Neil Gorsuch from a right-wing lawyer who directs a reactionary group called the Ethics & Public Policy Center, a group whose mission is “dedicated to applying the Judeo-Christian moral tradition to critical issues of public policy.”

That lawyer and director, Edward Whelan, writing for the conservative extremist publication, National Review, said he expects Gorsuch “to be an eminently worthy successor” to Antonin Scalia because he is a “dedicated originalist and textualist” whose many talents promise to give him an “outsized influence on future generations of lawyers.” Whelan reminds us that Gorsuch was a “National Review Online contributor” before he became a judge. In that capacity, Gorsuch wrote in 2005:

American liberals have become addicted to the courtroom, relying on judges and lawyers rather than elected leaders and the ballot box, as the primary means of effecting their social agenda on everything from gay marriage to assisted suicide to the use of vouchers for private-school education.”

Those are not the words of a respectable and conventional nominee. Those are the words of a Scalia extremist. And the only people who have a chance of stopping Neil Gorsuch from becoming a Supreme Court justice are Senate Democrats. And if they want to be on the right side of history, if they truly want to be part of the movement that will eventually sweep away Trumpism and its poisonous GOP enablers some fine day, they will fight like hell to make sure Neil Gorsuch never takes a seat on the Supreme Court.

Steve Bannon And His Holy War

As if to remind us that bad people can get into power when good or indifferent or aggrieved people put them there, Brunhilde Pomsel, who spent three years working for Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, died this past weekend. She was 106 years old.

In a film about her life released last year, Pomsel said,

I wouldn’t see myself as being guilty. Unless you end up blaming the entire German population for ultimately enabling that government to take control. That was all of us. Including me.

"I'm not the kind of person to resist," said Pomsel in the film "A German Life." "I wouldn't dare to. I'm one of the cowards."I know I have often wondered what I would have done if I had lived in Germany in the 1930s and early 1940s. We should remember that the resistance to Nazism started long before Hitler began to exterminate the Jews and other “inferior” people and make war in Europe. Some people saw it coming and, of course, we all would like to think we would have been dissidents like, say, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor and theologian who passionately resisted the Nazis and paid for it with his life. Part of a group of resisters whose plot to kill Adolph Hitler failed in July of 1944, Bonhoeffer was hanged in April of 1945, just two weeks before the concentration camp in which he was held was liberated by U.S. troops. Another two weeks after that, Nazi Germany was no more.

Brunhilde Pomsel addressed those who, far from the real-time dominance of Nazism in pre-war Germany, still have harsh words for Germans who didn’t do enough to stop what we can all today clearly see as unspeakable horror:

The people who today say they would have done more for those poor, persecuted Jews… I really believe that they sincerely mean it. But they wouldn’t have done it either. By then the whole country was under some kind of dome. We ourselves were all inside a huge concentration camp.

I don’t want to overstate this. I want to be careful. America under Tr-mp is no concentration camp. There is no “dome” over the country. We see massive protests against Tr-mp’s actions almost on a daily basis. The ACLU is enjoying massive fundraising to fight those actions in court. We see something that looks like unparalleled historical resistance to Trumpism. But as we can also see, Trumpism is different from anything we have witnessed in modern American history and we don’t know how this will all end. Therefore, we need to try to understand it.

No doubt you have heard by now that Tr-mp gave his chief political strategist, Steven Bannon, former head of a white nationalist-racist website called Breitbart “News,” a regular seat on the National Security Council, while reportedly downgrading the roles of the director of national intelligence and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. There has been a lot written about this already, and a lot written about Bannon, but, like so many other events surrounding the strange and dangerous times in which we are living, I want my views on the record.

We don’t have to speculate what is in the mind of Steve Bannon. We have the website he ran, which is itself enough to scare anyone who can read. But we also have an eye-opening, heart-stopping Skype appearance he made in 2014 at a conference put on by a right-wing Christian group (“think tank”) called the Dignitatis Humanae Institute. Here is how the group—which is closely tied to reactionaries within the Catholic Church, most of whom don’t at all like Pope Francis—describe their mission:

Our primary aim is to promote this vision of authentic human dignity mainly by supporting Christians in public life, assisting them in presenting effective and coherent responses to increasing efforts to silence the Christian voice in the public square.

Now, you can easily see that the premise for this mission is that Christianity—read: Western Christian Civilization, since the focus of this group is in Europe—is under siege. Christians are being attacked by secularists. They are being attacked by Muslims. They are being marginalized, “silenced.” The response to this clash of civilizations, at least for DHI, is “through the active participation of the Christian faith in the public square.” To that end, they invited Steve Bannon, who they now feature on their website, to address their 2014 conference at the Vatican.

Buzzfeed has helpfully transcribed Bannon’s remarks, which are available in an audio version and some excerpts on YouTube. I will provide long passages of his thoughts here (which I have highlighted), and ask you to keep in mind that this man may be closer to Donald Tr-mp than anyone around him. Bannon essentially sleeps in Tr-mp’s troubled mind. Here you go:

I want to talk about wealth creation and what wealth creation really can achieve and maybe take it in a slightly different direction, because I believe the world, and particularly the Judeo-Christian West, is in a crisis. And it’s really the organizing principle of how we built Breitbart News to really be a platform to bring news and information to people throughout the world. Principally in the West, but we’re expanding internationally to let people understand the depths of this crisis, and it is a crisis both of capitalism but really of the underpinnings of the Judeo-Christian West in our beliefs.

It’s ironic, I think, that we’re talking today at exactly, tomorrow, 100 years ago, at the exact moment we’re talking, the assassination took place in Sarajevo of Archduke Franz Ferdinand that led to the end of the Victorian era and the beginning of the bloodiest century in mankind’s history. Just to put it in perspective, with the Image result for steve bannon with donald trumpassassination that took place 100 years ago tomorrow in Sarajevo, the world was at total peace. There was trade, there was globalization, there was technological transfer, the High Church of England and the Catholic Church and the Christian faith was predominant throughout Europe of practicing Christians. Seven weeks later, I think there were 5 million men in uniform and within 30 days there were over a million casualties.

That war triggered a century of barbaric — unparalleled in mankind’s history — virtually 180 to 200 million people were killed in the 20th century, and I believe that, you know, hundreds of years from now when they look back, we’re children of that: We’re children of that barbarity. This will be looked at almost as a new Dark Age.

But the thing that got us out of it, the organizing principle that met this, was not just the heroism of our people — whether it was French resistance fighters, whether it was the Polish resistance fighters, or it’s the young men from Kansas City or the Midwest who stormed the beaches of Normandy, commandos in England that fought with the Royal Air Force, that fought this great war, really the Judeo-Christian West versus atheists, right? The underlying principle is an enlightened form of capitalism, that capitalism really gave us the wherewithal. It kind of organized and built the materials needed to support, whether it’s the Soviet Union, England, the United States, and eventually to take back continental Europe and to beat back a barbaric empire in the Far East.

That capitalism really generated tremendous wealth. And that wealth was really distributed among a middle class, a rising middle class, people who come from really working-class environments and created what we really call a Pax Americana. It was many, many years and decades of peace. And I believe we’ve come partly offtrack in the years since the fall of the Soviet Union and we’re starting now in the 21st century, which I believe, strongly, is a crisis both of our church, a crisis of our faith, a crisis of the West, a crisis of capitalism.

As you can see, Bannon is not a stupid man. Unlike Tr-mp, he has been educated, as well as indoctrinated. He has a philosophical-theological view of the world that goes way beyond anything Tr-mp is capable of grasping, let alone articulating. Bannon goes on in his talk to describe three distinct forms of capitalism. He negatively discusses “crony capitalism” and “Ayn Rand or the Objectivist School of libertarian capitalism,” contrasted against “the ‘enlightened capitalism’ of the Judeo-Christian West.” He worries that young people are being seduced by Randian capitalism:

And if they don’t see another alternative, it’s going to be an alternative that they gravitate to under this kind of rubric of “personal freedom.”

Bannon then mentions “an immense secularization of the West,” which he again ties to our youth:

I know we’ve talked about secularization for a long time, but if you look at younger people, especially millennials under 30, the overwhelming drive of popular culture is to absolutely secularize this rising iteration.

So, Bannon is worried about young people being attracted to a selfish form of capitalism and a secularization of culture, which secularization many find liberating, but people like Bannon find threatening.

Next, he turns to ISIS and its use of “the tools of capitalism,” including Twitter and Facebook, crowdsourcing, and so on. The intent, though, seems again to cast ISIS in a struggle against the Christian West. He says,

They have driven 50,000 Christians out of a town near the Kurdish border. We have video that we’re putting up later today on Breitbart where they’ve took 50 hostages and thrown them off a cliff in Iraq.

That war is expanding and it’s metastasizing to sub-Saharan Africa. We have Boko Haram and other groups that will eventually partner with ISIS in this global war, and it is, unfortunately, something that we’re going to have to face, and we’re going to have to face very quickly.

Now, it is important to note here, first, that these Islamic extremist groups kill many more Muslims than Christians. Bannon focused only on the awful death of Christians. Second, ISIS is not conducting anything that can be called a “global war.” Even in 2014, when Bannon spoke these words, ISIS was not a threat to the world in the sense that it constituted a force that could destroy Western Civilization. ISIS could and can strike Western civilians here and there, mostly through “inspired” cells or individuals, and they are fighting and losing against Western-trained and supervised Muslim soldiers, but they had and have no ability to build and hold a caliphate. They are losing ground every day.

But this elevated idea of “radical Islamic terrorism” is a powerful one among many Christians in the West, especially reactionaries who, like Bannon, believe several forces are at “war” with Christianity and the civilization it both created and then “saved.” All right-wing media is obsessed with this idea. You see it everywhere, particularly on Fox “News.” And Bannon’s Breitbart.com is now perhaps the number one purveyor of this view worldwide.

In any case, during his Skype talk beamed into the Vatican, Bannon went on to appeal to the moral “purpose”of legitimate “Christian” capitalism and gave the gathered Christian reactionaries a chillingly misguided view of the world:

So I think the discussion of, should we put a cap on wealth creation and distribution? It’s something that should be at the heart of every Christian that is a capitalist — “What is the purpose of whatever I’m doing with this wealth? What is the purpose of what I’m doing with the ability that God has given us, that divine providence has given us to actually be a creator of jobs and a creator of wealth?”

I think it really behooves all of us to really take a hard look and make sure that we are reinvesting that back into positive things. But also to make sure that we understand that we’re at the very beginning stages of a global conflict, and if we do not bind together as partners with others in other countries that this conflict is only going to metastasize.

They have a Twitter account up today, ISIS does, about turning the United States into a “river of blood” if it comes in and tries to defend the city of Baghdad. And trust me, that is going to come to Europe. That is going to come to Central Europe, it’s going to come to Western Europe, it’s going to come to the United Kingdom. And so I think we are in a crisis of the underpinnings of capitalism, and on top of that we’re now, I believe, at the beginning stages of a global war against Islamic fascism.

There’s that term “global war” again. That is how these people see the world. There is a cosmic struggle going on between the forces of good—Christianity and the capitalist civilization it built in Europe and the U.S.—and the forces of evil—secularization and “Islamic fascism,” which as we now know with Tr-mp’s latest Executive Order on travel restrictions, has essentially been reduced to simply Islam.

Bannon’s global war involves American teapartiers, as well as teapartiers in Europe, who are, he says, on the side of “middle-class and working-class people.” This is where the idea of populism is married to extremist Christianity. This is the hook that helped Tr-mp pull in a crucial number of working-class voters in crucial places in November. Bannon calls it a “center-right revolt” that “is really a global revolt.” He says the 2007-2008 financial crisis and the government’s response to it fueled the rise of the tea party. He says the “bailouts in 2008 were wrong.” In so many ways on this subject, Bannon sounds like Bernie Sanders. Like here:

So you can understand why middle-class people having a tough go of it making $50 or $60 thousand a year and see their taxes go up, and they see that their taxes are going to pay for government sponsored bailouts, what you’ve created is really a free option. You say to this investment banking, create a free option for bad behavior. In otherwise all the upside goes to the hedge funds and the investment bank, and to the crony capitalist with stock increases and bonus increases. And their downside is limited, because middle-class people are going to come and bail them out with tax dollars.

And that’s what I think is fueling this populist revolt. Whether that revolt is in the Midlands of England, or whether it’s in Middle America. And I think people are fed up with it.

You can see how this message, which Tr-mp consistently voiced after Bannon came on board to provide some campaign message discipline, managed to bring a electorally sufficient number of Bernie supporters and union workers Tr-mp’s way. But this, again, is a troubling marriage of legitimate economic concerns about crony capitalism and Randian selfishness with a very dangerous narrative about Christianity involved in a holy war, particularly with Islam, which has some 1.6 billion adherents.

Bannon responded to a questioner at the event who asked what was “the major threat today, to the Judeo-Christian Civilization?” Bannon mentioned how “secularism has sapped the strength of the Judeo-Christian West to defend its ideals,” but then quickly pivoted to the real target:

But I strongly believe that whatever the causes of the current drive to the caliphate was — and we can debate them, and people can try to deconstruct them — we have to face a very unpleasant fact. And that unpleasant fact is that there is a major war brewing, a war that’s already global. It’s going global in scale, and today’s technology, today’s media, today’s access to weapons of mass destruction, it’s going to lead to a global conflict that I believe has to be confronted today. Every day that we refuse to look at this as what it is, and the scale of it, and really the viciousness of it, will be a day where you will rue that we didn’t act [unintelligible].

You can see that Bannon’s mindset—and he is absolutely convinced he is right—is that there is, already, an absolute clash of religions that will end in a real “global war” (again that term). If you need more convincing on how Donald Tr-mp’s closest adviser sees the world, and how the events around the world are dangerously and frighteningly cast as a holy war of honor, he ended his part of the discussion with an answer to another questioner, which I will present in full:

Questioner: One of my questions has to do with how the West should be responding to radical Islam. How, specifically, should we as the West respond to jihadism without losing our own soul? Because we can win the war and lose ourselves at the same time. How should the West respond to radical Islam and not lose itself in the process?

Bannon: From a perspective — this may be a little more militant than others. I think definitely you’re going to need an aspect that is [unintelligible]. I believe you should take a very, very, very aggressive stance against radical Islam. And I realize there are other aspects that are not as militant and not as aggressive and that’s fine.

If you look back at the long history of the Judeo-Christian West struggle against Islam, I believe that our forefathers kept their stance, and I think they did the right thing. I think they kept it out of the world, whether it was at Vienna, or Tours, or other places… It bequeathed to use the great institution that is the church of the West.

And I would ask everybody in the audience today, because you really are the movers and drivers and shakers and thought leaders in the Catholic Church today, is to think, when people 500 years from now are going to think about today, think about the actions you’ve taken — and I believe everyone associated with the church and associated with the Judeo-Christian West that believes in the underpinnings of that and believes in the precepts of that and want to see that bequeathed to other generations down the road as it was bequeathed to us, particularly as you’re in a city like Rome, and in a place like the Vatican, see what’s been bequeathed to us — ask yourself, 500 years from today, what are they going to say about me? What are they going to say about what I did at the beginning stages of this crisis?

Because it is a crisis, and it’s not going away. You don’t have to take my word for it. All you have to do is read the news every day, see what’s coming up, see what they’re putting on Twitter, what they’re putting on Facebook, see what’s on CNN, what’s on BBC. See what’s happening, and you will see we’re in a war of immense proportions. It’s very easy to play to our baser instincts, and we can’t do that. But our forefathers didn’t do it either. And they were able to stave this off, and they were able to defeat it, and they were able to bequeath to us a church and a civilization that really is the flower of mankind, so I think it’s incumbent on all of us to do what I call a gut check, to really think about what our role is in this battle that’s before us.

Wow.

Brunhilde Pomsel died this weekend. The Nazism she served died in 1945. One of the filmmakers who told her story spoke to CNN about meeting with her on her 106th birthday just weeks ago:

She was just an old woman, very weak. But she was still very interested in international politics. She hoped that her life story would be a warning to present and future generations about the dangers of right-wing extremism.

Let me be clear about this: Trumpism is right-wing extremism, even if it is divorced from Nazism or paleo-fascism or racism. It is right-wing extremism, even if it is married to legitimate concerns about the exploitation of the working class through crony capitalism or Randian economics. There is more than one feature to Trumpism’s ideology, just as Hitler’s Nazi Party featured prominently both German nationalism and antisemitism.

What does link these two ideologies, though, is the idea of cultural superiority and the idea that such superiority is being lost. In Hitler’s case, it was the superiority of the Aryan “master race” and the culture he was trying to restore to greatness, no matter the cost. In the case of Trumpism, as Steve Bannon represents it, the Christian West is under attack, its existence is gravely threatened, and it must be defended or else. Remember his description of what he is defending: “a church and a civilization that really is the flower of mankind.”

I happen to believe that what we call Western Civilization, as it has developed over time, is the best way to achieve the greatest amount of well-being for mankind. I don’t think there’s much doubt about that, given what we have seen throughout history. And whatever role Christianity played in its rise, the values that make our civilization the best of all the alternatives have nothing to do with the church, or the Church. If Western Civilization is a flower, it is not a Christian flower. It is not a Jewish or Islamic flower. We really shouldn’t consider it a Western flower. If it is truly valuable as a way to increase well-being in the world, rather than a mechanism to spread Christianity, it has to be truly “the flower of mankind.” All mankind, East and West.

And if we don’t push back on the view that Christian civilization is at war with the rest of the world, what we now call the West will, indeed, be at war with the rest of the world. Ironically, if Western Civilization is lost, it will be lost not because a small group of Islamic psychopaths destroyed it, but because Christian warriors pledging to defend it overreacted to a relatively small threat and betrayed its most essential values.

 

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