Obamacare Lite: Tastes Great If You’re Rich, Less Filling If You’re Not

Republican congressman Mo Brooks, of Alabama, was on CNN this morning railing against his party’s new health insurance plan, which some are calling “Obamacare-lite.” His appearance came just after Speaker Paul Ryan was on television lying about the “collapse” of the real Obamacare and how this new “conservative” plan was his “dream” and that it will certainly pass Congress because, well, just because. Ryan confirmed that Tr-mp was mo brooks on cnn.jpgfully on board and it looks like Agent Orange’s new assignment will be to fan out across the country’s rural districts and tell the folks who foolishly placed their faith in him that this is good medicine, even if it will surely kill some of them.

Congressman Brooks is one of those conservatives who wants Obamacare repealed—period. He doesn’t give a damn about replacing it with anything short of offering people who are poor, sick, and old an unsubsidized aspirin today and suggesting their next of kin call a local undertaker in the morning. Brooks said that the Ryan-Tr-mp plan was “the largest welfare program ever proposed by Republicans in the history of the Republican party.” He said, without irony since he is a Tr-mp supporter, that the new plan will ultimately lead to “the demise” of the country.

Like most Republicans, Brooks seems to have an obsession with how government programs affect the behavior of people he apparently considers too lazy to go to work and get their bleeping insurance from their bleeping employer. He specifically highlighted his objection to the new GOP plan by saying it “undermines the work ethic; it increases greater reliance on welfare from the federal government…” He was talking about the stingy tax credits that are part of the “subsidization” contained in the bill. This is what makes people like Brooks call it welfare. But just what is it that bothers Republicans so much about people who need help? Why do they assume everyone who needs some assistance is a low-life who just wants free stuff?

Infamously now, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who like Brooks can get his health insurance courtesy of taxpayers, defended the new GOP plan by saying it gives more “access” to health coverage for low-income Americans. When CNN’s Alisyn Camerota challenged him by saying that “access for lower-income Americans doesn’t equal coverage,” out came the real spirit that motivates these people:

CHAFFETZ: Well, we’re getting rid of the individual mandate. We’re getting rid of those things that people said that they don’t want. Americans have choices, and they’ve got to make a choice. So rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and want to go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest in their own health care.

It’s really pretty simple. Poor folks, and sick and disabled folks, and elderly folks who don’t yet qualify for Medicare just need to forgo the bling and fork out $10,000 or so a year for health insurance and then, as Vox points out, “the wealthiest 0.1 percent of Americans” can enjoy tax cuts that amount to “$200,000 each in a single year,” as a result of the provisions in this new GOP healthcare “reform.”

Of course, if poor, sick, disabled, and elderly folks had ten grand under their mattresses (at least those who have mattresses) that they could spend on health insurance, then we wouldn’t need Obamacare or Obamacare-lite. But they don’t. Perhaps they should invest the few dollars they do have in the lottery. Maybe they could win and then they could buy insurance. But even if they were so fortunate, even if they beat the odds, Republicans have that covered, too. So suspicious are right-wingers of needy people that these asshole legislators, unbelievably, devoted a substantial part of their new bill to addressing the pressing issue of “letting states disenroll high dollar lottery winners.” From Slate:

A full six pages of the 60-plus page bill were devoted to lottery winnings. Lottery winnings! Essentially, the GOP bill’s big idea on this—to which it devoted nearly 10 percent of its attention—is figuring out ways to make sure lottery-winners on Medicaid can’t cheat the system. Seriously. The bill goes on and on and on to stipulate under which circumstances the state can declare you no longer in need of—nor entitled to—Medicaid.

This absurdity merely illustrates what is in the minds of these people. There is something twisted about spending this much time on something so remote, so ridiculous. There is something perverted about worrying whether an infinitely small number of people will game the system for a few dollars, while real grifters run the White’s House. Yet, none of us who have paid attention to politics, at least since the rise of the Tea Party, should be surprised. This is who they are. This is what they do when given power.

You can go to many neutral and liberal sites to find an analysis of how cruel the new Republican plan is (including how cruel it is to defund Planned Parenthood). And, as cruel as it is, you can go to many right-wing sites and find out that it isn’t nearly cruel enough. They want more blood from the poor and the sick. They want to put more money into the pockets of those whose pockets are already stuffed with cash. Again, I can’t stress this enough: this is who they are.

Last night I watched Donald Berwick on MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes. Berwick was once the Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, appointed by President Obama. As I like to do before quoting such knowledgeable folks, here are some of his credentials, as listed on Wikipedia:

Berwick began his career as a pediatrician at Harvard Community Health Plan; in 1983 he became the plan’s first Vice President of Quality-of-Care Measurement.[14] In that position, Berwick investigated quality control measures in other industries such as aeronautics and manufacturing, in order to consider their application in health care settings.[10] From 1987 to 1991, Berwick was co-founder and Co-Principal Investigator for the National Demonstration Project on Quality Improvement in Health Care, designed to explore opportunities for quality improvement in health care. Based on this work, Berwick left Harvard Community Health Plan in 1989 and co-founded the IHI (Institute for Healthcare Improvement).

Berwick is Clinical Professor of Pediatrics and Health Care Policy in the Department of Pediatrics at the Harvard Medical School and Professor of Health Policy and Management at the Harvard School of Public Health.[15] He is also a pediatrician, Adjunct Staff in the Department of Medicine at Children’s Hospital Boston, and a Consultant in Pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Berwick has published over 129 articles in professional journals on health care policy, decision analysis, technology assessment, and health care quality management.

As you can see, he knows more about the American healthcare system than ten thousand ideologues like Paul Ryan and Mo Brooks will ever know. Keeping Berwick’s credentials in mind, below is a quickly produced transcript of what he said to Chris Hayes about the Ryan-Tr-mp health insurance plan. I’m sure we will visit this issue again and again, but let this serve as the introduction to policy discussions in the bizarre political world we are living in:

BERWICK: The proposal destabilizes insurance markets…You’ll see that premiums will go up. Under the proposals here, people aren’t going to have enough money to buy insurance, and the only ones that will are going to be the sicker people because they have to, leaving the people who are “well” outside the system. That unravels insurance premiums. Premiums will soar.

And costs will soar because the safety net will get weakened over the trajectory of this proposal. Medicaid gets severely weakened. A lot of very vulnerable people are going to be back in emergency rooms and getting sicker instead of getting the care they need…And it’s not just the poor who are going to pay. The middle class is going to find they have a lot less support for buying their insurance.

HAYES: So…”support” meaning that the sort of subsidy structure has been altered in ways that folks are going to be out-of-pocket paying more, you think?

BERWICK: Yeah. The Affordable Care Act expanded Medicaid for the poorest people, but for those in the kind of lower middle class—forty, fifty thousand dollars—these people got help buying their policies with subsidies, tax rebates, and those were progressive so don berwick on msnbcthat the less money you had, the more help you got. Under this [new] proposal, the amount of subsidization is…the same across income categories up to $75,000 a year for an individual, $150,000 for couples. So that people at lower levels of income don’t get more help and the amount of help that everyone’s getting isn’t enough to buy insurance. People are going to find themselves really out in the cold. This is going to be really painful. And more painful for older people because this is really a transfer of assistance from older people back to the young healthy people.

HAYES: So, this is a key point. It was interesting to me, AARP comes out right away and says it’s got an “age tax” in it. I just asked congressman Buddy Carter [R-GA] about this and he really wouldn’t defend it. He basically said, “Well, this is just a starting point.” You’ve got a provision in there that allows insurance companies to charge a lot more based strictly on age. Do you think  you’re going to see an older cohort paying more out-of-pocket out of this?

BERWICK: Oh, definitely. It goes two ways. First of all, the amount of subsidy doesn’t rise enough with age. The figures I just got, in Mobile, Alabama, a 60-year-old who makes $40,000 a year, under the Affordable Care Act is getting about $10,000 in subsidies to buy their health insurance. Under the proposal it would be $4,000.

HAYES: So, just to be clear. You’re talking about a 60-year-old in Mobile, Alabama, who in this plan is losing $6,000 in purchasing power?

BERWICK: Right. Exactly. The government is going to hand them a check for $4,000 and say “Go buy your insurance” instead of the subsidy they’re now getting of $10,000. This is going to be a big takeaway for people in the upper age brackets before they’re eligible for Medicare.

HAYES: Final question. One of the things that Donald Tr-mp said throughout the campaign always was, “We gotta take care of everybody. I don’t want anyone out on the street. We gotta take care of everybody.” It’s been this sort of reverse refrain, “I’m compassionate, unlike these other Republicans.” I mean, is this compassionate? Will this, quote, take care of everybody, particularly the most vulnerable folks?

BERWICK: No! This man came into office with a law in place that increased coverage in this country by over 20 million people. That’s expanding coverage. If you really want to make things better, build on that. No, this is a takeaway. It’s going to go backward. And I think we’re going to have a lot of people, as the president [sic] put it, on the street without the kind of care they need. It’s bad. It’s bad for America. It’s bad for the poor. It’s bad for the middle class.

Charles Manson, Helter Skelter, And Donald Tr-mp

One of the first serious books I ever read was Helter Skelter, by Vincent Bugliosi, the prosecutor who eventually put Charles Manson in prison for orchestrating the gruesome Tate-LaBianca murders just north of Beverly Hills in 1969. Manson, you may remember, was not physically a part of the murders. Bugliosi convicted Manson mainly on circumstantial evidence, mostly by convincing jurors that Manson manipulated the actual killers by selling them the conspiratorial idea (which a deluded Manson actually believed) that the acts were necessary to trigger a race war between blacks and whites. The resulting apocalypse would end with all the whites dead (the “Black Muslims would come out of hiding and wipe them all out”) and, because Manson thought blacks were incapable of running the world, the blacks would turn to Manson and his white followers—hidden away in Death Valley—to take charge.

Charles Manson is, and remains, nuts, of course. Through a weird interpretation of songs by the Beatles, especially from their White Album, combined with his reading of the Book of Revelation (a weird book in itself), Manson’s deranged mind invented the Helter Skelter scenario, which was essentially a giant conspiracy, of which the murders were only a small part, to make him ultimate ruler. In an effort to make it as clear as possible to the jury just what Helter Skelter was, prosecutor Bugliosi made the testimony of a Manson follower named Paul Watkins part of his closing argument at trial. According to Watkins, here is how Manson described Helter Skelter:

WATKINS: There would be some atrocious murders; that some of the spades from Watts would come up into the Bel-Air and Beverly Hills district and just really wipe some people out, just cut bodies up and smear blood and write things on the wall in blood, and cut little boys up and make parents watch.

So, in retaliation-this would scare; in other words, all the other white people would be afraid that this would happen to them, so out of their fear they would go into the ghetto and just start shooting black people like crazy. But all they would shoot would be the garbage man and Uncle Toms, and all the ones that were with Whitey in the first place. And underneath it all, the Black Muslims would-he would know that it was coming down.

BUGLIOSI: Helter Skelter was coming down?

WATKINS: Yes. So, after Whitey goes in the ghettos and shoots all the Uncle Toms, then the Black Muslims come out and appeal to the people by saying, ‘Look what you have done to my people.’ And this would split Whitey down the middle, between all the hippies and the liberals and all the up-tight piggies. This would split them in the middle and a big civil war would start and really split them up in all these different factions, and they would just kill each other off in the meantime through their war. And after they killed each other off, then there would be a few of them left who supposedly won.

BUGLIOSI: A few of who left?

WATKINS: A few white people left who supposedly won. Then the Black Muslims would come out of hiding and wipe them all out.

BUGLIOSI: Wipe the white people out?

WATKINS: Yes. By sneaking around and slitting their throats.

Now, at this point, you may wonder what any of this has to do with politics, which is what this blog is mostly about. After all, Tr-mp, as bad as he is, is no Charles Manson. He’s not a convicted killer. But he is a conspiracist. He is mentally ill. He does believe crazy things. And so do many people around him and many people who support him. And because of that fact I believe it is important to peer into the minds of conspiracy believers, deranged and otherwise, even if the conspiracies are not as dark and disturbing as Manson’s Helter Skelter, or the minds are not as deranged as Manson’s. So, here we go.

By now, you have seen countless times Tr-mp’s latest conspiratorial tweets from this weekend, but here they are for the record:

♦ Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism! (March 4, 2017, 5:35am)

♦ Is it legal for a sitting President to be “wire tapping” a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW! (March 4, 2017, 5:49am)

♦ I’d bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election! (March 4, 2017, 5:52am)

♦ How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy! (March 4, 2017, 6:02am)

In a true Mansonian disconnect from the whirlwind of weirdness he had created in a mere 27 minutes, Tr-mp tweeted the following at 7:19am:

Arnold Schwarzenegger isn’t voluntarily leaving the Apprentice, he was fired by his bad (pathetic) ratings, not by me. Sad end to great show

Obviously, if you had no other evidence to draw from, if there weren’t hundreds upon hundreds of other reasons to pronounce the mind of “President” Tr-mp disturbed and disturbing, these tweets would be enough. They are lies. They are conspiratorial nonsense. And perhaps the most pathetic part about it all is that Tr-mp had no idea how these tweets would appear to others. He wasn’t playing mult-dimensional chess to deflect from other issues. To him, it was quite natural to accuse, falsely, President Obama of an astoundingly high crime, of being a “bad” man or, alternatively, “sick,” and then to follow that up with commentary about a reality show on television. That’s how disturbed minds work. Or, well, how they don’t work.

Tr-mp’s conspiracy about Obama came, naturally, from other conspiracists. First, the idea was advanced on Thursday by a noxious radio host named Mark Levin, who suggested Obama and his pals are executing a “silent coup” against Agent Orange. To spend two minutes listening to Levin is to wish one was deaf at birth. Rush Limbaugh joined the coup chorus and then, straight from cuckooville, came Breitbart, with a story that eventually got circulated around the White’s Nut’s House, where, reportedly, the Head Nut was “infuriated.” There is, it turns out, a “deep state” hard at work fighting the deconstruction of the administrative state.” In other words, the administrative state will not go gently into the good night of deconstruction. Good for it. I like the administrative state. It always—always—deposits my government retirement check into my bank account on time, every time.

None of this nuttery would be possible, of course, without enablers. Paul Ryan. Mitch McConnell. Others. These “establishment” folks tolerate the insanity because they are using the political equivalent of Helter Skelter (get that right, all you haters out there) as cover for their dirty policy deeds (all of which we will get to as the weeks pass). While unforgivable, that part of this twisted soap opera is at least understandable. To put it in Rahm Emmanuelian terms, politicians don’t often let a crisis go to waste, even if it is a crisis involving a mentally ill president.

What is harder to understand is why people want to blame players like Steve Bannon for Tr-mp’s mental challenges. It’s true Bannon has many bad ideas, including his recently highlighted affection for “a breathakingly racist French novel,” called The Camp of the Saints. Again, permit me to venture into (at some length) the scary world of Mansonesque fantasies. Here’s how HuffPo describes the book Bannon finds so fascinating and opinion-shaping:

The plot of The Camp of the Saints follows a poor Indian demagogue, named “the turd-eater” because he literally eats shit, and the deformed, apparently psychic child who sits on his shoulders. Together, they lead an “armada” of 800,000 impoverished Indians sailing to France. Dithering European politicians, bureaucrats and religious leaders, including a liberal pope from Latin America, debate whether to let the ships land and accept the Indians or to do the right thing — in the book’s vision — by recognizing the threat the migrants pose and killing them all.

The non-white people of Earth, meanwhile, wait silently for the Indians to reach shore. The landing will be the signal for them to rise up everywhere and overthrow white Western society.

The French government eventually gives the order to repel the armada by force, but by then the military has lost the will to fight. Troops battle among themselves as the Indians stream on shore, trampling to death the left-wing radicals who came to welcome them. Poor black and brown people literally overrun Western civilization. Chinese people pour into Russia; the queen of England is forced to marry her son to a Pakistani woman; the mayor of New York must house an African-American family at Image result for The Camp of the SaintsGracie Mansion. Raspail’s rogue heroes, the defenders of white Christian supremacy, attempt to defend their civilization with guns blazing but are killed in the process.

Calgues, the obvious Raspail stand-in, is one of those taking up arms against the migrants and their culturally “cuckolded” white supporters. Just before killing a radical hippie, Calgues compares his own actions to past heroic, sometimes mythical defenses of European Christendom. He harkens back to famous battles that fit the clash-of-civilizations narrative — the defense of Rhodes against the Ottoman Empire, the fall of Constantinople to the same — and glorifies colonial wars of conquest and the formation of the Ku Klux Klan.

Only white Europeans like Calgues are portrayed as truly human in The Camp of the Saints. The Indian armada brings “thousands of wretched creatures” whose very bodies arouse disgust: “Scraggy branches, brown and black … All bare, those fleshless Gandhi-arms.” Poor brown children are spoiled fruit “starting to rot, all wormy inside, or turned so you can’t see the mold.”

The ship’s inhabitants are also sexual deviants who turn the voyage into a grotesque orgy. “Everywhere, rivers of sperm,” Raspail writes. “Streaming over bodies, oozing between breasts, and buttocks, and thighs, and lips, and fingers.”

The white Christian world is on the brink of destruction, the novel suggests, because these black and brown people are more fertile and more numerous, while the West has lost that necessary belief in its own cultural and racial superiority. As he talks to the hippie he will soon kill, Calgues explains how the youth went so wrong: “That scorn of a people for other races, the knowledge that one’s own is best, the triumphant joy at feeling oneself to be part of humanity’s finest — none of that had ever filled these youngsters’ addled brains.”

The Camp of the Saints — which draws its title from Revelation 20:9″}}”>Revelation 20:9 — is nothing less than a call to arms for the white Christian West, to revive the spirit of the Crusades and steel itself for bloody conflict against the poor black and brown world without and the traitors within. The novel’s last line links past humiliations tightly to its own grim parable about modern migration. “The Fall of Constantinople,” Raspail’s unnamed narrator says, “is a personal misfortune that happened to all of us only last week.”

If you can differentiate, in significant and meaningful ways, from the apocalyptic nonsense in that French novel and the apocalyptic nonsense of Helter Skelter, you are a better man or woman than I. Because I can’t see much of a distinction. I find it all disturbing. And scary. The Tr-mp “presidency” isn’t, ultimately, about Steve Bannon and the fear, or hope, he has of his own version of a “race” war to end all wars. It is about Donald Tr-mp. It is about the things that pass through his untilled mind, through his conspiracy-poisoned field of mental fantasies. Let us never forget that. Let us ignore people like Joe Scarborough of MSNBC, who tweeted on Sunday the following regarding Tr-mp’s accusations against Obama:

Did Steve Bannon slip the offending article into Tr-mp’s hands to set the president swirling into a rage? That toxic mix undermines America.

It doesn’t matter, relatively speaking, whether Steve Bannon slipped that Breitbart article into Tr-mp’s tiny hands. What matters much, much more is that the mind connected to those Tr-mpian hands is a sick mind. Yes, it is noteworthy that people like Bannon have access to Tr-mp and can use his mental illness and susceptibility to conspiracy theories to at least attempt to actualize some kind of weird and dangerous fantasy, every bit as weird as Helter Skelter. But it is the sick mind that matters most of all, no matter how hard that bitter reality is to contemplate.

Thus, I want to leave you with the words of Vincent Bugliosi, Manson’s prosecutor and the determined man who uncovered the primary motivation behind some infamously grisly murders in Los Angeles in 1969. Bugliosi told the jurors in his rather unique closing argument in the Tate-LaBianca murder trial:

I, as a prosecutor, and you folks as members of the jury, cannot help it, we cannot help it if Manson had this wild, crazy idea about Helter Skelter. It is not our fault. Manson is the one that made the evidence, not we. We can only deal with the evidence that presents itself.

We, as members of a democracy, are the jurors listening to what is going on in the trial of our democratic experiment. We can only deal with the evidence that presents itself to us. CharlesManson2014.jpgAnd the evidence compels us to conclude that the man holding the highest office in our land has a deluded mind that is only different in degree from the mind of the man who, as I write, sits in Corcoran State Prison in Corcoran, California.

No, Donald J. Tr-mp is not Charles Manson. He hasn’t killed anyone or urged anyone else to kill anyone to start a Helter-Skelter Armageddon. But given the position this disturbed man in the White’s House holds, he could, potentially, be more dangerous to the world that a thousand Charles Mansons. And that’s worth thinking about. It’s worth writing about. And it’s worth talking about to your family, your friends, and those with whom you interact.

In short, we shouldn’t be afraid to render the only obvious verdict.

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[Manson image: By California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation – [1], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36851622%5D

Tr-mp’s Speech: “You Ain’t Seen The Las’ Of Ernest T. Bass!”

The early episodes of The Andy Griffith Show (which first aired in 1960) were filled with wonderful characters. One was Ernest T. Bass, which Wikipedia describes as “an ignorant and rowdy mountain man with a penchant for troublemaking, which wreaks havoc on the otherwise sedate town of Mayberry.” Now, Tr-mp is a different kind of mountain man—Tr-mp Tower is a Manhattan mountain—but he is as ignorant and rowdy as Ernest T. Bass. And he shares other traits. Here’s more from Wikipedia on Bass:

When threatened with the law, Ernest T. is adept at eluding Sheriff Taylor and Deputy Fife. He taunts the two lawmen with his famous catchphrase, “You ain’t seen the las’ of Ernest T. Bass!” Ernest T. loves breaking windows with rocks and prides himself on being “the best rock thrower in the county.” He is notoriously importunate with the women he desires, and regularly uses this tactic to get their attention. He also tries to impress people by informing them that he is saving up for a gold tooth. He once boasted that he had lifted a mule onto his shoulders and “tote’ her five miles to the doctor,” an impressive feat of strength (if true).

His behavior is summed up succinctly (and repeatedly) by Deputy Fife: “He’s a nut!

Besides the obvious comparisons in personalities, I bring up Ernst T. in the context of Tr-mp’s speech last night because of one of my favorite Andy Griffith episodes ever, “My Fair Ernest T. Bass.” Andy and Barney dress up Ernest T. and try to teach him some manners so they can pass him off at a social gathering as Andy’s cousin from the big city of Raleigh. Ernest T. was looking for a woman he could marry. Here are a few seconds of how Andy was teaching him to speak to Mrs. Wiley, a socialite of Mayberry:

 

I thought about Ernest T. last night, just after all the gushing praise for Tr-mp’s speech came rolling in from cable television pundits and on Twitter. CNN’s instant poll, which admittedly was skewed toward those inclined to favor Tr-mp, showed “57% who tuned in saying they had a very positive reaction to the speech.” That was a good night for Tr-mp. A lot of Mrs. Wiley’s were impressed with his manners.

But it was the pundits on television last night, those who should know better, who got to me. I admit it. They got to me. The consensus was pretty much this: “Tr-mp looked presidential tonight.” After all we have seen, after all we have heard, after all the rock-throwing, Tr-mp stands up there and does the equivalent of “How do you do, Mrs. Wiley” and suddenly we have us a bona fide president on our hands.

There were the usual suspects, of course. Fox’s Chris Wallace said, “It was one of the best speeches in that setting I’ve heard any president give.” If that wasn’t enough, he added, “I feel like tonight Donald Tr-mp became the President.” One expects such puke-producing pap from a Fox host. But what one doesn’t expect is David Axelrod, former chief strategist for Obama, saying on CNN, “you’d have to be dead not to appreciate the moment, the change we just saw.” Well, I guess I’m dead. Or I passed on to an alternate universe. Or, maybe, I just happen to know who Ernest T. Bass really is.

Perhaps the worst offense of the night was committed by Van Jones, normally a sensible left-of-center voice on CNN. But not last night. Unbelievably, Jones fell in love with Tr-mp’s exploitation of the grief of Carryn Owens, wife of fallen Navy SEAL Ryan Owens, whose dad is not happy with Tr-mp and the dubious mission he authorized that got his son killed. Jones said on the air:

He became President of the United States in that moment, period. There are a lot of people who have a lot of reasons to be frustrated with him, to be fearful of him, to be mad at him. But that was one of the most extraordinary moments you have ever seen in American politics, period.

And for people who have been hoping that he would become unifying, hoping that he might find some way to become presidential, they should be happy with that moment. For people who have been hoping that he would remain a divisive cartoon, which he often finds a way to do, they should begin to become a little bit worried tonight. Because that thing you just saw him do–if he can find a way to do that over and over again, he’s going to be there for eight years.

I can’t conjure up the words this early in the morning to describe such fruity analysis. Fortunately, Slate’s Will Oremus has already said it better than I ever could have:

While it’s fair to note that Trump had set himself a low bar going in, it’s also true that he delivered a strong-sounding speech quite convincingly and that he successfully orchestrated a wickedly effective bit of political theater by hitching his wagon to a dead sailor whom he cast as a hero.

Still, it takes a nasty case of recency bias for a political analyst to toss aside everything Trump has said and and done in his career to date and declare him “presidential” on the basis of a single impressive speech. It takes thick blinders to watch him move a war widow to tears and not see the hypocrisy at work in Trump’s willingness to profit politically from her husband’s death—even as he evades responsibility for it. And it takes a combination of shallowness and smarm that is peculiar to the mainstream media’s pundit class to ignore the rank xenophobia and fearmongering that characterized Trump’s speech and focus almost exclusively on his oratorical virtuosity. Then again, there are few things cable pundits relish more than an opportunity to declare that a candidate has attained that mythical quality of being “presidential.”

What’s remarkable is that CNN’s panel reverted to this sort of empty-headed boosterism even in response to a president who has repeatedly and strategically branded them as “fake news” in order to cover for his own bare-faced lies. It shows how deeply ingrained the old frameworks of judging a commander in chief remain and how uncomfortable the network must be with its new, unasked-for role as a truth-telling counterweight to a president whose habitual buffoonery makes it impossible to accord him the dignity of the office. By acting like a president for a night, Trump gave CNN license to act like CNN.

Needless to say, Ernest T. Bass eventually reverted to his old ways in that Andy Griffith episode. He just couldn’t maintain his newly-acquired manners. He started throwing rocks again. And Will Oremus perfectly captured that inevitablity with our own Ernest Tr-mp:

The good news—or the bad news, if you somehow found yourself persuaded along with Jones that Trump became a fundamentally different person Tuesday night—is that none of this will last. What the talking heads failed to properly emphasize was that Trump was different Tuesday night largely because he was reading word-for-word from a carefully prepared script. That’s something he very rarely does and is not likely to do again anytime soon. The moment he’s back at his Twitter feed, the unfiltered Trump will re-emerge, his fountain of falsehoods will burble back to life, and Van Jones’ grand pronouncement will have marked him as only the latest of the many suckers to fall for one of Trump’s cons.

Exactly. We ain’t seen the las’ of Ernest T. Bass.

What The Remington Arms Company And The Tr-mp Regime Have In Common

Recently Dayan Edwards posted a comment on this blog that contained a link to a 60 Minutes segment on trigger problems associated with a certain Remington rifle, Model 700. A federal class action suit involving Remington’s rifle was filed here in Missouri, and the parties are awaiting final court approval of an agreement to settle the case. The 60 Minutes segment was broadcast on February 19 and I have posted it below. It’s hard to watch because of the tragedies involved and because we all know how much power the gun industry has over our politics and our culture.  But other than displaying the outrageous behavior of a gun manufacturer, I have another reason to post the video, and it begins with Remington’s lengthy and defensive response to the 60 Minute piece.

Remington concludes, naturally, that it stands “behind the safety and reliability of its firearms,” saying the Model 700 “has earned its reputation among millions of satisfied users as America’s most popular, reliable and trusted bolt-action rifle.” That a manufacturer, nearly culturally immune to any liability for what it does, would conclude such a thing is to be expected. But Remington uses a Tr-mpian tactic in trying to publicly defend itself against blame for manufacturing an apparently (and to most people, obviously) defective product. Keep in mind the fact that Remington refused to be interviewed on camera for the 60 Minutes report, as you read the following introduction to Remington’s public response, which I include in full. And see if the response doesn’t sound familiar:

Remington was first contacted by a 60 Minutes producer in October 2016 advising that CBS was “working on a [60 Minutes segment] in regards to the XMP recall and the pending Pollard Class Action Settlement.”  The 60 Minutes producers, representing that CBS was interested in airing “a complete, well-rounded, and accurate report,” asked Remington to provide background information about Model 700 rifles and about two independent incidents involving Model 700 rifles.  Given this representation and with the hope that 60 Minutes was truly interested in producing a balanced and accurate report, Remington sent 60 Minutes numerous records and information on those topics, and it also directed CBS to specific, readily available public records related to the topics chosen as the focus by 60 Minutes.

It is distressing that most of the information Remington provided to 60 Minutes was not included or ever referenced in its February 19, 2017 Remington segment.  To set the record straight and to provide Remington’s valued customers and viewers of the 60 Minutes segment with a complete and accurate understanding of several of the matters presented in the segment, Remington provides below a listing of information either in 60 Minutes’ possession or readily available to it in public records before it aired its segment.  This material puts the 60 Minutes’ segment in context and exposes 60 Minutes’ pre-determined viewpoint and intentional omission of key facts that would have reflected balanced reporting of the circumstances of those tragic incidents.

That last sentence is crucial to understanding why it is that Tr-mp and his loyalists, including those in the gun industry, go to so much trouble to discredit mainstream journalism. Remington says the material it provides “exposes 60 Minutes pre-determined viewpoint.” Remington says 60 Minutes intentionally omitted “key facts.” Substitute Tr-mp for Remington in the statement above and you see the blueprint of the next four years, in terms of how Tr-mp intends to avoid liability for his grifting and his malfeasance.

The point of all this, which can’t be emphasized enough, is that we need to support good journalism. We need to fiercely resist the effort to trash mainstream journalism as “fake news” and to fiercely resist the effort to transform trashy outlets like Breitbart into mainstream news sites. That is why, even though I understand how hard it is for Democrats to win in places like West Virginia, Senator Joe Manchin should be utterly condemned for the following:

On Wednesday Feb 8, West Virginia’s Democratic Senator Joe Manchin welcomed the Breitbart News editorial team to his Capitol Hill office for an hourlong off-the-record “get to know you” session. It was part of a behind-the-scenes process — kicked off post-election and led by Manchin’s communications director Jonathan Kott — to establish warmer relations with the right-wing news outlet.

Joe Manchin is a very conservative Democrat in a state Tr-mp won by 42 points. He is up for relection in two years. He is trying to win. But if the price of winning is the legitimization of outlets like Breitbart, if the price of winning is to make alt-right media normal, then that price is too high. Keeping a very right-wing Manchin in office as a Democrat is not worth it, if it means Breitbart and outlets like it come to be seen in the same light as CBS’s 60 Minutes.

Speaking of which, here is that 60 Minutes segment, an example of real, first-rate journalism:

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.

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