Paul Ryan And Sarah Palin Officially Usher In The New Year—1984

If you’ve never read George Orwell’s 1984, then you probably won’t much appreciate this post. But Paul Ryan and Sarah Palin both did something that represents, in a frightening way, how Trump has brought us into our own version of Orwell’s novel, whose main character, Winston Smith, had a job of rewriting history at the ironic Ministry of Truth.

Winston was a truth-seeker in a world that was ruled by the truth-changing “Party.” He hated the totalitarian Party and had rebellion in his heart. He maintained a diary to keep him grounded to reality. Big Brother, though, eventually caught up with him. The Thought Police arrested him and the tortuous brainwashing began. Winston needed to get his mind right.

The sad thing about Orwell’s 1984 is that Winston did get his mind right. He confessed to crimes he didn’t commit. He betrayed the only person he loved. Black became white. Big Brother won.

Now, this is where Paul Ryan and Sarah Palin come in. What they represent, in their own way, is the Thought Police under the Party of Trump. Each represents just how powerful a force Trumpism has become, and how mind-bending it is. Republicans, almost all of them, are getting their minds right. And they want the rest of us to follow. America is fast becoming a large, thankfully only metaphorical, Room 101. They want to weaken our resistance.

I heard Paul Ryan say this morning that, “the healthcare system has been ruined, dismantled, under Obamacare.” Now, that is most clearly a lie. Not a word of truth in it. Not one word. But during the short press conference that followed his utterly false claim, not one reporter asked him to defend it. Not one reporter asked him if it was irresponsible to lie to the American people in such an egregious way. Reporters were instead focused on Trump and something he tweeted. And one reporter even shouted a question about the Senate gym. Black becoming white.

Then we have Sarah Palin. Way back in what seems like ancient history now—it was 2008—WikiLeaks published some of Palin’s emails, which had been stolen by hacking into her account. She, naturally, didn’t take kindly to Julian Assange, who founded WikiLeaks two years earlier, publishing her private ramblings. She was right to be outraged. Privacy is supposed to be private.

But this is 1984 now. And here, in its entirety, is what Palin posted on Facebook on Tuesday night about Assange:

To Julian Assange: I apologize.

Please watch Sean Hannity‘s interview with Julian Assange (Wikileaks).

Exposing the truth re: the Left having been oh-so-guilty of atrocious actions and attitudes of which they’ve falsely accused others. The media collusion that hid what many on the Left have been supporting is shocking. This important information that finally opened people’s eyes to democrat candidates and operatives would not have been exposed were it not for Julian Assange.

I apologize for condemning Assange when he published my infamous (and proven noncontroversial, relatively boring) emails years ago.

As I said at the time of being targeted and my subsequent condemnation, though, the line must be drawn before our troops or innocent lives deserving protection would be put at risk as a result of published emails.

Julian, I apologize.

Palin’s mind is now right. Black is white. Julian Assange’s dark heart is now as pure as the wind-driven snow. But more than that, Palin is remapping the minds of her earnest followers, millions of them. This brainwashing technique is part of Trumpism. It is cultish. It is dangerous. And it is working. Assange, who almost certainly collaborated with the Russians to help get Trump elected, is fast becoming a hero on the right. And journalists and public officials who try to tell the truth about Assange and the Russians are now called liars. For millions of Americans, the only reliable source of facts is Trump’s Twitter account, the Ministry of Truth-in-waiting.

As noted, Orwell’s dystopian novel did not have a happy ending. The denouement of our present story is obviously unknown. What we do know is that on January 20, Trumpism and its tweeting Ministry of Truth will marry real power. Republicans will soon have it all. Resistance is critical. This version of 1984 must have a happy ending.

How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?

#NeverRespect

Here’s just one reason why I will be spending much of my future writing time unpresidenting Trump and his new right-wing friends:

Electoral College, Deus Ex Machina?

Want to know why it is so hard to believe the Electoral College will save us from Donald Trump? Read on.

Missouri has ten electors who will—one week from today—really vote for president of the United States (your vote on November 8 was ostensibly for these electors) as part of the ridiculous scheme dreamed up by democracy-distrusting white men in the 18th century, our Founders. One of those electors is a former auto mechanic-turned-beekeeper from St. Louis County named Tim Dreste. Here is what Politico had to say about him:

Tim Dreste was convicted of racketeering in 1999 for inciting violence against abortion providers, the result of his decades-long dalliance with an extremist fringe of the anti-abortion movement. He largely faded into obscurity since, though his name came up in 2012 when he was connected to then-Senate candidate Todd Akin.

Mr. Dreste, the article notes, has a tactical reason for not wanting to openly renounce his violent past: “I’d rather have my enemies afraid,” he said. There is only one place in Missouri where a woman can fully exercise her reproductive rights guaranteed by the Constitution. It’s in St. Louis, very close to where Mr. Dreste lives. He explained his thinking:

I’m a man of actions. You see my actions. Are there any dead abortionists in St. Louis? No there are not. I was a trained United States Marine. If I wanted that to happen, I don’t think I could be stopped. If they think that’s going to happen and they decide not to come into work one day because they see me out front, well OK.

Dreste, according to The Riverfront Times, was first radicalized as a domestic terrorist in 1985, when Missouri Right to Life screened a propaganda film called “Silent Scream” at Dreste’s small church. Here’s a short clip of the former captain of a local militia, 1st Missouri Volunteers, in action, courtesy of Right Wing Watch:

If anyone believes such a man, who unbelievably is a member of the Electoral College, is going to jeopardize Trump’s chances of becoming president by becoming a “faithless elector,” then hear this: besides clinging to past terroristic threats, his guiding principle today is, as Politico reported, “I’m out to defeat Hillary Clinton, and we only have one means of doing that.”

In any case, for those of you in Missouri’s 7th Congressional District who are clinging to the hope that the Electoral College will save us from Donald Trump on December 19, you can take some time and try to convince the elector from our district to vote against the president-elect. The elector’s name is Cherry Warren and he is from Cassville. He is the Presiding Commissioner of Barry County, which gave Donald Trump 78 percent of the vote. Yes, 78 percent.

The good news is that Mr. Warren told the local paper that he will “be representing all of southwest Missouri.” The bad news is this:

I have gotten several phone calls and emails, and I think the people I represent in southwest Missouri spoke loudly their wishes, and I won’t disappoint.

So, as you can see, Mr. Warren does not really represent all of the people of southwest Missouri. Just Trump voters.

SONY DSCMissouri is one of 20 states whose electors are not bound to vote for the winner of the popular vote in the state. Thus, you may be able to convince Mr. Warren that he should vote for the winner of the national popular vote—Clinton is up almost 3 million now and leads 48.2% to 46.2%. Or you may be able to convince him that the Russians intervening in the election on the side of Trump, along with Trump begging them to do more on his behalf, is disqualifying. Or you may be able to convince him that Donald Trump will totally corrupt the presidency and jeopardize our national security with his business conflicts. Or you may be able to convince Mr. Warren that Trump may get us all killed.

Whatever reason you employ to try to change his mind, the official contact information I found is the following Barry County listing:

CHERRY WARREN
700 MAIN ST STE 2
CASSVILLE MO 65625
417-847-4628
barrycountyclerk@centurytel.net
gyclerk@centurytel.net

I also found a local address and phone number for Cherry M. Warren:

4721 Farm Road 2165
Exeter, Mo. 
(417) 835-3235

Besides Dreste and Warren, here is a list of the other electors in Missouri:

  • Jan DeWeese (2nd)
  • Hector Maldonado (3rd)
  • Sherry Kuttenkuler (4th)
  • Casey Crawford (5th)
  • Tom Brown (6th)
  • Scott Clark (8th)
  • Al Rotskoff
  • Susie Johnson

I, for one, don’t think contacting these people will change anything. But I believe I owe it to my children and my granddaughter to at least try. So, for what it’s worth, here is an email I sent to Mr. Warren at the addresses listed above:

Dear Mr. Warren,

I write as a citizen of southwest Missouri. I did not vote for Donald Trump. But even if I had voted for him, I would be very disturbed by what we have learned about him since November 8th. Not only has he refused to accept intelligence reports that our adversaries the Russians interfered with our presidential election, he has openly defended the Russians and denigrated those intelligence agencies designed to help protect our nation from foreign threats. He has also refused to be briefed on a regular basis on those threats posed to our country. Added to all that troubling behavior is the fact that Mr. Trump will not disclose his business interests around the world, some in hostile lands. This exposes us, as Americans, to the real possibility that our president will act in ways inconsistent with out national interests, either for his own financial benefit or to avoid the exposure of some potentially damaging business connections and other information unknown to us. 

For these reasons and more, I implore you to use the vote the Founders entrusted to you and vote for someone other than Donald J. Trump on November 19. The Electoral College, if it is to have any redeeming value for our Republic, must act to prevent this obvious threat to our democracy and our national well-being. It will take several courageous electors to make this happen and I am hoping you will be one of them. Your country, as well as posterity, will thank you.

Sincerely,

Duane Graham
Joplin, Mo.

Now The Press Is Finally Getting Around To Highlighting The Most Frightening Story In 54 Years.

On October 28, 1962, Soviet Union Premier Nikita Khrushchev announced he was pulling from Cuba the nuclear missiles he had deployed there. Here’s how The Week summarized the entire event:

Modern day historians note that the standoff nearly turned into a global calamity. With bombers in the air and nearly 3000 American nuclear weapons alone in a state of readiness, the Cuban Missile Crisis could have led to the end of the world in mere minutes.

Now it seems quite plausible, as Khrushchev’s son, Sergei, insisted, that the perceptions of this crisis were different in America than they were in Russia. The history of Europe has been a history of “enemies at the gates,” and as such the government and people of Russia didn’t panic when, say, “Americans placed missile bases in Turkey or any other European country.” They just tended to deal with it as a part of their reality as Europeans, wars and more wars and more wars.

The American public, though, historically protected by two large oceans and with no contemporary enemies on their borders, saw the threat of nuclear missiles in Cuba as an extraordinary threat. “This created a panic,” Sergei Khrushchev said, which made Americans “anxious to remove missiles from Cuba,” which of course eventually happened. “But,” Khrushchev went on, “nothing really changed.” Why?  For the very simple reason that “the Soviets had their missiles on their mainland [with] only 20 minutes difference in their delivery. . .” Did it really matter if we were annihilated in 10 minutes as opposed to 30? Khrushchev said it did matter to us: “It was an American psychological crisis.” And that psychological crisis made the deployment of nuclear missiles in Cuba a “very, very dangerous” situation.

The lesson here is that we Americans, whether it makes logical sense or not, don’t like to have our well-being so directly threatened. Putting nuclear missiles so close to our border was unacceptable. Today we face another crisis engineered by Russian behavior. This one doesn’t involve the deployment of nuclear arms in Cuba. But it does involve a direct threat to our well-being, to our free, democratic society.

We’ve known since the summer that the Russians were trying to get Donald Trump elected. On July 22 WikiLeaks published 20,000 stolen emails from the DNC and immediately American intelligence agencies suggested very strongly—with “high confidence”—that the Russians were behind it.  On July 27 we had Trump chime in. Here’s the lede from a Times article:

DORAL, Fla. — Donald J. Trump said on Wednesday that he hoped Russian intelligence services had successfully hacked Hillary Clinton’s email, and encouraged them to publish whatever they may have stolen, essentially urging a foreign adversary to conduct cyberespionage against a former secretary of state.

This extraordinary position taken by a major party presidential candidate should have been the end of his campaign. It should have branded him as unpatriotic, a threat to the country. Republicans, especially, should have condemned him, should have demanded he drop out. The press should have never let this go. Journalists should have dogged him day after day, grilled his spokesman interview after interview. None of that happened, of course. Republicans were mostly silent. The press moved on to focus on the content of the stolen property, and more “questions” about the Clinton Foundation, and you know how that all ended.

Now, after it is too late—unless the Founders’ Electoral College saves us from the Founders’ distrust of democracy—we have a frightening confirmation of what we already knew:

A shocking secret CIA assessment has concluded that Russia interfered with the U.S. presidential election expressly to help Donald Trump win, according to an exclusive report Friday by The Washington Post.

Until now, intelligence sources have indicated that Russian hacking throughout the campaign that repeatedly exposed information overwhelmingly embarrassing for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was an effort to undermine Americans’ faith in their government.

Now the intelligence community has concluded that Russia was clearly after a Trump victory and manipulated information to that end, according to sources who spoke to the newspaper.

“It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected,” a senior U.S. official briefed on the CIA assessment told The Washington Post. “That’s the consensus view.”

The New York Times did add some new reporting to this months-old story, saying the Republican National Committee was also hacked during the campaign but, of course, no documents were released, which is partly why intelligence officials concluded that the hacking was deliberately done to hurt Clinton and help Trump.

Trump’s response to the latest revelation continued to confirm just how thoroughly corrupt he is and just how unpatriotic are his reflexes. Instead of expressing concern about Russian involvement, he blamed the messenger, the CIA, and insisted that “It’s time to move on.” Well, it appears from what I am finally seeing from the press, no one will just move on because Trump said so or because Trump will stir up another ridiculous controversy to deflect.

This is, and always has been, the biggest story since the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Russians have essentially not only threatened us with anti-democratic and anti-Democrat Party missiles, they actually launched them at us in the form of stolen emails and other material. Those Wiki-warheads landed right in the middle of an existential election and they have left a lot of toxic fallout, including a loss of faith in our democracy and, the most toxic fallout of all, a president-elect named Donald Trump.

Trump has gone out of his way time and again to defend the ex-KGB thug who now runs Russia; he has aligned himself with Putin’s view of NATO and the annexation of Crimea and the fight with Ukraine; and he has surrounded himself with people connected to Russia, one of whom will soon become his National Security Advisor—fake news promoter
and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn—and another who may become Trump’s Secretary of State—ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, described by The Washington Post as having “extensive business dealings and ties to Russia.” Tillerson, who has known Putin since 1999, is opposed to interImage result for tillerson and putinnational sanctions against Russia. To show its appreciation for Tillerson and a mutually beneficial business deal in 2011, the Russian Federation decorated him with the Order of Friendship in 2012. A former aide to John McCain said Tillerson would sell out NATO” for oil and for “his pal, Vlad.”

That’s all horrifically bad. But Trump and his family have their own financial ties to Russia, if we are to believe his son, Donald Jr., who said “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.” and “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” And if we are to believe Michael Crowley, Politico’s senior foreign affairs correspondent, who wrote, “Trump has repeatedly explored business ventures in Russia, partnered with Russians on projects elsewhere, and benefited from Russian largesse in his business ventures.”

We don’t know the extent of Trump’s involvement with Russia, or other adversaries of the United States. Does he owe a lot of money to banks in lands hostile to the U.S.? We don’t know because Trump won’t tell us, and that has caused smart people, people like Richard Painter—a former ethics lawyer in George W. Bush’s White House—to argue that the Electoral College should reject Trump if he doesn’t completely strip himself of his business interests. ThinkProgress quoted Painter’s appearance on CNN:

I don’t think the electoral college can vote for someone to become president if he’s going to be in violation of the Constitution on day one and hasn’t assured us he’s not in violation.

The Electoral College, if it is worth anything at all besides devaluing the vote of people who live in big cities, should divest Trump of the presidency if he refuses to divest himself of his life-long need to make a buck. But, come on. That won’t happen.

What will happen is that, upon the orders of President Obama, intelligence agencies in our government will “conduct a full review of what happened during the 2016 election process” and report back before January 20. I’m guessing the agencies conducting the review won’t include the FBI, whose director, James Comey, was accused today by outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of “deliberately” keeping from the public information about Russia’s involvement in the election. Comparing Comey to the controversial J. Edgar Hoover, who abused his power while directing the same agency, Reid said Comey had “let the country down for partisan purposes.” It’s hard to know if partisanship was the reason for Comey’s strange behavior, but we have reason to be suspicious, since Comey injected himself in the election by publicly howling about Secretary Clinton’s email situation not once but twice, and by clamming up about Putin’s widely-acknowledged assault on the Clinton campaign. We still don’t know if the FBI is investigating the matter or not.

In any case, we now know for sure that members of Congress, of both parties, were briefed in September on what the CIA knew about Russian interference (according to Reuters, as early as last year “top congressional leaders” were told “that Russian hackers were attacking the Democratic Party”; that’s apparently why, God bless her, Nancy Pelosi spoke up in August, to no avail). Vox summarized just why that September intervention by our intelligence agencies did no good. Hint: Republicans were involved:

The Washington Post also reports that doubts from Republican leaders in Congress dissuaded the Obama administration from responding more forcefully to the alleged Russian attacks. In mid-September, intelligence officials organized a classified briefing with senior congressional leaders and laid out the evidence of Russian hacking and the danger that Russia could try to interfere with voting systems on election day itself. They hoped the meeting would lead to a bipartisan statement condemning Russian interference with US elections.

But according to the Post, not all Republican leaders were convinced. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “raised doubts about the underlying intelligence and made clear to the administration that he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics,” the Post reports. “Some of the Republicans in the briefing also seemed opposed to the idea of going public with such explosive allegations in the final stages of an election.”

All this has led some people to, gently and not so gently, criticize President Obama for not speaking up anyway, for not informing the public of what our government knew with, again, “high confidence.” The great Charles Pierce is on the gentle side:

This president has been a good one, probably the most progressive politician we’ve seen in that office since LBJ was kicking ass in 1965. But he has made mistakes, and every single serious mistake he’s made has been because he assumed good faith on the part of his political opposition, misjudged the depth and virulence of his political opposition, or both. It’s 2016. Why would he still believe Mitch McConnell would act with dispassionate patriotism instead of partisan obstruction on anything? Why would he believe it of anyone in the congressional Republican leadership? Hell, he even admitted as much in an interview on NPR last July. I respect the president’s confidence in the better angels of our nature, but those angels have been deathly quiet since 2009.

While I tend to agree with this analysis, and it is part of the larger story, I don’t want to get distracted by throwing rocks, even tiny ones, at a man who has done everything he can, before the election and after, to preserve what’s left of public confidence in our democratic system. Sure, we can look back now and see that it wouldn’t have hurt a thing, since Trump won anyway, for Obama to rat out the Russians in a forceful way. But he didn’t. And we are where we are.

We shouldn’t take our eyes off the fact that we now have a man heading to the Oval Office who was the beneficiary of a hostile government’s interference in our election, but refuses to either acknowledge it or condemn it. We have a president-elect who pleaded for more Russian espionage against the United States, against the Democratic Party presidential nominee. He has praised Putin repeatedly. He has surrounded himself with advisers and potential cabinet members who side with Putin and Russia on important international matters, including sanctions for invading Crimea. His campaign successfully watered down a provision in the GOP platform related to military assistance to Ukraine, which is fighting a Russian-backed separatist movement. Trump has expressed doubt about NATO, the only force that can prevent the establishment of a new Russian Empire.

The decades-old Cuban missile crisis represented only a threat to our national well-being. There was no attack and the matter was settled peacefully. What Putin’s Russia did this election cycle was much more than a threat. It was a successful attack on our democracy. And the fact that our soon-to-be president has directed his hostility toward the CIA who revealed the attack and not the Russians who executed it, tells us all we need to know about his loyalties. And this issue should dominate the news from now until Trump leaves office, whether that be before or after his term expires.

Warriors For Trump

More to fear.

The right has the sympathy of most of the cops. The right has the sympathy of most of the military. The right has the sympathy of the civilian gun nuts. Now the right has radical evangelicals willing to shoot for fake news-inspired justice:

For the first time since his arrest the man behind the ‘Pizzagate’ armed attack on Ping Pong Comet in Washington, D.C. spoke with press about his beliefs and reasoning for launching a politically-motivated attack on an innocent business. At the center of his beliefs are two important factors: his admitted Christian evangelical beliefs that drove that attack and his consumption of Alex Jones’ Infowars conspiracy theories that helped him decide to attack innocent citizens.

This psychopath is a man named Edgar Welch. He told the New York Times he likes to read. One of the books he has read is also a book I have read, Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul. That book was written by a strange evangelical named John Eldredge, a man who, essentially, thinks men are pussies and should be trained, while they are boys, to grow up and be the way God intended them to be: wildly masculine and daring, partly because women are looking for “adventure” with such godly men.

The one thing I remember from reading a couple of Eldredge’s books—a Focus on the Family type guy—is that we should allow our little boys to do the daring and dangerous things they are inclined to do, even if that means risking injury, or, presumably, death. He thinks modern men are “wounded” by outside forces, like their fathers (“the wound is nearly always given by his father”) and church and so on, who tend not to allow them to be the adventurers they were designed to be in order to be happy and healthy Men of God. I remember he used a lot of action movies in his long argument, you know where the man gets to be the revenging or conquering hero and the women folk look on in awe, if not lust. Eldredge believes men were created “for adventure, battle and beauty.” If you look at world history, mostly authored by men, you find a lot of battles, that’s for sure. Oh, and a lot of dead people.

Here’s another sample of Edgedge’s biblical wisdom:

Deep in his heart, every man longs for a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue.

In the case of Edgar Welch, 28 years old, he apparently left his home in North Carolina, AR-15 assault rifle and handgun in tow, to seek an adventure involving a bar and music joint in Washington that was the subject of a Big Lie, a conspiracy whipped up to smear Bill and Hillary Clinton and other Democrats, who, the lie went, “were involved in a global human trafficking and pedophilia ring.” By going in to Comet Ping Pong bar and putting in an order for, say, a pizza without sauce, these disgusting Democrats were sending coded messages about kid hookers. Edgar Welch was going to find out for himself whether it was true.

If you have followed the disturbing business about “Pizzagate” on Twitter and elsewhere you know that the right-wingers, mostly Trump supporters, who believe, or are inclined to believe, this slanderous conspiracy generally take the position that because it hasn’t been sufficiently investigated by the proper authorities, it therefore remains true until it has been investigated. And it happens to be that these people refuse to believe the “proper authorities,” when those authorities tell them it is all completely false. Welch told the Times he was there to do some investigating, and, we must assume, administer his own justice. That’s how far we have fallen.

John Eldredge, who is not to blame for Welch’s actions of course, said, “We don’t need accountability groups; we need fellow warriors, someone to fight alongside, someone to watch our back.” Even though Edgar Welch claimed he didn’t vote for Trump, Eldredge’s quote best explains why people, including a lot of women, are coming out of their caves and defending Trump, often quite viciously, at every turn. Trump and his cronies push lies and conspiracy theories and ignore the facts and then ridicule those trying to protect the facts from oblivion, all of which matters not to his faithful soldiers. Because Trump is their guy. He is their avenging and conquering hero. They won’t be his accountability group. They will be his warriors.

And soon, God help us, they will have the police, the Justice Department, and the military on their side.

Seeing Trump, Imagining Hitler

“Before Adolf Hitler took power, virtually no one understood his unthinkable evil. Since his suicide, no one has fully explained how a talentless crank was able to turn Europe into a charnel house.”

—From “Imagining Hitler,” by Christopher Hitchens’ for Vanity Fair

If you can, indulge me as I go deep, very deep, into the weeds. This post is not for those with short attention spans or the faint of heart. Its 5400 words may never get read by anyone but me. But write it I must, hoping that I am off-base and ultimately and spectacularly wrong, but fearing I’m not:

most of us who follow the news saw all, or at least part, of Trump’s post-election “thank you” speech in Cincinnati last week. It was his first big event since he managed to win the election by losing the vote. Like all of Trump’s rallies and rally speeches, it was appalling, full of bravado, bluster, and bunkum that played well with the cultists in attendance.

But because the Cincinnati speech was given after Trump clearly knew he had lost the popular vote by more than two million votes, and clearly knew that tens of millions of people were trembling in fear at the thought of his presidency, the speech he gave was particularly dreadful and disturbing. Trump could have given us sobriety and humility, even if he had to pretend to be sober and humble. He could have delivered to us some dignity and thoughtfulness, even if had to borrow such qualities from a speechwriter. Instead he gave us more of the same, more of what he have seen, more of himself: a needy demagogue who may or may not have a coherent fascistic philosophy, but who definitely has fascistic instincts and impulses that rise from a disordered mind.

The speech last week was on my mind when I read Christopher Hitchens’ wonderful 1999 review of Ian Kershaw’s book, Hitler: 1889-1936 Hubris. Keeping in mind Trump’s Cincinnati rally, complete with “Lock her up!” chants that Trump didn’t bother to subdue or mitigate, here is Hitchens’ opening paragraph:

“What a piece of work is man!” says the Prince of Denmark. “How noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals!” Well said, but where, as Ron Rosenbaum so intelligently asks in Related imagehis recent book, Explaining Hitler, do all the Jeffrey Dahmers come from? This is sometimes put, by nervous theologians, as “the problem of evil.” We often phrase it, colloquially, as the problem of Hitler. “His face in those early years,” wrote Arthur Koestler in 1942, “an unshaped pudding with a black horizontal dot, came to life as the lights of obsession were switched on behind the eyeballs.” And then those paragons of animals, those with the godlike and angelic faculties of reason and understanding, flung themselves down by the million and groaned great noises of worship and adoration. And this in the country of Beethoven and Goethe, where, to continue with Koestler for a moment, “the features of it retained their crankish ridiculousness, with the black dot under the upturned nose and the second black dot pasted on the forefront, but it now assumed the grotesque horror of a totem-mask worn at ritual dances where human sacrifices are performed.” A piece of work—no question about that.

An unshaped pudding with a black horizontal dot in the country of Beethoven and Goethe? How about a strangely shaped nest of florescent hair on an unnatural orange head in the country of Bob Dylan and Mark Twain? And we, we who have seen and experienced what is behind Trump’s eyeballs, now know all about the “lights of obsession.” And after countless rallies relentlessly broadcast on cable television, we have come to know those who figuratively flung themselves down and literally “groaned great noises of worship and adoration.” We can only hope that a line will be drawn before we get to human sacrifices.

Hitchens, who succumbed to cancer almost five years ago, asked:

Is it the insult to one’s integrity and intelligence—the shame of having still to cringe at the thought of such a person—that partly accounts for our continued fascination with der Führer? The maddening thought that, in other circumstances, he could have been such an ordinary bore and nuisance? The man’s opinions are trite and bigoted and deferential, and the prose in Mein Kampf is simply laughable in its pomposity.

Is that why we, in this day, have a continued fascination with Trump? Because he insults our integrity and intelligence? For all those out there who disdain the comparison with Hitler, we can see that der Führer and Trump have things in common. Their real opinions are trite and bigoted—and deferential to a certain idea: that their respective countries should be great again; that their lack of greatness has something to do with pigmentation or foreignness, which has diluted the superior stock. Their narratives are, indeed, laughable in their pomposity. But as Hitchens pointed out, “subversive or mocking wit” was not sufficient to discount and marginalize Hitler and, as we know today, discount and marginalize Trump.

One of the most depressing things about Hitchens’ insights is this simple statement:

It’s important to remember that many people, before the war, could look at Hitler and see a man with whom business could be done.

If that doesn’t sound familiar, in terms of what we are learning about the reaction to President-elect Trump both domestically and abroad, then you haven’t been paying attention. We are just now at the point in our history where we, as a nation theoretically opposed to authoritarianism, can decide what we see when we see Trump. Some people see an opportunity to cash in. Others see a path toward an ideological takeover of government and its institutions. But some of us see the makings of yet another regime of madness, scaled to Hitler’s Germany or something much smaller, and we can decide what we should say and do about it.

Hitchens reminded us of the historically chiseled, but nevertheless flawed, Winston Churchill, who said of Hitler (the version below is not the one Hitchens quoted from 1937, but the original from 1935):

It is not possible to form a just judgment of a public figure who has attained the enormous dimensions of Adolf Hitler until his life work as a whole is before us. Although no subsequent political action can condone wrong deeds or remove the guilt of blood, history is replete with examples of men who have risen to power by employing stern, grim, wicked, and even frightful methods, but who, nevertheless, when their life is revealed as a whole, have been regarded as great figures whose lives have enriched the story of mankind. So may it be with Hitler.

Hitchens characteristically criticized Churchill’s assessment, made “after Hitler’s seizure of power,” as “a bit lenient.” Churchill went on to say (this part Hitchens did not quote in his review):

Such a final view is not vouchsafed to us today. We cannot tell whether Hitler will be the man who will once again let loose upon the world another war in which civilization will irretrievably succumb, or whether he will go down in history as the man who restored honour and peace of mind to the great Germanic nation and brought them back serene, helpful and strong, to the European family circle.

It is on this mystery of the future that history will pronounce Hitler either a monster or a hero.

Mystery of the future. Monster or a hero. How many similar, pre-holocaust or pre-administration Churchillian voices have we Americans heard since November 8? How many well-meaning folks have urged us to give Trump a chance, to give him time to rise to the occasion and be better than his rise to power? How many have urged us to contemplate the mystery of the future under Trump, to do business with him like he was any other newly-anointed leader?

Today, as people attempt to make the best of our new Trump-dominated world, we are exhorted, as Churchill went on to write about Hitler’s thinly-disguised intentions, to “never forget nor cease to hope for the bright alternative.” We are asked to respect what Trump has accomplished. In his day, Churchill offered the public “admiration for the courage, the perseverance, and the vital force which enabled [Hitler] to challenge, defy, conciliate, or overcome all the authorities or resistances which barred his path.” Are we to do the same regarding Trump? Churchill said that Hitler “was the child of the rage and grief of a mighty empire and race which had suffered overwhelming defeat in war.” Are we supposed to see Trump, champion of rage-filled and grief-stricken alt-right whites, in the same explanatory light? Or should we heed the warning now and not wait for the worst?

The New York Times ran a piece on Saturday titled, “Extremists Turn to a Leader to Protect Western Values: Vladimir Putin.” Those extremists turning to a fascist named Putin aren’t living in reactionary, refugee-resenting enclaves in Western Europe. They are here in Christian America. And they have a champion. Or two:

Throughout the presidential campaign, Donald J. Trump mystified many on the left and in the foreign policy establishment with his praise for Mr. Putin and his criticism of the Obama administration’s efforts to isolate and punish Russia for its actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. But what seemed inexplicable when Mr. Trump first expressed his admiration for the Russian leader seems, in retrospect, to have been a shrewd dog whistle to a small but highly motivated part of his base.

What some call dog whistle politics, with its coded language, others call open and unapologetic demagoguery. When Trump began his campaign last year by asserting that Mexico was sending to America criminals and rapists, he wasn’t whistling. He was singing like the fat lady. And the fact that he went on to sing the praises of a fascist, Vladimir Putin, was another part of what motivated the alt-right:

Throughout the collection of white ethnocentrists, nationalists, populists and neo-Nazis that has taken root on both sides of the Atlantic, Mr. Putin is widely revered as a kind of white knight: a symbol of strength, racial purity and traditional Christian values in a world under threat from Islam, immigrants and rootless cosmopolitan elites.

The Times began its piece with a quote from the founder of the Traditionalist Worker Party, whose self-described mission “is defending Faith, Family, and Folk against the politicians and oligarchs who are running America into the ground.” The founder of that group is not ashamed of his love for the former KGB Colonel:

Russia is our biggest inspiration. I see President Putin as the leader of the free world.

The Times also quotes a white supremacist who used to be a KKK lawyer but who now speaks before alt-right extremist groups:

I’ve always seen Russia as the guardian at the gate, as the easternmost outpost of our people. They are our barrier to the Oriental invasion of our homeland and the great protector of Christendom. I admire the Russian people. They are the strongest white people on earth.

Last year this same man gave a speech at a far-right conference in St. Petersburg that “ended with a cry in halting Russian: ‘God save the czar!'” Thus, you can see that Trump’s singing in tune with Putin charmed the racist snakes who see Putin’s fascism as the salvation of White Christendom. But was Trump only pretending to hypnotize the snakes as part of his office-seeking performance? Or is he a true believer himself?

Trump had plenty of opportunity, both during the campaign and after it concluded, to openly and forcefully condemn Russia for its interference in our presidential election. He hasn’t done so. In fact, this past July he invited the Russians to get more involved and has never repented of that flirtation with treason. And while he remains silent these days on Russian aggression against American democracy, he has managed to tweet out his disgust at cast members of a popular Broadway play, and his hostility to an NBC comedy show. That he focuses on such things, while showing little or no concern for a foreign fascist’s attempt to meddle in our democratic affairs, has to tell us something important about him and his instincts. Add to all this a quote the Times offered us from Stephen Bannon, who will be Trump’s top strategist in the White’s House:

In a speech in 2014, he said that Mr. Putin ran a “kleptocracy,” but also that “we, the Judeo-Christian West, really have to look at what he’s talking about as far as traditionalism goes.”

Traditionalism. Putin the traditionalist. For alt-righters, that word not only includes old, bigoted views on homosexuality—Putin is their bedfellow on that issue for sure—but an overt hatred for liberalism, which is seen as not sufficiently white and Christian and nationalistic and too friendly to “foreigners.” While Putin himself may not care so much about those issues because he cares more about destroying NATO and moving back into Eastern Europe and reviving a Russian empire, American white nationalists do care and are jazzed about Trump’s win and Bannon’s presence at the front.

One of those white nationalists—he disingenuously prefers the term “economic nationalist”—is Richard Spencer, now famous for his ugly, Nazi “Hail Trump” salute at a post-election conference in Washington, the same one where he characterized Trump’s victory as “the victory of the will,” a reference to a Nazi propaganda film. Spencer, who once worked as an assistant editor at The American Conservative magazine, now heads a racist-nationalist think tank, the National Policy Institute, and manages a website called AlternativeRight.com. He believes “the alt-right is going to change the world” and that it was “very hopeful for me that Bannon is at least open to these things.” According to NPR,

Spencer called Trump’s campaign “the first step towards identity politics in the United States.”

As far as Putin, Spencer is all in:

He said the group was encouraged by Trump’s foreign policy, particularly the way he praised Russia throughout the campaign and his skepticism for the U.S. commitment to NATO.

The Times reported that Spencer,

produced a video last year in which he claimed that “an understanding” between Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin might bring together Slavic and American Caucasians and eventually “foretell a unified white world.” This summer, he echoed those remarks when he told The Nation magazine, “I think we should be pro-Russia because Russia is the great white power that exists in the world.”“We can look to Putin as someone we can admire and understand.”

There is no ambiguity there.

All of this—Trump’s admiration for Putin, his appeal to or cynical exploitation of white fascist sympathizers like Richard Spender here in America, and his giving alt-right promoter Stephen Bannon a top administration post—leads me to believe, at the very least, his intuitions are severely and dangerously tilted in the wrong direction. Trump may, after a ridiculous dodge, reluctantly and unenthusiastically disavow white supremacists like David Duke, but he has an enduring affection for an increasingly aggressive Russian thug and what he represents. And lest you think none of this has anything to do with Hitler or Nazi Germany or fascism, think again.

voigt and duke.jpgUdo Voigt is the former head of the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) and a current Member of the European Parliament. Oh, and Voigt is also a neo-Nazi. Yes. He is. A neo-Nazi. The NPD is a neo-Nazi party and Voigt was its leader for 15 years. He is, of course, a holocaust denier, believing the old Nazis killed “no more than 340,000 Jews.” Voigt has met more than once with a fellow holocaust denier and Trump voter mentioned above, David Duke. They took a couple of Nazi-nice pictures together, perhaps to show both how normal bigotry can look and how white supremacy can bridge the Atlantic.

The Times tells us that the NPD “views Chancellor Angela Merkel as a traitor because she opened the door to nearly a million migrants from Syria and elsewhere last year.” And echoing Trump’s (and Mike Pence’s) wretched criticism of President Obama for not being as strong a leader as Putin, Voight criticized Merkel—one of the few powerful voices of moral sanity left in the free world it seems—by praising the Russian despot:

We need a chancellor like Putin, someone who is working for Germany and Europe like Putin works for Russia. Putin is a symbol for us of what is possible.

What is possible is the resurgence of genuine fascism. Russian historian and philosophy professor, Andrey Zubov, lost his position at what is considered “the most elite university in Russia” for comparing Putin’s aggression against Ukraine in 2014 to prior Nazi aggression. Zubov wrote,

This has all happened before. Austria. Early March, 1938. The Nazis want to build up their Reich at the expense of another state.

An article in Newsweek (“Is Vladimir Putin a Fascist?“) this spring began this way:

A growing number of Russian analysts, in Russia and abroad, have taken to calling Vladimir Putin’s regime “fascist.” And they don’t use the term casually or as a form of opprobrium. They mean that Putin’s Russia genuinely resembles Mussolini’s Italy or Hitler’s Germany.

That article informed us that Andrey Zubov,

argued that Russia’s president was building “a corporate state of a fascist type packaged in Soviet ideology, the ideology of Stalinism,” resulting in a Russia that closely resembles Italian fascism with its “nationalism and union with the church.”

“Soviet ideology, the ideology of Stalinism,” of red fascism.  It is important to interject here something most Americans don’t understand about Russia and the way many Russians think about history and their place in the world. Max Hastings, British historian and author, wrote in 2007:

Stalin killed at least as many people as Hitler. In Berlin today, no one would think of displaying publicly an image of the late Fuhrer. Yet in Moscow, it is deemed perfectly acceptable for taxi drivers to stick a picture of Stalin in the corner of their windscreens.

“He made Russia great,” I have heard many Russians say. “In Stalin’s day, this country was respected.”

They do not care that such respect was forged from terror, by Russia’s ruthless willingness to inflict death wholesale in order to impose its will.

That is reminiscent of what Churchill saw in 1932: “bands of sturdy Teutonic youths marching through the streets and roads of Germany, with the light of desire in their eyes to suffer for the Fatherland.” We ignore these deep-felt emotions, and the people willing to exploit them, at our peril.

Thinking about the former Soviet Union and lost Russian greatness reminds me of a man named Arkady Shevchenko. While I was in college, I went to Wichita State University to hear Shevchenko speak. He had been a Soviet diplImage resultomat under the famous Andrei Gromyko. Gromyko was a towering figure in Soviet diplomacy and politics, having been involved in everything from the Cuban Missile Crisis to nuclear arms treaties to détente to the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev. Shevchenko was appointed Under Secretary-General of the United Nations in 1973, and not longer after that began working with the CIA. He defected from the Soviet Union five years later and became the highest ranking Soviet official to flee to the West.

Shevchenko published a best-selling book in 1985 (Breaking With Moscow) about his personal rise and experiences and about the inner workings of the Kremlin. In it he detailed what I heard him generally touch on during his lecture: the Soviet Union, a child of the Russian Revolution, was ultimately hell-bent on expansion and would use any means available to achieve it, including making fools out of gullible Westerners. Détente, for instance, was not really an attempt to “thaw’ relations between the two superpowers and make the world safer, but a means of achieving, first parity, and then military superiority. The Russians, presiding over a failing state, refused to accept ultimate failure as an option.

In that 2007 article, historian Max Hastings began with an account of his experience, as a member of “a party of British fisherman” on a charter plane to Russia, in 2005 (when Vladimir Putin was president of Russia).  I will quote at length from the piece:

“There will be a slight delay,” the pilot announced over the broadcast system, “because the airport has lost our landing clearance.”

Two hours later, he reported: “I’m afraid we shall have to come down in Finland, because the Russians say that unless we leave their airspace immediately, they will send up fighters to escort us out.”

When the aged bus which eventually conveyed us from Finland to Murmansk reached the Russian frontier, we endured two hours of torment.

No one had told the border guards that the Cold War was over. They pored over our passports. They searched every spool of our fishing tackle.

Bitterness and resentment about our expensive possessions and their threadbare poverty oozed from their every pore. At last, grudgingly, stone-faced and without a smile between them, they waved us into their miserable country.

Those unhappy petty officials in the forests of the remote Russian north-west embodied the spirit of their president, Vladimir Putin, who on Sunday delivered a brutal broadside against the United States and Britain, avowing his country’s enmity for us.

Some 25 years ago, when the Cold War was still icy, I asked that great historian Sir Michael Howard whether it was inevitable that the Russians would always be our enemies. Yes, he said sadly, “because they will always resent our success and be embittered by their own failure”.

That remains as true today as it was in 1982. For all the oil and gas riches of Putin’s country, for all the Russian oligarchs jetting and yachting around the world with their billions, their nation is still characterised by brooding anger. They feel themselves victims of a huge injustice.

They have lost their empire. They have endured 20 years of perceived Western slights and condescension, since the economic collapse of the Soviet Union.

They see the Americans preparing to deploy missiles in their former East European satellites. They watch Russian dissidents flaunting their wealth and – as they see it – treachery from the heart of London.

And thus it is that they applaud Putin to the rafters for telling the West that he will stand no more of it.

Sound familiar? That same sentiment animates Trump’s rally-loving legions.

We have good reason to believe that Vladimir Putin is, as Hastings described him, “Stalin’s spiritual heir.” The old historian said of Putin,

He astonished the world, last year, by telling an interviewer in deadly earnest that the biggest catastrophe of the 20th century was the collapse of the Soviet Union.

That famous Putin statement, officially translated by the Russian government as “the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the century,” has been used as a club by both those on the right and those on the left. But most people don’t realize that in that speech in 2005, in which that statement was uttered, Putin draped a lot of rhetorical camouflage over his ambitions. He adorned his speech with Western-esque aspirations, with Trumpian deflection. He touted “democratic values,” but, he said,  “developing democratic procedures should not come at the cost of law and order.” He championed “Success for everyone. A better life for all.” He wanted “all our law-abiding citizens to be able to be proud of the work of our law enforcement agencies” and noted that “we need principally new approaches to fighting crime in our country.” He had a lot to say about terrorism:

Eradicating the sources of terrorist aggression on Russian territory is an integral part of ensuring law and order in our country. We have taken many serious steps in the fight against terrorism over recent years. But we cannot allow ourselves to have any illusions – the threat is still very real, we still find ourselves being dealt serious blows and criminals are still committing terrible crimes in the aim of frightening society. We need to summon our courage and continue our work to eradicate terrorism. The moment we show signs of weakness, lack of firmness, the losses would become immeasurably greater and could result in a national disaster.

He said,

Our objectives on the international stage are very clear – to ensure the security of our borders and create favourable external conditions for the resolution of our domestic problems.

He even had an opinion on the news media:

I also wanted to raise another, very specific, issue here today, namely, what must be done to ensure that national television fully takes into account Russian civil society’s most relevant needs and protects its interests. We need to establish guarantees that will ensure that state television and radio broadcasting are as objective as possible, free from the influence of any particular groups, and that they reflect the whole spectrum of public and political forces in the country…I am sure that these proposed measures will improve the quality and objectivity of the information our society receives today…

He even tossed in a word about what we call the death tax:

Incidentally, I think it would be a good decision to abolish the inheritance tax, because billion-dollar fortunes are all hidden away in off-shore zones anyway and are not handed down here. Meanwhile, people have to pay sums they often cannot even afford here just for some little garden shack.

President Putin had ideas about immigration that sound a lot like Republican talking points today:

I also think that an increase in our population should be accompanied by a carefully planned immigration policy. It is in our interest to receive a flow of legal and qualified workers. But there are still a lot of companies in Russia making use of the advantages of illegal immigration. Without any rights, after all, illegal immigrants are convenient in that they can be exploited endlessly. They are also a potential danger from the point of view of breaking the law.

It turns out that Putin, who was only 53 years old when he gave that speech, had no intention of pursuing any Western-style reforms. He set out to enrich himself, and later, because Russians play chess, to engage in a long-game rehabilitation of Russian hegemony, which necessarily involves aggression against the West. He was rumored to be “Europe’s richest man,” and in 2007 the CIA estimated his wealth “at around $40 billion,” according to The Times of Israel.  That same publication, in January of this year, quoted Adam Szubin, the acting under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the U.S. Treasury, as saying:

We’ve seen [Putin] enriching his friends, his close allies, and marginalizing those who he doesn’t view as friends using state assets. Whether that’s Russia’s energy wealth, whether it’s other state contracts, he directs those to whom he believes will serve him and excludes those who don’t. To me, that is a picture of corruption.

Corruption. Trump. Putin. Hitler. I’ll ask again: Is there something in the air that should really terrify us? Should we be so cautious as to not speculate about the similarities? Ignore the confluence of events that make it seem we are about to repeat an awful history? Is it better that we go on and hope against hope that the signs we see are misleading us? Should we listen to the 1930s Churchill who said we should “never forget nor cease to hope for the bright alternative”? Is that the stance we should take here in our time? After all, rather than impersonate a grotesque maniacal killer like Adolph Hitler, it is much, much more likely Trump will prove to be nothing more than a profoundly insecure grifter who duped his followers for wealth and worship and then lost interest in the affairs of state, turning the government over to others—deeply and disturbingly conservative others to be sure—to run. But even if our situation doesn’t evolve into a horrific holocaust, we have no good reason to believe things will otherwise turn out well, given what we have seen and our seeing.

Evan McMullin, a former CIA officer and chief policy director of the House Republican Conference, is a very conservative guy. A Mormon from Utah, McMullin ran as an independent presidential candidate this year, to offer an alternative for Republicans and conservatives who could see Trump was ignorant, bigoted, and dangerous. Needless to say, he failed miserably. Republicans, including members of the Religious Right, flocked to Trump and made him the president-elect. But McCullin isn’t done fighting. He is trying to start a new, Trump-less conservative movement and is still making people aware of the cultural calamity we may face. He penned an op-ed for the New York Times that appeared today (“Trumps Threat to the Constitution“). I will quote from it at length, in case you are a victim of the Times’ pay wall:

…his campaign rhetoric had demonstrated authoritarian tendencies.

He had questioned judicial independence, threatened the freedom of the press, called for violating Muslims’ equal protection under the law, promised the use of torture and attacked Americans based on their gender, race and religion. He had also undermined critical democratic norms including peaceful debate and transitions of power, commitment to truth, freedom from foreign interference and abstention from the use of executive power for political retribution.

Image result for David Evan McMullinThere is little indication that anything has changed since Election Day. Last week, Mr. Trump commented on Twitter that flag-burning should be punished by jailing and revocation of citizenship. As someone who has served this country, I carry no brief for flag-burners, but I defend their free-speech right to protest — a right guaranteed under the First Amendment. Although I suspect that Mr. Trump’s chief purpose was to provoke his opponents, his action was consistent with the authoritarian playbook he uses.

Mr. Trump also recently inflated his election performance, claiming — without evidence — that he “won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” This, too, is nothing new. Authoritarians often exaggerate their popular support to increase the perception of their legitimacy. But the deeper objective is to weaken the democratic institutions that limit their power. Eroding confidence in voting, elections and representative bodies gives them a freer hand to wield more power.

As a C.I.A. officer, I saw firsthand authoritarians’ use of these tactics around the world. Their profound appetite for absolute power drives their intolerance for any restraint — whether by people, organizations, the law, cultural norms, principles or even the expectation of consistency. For a despot, all of these checks on power must be ignored, undermined or destroyed so that he is all that matters.

Saying that, “We can no longer assume that all Americans understand the origins of their rights and the importance of liberal democracy,” McMullin adds,

We cannot allow Mr. Trump to normalize the idea that he is the ultimate arbiter of our rights. Those who can will need to speak out boldly and suffer possible retaliation. Others will need to offer hands of kindness and friendship across the traditional political divide, as well as to those who may become targets because of who they are or what they believe.

I would have never thought it possible, before the emergence of Trumpism, that I could so profoundly agree with someone so far away from me, so far across “the traditional political divide.” But I do. The resistance to fascism, or quasi-fascism, or any other form of authoritarian rule will necessarily have to include people, good people, from all backgrounds and belief systems. We can sort out and argue over the other differences later, when the threat subsides.

The Book of Proverbs tells us that “the righteous shall never be removed: but the wicked shall not inhabit the earth.” Ah, but the 20th century especially saw the righteous removed in the most violent of ways, and the wicked did then and still do today inhabit the earth. But how can the wicked succeed in our supposedly enlightened times? Christopher Hitchens remarked, “no one has fully explained how a talentless crank was able to turn Europe into a charnel house,” a soulless place where corpses are piled up like firewood awaiting a long and frigid winter. Hitchens is still right of course. And my position is that because he is right, because we cannot explain such an incomprehensibly strange and unfathomably deadly twist of fate a mere two generations ago, we should do all we can to make sure that our own talentless crank, about to assume unimaginable power as the President of the United States, will not make us a part of another fascist nightmare.

Facts Aren’t Stubborn Things

In response to my comment urging good folks on our side to “get involved on platforms like Twitter” as a way of fighting back against what we have seen and are seeing in our new Trumpian world, a first-class thinker and blogger, Jim Wheeler, wrote:

Get involved in Twitter? It’s discouraging to think that 140-character opinions can be effective. Feels like he’s dragging us down to his level, a landscape of trolls and brain-farts. Ugh.

Here is my reply :

Jim,

I feel your pain.

But the good guys don’t always get to choose where the battles are fought. I agree with you that it is a little depressing that here in the 21st century we are forced to fight part of the war against Trump-inspired ignorance and bigotry on 140-character terrain, but Twitter is Twitter. It is one of the fronts. There are other, larger battle zones accessible to the public (like Facebook), but Twitter played a significant role in this election and it is something I have chosen to focus on. My thinking, post-election, is that we can’t just allow the bad guys to occupy all the Image result for twitter logosocial media space without a fight. And tweeting is relatively easy. You can do it anywhere, anytime. All you need to do is adapt to the medium, supply good information and argumentation—and develop thick skin.

Let’s review: Trump’s use of Twitter proved effective in two ways. He used it to bring in followers with whom he could communicate directly—and pass on lies and conspiracies and propaganda—who would then retweet his messages to others, amplifying those messages and attracting more like-minded people. And, more important, he used it as a way to get the media to amplify and replicate his messages and present them to an even broader audience, some of whom were then attracted to Trump’s blustering persona and his dark world view and became a part of his loyal following. Think of Trump’s tweets as 140-character rallies. He used his Twitter account much like he used his numerous rallies: to attract adoring fans who would praise him, to give those fans lots of rancid red meat, and then to get out of the way and allow television do the rest. Facts were never a part of the formula, which leads me to my main point.

We all know the old, old saying, “Facts are stubborn things.” But, really, they aren’t stubborn at all. They are easily pushed out of the way, as this past election demonstrated rather painfully. Facts are only as stubborn as the people who value and use them—people like us. It is we who must be tireless in defending and wielding the facts, who must obstinately maintain their place in our discourse. If we give up, if we refuse to engage others with the facts wherever they might be, then ignorance and bigotry will certainly win. Because the truth is that ignorance and bigotry and tribalism really are stubborn things. They tend to be default positions.

Thus, I think we, those of us who want to see more of a fact-loving, inclusive electorate than we saw this cycle, ought to get on social media platforms—my personal emphasis is on Twitter, but Facebook and other forms need us too—and engage those who are spreading misinformation and falsehoods and propaganda. This past summer, Clive Irving, writing for The Daily Beast, argued that “Trump is never going to be the monster that Hitler was,” but, rather, Trump is more like Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi’s Reich Minister of Propaganda:

Had Goebbels been around today he would probably be the master player of the media—of any or all media. He would have grasped and exploited the ubiquity of social media. He would have relished the random distribution of defamatory vitriol via Image result for joseph goebbelsTwitter. In fact, few people have ever understood the technique of selective messaging better.

Goebbels was Hitler’s indispensable genius of spin. Long before the Nazis came to power, Goebbels understood what had to be done to gain that power. Fundamentally the German public needed to be made to happily acquiesce in the idea that the nation needed a demagogue to right its grievances.

It was Goebbels who proved that if falsehoods were repeated often enough they became, in the minds of the ignorant and aggrieved, facts.

I don’t think for a minute that Trump is smart enough to pull this off alone. But media made him who he is, and with a cadre of other liars and deceivers to help him, along with too many profit-chasing news outlets, it does seem we are now experiencing something that looks a lot like a Goebbels strategy. I have called it quasi-fascism. And that is why we must fight falsehoods everywhere they appear. And “everywhere” especially includes social media, since those are home bases for Trump and his followers.

As I have said before, we shouldn’t be under any illusions. Changing minds is difficult, mostly impossible. There are incorrigible assholes and trolls and fake accounts all over the place. But Twitter and Facebook and other platforms are networks that connect all kinds of people. Some of them are without a doubt hardcore haters and fanatics who are beyond rational redemption. Others, though, are only passive participants in the back-and-forth, and if these relatively passive people are only half convinced on one topic or another, seeing a determined person on our side might keep them from turning to the dark side. At the very least they will know there is an aggressive defense to be made against certain assertions, and they may think twice before they pass on falsehoods as “facts.”

And the good people who fear the dark side, but don’t feel confident or competent enough to get in the fight against it, need to know, if only for their psychological well-being, that there are determined people out there willing to fight against ignorance and stupidity and bigotry on all fronts, so that a Goebbels strategy doesn’t become normalized, and successful, in any large-scale way. We are dangerously close to that happening, in my opinion. If we don’t stubbornly defend and advance fact-based information, then falsehoods will become facts “in the minds of the ignorant and aggrieved.”

Finally, like the Internet at large, there is a lot of useful information available on Twitter and other platforms. It’s not all a fact-free sewer. Twitter especially can be a good way to follow what is going on in the country and the world, if you follow the right people. A lot of world-class journalists, literally from all over the world, are on Twitter and offer some valuable insight on whatever is breaking, or whatever has broken. There are, too, a lot of smart people, including academics, sharing pithy commentary and analysis, as well as graphs and charts, etc. These folks need our encouragement. If you look at the nasty responses they often get, you can see why it is important that our side is there to back them up and help shout down the shouters and, if necessary, bully the bullies. We can’t just let the trolls, the misinformed, and the misinformers dominate useful, often mind-expanding, platforms.

For all these reasons, while I share your “ugh”and fear the possibility of Trump “dragging us down to his level,” I think it is necessary for the triumph of good that bad folks pushing bad information be confronted, on Twitter and elsewhere. And even if the good does not ultimately triumph, at least we will know that we did all we could, that we fought the good fight.

 

Watch This.

Fighting Back

In order to preserve and protect a long-living, thriving democracy, citizens need to do some basic philosophical thinking. It’s simpler than you might imagine, but not so simple tImage result for PHILOSOPHYhat people do it well, or often. But it is an essential part of a continued effort to improve our democratic civilization, which can, if we allow it to happen, regress and possibly devolve into something disabling, beyond healing.

Philosophers often start by defining terms. So, let me start by defining philosophy. The best, most concise definition I ever read was this: Philosophy is the critical evaluation of the facts of experience. When you strip away all the fancy talk and fancy philosophers, it’s pretty much that simple. But how many people actually practice such basic philosophy, which is necessary to keep our long but always-endangered democratic experiment going? How many actually evaluate, critically, the facts of their experience? As November 8 taught us, not enough.

And that is, first, where journalism comes in. Despite an ever increasing distrust of the media complex, and despite an ever increasing turn to other forms of information gathering and sharing, it still remains the job of journalists to help people, often busy people with little time for in-depth analysis, to evaluate what is going on in the world. Journalists can and should counter all the fake and propagandistic news out there not just with genuine fact-heavy news, but with genuine fact-heavy news that contains within it some basic interpretations of those facts. It is necessary to interpret elements of the news because people otherwise might misinterpret them out of ignorance or, more likely, confirmation bias. If journalists don’t do this basic analysis, albeit do it very carefully, they are simply stenographers who wasted all their time in college getting an education and are not serving the public good.

Image result for alex jonesAs we all know, Trump believes in ridiculous conspiracies. He counted conspiracy nutjob Alex Jones as a friend of his campaign and now counts him as a friend of his presidency to come. Jones, a radio man who runs a fake-news website called Infowars, thinks those six-year-old kids killed at Sandy Hook were just part of a grand hoax. He thinks the moon landings were faked. He thinks 9/11 was an “inside job.” You get the idea. He’s nuts. But Trump contacted him after the election to thank his twisted listeners “for standing up for this Republic.” We’ve never had a president intellectually dull enough to both believe an extremist like Alex Jones is reasonable and believe it is okay to let us all know he thinks an extremist like Alex Jones is reasonable. It’s a different world now, and the rules for covering Trump, and the strange movement he has inspired, have to change.

A good start appears to be what the Associated Press—which didn’t exactly shine during the election season—is doing. John Daniszewski, Vice President of Standards for the AP, seems to have at least learned something. In a recent article addressed to his journalists (“Writing about the ‘alt-right’”), he wrote:

“ARelated imagelt-right” (quotation marks, hyphen and lower case) may be used in quotes or modified as in the “self-described” or “so-called alt-right” in stories discussing what the movement says about itself.

Avoid using the term generically and without definition, however, because it is not well known and the term may exist primarily as a public-relations device to make its supporters’ actual beliefs less clear and more acceptable to a broader audience. In the past we have called such beliefs racist, neo-Nazi or white supremacist.

He tells reporters writing stories involving the “alt-right” that they should define the term either as,

“an offshoot of conservatism mixing racism, white nationalism and populism,” or, more simply, “a white nationalist movement.”

Daniszewski ends his message to his reporters this way:

Finally, when writing on extreme groups, be precise and provide evidence to support the characterization.

We should not limit ourselves to letting such groups define themselves, and instead should report their actions, associations, history and positions to reveal their actual beliefs and philosophy, as well as how others see them.

This is refreshing and it appears to be catching on. Perhaps it represents the beginning of a necessary adjustment on the part of the press, in response to some of the extremists Trump has emboldened, not to mention one he has promoted to be his chief strategist in the White’s House. But that’s not all the adjustment needed. Trump, in addition to being a sucker for conspiracies and a rewarder of those who will praise him, also has a problem
telling the truth. He has no respect for it. He will say anything that he thinks serves his interests at the time, even if it is clearly, provably adonald-fantasies lie. And journalists must change their reporting and writing approach in order to confront this weird reality, which is unlike anything they have ever covered or we have ever seen.

A recent example of what that change should look like is in how some, but not all, outlets came to characterize, in the headlines of their stories, Trump’s ridiculous claim (promoted by, who else, Alex Jones on Infowars) that millions of illegal votes kept him from winning the popular vote. Needless to say—but say it we all should as often as it takes—the claim is false. A few headline writers got it right the first time, but some, like Politico, initially just framed it, “Trump claims millions voted illegally.” Later, after much outrage online and in social media, the word “falsely” appeared in front of “claims.” The initial non-interpretative headline represents Before Trump journalism. The last interpretative headline represents After Trump journalism. This is 2016 A.T. and journalists need to appropriately adjust to the new calendar, especially headline writers and those who post story alerts on social media. Many Americans only skim the headlines of some major stories and those headlines should convey as much truth as possible.

But it’s not enough for journalists to change. We, as ordinary citizens, have to change too. We can’t assume that all or most of our family members, friends, neighbors, colleagues, or the people we run into online or elsewhere, are navigating through these times in boats of rationality. Some of them don’t have such a boat, or haven’t bothered to move their boat from the dock. Some have a leaky boat. We have to figure out who is who and figure out how to talk to them, how to reason with them, how to counter the misinformation some of civilization-needs-youthem hold in their heads—or promote on their Facebook page—as truth. That all might sound arrogant and condescending, but it is absolutely necessary in these times.

During personal encounters that involve the mention of politics or policy, or on Facebook and Twitter and other platforms where such is discussed, we have to now become tireless purveyors of facts and good analysis, as well as shoot down every piece of propaganda or string of falsehoods we see. We have to become soldiers. We can’t just expect journalists to do all the work. Many of them will simply not do it or will fall short—and we have to let them know when they fail—and the good ones who will do it right can’t make a difference if their good work is not amplified by us. We must become good journalism’s megaphone.

We, as citizens protecting and attempting to advance our civilization, have to get in the fight ourselves and do our part. And for most of us, doing our part these days means cleaning up messes that are often first made on the Internet. We can talk to people. We can respond to blogs or begin our own. We can comment on stories on news sites. We can post and counter-post on social media. Like it or not, that’s where a lot of folks get their information about the world, and we have to be there to make sure they are getting good information, first—and this is essential—by getting good information ourselves, and then passing it on.

This aggressive posture will not often bear fruit. Most people, we have to understand from the start, will not change their minds in response to the facts or to basic, common-sense analysis. They seek out and listen only to bias-confirming sources and opinion. But we have to keep going, have to keep at it. Some will be open to change, especially as time goes by and Trump’s potential decisions become real ones. The landscape will look different when he is actually responsible for governing, and some people will then be willing to listen, willing to reevaluate, especially as he disappoints them by not getting done what he promised or doing exactly the opposite of what he promised. That is why we have to keep up with and address what Trump is actually doing, as opposed to only calling out how scary a person he is as he is doing it.

john-saul-quoteAnd we must also understand that this aggressive posture in cyberspace and elsewhere will cause us all some problems, lose us some “friends.” But picking any side in a fight loses you something. And not choosing to fight may cause us to lose a firm and rational grip on the best thing human beings have ever created: democratic civilization and democratic civilization. We will, if Trump doesn’t get us all killed, hand our children and grandchildren something when this is all over, and I at least want to say I fought like hell to hand them something they will be proud of.

Remarks And Asides, Trump Edition #1

A headline read: “Obama Rushes To Trump-proof America’s Natural Resources.” Sorry. But there ain’t no Trump-proofing anything. America’s natural resources, along with its unnatural ones, are at the mercy of a lying, bigoted conspiracy kook whose impulses are as predictable as they are uncontrollable. Many of us are scared. And we should be. Trump clearly has a head full of personality disorders and he, and those who will actually run the government on his behalf, will muck up the country, and the world, in big ways and small ways. Count on it.

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Trump’s cabinet picks so far are, as expected, terrifying. That’s largely because the people making the picks are terrifying. And as if to terrify us even more, the AP published a story that began, “Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. says President elect-Donald Trump offered him the job of education secretary, but that he turned it down for personal reasons.” We were that close to seeing those of us who believe in a federal role in education say we no longer believe in a federal role in education (that conclusion will likely Image result for jerry falwell jrcome anyway, with Trump’s selection of a voucher-crazed activist).

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Jerry Junior’s “personal reasons” for turning down the education job, I suspect, had to do with the fact that poisoning the minds of students at Liberty University pays much better than theocratizing the Department of Education in the name of Jesus. Or maybe there’s a personal scandal or three he doesn’t want uncovered via the confirmation process. God only knows why Falwell said no and God ain’t talking because He is busy getting His post-election affairs in order. Yes. Even God is scared Trump will kill us all. Or make us wish we were dead.

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Image result for pat robertson praying hurricane awaySpeaking of creepy right-wing evangelicals, no word in yet on whether Trump will pick the Reverend Pat Robertson to run the National Weather Service, since he believes he can pray away hurricanes. Trump needs to keep those big storms away from his golf courses by the sea so all the little guys who believe in him and his phony populism can go out and fork over $100,000 for memberships and pay $13,000 fees every year (Mar-a-Lago, anyone?). I bet the folks from rural Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania will get a special discount, no? Uh, no.

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A distracted Trump (there isn’t any other kind) has tweeted like his madman self about the vote recount efforts initiated by Jill Stein and then joined by Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Trump’s pissed that someone doesn’t respect his awesome I-won-even-though-I-lost achievement. Pissing off Donald Trump, as someone said, is a damned good reason for recounting the ballots, even if it doesn’t change a thing. The bad part is that the disgraceful Stein stays in the news for fifteen more minutes.

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Speaking of a pissed Trump, he can’t stand it that 54% of voters actually rejected His Orangeness. So, out from his tiny tweeting fingers came the goofy conspiracy theory that “millions” of people voted illegally. And out came the media simply reporting what Trump said, instead of pointing out how false it was. The good news is that after some social media scolding, several outlets began to get the headlines right. Politico went from “Trump claims millions voted illegally” to “Trump falsely claims millions voted illegally.” Hooray for small victories.

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Speaking of the press generally, will it become a habit to call out Trump’s lies, especially in headlines that low-information people scan for their news? Don’t count on it. Access is at stake. Journalists, and their bo$$es, want access to the carnival barker and his gallery of deplorables. And in the new America Trump is creating, access will be denied to reporters and outlets armed with facts and a willingness to openly display them. But good reporters, especially good print reporters, can do their jobs without compromising, without rounding off the sharp corners of the mendacious, scandal-generating administration to come. Let’s hope there are enough of them out there. They need our encouragement. Join Twitter, where a lot of them congregate, and give them some love. They do pay attention.

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post-election-hillarySpeaking of paying attention, I am bleeping sick of people, especially people on the far left, criticizing Democrats for choosing Hillary Clinton in the primary process. “You should have picked a better candidate,” they shout on Facebook or Twitter or elsewhere. Oh, okay. She bested Bernie by almost 4 million votes. And she has, as I write, more than a 2.2 million vote lead on the double-chinned Cheeto-in-chief to be. Her total is only going to go up. And she will end up receiving the most votes of any presidential candidate in American history who is not named Barack Obama. It’s not the fault of Hillary, or the Democrats who nominated her, that our Founders—democracy-distrusting white men of privilege who have been dead for a couple of centuries—are still protecting white male privilege via the Electoral College system. So, all you lefties out there, especially those who voted for Stein or didn’t vote, STFU and pay attention. You are part of the problem.

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Reportedly, Trump isn’t much interested in getting intelligence briefings. He’s only had two since he won the election by losing the popular vote on November 8. But Kelly the Image result for kellyanne conwayCon, his spokesperson, assures us he is getting his double naught spy knowledge “from a number of sources.” She didn’t say who was translating the Russian.

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Speaking of Kelly the Con, she is working feverishly to keep Mittens out of Trump’s cabinet. She says there is a lot of “backlash from the grass-roots,” adding, “You have people saying, ‘Hey, my parents died penniless but I gave $216 to Donald Trump’s campaign and I would feel betrayed.’” People stupid enough to send $216 to Trump deserve a dope-slapping betrayal. If nothing else, it will help prepare them for the beatings to come.

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Meanwhile, many people are saying that Trump is just using the will-he-or-won’t-he theatrics of the Romney-for-secretary-of-state story to humiliate Mittens. Huh? Pulling that off would require at least average intelligence. Failing that test, Trump, therefore, is not trying to humiliate Romney even though that might be the end result. What we have is a clumsy effort to appear magnanimous, sponsored by Mike Pence, who will essentially become Trump’s Beltway Brain for four years, or however long Trump can stand pretending he gives a crap about former coal miners with opioid addictions.

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Image result for castroOh, Castro died. And Marco Rubio, who hopes to be president in 2021, tweeted:  “History will remember Fidel Castro as an evil, murderous dictator who inflicted misery & suffering on his own people.” That statement is pretty clear. What isn’t clear is whether Rubio would have urged the Cuban people to prefer him over, say, Hillary Clinton, if she had been his political opponent. Any bets?

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Speaking of Rubio, the man who told us Trump was a dangerous con man was also critical of the Prime Minister of Canada for issuing a condolence statement that chose to ignore Castro’s worst behavior. It was “shameful & embarrassing,” said Rubio, who also attacked President Obama’s “pathetic statement” on Castro’s death because he didn’t mention the bad stuff. Apparently, only Trump-endorsing Republicans are entitled to overlook the bad stuff. “Viva Donald!”

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Image result for putinBecause Trump doesn’t give a damn about actually doing the job, a great race—which will be covered breathlessly and shamelessly by cable TV news—is shaping up for ultimate control of the Trump administration. The early money is on Mike Pence, who, as Trump’s Beltway Brain, appears set to be our domestic president. But don’t count out our foreign policy president-elect, Vladimir Putin. Rumor has it he is only one or two enrich-Trump’s-kids business deals away from having it all. Будьте на связи.

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For a bonus, I am offering you a look at a tongue-talking Man of God who believes that since Jezebel-Hillary has been vanquished, “Revival’s on the way!” Shababbabbba! It should comfort us to know that while Trump and his kids are preying on us, this man is praying for us. This is Trump’s America: