Agent Orange: Putin’s Greatest Weapon

CNN’s big story yesterday (“US officials: Info suggests Trump associates may have coordinated with Russians“) began this way:

The FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Tr-mp communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, US officials told CNN.

This is partly what FBI Director James Comey was referring to when he made a bombshell announcement Monday before Congress that the FBI is investigating the Tr-mp campaign’s ties to Russia, according to one source.

The story made clear the obvious: “The FBI cannot yet prove that collusion took place, but the information suggesting collusion is now a large focus of the investigation, the officials said.” It is obvious the FBI cannot yet prove such collusion, because if it could, charges would be recommended. But something else is obvious to me. Look at this paragraph from the story, referencing FBI Director James Comey’s appearance before Congress earlier this week:

In his statement on Monday Comey said the FBI began looking into possible coordination between Tr-mp campaign associates and suspected Russian operatives because the bureau had gathered “a credible allegation of wrongdoing or reasonable basis to believe an American may be acting as an agent of a foreign power.”

What is obvious here is that we already know at least one American who has acted as “an agent of a foreign power.” His name is Donald J. Tr-mp. The foreign power is Russia. The leader of Russia is Vladimir Putin. Tr-mp has said quite a lot about both Putin and Russia. Here are some examples:

“Look at Putin—what he’s doing with Russia—I mean, you know, what’s going on over there. I mean this guy has done—whether you like him or don’t like him—he’s doing a great job in rebuilding the image of Russia and also rebuilding Russia period. Forget about image.” (October 15, 2007)

“Putin has big plans for Russia. He wants to edge out its neighbors so that Russia can dominate oil supplies to all of Europe. Putin has also announced his grand vision: the creation of a ‘Eurasian Union’ made up of former Soviet nations that can dominate the region. I respect Putin and the Russians but cannot believe our leader allows them to get away with so much…Hats off to the Russians…”(December, 2011)

“I do have a relationship [with Putin], and I can tell you that he’s very interested in what we’re doing here today. He’s probably very interested in what you and I am saying today, and I’m sure he’s going to be seeing it in some form.” (November, 2013)

“I believe Putin will continue to re-build the Russian Empire. He has zero respect for Obama or the U.S.!” (March 21, 2014, three days after Putin annexed Crimea)

“Well, he’s done an amazing job of taking the mantle. And he’s taken it away from the president, and you look at what he’s doing. And so smart. When you see the riots in a country because they’re hurting the Russians, okay, ‘We’ll go and take it over.’ And he really goes step by step by step, and you have to give him a lot of credit. Interestingly, I own the Miss Universe pageant. We just left Moscow. He could not have been nicer. He was so nice and so everything. But you have to give him credit that what he’s doing for that country in terms of their world prestige is very strong.” (April 12, 2014, less than a month after Putin annexed Crimea)

“They say it wasn’t them. It may have been their weapon, but they didn’t use it, they didn’t fire it, they even said the other side fired it to blame them. I mean to be honest with you, you’ll probably never know for sure.” (October 14, 2015, responding to U.S. intelligence assertions “with confidence” that pro-Russian separatists shot down a commercial airliner over Ukraine, killing 298 people)

“I will tell you that, in terms of leadership, [Putin’s] getting an ‘A’ and our president is not doing so well.” (September 29, 2015)

“It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond.” (December 17, 2015)

“If he says great things about me, I’m going to say great things about him. I’ve already said, he is really very much of a leader. I mean, you can say, ‘Oh, isn’t that a terrible thing’ — the man has very strong control over a country.” (September 7, 2016)

This next one deserves a video clip. It has to do with the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, a former Federal Security Service (FSB) officer in Russia who turned on his superiors because he found links between Russian government officials and Russian mafia groups. After he fled to London and obtained asylum, he worked as a consultant for British intelligence. He also wrote about how the FSB used murder and mayhem in Moscow to make Vladimir Putin more popular, after Putin was corruptly handed power by a corrupt Boris Yeltsin. In November of 2006, Litvinenko was almost certainly poisoned to death by the FSB, on the orders of Putin, according to an official British inquiry. Technically, and gruesomely, he suffered cardiac arrest resulting from acute radiation syndrome, which he got from ingesting a fatal dose of polonium 210. Here’s how Tr-mp responded to that British inquiry in January of 2016:

“I don’t know if he did it,” said Tr-mp. “The fact is he hasn’t been convicted of anything,” said Tr-mp. “Many people say it wasn’t him,” said Tr-mp. “So who knows who did it?” asked Tr-mp. This man, so willing to give a killer named Putin the benefit of every doubt, is the same man who viciously and publicly demanded the execution of five teenagers, four black and one Hispanic, who were accused of raping a jogger in New York’s Central Park in April of 1989. The five kids were convicted. But it turns out they were falsely convicted, as DNA evidence later showed. They spent more than ten years in prison for a crime they did not commit. Less than a month after the alleged rape, and more than a year before the trials, Tr-mp paid for a full-page advertisement in all four major New York newspapers: “BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE!” shouted the headline on the now infamous ad in 1989.  As Jamil Smith wrote:

Image result for BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE!Rather than call for civic healing, Trump’s ad called for blood. Indulging in a classic myth about law enforcement and ignoring the more systemic causes of crime, Trump wrote that “if the punishment is strong, the attacks on innocent people will stop.” Calling for enhanced police powers, he then scoffed at the idea that compassion should be shown toward youth in urban areas who commit offenses. “I no longer want to understand their anger,” his ad reads. “I want them to understand our anger. I want them to be afraid.”

You can see how Tr-mp has a Putinesque affection for the use of fear as a means of manipulating and controlling the population. After all, it is partly how he managed to sneak into the White’s House. Even after the Central Park Five were exonerated, even after the city of New York reached a $41 million settlement with them, Tr-mp would not budge from his original, fact-free, authoritarian position:

They admitted they were guilty. The police doing the original investigation say they were guilty. The fact that that case was settled with so much evidence against them is outrageous. And the woman, so badly injured, will never be the same.

Even in the face of absolutely contrary evidence Tr-mp continued slandering these men. Yet, he will not speak ill of a real killer, Vladimir Putin. That makes it easy to see why people like Slate’s William Saletan calls Tr-mp “Russia’s press secretary.” About Tr-mp’s peculiar affection for all things Russian, Saletan wrote:

Tr-mp has engaged in this behavior all along. He has exploited the material Russia hacked and leaked. He has minimized Russia’s misconduct. He has disputed, and often scorned, evidence of its guilt. He has ignored U.S. intelligence. He has bragged about Putin’s admiration of him. He has mocked Democrats and Republicans who side with U.S. intelligence against Russia.

All of this, and much more, can plausibly be related to what the Russians are doing here and elsewhere around the world. They are weaponizing information, particularly false information. And they are using weaponized information to muck up politics in democratic countries. It is political warfare. And it is quite obvious that Tr-mp has been their best asset, their most effective information weapon. He has praised Wikileaks (“I love Wikileaks,” he said in October of 2016 and at other times), which Russia successfully used as an information weapon against Hillary Clinton. According to ThinkProgress, Tr-mp entioned Wikileaks 164 times during the last month of the election. On October 12 he said:

And one of the big advantages of me having a rather large microphone, and meaning a lot of people are listening, is that I can talk about Wikileaks and we are live, it’s amazing. Boom boom boom.

Boom boom boom. Those are Putin’s information bombs going off, detonated by Donald Tr-mp, who a few weeks later bombed his followers’ faith in our democratic experiment:

The Wikileaks revelations have exposed criminal corruption at the highest levels of our government.

All of this is bad enough, all of this unpresidents Tr-mp, all of this makes him illegitimate. But I still can’t get over what he said on July 27 of last year, which I will publish again:

I have nothing to do with Putin. I’ve never spoken to him. I know nothing about him other than he will respect me. He doesn’t respect our president. If it is Russia, which it probably is not, nobody knows who it is.

But if it is Russia, it’s really bad for a different reason. Because it shows how little respect they have for our country when they would hack into a major party and get everything. But it would be interesting to see — I will tell you this, Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press. Let’s see if that happens. That will be next.

Somewhere around the time Tr-mp spoke these quasi-treasonous words, the FBI began its investigation into possible ties between the Tr-mp campaign and Russia. You can talk about Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Carter Page, Roger Stone, and anyone else you want to in connection with this distressing and dangerous affair. But at the center of it all is Donald J. Tr-mp, the man who attacks anyone and anything with little or no evidence, but cannot find it within his disordered brain to call Vladimir Putin what he is: an authoritarian killer who is doing his best to undermine democratic governance in order to revive a Russian Empire. And the reason Tr-mp won’t call out Putin is because the ruthless Russian killer helped make Donald Tr-mp president and Donald Tr-mp knows it.

As usual, the Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, put all this in its proper context:

Many of the Tr-mp campaign’s personnel, including the President himself, have ties to Russia and Russian interests. This is, of course, no crime. On the other hand, if the Tr-mp campaign or anyone associated with it aided or abetted the Russians, it would not only be a serious crime, it would also represent one of the most shocking betrayals of democracy in history.

As far as I’m concerned, Tr-mp has aided and abetted the Russians. The moral record is clear, even as the legal record remains in doubt. All you have to do is open your mind to the stunning fact that we have a man in the White’s House who has acted, deliberately or due to a defect in his mental health, “as an agent of a foreign power”—Agent Orange.

Agent Orange.jpg

Tr-mp Leaks When He Speaks

Among the emerging Democratic Party stars in Congress is Rep. Adam Schiff, of California. He’s the Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee and has been a leading anti-Tr-mp voice, speaking calmly and intelligently and authoritatively, Adam Schiffparticularly when it comes to Tr-mp’s unhinged tweets about Obama’s nonexistent wiretapping of Tr-mp Tower. The congressman has put a lot of pressure on his Republican colleagues to take the danger of Tr-mp seriously.

Just this morning, Schiff pointed out something Tr-mp said on Fox last night that I confess I missed the first time:

I just want people to know, the CIA was hacked, and a lot of things taken — that was during the Obama years.

Schiff pointed out that Tr-mp has the power “to declassify whatever he wants,” which, I might add, includes anything and everything if he completely loses his mind—just one fact among many that makes Tr-mp too dangerous to contemplate sometimes. And because Schiff cannot declassify anything he wants, he was limited to accusing Tr-mp of only possibly blurting out classified stuff:

In his effort to once again blame Obama, the president [sic] appears to have discussed something that, if true and accurate, would otherwise be considered classified information.

Schiff can’t confirm Tr-mp revealed classified information because Tr-mp could have Jeff Sessions and the FBI throw him in the hoosegow, thus the appears to have discussed…classified information.” Schiff is no dummy.

In any case, the Democratic congressman added a little jab that he could get away with:

For anyone else to do what the president [sic] may have done, would constitute what he deplores as “leaks.”

I think it is accurate to say that much of what comes out of Tr-mp’s disordered mind could be fairly characterized as “leaks.” Like when the oil pan gasket on  your car is damaged and oil gets all over your driveway. In that case, you can either get the damned thing replaced and stop the leaks or you can put a piece of cardboard under your car to stop the leaks from mucking up your driveway.

As we all can see, the gasket on the mind of this 70-year-old man is beyond repair. We need a giant piece of cardboard, if we are to keep the dangerous orange goo off the country’s pavement. The leaking can’t be stopped, whether we are talking about nutty conspiracy theories involving Obama or about obviously true events like the hacking of the CIA (or a leak by a contractor), the revelation of which, you will notice, Tr-mp used to attack Obama rather than his friends at Wikileaks, who posted the stolen material online.

A patriotic American would think Tr-mp, if he were going to openly confirm to the world the legitimacy of the security breach at the CIA, would attack the Russian-loving Julian Assange, who is acting as an agent of the Russians. But nope. Assange and Wikileaks—and the Russians—have all done too much for Agent Orange. He is in their debt every day he sits in America’s driveway and leaks.

“Your Microwave Can See You Naked,” And Other Tales From “How To Create And Exploit Fear And Grow Rich And Powerful”

“There was an article this week that talked about how you can surveil someone through their phones, certainly through their television sets, any number of different ways. And microwaves that turn into cameras, et cetera. So we know that that is just a fact of modern life.”

—Kellyanne Conway, counselor to Tr-mp

Every day we see and hear almost nothing but propaganda, some of it strange and dark, from Tr-mp and his regime and his enablers in Congress. Trashing the Congressional Budget Office’s estimates of killing Obamacare is just one example (the CBO, by the way, is headed by a conservative Republican economist and critic of Obamacare). Another example is the attempt by Sean Spicer to reinterpret what Tr-mp meant when he accused President Obama of a crime. There are countless cases of such surreal attempts to ignore or, more often, invent an alternative reality.

Some people call this stuff gaslighting. Some call it deflection. Others call it simple obfuscation, designed to draw attention away from the Russian scandal or the Tr-mp family grifting and Emoluments Clause violations or the administrative incompetence—or Tr-mp’s personality disorders. But because I spent more than 20 years listening to talk radio—as a conservative—I know exactly what it is we see and hear. It’s an attempt to radicalize Americans, at least enough of them to make a good living, or in terms of Image result for microwave and conwaypolitics, to retain political power and achieve reactionary policy goals. These people sell conspiracies, they peddle half- and quarter-truths as gospel. They tell lies. They radicalize Americans so they can use them, either to get their money or their votes.

And I have bad news. It works.

We can trace nearly all of what we see today back to Rush Limbaugh. He went national with his divisive, propagandistic, profitable radio show in 1988. I was there with him from the beginning. Every day. First it was two hours, then it went to three. I was a believer. I was a dittohead. I had been educated in conservatism by intellectuals like William F. Buckley and George Will and Joseph Sobran. But I was, to tell the truth, radicalized in my formerly rabid conservatism by Limbaugh.

It was the Limbaugh model—distort and skew the news to promote far-right politics and demonize Democrats—upon which Roger Ailes, who once tried to make Rush a television star in the 1990s, based the idea of Fox “News.” Debuting in 1996, Ailes’ Fox enterprise became the number one cable “news” channel in 2002 and has remained there ever since. It turns out, as Ailes learned from Limbaugh’s financial success, that disseminating disinformation and propaganda, turning the Democratic Party into an America-hating institution, and radicalizing conservatives, is a lucrative business. According to the Pew Research Center, Fox “News” enjoyed a profit in 2015 of some $1.5 billion, well ahead of CNN’s $381 million and MSNBC’s $227 million.

About the same time Fox “News” was beginning its televised assault on the truth, hijacking journalism for the radicalization of the right, a former 7-Eleven night clerk and telemarketer named Matt Drudge began to make his mark on the Internet. The Drudge Report began as a small email newsletter dabbling mostly in showbiz, “part gossip and part opinion,” as Wikipedia describes it, that Drudge ran out of his tiny two-room apartment in a run-down part of Hollywood. It morphed into a news aggregation site, began focusing on politics, and gained prominence by first revealing, early in 1998, that Newsweek was sitting on a story about someone named Monica Lewinsky. We all know what happened to Bill Clinton after that. What happened to Drudge is that outing Newsweek, assisting in the right-wing assault on the Clinton’s, made him a superhero on the right. His intentional and ongoing disdain for journalistic standards, of standards of any kind, is demonstrated by a story published by Media Matters in 2013 involving Drudge and a crazy conspiracist now linked to Donald Tr-mp:

Matt Drudge has long been conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ biggest ally. According to a Media Matters review, the heavily-trafficked Drudge Report has promoted at least 50 separate articles at Jones’ Infowars website in 2013, and has linked to at least 244 different articles on the site in the past two years.

Drudge announced this week that he had privately told friends that 2013 would be the “year of Alex Jones.” Considering Drudge’s penchant for promoting Jones and his Infowars website, those comments are more of a promise than a prediction.

Drudge missed the exact year that the kooky Jones—on whose program Tr-mp has appeared, whom Tr-mp has called “amazing,” and to whom Tr-mp said “I will not let you down”—would rise to prominence. But that wasn’t the point. The point was and is to make money off misinformation and propaganda and lies, which is a reason to promote people like Jones. Mediaite reported that in July of last year, DrudgeReport.com “netted a combined page view count of 1,189,670,000 for the month and held its position as the #3 media publisher in the country.” This stuff works, people.

Now we come to Breitbart.com, “the platform for the alt-right,” as Tr-mp’s chief strategist Steve Bannon, who recently resigned as the chairman of the extremist site, once called it. The founder of Breitbart.com was no stranger to Matt Drudge, as Reason magazine pointed out:

Andrew Breitbart describes his job function as “Matt Drudge’s bitch,” but he’s being modest: He’s the man behind the curtain at The Drudge Report, stirring up the site’s signature mix of scandal, box office returns, wire stories, and political tidbits.

Even though Andrew Breitbart is dead, his site lives on and is still spreading Drudge’s sludge, as this story from October of 2016 demostrates:

Drudge Warns: Impending Hillary Sex Scandal

That story was ostensibly about a tweet Drudge sent out:

drudge and hillary and ellen

The real point of the Breitbart story and the Drudge tweet with a photo of Ellen DeGeneres, a well-known lesbian, was to get the following “scandal” and “political tidbit” into the minds of conservative readers who may not have known about it or had forgotten it:

A rumor circulated in the 1990s saying that Clinton was secretly okay with her husband’s extramarital affairs because she was secretly a lesbian, but there has been no truth to the rumor.

This isn’t the first time Clinton has been accused of cheating on her husband.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump accused Clinton of cheating on her husband, but he didn’t say with whom or provided any specifics.

“Hillary Clinton’s only loyalty is to her financial contributors, I don’t even think she’s loyal to Bill if you want to know the truth,” he said during a rally in Pennsylvania on Oct. 1. “Really folks, why should she be?” he asked, a reference to Bill Clinton’s womanizing and accusations of sexual abuse.

Propagating such tripe radicalizes conservatives, make them regular customers, and gets them to pass stories like these among their friends and family and coworkers, which generates income. So does labeling the mainstream press as “fake news,” something Tr-mp and his followers do now without even blinking.

Conservative media, of which Tr-mp is now a part, use these methods to divide the country and exploit and monetize the differences between us. For an increasing number of cynical politicians on the right, the methods are meant to divide the country and benefit from a fevered following of fanatics, those who will express their radicalization by voting against their own economic interests and, in more extreme cases, taking to violence or, as we have seen lately with the attacks on Jewish centers, expressing ancient hatreds.

Just stop and think of where we are right now:

♦ The special counsel to Tr-mp has essentially warned Americans that their government may be using microwave ovens to spy on them.

♦ A United States congressman from Iowa, praising a right-wing Dutch xenophobe who thinks European civilization is being transformed by Muslim immigrants, said, “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” He then went on CNN and made matters worse by doubling down on his message. And we barely heard a negative peep from his fellow Republicans.

♦ According to the Anti-Defamation League, “Since January, 161 bomb threats have targeted Jewish institutions across the country.” Another ADL article notes: “White supremacists, emboldened by the 2016 elections and the current political climate, are currently engaged in an unprecedented outreach effort to attract and recruit students on American college campuses.”

♦ One of Tr-mp’s top strategists, Steve Bannon, a self-avowed Leninist who wants “to destroy the state,” thinks Western Civilization is in a Holy War not just against violent Islamist extremists, but with Islam itself, a religion that has 1.6 billion followers around the world, including 3.3 million here in America, some 4000 of whom are currently serving in the U.S. military.

♦ Sean Hannity, a radical radio guy spawned by the success of Rush Limbaugh and who crossed over to TV as a popular host on what masquerades as a conservative “news” network, on Thursday claimed there were “Obama holdovers” in the government “hell-bent on destroying” Tr-mp. He told the Tr-mp regime to “purge these saboteurs before it’s too late.” The next day the purging began with the firing of U.S. Attorneys. None other than Geraldo Rivera called Hannity “the second-most powerful, influential person in the country” because  he talks to Tr-mp every day and, more frightening, Tr-mp listens.

♦ Worse, Bloomberg news posted a video story today with this headline and description:

Alex Jones Preaches Conspiracy Theori♦es, Trump Listens

Alex Jones is one of the most famous conspiracy theorists in America, calling events like the Sandy Hook shooting, the Apollo moon landing, and 9/11 “false flags.” One of his biggest fans? Donald Trump. This Bloomberg Profile looks at how Alex Jones went from extremist fringe to a major source of information for the president of the United States.

♦ Our Secretary of State is sometimes unaware when foreign diplomats are visiting Washington, takes foreign trips without the press, and generally has no staff to help him understand the complexities and nuances of diplomacy.

♦ Wikileaks has released potentially devastating intelligence-gathering secrets, and Agent Orange is more worried about The Apprentice’s ratings. In fact, Kellyanne Conway’s allusion to spying microwaves was in the context of Wikileaks—think: Russia—trying to undermine our national security and our democracy.

♦ Tr-mp delusionally claimed Obama committed a serious felony, referred to the former president as either a “bad” man or a “sick” man, and close to half of the country is willing to believe him.

♦ Tr-mp claims, almost every time he talks about the economy, that it was a “mess” when he took over. Journalists, weary of correcting every lie, every day, don’t even bother to address this one anymore.

♦ Before Tr-mp was in power, the employment numbers were phony. After he’s in power, they are indisputable evidence of his governing genius.

♦ The Office of Management and Budget director, former congressman Mick Mulvaney, has not only told lies about Obamacare, but he accused the Obama administration of “manipulating the numbers” in order “to make the unemployment rate…look smaller than it actually was.” He offered no evidence for this claim, of course, but it is part of radicalizing a segment of the population to doubt the facts and believe the unbelievable.

♦ And speaking of radicalism, that same Mick Mulvaney championed the 2011 government shutdown, believed such shutdowns were “good policy,” and, as a congressman, would have cut government spending to the point that it could be drowned not in Grover Norquist’s infamous bathtub, but in Tr-mp’s gold-plated shitter. During hard economic times, he proposed dramatic cuts in government spending, including defense spending, so much so that John McCain voted against his confirmation as OMB director.

♦ The Speaker of the House has called the GOP bill to repeal and replace Obamacare an “act of mercy.” Here are examples of Republican mercy: some 24 million folks, many of them elderly and living in nursing homes, will lose their health coverage; older Americans will pay a lot more for their insurance; CBO estimates monthly health insurance premium for a single 64-year-old who makes $26,500 would jump more than 700% (from $1,700 to $14,600)”; defunding Planned Parenthood “would leave many women without services to help them avoid pregnancy, resulting in thousands of additional births”; oh, and rich people will get $600 billion in tax cuts over ten years.

All this and more that is happening around us is radical stuff. There is no doubt about it. And none of it could happen without intentionally radicalizing enough people in the country—not a majority but enough— to make it all possible.

Many of us outside the various fundamentalist tribes have wondered how a culture can exist in faraway places that promotes the idea that people should strap explosives to their torsos to kill and terrorize those who don’t share their theological beliefs. Now we can see how that can happen. It starts with radicalization. It starts with convincing ignorant or unsophisticated or vulnerable people that what they see and hear is false, unless it comes from the radicalizers. Microwave ovens can see what we are doing. Our televisions are spying on us. Only the regime’s numbers are real numbers. “Mercy” means taking away healthcare from millions and giving away millions to billionaires. And on and on.

We have not seen and will not see American radicals on the right strap on explosive vests and blow up people in the town square. Theirs is a different brand of radicalism. What we have seen are these radicals collectively strapping Tr-mpism to the chest of America and threatening to politically blow up the place if they don’t get what they want.

Our job, as resisters, is not to let them terrorize us into submission or to numb us into pessimism and paralysis. Tr-mpism is explosive. It is dangerous. But we can fight it and win. We can protect the truth, respect the facts, and insist that our friends and family and others around us do the same. Then when election time comes, we can vote and strip the radicalizers of their power, if not their ability to make money by radicalizing the gullible.

 

Tr-mp. Russia. Scandal. Won’t Go Away.

A new Quinnipiac poll released yesterday found the following:

Voters disapprove 54 – 32 percent of the way President Donald Tr-mp is handling U.S. policy towards Russia…

American voters support 66 – 30 percent an “independent commission investigating potential links between some of Donald Tr-mp’s campaign advisors and the Russian government.” The only listed party, gender, age or racial group opposed is Republicans, opposed 64 – 30 percent.

A total of 61 percent are “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about President Tr-mp’s relationship with Russia. A total of 62 percent of voters say alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election is a “very important” or “somewhat important” issue.

As the great Steve Benen pointed out this morning:

Health care and wiretap conspiracy theories have helped push the Russia scandal off front pages, but the controversy continues to move forward in a way the White House should find alarming.

The Russia scandal may be off the front pages, but it was front and center on the Rachel Maddow show last night. In case you missed it, watch and learn and then wait:

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.

______________________________________

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

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.

 

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.

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