Red Fox

Whenever I seriously consider Trumpism, I decide that the real trouble is Fox News (and all its propagandic spinoffs and appendages). One way or another, Trump will go away. I mean, he’s in his seventies and he lives off McDonald’s. He will desist. But his henchies will persist as long as they have the likes of Hannity, and Carlson, and Rush to offer them lies that make them feel both virtuous in their hatred and fearful through their ignorance. As long as the right embraces propaganda as their State News Service, as long as people like Trump can cow congresspeople by threatening them with the propagandist’s ire, as long as Fox and friends lie enough about conservative leaders to allow their followers to keep lying to themselves, we will see no defeat of Trumpism. The facts can’t compete with the Fox. And as for reason: Trumpers either reject it as something less godly than blind faith, or they maim it with so many falsehoods that it can point in only the most twisted directions. The Trumpers—the Fox followers—are lost. And I mean that in every sense of the word.

And this leaves us with a much larger problem than someone who won’t survive the next few election cycles. We face something that has come into its own after decades of preparation. Fox has been the most-watched cable news service for the past three years. In 2018, it enjoyed its highest viewership in 22 years. And in that same year, Sean Hannity beat out all other cable-news programs, with an average 3.3 million viewers.

This is what we’re up against. And I think it’s nearly undefeatable. I mean, we can’t outlaw Fox. That flies in the face of the First Amendment. I don’t even think we can pass legislation requiring news services to be truthful. Because even if we did get the votes to do such a thing, we’d just drive Fox underground, where it would play even more to the fantasies of its “Christian” martyrs.

My gut feeling is that Fox will fall only after massive Republican divestment. And most presently, I could see that happening in only two ways. The first is that liberal commentator, Charles Pierce, recently suggested that one reason the Republicans do so much to shelter Trump from the Russia investigation is that it’s very likely that through money laundering via the NRA, a great many Republican politicians actually received Russian money during the 2016 campaigns. If that were true, and if Fox, as a news service, had to break that story to their constituents, the fallout could cause a schism that would be difficult to repair. Fox has occasionally shown streaks of journalistic integrity (say in its opposition to Trump’s ouster of the CNN reporter). If an incontrovertible news story forced their hand, they could betray the GOP just to save their skin.

ON THE OTHER HAND (and this is Way No. 2), my mother made a joke last night about how Trump’s true Russian handler is probably Sean Hannity. We laughed—but then we stopped. I don’t know about Hannity himself. But if I wanted to investigate Russian influence into American politics, the first place I would look would be at how much they have invested in outlets like Fox. I mean, we all know that Trump owes a political debt to Fox. So next we should wonder to whom Fox has a debt of its own. We keep searching social media for Putin’s little, red fingerprints. And I say, go bigger. Have the Russians made inroads with the Murdoch clan? Have they approached Sean Hannity, or Tucker Carlson, or Tomi Lauren, or even Bill O’Reilly? And what about the NRA? If Russia has laundered money through that organization, and if the NRA spends, say, any money advertising on Fox, could we find a trail there? For instance, according to The Hill, the NRA spent more than $54 million on the 2016 election—and this expenditure included political ads. Did any of them show up on Fox News?

I don’t know to what extent Russia has dug its fingers into our little cable-network pies. Maybe—maybe?—they haven’t at all. But the possibility bears investigation. Because one thing is clear: Fox Etc. has worked to destabilize mainline US politics since Roger Ailes established it in 1996. And few people have shown more interest in doing the same thing, except for Vladimir Putin, who first became president of Russia in 2000. If nothing else—if nothing at all—they share both a timeline and at least part of a motive.

An Offer He Can’t Refuse

According to a variety of sources ranging from Rolling Stone, to The Daily Beast, to the 1993 book, The Lost Tycoon, Donald Trump assaulted his first wife, Ivana, in 1989. He’d gone to a doctor she suggested for scalp-reduction surgery; he didn’t like the results; he found her at home; he pulled out clumps of her hair; and then he raped her. Ivana recanted the story a little later, but (according to The Daily Beast) she divorced Trump in 1990, on the grounds of “cruel and inhuman treatment,” where one of the terms of the divorce was that she accept a gag order never to talk about her marriage unless Trump allowed her to do so. What a prince.

But actually, the alleged assault and the divorce are not what this article is about. The Daily Beast is a left-leaning new service—there’s little doubt. MediaBiasFactCheck labels it as such, but it also designates its fact accuracy as High. I mention this, because in 2015, The Daily Beast readdressed the Trump divorce and its alleged/not-alleged rape–and their reporter got this letter from one of Trump’s lawyers:

I will make sure that you and I meet one day while we’re in the courthouse. And I will take you for every penny you still don’t have. And I will come after your Daily Beast and everybody else that you possibly know….. So I’m warning you, tread very fucking lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting. You understand me?… You write a story that has Mr. Trump’s name in it, with the word ‘rape,’ and I’m going to mess your life up… for as long as you’re on this frickin’ planet… you’re going to have judgments against you, so much money, you’ll never know how to get out from underneath it.

That lawyer, of course, was Michael Cohen.

Just this week, Cohen delayed his testimony to the House Oversight Committee “due to ongoing threats against his family from President Trump.” That’s what Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, said to the press. Care to wager what kind of threats these are?

The general consensus is that they’re at least the tweets that Trump has made about Cohen’s father-in-law. Per the Washington Post: “It’s unclear what threats Cohen was referring to, but Trump has tweeted that Cohen agreed to cooperate against him to get ‘his wife and father-in-law (who has the money?) off Scott Free.’ Later, Trump told Fox News Channel host Jeanine Pirro that ‘people want to look at’ Cohen’s ‘father-in law.’ After Trump again tweeted to ‘watch father-in-law!’ Giuliani told CNN that Cohen’s father-in-law ‘may have ties to something called organized crime.’

The Post article goes on to say that Cohen has plenty of motive to put off testimony as long as possible—threats or no. While he could invoke the Fifth Amendment to protect himself in certain cases, says the Post, he couldn’t use it in relation to matters to which he’s already confessed. Nor could he use it to protect accomplices. But Cohen’s reluctance isn’t the thrust of my article, either.

My point is that as Trump denies menacing Cohen, I think he’s telling a boldfaced lie. Shocking, I know. The tweets alone could count as intimidation—although according to some lawyers I’ve read, they would likely not meet the burden to prove witness tampering. I suspect, however, that the tweets are not the only threats. I don’t know this to be true—I don’t know it at all. But although there’s a delicious irony in Cohen facing the kind of legal malice that he once dished out, I’m guessing that his boss is the one who ordered that malice. And I have a hunch—just a hunch—that Trump has ordered someone to dish the same to his erstwhile chump.

How many times do we know of Trump threatening to ruin somebody? Nate Silver’s 538 counted 20 occasions when Trump threatened to sue, *during his run for president alone*. This includes Ted Cruz (three times), media outlets such as the New York Times, and “nearly a dozen” women who (Huh!) say Trump sexually assaulted them. Trump also threatened to sue anyone who released The Apprentice tapes, and he all but vowed to arrest Candidate Clinton. I imagine Cohen had a hand in almost all of this intimidation, but that only underscores the point that menace is certainly his client’s MO.

How very Putin. Maybe we should start calling Trump Silly Puty. Putin, of course, has outright killed critics. In 2017, the Chicago Tribune listed 25 Russian, dissident journalists who “were killed for work-related reasons” since Putin came to power in 2000. Now, I don’t believe that Trump has directly issued any killings. But his own words might suggest what kind of abuse he may leverage at his most damaging critic of the hour, Mr. Michael Cohen.

August 2016: “You know, part of the problem, and part of the reason it takes so long, is nobody wants to hurt each other anymore, right? And they’re [the police] being politically correct the way they take them [rally-crashing, Black Lives Matter protestors] out, so it takes a little bit longer. And honestly, protesters, they realize it. They realize that there are no consequences to protesting anymore. There used to be consequences, there are none anymore” (per Snopes).

October 2015: “In the second grade I actually gave a teacher a black eye — I punched my music teacher because I didn’t think he knew anything about music and I almost got expelled…. I’m not proud of that, but it’s clear evidence that even early on I had a tendency to stand up and make my opinions known in a very forceful way. The difference now is that I use my brain instead of my fists” (per The Art of the Deal, quoted by Business Insider).

November 2018: “They want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back…. I told them to consider it a rifle. When they throw rocks like what they did to the Mexican military and police I say consider it a rifle” (per USA Today).

January 2016: “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters (per a Trump rally in Sioux Center, Iowa).

According to The Lost Tycoon, Ivana spent the night crying in a locked room, after her hair-pulling “non-rape.” When she emerged, she found Trump waiting for her in the bedroom. He gestured to her hair, and “casually” said, “Does it hurt?”

There is no doubt in my mind that Michael Cohen is a snake. But it’s a law of the jungle that snakes get eaten by bigger snakes. Don’t pay so much attention to the tweeting, this week. It’s not the most important noise in the room. Listen for a hiss.

When Hatred Has a Young Man’s Face

Screen Shot 2019-01-20 at 3.40.18 PM.png On Facebook, last week, I said that the photo of Trump grimacing in front of the McDonald’s feast was the emblem of Trump’s presidency. This week, I’d say that this photo is the emblem for his followers. You probably know the story around this image. On Saturday, students from an anti-abortion march surrounded a demonstrator from the American Indian Movement, where they jeered, and chanted “Build that wall!” In this picture, one of our sterling youth wears a MAGA hat, while he taunts Vietnam Veteran, Nathan Phillips.

What new insight can I add to the conversation? Perhaps the best I can offer is the fact that there’s nothing new here at all. That’s why the photo is the very emblem of the Trumper. Long before now, Hatred wore a MAGA hat when it threatened violence at Trump’s rallies: “Knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously, ok? Just knock the hell… I promise you I will pay for the legal fees.” Hatred wore a MAGA hat when it marched in Charlottesville. And Hatred wore a MAGA hat when Parkland shooter, Nikolas Cruz, featured one on his Instagram avatar*.

Back at Trump’s rallies, Hatred has also chanted “build that wall,” at least as often. Hatred chanted it in Iowa City, in a middle-school lunchroom, the day after Trump won the presidency. And as we saw yesterday, Hatred will chant it even when the phrase doesn’t make sense, (such as when some bigot lodges the line against a Native American). As twitter so aptly suggests, the slogan is basically something that Hatred secretes when it wants to single out one of its targets. The phrase is shorthand for the same thing that MAGA itself signifies: Expel everyone except us.

And that leads me to the third non-newness that appears in this picture. Our good “Christian,” in his baseball cap, came to counter the Women’s March, I suppose. I mean, if nothing else, he came to speak for the babies he purports to save. Such a stance isn’t very far from the rationale that the United States adopted in the 1870s, when they forced Native-American babies into boarding schools, as they endeavored to “kill the Indian [and] save the man.” Hundreds of thousands of Native American children matriculated through these schools, which Native-Americans had no right to resist until the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act. The white “Christian’s” disdain for the Native American is very old; we know that. But it takes photos like this to show the non-Native how strong that Hatred still is. Hatred is what moved Dakota Access’s security firms to release dogs on the Standing Rock activists. Hatred is what moved those security forces to shout for the protestors to lay down their (non-existent) bows and arrows. Hatred is what allowed the ND governor to authorize those same forces to shoot water cannons at the protestors in sub-zero temperatures. This Hatred happened under Obama’s administration; the sickness indeed goes back centuries. But Trump has owned assets in Dakota Access, and after he came to power, the suppression of the protest increased to the point where North Dakota now prosecutes 800 cases against Standing Rock activists, while the fed also prosecute 6. When Trump came to power, in fact, James and I stopped our trips to Standing Rock. That’s shameful, perhaps, but the Hatred there had just lost any semblance of a federal backstop.

Standing Rock is the first place I saw the media suppression, the official deception, and the vengeful litigation that the Trump administration would later employ though ICE. It’s the same Hatred we see in Saturday’s picture: This expression of malice—this vile exuberance—is what Hatred looks like when it believes it’s winning.

*According to the Miami Herald, he also placed a MAGA hat in the casket with his liberal mother, when she died in 2017.

EDIT: As the story develops, a video suggests that the altercation was not so one-sided. That might be the case, and it might even bear reflection. But the smugness from the MAGA folks is the outgrowth of everything else I mention in this article.

Sir Pence and Scripture

This is from Mike Pence, regarding the press’s questioning his wife’s enrollment at Virginia’s Immanuel Christian School: “To see major news organizations attacking Christian education is deeply offensive to us.”

Crafty. “Major news” is bad. “Christian education” is good. Shore up all the messaging when your boss’s approval numbers are slipping. “Deeply offensive to us” is a line that Pence ostensibly means in terms of Karen and himself, but it also shouts out to his voters. In fact, I’m wondering if I’d go too if I said that it identifies that base as a group that should be protected as a culture we diversity-minded people should avoid offending: “Hey,” says Pence. “If you really stand for civil rights, protect those groups that seek to strip civil rights from others.” That is, after all, the Trumpites’ definition of religious freedom.

I’m not going to get into the weeds about that. Virginia doesn’t prohibit discrimination against sexual orientation or gender identity—so despite Pence’s bleats about endangerment, the law is very much on the “Christian” patriarchy’s side.

I am tempted to talk about what Christianity is (and isn’t)—especially in light of the fact that the Dept. of Health and Human Services just revealed that thousands more immigration children saw separation from their families than the Trump administration reported. I’m also tempted to talk about what Christian education should be, considering that a real study of the Bible reveals that the so-called anti-gay scriptures pertain to idolatry and breaches of hospitality. I ‘d further like to discuss the fact that, according to the Public Religion Research Institute, over half of all American Christians support gay marriage, while over half of all religious Americans support LGBT protections. And maybe I’d choose to finish by quoting Immanuel Christian School’s actual code of conduct, which reserves the right to terminate employment or enrollment, based on “heterosexual activity outside of marriage (e.g., premarital sex, cohabitation, extramarital sex), homosexual or lesbian sexual activity, polygamy, transgender identity, any other violation of the unique roles of male and female, sexual harassment, use or viewing of pornographic material or websites, and sexual abuse or improprieties toward minors as defined by Scripture and federal or state law.” In other words, I wonder how Mr. Pence feels about the fact that his own boss couldn’t work there.

But the truth is that if I expounded on all that, I’d let Mr. Pence take up too much of my morning. So, instead, I’ll say this. Mr. Pence: On account of your bigotry, misogyny, and hypocrisy, I find it deeply offensive that you call yourself a Christian. On account of your hack scholarship, your hostility to diversity, and your attacks on the press, I find it deeply offensive that you try to speak for education of any kind. And on account of the fact that your wife just happens to take a job at this school while your Russia-linked administration desperately needs the support of its base, I find it deeply offensive that you call yourself a public servant. According to the Hill, the Atlantic, and the Los Angeles Times, you have said that you think God has chosen you to become the president. I hope he has. I hope that, upon Trump’s impeachment, you have that job for a day, or a week, or even a month. And during that time, you will suffer such meticulous scrutiny that you’ll reveal to everyone exactly what your piety is—how many back doors it has, how many dungeons and double sides. And then, God willing, you will embody the very sank in your movement’s sanctimony.

A Mental-Health Expert Says WH Staffers Have Solicited Her Advice About Their Boss

My father is a moderate Republican and a psychologist. During the Trump campaign, he called the man a malignant narcissist. He wasn’t making an official diagnosis; he was in his living room, talking to his family. In the following post, Slate interviews Dr. Bandy Lee, who is also not focused on making a diagnosis, but is very devoted to her duty to warn. The whole article is worth the read, but the crux is that Lee has been contacted by people who work with Trump and who have concerns about him. Lee also believes that Trump’s psychosis is getting worse. Here’s an outtake:

Q. What sorts of things are you talking about, besides lying?
A. The increasing frequency in lying, the increasingly belligerent tweets, his inability to vary his responses to situations. For example, he cannot let a criticism go. He has to fabricate reality to situations that are distressing to him. And the thing about pathology, as opposed to normal reaction, is pathology actually becomes more rigid and more predictable. A healthy individual might be able to vary their response, especially if it’s strategy. They can choose to act differently if something is not working. Whereas pathology tends to become more and more rigid as it worsens. And what we’re seeing is simple repetition now, and worsening, greater frequency of his poor coping mechanisms.

Read the rest here:

Trump’s First Disaster Alert

My guess is that it would go like this:

Hello, this is THE REAL PRESIDENT of the United States, talking on everybody’s own telephone, because I want all of you to listen to the national disasters: The news media—almost the whole news media—is a national disaster. It’s a real disaster for all the real people in this country. My alert system will give you the TRUE information when this and other disasters are getting out of control. Also: We have a national disaster at the border. This disaster’s been around longer than the media, and it’s really a very illegal disaster. It will do all sorts of non-lawful things to all the people who actually stand for what the United States really means—which is not taking any more of anybody else’s disasters, which are very much out to cheat us. We have enough disasters of our own, so be sure to vote. Unless there’s a disaster, which I’ll tell you about. Like a big black out or a brown out. Those are worse disasters than you think. Far worse than Puerto Rico, which, believe me, wasn’t really a disaster at all. I know all this, and now you’ll also know, because thanks to my alert system, you can count on me to bring you the disasters. Go USA.

Notes from the Hell’s Ape

Well, I love that the anonymous NYT op-ed came out. I love how it corroborates Woodward’s account. I love that even people like Pence are having to deny that they wrote it. I love how some of the most effective resistance to Trump comes through the newspapers—the writers—those who wield wordswordswords.

But I wonder what all has happened here. It sounds to me that the op-ed author acted from a few motivations. The first is that he put a savage stop to Trump’s claims that the Woodward’s book is BS. “No, really,” says the author. “That’s what he’s really like.”

The second motivation is that this author was so moved by the recent passing of a certain public servant that the author chose both to evoke and emulate McCain’s stance. Ex. 1: I choose to love government over governors. Ex. 2: I will take up McCain’s renunciation of Trump, even—as with McCain—it imperils my position.

The third motivation is that the author wants to save the Republican party. The funeral for McCain was essentially a public mourning over the passing of political statesmanship, especially as it has presented itself on the right. When Biden paraphrased Hamlet about how we shall never see McCain’s likes again, he was talking about the death of that nobility and its shameful replacement with the Trump era’s reality-show, Russian-fed corruptibility. (Seeing that Biden is speaking Hamlet’s line where Hamlet discusses his assassinated father-king, we can also pick up on a call for political retribution over the political destruction of political statesmanship. But that’s another post.) The op-ed author, maybe feeling a little Hamlet of his own, might be speaking for what’s left of level-headed Republicanism: We’re still here. We’re going to come back. We’re resisting in ways the Left could never dream of.

And that’s fine. That’s good. The op-ed’s proclamation serves the Republicans, sure. But we need sane Republicans. We need them because we need two strong parties. And if the op-ed shows how some corners of Republicanism are still healthy, while also disclosing how the current White House is outright diseased, that’s a win for us all. Because I think ousting Trumpers will take us all. That’s what the op-ed said. That’s what McCain said. That’s what any hope of lasting, post-Trump bipartisanship has been saying all term. We can fight about foreign policy and de-regulation another day. (And lordy, we must.) But in the meantime, we have to address the fact that we have suffered a foreign-aided coup that continues to use divisiveness, lies, and civil-rights suppression to tear down the very core of the country we have so long built and defended. The op-ed’s Republican knows that. And I suspect that as much as they’re telling the nation that the old Republican tribe still exists, they’re also begging Congressional Republicans to come back to it.

These are all the reasons why the op-ed should have appeared in the NYT. But now I have to discuss my worries about what might happen as a result. When WH staff talks about Trump’s reaction to the op-ed, the word they use is “volcanic.” In terms of the op-ed, Trump himself has used one of his favorite words, which is “treason.” What do despots do when they sense treason but can’t find it? They kill everybody. Blooey. Meltdown. Orange lava all over the place. If nothing else, Trump needs to become the punisher, just to save face. I don’t know if Trump will terminate his whole staff*, but I’m guessing he will fire someone. And chances are very good that he’ll seek to replace that someone with a staffer who has less expertise and more willingness to do what they’re told. Being the bully that he is, Trump will also likely make life very difficult for his remaining staffers. He might remove more security clearances, or prevent work-a-day cooperation, or I don’t know. Imagine ways a paranoid ruler can impede his staff. Trumpy’s probably doing the same. What’s also strange is that, through the op-ed, Trump now has incontrovertible evidence that his staff frequently—if not routinely—works against him. Now, you’d think he’d have realized this beforehand. He says to assassinate Assad, for example, and that order never goes through. I suppose that he could be unhinged enough not to keep track of his day-to-day impulses. The staff says, “Don’t listen to him. He’ll move onto something else.” And then he does. That sort of chaos is a horrible possibility. But an alternative one is that Trump has only suspected that his closest people are out to oppose him—that is, until now. “Trumpers!” he’ll say tomorrow. “Look! The enmity I’ve talked about has been here all along.” I mean, what do Trumpers like to say? “You never gave the president a chance.” Well, now everyone can see how, for reasons that might well be heroic, members of his own executive circle did not. At least not for long.

So James and I texted about all this yesterday. For the White House’s coming climate, James used the term “hellscape.” Autocorrect changed that to “hell’s ape,” and we laughed at the new moniker for our tyrant-in-chief. James and I like to consider ourselves a couple of above-average thinkers, but we would both admit that if we can consider this stuff, the op-ed author probably did too. The op-ed author knew there would be fallout. Depending on who the author is, they may have known that every person has a written voice as well as a spoken one. In the face of a little research, their identity might disclose itself as easily as we do when we speak to a friend over the telephone. Still, they published. This writer, who knows Trump’s paranoia better than most anyone, likely realized that they could be taking down the rest of the WH staff with them. Still, they published. For all we know, with some of the staff’s permission, they published. The NYT, almost certainly realized that Trump and his goons would use this op-ed as Exhibit A in their case for strengthening libel laws. And still, they published. So, by the way, did every news outlet that repeated it. Last night, ABC News read the thing almost verbatim, as the top story in its 6:30 time slot.

The so-called leader of the Free World—the one who once tried to throw his high-school roommate out a window—is now “volcanic.” And according to some of Trump’s closest staffers and observers, the consequences of publication are worth it. Mentioning the 25th Amendment is worth it. Evoking McCain is worth it. Last week, commentators called that man’s funeral a “war council.” I see that now. Because yesterday, dearies, brought war’s declaration.

*It’s interesting to note that the only member of the executive branch whom Trump can’t outright fire is the VP. Now we see why Pence was so quick to deny any association with the op-ed.