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 American Dream

This is what I want from my life: I want to publish my thousand-page novel. It’s likely too odd to become a bestseller or to win any awards. But I’d like it to mean something to somebody, and I’d like people in the future to say, “Here was a person who gave all of her art to opposing the fascism of the day.” Then I would like to use this book to get a job occasionally teaching creative writing somewhere. This doesn’t have to be an Ivy-League gig, and I don’t even need tenure. (I wouldn’t like the pressure of that anyway. ) Maybe I could find a little college, where I could have a little office that had a chair that was comfortable enough for a kid to feel safe. And I’d have a shelf of books that I’d loan from, and on top of it would be the squid that my sister knit for me—three feet long and with Nerf-ball eyes. And I’d go to the football and basketball games. And I’d have stragglers over for Thanksgiving. And I’d live in the country, with an old grain bin, or some such, that we converted to a library. And my husband would have a studio, where he could play his drums. And we’d have cats and plants. And we might have a kid, somehow. And maybe this wouldn’t even be a baby goat. And our friends would come out to the farm, and my students would come out to the farm, and our family would spend holidays, sometimes, making dinner in our farm’s butcher-block, root-cellar, walk-in-pantry kitchen. And I’d have a studio in the tip of the granary, on top of all my books. And I’d write there at night. And in the fall, I’d look up, and the harvest moon would be so large that it would startle me.

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.