Category Archives: Illiberalism

Polish Independence Day Neo-Fascist Demonstrations

History fades more with each passing day as all generations — but especially the youngest — let lessons from the past slide as immediate grievances gain salience.  Across the globe, illiberalism has surged in nationalist movements, threatening the existing developed-world regime of democratic values and human rights for all regardless of immutable characteristics.  Democracies have backslid to quasi-authoritarianism; other nations see far-right movements represented in parliamentary bodies and in presidential run-off elections.

In Poland, a country witnessing an erosion of liberal values at the hands of a right-wing populist party that’s curtailed only by mass demonstrations on the streets, the far-right movement has gained favor among neo-fascists angry at refugees and Islam.  Their anger defies Polish history and shows pure and revolting hatred and a fascination — a lust — for the repressive regime that conquered and pillaged the country just 78 years ago.

During celebrations for Poland’s independence day, some 60,000 far-right marchers descended on Warsaw, throwing red-smoke bombs and carrying banners whose venom belonged in a celebration of Nazi Germany’s conquest of the state.

polish independence day
Warsaw, 2017 or Warsaw, 1939?

These proclaimed nationalsiists marched a “white Europe of brotherly nations” and a “Pure Poland,” a “white Poland.”  They demanded that “refugees get out.”  Others carried flags depicting a 1930s extreme-right symbol.

Some also carried banners depicting a falanga, a far-right symbol dating to the 1930s.

The evilest of them hung a banner reading “Pray for Islamic Holocaust.”

These protests faced no official condemnation.  “State broadcaster TVP, which reflects the conservative government’s line, called it a ‘great march of patriots,’ and in its broadcasts described the event as one that drew mostly regular Poles expressing their love of Poland, not extremists.”

The Interior Minister called it a “beautiful sight” and remarked that the government was “proud that so many Poles have decided to take part in a celebration connected to the Independence Day holiday.”

poland independence day

Polish history is one of repression.  It only reemerged as a sovereign state in 1918 after European powers divvied it up to satiate expansionist desires and remained free for only 21 years before Nazi Germany’s invasion started the Second World War.

Nazi Germany initially placed Polish Jews in ghettos, leaving them to suffer from illness and die of starvation, walled off from the rest of civilization with bridges connecting disparate parts of the ghetto.  Warsaw’s ghetto trapped more than 400,000 Jews, with 7.2 people per room.  300,000 Jews in the Ghetto died from bullets or gas; 92,000 others perished from hunger or hunger-related diseases.  Another 250,000 went from the Ghetto to death camps.

Three million Polish Jews — 90 percent of the nation’s Jews — perished during the Holocaust.

This is the history Poland’s far-right marchers glorify.  The symbols they borrow, the words they chant, come from a Reich determined to wholly exterminate an entire religion.  And yet, despite the genocide committed within Poland’s borders, too many in Poland support an Islamic holocaust.

Too many Poles ignore this history and embrace ideas they don’t understand to express their irrational anger at a religion foreign to them, and so therefore scary.  History fades and dies, because of it, people might, too.

roy moore molestation

The GOP is Rotten to the Core

Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, the twice-former Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court (removed on two occasions for refusing to follow the rule of law), and avowed theocrat allegedly molested a 14 year old girl when he was 32 and predatorily pursued relations with a 16, 17, and 18 year old.  These accusations, all tightly sources and well vetted by the Washington Post, should end any politician’s campaign and public career.  Pedophilia has never been accepted by respectable Americans, but for many in the GOP — the same GOP that endorsed and voted for a president 16 women accused of sexual assault and harassment — such actions do not come with consequences.  They come with continued support and a renewed attack at a press that holds power accountable.  Without a doubt, the GOP is rotten to the core.

Following the revelations, a number of high-ranking Republicans denounced Moore and said “if the accusations are true, he must step down.”  This phrase has a hole the size of Texas: Allegations about improprieties made 30 years ago have little chance of being proven true in a court of law and exactly no chance of being “proven true” to any degree of legal satisfaction in the month preceding Alabama’s election.  Republicans use this weaselly phrase to appear against Moore without actually calling for his campaign to end and for him to pay penance for past sins.  As Mitt Romney correctly pointed out, while the burden of proof certainly does not fall on Moore from a legal standpoint, from a political standpoint, do Republicans and voters really want to support a man accused of molesting a minor?

Unfortunately, Romney’s largely alone in these sentiments (others, such as Jeff Flake and Rob Portman have expressed similar sentiments).  Many others found it satisfactory to simple express disgust with the accusations — much the same way that these Republicans offer ceaseless “thoughts and prayers” after gun massacres, but then avoid even the simplest solutions to help the problem.

John Cornyn, Senate majority whip, proved his feckless leadership and detestable values by refusing to withdraw his endorsement of Moore after the Washington Post story.  That a Republican would endorse Moore after his legal improprieties and disdain for the Constitution shows a true lack of judgment and an obvious ambivalence for the rule of law, but avoiding the best opportunity to right a wrong further proves that many in the Republican Party will tolerate any behavior as long as the political actor can help cut taxes for the likes of Donald Trump.  Is the moral and political degradation of a nation worth a tax cut for your donors?

More despicable still have been the responses from local Alabama Republican leaders.  Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale reached out to each county chair and asked for reactions to the story.  Responses shock the conscience and should make any respectable human nauseous.  Here are some of the responses.

It’s strange to defend molestation by pointing out the 14 year old — a young high schooler approached by a 32 year old man — didn’t explicitly not consent to sexual advances.  It’s stranger still to overlook this depraved action simply because he doesn’t want a Democrat (who prosecuted members of the Ku Klux Klan for murdering young black girls) from holding office.

Sexual abuse can be ignored if it keeps the Senate seat in Republican hands.  (And, of course, the story couldn’t possibly be true because the Washington Post wrote it, yet another example of how Trump’s “fake news” rhetoric has consequences more serious than the foolish president can begin to understand.)

He sincerely wanted to have relations with underage women.

When partisanship inures you to sex crimes, you have a problem.

Christian conservatives they are not.

With these defenses of a possible sex crime — of saying they would support and vote for Moore even if it were legally proven that he committed a crime — it’s little wonder Moore defiantly denounced the story and even fundraised off it.

This is today’s GOP.  It’s rotten to the core.  Officials and voters overlook or even condone bigotry and sexual abuse.  They don’t care about the Constitution and have no mind for policy.  They just want to keep Democrats out of office and will support anyone — literally, anyone — capable of doing that.

It’s time for the party to disband.

trump cult

Irrational Trumpkins

Donald Trump’s election depended on bigotry aided reinforcing cycle of ignorance.  As a candidate, Trump race-baited constantly and lied ceaselessly yet with such repetition that those with only a marginal attachment to politics and the facts of a nation came to believe his confidence and opted to forego even the slightest independent analysis or fact-checking that might prevent them from falling prey to a demagogue.  Trump’s ignorance begat an ignorance that spread unchecked to others through the course of normal human interaction and a frank unwillingness to put forth any effort in casting an informed and rational ballot.

These voters often deluded themselves into assumed respectability by claiming, or at least intimating, that if Trump failed to enact his various outlandish promises, they would cease to support him.

But because man — and especially Trump voters — is an irrational creature who logic usually bypasses, these presumed intentions haven’t materialized.  And they won’t.  Bigotry won’t let them.

Trump Voters, Uncensored

Politico reporter Michael Kruse ventured into Trump Country, Pennsylvania to interview some of the president’s original supporters to learn of their thinking a year from Election Day.  His findings should sober us all.

A year ago, Johnstown, PA residents gave Trump a timeline to fulfill his promises.  “Six months to a year,” catering company owner Joey Del Signore told Kruse.  “A couple months,” said another.  “He’s just got to follow through with what he said he was going to do.” All had the same undertone: “or else.”

How things change in a year.  Whereas one resident insisted she wouldn’t vote for Trump again if he broke promises, when asked a year into a so-far failed agenda, she remarked, “Support Trump? Sure,” she said. “I like him.”

Others recognize no change with the Trump presidency.  We “didn’t see any change because we got a new president.” They remain infatuated. “He’s our answer.”

Could anything cost Trump their support?


Embracing Tribalism

To no one’s surprise, reasons for Trump’s support have nothing to do with policy.  Racial grievances — shrouded bigotry and its more obvious cousin — rally much of Trump’s core base to him.  They have no commitment to limited government or conservative (what we once thought of as conservative) philosophy.  Ideology falls to populism’s curse: Vilification of an ever amorphous “other.”

“His supporters [in Johnstown], it turns out, are energized by his bombast and his animus more than any actual accomplishments. For them, it’s evidently not what he’s doing so much as it is the people he’s fighting. Trump is simply and unceasingly angry on their behalf, battling the people who vex them the worst—“obstructionist” Democrats, uncooperative establishment Republicans, the media, Black Lives Matter protesters and NFL players (boy oh boy do they hate kneeling NFL players) whom they see as ungrateful, disrespectful millionaires.

And they love him for this.”

They love him for the fights he picks, not the policies he promotes.  He channels their anger and legitimizes it; no longer must they hide their inner hatred — Trump accepts it and encourages it.  In him, they saw a ringleader, the reverend of resentment.


Like most men carrying Gods message, Trump can do no wrong.

“Everybody I talk to realizes it’s not Trump who’s dragging his feet. Trump’s probably the most diligent, hardest-working president we’ve ever had in our lifetimes. It’s not like he sleeps in till noon and goes golfing every weekend, like the last president did.”

Trump has already gone golfing at least 73 times (his staff tries to hide these outings) with an estimated cost to taxpayers of $77 million.

Deceived, but why?

“Ninety-nine percent of the time I watch Fox.”

De facto state media helps.

Others recognize the grim outlook for coal and surely must be able to read reports such as that issued by BMI Mining, which projects coal to grow year over year, but not because of “an expectation for President Donald Trump to revive the sector and our longer-term view out to 2021 remains decidedly downbeat.”

Still, with irrational exuberance, one Johnstown business owner expects a 30 percent jump next because of Trump’s “pro-business mood.”

Moods don’t grow the economy.

Others simply love the idea of mining jobs magically returning because it absolves them of effort.  “Some of the later-in-life blue-collar workers who are still here can be loath to learn new trades. ‘We’ve heard when working with some of the miners that they are reluctant because they’re very accustomed to the mining industry,’ said Linda Thomson, the president of JARI, a nonprofit economic development agency in Johnstown that provides precisely the kind of retraining, supported by a combination of private, state and federal funding, that could prepare somebody for a job in Polacek’s plant. ‘They really do want to go back into the mines. So we’ve seen resistance to some retraining.’”

These core Trump voters don’t mind his childlike tweets that proudly display his authoritarianism.  They appreciate how he’s handling North Korea, even though Trump’s irrationality increases the chances of a nuclear conflict.

Policy Failures Mean Nothing

And as further proof of their ambivalence towards policy, none care that the Trump agenda has fallen on its face because many don’t know Trump has utterly failed to get legislation passed.

“He’s kept his promises.”  Which ones?

“Border security.”  There’s no wall.  “No fault of his.”

“Getting rid of Obamacare.”  It still exists.  “Well, he’s tried to.”

“Defunding Planned Parenthood.”  Nope.  “Not his fault again.”

Should Trump be blamed for, eg, his failure to repeal the ACA on day 1, as he promised?

“I’m not going to blame him.  Absolutely not.”

A great businessman, an accolade these supporters wrongly apply to Trump, accepts responsibility for failures and owns shortcomings.  Trump doesn’t and voters don’t hold their fashioned “chief executive” of the country responsible for anything.


Trump has succeeded in his culture war.  From defending the Confederate statues that glorify traitors who fought for slavery to defending an authoritarian conception of patriotism, Trump has played racial prejudices perfectly.

Black athletes protesting police brutality during the national anthem really irks Trump supporters.

“As far as I’m concerned,” one said, “if I was the boss of these teams, I would tell ’em, ‘You get your asses out there and you play, or you’re not here anymore.’ They’re paying their salaries, for God’s sake.”

“Shame on them,”another told Kruse. “These clowns are out there, making millions of dollars a year, and they’re using some stupid excuse that they want equality—so I’ll kneel against the flag and the national anthem?”

The Declaration of Independence told us that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”  To Trump supporters, this lines ring true unless you’re a black athlete.

In case you had any doubts opposition to such protests stemmed from racial animus, let Trump supporters dispel it.

“Well…I hate to say what the majority of them are….”  Others happily finished that sentence.

“The thing that irritates me to no end is this NFL shit.  I’m about ready to go over the top with this shit.”

The NFL is “niggers for life.”

“For life,” his wife added.

So the cult speaks and in their uncensored words we hear the true call of Trumpism and its not ideology, commitment to American ideals, or patriotism.

It’s bigotry.

trump att time warner merger

Vengeance from the Oval Office

The vast — too vast — powers of the executive branch provide unscrupulous actors with the ability to punish dissidents through a variety of contrived regulatory methods.  President Donald J. Trump, in whom opposition always recognized a decidedly authoritarian bent, has just the vindictive streak that makes an overbearing executive so dangerous: As Politico reported, Trump’s Department of Justice threatened to black the proposed AT&T and Time Warner merger unless they offload CNN.

Trump’s war on the free press knows few bounds.  He’s wrongly labelled critical reports as “fake news,” a concept he completely fails to grasp but in whose rhetorical repetition he’s found great success (foreign leaders now use the same technique to mask crimes against humanity), and constantly undermines a democratic institution needed to provide an informed electorate.  Now that fight bleeds over from words into economic livelihood.

“The only reason you would divest CNN would be to kowtow to the president because he doesn’t like the coverage,” Politico‘s source said. “It would send a chilling message to every news organization in the country.”

The New York Times reported in July that the White House had discussed using the pending merge as “a potential point of leverage over their adversary” — ie, CNN.  An American administration views CNN and the press as its adversary and wants to hold up a merge of its parent company to exact concessions from the outlet.  How would we respond to this in another country?

While there are economic reasons to oppose the merger — some fear concentration of power as a result — this thinking does not emerge in reported administration hesitation and dissatisfaction.  In fact, the new DoJ antitrust chief stated, prior to his nomination by Trump, that he didn’t see the merger as a “major antitrust problem.”  Now that he’s beholden to Trump, his views have changed.

Those connected to the Trump world, though outside of government, have suggested using the deal remake CNN.  As Politico noted, “Trump’s longtime associate Roger Stone suggested in a tweet last month that a ‘house cleaning’ of CNN personalities like Don Lemon, Jake Tapper and Ana Navarro will take place once AT&T completes its acquisition of Time Warner.”

This is a political incursion into the free market that shows Trump’s willingness to use coercive state powers to punish administration critics.  That, of course, is authoritarianism.  Regulatory powers should never be wielded as a weapon to bully into submission any individual or outlet that has a platform with which to criticize the president.  De facto censorship and plain bullying has no place in democratic America.


Poisonous Politics

Populist insurgencies in both major parties threaten democratic norms through the vilification of certain population subsets.  For the Republicans, the party best unifies over racial grievances and fears — candidates, most notably Donald Trump and even one-time establishment favorites such as Ed Gillespie, prey on fears of America’s changing color and tie minorities and immigrants to crime and economic anxiety.  Democrats have long toyed with coalitions against the wealthy, though overt vilification of the rich has been avoided.  Now, however, socialist tendencies lead today’s left to blame all problem’s on the wealthy and propose radical policies against a small population subset, similar in vehemence to Republican efforts against minorities.

Republican Vilification of Minorities

Republican vilification of minorities began in earnest with Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy,” which succeeded in breaking the Democratic stronghold in the Sold South after the party pushed and passed civil rights legislation.  Nixon’s overtly racial campaign helped realign the South and welcomed to the GOP society’s most racist and hate-filled individuals, such as Strom Thurmond and the ardent supporters of Theodore Bilbo.

Racial grievance then largely flew under the radar, but always emerged when Republicans worried about electoral success or needed to rally its base for any given purpose.  Welfare queens, the ever-looming menace of gang violence, campaigns centered around toughness on crime always had a racial undertone.  George H. W. Bush’s infamous Willie Horton ad clearly shows the willingness of otherwise respectable politicians to race-bait for electoral purpose.

From Blacks to Immigrants

Recently, Republican race-baiting has shifted from African Americans to other minorities, especially immigrants and Muslims.  The themes remain largely the same, but with the addition of “economic anxiety.”  Economic anxiety stems from the loss of American manufacturing due in part to trade, but mostly from the computer and the upheaval of the economy as a result (transitioning from a manufacturing economy to a service one).  For many, though, economic anxiety simply makes more legitimate underlying dislike for immigrants.  Candidates and believers tie economic anxiety to immigrants — legal and illegal — by claiming those entering the country take jobs from “hardworking Americans,” despite this being an economic falsehood.

Latino gang violence also prevails in race-baiting campaigns as do tough on crime proposals related to terrorism — meaning Muslims.  It’s little surprise that Republicans don’t center their law and order rhetoric around white men who commit massacres but rather the rare instance of violent illegal immigrant crime or the deplorable acts of terrorism by a deranged individual.  They tap into racial grievances and fears by explaining society’s continued change — a change many Republican voters dislike immensely — on those not native to country; on those of different races and religions that don’t necessarily align with the white, evangelical vision for America too many in the Republican base hold.  It also panders to these voters by telling a relaxing lie: Your problems are not your fault — they’re caused by outsiders with different skin tones and beliefs.  You are not to blame.

With Donald Trump’s election, this insidious yet usually underlying force in Republican politics came to the forefront and now, feeling empowered, racial grievances unify the Republican Party more than does ideological commitment to a limited government.  The stoked and cultivated fear that Republicans likely assumed they could control now defines the party.  Hence true Republican ideologues now must court Republican voters through overtly racial messages, such as attacking sanctuary cities based on false premises, accusing professional athletes who kneel in protest of police brutality of disrespecting the flag and country,  and vowing to preserve public monuments that idolize those who waged war against the Union simply to protect a system of human bondage.  Racial grievances no longer exist in the Republican background as a force that can be exploited but only with shame.  It now dominates the party.

Democrats and Vilification of the Rich

Democrats are moving in a similar populist direction.  Socialist tendencies within the party, led by self-proclaimed democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, leads to vilification of the rich, another small group that a mob-like majority can easily come to view as the enemy.  In fact, it’s the vilification of the rich and the possibilities for “democratic excesses” to threaten their property rights that led the Founding Fathers to call a constitutional convention to strengthen the federal government.  State legislatures, increasingly occupied by men the Founders considered rabble, pitted the poor against the wealthy and provided equal rights only to some.

While the Democrats have long toyed with class-based issues and often campaign on raising taxes on the wealthy to fund greater social programs, rhetoric has never slipped into obvious vilification of the highest socioeconomic class and hatred has never even simmered.  This lack of development comes largely from weak class connections in America.  Rarely have those with similar economic interests from disparate parts of the country united behind an economic or ideological platform that would pit their interests against those of the wealthy.  That’s because race has often divided or defined coalitions.  Poor blacks and poor whites don’t unite largely because poor whites from certain areas of the country have a predisposition to bigotry and support racial rhetoric more than class rhetoric.

The Democratic Party has now largely lost those not committed to full racial equality and so its internal coalitions and power structures no longer have to contend with the interests of bigots.  Near unanimity in the race issue has allowed class-based grievances  to surge into prominence with clear divisions between the party’s moderate and liberals who don’t favor class warfare and the leftists who seem eager to bring redistributive issues and anger to the party’s forefront.

Leftists want to vilify and blame the rich for stagnating wages and resultant economic inequality.  They view the wealthy as having an outsized influence on government, so outsized, in fact, that many claim America has devolved into oligarchy.  Large corporations control institutions and conspire to keep everyday Americans down.  Sinister forces of an economic elite cause all of our problems, from war to climate change and poverty.  The growing contempt and anger for the wealthy has led to a socialist resurgence that applies the same rhetoric as do Republicans that blame minorities for society’s woes.

Populism’s Poison

Populism within both parties threatens political discourse and the norms of our society by blaming minority groups for all issues facing the country.  These movements inspire hatred, fear, and disgust for forces they believe work to undermine America’s greatness and degrade our country into a Third World society or an evil oligarchy.

Democracy and politics don’t work when groups blame minorities for all problems.  Tribalized majorities unified by hate rather than ideological belief does not lead to enlightened policy.  It doesn’t lead to rational politicians leading the country dispassionately.  It leads to demagogues who manipulate these fears to gain personal power (and often wealth) while eroding democratic norms and backsliding our democracy through authoritarian calls tolerated because these calls target a vilified group.

Both parties must expel from their ranks such populist anger and instead work towards unified moderation that addresses the real issues in our society without condescending to tempers and passions.

trump authoritarian

Trump Calls for the DoJ and FBI to Investigate Hillary Clinton

Following Donna Brazile’s wildly revisionist and entirely wrong allegation that the Hillary Clinton campaign took over the Democratic National Committee and somehow wielded its power over an impotent organization to rig an election whose rules date back to 2010, Donald Trump unsurprisingly took to Twitter to attack these falsehoods (and to spread some of his own).  But his tweets took a dark turn when he called for the Department of Justice and the FBI to investigate Clinton for alleged dishonesty — though no dishonesty occurred and, of course, dishonesty isn’t a crime.  These calls are explicitly authoritarian and that we’ve become inured to Trump’s rhetoric shows just how far our democracy has backslid since Trump first declared his presidential candidacy.

The Clinton campaign signed a well-documented and widely publicized joint fundraising agreement with the DNC wherein the campaign agreed to keep the financially insolvent organization afloat.  Bernie Sanders’ campaign signed a similar agreement just three months later.  Trump himself had a join fundraising venture with the Republican National Committee and the same money laundering and campaign finance laws (words that should not be capitalized) of which he wrongly accuses Clinton could, in his apparently ideal society, be said of him.

Misunderstanding of the law aside — Trump’s an ignorant fool who dumbs down society through his reckless tweets and routine spreading of false information while calling all information remotely critical of him “fake,” which has consequences of which he cannot begin to fathom — he’s explicitly calling for a federal investigation into a political opponent (a defeated one, nonetheless) and tacitly hopes law enforcement jails a leading administration dissident.

This isn’t how democracy works.  The FBI announced Clinton did not act illegally with regards to her emails; Uranium One is one of the most laughably dumb scandals ever proposed by a party infatuated with Hillary Clinton; “Podesta” means nothing and is just a name, not an issue; the server circles back to the aforementioned innocent emails; and there is no “plus, plus….”

Trump wants his political appointees and hires to target opposition leaders over non-scandals — and, even if ever so slightly scandalous, not remotely close to illegal behavior.  Imagine conservative reaction had President Barack Obama urged Loretta Lynch to investigate Mitt Romney for any contrived bullshit.

Imagine if Obama urged Lynch to investigate Trump’s tax returns!  Conservative outrage would rightly dominate weeks of political coverage because this is not normal.  But now right-wing media, acting as a state propaganda outlet, simply echoes these calls and promotes inane conspiracies about the opposition during widely-watched prime-time TV shows.

Republican officials reuse to comment on Trump’s tweets despite their direct attack on democratic norms — ie, the norm that the in-power party won’t use its position to harass and investigate the opposition when no cause to do so exist.  Their silence, defeaning, as silence so often is, lets Trump continue his authoritarian rhetoric that millions of wide-eyed supporters accept, internalize, and spread to their social network.

Voters take cues from elite actors.  When these elite actors simply let slide authoritarian rhetoric and arguments, voters come to accept it.  Americans have a weak connection to liberal democracy, partly because it’s messy and slow.  A demagogue such as Trump can easily prey on existing authoritarian undertones to undermine faith in democracy and the democratic norms that underpin our society.  He’s had great success at doing this with the press.

Imagine seeing this in another country.  How would we — how would you — react if a far-right party in Germany gained power and then called for federal investigations into Angela Merkel or other centrist parties?  I have to imagine it would chill you at least a little bit.  Trump’s actions should do the same.  We have a long history of liberal democracy and institutions designed well to withstand someone like Trump.  But as the Founders understood, democratic faith and continuance comes from the people.  When they stop believing in those norms, liberal democracy will slowly wither.

That we have muted outrage to Trump’s continued authoritarian tweets shows just how far our democracy has backslid since his emergence on the national stage.  We simply shrug off authoritarian calls as the angry ramblings of an overwhelmed old man.  To protect our democracy, we mustn’t do that.  We must demand that elected officials condemn Trump’s remarks and urge more to make speeches similar to Jeff Flake’s in which he condemned Trumpism and stood for the values that truly matter to a free and democratic society.

To learn more about authoritarianism, see Timothy Snyder’s “On Tyranny.”

on tyranny timothy snyder
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trump tweet

Donald, Your Desperation’s Showing

Long ago, we had president’s who delivered fireside chats to calm an anxious electorate, labored over short speeches to memorialize lost soldiers and whose contents would be remembered for generations, and carefully watched their every step knowing that their actions would serve as precedent for generations to come.  Now, we have a president whose early morning tweet storms reveal a deeply insecure, illiberal demagogue trying his hardest to salvage a failed administration through lies meant to rally a base willing to overlook bigotry, sexual predation, and ignorance.

And recently, these tweets — to which we can set our alarms — have sounded increasingly desperate.  It seems the looming threat of Robert Mueller indicting his campaign staff and other aides coupled with a 35% approval rating and an inability to enact any of his promised agenda leaves Mr. Trump riddled with anxiety that he tries to clear through boisterous tweets.  Maybe he needs to spend more time golfing.

Trump’s 10/29 morning tweets might have shown a new low, which says a lot given he used Twitter to falsely accuse President Barack Obama of wiretapping his phone.  A Department of Justice investigation found the obvious: Trump lied.  Again.  Yet despite that libel, Trump’s tweets on 10/29 show a new low because of their desperation and further descent into illiberal rhetoric.

Here Trump touts the unity of the Republican Party even though earlier in the week, Republican Senator Jeff Flake took to the Senate floor to decry Trumpism and the rotten nativist populism it inspires among the electorate.  Another GOP senator, Bob Corker, said the White House amounted to an “adult daycare center.”  John McCain, in a notable speech, decried the “spurious nationalism” that now plagues the race-baiting Republican Party.

With regards to the Steele dossier, it seems strange to deride as “Fake” a document that encouraged an FBI investigation and whose central point — Trump’s liability to Russian influence — certainly seems truer by the day (why did Trump retain Michael Flynn after pointed warnings about Flynn’s susceptibility to Russian blackmail?).

Furthermore, why should there be any investigation into the Clinton campaign funding routine opposition research?  Unlike Donald Trump Jr holding a meeting with Russian agents after being promised dirt on his father’s political opponent (a meeting attended by then campaign manager Paul Manafort and digital strategist Jared Kushner), hiring a firm to conduct research is not collusion and certainly not a crime.

The Uranium One deal, to which right-wing propagandists have latched as an effort to vilify a now private citizen — the only way to boost Trump’s image — is perhaps the most ridiculous “scandal” ever presented by Clinton haters.  No facts support their claims, but falsely alleging corruption shits focus away from Trump’s improprieties.

Trump’s accusation of a “Comey fix” makes no sense, unless Trump doesn’t understand the law and ignored Comey’s press conference wherein he correctly stated that “no reasonable prosecutor” would recommend charges be brought against her.  It also seems strange to allege some “fix” when James Comey’s letter to one of the most unscrupulous member of Congress tilted the election to Trump.

Donald J. Trump led the racist birther crusade that wrongly claimed Obama was born in Kenya, not America (because all blacks are born in Africa, specifically Kenya, right?).  This endeavor lasted years and only months before Election Day did Trump disavow his crusade that caused millions to doubt Obama’s legitimacy and which mobilized, for the first time in generations, the angry nationalists who later became Trump’s core base.

He also accused Ted Cruz of having multiple affairs and claimed Cruz’s father participated in the John F. Kennedy assassination.  He’s claimed that vaccines cause autism (they don’t) and called climate change a “Chinese hoax” (it’s not).

Looking into collusion with a foreign enemy to win an election is not a “Witch Hunt.”  It shouldn’t even be a partisan issue.

There are no facts pouring out.  Trump lies about alleged Democrat and Clinton guilt because he needs a foil.  Importantly, though, he’s casting the political opposition — dissidents — as guilty of corruption and as an illegitimate political force.  How would conservatives react if Obama unilaterally condemned the GOP as guilty and urged Democrats in Congress to investigate the opposition party?

How would we react if a far-right party somehow assumed leadership in Germany and then called for the Bundestag to investigate the Christian Democrat Union or other centrist parties?  Questioning the legitimacy of political opposition is a purely authoritarian move.

Trump’s desperation leads to illiberal calls on Twitter for an authoritarian investigation into political opposition.  No dedicated democrat — small “d,” meaning those who support free and fair elections and political competition — should tolerate Trump’s rhetoric.  Scared as he may be, he’s normalizing creeping authoritarianism and, as in most democratic backslides, too few stand in his way.

trump fake news

Trump’s Cries of “Fake News” Have Serious Consequences

Donald Trump loves to deride all news unfavorable to him as “fake“.  It’s his go to insult whenever confronted by the media.  To no great surprise, outlets that ingratiate themselves to Trump — Fox News and its many anchors, One America News Network, and Breitbart — escape such labels despite peddling conspiracy theories and giving white supremacists a platform to wallow in hate.  Trump’s derision comes baselessly, but has real effects: Almost half of all Americans think the media makes up stories about Trump, meaning that our nation begins to operate with different facts as it loses faith in democratic institutions.  An alternative reality emerges for those who choose to accept universal administration claims of “fake news.”  Foreign leaders are taking note of this phenomena.

Seeing how Trump’s simple dismissals of criticism and negative coverage can goad millions into thinking the same, foreign leaders responsible for atrocious crimes and conditions follow a similar authoritarian playbook, falsely stating that media lies in its stories of horrors.

Rodrigo Duterte

Since 1988, Rodrigo Duterte, now president of the Philippines, has encouraged and endorsed the extrajudicial murders of suspected drug dealers and alleged addicts as part of his literal war on drugs.  It began with the Davao Death Squad, which emerged when Duterte was mayor of the city, and accelerated upon his election as president.  Some 7,000 have been killed since June of 2016, all without trial or anything other than whatever evidence the police decide warrants killing (often times, the police fabricate evidence).  Duterte himself has bragged about murdering suspects, including throwing one from a helicopter.

These well-documented illegal killings — crimes against humanity — shock the world and our sense of justice, but many in the Philippines continue to support Duterte (so, apparently, does Donald Trump, who praised Duterte’s handling of the drug problem).  Filippinos may support Duterte’s lethal efforts because they simply don’t believe the depths of its violence.

“I have been demonized. And well, of course, I will assure you upon my oath as a lawyer and before God that some are true, some are not. And the extrajudicial tag that has been placed on me is simply not true,” Duterte said during a gathering of ASEAN Law Association Governing Council in Malacañang.  In other words, Duterte’s claiming to be a victim of “fake news” (Duterte’s campaign spent around $250,000 to trolls who flooded the internet with actual fake news that supported the candidate.  Another organization, the Duterte Diehard Supporters — DDS, borrowing the acronym from the Davos Death Squadroutinely posts fake news and in return has its regulars promoted to government positions).

Duterte, like Trump, latches onto the idea that media is fake — or, at least, that he can make people believe the press is fake.  This give shim cover for his illegal and atrocious actions by undermining the sources of independent information, the information that doesn’t align with administration talking points or desires.

Aung San Suu Kyi

In Myanmar, more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to neighboring Bangladesh after Rohingya insurgents attacked police posts in late August, prompting a massive military crackdown.  This crackdown has resulted in the slaughter of babies, the cutting off boys’ heads, the gang-rape of girls, and arson achieved by throwing grenades into houses.  Soliders have summarily executed unarmed male villagers.

Between 1,000 and 5,000 have been killed — we don’t know the exact numbers because Myanmar won’t let the United Nations into the affected areas — in what the UN calls “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.  Bodies wash up in the tide in coastal Bangladesh.  The military has razed 288 villages and organized massacres in what human rights organizations call a systematic effort to erase Rohingyan communities.  It’s the largest human dispersion since the Rwandan genocide.

Myanmar’s de fact leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, somehow a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, told Turkish President Recep Erdogan, himself an aspiring autocrat, that “fake news [helps] terrorists” in the Rohingyan communities.  She further said that the crisis in Rakhine state is being distorted by a “huge iceberg of misinformation”.  And this defense is working.  Millions of Buddhists in the country stand by Aung San Suu Kyi and simply deny reports on the crisis as “a lot of fake news.”  The government’s defense of a crisis under control but made worse by fake news, rumor, and innuendo spread by the media has resonated with a population predisposed to disliking the Rohingyan Muslims.  In other words, claiming “fake news” plays into religious/racial bias and helps citizens ignore ethnic cleansing in country’s northern region.

The Trump Effect

As Samantha Power, author of a powerful book about the Rwandan genocide, states, this is “the Trump effect in action.”  Foreign leaders see the benefit of crying “fake news” at everything critical; they realize loyal partisans and supporters will believe them, especially when the victimized group is already detested.  But they take the fake news defense a step further by using it to excuse inaction in crimes against humanity or ethnic cleansing.

That’s the real danger of the leader of the free world leading the fake news defense charge: It can be appropriated by borderline evil leaders trying to coverup atrocities while retaining popularity.

Undermining the press has serious consequences.  Donald Trump needs to learn that.  He’s an example to the world, unfortunately, and others learn from what he does and apply it to suit their needs.  Be wary, Donald.

A Race-Baiter’s Party Now

Former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie barely defeated Prince William County Supervisor Corey Stewart to win the GOP nomination for Virginia’s gubernatorial election.  No one expected the race to be close: Gillespie, a former adviser to President George W. Bush and candidate Mitt Romney, led all polls by at least 15 points and Stewart never impressed with his transplant knowledge of the state.

No one expected Corey Stewart to earn 42.5% of the primary vote because no one understood the true depths of irrational nativist anger that now defines a substantial faction — perhaps the most important faction — within the Republican Party.  The GOP is no longer the party of conservatism.  It’s the party of race-baiters.

Stewart ran a despicable campaign centered around issues of proclaimed heritage, by which he meant protecting the glorification of those who waged war against the Union in an effort to continue an engrained system of crimes against humanity.  In other words, Stewart’s campaign drew on support for traitors.

His rallies became cesspools of Confederate-loving individuals wrapping their obvious bigotry in the high-handed guise of “preserving history” — the history of the Confederate flag, which so many displayed as they cheered a vicious know-nothing.  Speeches descended to diatribes against proclaimed “political correctness,” a catch-all phrase used to decry those who think that states and localities maybe shouldn’t proudly display emblems of secession.


We shouldn’t really be surprised by Stewart’s campaign antics.  After hearing the Access Hollywood tape in which Trump bragged about sexually harassing and assaulting women — a tape which preceded two dozen accusations of such behavior, which Trump dismissed because some of the women were “too ugly” to harass — Stewart organized a rally outside of the RNC headquarters to protest the organizations lack of support for their predator candidate.

Even the Trump campaign, the same campaign that lead calls to lock up a political opponent (a highlight in banana republic campaigns) and which ran against the Constitution and the soul of our nation, tired of Stewart’s antics and fired him from his unpaid position.

But Trump’s ultimate victory — a victory made possible by voters overlooking bigotry, predation, and disturbing ignorance — emboldened Republican primary voters to free themselves of the Enlightenment’ shackles; hatred empowered, they no longer saw a need to keep up their facade of constitutionalism.  So 42% of them voted for Stewart and far-right populism.  Only the DC explants residing on Northern Virginia (briefly) saved the state from Stewart’s bombastic nativism (but he’ll be back, running for Senate against Tim Kaine in 2018).

With Stewart defeated by the slightest margin, Gillespie had two choices: Continue a campaign of decency wherein he would combat the most insidious factions of the Republican Party and try to shed conservatism of its fetish for demagogues or continue the campaign Stewart won.  To his shame and that of the GOP writ large, Gillespie chose the latter.

Gillespie decided to further kowtow to race-baiters because today’s GOP is so rotten that any ambitious politician now has to adopt racially biased principles to escape a primary and consolidate support for a general election.  That’s why actual conservatives such as Jeff Flake opt not to run for reelection.  Values would have to be surrendered to the scourge of far-right populists yearning for a nationalism that legitimizes naked hatred of Mexicans and Muslims.

The Republican’s campaign has devolved into running clear race-baiting ads that feature heavily tattooed Latinos and the threats of menacing gangs, such as MS-13.  “MS-13’s motto is Kill. Rape. Control,” screams one. “Ralph Northam’s policy? Northam cast the deciding vote in favor of sanctuary cities that let illegal immigrants who commit crimes back on the street, increasing the threat of MS-13.”


Sanctuary cities play a central part in Gillespie’s rallies.  “Do we need to have sanctuary cities here in Virginia?” Gillespie asks rally-goers. “No!” they yell in response, not understanding that sanctuary cities don’t help criminals, do not led to increases in crime, but do help victims of domestic abuse and violence contact police without fear of deportation.

But there aren’t any sanctuary cities in Virginia.

What end, then, could these ads that link Democrat Ralph Northam with muscular, tattooed, Latino gang members serve?  Race-baiting.  Nothing else.

This is the Republican Party now.  Candidates have to invoke racial fears, prejudices, and grievances to rally Lost Cause troops behind their campaign.  The state that witnessed a Nazi drive through a crowd of protesters, killing one, now sees a gubernatorial candidate embrace the exact same principles — saving statues.

Between Gillespie and Roy Moore, racist extraordinaire, we’re seeing how the GOP and its base will act in the years to come.

Emboldened by Trump, they doubled-down on nativism, hatred, and ignorance.

losing faith in the free press

Losing Faith in the Free Press

A long history of political science literature teaches us that Americans tend to take cues from elites — that is, as a natural byproduct of being unable to thoroughly analyze each issue they face, they accept the conclusions of those they respect.  Perhaps no where is this more true than in politics, a complicated subject made ever more difficult by the nuances of legislation.

Unfortunately, Americans also base their belief in political norms on the thoughts of such elites.  Political norms — those that adhere our society to liberal democratic values — must be taught and passed from generation to generation.  They should not be eroded on the basis of one rather rogue leader.  But that idealized notion does not exist.  Instead, when charlatans such as Donald J. Trump routinely attack our norms and institutions, Americans follow suit.

Losing Faith in the Free Press

Faith in the free press has suffered under Trump’s baseless and incorrect bashing of the so-called “fake news,” a concept he clearly does not understand.  A recent POLITICO/Morning Consult poll found that a full 46 percent of all voters think the media makes up stories about Trump and his administration.  This includes some 76 percent of Republicans (only 11 percent of Republicans don’t think the media makes up stories) and 44 percent of proclaimed independents.

The media, of course, does not make up stories about Trump and his administration.  All stories from reputable news sources go through a thorough vetting process and multiple rounds of verification, especially if sources refuse to go on the record.  Of course, Trump himself cannot actually point to a story he finds fake.  Neither can his supporters.

Just 37 percent of voters believe that the media does not fabricate stories.  Fewer than four in ten Americans trust our press enough to believe in the veracity of all they publish.  And yet they have no reason to believe the opposite, except that Donald Trump — and, shamefully, other elites within the Republican Party — have latched onto this false idea that any report that criticizes or disparages the president in any way must be fake news, and called such for millions of gullible voters to believe.


It doesn’t stop there.  Nearly three in ten Americans — 28 percent — think the government should have the power to revoke broadcast licenses of major news organizations the government says make up stories.  Put another way, 28 percent of all voters think the government should define what constitutes “fake news” and then act to ban its creators from broadcasting.

Remember that the First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom…of the press.”

Blinded by Partisanship


Unsurprisingly, it’s primarily Republicans who support these proposals because it’s a Republican (or somehow who calls himself a Republican when he’s really a self-serving demagogue running on the Trump First platform) making the outrageous and blatantly anti-First Amendment claims.

We need to step back and realize that we’re letting an illiberal actor transform our beliefs in needed democratic institutions.  The free press keeps us informed.  It holds power accountable by helping voters understand the issues facing the country, the ongoings of Congress and the executive, and providing a transparent government where we can analyze for ourselves the actions of elected leaders rather than relying on government-controlled messaging.

A free society needs a vibrant press.  It’s the press that uncovers abuses of powers — without a dedicated press, Watergate would have gone unpunished.  Sexual abuse and harassment stories would never come to light.  Administration officials would still be spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to fly from DC to New York on chartered planes.  We wouldn’t know what’s happening because power tends to corrupt and that corruption is defended through lies.

Imagine a society in which Donald Trump’s 1,000+ lies went unchecked and unchallenged, that an unknowing populace — ignorant for the lack of government critique — simply believed all he said because they had no basis on which to form doubt.

Democracies need the press because democracies need informed voters.  That’s precisely what Trump’s attacking through his rhetorical attacks on the press, eroding support among the media and causing many — especially his supporters — to doubt everything said by certain outlets.  That’s not how a free, democratic society lasts.  We must cherish the free press regardless of what our political leaders say.

As Thomas Jefferson said, “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.”