Flynn Gets Voted Off the Island

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1) The infighting, back-stabbing, and chaos in the West Wing are a feature, not a bug of Trump’s presidency. Reality shows turn on the Machiavellian wiles of their grotesque characters.

2) The weekly circus at Mar-a-Lago is to Trump’s incumbency what the heartland rallies were to his campaign. Now that he has won the White House, he can stay in his comfort zone, basking in the gaze of the rich suppliants who pay to play.

3) Trump’s right-wing agenda is a McGuffin; the prize that keeps his show’s plot boiling. It could change at any moment and almost certainly will, as its ratings ebb and flow.

4) The Trump Show’s eponymous star is so narcissistic and delusional that he’s forgotten that he works for its producers and sponsors, who actually care about that agenda, and not just for himself.

4) They may have already mounted a coup.

Yes, It’s This Bad: A Note in a Bottle to the Future

1) Trump and his family are the Kardashians, which is to say, unfathomably narcissistic and shamelessly mercenary–they court the gaze of the public so they can sell them stuff. Now that Trump Inc.’s leveraged buyout of America is complete, everything is up for grabs. And they are grabbing. Melania’s plan to market First Lady merchandise, like Ivanka’s dresses that Nordstrom doesn’t want to sell, are just the tip of the iceberg.

2) Trump is devolving. Just look at his tweets as if one of your relatives or friends had written them–the hallucinatory paranoia, the narcissistic self-regard, but most of all the impoverished language. I’m no Ben Carson, but it looks to me like there’s something wrong with his brain. Look at his photographs–he is bloated and pale beneath the spray tan. There are big bags under his eyes. He’s not sleeping and he’s eating way too much.

3) As deplorable and sad a spectacle as Trump may be, a big chunk of corporate America and the mainstream Republican politicians who are its servants see him as their last, best hope to abolish what’s left of the New Deal. They’ve joined forces with a whole congery of fringe characters and movements that under normal circumstances would be at odds with each other, but who see Trump as their champion–far right wing Zionists and hard-core neo-Nazis; old-line white nationalists and off-the-grid libertarians; Gates of Vienna war of civilization types, Know Nothing isolationists, men’s rightists, and Evangelical Christians–many of them the human detritus of the globalized, wired, knowledge economy, the under-educated, under-employed white blue collar people–Sarah Palin’s “real Americans”–who live outside the big urban areas. It’s a volatile, highly-unstable coalition and it is driven by grievance, superstition, and cynical opportunism. All of its members still add up to a numerical minority of the country, but for now, they are politically indomitable. And, oh yeah, there’s Russia too.

4) There’s no consistent underlying philosophy behind Trumpism–everything that comes out of his mouth or his smartphone is ad hoc. He will sell out anyone.

5) It’s not what Trump believes that we need to worry about–it’s what he’s going to do. And institutionally speaking, there’s no one that can stop him from doing whatever he (or his competing constituencies) like. The courts can try for now, but he will appoint hundreds of compliant judges to the lower courts and will control a majority of the Supreme Court in a matter of months. Congressional Democrats can throw sand in the gears of his agenda, but the Republican majority is in absolute lockstep with him. We can hope that the military and the police will defy his orders when he decides to go to war at home or abroad, but we’d be foolish to count on it. We can and should mobilize to elect more Democrats, but the Republican strongholds are gerrymandered and they will be working to suppress as many minority votes as they can.

6) Historians will wrestle with the question–why did so many people go along with him when he was so clearly corrupt and mad? We can only hope that they will also write about the steadfast, bottom-up resistance that finally broke Trumpism’s grip, about the unprecedented unity of purpose that brought progressives together.

7) Things really are as bad as they seem. Our national institutions aren’t going to save us, though some of our local institutions (city governments) will try. The only recourse we have is ourselves.

The New Hate Redux

Four years ago, in THE NEW HATE, I looked at the rise of the Tea Party and especially the explosion of anti-Obama conspiracism in books, radio, TV, and on the Internet, and traced their lineaments back to the Patriot militias that so hated the Clintons in the 1990s, the Minute Men, the John Birch Society and other anti-Communist/anti-Government organizations that arose in the 1950s and 1960s alongside the Councils of Concerned Citizens and other neo-Secessionist groups that followed in the wake of Brown v Board of Education, the America First movement in the 1930s, and Henry Ford’s anti-Jewish crusades in the 1920s. The deep structures and even some of the explicit language of all of these groups’ publications, I noted, owed a deep debt to the THE PROTOCOLS OF THE ELDERS OF ZION.

Looking back further still, I wrote about the anti-Catholic Know Nothings’ horror-mongering about sex-crazed priests in the 1840s, and the great anti-Masonic panics of the 1830s and 1790s, which uncannily mirrored the McCarthy period.

Deep, dark currents of paranoia have always been present just beneath the surface of the American polity, I wrote, and unscrupulous politicians have always known how to activate them and use them to their advantage. Once elected, they stuff those genies back into their bottles and get back to business as usual, but one day, I warned, they may find themselves in the position of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

Enter Donald Trump and Steve Bannon, whose Breitbart Report has become the platform for the Alt-Right. A font of conspiracism, Trump was able to pump his messages directly into his millions of fans’ bloodstreams via Twitter and, thanks to his celebrity and well-earned reputation as a loose cannon, round-the-clock media exposure. He won the impassioned support of Alex Jones (who says that 9/11 and the Newtown massacre were false flags carried out by a US government that has been putting estrogen in the lining of juice boxes to turn America’s children gay) and was enthusiastically endorsed by white nationalists like Jared Taylor, David Duke, and Richard Spencer, who hailed him as the “white person’s” candidate. Trump’s final campaign commercial described how an international cabal of insiders and money people have seized the levers of world power. Though it didn’t use the word “Jew,” it featured sinister images of three powerful Jews: George Soros, Janet Yellen, and Lloyd Blankfein. Al Franken called it a “German Shepherd whistle”; both its explicit and its subliminal messages came right out of the pages of the PROTOCOLS OF THE ELDERS OF ZION.

One of THE NEW HATE’s out-sized villains was Glenn Beck, who used his Fox News TV show to tell his listeners that Obama was a Marxist who hated white people. In a bizarre shift, he is now calling out Bannon and company as Nazis—and apologizing for the terrible things he said about Obama, whom he now professes to admire. He sees what he helped create and he doesn’t like it at all.

People in the mainstream media didn’t pay much attention to THE NEW HATE when it came out, because the figures it focused on were just too weird and off-putting and its historical excurses too far off in the weeds. Obama, after all, was elected and re-elected—-what long-term significance could the birtherism of people like Donald Trump possibly have? With Trump’s terrifying rise to the presidency, I think its clarifying perspective is badly needed. I hate to sound grandiose, but if people had paid more attention to it back then, they might have known to take Trump more seriously. I predicted that he could win as far back as September, 2015 in my New York Times op ed. But I confess that by the time of the Democratic convention, I’d convinced myself that he couldn’t possibly prevail.

I should have reread my own book.

It’s Not Over Till It’s Over

The important thing to remember is physics: everything is moving and every action has an opposite and equal reaction. Canceling Obamacare will be hailed as a big victory for the people who don’t depend on it, but the millions who do will feel otherwise unless they get something better immediately. Firing government workers is a great sop to hurting manufacturing workers, but not if they don’t get $36 an hour jobs with benefits in short order.

It’s not as if the Democrats won’t learn anything from this loss, or that none of them will rise to this unprecedented occasion. Backbenchers will step forward; old leaders will hone their messages. As scary as things are (and they are terrifying), they would be much scarier still if Trump had received a big mandate, which he didn’t. Assuming we hold elections in 2018, he is likely to suffer losses (the incoming party almost always does). Assuming we hold elections in 2020, we may do better than we can imagine today. Had Hillary squeaked in, the other side would be saying the same things. Their worries about canceled elections would be paranoid and baseless, but their hopes would be no less real than ours should be.

Hitler (and yes, he is the figure we should be comparing Trump to–Godwin’s Law is now our friend) had the backing of the elites and the industrialists, and the people he set out to crush really were despised minorities. Trump needs to crush or co-opt more than half the country and this is a big place. Also, Hitler had a plan for world conquest. The economic miracle he delivered turned on pouring public money into big industries and mobilizing the masses for war. If Trump can do that, we’re doomed. But I’m not at all certain that a minority president who has completely alienated the press can pull that off. Breitbart and Twitter allow him to communicate directly to his public, but we have the Web too. And the US doesn’t have Germany’s militaristic ethos. The heartlanders are already sending their kids into the military and it hasn’t been glorious for them.

There is going to be chaos, unthinkable things will happen, but Trump is not going to have a free hand. This is a big, diverse country and Trump is a minority president with a lot of demonstrated weaknesses. He is going to be struggling too. Be scared, be angry, be noisy, and don’t act intimidated even if you are. The story is still being written.

It Can Happen Here. It’s Happening.

OK America, it’s been a week, and with Bannon’s, Flynn’s, and Sessions’ appointments it’s pretty clear where the politics of our new administration are trending–way, way further to the right than most of us (me, certainly) dreaded. Judging from Jared, Ivanka, Don, Jr., and Eric’s roles in the transition, it’s pretty clear too what the “ethics” of this White House are going to be–whatever supports the Trump family’s interests. Autocracy, kakistocracy and kleptocracy are words that we’re going to be getting used to hearing. Fascism should be another. His presidency is already a dynasty-in-waiting.

Trump’s outraged Tweets about the harassment Pence was supposedly subjected to last night when he went to see “Hamilton” are just harbingers of what’s to come (“We are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our friends, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights,” one of the actors said. “But we truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.”) If Trump has his way (and who is going to stop him?) six months from now he’ll order the show closed and its producers arrested. Hopefully there are public servants who will defy him, but who knows?

Life goes on, we shouldn’t give in to despair, America is better than this, he was elected by a minority, his constituency is demographically doomed and stands to suffer significantly from his policies–this is all true. That Republicans are more divided than the Democrats and will be at each others’ throats in short order is true too.

But we need to be perfectly clear about what we’re in for. Just like Trump says about “radical Islam,” if we want to defeat this enemy, we must call it by its name: Fascism, Fascism, Fascism. Let’s get used to saying it.

Be Scared, Be Angry, But For God’s Sake Don’t Wallow

Trump may be the most deplorable president-elect that America has ever had, but he hasn’t destroyed our national innocence or even set back the clock very far. Many of the presidents that we think of as great have had just as terrible ideas about women and minorities and immigrants as he does, and even more rapacious views of our place in the world.

Haven’t you guys read your Ta-Nehisi Coates? Americans killed the Indians, built much of our national economy on the backs of human chattel, and slammed the door to immigrants at the turn of the last century, and locked and double-locked it again in the 1920s. Steve Bannon won’t be the first Jew-hating white supremacist to land in a powerful berth in Washington. We elected Obama yes, but we also re-elected George W. Bush. And I say nothing about our prisons

nor the millions of underprivileged who live in
my flowerpots under the light of five hundred suns

(Ginsberg, “America,” go read it for inspiration). We are as blood-soaked as any other nation, but looking at my Facebook feed this past week it seems to me sometimes that even hardened leftists subscribe to the inane myth of divine American Exceptionalism. Winthrop exhorted the Pilgrims to build a shining city on a hill, he didn’t congratulate them for building it. Go read the history of Israel as told by the Bible, and you will see, as Winthrop saw, that it is one of unmitigated failure. Zionism is a cartoon. American Exceptionalism is a cartoon. Nations rise and fall, and America is surely falling right now. I’m freaked out too, but this isn’t about me.

I have just as dark a view of Trump and the future as anyone, but I also recognize that the election could have easily gone the other way and that if it had all of the conditions for Trumpism would have still been present. Maybe his election shatters the American dream, but dreams are for dreamers. History has always unfolded in a fallen world.

This is not a counsel of fatalism or despair: it is a call to action.

Hate Wins (For Now)

It wasn’t Comey, it wasn’t the e-mails, it wasn’t the Clintons’ overweening sense of entitlement, the shallowness of cable news, the echo chamber of the Internet, or the callow self-righteousness of the Millennials. It was structural, baked in from the beginning, even if the pollsters missed the signals. Half of us, give or take, are still fighting the Civil War, believe that Reagan was the best president this country has ever had, that science is a lie, and that tyranny is not being allowed to use the ‘n’ word in polite society, call a gay person a faggot, or a nice-looking woman a piece of ass. A lot more than half of us rightly understand that the system of globalized capitalism is run by and for the benefit of an educated elite that is mostly concentrated in a handful of wealthy urban regions–New York, London, San Francisco–the same Sodoms and Gomorrahs that the Agrarian Populists of the last century so feared and despised (and that so many of us progressives are waking up in this morning).

Bernie recognized that and said that the system had to be overhauled. Clinton saw that up to a point too, but believed that its worst effects could be mitigated. Trump saw it as an opportunity to be demagogically exploited and he did. Unlike Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini (one hopes) he doesn’t have a program of global conquest or racial and ideological cleansing ready to roll out; he was a vanity candidate and he’ll be a vanity president. Most of the work of governance will be left to the right wing hanger-ons who flatter him the most and they will do their very worst. There’s not going to be a wall, he’s not going to restore smoke stack industries, or fix the cities. Taxes will be cut, environmental protections will be rolled back, and terrible judges will be appointed to the courts. Undocumented immigrants will be deported at the same pace that they were during the Obama administration. The world will be a little safer for ignorant, backwards-looking white people. Globalized capitalism will march on apace, wealth will continue to flow to the top, and the ice caps will keep melting.

We were just as fucked yesterday as we are today, even if we didn’t know it. But now we do. I don’t see much of a bright side this morning, but I do believe that we progressives can pull the same levers of economic discontent that he did and to just as powerful effect, starting in 2018. The backlash will have its own backlash. Let’s start laying the groundwork for it now.