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Before Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, there was Benito Mussolini


January, 1940 was a weird time in the history of the Second World War. The war had technically begun the previous Sept. 3, when Britain and France declared war against Germany for invading Poland on Sept. 1. But while sporadic incidents between the combatants had broken out, widespread fighting had not yet begun (nor would it for another five months), leading pundits to label it “The Phoney War.”

Italy was not yet in the war. Its Duce, Benito Mussolini, had managed to skirt involvement by tacking between Britain and France, on the one hand, and his erstwhile ally, Germany, on the other. Mussolini wanted war by Germany’s side; he wanted his share of the spoils of war. Yet he understood that the nation he led was not ready for war, militarily, economically or psychologically.

The relationship between Mussolini and Hitler at that time was slowly disintegrating. It had begun well enough, from Mussolini’s point of view, in the 1930s, after Hitler was appointed German Chancellor. Mussolini was then the senior dictator in Europe. Hitler looked to him with great admiration, which Mussolini—always in need of adoration—appreciated. But as Hitler achieved victory after victory in Europe—reoccupying the Rhineland, the Austrian Anschluss, the incorporation of Czechoslovakia into the Reich—Mussolini found himself playing second fiddle. He was no longer the senior dictator.

This was a blow to his pride. On Jan. 3, 1940, in the midst of the Phoney War, Mussolini sent a message to his northern colleague, Hitler, that contained both a warning and a threat. While Hitler hesitated, trying to figure out what to do next, and while various peace initiatives (some of them advanced by Italy) were flying around Europe in the hope of avoiding a catastrophic war, Mussolini gave the Fuhrer some cautionary advice. It was the last time he was able to do so.

“…I, a born revolutionist, who has not modified his way of thinking,” Mussolini wrote, “tell you that you cannot abandon the anti-Semitic and anti-Bolshevist [i.e. anti-Communist] banner, which you have been flying for twenty years…you cannot renounce your gospel, in which the German people have blindly believed.” Were Hitler to go back on his pledges, in order to conciliate the pro-peace forces in Europe, or—even worse, were Hitler to reach an accommodation with Soviet Russia–there would be “catastrophic repercussions in Italy.” Mussolini’s avid followers, feeling disappointed and lied to, would desert him in droves; the regime might topple, and the Italian hegemony which Mussolini had promised his people for nearly twenty years would evaporate.

In the end, things did not work out well for the dictators. Hitler, who in 1939 had signed a non-aggression pact with Stalin, eventually heeded Mussolini’s advice and invaded the Soviet Union in June, 1941. Mussolini held out from the war for as long as he could, but he finally jumped in, when, on June 10, 1940, he too declared war against the western Allies. Eventually, of course, Italy was forced out of the war and, in April, 1945, Mussolini was captured by his own people and brutally killed. Hitler committed suicide two days later.

What is interesting to note in Mussolini’s warning to Hitler is how similar it is to the situation Donald Trump encountered with his “Mexico will pay for the wall” pledge, when a few rightwing commentators (Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh) warned him that, if he backed down, there would be “catastrophic repercussions” among the Republican-Trump base. That wasn’t the exact phrase they used: Coulter’s wording, for example, was that Trump would be “dead in the water if he doesn’t build that wall. Dead, dead, dead.” Ingraham and Limbaugh made similar noises.

But the upshot was the same in both cases: voices from the extreme Right urged both men—Mussolini and Trump—forward into deeper conservative, troubled waters, in order to preserve the appearance of fidelity to the promises that had elevated both to power. In both cases, both men obeyed; in both cases, both men lost their lives.

Hitler yielded to the implicit threats from his Right with the direst results: Germany not only lost the war, but its very existence as a country. Now we have Donald Trump yielding to the implicit threats from his Right. The debate about the wall continues; the government is shut down; and meanwhile, Mueller and the Southern District of New York continue to close in on Trump, his associates and his family. “History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes,” Mark Twain is reputed to have said. Will History rhyme in the cases of Adolf Hitler and Donald Trump? Will Trump, lurching ever further rightward into fascism and authoritarianism, be toppled from power, and perhaps even lose his life? History strongly suggests that Trump is going to meet with an unhappy fate. We can only hope that, as he goes down, he doesn’t drag America along with him.

The Right has lost its mind!


The denial of reality on the Right is now so extreme, they’ve even started a new meme: The November, 2018 election result—the Blue Wave—was fake news!

Yes, that’s how much the minds of the neo-nazis at Breitbart have descended into paranoid delusion. Here, for example, is a comment from “Will Kane,” who may or may not be a real human being, as opposed to a Russian bot.

Will Kane: Steve put down the crack pipe ~ turn off CNN and MSNBC . You won the house through cheating and lying which as a libtard you’re probably good with . You LOST the senate and your party is being exposed daily for its open border anti American agenda which we are glad for . Thanks to you idiots who couldn’t win a rigged election you’re guaranteeing YOUR president Donald J Trump will serve a second term . Just know it was people like YOU who helped push him into second term.

Mr. Kane’s Facebook photo shows a heavily-muscled torso, with some bad tattoos on his left arm. His “likes” include Fox (of course), UFC mixed-martial arts, plenty of sports teams (Alabama Crimson and Miami Heat), suggesting he’s a southerner; his musical tastes veer towards heavy metal and albums with big-breasted women on their covers; his T.V. preferences include something called “Southern Boys,” Fox & Friends, the Premier Boxing Channel and Inside MMA; and his posters include “Ban Liberals Not Guns,” the Minuteman Militia, and one labeled “Straight Pride.”

In other words, Mr. Kane is your basic neo-nazi, white supremacist, low-education, homophobic fascist. He probably dresses up in camo gear for paintball fights in the woods outside his trailer park, where he trains with his fellow lunatics for the day when the Deep State is overthrown and white men can once again worship openly at the altar of Steve King and Donald J. Trump.

Read his comment again. “You won the house through cheating and lying…”. I’m not going to waste time replying to such nonsense, except to say that perhaps Mr. Kane also believes in the Tooth Fairy. But rightwingers were really, really shaken by the breadth and scope of the Blue Wave, and in order to preserve their sanity, they have to convince themselves that something nefarious explains it. It wasn’t the result of the American people rising up and turning against Trump. It wasn’t millions of suburban women horrified and disgusted by Trump’s amorality and sexual depravity. No, it was “cheating and lying.”

Implicit, too, in Mr. Kane’s insane comment is resentment that his fuhrer, Trump, has not been able to follow through on his campaign promise to build a wall and have Mexico pay for it. Of course, it’s not Trump’s fault that the wall has turned out to be a gigantic lie, and that Trump’s followers, including Mr. Kane, have proven to be suckers for believing anything the Liar-in-Chief says. No, Mr. Kane can’t admit he’s been bamboozled. That would be a threat to his super-masculinized ego. Instead, he reverts to blaming Democrats for the absence of a wall. Had Trump promised during the campaign to make the Sun rise in the West instead of the East, Mr. Kane would be blaming Democrats when the Sun stubbornly refused to comply with Trump’s wacko promise.

Assuming Mr. Kane is real, he is the face of what America is up against. The sheer magnitude of his anger and racism, the violence to which he seems prone, the white-male testosterone that unleashes its fury against enemies defined by Trump, the reduction of femininity to big breasts and small brains, the rage against gay people…and by the way, in my extensive experience, it’s these big, muscled, “straight” white country boys who are most apt to be found on the DL, sneaking off to alleys and adult bookstores for covert sex with other men.

Well, we’re going to have to deal with them at some point. Hopefully it can be done peacefully. Pragmatically, that may not be possible. Rightwingers like Mr. Kane are quite immune to arguments based on reason and common sense. They’re fueled by primitive emotions that arise in the reptilian brain and are unfiltered by conscience. Have you ever tried to reason with a rabid rat? Can’t be done. You can trap a rat, or poison it, or shoot it, but you can’t turn it into a peaceful rodent through words. That’s what these Trumpites have become: rabid rats.

We’re well beyond the “Can’t we all get along?” stage. No, we can’t. And the reason why is because of what’s happened on the Right. Inspired by the catastrophe of Trump, the Right has become as insane as the Brownshirts who lifted Hitler to power. Anyone who tried to get along with the Brownshirts was beaten to a bloody pulp or throw into a concentration camp. The Brownshirts didn’t want to get along with everyone else; they wanted total power.

Well, so do we Liberals. And I remain convinced there are far more of us than of them. The Blue Wave proved that. Even though Mr. Kane and his ilk insist the 2018 Election was fake, we know that we won the House by a historic 40 seats. We know that our numbers are growing with each passing day. We remain optimistic that the Kanes and Trumps of this nation will be neutralized, in one form or another, permanently.

2020 Report: Sanders supporters are gearing up for more troublemaking


We all know that Putin and his minions in Russian security manipulated our 2016 election in order to create chaos among liberals and hand the presidency to Putin’s hand-picked candidate, Trump.

The evidence is overwhelming. Through vigorous social media meddling, the Russians sought to spread divisiveness and resentment among Democrats. “The voter suppression effort was focused particularly on [Bernie] Sanders supporters and African-Americans, urging them to shun Mrs. Clinton in the general election and either vote for Ms. [Jill] Stein or stay home,” reported Esquire Magazine.

Among the emails that Russia hacked from the Democratic National Committee and released to the world through Wikileaks was the bombshell that DNC officials “belittled” Sanders. As a result, reported Vox, “Many Sanders delegates were already grieving their candidate’s loss. Seeing high-level DNC officials deriding him behind the scenes added insult to injury and, for some, delegitimized the entire process.”

Those disgruntled Sanders voters either voted for him, for third-party candidates such as Stein, or else they stayed home and didn’t vote at all. (A few might even have voted for Trump.) The upshot was that these angry Sanders voters drained just enough electoral strength from Clinton (who won the popular vote by nearly 3 million) to hand the election to Trump.

The poster child for this destructive attitude four years ago was a woman, Dahleen Glanton, who wrote a wildly crazy op-ed in the Chicago Tribune. Her screed was classic agit-prop. “Bernie Sanders supporters have a right to be angry,” she began, adding, “The political system was rigged against their candidate in favor of Hillary Clinton.” Both these charges are malicious. The “political system” worked just fine. Sanders ran in the primaries and lost because Democrats heavily favored Hillary. Glanton included this horrible slander: “Democrats tarnished the electoral process.” No, they didn’t. Trump and his fellow colluders in Russia tarnished the electoral process.”

One might have hoped and prayed that this nonsense was behind us, but Bernie Sanders, still ambitious, is back, and his supporters once again are stirring up troubled waters. Last week, “Supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) held over 400 house parties in all 50 states and Puerto Rico on Saturday afternoon calling on Sanders to run for president again in 2020.”

One of the Sanders organizers laid down the nascent campaign’s central theme: We don’t know if they [i.e. the other Democratic candidates] can beat Trump. We pretty much know Bernie can beat Trump.”

This is a falsehood. It’s very early in the polling rounds, but right now the strongest candidate to beat Trump (if he runs again) is not Sanders, but Joe Biden. He has led in every national poll taken since last Fall. In the latest Daily KOS poll, Elizabeth Warren is in first place, followed, in order, by O’Rourke, Kamala Harris and Biden; Sanders finishes fifth. So for someone to say they don’t know if anyone except Sanders can beat Trump is highly misleading.

Sanders relied on liberal resentments in 2016 (the same way Trump relied on rightwing resentments), and he’s starting this year off much the same. He mocked Beto O’Rourke for “reading Karl Marx,” leading some commentators to predict “a politically bloody primary.” David Brock, the former conservative pundit, wrote a perceptive piece in which he warns that “Bashing Beto O’Rourke (and every other Democrat) doesn’t help liberals’ cause in 2020. It only helps Trump.” Then, too, the Sanders campaign recently staggered under the blow that sexual harassment of women was rampant among his staff. In this #MeToo era, alienating independent and liberal-leaning women is a recipe for electoral disaster.

Bernie Sanders needs to be aware of the threat his ambitions pose. The last thing we need is a “bloody primary” among Democrats. The possibility of Trump getting re-elected is awful, cataclysmic, too horrible to contemplate. I’m not suggesting that Sanders is the only factor that could lead to Trump getting re-elected, but Sanders is certainly one of the strongest of those factors. His supporters have shown themselves to be stubborn, close-minded, ideological, angry, vengeful and resentful—the liberal equivalent of the knuckle-draggers at Breitbart. I’ve known some who claimed to be pleased that Trump won, because they loathed Hillary so much. How anyone except a rightwing radical could possibly celebrate the catastrophe of Trump boggles my mind.

At this point I’m not prepared to back any candidate in 2020. Among the major candidates, announced and unannounced, I like are Beto, Sherrod Brown, Biden, Julian Castro and Amy Klobuchar. I’m not naturally inclined toward Elizabeth Warren, but I’m open to her. Kamala Harris makes me nervous—it’s a little too early in her career for such a big move. This probably isn’t Cory Booker’s time. But I do know this: Bernie Sanders ought not to run. He had his chance, and lost. Time for him to step aside and let others see what they can do.

The Bobb hearing: A consideration


I thought Bobb dodged and weaved during his hearing. He gave a little on the hardest of the hard-right conservatives, but he’s still ardently anti-abortion; and he hid his real views about Mueller behind curtains of “I haven’t studied the issue enough” vagueness.

We still don’t know if he’ll permit Trump to fire Mueller. We still don’t know if he’ll allow the American people to read the unexpurgated Mueller report—not edited, not redacted, but the whole enchilada. And he still hasn’t said whether he believes it’s impossible for Trump to obstruct justice. Left unsaid were the absolute assurances that Elliot Richardson gave the public when he was being considered as Nixon’s A.G. Where Richardson resigned after the Saturday Night Massacre, Barr might sit firm as Trump continues to ride roughshod over the law.

Barr is folksy. He’s an Attorney-General straight out of Central Casting. He doesn’t seem threatening. He says reasonable things: He changed his mind about drug sentencing over the last 30 years and now favors a kinder, gentler approach to sentencing—whatever that means. He’s still not willing to admit there’s racial disparity in indicting and sentencing, but at least he didn’t appear as hostile to minorities as he has in the past.

I didn’t hear any of the Senators question him about same-sex marriage and LGBTQ equality. I wish they had. Barr has a troubling record of making hostile statements about sexual minorities. In the 1990s, he made shockingly overt religious arguments calling on the government to impose “a transcendent moral order with objective standards of right and wrong that… flows from God’s eternal law.”

He called on the government to subsidize Catholic education (Barr is Catholic) to “restrain sexual immorality.” These phrases—“God’s eternal law, transcendent moral order, restrain sexual morality”—are, of course, the standard bullshit dog whistles for extreme homophobes. The arch-conservative Texas Senator, John Cornyn, asked Barr a weird question: Did he (Barr) believe his Roman Catholicism precluded him from holding high government office? Even Barr seemed jarred by such a strange inquiry, the answer to which could only be, “Of course not.” Cornyn explained that the reason he’d asked the question was because “some people” have suggested Catholics not be allowed to have jurisprudential power because their faithfulness to the Constitution may be compromised by their religious beliefs, and/or the official views of the Vatican.

Let me associate myself with those who question the ability of extreme Catholic officials in the justice system to be fair. I think it’s obvious that Catholic Supreme Court Justices, like the late Scalia, and the currently serving Thomas and Alito, allow their religious beliefs to influence their decisions in women’s rights and LGBTQ rights. I am not reassured that Barr will be a competent, fair Attorney General, because his rightwing views are backed up by Catholic beliefs that are distinctly undemocratic.

The Republicans who questioned Barr seemed bored to be there. They had a single objective: protect their president. Ask Barr softball questions so that he could present himself as warm and fuzzy. No one of them overtly attacked Mueller, although several could barely hide their hostility towards him and his investigation. Altogether, Republicans were just as we expected them to be: less interested in the rule of law, more interested in shielding a president they privately know to be amoral and unfit, but of whom they are afraid.

I was surprised that, in her first round, Kamala Harris avoided questions about Trump, Russia and Mueller. Her questions about drug enforcement and private prisons were spot on (and I didn’t think Barr did a very good job in answering her). Perhaps Kamala made a deal with other Democrats, like Blumenthal, Durbin and Feinstein, that they’d cover the Mueller waterfront, while she explored other territory.

Barr will be approved. He made enough conciliatory sounds to assure that. Now, he’s going to have to live up to his word. If he collaborates with Trump doing anything punitive to Mueller, there will be hell to pay. If Barr tries to smother the Mueller Report, in any way, shape or form, there will be hell to pay. He should have recused himself, in view of his past statements that were so hostile to Mueller, but he didn’t. Now, he’s under one of the biggest searchlights in America. We’ll be watching his every move.

When pot was illegal: the way it was


Marijuana is now legal in California. To tell you the truth, I was afraid that when it was legalized, people would be smoking it everywhere on the streets, making it hard for pedestrians to walk around without getting frequent, hefty doses of second-hand pot smoke resulting in a contact high. Although I like pot, constantly smelling it when I don’t want to was something I worried about.

But I needn’t have. Yes, it’s true that here in Oakland—a town in which lots of people indulge in weed—I do occasionally get a whiff of grass as I’m out and about. But it’s been far, far less than I’d anticipated. Why, I don’t know, but I’m glad it’s so.

If you’d asked me in the 1960s and 1970s if I thought pot would ever be legalized, I’d have said no. There were pushes to legalize it over the years by groups such as NORML, but they amounted to nothing. (Nor would I have ever thought that gay marriage would be legal!)

In fact, by the late 1960s, the legalization of pot seemed further away than ever. I’d begun smoking it as a college freshman in 1963. I smoked a lot during my undergraduate years (and did a lot of other recreational drugs as well). I even dabbled in a bit of dealing, not so much to make money, as just to give myself free grass. It was easy enough to drive down to New York City from my college (Clark University, in Worcester, Mass.), score a pound for $120, divide it into ounces, sell the ounces at $15 each (can you believe it?) and keep two ounces for my personal use. I was not, in other words, a bigtime dealer.

But I was big enough for the Worcester Telegram, the local newspaper, to run a front page headline when I was busted in the Spring of 1968. The two ounces I was caught with turned out to be the biggest drug bust in the history of Worcester, which then was New England’s second-largest city. I was promptly hauled off to jail, in the middle of the night, with six of my roommates in the apartment we all shared (the infamous 5 May Street, where there was a party 24/7), a few blocks from campus.

(Predictably, we were high when we were arrested, and in the “paddy wagon” on our way to the jail, we sang Beatles songs!)

In the end, I got off relatively lightly: a few nights in jail pending hearings, and a $1,000 fine, which my parents paid. But when the whole dreary business was over, I found it had left behind a bruising residue: paranoia. I was terrified of getting busted again. If that happened, I knew I would face serious jail time.

I moved out of 5 May Street in order to live alone and quietly. My new place was on Water Street, in a sketchy part of Worcester, near the produce district. It was a tiny apartment, which I painted lilac and pale green. I adopted two noisy Persian cats to keep me company. I bought a bicycle to travel to and from campus (about 1-1/2 miles away). And I continued to get high, despite the considerable risk I ran of getting re-arrested.

Such was my paranoia that I took extraordinary steps to cover my tracks. Literally. There was a crawl space you reached from the bathroom, next to the toilet. It led to the dirt foundation on which the house was built. I kept my stash buried at the very back of the crawl space, where the ceiling was so low that a big cop couldn’t have even fit. In crawling to my burying place, I of course upset the soil, so that, as I backed out, I would take a small brush and rub it over my tracks. No footprints or kneeprints, nothing to indicate that any human had ever been there.

Back then, my method of smoking was to roll joints in Zig-Zags. My pot wasn’t particularly clean. I would strain it, but it still contained seeds. If you’ve ever smoked pot with seeds in a joint, you know that the seeds can explode from the heat. They go Pop! and fly off, landing on the floor, sometimes a considerable distance away. Every time I heard a seed pop, I’d get down on my hands and knees—stoned, mind you—and not be able to relax until I found the potentially incriminating evidence and disposed of it. I was not going to jail for a damned seed! Every sound from outside on the sidewalk, every car on the street frightened me and caused my heart to leap. Was it the cops again? Did they know what I was doing? I didn’t see how they could, but having been busted once, I could easily be busted again. For all I knew, they were spying on me.

This all sounds pretty insane, but I was hardly the only person in America who felt that way. When I heard the Buffalo Springfield’s great song, For What It’s Worth, with its refrain, “I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound, Everybody look what’s going down,” I knew that “heads” were feeling the same way 3,000 miles away, in L.A. “Paranoia strikes deep, Into your life it will creep, It starts when you’re always afraid, You step out of line, the man come and take you away.”

Some people used to say that smoking pot made them paranoid, but I wonder if it was the pot so much as the fear of being arrested. Much of my generation of Baby Boomers was paranoid in those days, for that very reason. I wonder how this affected their/our subsequent behavior and attitudes. Are there studies on this? Did it impact our political beliefs? Our social relationships? Did it make us more inclined to believe in conspiracy theories? Did it make some of us anti-cop? Anyhow, kids today don’t have to worry about getting busted for pot, and that is a good thing.

Leaked! Secret Transcript of Trump-Putin meeting


We know that Trump’s five meetings with Putin have resulted in no transcripts being released to the public.

There was no one in the room except for the two principles and their translators, and Trump even “confiscated” the interpreters’ notes and told them not to discuss what had transpired with other [U.S.] administration officials.” Thus, nobody knows what deals were struck, not even Trump’s own State Department or Generals.

As a result, speculation has been rampant. Did they agree to continue the coverup of Trump’s collusion with Russia? Did they agree to Trump dropping U.S. sanctions and withdrawing American troops from Syria, both of which Putin desires? If so, what was the quid pro quo? What did Putin offer Trump in exchange for all the goodies?

Now, thanks to leaked transcripts of one of the meetings—in Helsinki—we know. The transcript was provided to me by a source who insisted on not being identified, for obvious reasons. The entire transcript, comprising a meeting of 1-1/2 hours, is too long to reproduce here at, but I am publishing the relevant portions, particularly those relating to the quid pro quo.

Donald Trump: It’s great to finally get you alone, Vladimir, away from all those ass-kissing, leaking aides.

Vladimir Putin: Indeed, Donald, there are certain things that can only be said between us in the strictest confidence.

DT: This is my interpreter, Marina Gross.

VP: And this is mine, Oleg Vishinskaya.

DT: I have instructed Marina that she is to give me her notes, and is never to reveal what was said here, Vladimir.

VP: And I have told Oleg the same, so let us begin, Donald. Now, we are here to discuss a deal between you and myself. Let me give you the broad outlines. I require two things from you: first, to lift the sanctions you, and your predecessor, President Obama—

DT: A failed president, Vladimir.

VP: Be that as it may—to lift the sanctions your country has imposed, wrongly and criminally, upon Russia, and two, to withdraw all your troops from their illegal activities in Syria.

DT: Yes, Vladimir, and I am ready to accede to both conditions, but only if you accede to mine.

VP: Of course, that is how deals are made, Donald. You should know—you are the Ultimate Dealmaker.

DT: Thank you, Vladimir. Do you know that “The Art of the Deal” is the best-selling business book of all time?

VP: I did know that, Donald. My security agencies keep me well informed. Now, returning to the subject at hand, I know what your condition is, Donald. Shall I be blunt?

DT: Please, Vladimir. Let there be no daylight between us.

VP: [to his translator, Oleg: “what does this mean?” Translator whispers to Putin] Oh, all right, I understand. In Russia we say “Between the bucket and the water there is no spilling.” So, Donald, here is what I offer you: We have the video-audio recording of your session in the Moscow hotel room with the two, uhh, “ladies of the evening” with whom my security forces acquainted you during your visit to the Ritz-Carlton, in 2013, when you visited for your Miss Universe Contest. It is a most interesting tape. For your information, we had installed three tiny cameras in your suite: one in a lamp next to the bed, one in the ceiling fan, and one in the eye of a painting of Catherine the Great.

DT: I remember that painting. She was a very ugly, fat woman.

VP: Da! Catherine was not known for her beauty but for her ruthlessness. At any rate, these three cameras caught the–let us say–action from a variety of angles. They display–but you know what they display, do you not, Donald?

DT: I suppose I do, Vladimir. But let me just say, in my own defense–

VP: It is not necessary for you to defend yourself, Donald. After all, what is a little indiscretion between friends? And we are friends, Donald.

DT: Yes we are, Vladimir. Huge friends. Now tell me, what do you intend to do with that tape?

VP: The tape currently resides in a safe in my office in the Kremlin. Only one copy exists, or shall exist. And you have my word, Donald, that no one will ever see it, assuming, of course, that you accede to my requirements, which you have already agreed to do.

DT: Yes, Vladimir. And you will destroy the tape once this is over?

VP: Oh no, Donald. Of course not. It constitutes what you call “leverage” and we here in Russia call “Kompromat.” Were I to destroy it, then if you went back on your word, I would have no way of punishing you. So the tape will remain secure in my safe.

DT: All right. I agree to lift the sanctions and get out of Syria, and you hide the tape. That’s what I call a great deal!

VP: Excellent, Donald, excellent! This proves that America and Russia can be the best of friends, despite occasional differences.

DT: Oh, one more thing before I let you go, Vladimir. Can you please destroy all records of my Moscow Hotel deal? And while you’re at it, make sure everyone who knows about it is silenced?

VP: Of course, Donald. Nothing could be easier. But for that, naturally, I require an additional quid pro quo.

DT: And what would that be, Vladimir?

VP: That the U.S. shall be silent when I occupy Ukraine.

DT: [offering his hand] Deal! Nice doing business with you, Vladimir!

VP: [taking his hand] Anytime, Donald, anytime!



A mystery solved: Why Trump’s “Christian” base is so pro-Russia


One thing that so far has been hard to understand is why Trump’s white, conservative, “Christian,” rural base is in favor of Trump’s suck-ups to Russia and Putin.

They have supported him for the last two years, despite mounting evidence of his collusion with Russian security and corporate forces. In foreign policy, Trump has hewed to the Kremlin’s line in every respect, against the advice of his own Generals, and to the bewilderment of his own State Department.

Now, in the past, the kind of people who support Trump were the fiercest anti-Communists in America. Their spiritual ancestors launched the Cold War, and in the 1950s they tried to impeach Chief Justice Earl Warren for being a Communist.

Today, they’re the same ones who call Barack Obama a Communist, an allegation you can find every day on Breitbart.

So why is this rural, rightwing base so happy about Trump’s overtures to a country they and their forebears have loathed for decades?

I’ve pondered this question over and over. It never made sense. The closest I could come to an explanation was to blame it on some kind of mental illness in his followers. After all, it’s insane to have been violently against Russia all your life, and then suddenly pull a 180 and decide, Hey, maybe they’re not so bad after all; if President Trump loves Russia and Putin, then I should too. It’s reminiscent of the last line in Animal Farm: “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

But I think I’ve finally figured it out. The lightbulb over my head went off when I read this little article over the weekend about how Russian citizens “have been recently detained in Russia’s Chechnya region on suspicion of being gay, in a throwback to an earlier crackdown.”

Putin’s homophobic policies are well known. In this, of course, the interests of Putin’s Russia and those of the “Christian” evangelicals, Pentecostals, radical Catholics and rightwing Mormons align. When the interests of two opposite camps align, they often form an alliance; that’s just standard rules of diplomacy and warfare. So this, in part, explains our puzzlement. White “Christian” homophobes in America know they have an ally in Vladimir Putin’s homophobic Russia.

But, you say, Russia is not a Christian country. It’s officially atheist. So how could American “Christians” possibly lay down in bed with a nation that disbelieves in God?

The Devil’s in the details. It’s true that Putin’s Russia is officially atheist. But Putin has been aligning his domestic policy more and more with the Russian Orthodox Church’s views. “In recent years, Russian President Vladimir Putin has embraced aspects of this Christian imperial ideology.” Putin’s cozying-up to the Church has “reinvigorated” it and Moscow has “mobilized” the Church, “in pursuit of its foreign-policy goals.”

So we now have two areas in which the interests of Trump’s “Christian” base and those of Putin’s Russia overlap: homophobia and a strong encouragement for and engagement with conservative Christians.

But wait, there’s a third area—possibly the most important from the American/Christian point of view in which the strange bedfellows make common cause. Russia is increasingly hostile to people of color. “Racist…chants have become more common” in Russia. Fewer that 1% of Russians are black, and they face a near-constant struggle against racism.

Putin’s racism embraces anti-Muslim policies as well; the country’s policies in the era of Putin are reverting to Mother Russia’s traditional view of itself as the Defender of White European civilization. Putin has even called himself “The Protector of the Faith.”

So here, too, “Christian” conservative Americans see Russia as their international partner in promoting a white nationalist, Steve King-style racist culture.

Vanity Fair this past summer reported on this phenomenon: under the tutelage of Steve Bannon, Trump’s “affinity for Russia…reflects a long-sought civilizational re-alignment.”

The core of this “re-alignment” lies in “White House support [for] proto-fascist movements throughout Europe,” of which Russia’s Putin-Church coalition is the largest and most important. “Putin is standing up for traditional institutions,” Bannon argues, in explaining that those “traditional institutions” are the same as those the alt-right supports.

Which are–Homophobia, white nationalism and “Christian” conservatism.

I don’t expect that most of Trump’s base has the particular understanding of history and political philosophy to understand these facts in detail. But they manage to absorb its core. That core is transmitted to them, indirectly, through Russian-influenced social media and, in particular, the fake posts that Russian intelligence, with the Trump campaign’s help, placed on platforms like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, which in turn influenced our election and got Trump elected. That core, also, is communicated directly to Trump supports via Fifth Columnists like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Mike Pompeo, Mike Pence, and various White House spokespersons.

The upshot is that Trump supporters know, in some vague, inchoate and yet visceral way, that Putin’s Russia is on their side—and on Trump’s side. Russia may have been their traditional enemy, but they have a new, even more menacing enemy: the “elite,” the “fake news,” Hollywood, San Francisco, the failed New York Times, Hillary Clinton, gays, and on and on. American liberals, for these white “Christian” rightwingers, are far more dangerous than Russian Communists. If “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” then Putin, who is Trump’s BFF, has incredibly become the friend of rightwing American “Christians.”

Why do I put “Christians” in quotes? To be derisory. I understand Christianity. As a well-read Jew, I know its history, its ideals, its theology. Jesus, the first Christian, is someone whom every Jew “gets.” Every Jew has a little bit of Jesus in us, and an understanding of where he’s coming from that, frankly, may be deeper than the way actual Christians experience him.

But what I see in America today, in the guise of “Christianity” as illustrated by evangelicals, Pentecostals, and radical rightwing Mormons and Catholics, has nothing to do with the Christianity I understand. It’s faux-Christianity, fake Christianity—white supremacist, fascist-leaning political ideology masquerading as religious Christianity. That’s why, when I refer to these racist, homophobic people, I will continue to put “Christians” in quotes.So there you have it: the political alignment of Russia and Trump’s base, in three areas: homophobia, pro-Christianity and white supremacy. This is why that base doesn’t care about anything Mueller charges Trump with. Even if the Special Counsel proves beyond a doubt that Trump colluded with Putin to steal this election, the base will say, “Good! That’s what we wanted him to do.” They will never turn against him because what they really desire isn’t a free, democratic, “e pluribus unum” United States of America, but a Russian-American cabal, in which gay people are persecuted, “Christianity” is elevated to a state religion, and the non-white population is reduced to the barest minimum.

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