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Which side are you on?

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The lines are drawn in America—that much is clear. There ain’t no middle ground anymore. You’re on one side, or the other.

How did we get to such a bleak place?

The cause is Donald J. Trump. It may be true that we’ve been inching closer to this point for years, but we weren’t really shoved into the breach until Trump decided to take a wrecking ball to America. Trump therefore was the tipping point. Everything prior was before. Everything since is afterward—is now.

In my lifetime I’ve seen the gap between the two sides grow ever more pronounced. Our two-party system is by definition adversarial. Washington famously warned against the formation of political parties: in his Farewell Address he said: “[Political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, [but] they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

Washington could not have known how his description of “cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men…usurping for themselves the reins of government” would describe a future rogue president, Trump.

By the time of the second president, John Adams, two political parties already had formed, and so it has been ever since, with the occasional appearance of a minor third party. Probably it was inevitable: the only countries that don’t have political parties are one-party authoritarian dictatorships. Political rivalry is hard-wired into the DNA of democracies.

Our two parties got along with each other, for the most part, most of the time, the exception obviously being the Civil War; and that was not so much a fight between parties as between sections of the country. Except for that unhappy period, the parties managed to find a modus operandi by which they could co-exist in relative peace, although the rhetoric could get pretty harsh.

I grew up in the post-World War II era, in a Democratic household in which I was taught to regard Republicans as little better than the nazis we had recently defeated. Suffice it to say we didn’t hold Republicans in much esteem—and vice versa!

The 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, though, were pretty normal, as far as inter-party relations went. Yes, there was the Watergate scandal, which resulted in Nixon’s impeachment, but that, I think, was not particularly partisan. Nixon behaved abhorrently, and even his own Republican Party eventually realized it, and acted accordingly.

We began to reach the edge of the cliff in the late 1970s and 1980s. That’s when an unholy alliance was arranged between evangelicals (Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, in particular) and the Republican National Committee. Prior to that, all political parties tended to see evangelicals for what they are: deplorable wingnuts, barely American in the sense the Founders envisioned. But activists like Lee Atwater, who was instrumental in helping get Reagan elected, saw that evangelicals could be a potent political force for Republicans. As for the evangelicals, who had traditionally been apolitical, they decided to become political whores, or were talked into it by their pimping pastors. A shotgun marriage was arranged. The offspring—diseased and debased—is today’s Republican Party.

And so here we are. Democrats could not stand aside in good conscience and watch this diabolic mélange of evangelicals and reactionary Republicans rape and pillage the country. I honestly believe that Democrats did not, and do not, want this fight. It was forced upon us, the way we had to respond to Japan bombing Pearl Harbor by fighting back. When the Republican Party allowed the evangelical party a seat at the table, Democrats realized we had to act. That was the seed of The Resistance to Trump.

Could Democrats have avoided this moment? No. The stakes were too high, the threat level too significant. You didn’t have to be a fanatical patriot to realize the dangers of evangelical power: an end to a woman’s right to choose, the demolition of whatever advances gay people had made, the persecution of religious and racial minorities, the imposition of medieval Christian rule in place of Constitutional government, an increasingly unfair corporatocracy, the rejection of science in favor of the mad superstitions of a religious cult, the overall dumbing down of governance. All of these things, if allowed to happen, would spell the end of American values: of our freedoms, our liberties, our right to self-determination. These are rights Americans have fought and died for our entire history. Had the Democratic Party sat back and allowed Republicans to crush our traditional values, Democrats would have forfeited their right to exist by their indifference and inaction.

So what Democrats have done, and are doing, is correct, morally, politically and historically. Somebody has to stand up to the thugs on the right and to the thug-in-chief, Donald J. Trump. Nobody ought to fool himself that safety lies in compromise. You might as well compromise with a rattlesnake. As the old saying goes, if you run in the middle of the road, you’re going to end up as roadkill.


He wagged the dog

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There is no doubt that Trump took out Soulemani for one reason only: to deflect attention from his mounting Impeachment scandals. War is the ultimate shiny object: with stunning rapidity, the topics of Impeachment, of witnesses in a Senate trial, of Trump’s obstruction of Congress, disappeared overnight from discussions in the national news, both on T.V. and in print. These were replaced, instead, by reporting on the assassination, and on its ramifications and implications.

Is this not precisely what Trump wanted?

“Wag the Dog” was the title of a 1997 movie whose satiric plot centers around “a spin doctor and a Hollywood producer who fabricate a war in Albania to distract voters from a presidential sex scandal.” In the movie, it worked, as it appears to be working now, at least in the short term. Trump, faced with a truly awful situation of epic proportions—Impeachment, low poll numbers, record numbers of Americans believing he should be removed from office, his moral reputation so tattered that even evangelicals admit he’s “not perfect”—needed to do something to shift the narrative. Killing Soulemani was always an ace in the hole he could pull (although no doubt there are others). That he didn’t do so until now suggests he didn’t feel the need to. That he finally has is evidence that, feeling cornered and threatened as never before, he finally decided to play that ace. And now, he has.

Trump is rightfully coming under intense criticism for wagging the dog, but the irony is that he, himself, accused Obama of doing so! That was back in 2011. As Obama was gearing up for re-election, Trump tweeted: “In order to get elected, @BarackObama will start a war with Iran.” That tweet got 21,000 “likes” (including, as a scan of them shows, many from Russians). At around the same time, Trump said during an MSNBC interview, “Our president will start a war with Iran, because he has absolutely no ability to negotiate. He’s weak and ineffective, so the only way he figures he’s going to get re-elected…is to start a war with Iran.”  

Well, calling Trump a hypocrite is of course like saying the Sun is bright: everybody knows it; it’s so obvious that it’s trite. Or, I should reframe that: it’s like saying Trump is a pathological liar. Everybody knows that, too.

Still, the fact remains that Trump has placed America (and its allies) in harm’s way as never before, by his callously blatant tail-wagging. It’s one thing to hurt Americans economically by imposing tariffs on foreign countries. It’s quite another to endanger our very lives—from American soldiers serving in remote outposts in Afghanistan or Iraq to ordinary citizens in Washington or New York being hit by cyber-attacks or dirty bombs.

Did you see the video the other day of Trump down in Miami at a rally with evangelicals? As these people laid their hands on his body, a smirking Trump told them “God is on our side.” Did that make you sick? It made me sick. I felt like the first thing those evangelicals should have done afterwards was wash their hands. But this is part of his wagging-the-dog strategy. He assumes that most Americans, including independents and even some Democrats, will rally around the flag (“partisan politics stops at the water’s edge”), and he assumes, also, that he will pick up just enough Latino votes in crucial states like Florida to win re-election in November.

Those assumptions might be true, if this were a different time. But it’s not a different time. It’s 2020, and a majority of Americans have become convinced that Trump is a con man who will lie, cheat and kill, in order to gain personal advantage. That’s why it’s so important to let the American people know what he’s up to: He is wagging the dog.

Democrats, so far at least, have been reluctant to come out and say so. The most they can offer is “Well, Trump didn’t consult Congress,” or “Trump violated the law,” or “Trump hasn’t offered a shred of evidence that Soulemani was plotting a big attack.” All these things are true, but they’re mealy-mouthed, because they don’t get to the root of the matter: wagging the dog. Americans instinctively understand what that is: it’s what a little brat does when he’s caught red-handed doing something wrong. He cries—he throws a tantrum—he kicks and punches—anything to distract attention from the deed he actually performed. Sometimes, it works. More often, if the parents are smart, it doesn’t.

The American people are smart. They’ll figure this out. But please, Democrats, stop beating around the bush! Come out and say it: “Trump did this to distract your attention away from Impeachment and from your knowledge of his unsavory character.” Mayor Pete—Elizabeth—Bernie—Joe—Amy—say it! Don’t be afraid of Republicans accusing you of stirring up hatred. Speak the truth! You’ll just be giving voice to what everyone already knows.


The Right is preparing for…what?

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A second Civil War. Armed Christians practicing military maneuvers in the hills. White supremacist extremists planning the elimination of “enemies”: Mexicans, Blacks, Jews, Gays. The U.S.A. plunged into domestic anarchy.

For most Americans, these scenarios are just the stuff of cheap pulp fiction and bad Netflix movies. For others, however, this stuff is only too real. Consider Matt Shea, a Republican who represents a rural district in the Washington State Legislature. On paper, his credentials look pretty good: law degree from Gonzaga, and a veteran of American wars in Iraq and Bosnia.

But on closer examination, Shea is anything but normal. For, as the New York Times is reporting, Shea and his friends have “visions of a Christian alternative government…he and right-wing activists [are] preparing for civil strife.”

And they’re not just babbling about this civil war while downing pints at the local pub. No, Shea “distributed to his closest followers a ‘Biblical Basis for War’ document that calls for the ‘surrender’ of those who favor abortion rights, same-sex marriage, idolatry and communism…If they do not yield,” the document demands, “kill all males.”

Charming, no?

Who is Matt Shea? He hosts a radio show, Patriot Radio, on something called the American Christian Network (ACN), which is a sort of Fox News for evangelicals. Among Shaw’s calls on his show are for the creation of a new, 51st American state, “Liberty,” that would be formed from Eastern Washington seceding from the [liberal] western part of the state. He routinely attacks Child Protective Services (which rescues abused babies and children from irresponsible, often criminal parents who endanger their health and well-being), and is waging a vendetta on Washington’s Attorney-General for “persecuting Christian business owners who refuse to participate in same-sex weddings.” He sent a Tweet to Obama asking, quote, “Hey B. Why does ur bio still say president?”

When the State Legislature [of which he is part] passed same-sex marriage, Shea attacked it for not protecting “the constitutional rights of religious conscience” since it prevented “private businesses” such as bakeries and photographers from discriminating against gay people. When he was criticized for suggesting that “Liberty” be purged of all Muslims, Shaw compared himself to Jesus Christ, who was “crucified and died” for his beliefs.

Shaw’s devotion to Christianity is undermined by his personal behavior, which is somewhat less than you’d expect from a model of Christly rectitude. His first wife divorced him after charging him with being “physically and emotionally abusive.” Later, he was arrested for an incident of road rage during which he “pulled a gun during a confrontation with another motorist.”

And now, this stupidity about secession and civil war. Well, Shea’s antics haven’t gone unnoticed by his fellow legislators. A few weeks ago, after it discovered the evidence of Shea’s threatening statements and possible treason, the Washington State House issued a detailed Report, stating that Shea “planned and participated in domestic terrorism against the United States.” This was because he—Shea—had joined forces in 2015-2016 with the notorious rancher, Ammon Bundy, and his father, Cliven Bundy, when they and other armed vigilantes confronted the U.S. government, which had insisted they take their cattle off Federal lands.

(That case was eventually settled; the charges against the insurrectionists were dismissed “with prejudice,” which is not an acquittal.)

The Democratic-controlled Washington State House report was scathing in its language. “Representative Shea, as a leader of the Patriot Movement, engaged in and promoted…armed conflicts of political violence against the United States government…Representative Shea [even] led covert strategic pre-planning in advance of the conflict.”

Pretty damning stuff. And the surprising thing is that even his fellow Republicans in the legislature were appalled by Shea’s treason. The Republican minority in the House suspended Shea from the Republican Caucus, and the party’s minority leader tweeted, “He [Shea] should resign.” Shea was ordered not to utilize the services of the House Republican staff, and his office was ordered “moved” to another location.

Shea, predictably, turned on his former colleagues. “I will not back down, I will not give in, I will not resign,” he defiantly posted on his Facebook page, urging his co-conspirators, “Stand strong fellow Patriots.”

Shea’s Facebook page is the poster child of current Republican obsessions. He strongly denounces the science behind climate change and global warming, offering junk science to disprove it. He calls impeachment “the same old Democrat [i.e., not Democratic] smear tactics,” although he offers no factual defense of Trump’s blackmail of Zelensky. He accuses Democrats of “calling for violence” against Republicans (but offers no proof). This is run-of-the-mill Republican hysteria, but what can’t be so easily dismissed is Shea’s promotion of various conspiracy theories designed to frighten the rightwing rabble and get them to start planning for the coming civil war.

For instance, on his Facebook page Shea promotes an activist, John Guandolo, a former Marine who now runs “an organization dedicated to providing strategic and operational threat-focused concentration, education and training for federal, state and local leadership and agencies, and designing strategies at all levels of the community to defeat the enemy.”

That’s long-winded stuff, but it brings us back to the Christians practicing military maneuvers in the hills. And who, precisely, is “the enemy”? If you have to ask, you’re not paying attention. But I’ll tell you anyway: the enemy is me. And you. And, like I said, Mexicans, Blacks, Jews, Gays, Democrats, and anyone who happens to agree or sympathize with them.

I occasionally shine a light on dangerous lunatics like Shea and Guandolo, because it’s important to realize what Trump’s base actually is. These idiots are real. They’re out there, planning for their eventual takeover of government at every level. They’re laughable, of course, but to merely laugh them off would be a dangerous mistake. Just realize that they have every intention of coming after you…and being woke won’t save you.


Christians must not put their religion ahead of their patriotism!

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There’s this fundamentalist preacher down in Florida, Guillermo Maldonado, who just defended his decision to host Trump at his megachurch despite Trump’s repeated insults of minorities. He told his parishioners to put their religion, Christianity, over their allegiance to America and its values. And if the two are in conflict, guess which one wins?

Yes, Christianity first. America a distant second.

Maldonado came under heavy fire for coddling a president who has called Mexicans “criminals and rapists” and who has played to the whitest of white-supremacist elements in disparaging brown-skinned people. Some of Pastor Maldonado’s churchgoers apparently had the lese majesté to claim that Trump’s jailing of children is un-Christian.

Not so, says the Gospel According to Pastor Maldonado. The key phrase in his message to his people—the really shocking one, that makes you wonder if he’s an American—is this howler: “Don’t put your race or nationality over being a Christian.”

What does this mean? Maldonado’s parishioners who are morally and ethically bothered by this president had threatened not to come to the Trump rally. But Maldonado told them to put aside their doubts and come anyway. “That’s a way of supporting me.”

How’s that again? “Don’t put your race or nationality over being a Christian”? Well, let’s set aside “race” for the time being and focus on the second qualifier, “nationality.” Maldonado’s flock, or a majority of it, are presumably Americans. But Maldonado, the Republican preacher, is telling them to pledge allegiance to their Christian religion, which in this case means: Donald J. Trump, and not to the U.S.A.

Fact: religion in America does not take precedence over citizenship. The two are not co-equal. As President Kennedy promised, he would not allow his Roman Catholic faith to outweigh his Oath to the Constitution. (See the First Amendment.) And so it should be with every American: we are citizens first. After that, we can declare our religion, our race, our ethnicity, our sexual orientation, our astrological sign, our whatever. But our obligation to our country must take precedence over everything else. If not, then what is America, beyond a polyglot collection of competing interests?

You’d think that Maldonado would have been heavily criticized throughout the non-evangelical Christian and civil liberties communities for his unpatriotic statement, but if he has been, I haven’t seen it. So I’m doing it here. No, Pastor Maldonado, Americans are not Christians, or Jews, or Muslims, or Wiccans first. We are Americans first and foremost. Nobody should put their religion over their patriotism, and no responsible clergymen should tell them otherwise. To suggest that people are Christians before they are Americans is, frankly, treasonous. It’s certainly to wander into the thick, unwanted and dangerous weeds of theocracy: a system of government in which priests rule, dictatorially, in the name of “God.”

The Taliban has such a system. So does Iran. We don’t. The Founders did their best to avoid allowing religion in governance, and wrote into the Constitution such protections as they imagined would prevent America from sinking into an intolerable theocracy. Radical, rightwing Christian zealots have been attempting, since the Republic was formed, to undermine this separation of church and state. Maldonado is merely the latest in a string of misguided, unbalanced religious extremists to argue this unAmerican trope.

But that’s where we find ourselves in Trump’s America, where a man, Trump, who has clearly been an atheist or agnostic all his life has made an unnatural bedding with a class of people he always considered vulgar slobs: evangelicals. It should not be surprising that Trump, an opportunistic liar, would do something in his own self-interest and not that of the nation. What is surprising—although by this time it should not be—is that the evangelicals are so willing to sell out their country, just to prop up a godless, amoral and unnatural creature like Trump.

Look, if this was just a case of an occasional wackjob like Maldonado making a stupid statement, I wouldn’t care. People say stupid things all the time. But Maldonado is symptomatic of a much larger disease infecting America: extremist, anti-American Christian radicals who are attempting to overthrow our way of life and impose a religious dictatorship.

Chief among this threat are the evangelicals, despite outliers like Christianity Today. They’ve shown which side they’re on, and it’s not the Constitution’s, or America’s, or the Founders’, or yours and mine. And Maldonado expects his flock to “support” him by coming to his Trump rally? It’s not about you, Pastor Maldonado, and it’s not about your little religious cult. It’s about the Constitution of the United States of America!


Here’s the Ultimate Swamp Creature: a Trump apologist. “He didn’t do anything wrong!”

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So there’s this guy, Peter Wallison, 78 years old. He’s a rightwinger and has been a Washington, D.C. fixture for decades. His career began as a young acolyte to Nelson Rockefeller, a moderate Republican. Moving steadily rightward, he served on Bob Dole’s unsuccessful 1976 vice-presidential campaign. Then, under Ronald Reagan, he worked for Treasury Secretary Don Regan until, in 1986, he hit the big time: White House Counsel to Reagan. After that, he hooked up with the ultra-conservative American Enterprise Institute, where he currently holds the title of Senior Fellow in Financial Policy Studies.

In other words, they don’t get any swampier than Wallison. Yet this guy has made a career out of bashing Washington “elites,” and with the current resident of the White House, Wallison is in his element. You know all that hysterical Republican bull about “the deep state”? Well, Wallison has baptized it with a new name, a bit less hysterical, but no less fake: The Administrative State. Criticizing this so-called Administrative State has proven to be a cash cow for Wallison: he has a newish (2018) book out, Judicial Fortitude: The Last Chance to Rein In the Administrative State, alleging the Republican meme that an unaccountable bureaucracy has replaced the legislature in governing America.

Never mind that the “independence” of Congress is only an issue for Wallison and his fellow rightwingers when Democrats control one or more Houses, as they do now. No, “administrative agencies of the Executive” (such as the SEC, FDA, Fannie Mae, FBI, Census Bureau, Civil Rights Division of the DOJ and so on) now govern America—and we all know who runs them: unelected liberals—Democrats—America haters!

Wallison wants to get rid of these horrible bureaucrats: demolish the Administrative State, which apparently means mass firings of all Federal employees. Who, then, would run the country? Wallison’s answer will not surprise you: Corporations! Because, you know, corporations are people too.

Wallison has infinite trust in the wisdom, compassion and decency of big corporations, for which he often acts as apologist. Gigantic multi-national banks did not cause the Great Recession of 2008-2009, he alleges. What did? Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which made buying houses too easy; this is why Wallison wishes to privatize them both. Notwithstanding the fact that economic historians have generally put the brunt of the Recession’s cause on deregulation of banks, here is Wallison’s counter-intuitive take:

The Great Recession “was the result of this view that it was the failure to adequately regulate the financial system that caused the financial crisis. My view is that it was actually government housing policy that caused the financial crisis.”

Of course! Wells Fargo was over-regulated! We all know how that turned out.

Now, we can argue about whether federal housing lending policy was overly lenient in the years leading up to the Great Recession (which occurred, incidentally, under George W. Bush, the Great De-Regulator). Certainly, no decent American could argue with the intention of making housing more accessible to a greater number of Americans. But Wallison throws the baby out with the bathwater: there are no good federal agencies, just corrupt ones. The answer to America’s problems, he says, is to elect Republicans—and more Republicans—and bring a wrecking ball to the Administrative State. Just leave everything to Exxon Mobil, Facebook, Bank of America, Archer Daniels Midland and Boeing, and all will be well!

Nor is it surprising that Wallison has been doing his best to discredit the Case for Impeachment. In a zinger right out of the Republican playbook, he alleges that Trump’s evident intent to bribe or extort Zelensky was not really bribery at all, and thus does not rise to the level of a High Crime or Misdemeanor. What Trump actually did–by withholding aid and in that notorious phone call–Wallison does not bother to explain. But he does state, flatly, that “Trump’s alleged obstruction actions [refusing subpoenas, not cooperating in any way with lawful Congressional investigations] could not possibly be a crime.”

Why not? I thought a U.S. president had to respect the investigative power of the co-equal House of Representatives. But no: Wallison, citing no less an authority than the discredited crypto-Republican lawyer Alan Dershowitz, argues than no one can prove Trump committed any crimes at all.

Well, of course not! Trump will not allow the most knowledgeable witnesses to testify! He will not turn over requested documents to the investigative committees! And he lies about it all on Twitter, while his enablers repeat his lies in rightwing media. This deliberate concealment of evidence surely looks criminal, to anyone with an objective mind and an ounce of common sense. In fact, Wallison reverts to the old tu quoque defense: Every politician plays these little games. Trump is only doing what all of them have done. “Presidents and candidates for president do this all the time and are not charged with a crime.”

Really? They obstruct Congress all the time? Presidents routinely withhold funding and weapons already approved by the Congress, from a country Trump wants to fabricate “dirt” on his most feared political opponent? Did Obama do that? George W. Bush? Bill Clinton? George H.W. Bush? Ronald Reagan? Does Wallison offer any historical facts to back up his theory? Not that I can find. He merely asserts it, as if his august resume were enough to lend such nonsense credibility.

I could cite many more disturbing fallacies by Wallison, but let me conclude with this: Peter Wallison is the Original Swamp Monster. For that old, white, male, far-right Trumpite to suggest that there’s an “Administrative State” running things in Washington is the height of ridiculousness. But then, the entire Republican Party, of which Wallison is a bastion, is based on ridiculousness. And,  with the election of Trump, it has entirely lost its moorings, and is adrift in what we may call the Wallison Sea of Pettifoggery.


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