We’re now familiar with Donald J. Trump’s modus operandi. When he’s negotiating a big deal, he’s histrionic: engages in hyperbole (“the greatest,” “you’ll love it”), demands what he wants (a passing vote on Trumpcare), and threatens those against him (primarying his Republican opponents).
Then, when these tactics don’t work, he retreats into sullen darkness, as he did following the collapse of Trumpcare. Living alone in the White House (with Melania and Barron in New York), or wandering the great halls of Mar-a-Lago, Trump—who is said to require only a few hours of sleep a night–turns to Twitter for solace. In his paranoia and resentment—so Nixonesque—he blasts his perceived enemies, his rage fairly drooling through his tweets.
There’s another part to his M.O.: the distractions. It’s not clear how he used this old device as a real estate tycoon, but in politics, he understands that the media has the attention span of a doorknob. With Twitter, he can instantly deflect the glare of publicity away from anything he wants to, and towards anything he invents. Thus, when RussiaGate heats up, he invents SusanRiceGate, and is confident that every media outlet, even his hated MSNBC and CNN, will take the bait and run with it. That the actual issue is totally bogus is irrelevant. Susan Rice, as former CIA Acting Director John McLaughlin has courageously reminded us, merely did her job; indeed, it would have been irresponsible of her to not look more deeply into the information she was given.
But that doesn’t stop Trump and his surrogates from running with the shiny object, flashing it every chance they get in order to halt, albeit temporarily, the mounting revelations of collusion between the Trump camp and Vladimir Putin. The most recent classic example of attention-distraction is Rand Paul, who had been creating a nice little niche for himself as an anti-Trump conservative, i.e. a principled tea partier instead of a mouth frother. Instead, with his absurd insistence Rice should be subpoenaed, Paul shows himself to be little more than another Trump troll and hack Republican.
Proof? Google “Rand Paul, Susan Rice,” and here, in order, are the first hits:
- An article from Breitbart (cited above)
- A video from Fox “News”
- Paul’s own Twitter feed
- An article from InfoWars, Alex Jones’s lie-fest
- An article from Town Hall, one of the most right wing outlets
- An article from the Daily Caller, another right wing propaganda sheet where Ann Coulter has a column
How and why does it happen that this particular non-story is obsessively chewed on by the most extreme rightist circles in American politics? Because the RussiaGate coverup is in full mode. We haven’t yet reached Nixon’s “modified limited hangout,” the partial admission-non-admission he was forced into as evidence of his Watergate crimes mounted. That is coming, perhaps by mid-summer. But not yet. Trump and his allies remain stubbornly committed to their “it’s fake news” claims, abetted by the shiny object distractions. My own feeling, although it may be more of a hope than a rational expectation, is that this country still has enough moral fiber left to get to the bottom of RussiaGate, and then to do whatever has to be done to bring justice to the perps. In this, I took comfort in Tuesday’s statement, by the Texas Democratic congressman, Joaquin Castro, that “some people [will] end up in jail” as a result of the various investigations.
Castro knows his stuff; he’s a member of the House Intelligence Committee and presumably has seen everything, including the Susan Rice-related documents. For Castro to have said what he did, at this point of the game, and with such confidence, is telling. Without revealing confidential information, what he’s essentially done is announce to America that the real facts (as opposed to the made-up ones Trump invents) are so damaging to this President and to his associates, so troubling to American security, that Republicans in high places should be getting ready to move to the United States Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas.
This is far different from an hysterical Michael Flynn screaming “Lock her up!” at the Republican National Convention. In that case, the now-disgraced Flynn was simply displaying his offended-white-male-tea party plumage and pandering to a mob as crazy as he is. Joaquin Castro is not pandering to anyone. In his calm, sober manner, he’s letting us know he’s seen the evidence, and not to worry: the case against Trump will be made. Godspeed, Rep. Castro.
Trump may be a pathological liar, a misogynist, somewhat racist, a panderer to the most ignorant branch of the population, a bully, an adulterer, a sexual pervert, a cynic, a narcissist, and many other weird and sick things, but no one ever accused him of being stupid. I’ve been wondering if he would eventually grasp the fact that his little Trump Act is wearing thin. Now, with historically low poll numbers and his own Republican Party increasingly viewing him as a liability, he seems to have looked at himself in the mirror and decided that something has to change.
The change he needed? A pivot to the center. So many people have started seeing him as a mentally unhinged extremist that he knew he needed something to allay those fears. But what? He waited through all of February and March, but nothing availed. Then, suddenly, in early April, the plausible excuse came: Bashir Assad allegedly used sarin gas on his people.
Now, normally, Donald J. Trump wouldn’t give a damn. After all, for years he said that Syria was none of our business. During the primary debates, he insisted that he did not want “to start World War III over Syria.” He said he advised Obama to “stay out of Syria.” “Syria is NOT our problem,” he tweeted. He urged Russia to fight ISIS in Syria instead, and as early as 2013 was tweeting, “I would not go into Syria” and “What will we get for bombing Syria besides more debt and a possible long term conflict?”
But suddenly, we hear that he’s itching to go to war in Syria. He “changed his mind,” he says, after seeing those pictures of dead children.
Well, those images disturbed us all. But there were many similar images and reports of dead children in Syria, and other places, before last Tuesday, and I have never heard Donald J. Trump express anger or compassion before, not in his entire public life, over human suffering, or the fate of children caught in war. So why now? What accounts for the pivot?
A matter of political convenience. We always knew that at some point he would resort to “wagging the dog,” and now he has the perfect opportunity to do it. Trump the savior of children! Trump the defender of humanity! Trump the conscience of the West! Never mind that this completely contradicts everything this arrogant, selfish person has said and done up until now. He’s hoping to get a few points bounce in his execrable poll numbers, and there may even be enough credulous Americans out there to provide him with that gift.
A related example of wagging the dog was his firing of Bannon from the NSC. Presidents sacrifice their own kind all the time, when political expediency demands it. This is just another example. The problem is that Trump’s latest two moves, going to war (likely) in Syria and canning Bannon, are likely to be perceived as Trump moving to the middle. I do not think this is the case, and I hope it won’t be perceived that way. In this, his latest cynical bit, Trump is using dead children in Syria, about whom he cares nothing, to rehabilitate his image in America. Hashtag sad, hashtag disgusting, hashtag evil.
Frances Fitzgerald, the Pulitzer Prize-winning (“Fire in the Lake”) historian, has a new book out that takes aim at American evangelicals. “The Evangelicals” was reviewed in last weekend’s Wall Street Journal, in a surprisingly even-handed way, given the importance of evangelicals to the Republican Party, of which the Wall Street Journal is both a bastion and a mouthpiece. (The review is not available online without a subscription.)
Fitzgerald traces the evolution of the evangelical movement back to the 1800s, noting its rising influence in the late 1970s, when Jerry Falwell started the Moral Majority. Ronald Reagan—or, more correctly, his handlers—realized the importance of attracting these voters, even though Reagan himself, who was not a church-going man, looked down on them as intellectually feeble-minded. (Donald Trump does, too, but, as they say, politics makes strange bedfellows.)
Fitzgerald’s beef is the evangelicals’ nosing into politics; as the book’s reviewer says, Fitzgerald “has no sympathy for the movement’s positions on social matters: e.g. abortion and gay rights.” Fitzgerald herself views this as an illegitimate, unconstitutional and dangerous “right to carry religious objections” into the public arena, in such matters as business transactions (think of that baker who refused to do business with a gay couple). “Even government officials,” Fitzgerald writes, can improperly drag irrelevant religious ideologies into the performance of their duties (like that Kentucky clerk, Kim Davis, who said marrying gay people went against her Christian values, and refused to do it).
My own views on this coincide with Fitzgerald’s. My earliest memory of realizing how dangerous to me, personally, and to America these evangelicals are occurred about thirty years ago, when I heard a preacher on the radio promising to “drag them [non-believers] into the tent kicking and screaming.” That overt threat made me shudder. Then we saw how the evangelicals joined forces with an extreme right wing faction to create the modern Republican Party in all its foaming antipathy. With the rise of the tea party—largely congruent with evangelicals, although not exactly the same—we now have reached a point, with Trump’s election, where evangelicals have free reign in the halls of power, and are able to impose their views in many areas of social policy.
Many Americans are rightfully worried about this. We believe that America is, and should be (in accordance with our Founding Fathers’ vision) a secular nation, where people of all religions, or none, are free to flourish and pursue life, liberty and happiness. Some religions, perhaps most of them, happily refrain from forcing their views on everyone else. Buddhists are famously tolerant; so are Jews (excepting the ultra-orthodox); so are the more liberal Christian denominations.
Unfortunately, evangelicals are not so tolerant. What is it about evangelicals that makes them want to establish a theocracy in America? How can they be so dead-certain they’re right—even when so many of their most cherished beliefs are at odds with science? Scientists all over the world stand in unity that no human being ever encountered a dinosaur, because the two species—humans and dinosaurs—were separated by tens and even hundreds of millions of years. Yet evangelicals persist in the delusion that Adam and Eve and little Cain and Abel played with dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden. In fact, that’s exactly what you’ll see if you ever visit the Creation Museum, where there’s an exhibit of a pair of velociraptors playing peacefully right next to a little girl tending a fire. An explanatory panel at the exhibit reads “Remembering that time humans and dinosaurs were friends.”
Oy vey, as my sainted Grandma would have said. Honestly, what are we to make of evangelicals? Liberals want to get along with everybody, but we do believe that a certain amount of truth-recognition is necessary for us to cooperate in a functional society. Indeed, a common subscription to “the truth” is the kernel of humankind’s ability to form civil societies in the first place. When a large segment of society voluntarily abandons the truth, what they are doing, in effect, is abandoning the pretense that we can live together in harmony. And when this same segment elects a President who, similarly, makes war on truth, they are stating, in no uncertain terms, that they have no desire for harmony. Instead, they wield the evangelical sword, hoping to drag the rest of us “kicking and screaming into the tent.” This is why we resist.
The thing about Trump voters is that they’re ashamed to publicly express their obsessive rages. They’re embarrassed to let anyone outside their innermost circle know how racist, misogynist, homophobic and xenophobic they really are. That’s why they like “outspoken” Donald Trump. He says all the horrible things, relieving them of that awful responsibility.
But some Trump voters are happy to let it all hang out. One is a guy, “Dennis,” as he signed himself in a comment to this blog concerning my post about the Wall Street Journal’s right wing columnist, Kimberley Strassel. Here’s “Dennis”’s comment in full.
Too bad your pathetic lying, murdering, criminal, incompetent, “never had an accomplishment” Hag Killary got SHE-LLACKED on 11/8 by MY MAN THE DONALD. You’re right about something, smart sexy Kim and others invested way too much time stepping on that Hag. Like all evil it implodes by itself.
Do I even need to point how disturbed, and disturbing, these remarks are? It’s one thing to disagree on issues; I’m fine if you don’t feel that Hillary Clinton was a wonderful role model as First Lady, or was a great Senator (her New York constituents seemed to feel she was), or that she was an effective Secretary of State. Fine. You’re entitled to your opinion.
I was taught that public and political discourse should be civil, but it’s clear that this “Dennis” never got the memo. Do you detect rage there? Out-of-control anger? Something approaching murderous hostility? Do you hear the deranged voices of Sean Hannity, Michael Savage and Alex Jones?
Sad to say, but this is the mindset of Trump voters. Oh, they can deny it all they want. They can pretend it’s all about “issues”: immigration, the Wall, trade, Obamacare, ISIS, jobs. Of course, as Trump grows more and more feeble about accomplishing anything, it will be amusing to see how the “Dennis”es of this country rationalize their continued support for “MY MAN THE DONALD.” But for the time being, a great majority of Republicans continue to think Trump is the Second Coming, and we have to assume—I do, anyway—that “Dennis” is representative of many, if not most, of them.
Beyond the simple fact of his generalized anger, “Dennis”’s misogyny strikes me. The hatred of Hillary goes beyond anything rational. I just shake my head and go, Wow. I wonder if he’s married. If he is, I bet there are domestic abuse issues.
Would you want “Dennis” to be, say, a police officer? An elementary school teacher? A caregiver in a nursing home? Would you let him baby sit your daughter? Scary thoughts. Frankly, it’s concerning to me that “Dennis” is out there, roaming the streets with his head filled with such violent fantasies. He seems like a ticking time bomb…tick, tick, tick…like the clock ticking down on Trump’s regime. I sometimes speculate on what these “Dennis”es will do when we force Trump from office. Will they go postal? Will Dennis find other white men so outraged, so frustrated, that they take up arms to overthrow the government?
Anyhow, this is what we’re up against, folks. I’ve long known it, but sometimes it takes a “Dennis” to shine a light on the infection. And to that dwindling number of liberals who still feel as though we need to understand where Trumpists are coming from, I say: meet “Dennis.” That’s all you need to know.
We now know the broad outlines: Russian trolls create false reports (or exaggerations of actual events) on the Internet that are favorable to Donald J. Trump and unfavorable to his enemies. Trump then cites them, in spoken remarks or on twitter; his surrogates do the same. These lies are believed by his credulous, low-information supporters, and repeated endlessly in right wing media. Then, Trump says supportive, admiring things about Vladimir Putin, who in turn instructs his trolls to post more lies that are favorable to Trump. It’s a nice little looping mechanism. We don’t know exactly what Trump’s level of involvement is, but we understand how this stuff works.
Here’s one example. You remember the reports from last year about Hillary Clinton’s health? During the first two weeks of September—when American voters were really starting to pay attention to the upcoming election—those reports received massive media coverage. I’ve created a timeline that connects a lot of the dots, and shows how extensive, murky and nefarious this Russia-Trump connection really is. Some of the websites I cite have been identified as covert Russian propaganda by the nonpartisan website propornot.com, which describes itself as “a resource for people who want to understand Russian influence operations targeted at US audiences.” Here’s their most current list of Russian propaganda media, in Russia, England and America.
Mid-December, 2012: Hillary Clinton faints, has concussion. Thus begins the Republican chatter that Hillary is too ill to serve in high office. Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity immediately go on the attack.
Dec. 20, 2012: InfoWars, an alt.right conspiracy site on propornot’s propaganda list, reports Hillary “faked her concussion…to avoid testifying” about Benghazi. InfoWars is owned by Alex Jones, a conspiratorialist with ties to Steve Bannon; among other absurdities, Jones has claimed that the Sandy Hook massacre was “staged,” the U.S. Moon landing was fake, and the American government was behind the Sept. 11 attacks.
[Fast-forward four years, to early 2016. As Hillary’s lead in the polls increases, right wing rumors alleging her poor health pick up in intensity.]
Jan. 16, 2016, Breitbart News: “Something seriously wrong with her health.” Breitbart cites right wing radio talk show host, John Cardillo: “Strong source just told me something I suspected. Hillary’s debate ‘bathroom break’ wasn’t that, but flare up of problems from brain injury.” The source is not identified. No evidence of the alleged “brain injury” has ever been offered.
Aug. 7, 2016: via twitter, a tweet from NiaRussianBot [@nia4_trump]. “Watch her [Hillary] short circuit again…medic-handler has to coach her back to reality.” [That’s “medic,” as in doctor.] Who is NiaRussianBot? Her twitter handle, @nia4_trump, leads to a pro-Marine Le Pin page with violently nationalistic content. Ann Coulter is a follower and retweets Nia.
Aug. 8, 2016: Russia Today (RT), the Putin-controlled Russian outlet on propornot’s list, publishes that Hillary has “trouble with stairs [amidst] rumors of bad health.”
Aug. 8, 2016, anonymous post on Twitter from “a Donald Trump supporter” publishes doctored Hillary medical records (later deleted) suggesting serious problems.
Aug. 11, 2016. Hannity, on Fox, carries out a weeklong “healthcare investigation” of Hillary, alleging major health issues.
Aug. 13, 2016: As part of his exposé, Hannity calls Hillary’s behavior “seizuresque.”
Aug. 26, 2016, Karl Rove, on Fox, asserts Hillary lacks “mental and physical stamina.”
Aug. 27, 2016. InfoWars again: “Report: Google Censors ‘Hillary Clinton Health Problems’ Search Results”
Aug. 28. Enter Trump, on twitter: He demands “Crooked Hillary” release her medical records.
Sept. 9, Tea party Republican congressman Louis Gohmert calls Clinton “mentally impaired.”
Sept. 11, The Washington Times, a right wing newspaper owned by the Korean cult leader, Sun Myung Moon, reports on “cover-up” of Clinton’s health problems.
Sept. 12, World Net Daily, another propaganda outlet on propornot’s list, reports “Two doctors speculate Hillary has Parkinson’s Disease.”
Sept. 12, 2016: Hillary stumbles at a Ground Zero event, reveals she’s had pneumonia.
Sept. 12: Trump, on CNBC re: the pneumonia: “We have to see what’s wrong. She was coughing very, very badly…it’s quite sad, to be honest with you.”
Sept. 12, 2016: Julian Assange’s Wikileaks publishes twitter poll asking people which of the following things Clinton is suffering from: “allergies and personality”, “Parkinsons”, “MS” or “Head injury complications.” Wikileaks later deletes the tweet.
Sept. 12, 2016: Trump campaign co-chairman Daniel Tamburello wrote on his Facebook page that “Hillary has been rumored to have Parkinson’s for some time.”
Sept. 13, 2016: “Hillary Clinton has Parkinson’s” from Russia Insider, which is on propornot.com’s propaganda list. The Russian publication is edited by “Charles Bausman,” who claims to be “an American expat,” but who was described by Forbes Magazine as in reality “a Russian business executive…in the game of creating a faux news organization to advance Russia’s interests.”
Sept. 18, 2016: Sputniknews, a Putin-controlled Russian media outlet on propornot’s list, reports only “39% of [Americans polled] responded that Hillary’s health is good enough to serve” as President.
Sept. 20, 2016, Trump tweet. “Clinton is taking the day off again, she needs the rest. Sleep well Hillary – see you at the debate!”
Sept. 24, 2016: Liberty Writers, another online site on propornot.com’s Russian propaganda list, reports “Hillary Clinton cannot get through a speaking engagement without having her health interfere.”
Nov. 4, 2016: Election Day. Donald J. Trump is elected President of the United States. Were the fake reports of a sick Hillary Clinton in part responsible? We’ll never know for sure, but it seems reasonable to assume that some people concluded she was too ill to vote for.
This research is merely what I was able to pull together in a few hours—a solo reporter in Oakland, utilizing only search engines. I hope that the FBI and the Senate Intelligence Committee, with all their power, will do a far more thorough job in exposing just how Donald J. Trump and his associates cooperated with Russia—and vice versa—to get Trump elected, in compliance with Putin’s wish.