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Dictators always start by killing the free press

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He’s still at it, calling everything he doesn’t like “fake news” and claiming that he, himself, is the only trustworthy source of information in the United States. Here he was the other day, on twitter: Only the Fake News Media and Trump enemies want me to stop using Social Media (110 million people). Only way for me to get the truth out!” And here: “I love reading about all of the ‘geniuses’ who were so instrumental in my election success. Problem is, most don’t exist. #Fake News! MAGA.”

Fascists often disparage real journalism in order to hoodwink a credulous public. There was once a man, Carl Severing, who in the early 1930s was Minister of the Interior in Weimar Germany. This was the period when Hitler was rapidly consolidating power, and while Severing was not a Nazi, his rightwing policies helped pave the way for Hitler’s takeover, in 1933. Severing cracked down on the free press; one of his more famous dictums was, “Press freedom has become press license. We cannot permit demagogues to inflame the masses any further.”

That was the beginning. Hitler seized power on Jan. 30, 1933, and almost immediately set out plans that would give the Nazis total power over all newspapers.”  His propaganda chief, Josef Goebbels, oversaw the Reich Press Law (Oct. 4, 1933), which allowed “the Propaganda Ministry, through its Reich Press Chamber, [to] take over the Reich Association of the German Press, the organization which regulates the profession.”

Said Goebbels, in words that might have been tweeted by Donald Trump, Not everyone has the right to write for the public. That right has to be earned through moral and patriotic qualifications…the concept of freedom of opinion is under lively discussion. Indeed, the people’s belief in it everywhere has become shaken… bounds must be set to freedom of thought and freedom of opinion at the point where these begin to conflict with the interests of the nation as a whole.”

He did not use the words “fake news,” but Goebbels’ (and Hitler’s) animosity toward a free press had significant overlaps with Trump’s. Would-be dictators hate it when enterprising journalists crack through their veils of secrecy and report on their misdeeds and crimes. Indeed, no tyranny in history has ever tolerated a free press, or has survived unfettered scrutiny.

Muzzling the press, however, can work only if a large segment of the public agrees with the would-be dictator that “bounds” really do need to be set. In the Germany of the early 1930s, this situation existed: millions of Germans blamed the newspapers (and Jews, which owned many of them) for their woes: unemployment, inflation, and the disrespect with which they felt they were treated by the victors of World War I.

In today’s America, many of Trump’s most ardent supporters are similarly resentful of what they call the “libtard” media: CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Washington Post and other outlets. They cannot stand the fact that their hero, Trump, is having his every move closely watched and reported. It enrages them that he cannot do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, to whomever he wants, without this disreputable Fourth Estate hounding him. If you tell them that freedom of journalism is a bedrock principle of western democracy, they laugh; they do not want democracy, they want an autocracy of the right, and a religiously-oriented one, at that. They want an authoritarian who will ram through his policies without restraint. They want the loyal opposition silenced. They cannot tolerate a media that reports, investigates, exposes lies and corruption, nor can they tolerate an independent counsel who is tasked with getting to the bottom of the disturbing facts unearthed by enterprising reporters. Hitler led his country, and most of Europe and the world, to destruction by first persuading people that a free press was a threat. Trump is following exactly the same playbook. His epitaph might well be Severing’s dictat: “Press freedom has become press license.”

P.S. Here’s some real fake news: Pence’s tweet from July 25: “Proud to break Senate tie to open debate to rescue Americans from failed Obamacare. Thanks to @POTUS, this is beginning of end of Obamacare.”

Didn’t exactly work out that way, did it, Mr. Vice President?

 

 

 


Happy July 4th!

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steveheimoff.com resumes publication tomorrow. Party safe!


Repubs about to repeal and replace, while Trump tells another lie

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Just last month, following the House’s passage of the American Health Care Act, we saw Donald J. Trump hold a celebratory fiesta at the White House. Grinning and high-fiving, Trump and the Republicans touted it as following through on their campaign promise to repeal and replace Obamacare. This picture

shows how smug and self-satisfied they were, sipping cold beer in the Rose Garden, as Michael Pence bragged, “Welcome to the beginning of the end of Obamacare.”

That was on May 4. Now, just six weeks later, we have the Senate on the verge—apparently—of passing its version of the Act, a version said to be not as harsh on the poor and elderly, due to the need to get the votes of Republican “moderates” like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski. And what is Trump’s attitude? Now, he “clearly” wants a health care bill with “heart,” Sean Spicer said yesterday, a few days after reports that Trump had called the original House version “mean.”

Okay, let’s get this straight. Trump liked the House version enough to invite House Repubs to his little party. That was then. Now, when the Senate is supposedly softening it a little, he decides it’s “mean.”

Make sense?

Some will claim this is Donald Trump’s attempt to play what some pundits have called “three-dimensional chess” (or, in some accounts, four-dimensional chess). What this means, explains the conservative National Review’s Jonah Goldberg, is that Trump is playing ten moves ahead…that he’s brilliantly distracting the media by creating this or that controversy.” As the website Know Your Meme puts it, “’Trump is Playing 4D Chess’ is an expression used by supporters…when speculating that his campaign is using advanced political strategies to manipulate and dominate the news media.”

The expression, which originated in a Dilbert cartoon, suggests that Trump is a super-brilliant strategist able to think in ways that are far superior to conventional political thinkers, using techniques of contradiction and obfuscation to achieve his goals. Certainly there is contradiction aplenty in him calling the House bill “mean” after praising it—although “hypocrisy” might be a more apt term. But I think his reasoning is far simpler than “four-dimensional chess.”

In fact, his motive is pretty obvious. With record low poll numbers—even Republican support for him is plummeting—Trump realizes he needs to change people’s perception of him as a blithering idiot. In his own analysis, he thinks the public perceives him as “mean,” as well they might, given the insults he routinely hurls at everyone he resents. He knows, also, that the public is scared to death of the American Health Care Act, which will toss tens of millions of people off healthcare, and cause drug prices and premiums to spiral. He’s got to neutralize that perception—or, to be exact, the perception not of the actual bill’s effects, but the perception of himself as uncaring. What better way to do that than to criticize his fellow Republicans as mean? Maybe some low information voters will think, “Hey, Trump can’t be that bad, if he’s sticking up for the little people against those mean Republicans.”

Trump’s stunt is phony as hell. It’s a smokescreen and a distraction and it’s not likely to work. But wait, there’s more, and it has to do with Trump’s pathological lying. He uses words differently from you and me. We all know he means nothing he says, or at least, very little; and even if he does mean something he says today, he can turn 180 degrees tomorrow and feel no shame—perhaps not even remember his flip-flop. What I’m getting at is that, when there is a bill he signs, even if it’s worse than the original House version, Trump will claim that, because of him, it has more “heart” and is in fact filled with heartful, healthful benefits for the American people. Great benefits! Incredible benefits! You’ll love it! It will be one more lie—but his credible voters will buy it, as they have willingly accepted every previous lie he’s told.


The Republican’s hillbilly problem

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After Trump’s disastrous defeat over the weekend, with more catastrophes for him almost sure to occur, the national conversation now turns to how Democrats can regroup for the 2018 elections and beyond.

One heated topic is “the hillbilly” problem. Hillbillies were traditionally rural inhabitants in eastern and southern U.S. regions of the Ozarks and Appalachians. Nowadays, they can live anywhere. I think of the movie Deliverance—the simple-minded albino kid playing his banjo, and the two psychos who raped Ned Beatty in the woods. Among many Americans, there’s always been a certain looking-down-upon condescension towards hillbillies: they’re white, uneducated, prone to violence, love guns, racist and hate “gummint.”.

One meme surrounding Trump’s election is that he was voted in by just these hillbillies, a fact alluded to by Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” comment. Ironically, there also is in this country what we might call a “hillbilly pride” movement, in which these people—sometimes also called “rednecks” or “white trash”—self-identify with concepts like rugged individualism, not relying on the government, working hard, religiosity of the Christian variety, various forms of xenophobia and racism, and patriotism. Their music is country music, their politics (to the extent they vote) rightwing. And yet, these proud hillbillies have their own form of condescension: against “city folk” or “coastal elites” whom they deem “liberal” (a disparaging term), arrogant, effete, spoiled, entitled, naive and possibly communistic.

Another meme following the election is that Democrats have to do a better job of reaching out to these hillbillies. According to this analysis, the party, and the Clinton campaign, ignored them in places like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. As a result, these dispossessed farmers and assembly line workers revolted, voting for Trump in a sharp rebuke of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party. To hear some tell it, Democrats must now figure out a way to regain the trust of these hillbillies.

I strongly disagree. Had a mere 70,000 votes switched in the three states I just mentioned, Hillary would have won. As it was, she took the popular vote in a landslide: 3,000,000. Had Democrats been better at getting out the vote, especially in key districts, particularly among Blacks, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, because Hillary would be President and Trump would still be groping pussy. As for those 70,000 voters, my considered sense is that they’re beyond civil conversation. They’re so stubborn, so resentful, so low information, you just can’t get through to the rational part of their brains. They don’t analyze issues; they live in their Fox “News” and right wing talk radio bubbles, and don’t even know that the Republican Party is shafting them. (How many hillbillies did Trump ever invite to Mar-a-Lago? He wouldn’t have been caught dead socializing with them.) I used to try to reason with these people. Now, I no longer bother. Why bang your head against the wall?

So for me, 2018 is all about turnout. America has always been a Democratic country; when we actually get people to vote, we win. When we don’t, for whatever reason, the bad guys win. I have no desire whatsoever to “reach out” to the hillbillies and rednecks. I do expect, on the other hand, that those “moderate” Republicans with some education who voted for Trump are watching developments closely and witnessing the debacle of this regime.

You know, on my Facebook feed there are a couple pro-Trump people who put up ridiculous claims about him along the lines of “Promises made, promises kept.” I don’t think they can do that anymore. He promised the Wall would go up and Mexico would pay for it. Lie. He promised he’d ban all Muslims from entering this country. Lie. He promised he’d repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with something better. Lie. Now, he’s promising some sort of fantastical tax “reform” by which taxes on billionaires like himself plummet, even as he spends $1 trillion on infrastructure, and we’re supposed to believe it will somehow result in a balanced budget? This is not only a lie, it’s a pathological lie.

The hillbillies will never understand this. They don’t want to, and you can’t make a crazy person sane. For that reason—as the guys on Shark Tank say—“I’m out.” I don’t care about hillbillies. I don’t care about reaching out to them. I care about beating them.


So what does Comey get for helping get Trump elected?

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We found out yesterday that the FBI has been investigating possible collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign since last July—8 months ago—and we got that from the mouth of the FBI director himself, James Comey. He told the House Intelligence Committee how loathe he is to admit or deny the existence of an investigation but, in this case, due to the intense national interest, he felt compelled to do so.

Fine. But there’s a teeny weeny little problem with Comey’s position: He publicly announced the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server one week before the election, while it was still ongoing, only to be forced, days later, to say, in essence, “Oops, forget it. She didn’t do anything wrong.” By that time, the damage was done. Enough swing voters decided at the last minute not to vote for Hillary—an understandable decision, if they thought she was about to be indicted—and Donald J. Trump won.

So how does Comey square this circle? He claims he never talks about investigations while they’re ongoing—yet he did with Hillary–and then he talks about his Trump investigation, eight months in, but only the most historic duress. Was he under duress a week before Election Day to kill Hillary’s chances? If he was, from whom?

Comey cannot square this circle. This man has painted himself into a corner from which escape is not possible. But let us put ourselves into his head and imagine what he’s thinking.

Comey to self: “Sure, I’ve done something reprehensible. I wanted Trump to win, and I did what I had to, even though it cost me many friends and, probably, my reputation. But so what? I still have my job—Trump wouldn’t dare fire me. And when I leave, in 2023, I’ll be able to name my price. Maybe Goldman Sachs: I’m told they’ll pay me $10 million a year. Let’s see: reputation versus ten mil. What will it be? Hmm, give me a second. Okay, second’s up: Ten mil it is!”

There was much talk during the hearings of how many dots there are leading from Trump and his campaign and associates all the way to the Kremlin. Adam Schiff pointed them out; so did André Duncan, the Democrat from Indiana, with whom I was particularly impressed. The question is if the dots are connected, or just a coincidence. Nobody knows the answer, yet. But I went through Watergate, followed it intensely. Lots of dots there too. Nobody knew how they were connected for a couple of years, until dogged reporting, followed by Congressional hearings and a Special Prosecutor Republicans did not want but could no longer avoid, connected them. As it turned out, they led all the way to the Oval Office—and we know how that ended.

Yesterday’s hearing was very significant. Trump will fight this every inch of the way, using his usual methods of lies, smears and disinformation. His credulous, low-information supporters might even buy it. But I believe that the end game is coming, and it will bring him down, as well as many of his associates. As for Comey’s post-Trump career, let him make his millions. His grandchildren will have to live with the legacy that their grandpa sold his soul to the devil and immeasurably harmed America.


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