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An Apocalyptic Cult



In 1875, President Ulysses S. Grant—Civil War hero, Republican—called for a new amendment to the U.S. Constitution: known to history as the Blaine Amendment (after the Republican congressman who introduced it in the House), it proposed to put teeth into the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause (the separation of church and state) by prohibiting any “money raised by taxation in any State” to be “under the control of any religious sect.” The amendment was widely perceived to be aimed at the Catholic Church, which was agitating to obtain a share of public school funding for their schools.” The Amendment never made into law; it passed in the House overwhelmingly but went down narrowly in the Senate. Despite the defeat, the incident shows how great was the desire, even in the Republican Party, to keep religion out of governance.

Fast forward more than 140 years later, and you can see how far this country has wandered from President Grant’s objective. Nowadays, it’s common for religious schools to benefit from tax dollars. From 1968’s Board of Education v. Allen decision to Donald Trump’s and Betsy DeVos’s desire to provide vouchers to parents who want to educate their children in religious schools, America has seen a steady assault on the First Amendment. The most recent example was the Supreme Court’s decision in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, in which the Court ruled that people who favor separating church and state go too far when they deny religious institutions access to government grants meant for a secular purpose.”

How religion, mainly Christianity, has gotten its nose under the secular tent is a tale of dogged determination by radical, militant churches, the spread of evangelical Christianity in America, and activists like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed, and the politicians whom they fund, including all recent Republican Presidents, aided and abetted by those bastions of the right wing, Fox News, talk radio and the Wall Street Journal. These outlets all have a heavy presence of Catholic and Christian ownership. Then, too, the Supreme Court is dominated by Catholics, including Chief Justice Roberts, who wrote the Trinity decision.

Consider, too, the makeup of Donald Trump’s Cabinet, and its heavy presence of evangelical Christians, hardcore Protestants and Catholics. To give but a few examples, there’s Nikki Haley, the U.N. representative, who’s fiercely anti-gay, and whose church, Mt. Horeb United Methodist, teaches that “the practice of homosexuality [is] incompatible with Christian teaching.” There’s Scott Pruitt, at the E.P.A., whose Broken Arrow First Baptist Church similarly is strongly homophobic, while Pruitt himself is a climate-change denier who received support from Creationist organizations as well as from the Koch Brothers, who have spent hundreds of millions of dollars fighting regulations for the coal industry. I could go on and on by citing other Trump Cabinet members who are Christian extremists—Rick Perry (“America was founded on Christian values”), Jeff Sessions, Mike Pompeo (“Jesus Christ our savior is truly the only solution for our world”),  and Ben Carson (Hillary Clinton is Lucifer, the Biblical Joseph built the Pyramids), but I’ll spare you the grisly details.

Since the end of World War II, there’s been a war in America between these organized forces of extremist Christianity who wish to destroy the First Amendment, and more rational Americans who realize that the Founding Fathers were serious when they prohibited mixing religion and politics. Regrettably, this war is being won, so far, by the Christians, who have taken over one of America’s two great political parties. In the words of a longtime GOP political operative, Mike Lofgren, “[T]he Republican Party is becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult.”

Which explains much. Can you imagine any Republican President today calling for anything remotely resembling the Blaine Amendment? If anything, Republicans want Christian churches to have more power to inject their particular theologies into public policy. Radical Christian extremists no longer care about religious meddling in governance. The don’t care about global warming, or poor people, or gay people, or sick people, or clean air and clean water, or anything worldly. The only thing that matters to them is The Rapture.



Republicans need to let go of “repeal and replace.” Now.



Yesterday, I emailed my two Senators, Feinstein and Harris, and my congresswoman, Barbara Lee, with a simple message: Do NOT work with Republicans on healthcare UNLESS they agree to (1) keep the name “Affordable Care Act” and (2) drop their stupid “repeal and replace” baloney.

If there are problems with the A.C.A., then let Congress fix them. Surely they can figure out a way to keep to do that—if they’re willing to work together. It’s called REPAIR, and it’s what we elected them to do.

But the dirty little secret no Republican will dare admit is: They don’t give a damn about healthcare for Americans. Never have, never will; tell me one time in the last forty years when a Republican cared about healthcare for Americans. They have only one desire: to humiliate Barack Obama by repealing his signature legislation. That’s it. Not to provide the best coverage to Americans, but to hurt, insult and wound a man they despise.

After yesterday’s stunning inability of McConnell to get enough votes in the Senate for Trumpcare, there’s been much talk about Repubs and Dems working together to craft a healthcare bill both sides can live with. Ordinarily I’d say that’s a good solution to a political problem, but not in this case. If Republicans really want to fix the A.C.A., first they’re going to have to eat some crow.

They created their own problem. Everybody knows that from Day One of Obama’s presidency, they hated on him with a fierceness previously unknown in American politics since at least FDR, and when Hillary’s star ascended, they hated on her too. Only someone who’s been buried under a rock for the last seven years would fail to understand that the reason Repubs first started talking about “repeal and replace” was because it focus-grouped well among their racist base. (They were preaching R&R way before the law even went into effect and anyone knew how it would fare.) Once every Republican in Congress promised his constituents to R&R Obamacare, they were locked into a “solution” to a problem that didn’t exist. This eventually became a completely untenable position that even most Republicans understood was unworkable; but by 2016, they had no choice: And then Trump’s election—and he hated on Obama worse than anyone—drove them further into the R&R corner, from which there was, and is, no escape.

It’s hard for a politician to admit he’s done something really, really stupid, but Republicans are going to have to admit their colossal error (and possibly find themselves a new Majority Leader). That’s why I’ve told my representatives to stand firm. We have the upper hand now: less than 20% of Americans support Trumpcare, even in red districts and states. We can really stick it to Republicans on this, and we will, if we need to. But it will be better for the country if both sides can reach some agreement to make the A.C.A. stronger and better.

Bottom line: There’s absolutely no reason for Democrats to buy into this Republican junkfest. If you agree with me, I urge you to contact your own Senators and congress people, and tell them the same thing I told mine:  Do NOT work with Republicans on healthcare UNLESS they agree to (1) keep the name “Affordable Care Act” and (2) drop this stupidity of “repeal and replace.”

CBO: Trumpcare cuts Medicaid—Lying Kellyanne says it doesn’t



Over the weekend Kellyanne Conway trotted out her boss’s contention that the House’s and the Senate’s proposed Trumpcare bills don’t cut Medicaid. “These are not cuts,” she insisted, blithely ignoring virtually every analysis that says Medicaid will take an $800 billion hit under the House’s bill, while the Senate version “slashes Medicaid funding deeply over the next decade.”

So Kellyanne Conway has lied once again. But actually, her fast-and-loose playing with the word “cut” has deep roots in Republican Party spinning. It was back in the 1990s when various rightwing think tanks, funded by ultra-conservative plutocratic donors like the Koch Brothers, the Olins and the DeVos family (as in Betsy), developed a key strategy in their ongoing attempt to take over the government for their billionaire class: Change the meaning of the word “cut” to fool voters. As far back as 1995, Republican spinmeisters were advising their clients, “Don’t talk about ‘cuts’ in Medicare [and Medicaid] spending. Talk instead about reducing the rate of increase,” is how the New York Times portrayed the GOP talking point that year.

The article quoted Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster: When you say the four words — ‘cuts in projected growth’ — all Americans see is the word ‘cuts,’ “ he said, adding, “If it is phrased in those terms, Republicans lose the debate.” Luntz, a beneficiary of Koch Brothers secret money, who later worked for now-Speaker Paul Ryan, “used polls, focus groups and ‘instant response dial sessions’ to perfect the language” of Republican attacks on Democratic policies, according to Jane Mayer’s 2016 book, “Dark Money.”

That the House bill takes massive amounts of money away from Medicaid is, in any sane universe (i.e., one in which Kellyanne Conway does not live), obvious. Even the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, in scoring it last month, found that “The [House bill’s] largest savings would come from reductions in outlays for Medicaid.” Then, late yesterday, the CBO issued its score of the Senate bill: “The largest savings,” CBO said, using language identical to its score of the House bill, “would come from reductions in outlays for Medicaid—spending on the program would decline in 2026 by 26 percent…”. No wonder Repubs, like Susan Collins and Dean Heller, are running from this bill like rats from a sinking ship.

Obfuscation of language—its deliberate misuse—is notoriously the practice of Trump (and his surrogates like Kellyanne Conway), so much so that the noun “trumpism” elicits tens of thousands of hits on a Google search. Some people think that Trump’s problem using words honestly is peculiar to him, but the distortion of meaning, AKA lying, is merely Trump’s refinement of a rightwing tactic that’s been developed over decades. Why does this regime lie so much about so many things? Because it can.

Radical white terrorism in America



A white man who operated an alt.right racist Facebook group tried to run over several dozen liberals, some of them disabled, with his motorcycle last week in San Francisco. The intended victims were protesting the Republican healthcare bill; some of them were laying in the street in a “die-in” when the terrorist attempted to ram into them.

Fortunately, no one was injured in the attack, and witnesses detained the suspect, whom the San Francisco Chronicle identified as Jeffrey Dillon, a city resident. Police arrived almost immediately and arrested him.

The Chronicle reported that Dillon was the “administrator of a Facebook group called The White Privilege Club.” I found this link to a similarly-named group, with a logo at the top that shows the torso of a white man who appears to be Dillon, shown grinning in this photo when he was arrested.

Photo: Raw Story via Facebook

Dillon’s intended victims were at their rally in downtown San Francisco when Dillon, driving a BMW motorcycle, “turned the wrong way on the one-way street and drove toward the[m],” according to the Chronicle. One witness said, “He was revving and revving, he was gunning it, aiming at people.” Another said Dillon yelled, “If you want to go to the hospital, here you go.”

Dillon is one of a growing number of angry white people, mainly men, who are resorting to threats and physical violence against those they perceive as their enemies. Their attacks range from assaults by roving gangs of white youth on homeless men, to the recent attack on a gay man in Washington, D.C., by four young white men who chanted “Trump America” as they beat him up and called him “Snowflake”, to February’s vandalizing of a Chicago synagogue with swastikas.

For more stark, violent examples of the threats of these white nationalists, check out this comment string at Breitbart about the Johnny Depp “assassinate the president” remark; the string is filled with profanity, homophobia and generalized rage, some of it directed against me. It makes me wonder how many of these angry white men are just waiting for the opportunity to take their guns and start killing.

The rightwing media is not reporting on this movement. But, as the Huffington Post recently reported, When it comes to domestic terrorism in America…[f]ar-right extremists are behind far more plots and attacks than Islamist extremists.” The terrorists may be white supremacists, militias, neo-nazis, border-control freaks, Christian warriors, so-called “sovereign citizens”, anti-government radicals like the Bundys, or simply mentally ill individuals with no connection to any organized movement; what they have in common is that they are mostly white Christian males.

Had the San Francisco motorcycle attacker been a Muslim, the rightwing media would be screaming bloody murder. Fox News’ rabid commentators would demand immediate passage of Trump’s Muslim ban and accuse Democrats of inciting violence. The Wall Street Journal’s op-ed writers would once again recycle their anti-Muslim screeds, while Tea Party politicians would be reminding voters that only the Republican Party can protect them. The neanderthals at Breitbart would be howling about “Killary” and “Obummer” letting sleeper cells into the country. And Trump, of course, would be busy on Twitter. But of Jeffrey Dillon’s shocking attack, I haven’t seen or heard a word, nor do I expect to, on Fox or in the Wall Street Journal or any other bastion of the tea party. There is a conspiracy of silence in rightwing media circles about this internal threat, and it’s not hard to figure out why they don’t want to talk about it.

Look: We have a real problem with radical white terrorists. They’ve always been around, but they’re feeling more empowered than ever because their Inciter-in-Chief, with his wink, wink, nod, nod dog whistles giving them tacit permission to act out their fantasies, is now President of the United States of America. There is, in fact, plenty of evidence that radical white terrorists have been emboldened by the 45th president. “White supremacists celebrate reports that Trump will dial down scrutiny,” the liberal website ThinkProgress reported, quoting the leader of the neo-nazi organization, The Daily Stormer* (which calls itself “a Republican website”): “Donald Trump wants to remove us from undue federal scrutiny by removing ‘white supremacists’ from the definition of ‘extremism.’ Yes, this is real life: Donald Trump is setting us free.”

Free at last! Thank Trump almighty.  As Adolf Hitler unleashed the meanest, most thuggish instincts in Germans, Donald J. Trump is giving a similar go-ahead to his base. Hitler destroyed his country and half the planet. What will be Trump’s legacy?

*The Daily Stormer takes its name from Der Stürmer, the leading Nazi newspaper, whose publisher, Hitler’s friend Julius Streicher, was hanged for war crimes at Nuremberg.


Why, Republicans? Why such hate?



I don’t believe that Republicans ever had the slightest interest in “fixing” Obamacare. Obama himself repeatedly asked Congress to make the Affordable Care Act better, for instance here, and here–and there were certainly areas it could have been improved. But Republicans insisted on being the party of no. They were and are so driven by blind fury of Barack Obama that their plain and simple desire was to do something that would tarnish his legacy and wound him personally. “Repeal and replace” really meant: harm Obama personally.

Ever since the 1990s, when Republicans declared war on President Clinton—about as centrist as a Democrat can be, with his triangulations—I’ve scratched my head in wonderment at what makes them tick. They went after both Clintons, Bill and Hillary, with a vengeance that seemed to me psychotic, like Hannibal Lector going after Dr. Fredrick Chilton at the end of “Silence of the Lambs” with a single aim: to torture and kill him. All during Clinton’s administration, I watched these Republicans froth at the mouth like rabid dogs in their intolerance and blind fury, and wondered “Why?”

Then Barack Obama got elected, and the horrors of the Republican Party of the 1990s, which had gone largely underground during George W. Bush’s presidency, resurfaced with a vengeance. It astounded and appalled me how viciously they spoke of him and of Michelle, not to mention Hillary Clinton. The spitefulness, the vindictiveness with which they pursued him was frightful. For eight long years while Obama was in office, I wondered, once again, “Why?”

The book I’m reading, Jane Mayer’s “Dark Money,” provides a detailed explanation of the policy reasons why right wing billionaires like the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson hate Democrats, but what it does not, and cannot, explain are the personal reasons for their extreme animosity. It’s tempting, of course, to blame it, in Obama’s case, on racism, or, in Hillary’s case, on misogyny, but Bill Clinton was a WASP male, and they wanted to kill him, too. I have no doubt whatsoever that there is a substantial chunk of Republicans who are racist and into the male-dominance thing, but I don’t think most of them are, so it remains a mystery to me. Democrats certainly disagreed with a lot of things Ronald Reagan did, but I don’t recall this level of hysterical odium we see on the right. I, myself, rather liked and admired Ronald Reagan, and I voted for his vice president, George H.W. Bush, for president. Similarly, when George W. Bush was elected, Democrats didn’t demonize him. Yes, some implied he was stupid (which I didn’t believe), and the Iraq War certainly split the country and caused outrage on the left and throughout large swaths of the center, but again, the execration with which the right lashes out at Democrats simply wasn’t there. So once again, I ask myself, “Why?”

It’s easy, among liberals, to portray today’s tea party and evangelical Republicans as mentally ill, because when someone acts in ways that are unhinged, sometimes that’s the only conclusion you can come to. I’ve suggested, myself, that this is the case: that there is something wrong with the thinking processes of so many Republicans. I realize that’s an insulting thing to do, and in a way, it’s also a lazy attitude for me to take, because it means I don’t have to try really hard to understand where Republicans are coming from.

But I reject that analysis. I have tried, really, really hard, to penetrate into their thinking in order to discover some strain of rationality that would account for the rancor; but, hard as I try, I just can’t find anything in Republicans that accounts, in a sane way, for their bitterness. There is absolutely nothing wrong with disagreeing on policy; that’s what politics is all about. Fight it out! But the vituperation, the piranha-like frenzy on the right—the way they personalize everything and call Obama and Hillary Clinton “evil” and demand their imprisonment and/or death—that is simply incomprehensible to me. Once again, as for the last twenty-plus years, I find myself asking the question again: Why are these Republicans so filled with malice—especially the ones who call themselves “Christian”?

As far as Trump is concerned, I think I understand. We were both born on the same day, in the same year: June 14, 1946, in the same city: New York, he in Queens, me across the bridges in The Bronx. I “get” Trump, and while that doesn’t fully explain him, it does explain a few things. I “get” his anger and impatience, which are very New Yorky qualities. I “get” the quickness to lose his temper, and blame others for everything that irritates him. I have been tempted by those same character defects all my life, but I’m aware of them, and I don’t like them in myself, and I’ve struggled—not always successfully—to overcome them. What I think is that Trump is missing some important form of self-awareness, a self-correction mechanism. He has not struggled against his demons. He’s allowed them to devour him.

Do you remember that time at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, in 2011, when Obama teased Trump on his birtherism and his Celebrity Apprentice T.V. show? It was Obama at his best: bitingly funny, cool, intellectually sharp. Remember when the camera zeroed in on Trump, who was in the audience? Trump looked dark, enraged, furious; I thought I saw black smoke coming out of his ears. I think that was the moment when Trump decided to hate Obama, to do everything in his power to destroy him: Obama had embarrassed him in front of a group whose love Trump coveted, and which Obama clearly had: the Washington establishment, and, worse, Obama had done so on live T.V.–Trump’s medium–before the entire nation and the world. That was the night Trump decided to get even.

And that is what motivates him in his obsession with destroying Obama, the man. It has nothing to do with helping Americans get health insurance. Does anyone actually believe Trump cares? But it does have everything to do with personally delivering a bloody, painful wound to a man he loathes. In a weird way, I can understand that. It’s sick, but it makes a certain sense, from a revenge point of view. But what I still don’t understand is why so many other Republicans, whom Obama never hurt but tried to get along with, carry such a nasty grudge against him.


Obstructionism: A history lesson for Republicans



I get yelled at by Trump supporters all the time on social media who tell me to “get over it”; their side won, he’s POTUS, and I should stop obstructing. “He’s OUR President,” one woman lectured me on Facebook. “If you don’t like it here, move to Russia,” a guy told me, ironically, given the Trump-Russia connection. These Republicans expect, I suppose, that everybody should stop criticizing Trump.

My reply is that criticism of elected officials is part of the American fabric. But I would add an important caveat: this current climate of hyper-partisanship and obstructionism was instigated by the Republican Party around opposition to the Obama presidency, in one of the ugliest political coups since the Civil War.

History time

Barack Obama was elected president on Nov. 4, 2008. Even before he was sworn in, the top Republicans in the Congress, Eric Cantor and Mitch McConnell, had “secret meetings…in which they laid out their daring (though cynical and political) no-honeymoon strategy of all-out resistance to a popular President-elect,” reported TIME. Adds David Obey, then Democratic chair of the House Appropriations Committee, “What they said from the get-go” was that “it doesn’t matter what the hell you [i.e. Obama and the Democrats] do, we ain’t going to help you. We’re going to stand on the sidelines and bitch.”

After Obama was in office, McConnell made what is probably the most infamous Republican remark concerning Obama’s young presidency: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

Republicans: Did you ask Cantor and McConnell to “get over it”?

It’s against this background of facts—not fake news—that opposition to the Trump regime needs to be seen. Republican opposition to Obama—who had said in 2004, “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America; there is the United States of America”—was fast, furious and unrelenting, no matter how bipartisan he tried to be. He was never the “socialist” Republicans, like Sarah Palin, painted him to be; the stimulus bill (TARP) for which the Tea Party and the Koch Brothers initially castigated him was in fact signed into law by President George W. Bush in October, 2008, a month before Obama was even elected. What ensued was the “war” on Obama, about which I wrote about a few days ago, that saw the rise of Citizens United and an unprecedented wave of secret money, astro-turf groups, patently false rhetoric, vigilantism and the stoking of racial, anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim resentment, especially in the Rust Belt and the Bible Belt.

So, to my dear friends on the right who demand that Democrats cease and desist from criticizing this president, I say: Why should we? Tu quoque.

We are correct on the issues and History will support us, while we are equally convinced you are on the wrong side, with your nationalism, religious fanaticism, autocratic tendencies and obliviousness to facts. While we may lose an election here and there (Tuesday’s Georgia 6th was a disappointment), we also win on occasion; and, after all, elections aren’t our only refuge. We have the courts (which thus far will not allow Trump’s vengeful Muslim ban, and which thankfully legalized gay marriage, which the Tea Party abhors), and we have objective, non-partisan law enforcement agencies, like the F.B.I., whose mission is to uphold the law in a way that is “faithful to the Constitution of the United States.” Surely Robert Mueller will keep this in mind as he doggedly pursues his investigation.

So, yes, I freely admit we Democrats (and many others) are obstructing this current president. And we learned how to do it from the masters of obstruction: Republicans.

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



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.

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