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I went to bed reading Fire and Fury, which, as you probably know, is Michael Wolff’s ribald and riveting account of the early days of the Trump regime. It quickly became clear in the book that no one involved in Trump’s campaign expected, or wanted, him to win.

That was a horrible thought: Trump and his motley crew of enablers, the doltish adult children, sleazeballs like Paul Manafort and Corey Lewandowski, fascists like Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller—they all overestimated the American people.

They thought we were better than we were. They thought they were safe, because we would never elect Donald Trump.

I went to sleep with this somber thought. At some point in the night, I woke up smelling smoke. I got up and looked around and couldn’t find anything. It was 10 degrees in Baltimore that night, so I assumed it was a neighbor’s fireplace.

Around 9 a.m., my wife woke me. “The dog is acting weird,” she said.

The dog was shaking, pawing at us.

“Smoke!” my wife yelled.

I looked over—and smoke was coming up through the floorboards. Then it burst into flame. By the foot of the bed.

Fire and fury ensued. This is the essence of this year.

Ultimately, the fire in my bedroom wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. The fire department—Big Government!—was there before the fire destroyed much. They cut through the floor and broke the windows. Most of the damage was caused by the smoke. We were safe, and we didn’t lose anything of real value. We have renters’ insurance, and I’m writing this from a hotel, where I spent a lot of time waiting on the bureaucracy of insurance and disaster mitigation. I bought the audio book of Fire and Fury and listened to the rest of it as I threw out former possessions that were now nothing but junk.

However difficult things were for me, it turned out to be much better than what was going on with many of the people in the figurative conflagration of the book—especially Steve Bannon.

Bannon is the almost Ahab-esque antihero of Fire and Fury, which in many ways charts his rise and fall—at least up until the point that the book’s publication precipitated a further fall. For being such a horrendous pseudo-intellectual schlub, Bannon is also fascinating, a far-right svengali. According to Harvard studies, during the last election, Breitbart was three times as influential as its next-closest competitor (measured in terms of retweets and shares), Fox News. Bannon was at least partly responsible for that—and for getting Trump elected.

That perception, that Bannon orchestrated Trump’s victory—as shown in another book, Joshua Green’s Devil’s Bargain—was probably the No. 1 factor in his August White House ouster, even more important than the alt-right terror that ripped apart Charlottesville that month.

In Fire and Fury, though, Bannon is correct about how horrible the Trump kids and Jared Kushner are. It was actually beautiful to listen to him (or Holter Graham, who read the audiobook) railing against the idiocy of Jarvanka—Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

And Jarvanka were also right about him and his whack-job far-right Leninism, reveling in the destruction of the world. That circular firing squad is what makes the book so compelling: All of these people are so disastrously wrong about America, but they are pretty correct when they assess each other’s weaknesses. Bannon’s weaknesses are nearly infinite—and the most important ones are intellectual. Sure he’s a slob and all that, but he is a sexist, racist, “nationalist” who created a section of the Breitbart site called “Black Crime.”

After Wolff quoted Bannon saying that Don Jr.’s Russia meeting was treasonous, the president went on the attack with a new epithet, “Sloppy Steve.” Bannon tried to apologize, saying he was really attacking his predecessor as Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort. But it wasn’t enough. Bannon was fired first from Breitbart and then from his SiriusXM show (with Fox pre-emptively refusing to hire him). Worst of all, billionaires Robert and Rebekah Mercer, who have supported most of his endeavors and funded his nationalist endeavors, cut ties with their schlubby honey badger.

I watched out all of this play out on cable as I tried to deal with the disaster bureaucracy. And it was delightful to see the pundits all talking about Bannon’s terrible week, even if it came for all the wrong reasons.

Bannon, by the way, did not have the worst week in Washington, D.C., during that particular time. That would go to the more than 12,000 Salvadorans who live in the district; the numbers are far larger if you count the D.C. suburbs, which have large Salvadoran enclaves. Ultimately, a Department of Homeland Security directive to end the temporary protected status for people who came to the U.S. from El Salvador following a 2001 earthquake will affect more than 200,000 people who have been in the U.S. for more than 15 years now. It’s almost impossible to imagine how deeply that will affect their communities.

Bannon may be gone, but this is the essence of the dark alignment of Bannon’s alt-right with Jeff Sessions’ revanchist racism and Trump’s big boner for a border wall. So when Trump was meeting with a group of senators and asked why we have so many people coming here from “shithole countries,” like El Salvador, Haiti (which already had its TPS rescinded) and various nations in Africa, it was clear that it didn’t matter whether or not Bannon was in the White House or “in the wilderness” or not.

Trump, Bannon and their crew may have overestimated the electorate in their expectation of losing. We should not make the same mistake and overestimate them. Whatever happens to Steve Bannon, racists now rule the executive branch.

Baynard Woods is a reporter for the Real News Network and the founder of Democracy in Crisis, a project of alternative newspapers across the country. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Twitter: @baynardwoods.

Published in National/International

In a tax speech in Pennsylvania on Oct. 11, President Trump gave a shout out to "the great Jeffrey Lord.”

He went on to explain that Lord “was on fake news CNN for a long time. He was one of my few sources of truth."

CNN severed ties with Lord after he tweeted “sieg heil,” a Nazi salutation.

Trump’s flirtation with racism is nothing new; it extends back through the campaign and into many facets of the presidency. He called the white supremacists in Charlottesville “very fine people” and has repeatedly refused to condemn hate groups. But the precise mechanisms by which the administration and allied media outlets like Breitbart act as bridges to normalize hate groups are becoming increasingly clear.

Buzzfeed’s massive Oct. 5 story on the right-wing provocateur showed that Milo Yiannopoulos sent at least one major Breitbart story to a number of white supremacists to vet and line-edit. In a video embedded in the story, Richard Spencer and others gave a Nazi salute as Yiannopoulos sang “America the Beautiful” at karaoke. (Scroll down to see the video.) Milo even spiked a story at the suggestion of white nationalist Devin Saucier, a friend of Spencer’s.

Yiannopoulos was forced out of Breitbart after an old tape in which he appears to condone pedophilia came out, but he has remained in contact with the major funders to the site, the billionaire Mercer family, which supported funded Milo Inc.

Bannon, who had declared the Mercer-funded Breitbart to be a “platform for the alt-right,” left the site to run Trump’s campaign and work as a senior adviser to the White House. He returned to the site when he was ousted shortly after the white-nationalist terror attack in Charlottesville.

“Dude—we r in a global existentialist war where our enemy EXISTS in social media and u r jerking yourself off w/ marginalia!!!!,” he wrote to Milo. “U should be OWNING this conversation because u r everything they hate!!! Drop your toys, pick up your tools and go help save western civilization.”

“Western civilization” is often code for whiteness. It is less offensive, and less likely to scare away potential converts.

In his New York Times Magazine story on the Breitbart, Wil S. Hylton (a friend of mine) talked to Yochai Benkler, a professor who had been studying the site’s rise.

Breitbart, according to Benkler’s study, was three times more influential than its closest rival, Fox News, during the 2016 election. In this way, it has, according to Benkler, served as a sort of filter that helps legitimize racist ideas. Benkler told Hylton: “Breitbart is not talking about these issues in the same way you would find on the extreme right. … They don’t use the same language you find on sites like VDARE and The Daily Stormer'’—two sites connected to the white-nationalist alt-right movement.

But they are talking about the same issues, and the fact that they don’t use the same language is what makes Breitbart effective as a “bridge” that, in Hylton’s words, “functioned as a legitimizing tether for the most abhorrent currents of the right wing.”

Now that we know that Yiannopoulos actually sent “his” Breitbart stories (which were often not actually written by him) to Andrew “Weev” Auernheimer, who works at the Daily Stormer, the bridge phenomenon comes off a bit differently.

“What we saw in our larger-scale analysis was that Breitbart was offering a bridge, a translation platform from the white nationalists to the rest, but that the language and framing was sufficiently different to not be read directly as white nationalist,” Benkler responded in an email when I asked about the Milo story. “To the extent that the BuzzFeed news story is correct in its details, it describes in great detail the level process by which the ideas were transferred, but then still partly sanitized for consumption by people who would be receptive to the ideas, but not the messenger (e.g. Daily Stormer) or the very specific explicitly white nationalist language.”

Trump himself has often acted as a similar kind of bridge. Although he first endorsed Luther Strange to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ old Senate seat in an Alabama special election, Trump has now come around to fully supporting Roy Moore, the theocratic former Alabama judge twice removed from office for failing to recognize the rulings of a higher court, who beat Strange in the special election Republican primary for the Senate seat.

But Moore is himself acting as a bridge for even more extreme figures.

As Talking Points Memo recently reported, Moore’s top supporter is Michael Peroutka, which the site described as a “hardline Confederate sympathizer with longtime ties to a secessionist group” who has “expressed beliefs that make even Moore’s arguably theocratic anti-gay and anti-Muslim views look mainstream by comparison.”

Peroutka, a secessionist and debt-collection attorney, ran for president in 2004 for the Constitution Party. A decade later, in 2014, he ran for the county council in Anne Arundel County, Md., and was supported by Moore, whom Peroutka has honored by naming a field on his farm for the Alabamian. In 2012, Peroutka asked attendees of a League of the South conference to “stand for the national anthem” and proceeded to play “Dixie.” (Scroll down to watch the video.)

So as the president and his administration continue to throw fits about athletes “disrespecting the flag” by taking a knee during the national anthem, they are actively supporting or receiving support from racist extremists who support either the Nazis or the Confederacy. In the same way that Breitbart launders the extremist views of the Daily Stormer, making them more palatable, the administration is acting as a bridge to legitimize those elements on the right that are even more extreme than Trump.

Baynard Woods is a reporter at the Real News Network. Democracy in Crisis is a joint project of alternative newspapers across the country, including the Coachella Valley Independent. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Twitter: @baynardwoods.

Published in National/International

The far, far right started freaking out when “lock her up”-chanting former Gen. Michael Flynn resigned as national security adviser in the wake of revelations that he discussed loosening sanctions with a Russian ambassador while Obama was still president.

Mike Cernovich, one of those DeploraBallers whom others on the far right sometimes like to call a cuck, started the hysteria almost immediately after the announcement, tweeting: “The coup is on, Flynn resigned. Bannon, Kellyanne, and Miller next on the chopping block.”

A few minutes later, far, far right cop-worshipper John Cardillo also used the C word: “Flynn was the first casualty in Reince and the establishment’s palace coup.” He followed with a direct appeal to Trump: “You have traitors within. Do not let them conspire with the MSM to remove your circle of loyalists.”

Cernovich agreed that Flynn’s resignation was a “HUGE win for fake news.”

These guys are extremists, but they are smart enough to know the only strategy for Trump is to deny reality and all other sources of truth. The corruption, impropriety and legally dubious dealings of the regime seem so widespread that the admission that one thing is wrong could lead quickly to the revelation that everything is wrong.

Breitbart, meanwhile, was doing its best to ignore Flynn’s resignation, proving, perhaps, the old conservative point about the inefficiency of government workers, not tweeting about it at all until 9:30 a.m. the next morning. State news moves slow.

It is premature to rejoice about any of this, because the Trump propaganda machine has been wildly effective at erasing reality so far—and when Trump dumped Paul Manafort because of his Russian ties, the dirt just seemed to disappear. But the questions of, “What did the president know, and when?” may still prove powerful in Washington, D.C.


THE INTELLECTUAL GODFATHER

Senators shuffle by the desk to cast their votes on the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education, chattering like kids returning from summer break to find that everything has changed. Somehow, even the victors seem confused. None of them really expected the world to look like this.

Except, maybe, Sen. Jeff Sessions. He is standing toward the front of the Senate chambers, his hands behind his back, at ease. There is a grin on his face. He has just cast what will be his final vote as senator—to confirm DeVos.

Though he is not attorney general yet, he was instrumental in planning the flurry of authoritarian executive orders marking Trump’s first weeks in office, including the now-contested Muslim ban. Sessions wanted to go even harder, hoping for a “shock and awe” approach, overwhelming the opposition with the dramatic pace of change.

In a Washington Post story that called Sessions the “intellectual godfather” of “Trump’s hard-line actions,” the director of a conservative immigration think tank compared the Republican senator to a “guerrilla in the hinterlands preparing for the next hopeless assault on the government” who suddenly learns that “the capital has fallen.”

With his dark suit, white hair and wrinkled white peach of a face, Sessions does not look like he’s spent much time training in the jungle.

He walks slowly to his seat. Sitting down, he bows his head. His eyes seem to be closed, as if praying. He brings the tips of his fingers together, facing upward, on his lap.

A few moments later, he takes out a silver object and holds it gingerly between the first two fingers and thumbs of each hand, almost as if unwrapping foil on a stick of gum. But it doesn’t seem to be gum—it’s impossible to tell what it is from the press gallery above the Senate floor—and he does not unwrap it, he just fingers it, his head bowed.

Then the vote is called. He puts away the silver object. It is 50-50.

As expected, Vice President Mike Pence confirms DeVos with a historic tie-breaking vote. It is a huge blow to anyone who cares about competency, public education or ethics in government. The Democrats spent the last 24 hours complaining about all of these issues, but that doesn’t matter now. They have no control. The whole process demonstrated that the new regime can do as it wishes on the Hill.

Across the room, Sen. Al Franken acts like he is charging someone with a podium, making a clear reference to Melissa McCarthy’s Saturday Night Live skit satirizing Sean Spicer, the president’s press secretary.

Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham sit beside each other talking quietly, as if conspiring or gossiping. McCain says something and sucks his bottom lip. Graham scans the room from left to right.

Sessions gets up and looks around the room again before he heads toward the door.

When he returns to the Senate later that day, Sessions is the nominee under consideration. He sits behind Majority Leader Mitch McConnell while Sen. Elizabeth Warren quotes the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, who called Sessions a “disgrace to the Justice Department” during a 1986 confirmation hearing, when Sessions was denied a federal judgeship because of allegations of racism. Now Warren reads from a letter that Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King, Jr., sent to the Senate during that same failed confirmation.

“Mr. President, Mr. President,” McConnell interrupts, defending Sessions. “The senator has impugned the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama, as warned by the chair. Senator Warren said, ‘Mr. Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens in the district he now seeks to serve as a federal judge.’

“I call the senator to order under the provisions of Rule 19,” McConnell says.

The crazy thing about Rule 19, in this context, is that it was created in 1902, after Sen. “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman, a notorious white terrorist, beat up a colleague who had defected to the other side of a debate. Tillman founded a group called the Red Shirts, which terrorized African Americans as Reconstruction bled into Jim Crow. He was an early mentor of white supremacist Strom Thurmond, who, as the chair of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, was the guy who both smashed Sessions’ hopes of becoming a federal judge and the guy who kept King’s 1986 letter out of the Senate record. When Warren read the letter, she was correcting Thurmond’s 30-year-old error.

So it is grimly fitting that McConnell, who has learned to manipulate the Senate in order to grab control of the judiciary for his party, cites Rule 19 to defend Jeff Sessions, the old-school law-and-order white supremacist who stuck around long enough to make it mainstream again.

During the exchange (in which McConnell now famously uttered the iconic sentences: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted”), Sessions picks his nose, rubbing it with a handkerchief, making sure he gets it all, blowing again.

Nearly 24 hours later, McConnell uses the last few minutes of debate to offer a cornpone encomium to his departing colleague, calling Sessions a “true Southern gentleman,” like that’s an unquestionably good thing, eliding the difficult history connecting Sessions’ home state and the fight for civil rights.

Later, Pence swears in Sessions, who cites a “dangerous permanent trend” of increasing crime and pledges to end “lawlessness.”

Like Sessions, Trump regularly exaggerates the increase in violent crime. He uses the occasion of Sessions’ swearing in to sign three executive orders that further empower the already vast police state, now overseen by Sessions.

Neither man mentions the epidemic of African Americans shot and killed by police.

“A new era of justice begins, and it begins right now,” Trump says.

Democracy in Crisis is a joint project of alternative newspapers around the country, including the Coachella Valley Independent. Baynard Woods is editor at large at the Baltimore City Paper. His work has also appeared in The Guardian, The New York Times, the Washington Post, Vox, Salon, McSweeney's, Virginia Quarterly Review and many other publications.

Published in National/International