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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

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

I’d like to share some of my reactions to the inauguration—rough notes I took while watching wall-to-wall coverage from Thursday through Sunday.

Think of it as a sacrifice made on your behalf.

TOMB OF THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER

I’m a sucker for tradition and ceremonial continuity. Even parades make me cry. So when President-elect Trump and Vice-President-elect Pence visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to place a wreath on Thursday, my first tears of the weekend began to flow.

When representatives of the armed services marched out—holding the flags of their service, along with the American flag—and then executed the perfect turn and dipped the service flags just the right amount to highlight the national flag for the playing of the national anthem, I was moved. The solemnity of the event and the significance of what that location represents cannot be minimized.

INAUGURAL CONCERT

I didn’t cry at all watching this event. In fact, I must admit I occasionally laughed. Aside from the fact that the Trump inaugural committee had trouble booking any major talent … did you notice that whenever Donald Trump puts his hand over his heart during the playing of the anthem, he occasionally pats his chest, apparently attempting to keep the beat with the music? What made me laugh was the realization that the president has no rhythm at all. And who pats their heart during the playing of the national anthem?

THE INAUGURATION

Again, this is a solemn rite of passage in our democratic history—opposing members of Congress greeting each other; four past presidents attending to acknowledge the peaceful transfer of power; and a crowd of well-wishers (along with some protests that included burning trash cans—I’m still not sure what the political significance of that is).

The lasting impressions for me are the appearance and demeanor of our new first lady, and the poise and grit of Secretary Hillary Clinton. Both women did themselves, and us, proud.

The inauguration speech was unfortunate, painting a picture of a dystopian America and playing directly to the president’s election base—with little regard to the majority of Americans who did not vote for him.

There was one fantastic statement made by President Trump—if only it had been indicative of the overall tone, which, alas, it was not: “No challenge can match the heart and fight and spirit of America.”

He should have stopped there.

At lunch after he was sworn in, President Trump made a gracious statement acknowledging the Clintons for attending, and saying how much he respected them. This is the same man who only a couple of weeks ago said that Secretary Clinton was “guilty as hell” and should not have even been allowed to run for president.

I guess it’s easier to trash people when they’re not right in front of you.

THE INAUGURATION BALLS

Let’s start with how truly stunning Melania Trump looked, and give her credit for having the good sense, at the third ball—honoring the Armed Services—to thank the veterans for their service and to say how proud she is to be their first lady. If only President Trump had shown that much grace—all he talked about was his crowd numbers and the assumption that those attending the ball had voted for him. His absolute favorite word is “me.”

Let’s also give a nod to Ivanka Trump, whose ball gown, hair style and demeanor was exquisite. However, watch for criticism of the way she attempts to identify with average women and their policy issues when she has never faced any of the same situations. Time will tell what influence she may be able to have on her father, but it’s somewhat telling that it’s her husband who got hired for an important job, not her.

The most glaring reality of the balls was that men can’t dance—regardless of age. Neither Trump nor Pence have any sense of rhythm, and they come from a generation when ballroom dancing was actually taught in school. The younger men in both families are hopeless, too. It did make me miss President Obama—remember his first dance with Michelle?

Also, have you noticed that Donald Trump seems to have no sense of intimacy toward his wife? She often reaches for his hand, but he almost never reaches for hers. While “dancing” with her on inauguration night, Trump could barely keep his attention on her, constantly waving to others in the crowd or doing his signature “thumbs up” gesture. Even during the playing of a romantic song, he wasn’t into her—he was into the adoring crowd. He’s the guy you meet who’s always looking over your shoulder to see if there’s anyone more important in the room. There was maybe one moment of affection, and it came from her toward him.

The catty side of me thought: I don’t care how much money or power he has … can you imagine sleeping with that man? Petty, I know, but I’m just sayin’ …

THE DAY AFTER

At the prayer service the morning after the inauguration, the president seemed to have trouble staying awake and engaged. During a prayer, he was looking around the crowd in the church, occasionally with his signature “thumbs up.” He can’t sit still or stay focused for very long. His grandchildren were better-behaved.

Then there was the visit to the hallowed wall honoring lives lost at the CIA—Trump’s first official stop, to assure the intelligence community of his support. He began by saying how much he respects them, then spent two-thirds of his time defending the inauguration attendance, bragging about having the most appearances on Time’s cover (which is not true, by the way), and blaming the media for inventing a rift between him and the intelligence community after he had compared them to Nazis.  

WOMEN’S MARCH

What can one say when millions of women, children and men take to the streets in solidarity across the world?

“What are they marching for?” asked some. As someone who has marched in the past, against the Vietnam War and for civil rights and women’s rights, here’s what: They marched to show that women’s rights cannot and must not be rolled back, and to show their lack of confidence in a president who has publicly disrespected women and the real-life issues that are important to them.

Whatever the differences in individual issues among the marchers, they all stood up for equality without exception.

Marches took place in more than 600 cities across the country, with total estimates now topping 3 million marchers throughout the U.S. More than 1,500 women marched in Palm Desert, and locals Carlynne McDonnell, of Strong Women Advocacy Group; Dori Smith, of Moms Demand Action; Amalia deAztlan, of Democratic Women of the Desert; and Palm Springs resident Eileen Stern made a trip to Los Angeles or D.C., along with many others.

Women and their supporters also showed up by the tens of thousands around the world, from New Zealand and Australia to Rome, London, Austria, Mexico City, Paris, Barcelona and even Kosovo—concerned about not only women’s rights, but also international security, which they believe is threatened under a Trump presidency. Watching this amazing outpouring of support worldwide once again brought tears.

I thought the best sign at the marches was: “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.” I loved the guy from Long Beach who said, “I’m marching for my 91-year-old mother and my 30-year-old daughter, who both taught me how to be a man.”

Meanwhile, amidst this historic outpouring of solidarity and concern, the new president could only talk about how big his crowd was and how he was being disrespected by “the media” in their mostly accurate reporting.

By the way, in case you didn’t understand the pink-knitted caps with pussycat ears, I’ll leave you to figure that one out for yourself.

If you are blasé about the changing of the guard, or disgusted with everything political, I want to remind you that your grandchildren’s grandchildren will study the current period in their history classes. We’ve seen the election of the first private-sector president—with absolutely no political experience and no apparent interest in history or traditions or self-restraint. There is much to make fun of in this unfolding reality show; in truth, when you’re worried or afraid or angry, humor can help.

It’s important to remember we’re living in unfolding history. That’s worth paying attention to, regardless of who gets the biggest crowds or who gives the better speech or whether you believe the political process works to your advantage.

I didn’t vote for Donald Trump, but the bottom line for me is that the peaceful transfer of power transcends all else. It endures as the epitome of what we stand for as a nation.

And that makes me cry.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors