Sunday, November 27, 2016

Last Call For Hair Shirts And Hatefests

So it turns out that the only person more preeningly narcissistic in the world of Village columnists than Maureen Dowd is Maureen Dowd's asshole Republican brother Kevin, who apparently gets to write a column this week telling liberals to go screw themselves because the good guys won.

Mr. Trump received over 62 million votes, not all of them cast by homophobes, Islamaphobes, racists, sexists, misogynists or any other “ists.” I would caution Trump deniers that all of the crying and whining is not good preparation for the coming storm. The liberal media, both print and electronic, has lost all credibility. I am reasonably sure that none of the mainstream print media had stories prepared for a Trump victory. I watched the networks and cable stations in their midnight meltdown — embodied by Rachel Maddow explaining to viewers that they were not having a “terrible, terrible dream” and that they had not died and “gone to hell.”

The media’s criticism of Trump’s high-level picks as “not diverse enough” or “too white and male” — a day before he named two women and offered a cabinet position to an African-American — magnified this fact.

Here is a final word to my Democratic friends. The election is over. There will not be a do-over. So let me bid farewell to Al Sharpton, Ben Rhodes and the Clintons. Note to Cher, Barbra, Amy Schumer and Lena Dunham: Your plane is waiting. And to Jon Stewart, who talked about moving to another planet: Your spaceship is waiting. To Bruce Springsteen, Jay Z, Beyoncé and Katy Perry, thanks for the free concerts. And finally, to all the foreign countries that contributed to the Clinton Foundation, there will not be a payoff or a rebate.

As Eddie Murphy so eloquently stated in the movie “48 Hrs.”: “There’s a new sheriff in town.” And he is going to be here for 1,461 days. Merry Christmas.

I guarantee you Kevin here will be making bank off of Trump's tax cuts in the next few years while he eagerly anticipates the coming storm missing people like him.  The vast majority of the 62 million people who voted for Trump will be swept away, along with the rest of us.

The Trumpian's New Clothes

MSNBC weekend host and Daily Beast writer Joy-Ann Reid warns us that in under three weeks, our media has already normalized Trump's openly unconstitutional kleptocracy as the way America has always been.

With Donald Trump about to ascend to the White House, the media risk being tamed by their devotion to access and the belligerencies of the notoriously vengeful resident of Trump Tower and his right-wing wrecking crew of a team. We face a singular test, both as a profession and as a country: will we allow ourselves to see what we see, or will we mentally drape the naked emperor in our midst?

Trump is beset by clear and alarming conflicts between his international business concerns and the national interest. In just the two weeks since the voters delivered him a narrow Electoral College victory, he has openly met with his Indian business partners; put his daughter on the phone with foreign leaders; dangled an unavailable ambassadorship to his UK political doppelganger Nigel Farage and simultaneously pushed Farage to help kill a wind farm project that would mar his Scottish golf course view. His leased D.C. hotel inside the old Post Office has become a prime destination for those seeking a way to curry favor with the incoming president by sliding their credit cards and at checkout time.

Real questions are being raised about possible violations of the Constitution’s emoluments clause, and there’s more to come. Trump is battling Washington D.C. over taxes owed by the hotel, which he leases from the same federal government he will soon lead. The LPGA will in months host a golf tournament on a course branded with the president’s name. Trump remains the subject of numerous lawsuits, ongoing questions about his self-dealing “charity,” and an alleged IRS audit (he will soon appoint the head of the agency). He only recently (and allegedly) divested himself of a substantial investment in the Dakota Access Pipeline that he will soon have a hand in resolving through his command of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. And there are lingering questions as to whether he sexually harassed or assaulted women, and perhaps more to the point: how many.

And these are just a handful of the personal and legal quagmires he faces.

Add to that the alarming consensus of experts regarding extensive Russian interference in the U.S. election through the pumping of fake news and propaganda into the country’s digital bloodstream, and the unprecedented intervention of the FBI within two weeks of the voting, and serious questions of basic legitimacy shroud the incoming president, who lost the popular vote by more than 2 million votes and counting.

And despite Jill Stein’s self-promotional foray into machine-rigging conspiracy theories, which happen to distract from real questions about voter disenfranchisement and suppression, Trump is likely to survive the three-state recount challenges. The Electoral College is unlikely to take the advice of legal scholars who have called on them to choose the person who got millions more votes to be the president.

Trump will, barring circumstances that are at this stage unforeseeable, be sworn in as the country’s 45th president on January 20.

The worst case scenario for the next four years is daunting: a country sinking into kleptocracy, with its natural resources, parks and lands carved up and sold off by Trump and his billionaire cabinet to the highest bidder with fat tax credits to boot; Medicare and other beloved social safety net programs dismantled along with Obamacare and its protections for 20 million people; a Justice Department sowing fear rather than confidence in communities of color; terrified immigrants and Muslims relying on Democratic mayors as their only shield; and an international community left horrified by an America that seems to have lost both its soul and its mind.

If that’s what’s coming, beware of the fictions that are sure to come with it; little lies that salve your discontent, but that obscure the realities that become more and more unpopular to speak of.

And of course, the worst case is actually far more awful and something I expect almost as a matter of foregone conclusion at this point: a brutal "regime change" quagmire war with Iran, an EU pushed to the point of financial and social collapse as right-wing nationalism shatters the continent and Turkey completes the transition to dictatorship, and a Russia ascendant with military might across the former Soviet republics, China rampant in the Pacific, Brazil, Japan, and Australia in a lost decade and America leaderless and rudderless.  And that's before we get to Israel and ISIS and Syria.

Strap in kids.  The next four years are most likely the beginning of the most turbulent era in international politics in decades.

Sunday Long Read: The Darkness In Flyover Country

Our Sunday Long Read this week is Sarah Kendzior's interview with Who What Why's Jeff Schechtman on the coming authoritarian kleptocracy of Trump, from a writer who has covered Central Asia for years and has witnessed such regimes being formed first hand.  Kendzior is the US correspondent for a number of foreign papers, and writing from this perspective she is sounding a very loud alarm that the US press is already deeply compromised and should be considered at this point to be nothing more than Trump's propaganda outlet, and that if experience and history is any teacher, America's descent into a dark version of itself will happen extremely quickly.

Jeff Schechtman: As you look out at what drove us to what we’ve been dealing with since Election Day, one of the things I know you’ve written about and talked about is the fact that the predicate for this has been with us for a long time. This isn’t something that just happened in the past year or the past year and a half during the campaign; that events that brought us to where we are today have been brewing for a long time. Talk about that.

Sarah Kendzior: Yes, that’s true in multiple respects. In terms of Trump and his popular support, I do live out in St. Louis in Missouri and the recession never ended here. People are extremely frustrated with their economic situation and it’s been very difficult for people to hold onto middle class jobs and so that kind of popular economic discontent that both Trump and Sanders, and eventually Clinton heavily emphasized is important. It’s not the only thing. Obviously, Trump has run a very racist and bigoted campaign; sort of white nationalist campaign reminiscent of dictators. I should note that I do live in Missouri, so I have this perspective but I also have a Ph.D. in anthropology where I studied dictatorships, particularly post-Soviet dictatorships like Uzbekistan, so I’m an expert in that field as well. Many of the things that Trump did throughout his campaign reminded me very much of the dictators that I’ve studied in terms of his demagoguery, his use of spectacle, manipulation of the media and his manipulation of the masses. 
Those who voted for him, I think have signed on for something that they don’t really want. I don’t think he’s going to fulfill his promises to them in order to improve their economic livelihood or keep them safer. I, in fact, think the opposite is going to happen. That’s true because he has frankly stated so, including long before the election. For example, in February 2014, Trump went on Fox News to talk about Russia – which we should return to this because it’s very interesting that a reality TV show host would be on TV talking about Russian foreign policy in 2014 – but another thing he said during then, the interview was that in order for America to go back to where it was, to go back to being great, we need total economic collapse and we need riots. He explicitly called for this. 
His chief advisor and advisor throughout his campaign, Steve Bannon, who is an extreme white supremacist who runs Breitbart Media, which is a conspiratorial, right wing site, has also said similar things. He described himself as a Leninist who wants to destroy the state but I wouldn’t really describe him as a Leninist as much as an accelerationist, which is also what I would describe Trump. So there’s so many factors going into this and it’s a little bit head spinning but I’ve been tracking it all year. I became very worried throughout the year that Trump would indeed win; I know the polls said he wouldn’t but I noticed both the genuine popular support that I saw among people here in the center of the country but also a lot of manipulative tactics that remind me very much of how dictators take power, so I think it’s important to take a full look at everything that happened and really investigate because what we will deal with in the future is very dire and I think we should try our best to stop it.

Jeff Schechtman: Talk a little bit about what you would hear from people in your part of the country, in the center of the country with regard to expectations; what they think is going to happen to the extent whether they voted for Trump simply because they wanted to shake things up or because they really did have expectations that somehow it was going to make their lives better?

Sarah Kendzior: Well, I went through a lot of Trump rallies and a lot of tea party Trump meetings in Missouri and also in Illinois throughout the year. I didn’t go as a journalist, I went as a member of the crowd and people would talk to me pretty openly because they thought I was a fellow Trump supporter. One thing that needs to be clear is that this is not a monolithic group of people. There are some people who really are very bigoted, who are anti-immigrant, who are racist; all of that is there. There are others that are just very desperate. They feel like their needs have not been addressed by the Democratic Party, by Obama and often by the GOP as well. I think that this is completely accurate. 
Since 2008, it’s been a struggle to live out here and to make ends meet. I think that we’re at a point where people feel so desperate and so enraged that they are willing to listen to anybody who is very actively stating that he’s concerned for their welfare, that he’s going to return their lives back to when it was good, especially that they would have steady jobs and work again and the feeling of safety and inclusion in American life. That feeling is very understandable. Donald Trump is not going to do that. He doesn’t actually understand or care about people in this part of the country. He’s had his whole life as a billionaire of major influence and political influence to care about what happens to people out here and all he’s done is shake people down. He’s done that all over the place; everywhere from Atlantic City to Gary Indiana. He’s about to shake down the entire country in a very kleptocratic way. I think by privatizing resources, by not bringing jobs, by making people feel more desperate – and that kind of desperation can lead to ethnic violence and can lead to hate crimes, especially when you’re being prompted towards those hate crimes explicitly by the administration. 
The hiring of Steve Bannon and others, he’s saying that this is sanctioned behavior now; that it’s okay for the president to be backed by the Ku Klux Klan, that you can get away with treating non-white people in a completely derogatory, cruel and often barbaric fashion. His promises, we should expect him to carry them out. A lot of people were doubtful that he would do things like make a registration list of Muslims or do mass deportation because these are the kinds of tactics that happened in dictatorships. These are the kind of things that don’t happen in the United States. We have had atrocities in the United States, but we usually prefer to not talk about them or brag about them so openly. He’s openly saying he’s going to do this, he’s said it throughout the entire campaign and he’s now making these plans. 
So we’re in for a very ugly situation where I think we’re going to be economically bottomed out. I think everyone is going to suffer, whether you voted for Trump or you didn’t. He might try to placate people in the beginning by throwing them some jobs, maybe through infrastructure projects but it seems clear from his team that the goal – as you’ve seen in other countries all around the world, is to try to make as much money for himself and his friends as he can by using and abusing executive powers to strip down national resources and carry out the kind of acts of corruption that he has, many of which we don’t know about because he won’t release his tax returns. So we should be prepared for economic volatility in a very extreme way. We should also be prepared for sanctioned violence and for policies that frankly disregard the Constitution and the rights of American citizens.

Jeff Schechtman: When many of these promises aren’t kept, when the lives of people in that part of the country don’t improve, are we going to see scapegoating that goes on in your view?

Sarah Kendzior: Yes, absolutely. That’s something I’m very concerned about. I think right now, people who voted for Trump are obviously happy he won. Some are just regular people who are glad their candidate managed to beat Hillary Clinton, but others – we’ve seen an enormous spike in hate crimes. I think one of the largest in the history of the country since they started tracking this: in the week after the election. Everything; from swastikas being painted in places to “make America white again” to people being beaten and bullied, to children being taunted in classrooms to threats to Muslims and Jews, it’s just very disconcerting. There doesn’t seem to be much reaction in our government to stop it. Leaders are not speaking out very strongly about it with a few exceptions, and I think it’s very interesting that one of those exceptions is Harry Reid, who’s leaving the government. He spoke out in the strongest way. 
So you kind of have to wonder why aren’t Obama and other leaders being more forceful when there’s a real state of threat from the president-elect in this team to average American citizens and that this threat is being carried out in a populous way and will eventually be carried out with the law itself; with executive power itself. I think as he does not fulfill his promises and jobs do not return here and if resources are denied and the people suffering increases, he will encourage them as he has throughout his campaign, to look for scapegoats. Those scapegoats will be Muslims, Mexicans and anyone else who he wants to blame this problem on. 
The media has really played this down. They played this down throughout the entire campaign, including major incidents such as two weeks before the election, a group of Trump fans were arrested by the FBI for building a weapon of mass destruction to blow up an apartment building that housed Somalis in Kansas. That to me is a pretty major story. Imagine if that was the other way around and bunch of Muslim Somalis had plotted to blow up a building of white Kansans. It would be everywhere, but I don’t even know if you’ve heard about it, I don’t know if your listeners have heard about it, but you can look it up. Kansas City Star covered it pretty extensively. So there’s something going on in that a lot of this seems to be sanctioned by the media, sanctioned by the government and it’s extremely reminiscent of dictators, both past and present and I think it’s an urgent crisis. 
I think it’s something that the government and the people, people who believe in American values; that we should be free, that we should be safe, that we should honor each other as citizens and respect each other’s rights as citizens. Anyone who cares about that should be very concerned right now and be contacting their representatives and speaking out and trying to amass as much mobilization against this kind of sanctioned brutality, if possible.
Again, Kendzior is an expert on the kind of kleptocratic dictatorships that preceded Trump. Just as the Gilded Age in the 20's led to the Great Depression of the 30's, I think that's where we're headed now, only in a much more compressed time scale.  Her view of America is that we need to mobilize now to try to head off the worst of Trump's impulses before they become the new normal.

I don't think we will.  Not in time to stop what's coming.  And when Trump fails to produce, the hammer is going to come down upon the most vulnerable of us, and people are going to die, and violence is going to be constant if not widespread, and then, history teaches us, the crackdown really begins.

As bad as 2016 is, we're all going to be wishing for it to come back before too long.

Also, pay attention to Kendzior as a voice in the weeks and months ahead.  Here she is on AM Joy this morning talking about the Grifter-in-Chief.

She makes a lot of sense.

And A Castro Of Thousands

If you're wondering how President-elect Trump would handle his first major foreign policy test with the death of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro over the weekend, well, it went pretty much as everyone expected.

Donald Trump condemned the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro on an otherwise quiet Saturday for the president-elect.

"The world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades," Trump said in a statement issued hours after Castro's death. "Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights."

Trump, who has pledged to roll back the Obama administration's diplomatic opening to Cuba, said the nation remains "a totalitarian island," but he hopes that Castro's passing will mark "a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve."

Noting support of anti-Castro Cuban Americans during the recent presidential election, Trump pledged to fight for a "free Cuba" during his administration.

"Though the tragedies, deaths and pain caused by Fidel Castro cannot be erased, our administration will do all it can to ensure the Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty," Trump said in his statement.

Earlier in the morning, Trump marked the news with brief tweet: "Fidel Castro is dead!"

Sure hope he doesn't fall for any Twitter hoaxes about people dying.  Might lead to an international incident or six.

Compare that to actual President Obama's statement:

At this time of Fidel Castro’s passing, we extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people. We know that this moment fills Cubans - in Cuba and in the United States - with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation. History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him.

For nearly six decades, the relationship between the United States and Cuba was marked by discord and profound political disagreements. During my presidency, we have worked hard to put the past behind us, pursuing a future in which the relationship between our two countries is defined not by our differences but by the many things that we share as neighbors and friends - bonds of family, culture, commerce, and common humanity. This engagement includes the contributions of Cuban Americans, who have done so much for our country and who care deeply about their loved ones in Cuba.

Today, we offer condolences to Fidel Castro's family, and our thoughts and prayers are with the Cuban people. In the days ahead, they will recall the past and also look to the future. As they do, the Cuban people must know that they have a friend and partner in the United States of America.

Republicans like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have already called the measured statement "pathetic" but hey, we'll just have the Tweeter-in-Chief to scream out our impulses going forward.  Won't that be fun?

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