Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Last Call For Our Little White Supremacist Domestic Terrorist Problem, Con't

The real story from Trump's debate meltdown last night was his open message to violent white supremacist group Proud Boys: "Stand back and stand by." This is where things could get ugly, folks, and as Alex Yablon writes at Foreign Policy, we've been here before.

Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” President Donald Trump told his supporters in the far-right street-fighting group from his podium at the first 2020 presidential debate. “Somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left.” Four years into the Trump era, Americans have struggled to habituate themselves to the persistent presence of armed paramilitaries at demonstrations and flashes of lethal political violence. What do these hard men herald for our political life? Are they stormtroopers waiting for Trump’s signal to hasten the transition from autocratic attempt to autocratic breakthrough and the final demise of American democracy, as some liberals fear? Or are they a sideshow of confused, lonely men acting out fantasies with semi-automatic rifles?

Both hyperventilating over paramilitary fantasists and laughing off potential death squads miss the mark. The whiff of putsch may be more pungent than feels comfortable at the moment, but the far-right’s window for an extra-legal takeover remains quite narrow, especially if polls hold and Biden wins by a healthy margin. At the same time, American politics really has been destabilized by political violence, overwhelmingly perpetrated by the extreme right. But if the United States is heading into an era of fear and violence, it won’t be the first time this has happened in a democracy—or even the first time this has happened in America itself.

If proud boys and vigilantes can’t pull off a coordinated drive for power, they may opt for a time-honored approach in democratic politics: the “strategy of tension.” In a paper published this spring, University of Winchester criminologists Matt Clement and Vincenzo Scalia defined the strategy of tension as a political method of “state crime,” designed to produce “a climate of fear within communities. [Strategies of tension] employ deceit, threats, and acts of violence in order to maintain control across society through fear of the consequences of challenging the government of the day.”

The term was coined in Italy during the Years of Lead from the late 1960s to the 1980s, when political violence exploded, with bombings, kidnappings, and failed coups making weekly headlines. Under the strategy of tension, as the left grows more militant, influential, and strident in its demands, the right tries to inflame social tensions rather than defuse them. The violence has a dual purpose, to both suppress and provoke. The right’s aim is to cordon the left off from power by simultaneously intimidating them, eliciting escalation, getting the police to crack down, and using the chaos to manipulate public opinion and political alliances.

Virtually every member of the Western Alliance has had its own years of lead, not only Italy but Britain during The Troubles in Northern Ireland, France as it tried to cling to Algeria and was targeted by its own paramilitary terror campaign, South America in the years of Operation Condor, Mexico’s Dirty War, and so on. America is no exception. The country has been here several times before: Bleeding Kansas during the 1850s, when slave-owners and abolitionists faced off in murderous confrontations; the birth of the first Klan after the Civil War to resist Radical Reconstruction; and the wave of violence that accompanied the rise of the Third Klan during the civil rights movement. Elements of the left from John Brown to the Italian Red Brigades have also pursued violent accelerationist campaigns in pursuit of social change. But only the reactionaries have enjoyed approval from more mainstream sources of political power. Often, they got logistical support as well as material and legal cover from security services.

Clement and Scalia described the strategy of tension as a vicious cycle. State prevention of emancipatory politics leads to dissent, which is in turn repressed and delegitimized, further isolating social movements. With no outlet for their demands, activists pursue more radical confrontations, leading their opponents to justify almost any violence in maintenance of the oppressive regime.

That dynamic is on display in the response to this year’s BLM protests. Once initial police suppression was met with uprisings, the “good guys with guns,” “patriots,” and militias showed up. Ostensibly there to protect businesses and support law enforcement, the armed right has instead brought Chekhov’s AR-15 onto the political stage. The inevitable exchanges of gunfire and vehicular assaults at protests demonstrate, as Christina Cauterucci recently wrote for Slate, the political ethos of “own the libs” has escalated into “kill the libs.”

This is the kind of thing I expect, multiple low-level incidents where people get hurt or killed, all throughout the Biden administration, a slow grind that just has people scared all the time, stressed all the time, on top of the hell 2020 has been.

Some of them I expect will be bad, Oklahoma City bad or worse.

We'll see.

The State Of State TV, Con't

FOX News has eliminated at least one-quarter of its fact-checking desk at its news operation, because the network exists to serve the Trump regime, not facts.

The recent mass layoffs at Fox News—an estimated body count of around 70, amounting to a little less than 3 percent of the cable channel’s workforce—signal what current and former employees describe as the purposeful devaluing of fact-based journalism in favor of right-wing opinion, race-baiting, and conspiracy-mongering at the top-rated, Donald Trump-friendly cable outlet.

Fox News’ PR department used anodyne corporate-speak to characterize the job losses, namely “restructuring various divisions in order to position all of our businesses for ongoing success.” But the layoffs, outside of the hair and makeup department, cut most deeply into the channel’s straight-news operations at Fox News Digital and elsewhere, according to insiders, while protecting the ratings-heavy, revenue-generating domains of Fox & Friends in the morning, and of Trump cheerleaders Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham in primetime.

The outlet’s so-called “Brain Room,” which the late Fox News founder Roger Ailes established as the 24-year-old channel’s fact-checking and research unit, has been especially hard-hit, losing around one-fourth of its 30-person staff along with two supervisors—a virtual frontal lobotomy, according to sources familiar with the cutbacks.

In October 1996, when the late Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes launched the channel for Rupert Murdoch, Ailes’s idea was to create a right-leaning outlet that challenged the perceived liberal bias of the mainstream media—CNN was a juicy target—but also presented a robust straight-news operation to counter the opinion shows. “Fair and balanced,” was Ailes’s mantra—and, while Ailes was the supreme leader, he managed news and opinion programming separately under different executives. In recent years, however, especially after Ailes was forced out in July 2016 amid sexual harassment and discrimination allegations, that distinction has steadily eroded.

Along with the painful layoffs, fired employees—worried about getting new jobs amid the COVID-19 pandemic—are being forced to sign severance agreements that include draconian non-disclosure requirements that one current staffer described as shocking, in order to receive their severance packages.

The non-disclosure section of the severance agreement requires laid-off employees to “assign to the Company any and all rights to publicity concerning any matter relating to the issues that resulted in your separation from the Company and/or this Agreement. You agree that you will not publish, contribute to or otherwise facilitate the creation of any story, book or other account relating to the Company or any Released Party. In the event you ever receive any compensation for any publicity, story, book or other disclosure relating in whole or part to those issues, all such compensation shall be immediately given over to the Company.”

Manhattan attorney Michael Willemin, a partner at Wigdor, LLP, which has sued Fox News on behalf of alleged victims of workplace discrimination and sexual abuse, told The Daily Beast: “While it is not terribly uncommon for companies to require individuals to sign releases or NDAs in connection with a severance payment, that does not mean that the practice is morally defensible. These are individuals who have just been terminated in the midst of a global pandemic and one of the worst job markets in history. Many of these individuals need these severance payments simply to make ends meet.”
It's only after the death of Roger Ailes that FOX News has transformed into the Trump Regime State TV network that it always was at heart. It's nothing but disinformation and entertainment for Trump's violent white supremacist base, and they will loudly be calling for deadly violence against Biden voters in the weeks and months ahead.


Biden, His Time, Con't

With five weeks to go, the enemy for Trump is now the clock more than Joe Biden. Trump is now in danger of losing his second-tier must-win states of Ohio and Iowa. Amy Walter at Cook Political Report:

One big reason for Trump's continued struggle in these states is his narrowing margins with white, working-class voters.

Let's start with Iowa.

Three public polls have come out in the last couple of weeks.

The New York Times/Siena College poll (September 16-22) found Trump leading Biden among white, non-college voters by just three-points (44 to 41 percent) — a 20 point drop from 2016. Biden's 41 percent is a six-point improvement on Clinton's showing from 2016

The Des Moines Register survey (September 14-17), found Biden leading among white, non-college women by 19 points (56 percent to 37 percent), while Trump held a huge 32-point lead with white, non-college men (64 percent to 31 percent). This translates, roughly, to a 7-8 point lead for Trump with these voters, a 14-15 point drop from 2016.

The Monmouth poll (September 18-20), finds Trump only slightly underperforming his 2016 showing with white, non-college voters, leading Biden by 17 points (56 percent to 39 percent); a six-point drop from 2016.

However, one bit of good news for the president in Iowa is that his job approval rating is in the 48-49 percent range. While that's not off-the-charts good, it's much higher than his national average of 42-43 percent and much better than what we've seen in other battleground states like Michigan, Pennsylvania or Arizona. The Des Moines Register and Monmouth polls also find Trump improving in both vote share and favorability since earlier this summer.

In Ohio, a new Fox News poll (September 20-23) finds Trump slipping even further behind than he was this summer. In late May-early June, Trump trailed Biden by two points (43-45 percent). This most recent poll finds him five points back — 45 to 50 percent.

Trump is basically no better off today in the September Quinnipiac survey (September 17-21), than he was back in mid-June. Back in June, Trump trailed Biden by one-point (46-45 percent). In mid-September, the race was basically in the same place — 48 percent Biden to 47 percent for Trump.

In both polls, Trump is underperforming his 2016 vote among white, non-college voters by 11 to 16 points.

But, Trump's troubles in the state extends into suburban areas that at one time looked impervious to Democratic incursion. Trump carried white, college-educated voters by one-point (47-46 percent) in 2016. And, in 2017-2018, Democrats were unable to flip hotly contested races in suburban Columbus and Cincinnati.

Today, however, even GOPers concede that Rep. Steve Chabot, who represents the suburban Cincinnati 1st CD is in serious danger this year. And, Trump is now trailing among white, college-educated voters anywhere from eight to 11 points in the most recent polls.

Another way to judge the competitiveness of a state, of course, is to check on the resources the campaigns and their allies are investing (or not) into it.

For the Biden campaign, neither state is a "tipping point;" they don't "need" to win either to get to 270 Electoral Votes. Our latest ratings show Biden with an advantage in enough states (and CD's) to get him to 290, without Ohio or Iowa. But, Biden's huge cash hauls over the summer — the former Vice President outraised Trump in August by more than $150M and had more $60M more in cash on hand than Trump — gives Biden the flexibility to spend some money in 'reach' states.

The Trump campaign can't win without either state. But, given Biden's superior financial advantage, they also have to be more judicious with where they spend their money. That means making sure that must-win states like North Carolina and Florida are well-funded.
This is exactly the type of advantage Biden's fundraising haul supplies him: he can hit Trump hard in Ohio and Iowa and force Trump to choose between them and NC/Florida/Georgia with Trump's more limited resources when Trump needs all five states and then some in order to win.  Biden can now strike at ten or twelve states in the final five weeks, he has the money to go after Ohio, Iowa, Texas, and Georgia while still keeping up the pressure in PA, WI, MI, and Arizona and the big battlegrounds of NC and Florida.

Trump is now on the defensive in all those states, all ten he won in 2016.  He may not even win three of them this time around.
Shawna Jensen is among former Donald Trump supporters who are voting for Democrat Joe Biden this year, breaking ranks with family, friends and, in many cases, a lifelong political affiliation. They say it’s caused them anguish, both to personal relationships and their own identity. They wanted change and disruption, until they found out what that actually looked like under a President Trump. 
Trump’s case for reelection rests almost solely on the intensity of support from those who backed him four years ago. Unlike other modern presidents, he has done little to try to expand his base, and there’s no evidence that he has. So he cannot afford to lose many voters like Jensen. 
It’s unclear how many voters like Jensen are out there — white, middle-class people who are pro-gun and anti-abortion rights, solid Republicans in most conventional ways — and how they will affect the election’s outcome. Voters like Jensen could be only a slice of the electorate, but they still represent a flashing caution sign for the president. 
Trump’s support among Republicans has been stable throughout his time in office. For all those voters repelled by Trump, there are diehard legions who remain solidly with him because they believe he honored his campaign promises, shows strengths and has presided over an economy that was flourishing before the pandemic. 
In a tight race — especially in swing states — those who are abandoning Trump could make a difference. 
In two dozen interviews with voters in three traditional swing states and Texas, people discussed why they aren’t voting for him again and what it feels like to leave behind a political allegiance that was part of their personal identity. 
“Everything that I thought I knew doesn’t exist anymore,” said 22-year-old Zach Berly, of North Carolina, who was active in high school and college Republican clubs and enthusiastically cast his first presidential ballot for Trump in 2016 but won’t be voting for him in November. “There has to be another solution. I don’t even know what I am.” 
The bedrock of Trump’s America is white voters who are 45 or older, and they are largely solidly with him, especially in rural areas. According to a Pew Research Center study, the 2018 elections showed a decline in support for Republicans in suburban areas, and if that is true in 2020, it provides an opening for Biden. 
“Joe Biden’s a family man and so am I, and that’s how I’m connecting with him,” said Jensen. “He loves his kids and his wife, you can tell it. For me, he’s the safer of the two candidates. And he doesn’t make fun of people."
People bought the Trump snake oil because they thought he was worth it. He was a con man and a grifter and they resent it. They're leaving him because he failed to make their lives better.
But nearly all are okay with his racism.

And even should Trump lose, we still have to deal with it, and with them.


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