Democratic viewpoints on politics, policy and activism

Trump Fires Comey In Attempt To End Russian Collusion Investigation

In the media storm following President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey it’s important to shut out the noise and simplify what just happened.

Let’s be clear that an American president whose administration is under investigation for colluding with a traditionally hostile government to win the presidency has fired the head investigator in an obvious attempt to make it all go away.

It’s fine to make the historical comparisons with the late President Richard Nixon and call it Nixonian just as it’s normal to roll your eyes at the talking heads on Fox News when they claim that now, finally, we can get an investigation into—can you believe this?—former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails. We can continue to demand an independent prosecutor take over the investigation. But these points obfuscate and blur the terrible reality of what just immediately happened.

What just happened is not normal in a functioning democracy. What happened is an example of authoritarianism, an action of a despot mocking democratic structures and the underlying frame of democracy. The action, and make no mistake about this, is obviously an attempt to hide the Trump team’s alleged collusion with Russia in whatever form to win the presidency despite what the tweets and spin offer up. It’s ridiculously obvious. Any media outlet that doesn’t say this in some version should not be trusted.

What all this means once we cut through the chatter is that we’re now at a dangerous moment in our nation’s history in which democracy is failing if it already hasn’t failed. Can it be reversed or restored? I wish I could be more positive about it but it will be difficult given the great ideological divide among Americans and Trump’s autocratic self, an intuitive component of his personality.

Republicans will try to stop any efforts to establish an independent investigation of team Trump’s ties to Russia, and it’s anyone’s guess where the country might be situated politically under Trump by the time of the 2018 midterm elections, a progressive panacea or distant hope that might not develop at all.

We can lament this on the larger scale, in the historical sense, of course, but we can’t become paralyzed. We must continue to resist the ongoing attack on democracy in widespread protest.

Reign Of Error: President Trump Makes It Up Then Goes On Tweet Tirade

We can hope the mainstream media journalists who praised President Donald Trump after his supposed redemption speech last week will now understand the country is clearly dealing with an unhinged, calculating liar as its leader.

As the bizarre tweets over the weekend indicate on a larger, cosmic level, any effort to find praise for the racist and misogynistic Trump at this point for anything is an exercise in crass deflection, a grave error and disservice to this country and democratic institutions throughout the world. Some decent reporters and analysts in the mainstream media, of course, didn’t fall for Trump’s intentional misdirection play when he addressed Congress last week in a more subdued manner, temporarily abandoning his normal ranting style so we can maybe hope there’s still some hope maybe.

But the praise for Trump, mainly from the major television networks, was as bizarre as Trump’s weekend tweets, and it just wasn’t Fox News.

Of course, Trump lied his way through the speech, which the now-trying-to-be honest media, such as The New York Times, reported diligently, but the president’s television enablers—the hairs as I call them—were so struck by his different tone they became convinced his speech was some type of miraculous change in style, tone and, get this, substance. Maybe they think this is all a reality television show that ends happily for someone. That all stopped in the next couple of days as his fellow liar and campaign surrogate, fellow racist Attorney General Jeff Sessions, got caught in his own web of deceit, and the Trump regime imploded once again into a carnival of the bizarre.

By the time the weekend arrived, Trump was tweeting wild accusations about how former President Barack Obama ordered the wiretapping of his offices back in October, which is not even legally or, well, physically possible unless the former president did it himself with a ladder, pliers and top secret eavesdropping gizmos. Even FBI director James Comey eventually called Trump out on the craziness and absurdity of his outburst. In one ridiculous tweet, Trump referred to Obama’s fictional action as a Watergate-type scandal and then as McCarthyism when, in fact, the continuing exposure of the Trump’s regime Russian connections is the real Watergate in the living room.

As we now know, Sessions’ lying made him recused himself from any investigation examining Trump’s and his campaign’s connection to Russia, which meddled in our recent election on both presidential and Congressional levels by hacking into emails and supporting conservatives and authoritarians for office.This mainly included support for Trump as the Russians released mundane emails through Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks of national Democratic Party officials, innocuous emails that received breathless coverage from our dysfunctional corporate media. The infighting in the Democratic Party was so important, wasn’t it, just like the Benghazi investigation and Hillary Clinton’s server, right? Does anyone, except those directly involved, even remember all the specifics about any of those two events?

Let’s be clear that the Russians duped the nation’s media outlets as much as anyone else, and they continue to do so. All this leads us to the issue of relationship between the “deep state,” which represents our intelligence agencies and our basic democratic institutions, such as the three branches of government, which, of course, are vitally important at least on some symbolic level. But that’s another post for another time.

So I’m certainly ready to give The Times, The Washington Post and some other major media outlets, such as CNN, another chance at reporting the truth instead of the he-said-she-said reporting that marked the American journalistic era Before Trump. Now is the time for a relentless reporting of truth combined with complete and utter skepticism that Trump will ever start telling the truth, which he never will. Donald Trump will never start telling the truth on a consistent basis. Now is the time for daily front-page editorials demanding, among other things, that Trump release copies of his tax returns and information about his campaign’s connections with the Russian government during his run for president.

How many lies will it take? How many times will the media fall for Trump’s misdirection plays as he assumes, momentarily, a fictional calmer demeanor or a softer tone? How more obvious can it get? How many more people have to die by hate-crime murders before the media wakes up? The blood is on every journalist who works at a major news outlet and isn’t speaking up. They have the money and instruments to report the truth. Will they do it?

Some in the media continue to want to play by the old rules in which a politician stretches the truth for simple political gain or defense in a moment of controversy or parses the numbers in a distorted manner and then there’s some back and forth on a particular issue. This isn’t the case with Trump. He lies on a truly spectacular level, and his supporters and most of the leaders in his political party, the GOP, simply don’t care. So who cares about Trump’s demeanor at any given moment on one particular day? He’s a damn liar. To normalize him is to accept all explicit liars as president from now on. It only takes one, and then it happens again and again, and there goes democracy down the drain.

Trump’s consistent lying threatens the foundation of America’s democratic institutions and our diverse culture and what freedom and voice and agency we still have. If those are not worth fighting for, then there’s pretty much nothing left worth fighting for here. People have started to rise against Trump, true, but it will be difficult to get anything done if a complacent and powerful media is still searching for its mission in the past while a president who lies repeatedly is not held accountable.

Are the people alone on this sinking U.S.S. Democracy ship? Look carefully at the two Trump tweets I’ve used so far in this post. In the first tweet I posted, note how Trump uses the term “very sacred election process” and “Bad (or sick guy)!” Isn’t it obvious that these are the allegations against Trump himself, that he and/or his surrogates encouraged the Russians to help him get elected in the “sacred” election and that he’s the one who is coming off as mentally unbalanced “sick guy” or, at least, extremely unhinged? It’s obvious he’s trying to use the same criticisms against himself on Obama to conflate truth with a mirror lie in which he levels the same criticism he faces against what he perceives as hi opponents. Let’s be clear: Trump didn’t even run against Obama, who never exhibited one sign of mental illness during his presidency.

The second tweet I posted mentions “McCarthyism,” which is another misdirection. Joseph McCarthy, the U.S Senator and Wisconsin kook who started investigations of supposed American communists in the 1950s, was a Republican, just like Trump, as was Nixon, who had to resign because of the Watergate scandal. Two things to note here. The reference to McCarthy takes us again to a parsing of our country’s relationship to Russia, a former communist country which seems front and center in the president’s mind. Trump is expressing a liberal platitude—the communist witch hunt was wrong—as a misdirection in an extremely reductionist sense and, once again by inference, is showing in yet another way a deference to Russia through a history argument. (Look how awful those people accused of “plotting’ with Russian communists were treated.) Meanwhile, Trump is also condemning the extremism and blunders of McCarthy and Nixon, two Republicans who disgraced and still define their party. But, see, Republicans recognizing the collective memory hole of American don’t care about the brand as long as they get to dismantle programs for poor people in any given legislative session to serve the oligarchy. Meanwhile, Trump doesn’t need a political party or anyone for anything.

Obviously, one question is whether the tweets are simply stream-of-consciousness rants or calculated minutely after detailed, obsessive consideration. I speculate they are calculated on this level: Because of his power as an extremely wealthy person in our culture, which attracts nauseating, faux adoration, Trump has been allowed to just make things up as he goes along, which has been met with consistent, deferential treatment from sycophants. That even allowed him, with the help of the “liberal” media, to become president as reporters clung to his every crazy word and reported the Clinton’s non-controversies as Serious Journalism art work. Why wouldn’t Trump or any millionaire for that matter continue with what has been successful for them to gain and hold power? He continues his bizarre behavior because he knows nothing else, and, no, he will never know how to act differently or become “presidential,” whatever that means at this point in our country’s history.

As all this was unfolding in the tweetashpere, Trump managed to get this out to the American public because it’s so so important:

The media needs to start out-tweeting the president of the United States. It can do so. It has the power and the intellectual power. It has, to paraphrase the late poet Allen Ginsberg, the best minds of its generation. There’s no excuse, anymore. The Times has made a small first step. Now it needs to get real. Its own survival is at risk. The buffoon Trump is a maniac, not someone who can be laughed away, although humor and satire have their serious role in the resistance and protest movement.

I’ll try to end on a constructive note. Here are some of my humble suggestions for the mainstream media, offered up as a former newspaper journalist, a current professor and a longtime blogger.

  • Run regular front-page editorials and television news commentaries demanding Trump release his tax returns.
  • Dispense with such qualifiers such as “misleading” or “distortions.” Trump is a liar. Call his lies lies. Remind readers and viewers that Trump is a liar. Call him a liar in virtually every context in your reporting as in “Trump has repeatedly lied in the past . . .” I still see a reluctance among media outlets to use the terms “lies” or “liar.”
  • Join forces with alternative media outlets to frame Trump’s lies in a broader context. Don’t worry about accusations that the “‘lamestream’ media is liberal.” Who cares about that at this point?
  • Stop all the contrarian viewpoints about any given issue when it’s obvious Trump or one of his surrogates has lied. Don’t allow anyone, even so-called experts, to parse through some ridiculous qualification of his lies. Trump is a liar; the people around him lie. That’s a given at this point.
  • Embrace groups and organizations that know the lies of the Trump regime are threatening our country’s democracy. Report on their actions with respect and urgency. Don’t dismiss the collective voice emerging from identity political groups. Help to grow it by reaching out.
  • Hire staff members who know that the country is at a dangerous moment in our history and wants the U.S to endure as a democracy with fair elections and some semblance of representative government.
  • Give up on the idea—and this especially applies to the larger coastal news outlets—that people who still support Trump can somehow be swayed by truth. That’s never going to happen on any large scale. This is a time to retrench on the truth, to call people who believe in the truth and fundamental democracy to action. Truth is not relative when it comes to Trump. People who support him, from high-ranking GOP leaders to the white supremacists who adore him, are not only complicit in his lies they also want him to lie.
  • Refuse to accept any advertising, political or otherwise, that attempts to qualify the lies of the Trump regime or attempts to normalize him in any form.
  • Embrace partisan politics by fully reporting on how the Republican leadership wants to dismantle the remains of democracy in this country. Embrace liberalism and express it openly. Use the words “liberal” and “progressive” in your mastheads and your television logos. Channel Five—the progressive voice of City, Somewhere, USA.
  • Create journalistic investigation teams made up of brave individuals who will look into Trump’s regime, such as his repeated lies, his personal finances, his family’s business ties, his connections to Russia, his anti-immigration initiatives and his build-up of the country’s war machine. Realize the categories are all connected under our historical conceptual knowledge of fascism and dictatorship.
  • This is a partial list. I could go on. The point is there needs to be a paradigm shift in the media on a major level.

    But I only have so much hope the media will respond in real opposition despite some encouraging signs lately. In the end, people have to show up in the public square in large numbers to resist and protest. They will face bodily harm and arrest, as all people protesting authoritarian governments have faced throughout history. Their lives could be disrupted in major ways that could define them forever in both positive and negative ways, but the alternative is even more grim. To function in silence at this dangerous moment is complicity.

    No Complacency About Trump: Lies, Russian Connections Matter Even More

    The chaos generated on an almost daily basis by the presidential administration of Donald Trump is a deliberate strategy to diffuse a full and direct organized response to the growing authoritarianism of the regime.

    Trump attacks the fake news he helped to create with his outlandish birther claims, shifts focus for a moment to reductionist approaches on health care and budget matters, lies repeatedly about large issues (his historical Russian ties) and the mundane (his electoral college numbers), tweets once again his criticism of The New York Times, ignores obvious opportunities to fully condemn hateful acts of antisemitism and racism and reminds us, of course, for good measure about the flub at the Academy Awards ceremony. I could go on.

    Trump is Big Brother. He’s everywhere. He demands and craves attention like no president I have witnessed in modern history, even the fellow actor Ronald Reagan. While it’s exhausting and the temptation is to check out into passivity, especially when the opposition party has been complicit in embracing the neoliberal agenda that helped create a political climate in which a liar like Trump could even get elected president in the first place and in which neofascism could get a firm foothold, this is definitely still a time—however brief it might be—for resistance and protest.

    Meanwhile, Trump’s administration leaks its slime like a large sieve, with the compelling and not so compelling, which adds even more evidence to the growing nightmare of dealing with what some of the most intelligent people the world once warned us might well be the death of democracy in this country.

    Then, in yet another twist to the chaotic narrative, and, yes, there is even more, we learn of Trump’s family business ties in foreign countries, with all the ensuing conflicts of interest and the constitutional violations because the president, as all evidence suggests, undoubtedly wants to make money out of all the madness he has created.

    Still another twist came just last night when Trump’s supposed unity speech to Congress initially made a passing mention of Black History Month while also condemning recent hate acts against the country’s Jewish community and the recent murder of an India citizen in Kansas. So far so good, right? But this, of course, was soon supplanted by Trump’s typical xenophobic and nationalistic references to “the wall” and deporting immigrants, an appeal to the alt-right and those white supremacists among its ranks. His overall generalized proposals last night that feigned populism in terms of health care and jobs and infrastructure are simply not supported by his cabinet appointments or his initial executive orders that privilege Wall Street bankers over ordinary Americans or his specific tax ideas. The best one say about the speech is that it consisted mostly of hollow political rhetoric unsupported by his previous actions rather than the usual fare of easily discernible and outrageous lies. Unfortunately, some in the mainstream media seem to have bought into idea of a “new Trump,” at least for now.

    As the poet W.H. Auden wrote in the poem “September 1,1939” after Hitler invaded Poland, “All I have is a voice/To undo the folded lie,/The romantic lie in the brain/Of the sensual man-in-the-street.”

    Let’s parse that a bit, replacing the “I” with “we.” To me, “folded lie” fully describes Trump and the regime’s methods of repeating blatant lies sometimes walked back with half-lies or other qualifications. The lies get repeated in varying geometric progression and patterns, in some ways seemingly random, in other ways obviously deliberate. The “sensual-man-in-the-street” is, to me, someone who for whatever reason—and it’s no longer productive to search for that reason these days as if anything can be done about it—has given their lives over to the visceral instead of the rational while embracing a dark, isolationist vision for mankind in which official lies no longer matter and the authoritarian state creeps over our daily lives like an oppressive fog.

    Literary interpretations aside, “we” do have a voice and personal agency to undo lies, and that’s mostly what only we have right now, and that’s what we need to deploy no matter how draining it becomes on a day-to-day basis. Remaining on the sidelines without taking a public position these days, no matter how that may manifest itself, is complicity.

    Where we stand now a few weeks into it is that we know a mentally unstable and calculating person who repeatedly and openly lies and demeans decent people is president of the United States. There is so much verifiable evidence about his lies, in particular, that only calculating liars or extremely ill-informed people will deny it. Republicans in Congress, for example, fully know Trump lies and they are complicit in the lying as is the conservative press.

    It bears repeating that the protest against Trump and his surrogates should be framed under the realization and outing of this basic foundation of deceit. Progressives concerned about individual issues, what gets called identity politics in the prevailing parlance, can surely rally around exposing this larger deceit because it crushes us all and all our movements and individual compassions.

    The other big story for now is the incredibly obvious ties Trump and his surrogates have with the Russian government. We can intellectualize the tension between the deep state (our intelligence agencies) and Trump’s administration at this juncture, and waste time speculating on false equivalencies between contemporary Russia and the U.S., which even Trump has done and probably wants us to do, but that would be an error.

    That the Russian government meddled in our recent election to help get Trump elected has been accepted by our government leadership. We know Trump has had previous ties with Russia business leaders. We know his former National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, who was forced to resign, spoke to the Russian ambassador after then President Barack Obama announced sanctions against the country for interfering in our democratic election process. We know a former British intelligence agent has released a dossier about Trump’s ties to Russia, which includes salacious information, not yet confirmed elsewhere, that might compromise the president if used as a form of blackmail. Some of his non-salacious information has been confirmed, according to media reports.

    These facts demand an independent investigator, perhaps even a grand jury inquiry, into how much contact the Trump campaign had with Russia leaders or operatives during the election and what business dealings the president’s businesses have had and now have directly or indirectly with Russia. Watch the below longer segment from MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that deals with the Russian issue and how new Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s Russian connections only add to a need for a real, non-partisan investigation:

    Finally, I appreciate the new-found commitment to the truth by The New York Times, and I support its efforts to finally tell it like it is rather than continuing to engage in the he-said-she-said type of reporting that turned the non-sensational into the sensational, such as Hillary Clinton’s email server or the Benghazi investigation or some non-important Russian-hacked emails related to the Democratic Party. But they still need to open up their pages and staff pool to people who had it right in the first place and were criticizing them for sensationalizing Republican and Russian lies and dogma that got us to this precarious position in our history. Trump is what we got for the newspaper’s old journalistic rhetorical formulas and insular newsroom.

    This applies to some other larger mainstream media outlets, too, such as The Washington Post, which are finding a new voice in calling lies out for what they are these days. Lies are lies, not one side of a legitimate argument.

    Yet, tragically, many of the nation’s media outlets, especially the major networks, continue to normalize Trump as we saw last night in their analyses after his speech. One speech can’t even begin to normalize a Donald Trump presidency. If it only takes one “normal” speech to swing the American press back into complacency, then we know it is too late.