Trumpism part two

 

 

TRUMPISM

 

PART II

 

 

The New Republic

December 14, 2018

 

Escape From The Trump Cult

 

Millions of Americans are blindly devoted to their
Dear Leader. What will it take for them to snap out of it?

 

By Alexander Hurst

 

On December 20, 1954, some 62 years before Donald Trump would be sworn in as president of the United States, Dorothy Martin and dozens of her followers crowded into her home in Chicago to await the apocalypse. The group believed that Martin, a housewife, had received a message from a planet named Clarion that the world would end in a great flood beginning at midnight, and that they, the faithful, would be rescued by an alien spacecraft.

 

Unbeknownst to the other “Seekers,” three of their group—Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken, and Stanley Schachter—were not there to be saved, but to observe. Psychologists from elite institutions, they had infiltrated the pseudo-cult to study Festinger’s recently elaborated theory of “cognitive dissonance.” The theory predicted that when people with strongly held beliefs were presented with contrary evidence, rather than change their minds they would seek comfort and “cognitive consonance” by convincing others to support their erroneous views.

 

Festinger’s prediction was right. When neither the apocalypse nor the UFO arrived, the group began proselytizing about how God had rewarded the Earth with salvation because of their vigil. His subsequent book, When Prophecy Fails, became a standard sociology reference for examining cognitive dissonance, religious prophecy, and cult-like behavior. What the three researchers probably never predicted, though, was that over half a century later Festinger’s theory would be applicable to roughly 25 percent of the population of the United States and one of its two major political parties. Nor could they have foreseen that the country’s salvation might well depend on its ability to deprogram the Trump cult’s acolytes—an effort that would require a level of sympathetic engagement on the part of nonbelievers that they have yet to display.

 

________________________

 

 

Personality cults are a hallmark of populist-autocratic politics. The names of the various leaders are practically synonymous with their movements: Le Pen, Farage, Duterte, Orbán, Erdogan, Chávez, Bolsonaro, Putin. Or if we were to dip farther back into history: Castro, Franco, Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin. Like religious cult leaders, demagogues understand the importance of setting up an in-group/out-group dynamic as a means of establishing their followers’ identity as members of a besieged collective.

 

Trump, like the populist authoritarians before and around him, has also understood (or, at least, instinctually grasped) how indispensable his own individual persona is to his ultimate goal of grasping and maintaining power. Amidst his string of business failures, Trump’s singular talent has been that of any con man: the incredible ability to cultivate a public image. Of course, Trump did not build his cult of followers—his in-group—ex nihilo; in many ways, the stage was set for his entrance. America had already split into two political identities by the time he announced his campaign for president in 2015, not just in terms of the information we consume, but down to the brands we prefer and the stores we frequent. And so with particularly American bombast and a reality TV star’s penchant for manipulating the media, Trump tore pages from the us-against-them playbook of the European far right and presented them to a segment of the American public already primed to receive it with religious fervor.

 

In an interview with Pacific Standard, Janja Lalich, a sociologist who specializes in cults, identified four characteristics of a totalistic cult and applied them to Trumpism: an all-encompassing belief system, extreme devotion to the leader, reluctance to acknowledge criticism of the group or its leader, and a disdain for nonmembers. Eileen Barker, another sociologist of cults, has written that, together, cult leaders and followers create and maintain their movement by proclaiming shared beliefs and identifying themselves as a distinguishable unit; behaving in ways that reinforce the group as a social entity, like closing themselves off to conflicting information; and stoking division and fear of enemies, real or perceived.

 

Does Trump tick off the boxes? The hatchet job he has made of Republican ideology and the sway he holds over what is now his party suggest he does not lack for devotion. His nearly 90 percent approval rating among Republicans is the more remarkable for his having shifted Republican views on a range of issues, from trade, to NATO, to Putin, to even the NFL. Then there are the endless rallies that smack of a noxious sort of revivalism, complete with a loyalty “pledge” during the 2016 campaign; a steady stream of sycophantic fealty (at least in public) from aides in the administration and its congressional Republican allies; and an almost universal unwillingness by Republican congressional leadership to check or thwart Trump’s worst instincts in any substantive way.

 

As for disdain, or disgust even, for nonmembers, who include “globalists,” immigrants, urbanites, Muslims, Jews, and people of color? “I suppose that Old Man Trump knows just how much racial hate / He stirred up that bloodroot of human hearts,” Woody Guthrie sang in 1950 about Fred Trump’s discriminatory housing practices. Those words could just as easily apply to Fred’s son Donald, as The New York Times details, about his birtherism, his view that dark-skinned immigrants come from “shithole countries,” his frequent classification of black people as uppity and ungrateful, his denigration of Native Americans, his incorporation of white nationalist thought into his administration, his equivocation over neo-Nazis. The “lock her up!” chants of his rallies are less about Hillary Clinton individually, and more about who belongs and who doesn’t, and what place exists for those who don’t. In perhaps the pettiest form of their disdain, Trump’s supporters engage in “rolling coal”—the practice of tricking out diesel engines to send huge plumes of smoke into the atmosphere—to “own the libs.”

 

Trump sold his believers an engrossing tale of “American carnage” that he alone could fix, then isolated them in a media universe where reality exists only through Trump-tinted glasses, attacking all other sources of information as “fake news.” In the most polarized media landscape in the wealthy world, Republicans place their trust almost solely in Fox News, seeing nearly all other outlets as biased. In that context, the effect of a president who lies an average of ten times a day is the total blurring of fact and fiction, reality and myth, trust and cynicism. It is a world where, in the words of Rudy Giuliani, truth is no longer truth. “Who could really know?” Trump said of claims that Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman had ordered the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. “It is what it is.”

 

Reason rarely defeats emotion—or, as Catherine Fieschi, an expert on political extremism, told me, gut instinct. If it did, right-wing populist movements from Brexit to Bolsonaro would be on the retreat, not in the advance. Those caught in the web of Trumpism do not see the deception that surrounds them. And if scandals too numerous to list have not dented faith in Trump, those holding out for an apocalyptic moment of reckoning that suddenly drops the curtain—the Russia investigation, or his taxes—will only be disappointed. In all likelihood, the idea that Trump is a crook has been “priced in.”

 

When presented with his actual record, which has often fallen short of what he promised on the campaign trail, Trump supporters time and again have displayed either disbelief or indifference. As a Trump supporter explicitly stated in reference to the president’s many, many lies, “I don’t care if he sprouts a third dick up there.” What actually is doesn’t matter; what does is that Trump reflects back to his supporters a general feeling of what ought to be, a general truthiness in their guts.

 

Amidst the frenetic pace of disgrace and outrage, Trump’s support remains stable among too large a chunk of the American public to just ignore. Trump, who insisted on the presence of voter fraud by the millions in an election he ultimately won, and a coterie of prominent Republicans spent the week after the 2018 midterms delegitimizing the very notion of counting all the votes in key races in Florida, Georgia, and Arizona. Trump’s claim that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and still retain the loyalty of his followers is jokingly referred to as the truest thing he’s ever said, but it’s less funny that 52 percent of them would hypothetically support postponing the 2020 election if he proposed it. What happens when a man who has already promoted political violence, and whose most hardcore supporters have shown their willingness for such violence, finds on election night two years from now that he has just narrowly lost? Do any of us truly believe that Donald J. Trump and his followers will simply slink away quietly into the night?

 

So, how do we get those caught up in the cult of Trump to leave it?

 

_________________________

 

 

Daryl Davis has played the blues for over 30 years, including with the likes of Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis. He’s also spent 30 years talking to Klansmen, over 200 of whom have quit the KKK as a result of their conversations, handing over their robes to Davis—who is black. “When two enemies are talking, they’re not fighting,” Davis told NPR in 2017. “I didn’t convert anybody,” he explained. “They saw the light and converted themselves.”

 

Davis’s success is more than a cute, feel-good story. It involved the real-world application of techniques that scholars advocate employing to help individuals leave cults. A 2011 study by the RAND Corporation concluded that, “Factors associated with leaving street gangs, religious cults, right-wing extremist groups, and organized crime groups” included positive social ties and an organic disillusionment with the group’s beliefs or ideology. As psychologists Rod and Linda Dubrow-Marshall write in The Conversation, it’s extremely difficult for people to admit they are wrong, and it’s crucial for them to arrive at that realization on their own.

 

The debate over how to deal with Trump’s anti-democratic following has largely avoided the question of engaging it directly. These days there is no shortage of articles and books dealing with radical-right populism, despots, democratic backsliding, and the tactics that authoritarian leaders deploy. Dozens of experts have pointed out that liberal democratic institutions need constant attention and reinforcement in order to be effective bulwarks. But most of the solutions on offer are institutional in nature: maintaining the independence of the judiciary, thwarting a would-be autocrat’s attempts to grab hold of the levers of justice, maintaining a legislative check on executive authority, enshrining political norms more clearly into constitutions.

 

In their 2011 book, Defeating Authoritarian Leaders in Post-Communist Countries, Valerie Bunce and Sharon Wolchik conclude that democratization in Eastern European nations like Croatia owed much to assistance from transnational pro-democracy networks, civil society, and energetic election campaigns run by a united opposition. In some ways this analysis offers us a modicum of hope: Trump, despite his desires, commands far less power over the political system than did any of the autocrats that Bunce and Wolchik studied, and the United States enjoys many of the elements they cite as critical, like robust civil society, energetic elections, and a mostly unified opposition. But at the same time, the very things responsible for the success of democratic transition are under near constant assault from Trump and his Republican abettors.

 

Democracy, especially liberal democracy, has always been dependent on the trust and belief of the self-governed. It is one thing to implement tangible measures to prevent the decay of bedrock institutions, and when it comes to voting rights, elections, the courts, and restraints on executive power, we know what these measures should look like. It’s another, far tougher thing to figure out how to maintain the legitimacy of these same institutions—and how to restore it once lost.

 

Javier Corrales, a political science professor at Amherst College and expert on the Chavez regime, has written that one lesson from Venezuela’s experience is for the opposition to avoid fragmentation within the broader electorate and, when possible, polarization. When it comes to Trump, he told me that rather than pursuing impeachment, which could backfire by polarizing institutions and the general environment even more, “the opposition needs to focus on strengthening institutions of checks and balances, and embracing and defending policies that produce majoritarian consensus rather than just cater to the base. The more defections they can get from voters that would otherwise side with the illiberal president, the better. If the opposition can get the other side to split, they win.”

 

When it comes to helping individuals leave cult-like groups, many sociologists agree: Positive social factors are more effective than negative sanctions. Lalich counsels using dialogue to ask questions and reinforce doubts, rather than “to harp” or criticize. Testimonials from former cult members can be particularly helpful in fueling disillusionment, she says.

 

On a nationwide scale, this would probably look a lot like a field called “conflict transformation.” John Paul Lederach, professor emeritus at Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, laid out the basics of conflict transformation in his 1998 book, Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies. He argued that outsiders should work with mid-level members of the community who could simultaneously engage ordinary people and their leaders. He also called for an “elicitive approach” whereby solutions were developed by people themselves, in accordance with their own specific cultural contexts.

 

Of the places in the world where conflict transformation has worked, Northern Ireland probably most approximates the United States, in the sense that it was part of a wealthy nation with a democratic tradition (though in the 1980s, Northern Ireland was in a far worse situation of political division and communitarian violence).

 

Maria Power, a researcher in conflict transformation studies at Oxford, sees strategies from Northern Ireland that could be deployed on the other side of the Atlantic. She cited the example of dialogue-building between Unionist and Republican women, who faced much tougher obstacles to reconciliation since they were “risking their lives” every time they met in East Belfast during The Troubles. She said that the peace effort in Northern Ireland hinged on incredibly tough, person-to-person groundwork carried out by dozens of organizations and ecumenical groups. She emphasized above all the importance of investing effort and time into building trust, first within, and then later between, identity groups.

 

Power said that conflict transformation in the United States would likely involve local, grassroots community development in the areas that Trump likes to hold rallies. “I don’t mean that progressives should go to these communities and start knocking on doors,” she explained, “that would be the worst thing that could happen to exacerbate tensions. I mean that there should be a focus on real community development in these areas.”

 

Individuals would be led through a “single identity dialogue,” a safe-space where someone who has gained the community’s trust can guide them through discussion of their identity, why they feel threatened, and why they feel the need to otherize those they see as different. This does presume some legitimacy to their fears; as The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer, among others, has written convincingly, Trumpism is not primarily a story of globalism’s dispossessed, but rather one of identity politics. But there is reality, and there is perception, and the truth is that Trump voters perceive themselves as victims who have been culturally dislocated, disdained, and in danger of being left behind.

 

Power said that, in the mid-1980s, Northern Ireland had some 300 of these single-identity groups. She added that there was a tough balance to strike between allowing people “to become comfortable enough with their own place in society that other people don’t seem to be a threat,” and “dripping” in truth in such a way that avoided a reinforcement of their existing beliefs.

 

Only once that step had been undertaken on a local level were people able to have cross-community conversation, and eventually to engage with each other through social action projects—schemes to bring people together, not over political discussion, but in tasks beneficial to their communities. Power lamented that overall this is quite a long-term process, perhaps even a generational one.

 

That sentiment was echoed by Emma Elfversson, who researches peace and conflict at Sweden’s Uppsala University. Elfversson told me that because trust in the state and institutions is often crucial to reconciliation, democratic backsliding in the U.S. is worrying. “Important work to overcome divides is done at the grassroots level—through NGOs, religious initiatives, social service programs, schools, at the workplace, etc.,” she said, adding, “Civil society organizations that cut across identity borders can promote reconciliation and reduce conflict.”

 

Such an approach might seem fuzzy to those who seek to buttress qualitative observations with hard data, but there are concrete examples of places where community-based peace building has been effective. Fieschi thinks that the way to short-circuit populism is to create an environment where people can think. “Populism encourages every fiber of your being not to think,” she told me. “In fact, it pretty much posits that if you have to think you’re not to be trusted. We need to create those spaces and times that offer the opportunity to exercise agency, to think things through.”

 

The problem for the modern left is that none of this is emotionally satisfying. It’s just hard, hard work. Push too hard, and you risk fostering even greater resentment and reaction. But let people off the hook, and the myths they perpetuate about race and national identity might never get punctured.

 

Above all, it also rings as profoundly unfair. Why should a group that still enjoys the momentum of historic privilege, and is still afforded outsize political weight, be handheld through an era of demographic change? And why should minority groups, who continue to suffer from oppression, be the ones to extend that hand?

 

_____________________

 

 

After the end of the Vietnam War, Thomas Robbins and Dick Anthony, two researchers of cults, wrote, “There is a recurrent sequence in American history in which sectarian (and sometimes rather authoritarian) religions emerge and elicit tremendous hostility.” The decline of Cold War orthodoxy after Vietnam, the two noted, had produced a crisis in American civil religion, resulting in “the proliferation of cults as well as the growth of anticult demonology.”

 

We can understand Donald Trump’s rise as a civil religion giving way to its cultic expression. Con man, cult leader, populist politician: Trump is all of these, rolled into one. He has become all-encompassing, even to nonbelievers. We all feel the fatigue of merely existing in the Trump era, the rapid-fire assault on all of our political and social senses. We want immediate solutions to the Trump problem. We want to beat reason into his followers, until they recognize how wrong they are, or at the very least, submit. We want to blame them—justifiably—for perpetuating his sham.

 

I want these things. I want them in my gut. But I also know that the cult’s pull is so powerful that it risks destroying its opponents, by eliciting a counterproductive reaction to it. If we want to bring members of the Trump cult back into the mainstream of American life—and there will be plenty of those who say we should move on without them—resistance means not only resisting the lure of the cult and exposing its lies, but also resisting the temptation to punish its followers.

 

“When the cultic behavior is on a national scale, [breaking it up] is going to take a national movement,” Lalich says. Such an approach promises no immediate gratification. But it also might be the only way to move forward, rather than continue a dangerous downward spiral. Andrés Miguel Rondón, a Venezuelan economist who fled to Spain, wrote this of his own country’s experience of being caught up in an authoritarian’s fraudulent promises: “[W]hat can really win them over is not to prove that you are right. It is to show that you care. Only then will they believe what you say.”

 

______________________

 

Read More: Politics, Donald Trump, Cults, Populism, Hugo Chavez, Authoritarianism

 


 

 


 

Salon | Feb 22, 2019

 

Yale psych prof: If Trump weren’t president he would be “contained and evaluated”

 

By Chauncey DeVega

 

At the center of the chaotic maelstrom that is the Trump presidency is the question of Donald Trump’s mental health. His public behavior (and, by most accounts, his private behavior as well) is that of a man who is a compulsive liar and malignant narcissist, is paranoid, lacks in impulse control and lives in an alternate reality of his own creation.

 

Donald Trump has recently declared a “national emergency” in order to further expand his power and gut American democracy and the Constitution in the service of his radically destructive right-wing agenda. But in reality it is Donald Trump who is the actual national emergency, an obvious threat to this country and the entire world.

 

Former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe recently revealed that officials in the Justice Department discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove President Trump from power. Yet it also may be true that Trump’s apparent mental health problems are actually helping him to remain in power and to control his supporters.

 

How are mentally unwell leaders more dangerous than leaders who are “merely” criminals? How have the American people become so numb to Trump and the Republican Party’s assault on American democracy and the common good? How is dangerous behavior normalized in an unhealthy society — such as ours? How are Trump and his movement affecting negatively the mental and physical health of the American people?

 

In an effort to answer these questions I recently spoke with Dr. Bandy Lee. She is a psychiatrist at Yale University and a leading voice among the growing number of mental health and other medical professionals who have been trying to raise public awareness about Donald Trump’s mental health.

 


 

LAVIN

 

Politics & Society

June 24, 2019

 

Are We Living in 1984? George Packer Revisits Orwell’s Dystopian Novel for The Atlantic

 

1984 – George Orwell’s seminal work – has enjoyed a cultural resurgence in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidency.

 

“Orwell never intended his novel to be a prediction, only a warning,” George Packer writes in Doublethink is Stronger than Orwell Imagined, his latest article for The Atlantic. The book, originally published in 1949, envisions a dystopian future in which the world has fallen prey to ruthless totalitarianism, fueled by terror, surveillance, and political propaganda. Though there are startling similarities between the world today – the haunting phrase “fake news” comes to mind – and Orwell’s nightmarish dystopia, we don’t live under a totalitarian regime. “We are living with a new kind of regime that didn’t exist in Orwell’s time,” Packer writes. “Today the problem is too much information from too many sources, with a resulting plague of fragmentation and division – not excessive authority but its disappearance, which leaves ordinary people to work out the facts for themselves, at the mercy of their own prejudices and delusions.”

 

Packer offers us a new reading of 1984; today, the heart of the issue is not the state, but the individual. It’s not that Trump might abolish democracy, Packer argues, “but that Americans had put him in a position to try.” Regardless of the political ideologies of the day, 1984 will remain fundamental reading because it wrestles with the enduring concept of truth. Does it exist? Who gets to decide what is and isn’t true? According to Packer, the real political war is the one we wage internally.

 

George Packer is a staff writer for The Atlantic. His recent book, Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century, was released in May 2019.

 


 

NBC News

July 12, 2019

 

The Pedophile, The Prosecutor, And The President

 

Former US Attorney Joyce Vance, WaPo’s Ashley Parker, former Assistant Director at the FBI Frank Figliuzzi, Move On’s Karine Jean-Pierre, and Bloomberg’s Tim O’Brien on Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta’s resignation despite Trump saying he had given him his full support.

 


 

Psychiatrist On ‘The Essential Emptiness Of President Donald Trump’ | The Last WordMSNBC | Aug 21, 2019

 

Dr. Lance Dodes, one of the first mental health professionals who questioned Donald Trump’s stability, discusses with Lawrence O’Donnell how Trump has devolved since the beginning of his presidency.

 


 

60 Minutes Australia

September 1, 2019

 

White House insiders reveal damning allegations against Donald Trump

 

. . . And as Karl Stefanovic reports, one of the most embarrassing claims is that the supposed “unbreakable” alliance between our two countries, far from being Trumped, was almost dumped.

 


 

The Atlantic

December 2019

 

HOW AMERICA ENDS

 

A tectonic demographic shift is under way. Can the country hold together?

 

By Yoni Appelbaum

 

Democracy depends on the consent of the losers. For most of the 20th century, parties and candidates in the United States have competed in elections with the understanding that electoral defeats are neither permanent nor intolerable. The losers could accept the result, adjust their ideas and coalitions, and move on to fight in the next election. Ideas and policies would be contested, sometimes viciously, but however heated the rhetoric got, defeat was not generally equated with political annihilation. The stakes could feel high, but rarely existential. In recent years, however, beginning before the election of Donald Trump and accelerating since, that has changed.

 

“Our radical Democrat opponents are driven by hatred, prejudice, and rage,” Trump told the crowd at his reelection kickoff event in Orlando in June. “They want to destroy you and they want to destroy our country as we know it.” This is the core of the president’s pitch to his supporters: He is all that stands between them and the abyss.

 

The United States is undergoing a transition perhaps no rich and stable democracy has ever experienced: Its historically dominant group is on its way to becoming a political minority—and its minority groups are asserting their co-equal rights and interests. If there are precedents for such a transition, they lie here in the United States, where white Englishmen initially predominated, and the boundaries of the dominant group have been under negotiation ever since. Yet those precedents are hardly comforting. Many of these renegotiations sparked political conflict or open violence, and few were as profound as the one now under way.

 


 

What do former cult members or those with professional experience dealing with former cult members think of Trump’s followers?

 

This has divided the ex cult members I have interacted with into a few groups. Some ex cult members are the most devoted followers of Trump and see him as a savior and hero, almost a messiah. Many of the ex cult members who studied cults and psychology extensively see Trump as a classic cult leader with some (but definitely not all) of his followers displaying degrees of cultic relationships with him.

This group includes top cult experts such as Steven Hassan, Daniel Shaw, Alexandra Stein, and cult experts who are not ex members such as Robert Jay Lifton, Rick Alan Ross and many more.

All of the experts I mentioned have numerous articles and videos on Trump as a cult leader. I recommend the interview of Robert Jay Lifton by Bill Moyers regarding Trump.

I also recommend the book The Cult of Trump by Steven Hassan which lays out much of the evidence that Trump is a cult leader.

 


 

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 7, 2020

 

Trump’s Acquittal Shows The GOP Senate Acts Like A Cult

 

robertearlburton.blogspot.com

 


 

WhaleRiderMay 11, 2020 Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog

 

“…he is actually testing people’s loyalty to the ‘laws’ of his mind over the laws of nature, or even impulse for survival. The more he abuses them, the greater their devotion grows, since the psychological cost of admitting their mistake is ever higher — and so it becomes easier to dig a well of unreality than to see the obvious truth.

 

Mental symptoms do not discriminate between levels of intelligence. What we are seeing is what mental health experts warned would happen if we left a severely impaired person in an influential position without treatment, and what others have described as a cult.

 

But what I find most insidious is the contagion of symptoms: prolonged exposure…causes you to ‘catch’ his worldview, and even the healthiest, soundest people turn ‘crazy,’ as if afflicted with the same condition.

 

This is a known phenomenon I have encountered a great deal from working in underserved settings. It is interchangeably called ‘shared psychosis,’ ‘folie à plusieurs’ or ‘induced delusional disorder.’ The cure is removal. Then, quite dramatically, an entire afflicted family, street gang or prison cell-block that seemed almost ‘possessed’ returns to normal.

 

When experts call out abnormal signs, it is not a diagnosis but important information… It is not up to mental health experts to say how it is to be done, but it is our responsibility to say what must be done, based on our best assessment. Our prescription is removal.”

 

~ Dr Bandy X. Lee, on testing loyalty in the cult of Trump.

 


 

 

 

 


 

The INDEPENDENT

 

The coronavirus pandemic has made Trump’s psychiatric issues clear. We should remove him for our own safety.

 

Bandy X. Lee 
Yale University | March 24, 2020

 

We knew this presidency would be deadly. We were not exaggerating when, three years ago, we put together the public-service book, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President. We meant in part that the president would be dangerous to civic life, to democracy, and to the nation’s mental health — but we also meant that he would endanger lives.

 

Politics did not concern us. We are health professionals. Everything falls secondary to life and death, including politics.

 

After we got together to write the book, hundreds, and later thousands, more mental health professionals gathered from all over the country and the world with their shared concerns. Together we formed first the National Coalition, and then the World Mental Health Coalition, to organize around our goal of societal safety.

 

Through consultation with Congress members, letters, petitions, and education of the public, we tried to emphasize that mental impairment in the office of the US presidency is a serious matter.

 

“Donald Trump may not have been expecting this, but a lot of other people in the government were—they just couldn’t get him to do anything about it,” an intelligence official recently said about the lack of mobilization around the now deadly coronavirus pandemic.

 

His behavior is exactly what we expect of someone who is dangerously lacking in mental capacity. Just when surveillance was needed, he was more preoccupied with “keeping the numbers low” than testing and containment. And when behavioral change would decide the scale of the eventual calamity, he defiantly appeared in crowds, shaking hands and touching surfaces all the more.

 

As his rallies were canceled, he used daily press conferences for his emotional compulsion to create a desired, alternative reality, through delusional-level distortion and misinformation, rather than working to save lives. The pandemic makes stark the deadliness of his symptoms, and if we believe those around him will be able to contain or go around them, we are mistaken.

 

Here we enter the realm of pathology. What is truly dangerous is not the overt symptoms — even a psychotic patient wearing a tinfoil hat is not very dangerous — but the denial and the extent to which one would go to cover up symptoms. And this also goes for the president’s handlers, by extension. We call this “loss of insight.” It is the loss of ability to take care of oneself or to see that one has a problem, which diminishes all the more in those who need intervention the most.

 

On top of this, mental symptoms such as denial, projection (blaming others for what one is doing), and the inflation of non-realities while suppressing reality will be all the more unrelenting and non-negotiable when severe. Not only that, but where there is prolonged exposure to severe symptoms, previously sound individuals will start losing their own grounding in reality and take on similar symptoms.

 

Disease is unlike normal variation. It brings damage and death, which is why we treat. Just as with the viral pandemic, early signs may be difficult to detect, and warning signs may not always be visible to the untrained eye. But those who have seen similar cases in the past can recognize the signs early, know how serious will be their course, and bring greater precision to needed management, even if the circumstances are novel. In other words, expertise makes a difference. Without it, the danger of minimizing and normalizing pathology is too great.

 

Normal choices are flexible, adaptable, and life-affirming. Pathology is rigid, stereotypical, and follows very closely other cases of disease. No matter the immediate, accidental advantages — which the president calls his “gut”, when they are actually symptoms — the course is destructive: whether we look at healthcare, domestic tranquility, global security, pandemic preparedness, or an artificially bloated economy, pathological decisions have one eventual trajectory. It is the definition of disease.

 

As the death toll from coronavirus mounts, we have a decision to make. We have learned from the pandemic that prevention is key. A leadership worse than its absence can mean the difference between a contained outbreak and a catastrophe.

 

There will be many more critical junctures in not just the coming months but days and even hours as the crisis deepens. A president’s mental incapacity, at this level of severity, is not an issue that non-experts can grasp or handle. Whether it is impeachment, the 25th Amendment, or an ultimatum on resignation is for the politicians to decide, but our prescription is removal. It is a prescription for survival.

 


 

eSkeptic

August 14, 2020

 

Plagued By Nonsense

 

Pandemics Throughout History: How Mistakes, Fakes, and Missing Facts Make Epidemics Worse

 

Right now, we are all confronting one of humanity’s scariest enemies: epidemic disease. Are we brave enough to face this horror? You bet we are! We’ve done it every day during the Covid-19 pandemic.

 

Covid is new. Other diseases have plagued our ancestors since ancient times. Mighty civilizations have been devastated by the invisible invaders we call “germs.” But people are not helpless! Over centuries, we learned how to fight back against disease. Our strongest weapons are science and critical thinking. However, germs have a powerful ally: misinformation! How do ignorance and bad ideas help the germs win—and what can we do about that?

 


 

Democracy Now!
August 7, 2020

 

Mary Trump on Her Uncle, President Trump & Why He Must Be Ousted

 

“In my family, being kind was considered being weak,” says Mary Trump, President Trump’s niece, a clinical psychologist and author of Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man.

 

We spend the hour with Mary Trump, discussing her book the president doesn’t want people to read, in which she describes his upbringing in a dysfunctional family that fostered his greed, cruelty and racist and sexist behaviors — which he is now inflicting on the world. Mary Trump also discusses the president’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, his long history of lies and misrepresentations, and the dangers of his reelection. “I believe that this country is on the knife’s edge, and I don’t want anybody going to cast their vote in November being able to claim that they just don’t know who they’re voting for,” she says.

 


 

Wilderness of Mirrors

 

The Burning Shore, no. 8

 

Erik Davis | Aug 25, 2020

 

After High Weirdness was published in 2019, I started doing the usual round of podcasts and readings. I expected to mostly talk about Philip K. Dick, and maybe round out the chats with some takes on Terence McKenna, whose dark-elf charisma is greatly missed amidst the slick nostrums of today’s psychedelic discourse (at least by me). But I wound up mostly riffing about Robert Anton Wilson, the most obscure character in my triumvirate of high weirdos.

 

The reason was simple. RAW speaks most directly to one of the central features of our times: the massive uptick of viral conspiracy theories and tricky darkside counter-narratives that, as both symptom and cause, seem to be further eroding the already rickety foundations of consensus reality. True, PKD did map many a gnostic racket, and Terence also tossed fuel on the fire—seeding Alex Jones’ DMT rants, not to mention that whole 2012 thing, which these days looks merely hasty. But RAW’s work is the most relevant to the task at hand: to understand and navigate the matrix of rabbit holes that has rendered our once sorta solid modern world a Swiss cheese of suspicious plots and phantasmic speculations.

 

“Conspiracy theory” is a vexed term, of course, though still a useful one, especially when Republicans are nominating QAnon proponents, and your high school buddy on Facebook can’t shut up about Bill Gates. That said, for over fifty years, the phrase has also been deployed by academics, politicians, and mainstream media outlets in order to marginalize alternative or threatening ideas, histories, and claims—some of which, needless to say, eventually prove to be true, or at least generally accepted as such. And even when they are not true, these stories sometimes serve as valuable allegories of real conditions—the feverish images of a pop sociology that need to be reckoned with, and not merely left to fester in the waste-basket of rejected knowledge.

 


 

The Atlantic

September 2020 Issue

 

How the Pandemic Defeated America

 

A virus has brought the world’s most powerful country to its knees.

 

By Ed Yong

 

Updated at 1:12 p.m. ET on August 4, 2020

 

Editor’s Note: The Atlantic is making vital coverage of the coronavirus available to all readers. Find the collection here.

 

. . . Beginning on April 16, DiResta’s team noticed growing online chatter about Judy Mikovits, a discredited researcher turned anti-vaccination champion. Posts and videos cast Mikovits as a whistleblower who claimed that the new coronavirus was made in a lab and described Anthony Fauci of the White House’s coronavirus task force as her nemesis. Ironically, this conspiracy theory was nested inside a larger conspiracy—part of an orchestrated PR campaign by an anti-vaxxer and QAnon fan with the explicit goal to “take down Anthony Fauci.” It culminated in a slickly produced video called Plandemic, which was released on May 4. More than 8 million people watched it in a week.

 

Doctors and journalists tried to debunk Plandemic’s many misleading claims, but these efforts spread less successfully than the video itself. Like pandemics, infodemics quickly become uncontrollable unless caught early. But while health organizations recognize the need to surveil for emerging diseases, they are woefully unprepared to do the same for emerging conspiracies. In 2016, when DiResta spoke with a CDC team about the threat of misinformation, “their response was: ‘ That’s interesting, but that’s just stuff that happens on the internet.’ ”

 

[ From the June 2020 issue: Adrienne LaFrance on how QAnon is more important than you think ]

 

Rather than countering misinformation during the pandemic’s early stages, trusted sources often made things worse. Many health experts and government officials downplayed the threat of the virus in January and February, assuring the public that it posed a low risk to the U.S. and drawing comparisons to the ostensibly greater threat of the flu. The WHO, the CDC, and the U.S. surgeon general urged people not to wear masks, hoping to preserve the limited stocks for health-care workers. These messages were offered without nuance or acknowledgement of uncertainty, so when they were reversed—the virus is worse than the flu; wear masks—the changes seemed like befuddling flip-flops.

 

The media added to the confusion. Drawn to novelty, journalists gave oxygen to fringe anti-lockdown protests while most Americans quietly stayed home. They wrote up every incremental scientific claim, even those that hadn’t been verified or peer-reviewed.

 

In March, a small and severely flawed French study suggested that the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine could treat COVID‑19. Published in a minor journal, it likely would have been ignored a decade ago. But in 2020, it wended its way to Donald Trump via a chain of credulity that included Fox News, Elon Musk, and Dr. Oz. Trump spent months touting the drug as a miracle cure despite mounting evidence to the contrary, causing shortages for people who actually needed it to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. The hydroxychloroquine story was muddied even further by a study published in a top medical journal, The Lancet, that claimed the drug was not effective and was potentially harmful. The paper relied on suspect data from a small analytics company called Surgisphere, and was retracted in June.**

 

Science famously self-corrects. But during the pandemic, the same urgent pace that has produced valuable knowledge at record speed has also sent sloppy claims around the world before anyone could even raise a skeptical eyebrow. The ensuing confusion, and the many genuine unknowns about the virus, has created a vortex of fear and uncertainty, which grifters have sought to exploit. Snake-oil merchants have peddled ineffectual silver bullets (including actual silver). Armchair experts with scant or absent qualifications have found regular slots on the nightly news. And at the center of that confusion is Donald Trump.

 


 

 


 

The Washington Post

September 3, 2020

 

What’s the worst that could happen?

 

The election will likely spark violence – and a constitutional crisis

 

By Rosa Brooks

 

We wanted to know: What’s the worst thing that could happen to our country during the presidential election? President Trump has broken countless norms and ignored countless laws during his time in office, and while my colleagues and I at the Transition Integrity Project didn’t want to lie awake at night contemplating the ways the American experiment could fail, we realized that identifying the most serious risks to our democracy might be the best way to avert a November disaster. So we built a series of war games, sought out some of the most accomplished Republicans, Democrats, civil servants, media experts, pollsters and strategists around, and asked them to imagine what they’d do in a range of election and transition scenarios.

 


 

The Atlantic

September 4, 2020

 

Why Trump Supporters Can’t Admit

Who He Really Is

 

Nothing bonds a group more tightly than a common enemy that is perceived as a mortal threat.

 

By Peter Wehner

 

. . . In just the past two weeks, the president has praised supporters of the right-wing conspiracy theory QAnon, which contends, as The Guardian recently summarized it, that “a cabal of Satan-worshipping Democrats, Hollywood celebrities and billionaires runs the world while engaging in pedophilia, human trafficking and the harvesting of a supposedly life-extending chemical from the blood of abused children.” Trump touted a conspiracy theory that the national death toll from COVID-19 is about 9,000, a fraction of the official figure of nearly 185,000; promoted a program on the One America News Network accusing demonstrators of secretly plotting Trump’s downfall; encouraged his own supporters to commit voter fraud; and claimed Biden is controlled by “people that are in the dark shadows” who are wearing “dark uniforms.”

 

Trump believes his own government is conspiring to delay a COVID-19 vaccine until after the election. He retweeted a message from the actor James Woods saying New York Governor Andrew Cuomo “should be in jail” and another from an account accusing the Portland, Oregon, mayor of “committing war crimes.” The president is “inciting violence,” in the words of Maryland’s Republican Governor, Larry Hogan. Trump defended 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, a supporter who is charged with first-degree homicide; and stated that if he loses the election in November it would be because it was “rigged.” At the same time, the second-ranking House Republican, among other of the president’s supporters, has shared several manipulated videos in an effort to damage Biden.

 

This is just the latest installment in a four-year record of shame, indecency, incompetence, and malfeasance. And yet, for tens of millions of Trump’s supporters, none of it matters. None of it even breaks through. At this point, it appears, Donald Trump really could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose his voters.

 


 

Los Angeles Times

September 11, 2020

 

Why nothing matters to Trump voters

 

By David Lauter | Washington Bureau Chief

 

WASHINGTON – President Trump’s recorded interviews with Bob Woodward, in which he admitted to deliberately downplaying the danger of the coronavirus, blasted through the presidential campaign this week. His words dominated discussion and diverted the candidates from any other topics they had planned to focus on.

 

What they probably did not do is change many minds.

 

The same goes for the previous week’s eruption — the Atlantic magazine article quoting anonymous officials who said Trump had disparaged military service members as “losers” — and the one before that, and the one before that and so on.

 

Many Democrats find the lack of reaction baffling. Surely, they say after each new revelation, this piece of evidence will be the one to cause Trump supporters to abandon their candidate en masse.

 


 

Nothing to See

 


 

The Atlantic 

September 11, 2020

 

Donald Trump Is Waiting for You in First Class
‘I Moved on Her Very Heavily’: Part 3

 

Story by E. Jean Carroll

 

In her 2019 memoir, What Do We Need Men For?, E. Jean Carroll accused Donald Trump of rape, in a Bergdorf’s dressing room in the mid-1990s. After the president denied ever meeting her and dismissed her story as a Democratic plot, she sued him for defamation. Carroll was not, of course, the first woman to say that Trump had sexually harassed or assaulted her, but unlike so many other powerful men, the president has remained unscathed by the #MeToo reckoning. So in the run-up to the November 3 election, Carroll is interviewing other women who alleged that Trump suddenly and without consent “moved on” them, to cite his locution in the Access Hollywood tape. “I’m automatically attracted to beautiful—I just start kissing them, it’s like a magnet … And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy.”

 


 

RAW STORY
Investigates

September 21, 2020

 

Expert on cult movements: Trump’s attempts
to falsify reality follows ‘pattern of the Nazis’

 

By Igor Derysh, Salon 

 

A prominent psychiatrist who spent years studying Nazi Germany has called for mental health professionals to speak out about President Trump’s “falsification of reality” ahead of the election, warning that his attacks on the truth echo those of the Nazis.

 

Dr. Robert Jay Lifton, distinguished professor emeritus at John Jay College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and a leading psychohistorian who has written extensively about doctors who aided Nazi war crimes, has long called for mental health experts to defy warnings from the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and speak out about Trump’s mental health. Lifton recently published a book entitled Losing Reality: On Cults, Cultism, and the Mindset of Political and Religious Zealotry and was one of the 27 mental health experts featured in The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, the bestseller edited by Yale psychiatrist Dr. Bandy X. Lee in which mental health professionals assessed the president.

 

Lifton told Salon that the book and a Yale conference on the topic began the movement of “psychologists and psychiatrists speaking out against Trump.”

 

“I spoke about what I called malignant normality that was being imposed on us, and the need to be witnessing professionals who told the truth and oppose the malignant normality,” he said in an interview last week.

 

Lifton said that Trump’s supporters and enablers exhibit the same “cult-like behavior” that he has studied, adding that the current administration has “Trumpified” every part of the federal government, in much the same way that the German government was “Nazified” under Adolf Hitler.

 


 

Professor Jason Stanley, in his book How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them, observed that “The leader proposes that only he can solve it and all of his political opponents are enemies or traitors.” Stanley says recent global events, including the pandemic and the protests, have substantiated his concern about how fascist rhetoric is showing up in politics and policies around the world.

 

wikipedia/Fascism

 


 

Nothing to See

 


 

60 Minutes Australia

September 20, 2020

 

EXCLUSIVE: Melania Trump’s former friend reveals White House secrets

 

Just as the world has never experienced a United States President quite like Donald Trump, it’s not seen a First Lady like Melania Trump either. Despite being one of the most photographed women on the planet, she remains virtually unknown. But wealthy New York socialite Stephanie Winston Wolkoff is now controversially trying to change all that. She says she was “besties” with Melania for 15 years, and because of their friendship was not only appointed a senior adviser to the First Lady, she was also asked to organise Trump’s presidential inauguration.

 

But two years ago the friendship between the two women soured. Stephanie claims she was the victim of an orchestrated political hit and was bitterly disappointed when Melania abandoned her. Many are calling it a despicable act of revenge, but Stephanie has now written a tell-all book about the First Lady and her secrets, and as she explains to Liam Bartlett in an exclusive interview, there are plenty of secrets to tell about Melania and the Donald.

 


 

Nothing to See

 


 

The Atlantic

September 28, 2020

 

The Tedium of Trump

 

No matter how many crazy things happen, the fundamentals are the same: The president is a greedy racist and misogynist who does not understand his job.

 

By Quinta Jurecic

 

Donald Trump has built his public persona around the central importance of grabbing attention—whether his actions provoke delight or fury. And yet he is, and has long been, boring.

 

. . . Read any of the tell-alls written by Trump’s former close associates or family members—not to mention journalists such as Bob Woodward—and you will come away with basically the same understanding. As the journalist Jennifer Szalai wrote in her New York Times review of Woodward’s latest chronicle of the Trump administration, “The Trump that emerges in ‘Rage’ is impetuous and self-aggrandizing—in other words, immediately recognizable to anyone paying even the minimal amount of attention.”

 

There is something uncanny about this. The English novelist E. M. Forster argued that the difference between a fictional character and a real person is that it is possible to know everything about a character in a novel; real people, however, see one another through a glass, darkly. And yet while it may not be possible to know every hidden detail of Trump’s life, it is trivially easy to understand everything about his personality. If he were a character, Forster would call him flat, unrealistic: He does not, as Forster requires, have the capacity to surprise. At some point over the course of the Trump era, this became a running joke among political commentators, who, every time Trump does something appalling and yet obvious, make cracks on social media about how hackneyed the Trump presidency would seem if it were fiction.

 

This has created a problem for artists as well. Surveying the landscape of anti-Trump art in February 2019, the cultural critic Jillian Steinhauer argued that the work had failed to hit the mark: It was missing, she wrote, “the critical introspection to accompany the laughter.” But such introspection is hard to achieve when the person prompting it is so lacking in depth or interiority.

 

Likewise, four years into this presidency, uncovering fresh insight into Trump or his administration is difficult. Activists, journalists, and commentators found those insights earlier on. Use of the phrase The cruelty is the point, coined by The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer in 2018, has become widespread in part because it continues to be uncomplicatedly true: A lot of the time, the motivations of Trump and those around him are not actually more involved than a desire to hurt others. The idea is so simple that it’s more or less become a meme, which isn’t to deride its perceptiveness but rather to say that the Trump White House is fundamentally simple. Personally, I wrote a great deal in the first few years of the administration about Trump’s understanding of law as a cudgel against the vulnerable before it dawned on me that I was writing the same article over and over again.

 


 

 


 

The Story Behind TIME’s ‘Plague Election’

Donald Trump Cover

 

 

By D.W. Pine

August 6, 2020

D.W. Pine is the Creative Director at TIME.

 

For the cover of the Aug. 17, 2020 issue of TIME, longtime collaborator Tim O’Brien revisited his award-winning series depicting the mounting troubles facing President Trump. The new cover is the fourth installment and the first to depart the Oval Office, painting Trump at sea surrounded by COVID-19, as the White House recedes from view. It accompanies a cover story by TIME national correspondent Molly Ball on the ways the pandemic is transforming the 2020 election.

 

“For the past year, I’ve been pondering one more cover in the series, but there was always a new intervening controversy, scandal, social upheaval, or norm-crushing tweet to change the story,” says O’Brien, a Brooklyn artist who has been creating TIME covers for more than 30 years.

 

The first three covers in the series featured Trump inside the Oval Office as rainstorms gathered inside: “Nothing to See Here” (Feb. 27, 2017), “Stormy” (April 23, 2018) and “In Deep” (Sept. 3, 2018). The “Stormy” cover was named 2018 Cover of the Year by AdWeek and received a Gold medal from the Art Director’s Club.

 

“The rising water as a metaphor for chaos in the Trump White House could only end two ways,” adds O’Brien, who has painted more TIME covers (32 and counting) than any artist in the past 50 years. “So he survives only to be in the surging waves surrounded by coronavirus, each one a little bomb.”

 


 

MSNBC

 

Trump Announces He’s Tested Positive For The Coronavirus

 

Early Friday morning on the East Coast, the president announced on Twitter that he and the First Lady had tested positive with the coronavirus after his close aide Hope Hicks tested positive for the virus. Aired on 10/01/2020.

 


 

Vice News 

Oct 5, 2020

 

After Trump’s Doctors Lied,

New COVID Conspiracy Theories Are Exploding

 

Conspiracy theorists think Trump is faking it

but also that he was infected by Nancy Pelosi.

 

By David Gilbert

 

“Joe Biden’s campaign team is coordinating with Russian dissident Alexei Navalny to assassinate President Donald Trump.”

 

“Trump has been using a body double in recent days to hide the seriousness of his symptoms.”

 

“Trump was seen using an oxygen tank days before he tested positive for coronavirus.”

 

These are just a tiny selection of the tsunami of conspiracy theories that flooded social media over the weekend, as people rushed to fill the vacuum created by a series of confusing and misleading statements from White House officials and Trump’s own doctors at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Anthony Fauci Was ‘Absolutely Not’ Surprised Trump Got Covid

 

In an interview with ’60 Minutes,’ Fauci said he believes the president “equates wearing a mask with weakness.”

 

By Paul Blest | Oct 19, 2020

 

. . . While it’s not totally clear where Trump contracted the coronavirus, several high-profile figures who attended the Barrett event and were exposed to people who attended later tested positive for COVID-19. Trump himself was hospitalized earlier this month but has since returned to the campaign trail.

 


 

New York
Intelligencer

 

The National Interest

Oct 6, 2020 

 

Trump Turning Down Pelosi’s Stimulus Deal Is the Worst Political Blunder in History

 

By Jonathan Chait

 

. . . The Washington Post reports that Trump reversed himself, and declared the stimulus bill dead, after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told him Pelosi was “stringing him along” and the Senate did not have enough votes. Of course, there would be plenty of votes for a Pelosi-Trump deal if Trump campaigned for it publicly. But once again – inverting the stereotype that Congressional Republicans are uniformly subservient to Trump – he has allowed McConnell to control him.

 

The Republican rationale for opposing the House bill has always been that it is a “blue-state bailout,” a reward for irresponsible Democratic jurisdictions. This claim is simply false; the economic crisis has dried up tax revenue and driven up spending needs in states and cities run by Democrats and Republicans alike. State and local governments are required to balance their budgets, which means that it’s difficult for them to be “irresponsible.”

 

Suppose it were somehow true, though, that Democratic states and towns were exclusively in need of federal help to avoid tax hikes and service cuts. You can see why ideological conservatives might salivate at the opportunity to use a crisis to cut them down to size. But why would Trump want that? Does he think laying off cops and teachers in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania helps him?

 

Trump has frequently followed his party’s anti-government wing to politically disastrous outcomes. Trump spent most of his first year trying to pass a wildly unpopular partisan repeal of Obamacare, rather than attempting some kind of bipartisan patch-up bill he could rebrand as Trumpcare. He then passed an unpopular tax cut for wealthy heirs and business owners. He abandoned his populist promises to raise his own taxes, crack down on Wall Street, and rebuild infrastructure. All these failures forfeited his crucial 2016 appeal to economic populist swing voters who saw him as more moderate than typical Republicans.

 

Why did he allow himself to be led by the nose into self-defeating positions? Obviously, Trump knows very little about public policy. He does have some grasp of self-interest though, and has frequently expressed his correct view that it lies in casting aside anti-government dogma and borrowing as much money as he could.

 

One explanation might be that Trump’s hatred and distrust of Democrats drove him to instinctive opposition. Trump thinks entirely in zero-sum terms, and habitually accuses anybody not working on his behalf of being motivated by a desire to defeat him. Once House Democrats passed an economic relief bill, just months after impeaching him, Trump probably assumed the bill could only hurt him. Or, at least, the fact Democrats passed it so willingly made it easier for right-wing ideologues to convince him that the bill would hurt him.

 

Trump’s zero-sum mindset is one reason he is awful at making deals. If he has indeed walked away from the House’s offer, he has turned down what may have been his last, best chance to win reelection. Presidents have made worse policy choices before. But it is hard to think of a president who has ever made a purely political decision so predictably disastrous.

 


 

The David Parkman Show 

Oct 6, 2020

 

Anthony Scaramucci Tells All: Trump an “Unstable Nutjob”

 


 

NBC NEWS

Oct 8, 2020

 

Whitmer says Trump ‘complicit’ after feds reveal thwarted plot to kidnap her

 

By Allan Smith

 

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Thursday that President Donald Trump is “complicit” in fomenting extremists as she addressed a thwarted plot to kidnap her revealed earlier Thursday. 

 

“Just last week, the president of the United States stood before the American people and refused to condemn white supremacists and hate groups like these two Michigan militia groups,” she said, pointing to Trump’s comments about the “Proud Boys” group during last week’s presidential debate. “‘Stand back and stand by,’ he told them. Stand back and stand by.”

 

“Hate groups heard the president’s words not as a rebuke, but as a rallying cry,” she said. “As a call to action. When our leaders speak, their words matter. They carry weight. When our leaders meet with, encourage, or fraternize with domestic terrorists, they legitimize their actions and they are complicit.”

 

Whitmer thanked law enforcement after more than a dozen men were charged with federal and state crimes in connection to the plot. Six of the men were arrested on federal charges while seven more were hit with state charges. Federal investigators had utilized informants and were tracking the individuals for months.

 

According to the federal criminal complaint, the men sought to take Whitmer hostage before the November election and conducted surveillance of her vacation home. They had also conducted combat training and sought this week to purchase explosives.

 

The president has repeatedly criticized Whitmer over her strict efforts to contain coronavirus, calling her the “lock-up queen” in an interview just hours before news of the alleged plot broke. In an April tweet that began recirculating after the charges were announced, Trump wrote: “LIBERATE MICHIGAN.”

 


 

Yahoo! news

 

Wisconsin is battling Americas’s worst coronavirus outbreak, and the state’s broken politics are partly to blame

 

Andrew Romano West Coast correspondent

 

Look at a map of daily COVID-19 cases in the U.S. Most of the Northeast and West Coast is yellow, indicating limited spread. The numbers across the Southeast tend to be moderate, or orange. Move into the Upper Midwest and more red hot spots start to appear. 

 

And then there’s one state that’s covered in crimson: Wisconsin. 

 

Right now Wisconsin is battling the worst coronavirus outbreak in America. The question is why. What about Wisconsin is different from, say, the neighboring states of Michigan, Minnesota and Illinois, where the virus isn’t spreading nearly as fast? 

 

The answer, at least in part, is politics: specifically, the brand of cavalier, it-will-go-away politics propagated by President Trump and parroted by lower-level Republicans who seem hell-bent on resisting efforts to sustain social distancing and mask wearing when the spread is still low enough to contain — and in Wisconsin’s case, who continue to resist even after infections spiral out of control.  

 


 

MSNBC

Oct 13, 2020

 

‘He Knows’: Trump Fixated on ‘Likely’ Loss To Biden, Per Trump Insider

 

New reporting shows Trump’s inner circle worried he failed to handle Covid hitting the White House, bungled debates over a final stimulus package before the election, and ‘blew’ his chance to reset the campaign – raising broader questions of whether he is self-sabotaging. ‘Art of the Deal’ co-author Tony Schwartz discusses Trump’s penchant for hurting himself, how his approach has coarsened over the years, and the wider potential danger facing the U.S. if Trump loses and tries ‘to bring us down with him’ before leaving office, in this interview with MSNBC’s Ari Melber.

 


 

THE BALTIMORE SUN

 

Associated Press

Oct 23, 2020

 

Trump and Biden clash over raging COVID-19 pandemic in final debate that showcased their vastly different visions for the nation

 

By Jonathan Lemire, Darlene Superville, Will Weissert and Michelle L. Price
 

President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden fought over how to tame the raging coronavirus during the campaign’s closing debate, largely shelving the rancor that overshadowed their previous face-off in favor of a more substantive exchange that highlighted their vastly different approaches to the major domestic and foreign challenges facing the nation.

 

The president declared the virus, which killed more than 1,000 Americans on Thursday alone, will “go away.” Biden countered that the nation was heading toward “a dark winter.”

 

“Anyone who is responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of the United States of America,” Biden said.

 

 

With less than two weeks until the election, Trump portrayed himself as the same outsider he first pitched to voters four years ago, repeatedly saying he wasn’t a politician. Biden, meanwhile, argued that Trump was an incompetent leader of a country facing multiple crises and tried to connect what he saw as the president’s failures to the everyday lives of Americans, especially when it comes to the pandemic.

 


 

Huff Post

 Oct 22, 2020

 

Trump’s Crackdown On Diversity Training Is Fascist.

And Terrifying.

 

The White House ban on anti-racism training is an authoritarian attack on free speech and already doing serious damage.

 

By Emily Peck

 

One of the president’s most dangerous attacks on civil rights and free speech is getting relatively little attention amid the firestorm of news as Election Day approaches. 

 

In an executive order and a series of administrative actions issued over the past month and a half, the Trump administration effectively banned diversity and inclusion training in the federal workforce and at any company or entity that contracts with the government or receives federal funding, a huge swath of American businesses and universities, covering millions of workers and students.

 

As part of the administration’s continued efforts to effectively ban anti-racism training, the Labor Department announced Wednesday it would begin collecting information on diversity training from contractors (Verizon, which owns HuffPost, is one such company) as a way of policing the way diversity is discussed within private companies.

 

The president ironically claims to be doing this in the name of equality. The administration says these trainings are un-American propaganda, claiming that learning about the history of race in the United States teaches the language of hate.

 

But diversity training is standard corporate practice, meant to encourage workers of all backgrounds to treat each other fairly. As the Me Too movement began, there was a shift to focus on sexual harassment education. These days, companies are increasingly concentrating on racism. 

 

In the case of diversity training, the White House is basing its opinion on the findings of one conservative activist, Christopher Rufo, who has appeared on Fox News and written for the New York Post and Wall Street Journal.

 

The word Orwellian is thrown around quite a bit in the Donald Trump era, but the doublespeak in this order stunned the lawyers, executives, activists and academics who have pushed for diversity, inclusion and equality for decades.

 


 

The Atlantic

November 2020 Issue

 

The Election That Could Break America

 

If the vote is close, Donald Trump could easily throw the election into chaos and subvert the result. Who will stop him?

 

By Barton Gellman

 

Editor’s Note: This story appears in the November issue of The Atlantic; we’ve published it early on our website because of its urgency. Subscribers to the print magazine can expect to receive the issue in mid-October.

 

There is a cohort of close observers of our presidential elections, scholars and lawyers and political strategists, who find themselves in the uneasy position of intelligence analysts in the months before 9/11. As November 3 approaches, their screens are blinking red, alight with warnings that the political system does not know how to absorb. They see the obvious signs that we all see, but they also know subtle things that most of us do not. Something dangerous has hove into view, and the nation is lurching into its path.

 

The danger is not merely that the 2020 election will bring discord. Those who fear something worse take turbulence and controversy for granted. The coronavirus pandemic, a reckless incumbent, a deluge of mail-in ballots, a vandalized Postal Service, a resurgent effort to suppress votes, and a trainload of lawsuits are bearing down on the nation’s creaky electoral machinery.

 

Something has to give, and many things will, when the time comes for casting, canvassing, and certifying the ballots. Anything is possible, including a landslide that leaves no doubt on Election Night. But even if one side takes a commanding early lead, tabulation and litigation of the “overtime count”—millions of mail-in and provisional ballots—could keep the outcome unsettled for days or weeks.

 

If we are lucky, this fraught and dysfunctional election cycle will reach a conventional stopping point in time to meet crucial deadlines in December and January. The contest will be decided with sufficient authority that the losing candidate will be forced to yield. Collectively we will have made our choice—a messy one, no doubt, but clear enough to arm the president-elect with a mandate to govern.

 

As a nation, we have never failed to clear that bar. But in this election year of plague and recession and catastrophized politics, the mechanisms of decision are at meaningful risk of breaking down. Close students of election law and procedure are warning that conditions are ripe for a constitutional crisis that would leave the nation without an authoritative result. We have no fail-safe against that calamity. Thus the blinking red lights.

 

“We could well see a protracted postelection struggle in the courts and the streets if the results are close,” says Richard L. Hasen, a professor at the UC Irvine School of Law and the author of a recent book called Election Meltdown. “The kind of election meltdown we could see would be much worse than 2000’s Bush v. Gore case.”

 

A lot of people, including Joe Biden, the Democratic Party nominee, have mis­conceived the nature of the threat. They frame it as a concern, unthinkable for presidents past, that Trump might refuse to vacate the Oval Office if he loses. They generally conclude, as Biden has, that in that event the proper authorities “will escort him from the White House with great dispatch.”

 

The worst case, however, is not that Trump rejects the election outcome. The worst case is that he uses his power to prevent a decisive outcome against him. If Trump sheds all restraint, and if his Republican allies play the parts he assigns them, he could obstruct the emergence of a legally unambiguous victory for Biden in the Electoral College and then in Congress. He could prevent the formation of consensus about whether there is any outcome at all. He could seize on that un­certainty to hold on to power.

 

Trump’s state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for postelection maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states. Ambiguities in the Constitution and logic bombs in the Electoral Count Act make it possible to extend the dispute all the way to Inauguration Day, which would bring the nation to a precipice. The Twentieth Amendment is crystal clear that the president’s term in office “shall end” at noon on January 20, but two men could show up to be sworn in. One of them would arrive with all the tools and power of the presidency already in hand.

 

“We are not prepared for this at all,” Julian Zelizer, a Prince­ton professor of history and public affairs, told me. “We talk about it, some worry about it, and we imagine what it would be. But few people have actual answers to what happens if the machinery of democracy is used to prevent a legitimate resolution to the election.”

 

Nineteen summers ago, when counterterrorism analysts warned of a coming attack by al‑Qaeda, they could only guess at a date. This year, if election analysts are right, we know when the trouble is likely to come. Call it the Interregnum: the interval from Election Day to the next president’s swearing-in. It is a temporal no-man’s-land between the presidency of Donald Trump and an uncertain successor—a second term for Trump or a first for Biden. The transfer of power we usually take for granted has several intermediate steps, and they are fragile.

 

The Interregnum comprises 79 days, carefully bounded by law. Among them are “the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December,” this year December 14, when the electors meet in all 50 states and the District of Columbia to cast their ballots for president; “the 3d day of January,” when the newly elected Congress is seated; and “the sixth day of January,” when the House and Senate meet jointly for a formal count of the electoral vote. In most modern elections these have been pro forma milestones, irrelevant to the outcome. This year, they may not be.

 

“Our Constitution does not secure the peaceful transition of power, but rather presupposes it,” the legal scholar Lawrence Douglas wrote in a recent book titled simply Will He Go? The Interregnum we are about to enter will be accompanied by what Douglas, who teaches at Amherst, calls a “perfect storm” of adverse conditions. We cannot turn away from that storm. On November 3 we sail toward its center mass. If we emerge without trauma, it will not be an unbreakable ship that has saved us.

 

Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.

 

Trump’s invincible commitment to this stance will be the most important fact about the coming Interregnum. It will deform the proceedings from beginning to end. We have not experienced anything like it before.

 

Maybe you hesitate. Is it a fact that if Trump loses, he will reject defeat, come what may? Do we know that? Technically, you feel obliged to point out, the proposition is framed in the future conditional, and prophecy is no man’s gift, and so forth. With all due respect, that is pettifoggery. We know this man. We cannot afford to pretend.

 

Trump’s behavior and declared intent leave no room to suppose that he will accept the public’s verdict if the vote is going against him. He lies prodigiously—to manipulate events, to secure advantage, to dodge accountability, and to ward off injury to his pride. An election produces the perfect distillate of all those motives.

 

Pathology may exert the strongest influence on Trump’s choices during the Interregnum. Well-supported arguments, some of them in this magazine, have made the case that Trump fits the diagnostic criteria for psychopathy and narcissism. Either disorder, by its medical definition, would render him all but incapable of accepting defeat.

 


 

President Donald Trump: The 60 Minutes 2020 Election Interview

 

In an interview that’s made headlines this week, Lesley Stahl presses President Trump on once-again rising coronavirus cases and what his priorities would be if re-elected. Stahl also speaks with Mr. Trump’s running mate, Vice President Mike Pence.

 


 

HARPER’S

November 2020

 

 

THE ENEMIES BRIEFCASE

 

Secret powers and the presidency

 

By Andrew Cockburn

 

A few hours before the inauguration ceremony, the prospective president receives an elaborate and highly classified briefing on the means and procedures for blowing up the world with a nuclear attack, a rite of passage that a former official described as “a sobering moment.” Secret though it may be, we are at least aware that this introduction to apocalypse takes place. At some point in the first term, however, experts surmise that an even more secret briefing occurs, one that has never been publicly acknowledged. In it, the new president learns how to blow up the Constitution.

 

The session introduces “presidential emergency action documents,” or PEADs, orders that authorize a broad range of mortal assaults on our civil liberties. In the words of a rare declassified official description, the documents outline how to “implement extraordinary presidential authority in response to extraordinary situations”—by imposing martial law, suspending habeas corpus, seizing control of the internet, imposing censorship, and incarcerating so-called subversives, among other repressive measures. “We know about the nuclear briefcase that carries the launch codes,” Joel McCleary, a White House official in the Carter Administration, told me. “But over at the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department there’s a list of all the so-called enemies of the state who would be rounded up in an emergency. I’ve heard it called the ‘enemies briefcase.’ ”

 

These chilling directives have been silently proliferating since the dawn of the Cold War as an integral part of the hugely elaborate and expensive Continuity of Government (COG) program, a mechanism to preserve state authority (complete with well-provisioned underground bunkers for leaders) in the event of a nuclear holocaust. Compiled without any authorization from Congress, the emergency provisions long escaped public discussion—that is, until Donald Trump started to brag about them. “I have the right to do a lot of things that people don’t even know about,” he boasted in March, ominously echoing his interpretation of Article II of the Constitution, which, he has claimed, gives him “the right to do whatever I want as president.” He has also declared his “absolute right” to build a border wall, whatever Congress thinks, and even floated the possibility of delaying the election “until people can properly, securely, and safely vote.”

 

“This really is one of the best-kept secrets in Washington,” Elizabeth Goitein, the co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice, told me. “But though the PEADs are secret from the American public, they’re not secret from the White House and from the executive branch. And the fact that none of them has ever been leaked is really quite extraordinary.” Goitein and her colleagues have been working diligently for years to elicit the truth about the president’s hidden legal armory, tracing stray references in declassified documents and obscure appropriations requests from previous administrations. “At least in the past,” said Goitein, “there were documents that purported to authorize actions that are unconstitutional, that are not justified by any existing law, and that’s why we need to be worried about them.”

 

Part of what makes the existence of PEADs so alarming is the fact that the president already has a different arsenal of emergency powers at his disposal. Unlike PEADs, which are not themselves laws, these powers have been obligingly granted (and often subsequently forgotten) by Congress. They come into force once a president declares a state of emergency related to whatever crisis is at hand, though the link is often tenuous indeed. For example, to fight the war in Vietnam, Lyndon Johnson used emergency powers originally granted to Harry Truman for the Korean War. As Goitein has written, the moment a president declares a “national emergency”—which he can do whenever he likes—more than one hundred special provisions become available, including freezing Americans’ bank accounts or deploying troops domestically. One provision even permits a president to suspend the ban on testing chemical and biological weapons on human subjects.

 

Thinly justified by public laws, these emergency powers have become formidable instruments of repression for any president unscrupulous enough to use them. Franklin Roosevelt, for example, invoked emergency powers when he incarcerated 120,000 Americans of Japanese ethnicity. One of them, Fred Korematsu, a twenty-three-year-old welder from Oakland, California, refused to cooperate and sued. His case reached the Supreme Court, which duly ruled that the roundup of U.S. citizens had been justified by “military necessity.” Justice Robert Jackson, one of three dissenters, wrote that though the emergency used to justify the action would end, the principle of arbitrary power sanctified by the court decision “would endure into the future, a loaded weapon ready for the hand of any authority that can bring forward a plausible claim of an urgent need.”

 

Jackson’s warning now rings louder than ever, given the spectacle of a president who revels in displays of arbitrary power. His boasts are clearly not idle, and have duly elicited a chorus of alarmed protest, amplified by the prospect of an election that could certify his grip on power for (at least) another four years. In the event of his displacement, sooner or later, by a more conventional chief executive pledged to respect our laws and institutions, we might hope that Congress would move aggressively to assert the Constitution and close all the secret loopholes Trump so cherishes. After all, this has happened before. Half a century ago, a president was caught acting lawlessly, sparking national outrage and prompting a reckoning with how extensively arbitrary presidential power had eaten away at Americans’ freedoms. Back then, Congress seemed resolved to prevent such abuses from happening again. But the attempt was brief; the impulse rapidly faded. Given the threats facing what is left of our liberty today, it is important to look at what happened, and why.

 

In the 1970s, the Colorado senator Gary Hart served on the famed Church Committee, which probed and exposed CIA assassinations, FBI operations to subvert and destroy the civil-rights movement (including efforts to drive Martin Luther King Jr. to suicide), and other secret, scandalous initiatives. These shocking revelations, including close ties to organized crime, revealed the terrifying extent of unbridled presidential power, with the use of secret police—the FBI and CIA—as personal instruments. Given Hart’s time on the committee, one would expect him to be intimately familiar with the secret powers of the president. Yet when he read an April 10 op-ed in the New York Times by Goitein and her colleague Andrew Boyle headlined trump has emergency powers we aren’t allowed to know about, he was caught by surprise. “It snapped my head back,” he told me.

 

Even though Hart, now retired and living in the Rocky Mountains, was deeply immersed in matters of national security and intelligence for decades, he had not heard about the extraordinary powers that Goitein and Boyle were describing. Throughout his work on the Church Committee, he said, “We did not come across, did not examine, the so-called secret powers put in place in anticipation of a nuclear attack.” He was shocked to learn not only that they existed, but that they had expanded in recent years. “One would have thought that, with the end of the Cold War in the early Nineties, the secret powers would have been put on the shelf somewhere,” he said. After reading the op-ed, Hart called several “close friends” who had formerly occupied “very, very senior” defense and security posts. Some responded with claims of ignorance. Others refused to talk at all. “People I know well, who had to know about these powers, simply refused to even send an email back saying ‘I can’t talk about it,’ ” said Hart. “They just clammed up.”

 

When Hart assumed office in 1975, Washington was still reverberating from the twin earthquakes of Watergate and the Vietnam War. Americans had learned that a president could use his power in ways both shocking and criminal. Richard Nixon had flouted the law with an easy conscience, commissioning burglaries and directing a cover-up. His defense, as he later described it, was that “when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.” The Vietnam disaster had spurred Congress to pass the War Powers Act a year and a half earlier, overriding a presidential veto with a two-thirds majority in both houses. Authored by the liberal Republican congressman Paul Findley, the act barred the president from going to war without authorization from Congress (or so its sponsors believed). Now, as Hart’s tenure began, the Capitol was being further rocked by revelations of a vast and illegal domestic spying operation and the first hints of an assassination program. In response, Congress created two committees to investigate the CIA—one headed by the young and ambitious senator Frank Church of Idaho, the other eventually led by Representative Otis Pike, a tough ex-Marine from New York.

 

Over the next year, the committees found copious evidence that presidents and their agents had routinely strayed outside the Constitution. As the Senate committee’s chief counsel, F.A.O. “Fritz” Schwarz Jr., told me, he and his colleagues initially assumed that they would simply be investigating Nixon’s wrongdoings and CIA “improprieties.” But it soon became clear that the rot went far deeper. “It wasn’t only a Nixon problem,” he said. “It was not only a CIA problem. The abuses of power go back to at least Franklin Roosevelt.” Roosevelt, they found, had commissioned FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover to uncover evidence of “subversion” (without defining what that meant) in the lead-up to World War II, requesting that such investigations be limited “insofar as possible” to “aliens.” Along with Hoover and U.S. attorney general Homer Cummings, FDR agreed that the investigations should be kept secret from Congress.

 

As he learned how the FBI had also attempted to destroy the civil-rights movement, Schwarz came to believe that, compared with the CIA, “the FBI was the greater danger to American democracy,” especially when deployed in the political service of a chief executive. Johnson, for example, had directed a “special squad” in the FBI to spy and report on opposition groups during the 1964 Democratic National Convention. “It’s a tendency among presidents to say, ‘Gosh, we have these resources, let’s use them,’ ” said Schwarz. “If you have power, you can get more.”

 

While the two intelligence committees generated exciting headlines (though Pike’s discovery that the most frequent CIA covert action was to interfere in other countries’ democratic elections passed almost entirely without comment), a third committee was probing equally momentous issues in quiet obscurity. In 1972, a number of senatorial elders, including the Republican Charles Mathias of Maryland, having noted the use of antediluvian emergency powers to prosecute the disastrous Vietnam War, had instituted the Special Committee on the Termination of the National Emergency. Co-chaired by Church and Mathias, its task was to unearth and revoke those emergency powers that were authorized by Congress and subsequently forgotten.

 

The first problem faced by the committee was to find out what emergency powers existed. “This,” read a 1973 report, “has been a most difficult task.” Nowhere in government was there a complete catalogue detailing these emergency laws, which were buried within the vast body of laws passed since the first Congress. “Many were aware that there had been a delegation of an enormous amount of power, but of how much power no one knew,” the committee said. Then, just when the staff had resigned themselves to poring over all eighty-seven volumes of the Statutes at Large—the record of all laws and resolutions passed by Congress—they discovered a shortcut. As part of their COG arrangements, “The Air Force had digitized the whole thing,” Patrick Shea, a Church aide who worked as a staffer on the committee, told me recently. “They had it on computer tape, buried inside a mountain—NORAD headquarters—outside Colorado Springs, in case there was a nuclear war.”

 

Using the digitized records, aides searched for keywords that might have been used when describing “extraordinary powers”: “war,” “national defense,” “invasion,” and “insurrection.” The opening paragraph of the committee’s initial report made their findings clear:

 

A majority of Americans alive today have lived all of their lives under emergency rule. For forty years, freedoms and governmental procedures guaranteed by the Constitution have, in varying degrees, been abridged by laws brought into force by states of national emergency.

 

In addition to Johnson’s use of Truman’s Korean War powers, the committee noted that FDR had relied on an old wartime measure, introduced by Woodrow Wilson in 1917, to close the banks in 1933 in response to the Great Depression. To his amusement, Shea even discovered that a Civil War–era emergency law enabling cavalry on the Western plains to buy forage for their horses had been used to skirt Congress in financing the war in Vietnam.

 

Before the committee’s investigation, no one had realized that “temporary” states of emergency could become permanent. “Because Congress and the public are unaware of the extent of emergency powers,” it found, “there has never been any notable congressional or public objection made to this state of affairs. Nor have the courts imposed significant limitations.” The drafters of these emergency powers, whoever they were, “were understandably not concerned about providing for congressional review, oversight, or termination of these delegated powers.” By way of comparison, the report cited a 1952 opinion by Justice Jackson, in which he described the emergency powers granted by the constitution of the Weimar Republic. Instituted following World War I, it was expressly designed to secure citizens’ liberties “in the Western tradition.” However, it also empowered the president to unilaterally suspend any and all individual rights in the interest of public safety. After various governments had made temporary use of this provision, read Jackson’s account, “Hitler persuaded President Von Hindenburg to suspend all such rights, and they were never restored.”

 

The committee concluded that a president could “seize property and commodities, seize control of transport and communications, organize and control the means of production, assign military forces abroad, and restrict travel”—a state of affairs that the committee reasonably described as “dangerous.” As ominous as the committee’s discoveries may have been, however, they received scant media attention, lacking the sex appeal of assassination plots, poison dart guns, or White House liaisons with the Mafia. When I asked Shea why else these revelations might have attracted such little notice, he told me that Church “wasn’t so anxious for publicity” in 1973, when the emergency committee was first set up. It was only after Church had been given control of the intelligence committee and had decided to run for the 1976 Democratic nomination, said Shea, that he wanted “all the publicity he could get.” (To secure the assignment, Church had falsely promised the Senate leadership that he would not run.) As for Mathias, who had helped sound the alarm about emergency powers in the first place, Shea told me that he “always liked to stay in the background. He was the soul of discretion. There were people like that in the Senate in those days.”

 

By 1974, the emergencies committee had drafted a bill that ended most existing emergencies and mandated the automatic termination of new ones after six months. Yet the bill’s passage was continually delayed, and its contents were steadily watered down, thanks in large part to what Jerry Brady, a former chief of staff on the committee, recalled as “pretty vigorous pushback from the president and others at the White House.”

 

We now know, thanks to declassified archives, that the administration kept tight supervision over the committees’ work, and that Henry Kissinger urged unyielding resistance. As he exclaimed during a meeting with President Gerald Ford and others in May 1975: “It is an act of insanity and national humiliation to have a law prohibiting the president from ordering an assassination.” The White House deputy chief of staff, Dick Cheney, whose most distinguishing feature, according to another senior Ford aide, were his “snake-cold eyes, like a Cheyenne gambler’s,” also attempted to thwart the investigations behind the scenes. After reviewing thousands of declassified documents, the National Security Archive reported in 2015 that Cheney ultimately decided which documents requested by Church and his staff should be handed over, and that “CIA accommodation measures were explicitly designed to keep Church Committee investigators away from its most important records.” (Among those assigned to this task in the CIA legislative office was a conservative young lawyer named William Barr.)

 

Little wonder, then, that the effort “to terminate the national emergency” failed. The bill did manage to abolish existing states of emergency. (This provision was supposed to kick in after six months, though it was pushed back to two years.) But automatic suspension of new emergencies, as originally proposed, gave way to a requirement that Congress should meet twice a year “to consider a vote” on termination. Its force thus quietly diluted, the bill finally became law in 1976, whereupon Congress swiftly forgot about it, never once meeting to vote on whether to end states of emergency. The provision allowing Congress to end them through a “concurrent resolution” that did not require a president’s signature was obviated by a Supreme Court decision in 1983, and any such resolution has required a veto-proof majority ever since.

 

So total was Congress’s failure to follow through on limiting emergency powers that in 1977 it actually voted to expand them. That year, it passed the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which enables the president to declare national emergencies “to deal with any unusual and extraordinary threat” that “has its source in whole or substantial part outside the United States.” The law empowers presidents to sanction countries, businesses, and individuals without warning, without furnishing evidence, and, effectively, without appeal. As I have previously reported in Harper’s Magazine, the Office of Foreign Assets Control, which operates under the 1977 law, can freeze an American’s bank account while offering nothing more than a vague explanation.

 

The intelligence committees, whose revelations had been far more dramatic than those of the emergencies committee, had no more success in curbing executive authority. Congress avoided pinning responsibility on presidents for ordering assassinations—Church apparently feared that antagonizing the Kennedy family by publicizing JFK’s role in such plots would imperil his presidential hopes. (The Pike Committee staff took a more hard-nosed view: “We laughed when Church described the CIA as a ‘rogue elephant,’ ” one former staffer, Greg Rushford, told me. “We knew they were the president’s guys.”) The net result of the inquiries was the creation of permanent secret committees in the House and Senate to provide “oversight” of the intelligence agencies. “If they were going to do something that had potential blowback, they had to let us know ahead of time,” Hart, who was a member of the new Senate oversight committee, told me. “I don’t recall in my original years there that we ever vetoed an operation. But they did notify us of things they were going to do.”

 

The new House committee appeared no more inclined to make waves. “We’re the oversight committee—we commit oversights,” joked Richard Anderson, a CIA analyst who joined the committee in 1978. As with the international economic powers legislation, Congress dutifully provided a measure, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), that purported to rein in the executive’s power to spy on citizens while merely legalizing it. Passed with a large bipartisan majority, the law set up a court composed of eleven judges to secretly grant “warrants” for wiretaps and burglaries. The ACLU’s chief legislative counsel Jerry Berman protested that the proposed law “broadly authorizes intrusive investigations of American citizens. It takes away the inherent power of the president to do these things, but then gives him the express power to do them, with all the flexibility that he had before.” A simple statistic from the FISA court suggests that Berman’s concerns were well-founded: of 33,900 applications for FISA warrants between 1979 and 2012, precisely eleven were rejected.

 

The ensuing decades demonstrated in grim relief just how limited the successes of the 1970s had been. Ronald Reagan presided over a wide-ranging covert operation in Nicaragua using money generated by secret arms sales to Iran and simultaneously conducted an illegal domestic propaganda campaign to generate support. When the Iran-Contra scandal was exposed, Congress professed outrage and went through the motions of an investigation that not only shrank from targeting Reagan himself or revealing the sum total of his minions’ misdeeds (including rehearsals for mass roundups of “subversives”), but ensured that the principal perpetrators escaped punishment entirely. George H. W. Bush attacked Panama without congressional approval (but fortified by a legal opinion from Assistant Attorney General William Barr) only a few years later, while Clinton would do the same in Serbia. George W. Bush used congressional authorization for military force against Al Qaeda after 9/11 to occupy Iraq, illegally wiretapping Americans all the while. Barack Obama broke new extra-constitutional ground in ordering the execution by drone of a U.S. citizen. None suffered more than brief censure, and all are now remembered with respect, even reverence.

 

Donald Trump can expect no such indulgence, nor does he seem to want it. As the seventeenth-century French moralist Francois de La Rochefoucauld wrote, “Hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue.” Trump, never troubling to disguise his disregard for the law, is clearly no hypocrite. His evident lack of scruples—along with the primal terror induced by the prospect of a second term—is the very reason that the long-dormant issue of emergency presidential powers has now come to the fore.

 

 

In June, McCleary and Mark Medish, a senior National Security Council director under Clinton, joined Hart and former senator Tim Wirth to warn in Politico that in the event of “a national emergency on the grounds of national security, the president would have more than 120 statutory emergency powers” at his disposal, potentially enabling him to postpone the election. “It looks as though a rolling coup is underway, with Trump and his confederates testing the waters for ways to scupper the election,” Medish told me recently. Democratic leaders are meanwhile cautious, he said, “about doing anything that might demoralize voters by drawing too much attention to unconventional election threats,” which they feel would risk depressing the vote.

 

As McCleary pithily remarked, when the president decides to ignore it, the Constitution turns out to be “no more than a gentleman’s agreement.” But there is little sign that Congress is prepared to treat executive power—both secret and otherwise—as a fundamental problem that will endure when or if Trump retreats to Mar-a-Lago. Admittedly, the Democrats sought to bring down Trump over his maladroit dealings with Ukraine, but the initiative died a predictable death. The days of bipartisan revolt against unchecked presidential power are long gone.

 

“It was a time that is unlikely to be duplicated anytime soon,” Jack Boos, who served as counsel for the Pike Committee, told me sadly. “We had a major scandal and a weakened presidency. It was a perfect storm that many thought could be exploited and turn the whole place upside down. But that was naïve, always was.”

 

Even if the prospective nightmare of Trump disrupting or ignoring the election goes away, the “loaded weapon” that Justice Jackson warned about will still be to hand. The enemies briefcase will still hold its list. Who knows whose names will be on it?

 

 

Andrew Cockburn is the Washington editor of Harper’s Magazine and the author, most recently, of Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins.

 


 

The Atlantic

November 4, 2020

 

A Large Portion of the Electorate Chose the Sociopath

 

America will have to contend with that fact.

 

 

By Tom Nichols

Author of The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters

 

The moment every Donald Trump opponent has been waiting for is at hand: Joe Biden seems to be taking the lead. So why am I not happy?

 

I am certainly relieved. A Biden victory would be an infinitely better result than a Trump win. If Trump were to maintain power, our child-king would be unfettered by bothersome laws and institutions. The United States would begin its last days as a democracy, finally stepping over the ledge into authoritarianism.

 

A win for Biden would forestall that terrible possibility.

 

But no matter how this election concludes, America is now a different country. Nearly half of the voters have seen Trump in all of his splendor—his infantile tirades, his disastrous and lethal policies, his contempt for democracy in all its forms—and they decided that they wanted more of it. His voters can no longer hide behind excuses about the corruption of Hillary Clinton or their willingness to take a chance on an unproven political novice. They cannot feign ignorance about how Trump would rule. They know, and they have embraced him.

 

[ David Frum: The American system is broken ]

 

Sadly, the voters who said in 2016 that they chose Trump because they thought he was “just like them” turned out to be right. Now, by picking him again, those voters are showing that they are just like him: angry, spoiled, racially resentful, aggrieved, and willing to die rather than ever admit that they were wrong.

 

To be clear, I never expected a Biden landslide in a country as polarized as the United States. I was a wet blanket even among my Never Trump comrades, holding out only the modest hope that Biden would recapture the states Clinton lost in 2016, and possibly flip Arizona. But I expected the margins in all of those states—and especially in Biden’s birth state of Pennsylvania—to be higher. I suspected that Biden had no real chance in places such as Texas or Georgia or even North Carlina, all states in the Trumpist grip.

 

Nor was I among the progressives who believed America would repudiate Trump’s policies. For one thing, I am a conservative—and I know my former tribe. Trump voters don’t care about policy. They didn’t care about it in 2016, and they don’t care about it now. The party of national security, fiscal austerity, and personal responsibility supports a president who is in the pocket of the Russians, has exploded the national deficit, and refuses to take responsibility for anything. I had hoped, at the least, that people who once insisted on the importance of presidential character would vote for basic decency after living under the most indecent president in American history.

 


 

As Trump Loses WH, Robert De Niro Shares Relief And The Hope For Accountability | MSNBC | Nov 9, 2020

 

Legendary Oscar-winning actor Robert De Niro speaks out in his first interview since Pres. Trump’s defeat, telling MSNBC’s Ari Melber that he is relieved about Trump’s loss and concerned about how someone like Trump could get as far as he did in American government, warning that “more people like” Trump may test democracy again. De Niro also reflects on Trump’s ethics, his silence since Saturday’s election call, why he believes Trump has “no center” and the appeal and role of “tough guys” and mafia films in American life and culture.

 


 

The Atlantic

November 20, 2020

 

Trump’s Indifference Amounts to Negligent Homicide

 

The president’s behavior may not meet the term’s legal definition, but it captures the horror a government is visting upon its people.

 

By James Fallows

 

He and his wife, Deborah Fallows, are the authors of the 2018 book Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America, which was a national best seller and is the basis of a forthcoming HBO documentary.

 

 

Negligent homicide has a specific meaning in the law books. The standards of proof and categories of offense vary from state to state. But the essence is: Someone died because someone else did not exercise reasonable care.

 

An adult leaves loaded weapons where children can find them. A factory owner or amusement-park operator ignores the safety standards for their equipment. A motorist in a hurry, or heading back from a bar, roars through a school-crossing zone full of children. A parent leaves an infant “just for a few minutes” in a car with rolled-up windows on a baking-hot day. Prosecutors and juries draw the line between cases like these and murder, based mainly on intent. Did the person who caused the death actually mean to do harm? It’s a distinction that matters a lot to the defendant, but not to the victim. Whatever the legal outcome, a person who—except for another’s indifference to risks that should have been foreseen—would still be living and learning and loving, instead is dead.

 

That’s the law of negligent homicide. The ultimate legal reckoning for what we are now living (and dying) through will be a matter for legal authorities to take up, or decide to drop, when they have the evidence; I have no standing to do so. Instead, I want to consider the nonlegal, commonsense meanings of the term, and of its more gruesome-sounding cousin, manslaughter.

 

Many terms that have legal connotations can be useful in their plain everyday sense as well. Not everything we’d call an assault matches the state-by-state standards that define that crime. Not everything we call theft—or blackmail, or even rape—would count as such in an indictment or could be proved in court. Similarly, when removed from their courtroom and legal implications, terms like negligence and manslaughter and, yes, homicide are useful right now. They give us a way of assessing the horror a government is visiting upon its people.

 

More than a year ago, I argued in these pages that if Donald Trump held virtually any other position of responsibility in modern society, he would already have been removed from that role. The article was called “If Trump Were an Airline Pilot,” and the examples ranged from CEOs to nuclear-submarine commanders to surgeons in an operating room. If any of them had demonstrated the impulsiveness, the irrationality, the vindictiveness, the ceaseless need for glorification that all distinguish Trump, responsible authorities would long ago have suspended them. The stakes—in lives, legal exposure, dollars and cents, war and peace—would be too great to do otherwise.

 

At the time of that comparison, the main case against Trump involved his temperamental, intellectual, and moral unfitness for the job. But since then we’ve moved into the realm of manslaughter. Yesterday nearly 2,000 Americans died of COVID-19. By Thanksgiving Day, another 10,000 to 15,000 will have perished. By year’s end, who knows? And meanwhile the person in charge of guiding the national response does nothing.

 

Or worse than nothing. He tweets in rage. He fires anyone suspected of disloyalty. He encourages endless lawsuits that are tossed out of court one after another but that, one after another, do cumulative damage to confidence in elections and democracy. His cat’s-paw in charge of the General Services Administration does what none of her predecessors ever dared, pretending that the outcome of the election is still in doubt. Thus she blocks Joe Biden’s transition team from receiving the funding or cooperation it needs during the rapidly dwindling days until inauguration. (Rapidly dwindling from an incoming administration’s perspective, with so many plans to prepare and staffers to select. Moving like molasses from other perspectives.)

 

We’re beyond the range of my earlier comparisons to a leader of a museum “who routinely insulted large parts of its constituency” or a CEO “making costly strategic decisions on personal impulse.” The problem with finding analogies to illuminate the Trump administration’s reckless disregard for national welfare now is that all of them seem so extreme.

 

. . . The face in the White House is snarling rather than impassive, gaudily made up rather than unadorned, craving the limelight rather than operating outside it. But as it turns to the public, it reveals the same careless indifference toward lives it should have spared.

 


 

 


 

  PART  I    II