Tag Archives: Alex Jones

Secession… Again?

This decision will have far-reaching ramifications for the future of our constitutional republic. Perhaps law-abiding states should bond together and form a Union of states that will abide by the constitution. — Allen West, chair of the Texas Republican Party on the Supreme Court decision turning down the Texas lawsuit to overturn the election results in four states.

My guy Abraham Lincoln and the Union soldiers already told you no. — Representative Adam Kinzinger, Illinois Republican.

We have seen this movie before: A significant minority of Americans refusing to accept the results of an election. In 1861, it led to Fort Sumter and four years later the ruin of the Confederacy and the end of slavery. Americans for a century-and-a-half since believed the Civil War settled the question of the inviolability of the Union. As President Abraham Lincoln said in his First Inaugural Address in the midst of the secession winter: “No State upon its own mere motion can lawfully get out of the Union…. The Union is perpetual.” 

But, some Americans apparently did not stay for the end of the movie. They still do not believe in the essence of democracy, which is that losers accept the results of the election. The peripatetic Allen West — who represented Florida in Congress but now serves as chair of the Texas Republican Party — seems to be among those Americans. Count Rush Limbaugh — the radio show host and provocateur — also among them. Limbaugh said recently, “I actually think that we’re trending toward secession.”

There are at least two significant differences between the secessionists of 1861 and the nutty folks of 2020. In 1861, the South left the Union not because it did not believe Lincoln was the legitimate president of the United States, but rather because it recognized Lincoln as the legitimate president and the secessionists believed his election represented a threat to slavery. Lincoln and his fellow Republicans (this is when the Republican Party was loyal to the Union) could protest forever that all they intended was to limit slavery in the Western territories and to leave it alone in the Southern states. Southerners, however, understood that restricting slavery was the first step to its abolition, so they left the Union.

The second difference is the sectional nature of secession in 1861. One section of the United States, the South, seceded. The eleven states of the Confederacy were contiguous, and they all sought to protect a socio-economic system — slavery — at odds with the ethos of American democracy and 19th century morality. The rest of the United States believed slavery immoral, and while most Northerners did not seek the immediate abolition of slavery, most  believed the country should embark on a path leading to the eventual end of the institution.

But, look at a map of the 2020 election. While it is true that most of the blue areas are on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and in the upper Midwest and the interior of the nation is red, there are anomalies. Georgia is surrounded by red states. Will North Carolina and South Carolina of the Trump States of America grant a right of transit from the rest of the United States of America to Georgia and vice versa? And, then there is the question of voting patterns. Even in deeply red Oklahoma, one-third of Sooners voted for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Same, only in reverse, in California, where a third of the voters sought to keep Trump and Pence in power. Will Republicans from the United States of America and Democrats in the Trump States of America have a population exchange reminiscent of the bloody Hindu and Muslim exchange during the birth of independent India and Pakistan?

Secession in 1861 led to internecine violence. The chance of secession in 2021 is next to zero, but the threat of violence is real. Election officials merely doing their jobs in reporting Democratic victories in swing states have been targets of right-wing threats. On Saturday, the odious Alex Jones of Infowars told pro-Trump rally goers in Washington, D.C., that President-elect Joe Biden “will be removed one way or another.” It does not take much imagination to understand what “another” means in this context.

This is scary stuff, and it is being tacitly encouraged by Republicans who supinely are following Trump in his fantasy that the election was stolen and that the “steal” can be stopped. Every Republican in Congress and every Republican state attorney general who supported Texas’ absurd law suit will be complicit if the worst occurs. Trump is irredeemable, but really, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, do you believe the election was fraudulent?

The real Civil War likely will be not between Democrats and Republicans but within the Republican Party. Already, there are signs that some Christian evangelicals are rethinking their blind loyalty to the Republican Party. Beth Moore, the founder of Living Proof Ministries and a popular Southern Baptist speaker, voiced on Twitter her frustration: “I’m 63 1/2 years old & I have never seen anything in these United States of America I found more astonishingly seductive & dangerous to the saints of God than Trumpism. This Christian nationalism is not of God. Move back from it.” Another evangelical, Karen Swallow Prior, tweeted: “While I did not ever vote for Trump, I did vote for local and state @GOP candidates. (I am a lifelong conservative, after all.) I am now embarrassed and ashamed that I did so. What a bunch of money-grubbing, power-hungry, partisan cowards who care nothing about conservatism.” As conservative columnist David French notes, “The frenzy and the fury of the post-election period has laid bare the sheer idolatry and fanaticism of Christian Trumpism.” Some, proving the French’s words, are saying: Enough. 

Revulsion over Trump’s antics and Republican sycophancy has not reached significant proportions yet. But, cracks in the overwhelming support evangelicals have given Trump are appearing, and state and local Republicans have declined to do Trump’s bidding in overthrowing a legitimate election. Even some elected Republicans in Congress have shown they are willing to stand against Trump and Trumpism. 

Their courageousness may tear the Republican Party apart. That would be a shame, since the nation needs two vibrant political parties representing different points of view and serving as checks on each other. But, a civil war among Republicans is preferable to a civil war among Americans.

Posted December 15, 2020

 

My Nose

The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins. — Ascribed to Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. Various versions credited to John Stuart Mill and Abraham Lincoln.

Your fist stops at my nose is a handy way to define the interplay of individual liberty and social responsibility. The individual is free to do as he or she pleases, as long as he or she does not harm another.

This principle has become relevant today as protestors around the country demand an end to regulations governing behavior aimed at stemming the spread of the COVID-19. (And, doubly relevant, since this virus can spread via droplets exhaled and inhaled through the nose.) Demonstrators, some of them heavily armed, not observing social distancing, and egged on by President Donald Trump, have protested at a number of state capitals against edicts urging social distancing and the wearing of masks. As New York Governor Andrew Cuomo put it, “This [the pandemic] is a public health issue, and you cannot endanger other people’s health. You shouldn’t be endangering your own. But you certainly don’t have the right to endanger someone else’s.”

The experts tell us that ending social distancing prematurely risks a further spread of  COVID-19. The virus is, according to one expert, “moderately infectious,” meaning that every person who contracts the contagion likely passes it to several more people. Moreover, there are many “silent carriers,” asymptomatic people who are contagious. Until we know for sure that the curve has been flattened and we have adequate testing, both for infection and antibodies, an early relaxing of regulations could do incalculable harm.

I think about this a great deal. I am seven years past my allotted three score and ten. I am male. And, I have a defibrillator in my chest, the result of a severe bout of ventricular tachycardia (extremely rapid heart beat) four years ago. The implant, plus medication, keeps me not only alive, but allows me to be active. I walk my dog, exercise regularly, and hike in the mountains near where I live, when there is no virus and the parks are open. Still, I am a member of one of the most vulnerable populations: older, male, and with an underlying condition.

Earlier this month, disgraced former Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly dismissed the fatalities from COVID-19. “Many people who are dying, both here and around the world, were on their last legs anyway,” O’Reilly said with a notable lack of empathy. O’Reilly was not quite accurate. This virus has killed many young and seemingly healthy people. Still, there is no disputing that older people with health problems are most at risk. Again, if I may make a personal point. I could well succumb to COVID-19, but I do not think anyone who knows me, including my doctors, would describe me as on my “last legs.”

If the demonstrators around the country get what they want, they will put me, my family, my friends, my community, and the whole country at risk. We may never know, but it would be of some historical interest to discover if any of these rallies become a “hot spot,” an area where a few people have spread the infection among many who then spread it to their contacts. A recent example of a hot spot is a pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where hundreds of workers have tested positive for the COVID-19. 

The protestors seem to understand the foolishness of their quest. How else to interpret the amazing photograph shown here of a demonstrator toting a sign saying “COVID-19 IS A LIE”  while wearing protective gear? Then, there is Alex Jones, whose mind is full of conspiracies, including the despicable denigration of the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. Jones, founder of the website “Infowars,” describes this virus as a “Chi-Comm globalist bioweapons attack,” a reference to the Chinese Communist Party, while asserting, “America knows it’s a hoax.” Well, which is it? A weapon devised by the Chinese or a hoax? You cannot have it both ways, though many whose minds are besotted by conspiracies will believe Jones’s contradictory claims. In any event, labelling it both a Chinese plot and a hoax absolves Trump of responsibility, which may be the whole point.

I understand that many of the protestors are suffering due to the response to the pandemic. Many are out of work, unable to pay rent or the mortgage, and fearful they will not be able to put food on their family’s table. I also know it is easy for me to observe social distancing. I am retired, and, frankly, my routine has not changed very much with the imposition of Virginia’s stay-at-home order. We have figured out how to order food and necessities online. I miss going to the gym, but I have found an alternate way to exercise. I cannot hike or go out for a meal, but not much else in my life has changed. The protestors might better aim their ire at the Trump administration for its failure to recognize the severity of COVID-19, lackluster response to the pandemic, and contradictory messages than at state governors for trying to keep citizens safe.

Trump, of course, wants to reopen the country soon because a rebounding economy may be his only path to reelection. Still, it will not be his decision. Many governors will continue social distancing regulations. And, a majority of Americans have told pollsters they oppose a premature end to the regulations. Seventy-three percent of American adults believe the worst is still to come, and twice as many say they fear state governments will lift restrictions too quickly (66 percent) as say the regulations will not end fast enough (32 percent).

Common sense — in short supply in Washington and among the protestors — may yet prevail. Many Americans evidently will exercise caution even as governments begin to ease regulations. As for me, I intend to stay homebound for many weeks after an all-clear is sounded. I intend to do my best to insure that the virus’s fist stays far away from my nose.

Posted April 21, 2020

An Alternate Reality

Two Jews are riding on a tram in pre-war Berlin. One is reading a Jewish weekly; his friend, the Völkischer Beobachter, the Nazi party newspaper. “How can you read that awful stuff?” the first asks. “Easy,” the other responds. “In your newspaper Jewish synagogues are being burned, Jewish stores looted, Jews beaten up on the streets. In my newspaper, Jews run the banks, own all the newspapers, control the movie industry. Which would you rather read?”

That rueful story comes to mind when reading today’s right-wing media, internet publications like Brietbart and Alex Jones’ truly heinous InfoWars, or watching Fox News. Loyal readers and watchers of those outlets might be excused for believing that Hillary Clinton actually won the 2016 presidential election. Clinton herself recently observed that she seems to warrant much attention on Fox News. “It does strike me that in the last few days at least, Fox News seems to think that’s where I live, in the White House,” Clinton said in a speech this past weekend. “Because they spend a disproportionate amount of their time talking about impeaching me.”

I suppose even the most devoted follower of Alex Jones knows that Donald Trump is president and, so far, has made a hash of the job. But, that reality does not prevent InfoWars and others like it from devoting much of their output to Clinton and her emails, spurious stories about Clinton and Uranium One, and accusations that Clinton’s campaign was the real colluder with Russia.

Even on the day when the first indictments were handed down in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, right-wing media stressed that the indictments of Paul Manafort and his associate Rick Gates refer to activities unrelated to Manafort’s role in the Trump campaign. That is true, but such reporting ignores the manner in which conspiracy probes operate — investigators frequently pressuring conspirators in hopes of winning their cooperation — and begs the question of why Manafort was hired in the first place.

Infowars lead story suggests the whole investigation is undermined by reliance on the “discredited” Russia dossier compiled during the campaign. The site’s second story is entitled “Do Something! Hillary Colluded with Russia!” If so, the collusion proved ineffective. Breitbart similarly quoted Laura Ingraham — who joins Fox News this week — saying the Manafort indictment Is “a nothing-burger…. They don’t have anything on Trump. If they had something on Trump, that would be the indictment today.”

“The idea that this a bad day for Trump because it in any way alludes to a collusion with Russia — you’ve got to be living on another planet if you think that,” Ingraham added. Actually, it was a very bad day for Trump. Court papers released on the day Manafort was indicted revealed that George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign adviser, pleaded guilty earlier in the month to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians during the campaign. In the plea agreement, Papadopoulos, who is cooperating with the Mueller investigation, says he met with a woman claiming to be a relative of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said she would like to set up meetings for Trump campaign officials to discuss U.S.-Russia ties in a possible Trump administration. The guilty plea also reveals that Papadopoulos was told by his Russian contacts that Russia possessed “dirt” on Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.”

Trump’s response to the indictments mirrors the reporting of his favorite news sources. The president tweeted, “Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. But why aren’t Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????” A second tweet asserted, “…..Also, there is NO COLLUSION!” The president’s denials may be an instance of him protesting too much, right down to the all-capitals. Trump’s tweets also fit in with his administration’s attempts to downplay Manfort’s role in the campaign.” He was replaced long before the election,” Trump said at a news conference in February 2017. Former Press Secretary Sean Spicer in March dismissed Manafort as someone who “played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time.”

What next? Trump and his media allies likely will continue to stress that the Manafort indictment is not tied directly to the Trump campaign. That ignores an important point: The indictment alleges that the president’s former top campaign aide was a highly paid agent for pro-Russian interests.  And, it ignores the separate legal action against Papadopoulos revealing extensive contacts between the campaign and Russians.

Trump should worry. Manafort, after all, was a participant in that now infamous meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer in Trump Tower in June 2016. If the Manafort indictment is a part of a prosecutorial move to encourage the former campaign director’s cooperation with the investigation, then might Manafort soon reveal damaging information about that meeting — attended by Donald Trump, Jr. and Jared Kushner — and other possible meetings?

In that case, might the president move to short circuit the probe — possibly firing Mueller — before the investigation threatens him or those close to him? Either that, or he just could take refuge in watching Fox News, where he is innocent and Hillary Clinton is in the White House because of her collusion with Russia.

Posted October 31, 2017

A Different Reality

A President Donald Trump tweet from this past Sunday: “With all of its phony unnamed sources & highly slanted & even fraudulent reporting, #Fake News is DISTORTING DEMOCRACY in our country!”

Nothing unusual about this tweet. It uses a number of familiar Trump tropes in referring to “fake news” and “unnamed sources.” Trump alleges in another tweet, “When you hear the words ‘sources say’ from the Fake Media often times [sic] those sources are made up and do not exist.” As anyone with any familiarity with the standards maintained at most of the nation’s media outlets knows, Trump is wrong about journalists and their sources. But, as anyone with any familiarity with Trump knows, the president has an uneasy relationship with truth and objective reality.

So, it is not surprising the president wrongly can accuse the media of inventing sources and then utter the following claim — with a straight face — during a recent joint news conference in Paris with the president of France: “Now, the [Russian] lawyer that went to the meeting [with Donald Trump, Jr. a year ago], I see that she was in the halls of Congress, also. Somebody said that her visa or her passport to come into the country was approved by Attorney General Lynch. Now, maybe that’s wrong. I just heard that a little while ago. But a little surprised to hear that. So she was here because of Lynch.”

This is, of course, a familiar Trump trick: He repeats something he has “heard,” says he cannot verify its authenticity, and then repeats the claim as verified truth. If called to account, the president can always say, “But I said, ‘maybe that’s wrong.’” (I wrote a blog post about this trick of raising a subject while denying it is being raised.)  Who is “somebody” in this particular example? Why repeat an unverified claim when he freely admits it may be wrong? And, after admitting it may be wrong, how can he state with certainty that the Russian lawyer “was here because of Lynch?” (By the way, the Trumpian claim reveals the president’s ignorance: The State Department, not the Justice Department, issues visas, and passports are issued by the country of a person’s residence, not the country he or she intends to visit.)

The disconnect between Trump’s accusations against the media and his actions should be obvious to everyone. Obvious to everyone, that is, except his ardent supporters, for whom he apparently can do no wrong. Never mind that virtually none of his campaign promises have become reality. Never mind that the healthcare law now before the Senate is on life support, and never mind that if it passes, it would deny medical insurance to many Trump voters. Never mind the train wreck of his administration, mired as it is in scandal, plagued by infighting among his aides, and riddled with the incompetence of those who are close to the Oval Office only because they have a familial relationship. Never mind all that: Trump remains popular among his base.

Polls show Trump’s overall approval rating sinking below 40 percent. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll indicates only 36 percent approving his presidency, while 48 percent strongly disapprove of his performance in office. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama never had such a high “disapprove strongly” level, and former President George W. Bush reached that mark only in his second term, after the morass of the Iraq War and the onset of the economic downturn. Yet, Trump remains popular among his core supporters, with 85 percent of Republicans approving his job performance.

For most of America, Trump’s presidency has sunk to historic lows, but not for his base. Why is it that 35 to 40 percent of Americans do not catch onto his habitual lying, or, if they do, they simply do not care about it? Why is it that most Americans understand that a campaign’s colluding with Russia — which the chain of Donald Trump, Jr.’s emails proves — is wrong, but Trump’s ardent backers either do not believe his campaign engaged in collusion or simply choose to ignore the issue entirely?

The answer to these questions lies, I think, in the lack in this country of a “common reality” shared by all Americans. Trump’s steady drumbeat about “fake news” and Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts” resonate among people who have consumed a steady diet in recent years of right-wing news, as promulgated by such outlets as  Breitbart News, Alex Jones’ InfoWars, and Fox News. Consumers of right-wing news are subjected to an alternative reality in which the same set of facts as found, say, in The New York Times or on CNN is rearranged and/or editorialized to yield a different narrative. These are the news outlets that push various conspiracy theories, including Donald Trump’s racist birtherism (which vaulted him to national political prominence), Jones’ sick claim that the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre never happened, and Sean Hannity’s bizarre theory that Democratic staffer Seth Rich was murdered by the Clintons because he was responsible for the WikiLeaks email release.

No one much cares about the Russia story in this right-wing media-created world. While most of the country’s media is focused on investigating the details of the Russian-Trump campaign collusion, right-wing journalists see a different reality. Fox News host, Lou Dobbs, for example, described news coverage of the Trump, Jr. meeting with the Russian lawyer to obtain damaging information on the Clinton campaign as part of an anti-Trump plot. “This is an effort to subvert the administration of President Donald Trump…. It is an effort by the deep state to roll over a duly elected president and a legitimate government….This is about a full-on assault by the left, the Democratic Party, to absolutely carry out a coup d’état against President Trump, aided by the left-wing media.” Fox News is still the number one-rated cable news network, so Dobbs’ rant reached, presumably, a large audience. A large audience, that is, already preconditioned to believe in a plot (and, what is a plot after all, but a conspiracy?) against the president who, they believe, “Tells it like it is.” In the right-wing media world, there is no objective reality and no objective truth, just competing “realities” and competing “truths” that utilize “alternative facts.” Dobbs provided Fox News viewers with a “reality” that allowed them to pigeonhole the Russia scandal and remain loyal to Trump.

And, “fake news” becomes the news some people no longer believe.

Posted July 18, 2017

Truth Is Dead

Facts are stubborn things. — John Adams, defending British soldiers accused in the Boston Massacre.

Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts. — Daniel Patrick Moynihan, former Democratic senator from New York.

Post-truth. — Oxford DictionariesWord of the Year 2016,”  designated last month.

“There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore, of facts,” said Scottie Nell Hughes, a Trump stalwart and CNN commentator, in an example of garbled syntax on The Diane Rehm Show. “Mr. Trump’s tweet, amongst a certain crowd, a large — a large part of the population, are [sic] truth. When he says that millions of people illegally voted, he has some — in his — amongst him and his supporters, and people believe they have facts to back that up. Those that do not like Mr. Trump, they say that those are lies, and there’s no facts to back it up.”

Welcome to the post-truth world where facts are old-hat, truth is dead, and the only thing that matters is what people believe. Oxford Dictionaries defines post-truth as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and belief.” Oxford’s definition captures the essence of Hughes’ point on Donald Trump’s notorious tweet in which he claimed, “I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” The source — and I use that word loosely — for Trump’s claim is Alex Jones who runs the website Infowars.com and trades in outlandish conspiracy theories. Jones argues, among other things, that the 2012 massacre of twenty children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, never happened. In this case, Jones claims three-million people voted illegally, Trump tweets the claim, and the president-elect’s supporters believe it.

It requires a suspension of disbelief to buy into the suggestion that three-million people voted illegally. The logistics alone make such a massive instance of voter fraud nearly impossible. But, since facts no longer matter, disbelief easily can be suspended, and Trump’s true believers can dwell in the same fantastical realm as he does, never doubting that Barack Obama’s birth certificate was faked, that Obama founded the Islamic State, that the Clintons arranged for murders, and that Ted Cruz’s father was with Lee Harvey Oswald when he shot President John F. Kennedy.

Hughes is correct, unfortunately: What matters is not whether any of those claims is true, but whether people believe them. In this conviction, Hughes is not alone in the Trumpian world. At an election post-mortem at Harvard University, ousted Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski mocked journalists for believing everything Trump said on the campaign trail. “You guys took everything that Donald Trump said so literally,” Lewandowski said. “The American people didn’t. They understood it. They understood that sometimes — when you have a conversation with people, whether it’s around the dinner table or at a bar — you’re going to say things, and sometimes you don’t have all the facts to back it up.” Okay, but Donald Trump is not sitting at a bar shooting the breeze with his buddies at the end of a shift at the local factory. He is the president-elect of the United States, and what he says matters. If Lewandowski is to be taken literally, in the new fact-free world of 2016, perhaps reporters have to add a postscript to their stories saying whatever the president-elect just said may not be true.

At the same Harvard event, Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway said, when asked if it was “presidential” for Trump to tweet misinformation about voter fraud, “He’s the president-elect, so that’s presidential behavior.” Evidently, the absence of facts in our post-truth world was the subject of a memo that made the rounds among Trump advisers.

Trump, of course, is an old hand at post-truth. His campaign was built on lies and conspiracy theories with no factual basis, and nothing has changed since the election. Note his explanation of why he decided to bribe Carrier to keep some jobs in the United States that the air-conditioner company planned to move to Mexico. Trump said he learned about the Carrier decision while watching television news. “They had a gentleman, worker, great guy, handsome guy, he was on, and it was like he didn’t even know they were leaving. He said something to the effect, ‘No, we’re not leaving, because Donald Trump promised us that we’re not leaving,'” Trump said. That was, if Trump is to be believed, news to him. “I never thought I made that promise. Not with Carrier. I made it for everybody else. I didn’t make it really for Carrier,” he said. Then, Trump went on, the television station “played my statement, and I said, ‘Carrier will never leave.’ But, that was a euphemism. I was talking about Carrier like all other companies from here on in.”

Trump clearly does not know that euphemism means a mild expression substituted for a harsher one. He probably meant metaphor, using the Carrier name to make a sweeping generalized promise. But, Trump’s knowledge of vocabulary is not the issue. What is interesting about this episode is Trump’s admission that his promises are not be taken literally. In the world of post-truth politics what Trump says is meant to be, evidently, only a suggestion of what he possibly thinks at any given moment.

Trump is not the first politician to have a hazy relationship with the truth. Ronald Reagan famously claimed, “Trees cause more pollution than automobiles do.” And, a pollster for Mitt Romney said in 2012, “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.” But, the difference is that today we have a president-elect who tweets whatever crosses his mind at whatever hour and a new world of social media in which whatever he says becomes the “truth” as it speeds around the world before anyone can make a correction.

In the world of post-truth politics, facts ARE no longer stubborn things, and, evidently, everyone IS entitled to his or her own facts. Perhaps, it is time to reread Orwell’s 1984.

Posted December 6, 2016