Tag Archives: Joe Scarborough

QAnon and the New McCarthyism

mccarthyism (the kevin variant) n. 1. the behavior of a craven, amoral politician eager to advance his or her political career at the expense of the security and safety of the nation. 

2. The antithesis of patriotism.

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“I think it would be helpful if you could hear exactly what she told all of us — denouncing Q-on, I don’t know if I say it right, I don’t even know what it is,” House Minority Leader  Kevin McCarthy (Q-Calif.) said after he defended the bigoted, conspiracy theorist freshman Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (Q-Ga.) for her heinous remarks and actions. His defense is a classic example of the new McCarthyism.

Nice try, Representative McCarthy, but pulling the old Trumpian dodge — “I know nothing about QAnon” — will not get you off the hook. Here is the problem with that formulation, Mr. Minority Leader: The rest of us know enough about QAnon and its loony conspiracies to condemn it. And, here is another problem, Mr. Craven Politician: You are on tape, on FOX News last August, condemning QAnon. “Let me be very clear: There is no place for QAnon in the Republican Party. I do not support it,” you said then. I know you do not have a reputation as the sharpest knife in the drawer, but surely, Mr. McCarthy, your memory is better than that. But, selective amnesia is a part of the new McCarthyism.

Of course, the gyrations of the Republican House leader on Greene reflect the state of today’s Republican Party. There may have been no place for QAnon in the Republican Party six months ago, but, today, McCarthy and the bulk of the Republican House caucus are more than willing to carve out a spot for her, with some members giving her a standing ovation at a contentious meeting Wednesday night. Think about that: Republicans in the House gave a standing ovation to a colleague who wants Speaker Nancy Pelosi assassinated. The reasons are simple: Greene mirrors the views of millions of voters to whom the party appeals, and she is close to former president Donald Trump. Greene may hold idiotic notions, but she is savvy enough to know when to invoke Trump’s name, which she did last weekend as the furor over her intensified. “I had a great call with my all time favorite POTUS, President Trump! I’m so grateful for his support,” the QAnon lawmaker tweeted. 

It is hard to see this McCarthyist cowardice as a winning strategy. Republican loyalty to Trump led to the party losing the White House, the House, and the Senate after controlling all three in 2017. Sure, a public vote to remove Greene from her committee assignments might result in a primary challenge against a member from someone even further out in la-la land, but what is the value in staving off a primary challenge only to lose in the general election?

Actually, many Senate Republicans understand the danger of hooking the party to QAnon. “Loony lies and conspiracy theories are cancer for the Republican Party and the country,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The second-ranking Republican in the Senate, John Thune of South Dakota, asked whether Republicans “want to be the party of limited government… or do they want to be the party of conspiracy theories and QAnon? (The Senator might want to withdraw the question as he might not want to hear the answer.) Utah Senator Mitt Romney said, “Our big tent is not large enough to both accommodate conservatives and kooks.” 

Many Senate Republicans know Greene spells disaster for the Republican Party. Already, the Democratic Party is running an advertising campaign making Greene the face of the GOP. But, Senate Republican condemnation of Greene rings hollow given the party’s past tolerance of Trump’s lies and embrace of conspiracy theories. Remember, Trump came to political prominence pushing “birtherism.” Along the way, he claimed Senator Ted Cruz’s father helped assassinate John Kennedy; Barack Obama founded the Islamic State; TV anchor Joe Scarborough, when a congressman, murdered one of his staffers, and many more “looney lies.” Trump’s penchant for conspiracy theories culminated in the big lie of a stolen election in 2020 that led to the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, 2021.

The dynamic in the House is different. Republicans in the lower chamber refused to take any action against Greene, settling, instead, for a tortured McCarthyist statement from their leader in which McCarthy said Greene’s “past comments now have much greater meaning. Marjorie recognized this in our conversation. I hold her to her word, as well as her actions going forward” before pivoting to attacking the Democrats for wanting to more effectively rebuke the Georgia representative. House Republicans assume a racist, anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist who has not apologized for any of her assaults on decency will behave decorously in the future. Good luck with that!

Republicans also took up the future of Representative Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the third-ranking House Republican. Cheney, a consistent conservative, ran afoul of the Trumpistas in the party for voting to impeach Trump for instigating the Capitol riot. Cheney survived by a vote of 145 to 61, but only, one suspects, because the vote was secret. On the open vote Thursday on removing Greene from House committees, only 11 Republicans voted in the affirmative. The vast majority of Republicans were unmoved by the emotional appeal of Majority Leader Steny Hoyer who displayed a picture of Greene posing with an assault rifle juxtaposed with photos of three progressive Democratic congresswomen of color above a caption, “The Squad’s Worst Nightmare.” “When you take this vote, imagine your faces on this poster,” Hoyer said to his Republican colleagues. “Imagine it’s a Democrat with an AR-15. Imagine what your response would be.”

The cowardice of the new McCarthyism is unfathomable. Just two years ago, McCarthy stripped Iowa Representative Steve King of his committee appointments because of his history of white supremacist remarks. Odious as King’s racism was, it seems tame compared to the egregious behavior of Marjorie Taylor Greene. But, according to the new McCarthyism, it is acceptable for members of the United States House of Representatives to threaten other members on the other side of the aisle with assault rifles.

Fortunately, at least for now, the Democrats have a majority in the House.

Posted February 5, 2021

America’s Cruel President

[T]he President of the United States has taken something that does not belong to him — the memory of my dead wife — and perverted it for perceived political gain. — Timothy Klausutis to Jack Dorsey, CEO, Twitter, May 21, 2020.

The president of the United States is a cruel man. No, not just cruel, but, malignantly cruel, obsessively cruel, a man who seems to revel in inflicting pain on others. Trump is a cruel man who lacks all empathy and sympathy for other human beings. 

Americans have been privy to Donald Trump’s cruelty for years. During the 2016 presidential campaign, he physically mocked a disabled reporter. Trump publicly humiliated Carly Fiorina, a 2016 Republican primary opponent, saying of her, “Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that?” He defamed the late Senator John McCain twice, once by belittling McCain’s record as a tortured prisoner of war, and then declaring he was “happy” McCain was dead. Trump suggested the late Representative John DIngell might be “looking up” from hell instead of down from heaven.

I could continue cataloging Trump’s despicable behavior, but everyone gets the point, and no one should be surprised that he would defile the memory of Lori Klausutis who died in 2001 while working for then-Republican Representative Joe Scarborough, now a TV host and frequent critic of the president. I will refrain from detailing Trump’s baseless accusations. Those unfamiliar with the suffering of the Klausutis family can read about it by clicking here.

We can debate whether Trump revels in this kind of cruelty. But, what is not debatable is that Trump feasts on conspiracy theories like the one surrounding Joe Scarborough. Conspiracy theories are bread and butter for a man who built his political career on racist allegations about President Barack Obama’s place of birth. During the 2016 primaries, Trump claimed Senator Ted Cruz’s father was linked to President John Kennedy’s assassination, and Trump has suggested the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was murder. Trump has insisted that voter fraud cost him the 2016 popular vote and claims, proactively in case he loses, that mail-in voting is rife with fraud. I could go on, but you get the point: Truth matters little to the president. But, one more conspiracy theory promulgated by Trump needs mentioning for its delicious irony: The president has claimed childhood vaccines cause autism but now links his reelection to the discovery — at “warp speed” — of a vaccine against COVID-19.

I see three possible explanations, which are not mutually exclusive, for Trump’s cruelty and trading in conspiracy theories. First, one or both appeal to his base. Second, they are a distraction from the failures of his administration: More than a 100,000 dead — and counting — from COVID-19 and an economy in shambles. I have written about the usefulness of distractions for this beleaguered president, but in this instance I am not sure a gross display of cruelty is a beneficial distraction. Replacing failure with cruelty may not be a winning political choice. And, third, he just cannot help himself. The president is a cruel man who is also ignorant, and, therefore, susceptible to conspiratorial thinking. 

What to do about Trump? Timothy Klausutis requested Twitter remove the tweets. The social media platform declined, but posted at the bottom of two of Trump’s tweets on alleged voter fraud, in blue lettering, a link to “facts about mail-in ballots.” Early Friday morning, Twitter flagged a presidential tweet about the protests in Minneapolis for “glorifying violence.” Trump and his allies argue these actions violate the president’s First Amendment rights. That is nonsense. Twitter did not censor nor delete the president’s tweets; his posts are still available for all to read. There have been many other instances when Twitter has removed offensive comments or disinformation, but it has taken a hands-off approach when it comes to the president. The assertion of the First Amendment also is nonsense because the amendment does not apply in this case. It reads “Congress shall make no law…” and refers to public actions. Twitter is a private company that can make its own rules and enforce them, so long as those rules do not discriminate. Besides, the president has it backwards. He does not need nor does he warrant First Amendment protections from Twitter. The company needs those protections from him.

Still, Twitter should leave Trump’s indecent tweets up. The company claims, not always with consistency but with enough justification to be worthy of consideration, “Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial Tweets would hide important information people should be able to see and debate. It would also not silence that leader, but it would certainly hamper necessary discussion around their words and actions.” And, few would be comfortable leaving the decision of what to delete or let stand to private individuals.

The argument over what to do about Trump’s tweets is related to the ongoing debate over how the media should handle his myriad lies, disinformation, and penchant for baseless conspiracy claims. The answer is not to censor the president. Nor is it just to act as a conduit from Trump’s mouth to the public. Twitter is correct to label his false tweets on voting because of what they are. It should also post links on the malicious tweets on the Scarborough murder charge to fact-based information debunking the conspiracy. Similarly, the media should fact check Trump where appropriate and call out his lies when necessary.

Call me naive or a cock-eyed optimist, but I still believe both in the ultimate wisdom of the American people and that truth eventually triumphs in the contest of ideas. Let Trump’s malignant cruelty stand for all to see. It is hard to imagine anyone who is comfortable with these controversial tweets.

I say this while agreeing with Timothy Klausutis when he writes, “My wife deserves better.” Mr. Klausutis, she does, and so do all of us.

Posted May 29, 2020

Optical Delusions

I should have anticipated the optics…. [P]art of the job is also the theater of it. President Barack Obama, September 7, 2014, on NBC’s “Meet the Press”

“The optics” in question was President Barack Obama’s decision to play golf on Martha’s Vineyard just minutes after hanging up a telephone call with the devastated parents of James Foley, an American journalist beheaded by ISIS. Obama vowed “relentless” pursuit of Islamic radicals, but his seeming ability to express rage one minute and play golf the next appeared callous at best. All the more callous, given British Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision to cancel his vacation because of hints that Foley’s killer came from Britain. 

Obama’s demonstrable insensitivity in 2014 comes to mind when viewing pictures of President Donald Trump hitting the links twice this Memorial Day weekend as the death total in the United States from COVID-19 approaches 100,000. In between rounds, Trump insulted perceived enemies and promoted a baseless conspiracy theory. All this while millions of Americans remained hunkered down, trying to cope with the rising death toll and the economic devastation caused by the pandemic.

No one begrudges presidential recreation. Being president is a hard job, though Trump is doing his best to make the presidency appear effortless. He seemingly expends little effort at significant portions of the job, such as taking advice from experts, listening to intelligence briefings (he apparently does not read the intelligence briefings, according to reporting), consoling the nation when appropriate, inspiring it at other moments, expressing empathy when others suffer, and leading by example. (His refusal to wear a mask to protect others from the spread of the contagion demonstrates his unwillingness to do what the government he heads decrees as appropriate behavior.) And, his prodigious capacity for imbibing cable TV news is well documented.

Even a president who seemingly expends little energy on the job is entitled to golf, though Trump’s frequent forays — 266 rounds since becoming president — make a mockery of his previous criticisms of Obama’s golf playing. Trump tweeted 27 times between 2011 and 2016 about Obama playing golf. Trump promised on the campaign trail in 2016, “I’m going to be working for you. I’m not going to have time to go golfing, believe me. Believe me. Believe me, folks.” One of those 27 tweets, by the way, criticized Obama for golfing during the Ebola outbreak in 2014 when there were two confirmed cases of the deadly disease in the United States.

Many presidents have played golf. The number of presidential duffers totals 17 since William McKinley hit the first tee shot in 1897. Only Teddy Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover Harry Truman, and Jimmy Carter were non-golfing presidents in the following 123 years. Franklin Roosevelt also did not play while president because of polio, but he reputedly was an accomplished golfer as a young man. Woodrow Wilson holds the presidential golfing record. He played more than 1200 rounds from 1913 to 1919 (a massive stroke suffered in October 1919 incapacitated Wilson). It was Dwight Eisenhower who made golf the presidential sport, with a boost in later years from Bill Clinton.

Trump’s Sunday morning golf outing precluded his attending church, though he previously had called for worshippers to return this weekend. Trump is not a noted churchgoer, and his sudden interest in matters of faith may be related to his unexpected precipitous slide in poll numbers among religious conservatives. An April survey by the Public Religion Research Institute shows a double-digit decline in Trump’s favorability among white evangelicals (-11 percent), white Catholics (-12 percent), and white mainline Protestants (-18 percent) from the previous month. Evangelical voters are a key part of Trump’s base, and such dramatic slippage threatens the president’s reelection prospects. Given that, it is surprising he did not forego the greens for a pew. Though I suspect, he does not want the job. He just does not like to lose.

Trump’s other main weekend activity involved tweeting, for which he always finds time. I may be wrong, but I sense the president is tweeting more and with more vitriol and nastiness as his poll numbers decline. If so, that does not bode well for the remaining months before Election Day as the number of deaths likely increases and the economy continues to suffer.

In any event, in a series of weekend tweets, Trump mocked former Georgia gubernatorial candidate and frequently mentioned potential Joe Biden running mate Stacey Abrams’ weight (fat shamming is never good, but coming from a clinically obese man?), ridiculed Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s appearance, and called former Democratic presidential rival Hillary Clinton a “skank.” He referred once again to a long-debunked conspiracy theory that Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman and frequent Trump critic as a TV host, may have murdered a woman. He also tweeted about the alleged dangers of mail-in voting.

Ignored by Trump: The dead in American wars who are honored on Memorial Day and the nearly 100,000 who have died so far from COVID-19. That was left for others to note, including The New York Times, with its dramatic Sunday front page listing one percent of those who have died from the contagion.

Trump did take part in several Memorial Day commemorations, including laying a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery. It is a presidential tradition, and a part of the job no president would dare shun.

The optics of presidential behavior to which Obama referred six years ago includes acting presidential. For Trump, acting presidential means satisfying the rage of his base, at whom his Tweets and his shattering of the norms of presidential behavior are aimed. Trump knows his base does not care whether he golfs nor notes the hypocrisy of his golfing in the midst of a pandemic after condemning Obama for golfing when two people died of Ebola. And, the base certainly does not find much wrong with his tweets, or if they do, they just do not care. So a president who believes he is president of only a part of the nation will continue to act unpresidential. Who would expect anything different from a man unfit to be president?

Posted November 26, 2020

“Moscow Mitch” and Fellow Sycophants

American democracy is in peril. Between “Moscow Mitch” blocking legislation to strengthen U.S. election laws against foreign interference and the appointment of a political hack as director of national intelligence, President Donald Trump, in effect, has thrown up our nation’s collective arms and told Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, We surrender! Do what you want; interfere in the 2020 presidential election to insure I am reelected. 

After Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — “Moscow Mitch” — is Putin’s best friend in power. Last week, the Kentucky Republican exhibited an appalling lack of patriotism in batting away all attempts by the Senate to protect America against attacks from Russia and other countries. McConnell may claim many things in defense of his unconscionable actions, but ignorance cannot be one of them. It is not as if McConnell — and the nation — has not been warned.

Last Wednesday, former special counsel Robert Mueller told Congress, “Over the course of my career, I’ve seen a number of challenges to our democracy. The Russian government’s effort in our election is among the most serious…. [It] deserves the attention of every American.” The threat from Russia, Mueller said, has not ended. “They’re doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it in the next campaign,” he said.

Mueller is not alone in expressing fears about Moscow’s intentions. FBI Director Christoper Wray told the Senate Judiciary Committee — the day before Mueller testified — that the Russians are “absolutely intent on trying to interfere with our elections.” Dan Coats, who is leaving his post as director of national intelligence, told the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier this year, “Foreign actors will view the 2020 U.S. elections as an opportunity to advance their interests. We expect them to refine their capabilities and add new tactics as they learn from each other’s experiences and efforts.” And, the day after Mueller appeared on Capitol Hill, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a bipartisan report stating the obvious: “Russian activities demand renewed attention to vulnerabilities in U.S. voting infrastructure.”

Obvious to everyone, that is, except “Moscow Mitch,” as MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough memorably dubbed him in a moniker sure to stick. McConnell, carrying Trump’s water on this as on so many other things, refused to allow votes on a series of bills to address election security. He blocked a bill to provide $600 million in election assistance to states. He prevented consideration of legislation requiring Internet companies to disclose the names of purchasers of political ads. And, he rebuffed a bill to impose sanctions on foreign actors who interfere in American elections.

Why is “Moscow Mitch” refusing to allow legislation vitally important to American democracy to come to the floor for consideration? “Moscow Mitch,” exhibiting little subterfuge, claims Democrats are pushing “partisan legislation” for their “political benefit.” Well, since Democrats seem to be the only party interested in protecting the sanctity of American elections, I guess the legislation is partisan. But, it is partisan only because Republicans — including and especially the president and his loyal lapdog, “Moscow Mitch” — have concluded that a broken system — hacked in the past and still vulnerable to foreign interference — works well for them. As Republicans have shown in other instances — from egregious gerrymandering to laws discouraging voting by groups inclined to support Democrats — they are not averse to using illegal and unethical means to win elections. Fairness, Republicans evidently believe, is for the other guys.

Trump not only does not want to toughen U.S. election laws — after all, Moscow meddled on behalf of Trump, as Mueller testified — he also does not want to even learn about the scope of American weaknesses. Instead of a director of national intelligence who tells the president what he needs to know, Trump wants the head of the intelligence community to tell the president what he wants to know.

So, it is a no-brainer that Dan Coats is out as the director to be replaced by Representative John Ratcliffe, a Texas Republican and member of the House Judiciary Committee who showed his loyalty to Trump by lacerating Mueller last week. As he almost always does, Trump announced Ratcliffe’s appointment on Twitter, saying the new director “will lead and inspire greatness for the Country he loves.” According to The New York Times, Trump interviewed Ratcliffe about the post last week. The hearings, a few days later, gave Ratcliffe a chance to audition for the directorship before an audience of many, but playing to an audience of one. Evidently, the congressman passed the test.

Ratcliffe still must be confirmed by the Senate, where Republicans are privately expressing concern. Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, reportedly told the White House that Ratcliffe is too political to be the director. Whether Burr and other Republicans will have the courage of their convictions when it comes to a floor vote on Ratcliffe remains to be seen.

Maybe Ratcliffe will do fine in the post. Stranger things have happened. But, anyone betting the ranch on such a proposition would be foolish. I do not know what Ratcliffe told the president in their private meeting, but I would wager that Trump believes his new appointee will not stress foreign meddling in American elections in his presidential briefings. Trump clearly was annoyed by Coats’ fair portrayal of the threats to American democracy. 

Coats is an odd hero. As a conservative representative and senator from Indiana, Coats frequently attracted controversy and was not viewed as a particularly independent or courageous Washington figure. But, Coats apparently took seriously his obligation to speak “truth to power” as the director of national intelligence, and he was not shy about providing assessments on issues from Russia to North Korea that conflicted with Trump’s positions. He saw his job as telling Trump what he needed to know, rather than confirming the president’s ill-informed convictions and prejudices. It is surely a sign of Trump’s corrupting influence on American politics that Coats has emerged as a truth-teller.

All the guardrails are off with the ever-loyal “Moscow Mitch” running interference in the Senate and Ratcliffe, if confirmed, as director of national intelligence. Our fine system of laws and checks and balances works only when those in government agree to play by the rules. “Moscow Mitch” will do all he can to keep Republicans in power, even if it means inviting Russian interference in our elections. And, Ratcliffe probably will insure that an ignorant president remains ignorant of threats to American democracy. 

There is only one way to save the gift the Framers left us. Throw the rascals out!

Posted July 30, 2019

The Biggest Beneficiary of a Free Press Is…

President Donald Trump. Yes, that’s right, the biggest beneficiary of a free press — and, I might add, the so-called “fake news” — is the president, who never misses a chance to lambast the press and insult journalists.

The president repeatedly has said it would be a good idea to “loosen up” libel laws so plaintiffs — namely, him — can sue news organizations. Candidate Trump said in February 2016, “If I win… I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money… instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.” Trump repeated his call for changing the nation’s libel laws earlier this month, following what he called the “totally false” accusations of sexual misconduct against then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Trump said there should be “consequences” for Kavanaugh’s accusers, “so you can take people and sue them.”

But, here is the rub: The trash-talking, foul-mouthed president who wants to change the libel laws to make it easier to sue adversaries would be lost without free-speech protections. An indication of how much Trump relies on libel laws came recently when porn-star Stormy Daniels — who says she had an affair with Trump — lost her claim of defamation against the president and was ordered to pay his legal fees. Daniels suffered a serious setback, and Trump celebrated a legal victory, thanks to the First Amendment.

The adult film star sued Trump over a presidential tweet that labelled her a liar. “The court agrees with Mr. Trump’s argument because the tweet in question constitutes ‘rhetorical hyperbole’ normally associated with politics and public discourse in the United States. The First Amendment protects this type of rhetorical statement.” The president greeted this favorable ruling with a further exercise of his First Amendment rights. He referred to Daniels as “horseface” in a new tweet, and she responded by making fun of his, er, anatomical “shortcomings.” 

All of this is, of course, unbecoming in a president. (Unbecoming in any adult, for that matter.) It is also hypocritical because not only does the president who benefits from First Amendment protections call for loosening libel laws, he also rarely misses a chance to attack the press. His repeated labelling of reputable news organizations such as The New York Times and The Washington Post as “fake news” is well known, but the president’s attacks on the free press go beyond rhetoric. Trump frequently has urged violence against journalists. Just last week, at a rally in Montana, Trump praised Republican Representative Greg Gianforte for viciously attacking a reporter in 2017 during a special-election campaign. “Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my kind of — he’s my guy,” Trump said. Are the 15 members of the Saudi hit squad responsible for the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi also his “kind of guys?”

Not only is Trump’s foulness protected by the First Amendment, he also arguably owes his electoral success to the media he loves to attack. He may complain about “fake news,” but it was the media that propelled candidate Trump to the presidency. And, I do not just mean Fox News and similar right-wing propaganda organizations. When Trump announced his candidacy with the famous ride down the escalator at Trump Tower in 2015, he became a ratings bonanza for anyone willing to give him air time. He appeared on numerous cable news shows, either in person or on the phone. His considerable air time — known as earned media — amounted to free advertising and allowed the Trump campaign to go deep into the election cycle without having to spend much money.

No one gave Trump more earned media than “Morning Joe” on MSNBC.  The hosts — Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough — may be bitter critics now, but in 2015 and much of 2016 they knew a cash cow when they saw one. In November 2015, Scarborough bragged about frequently calling Trump and offering political advice. After the candidate won the New Hampshire primary in February 2016, he appeared on “Morning Joe” and said, “You guys have been supporters, and I really appreciate it.” Rival cable network CNN quoted one MSNBC insider saying, “People don’t like that Joe is promoting Trump.” Others at MSNBC called Scarborough’s fawning over Tump “over the top” and “unseemly.”

But, the issue is not “Morning Joe’s” bromance with Trump turning into its current no romance. It is Trump’s ability to use the media for his purposes. As a candidate seeking free air time, he willingly courted the anchors of “Morning Joe.” Now, as president, it serves Trump’s interests to attack “Morning Joe,” MSNBC, and parent NBC as “fake news.” The attacks work for the president. By demonizing the press, Trump succeeds in insuring that his loyal followers will not believe anything — including exposés of the president’s compulsive lying — they read and hear from the media (except Fox and such online outlets as Breitbart). 

It is even more dangerous than that. A recent poll by Ipsos shows that 48 percent of Republicans believe the media is “the enemy of the American people,” a phrase used frequently by the president. A shocking 44 percent of Republicans think the president should have the authority to prosecute reporters with whom he disagrees. Questioning Republicans about prosecuting reporters is not an idle exercise. The president has, for example, threatened to shut down television networks. “With all the Fake News coming out of NBC and the networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!” he tweeted last year. 

Trump is probably not serious about shutting down NBC. After all, the president benefits greatly from a free press. The First Amendment gives him carte blanche to tweet his bellicose bullying whenever it suits him, which is as it should be. And, the free press coddled candidate Trump, giving him a boost into the presidency, which is not as it should be.

Posted October 23, 2018

Exposed on the Right

Cliven Bundy loves to pose with the American flag as a backdrop, yet he refuses to recognize the authority of the United States.

Bundy’s refusal to pay fees for grazing his cattle on federal land made him a hero to some ultraconservatives, rightwing militia groups, and Fox News’ anchor Sean Hannity. Now it turns out that ol’ Cliven is just an old-fashioned, not-very-bright, cliche-ridden racist.

Many of his quondam supporters are bailing.

They are embarrassed by Bundy’s inability to stop talking, as in this discourse he gave during his daily “press conference” last Saturday. “I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said. He discussed driving past a public-housing project, “and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do”

As if that weren’t bad enough, Bundy then plunged enthusiastically into a “Gone With the Wind” interpretation of the Old South. “And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”

African Americans on “government subsidy!” From the rancher who grazes his cattle on public land for free.

Earlier, libertarian darling Rand Paul defended Bundy, saying “the federal government shouldn’t violate the law.” It doesn’t seem to bother the Kentucky Senator that it’s Bundy who has violated the law and ignored numerous court decrees. But Paul found the Nevada rancher’s racism a bit too much. “His remarks on race are offensive and I wholeheartedly disagree with him,” he said in a statement.

Nevada Republican Senator Dean Heller, who previously referred to Bundy’s armed supporters as “patriots,” quickly backtracked. According to a statement released by a spokesperson, “Senator Heller completely disagrees with Mr. Bundy’s appalling and racist statements, and condemns them in the most strenuous way.”

Paul and Heller weren’t alone in their support of Bundy. Right-wing media, Fox News in particular, have given the rancher hours of airtime and pages of coverage, far in excess of the news value of his story. Conservative media have romanticized Bundy’s lawlessness and the armed militia groups that support him. None have been more fawning than Fox anchor Sean Hannity, who asked, “How did we get to this point where the government sends hundreds of people in there? There seems to be a total lack of proportionality in this.”

Given Bundy’s nihilism and anarchy, it’s odd any Republican or respectable conservative media figure would have supported him. Perhaps, it’s a case of what “Morning Joe” co-host and former Republican Representative Joe Scarborough labelled picking “friends based on who [your] enemies are. In this case, a lot of people in conservative media have raced to this guy’s defense. They must be feeling very exposed this morning.”

But it’s not just Bundy’s racism that exposes his supporters. They should have been leery from the start of a man who says, “I believe this is a sovereign state of Nevada… I abide by all of Nevada state laws. But I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing.”

Bundy’s mainstream supporters presumably believe in limited government, but there’s a point at which limited government becomes no government becomes anarchy. Bundy’s refusal to pay grazing fees is not a stand for limited government; it’s a recipe for anarchy, one that Rand Paul and Dean Heller and Fox News should have recognized.

Or perhaps it’s just a case of a man who just wants to get something for nothing and has bamboozled a whole slew of people who should have known better.

Posted April 25, 2014

Crumbling Infrastructure

Conservative TV anchor Joe Scarborough says the recent New York commuter train crash highlights the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. It’s an interesting analysis from a Republican, as it ignores the role of conservative rhetoric and ideology in limiting government spending for roads, bridges, airports, trains, and the like.

The host of MSNBC’s punningly eponymous Morning Joe is right: The national infrastructure is a disgrace. Anyone who has traveled to Europe or to booming developing countries such as China and India has seen gleaming airports, high-speed trains, and expertly engineered highways that outstrip similar American facilities.

The New York accident may be the result of operator error; still, trains in Europe easily negotiate curves at much higher speeds than recommended for the Metro-North train, which traveled on tracks badly in need of upgrade. Federal spending to improve train roadbeds is unlikely in this era of anti-spending and anti-tax dogma.

To be fair, Scarborough, whose brand of conservatism is far removed from many current right-wingers in Congress, has called for spending $200 billion to update infrastructure. Yet at the same time Scarborough opposed President Obama’s 2009 stimulus package, claiming it would only add to exploding deficits.

The Morning Joe host is either disingenuous or naive in focusing on our decrepit infrastructure while ignoring four decades of conservative railing against big government and tax increases. Conservatives have argued for years against government spending, have allowed Grover Norquist to intimidate members of Congress with his “starve the beast” anti-tax message, and have extolled the notion of small government. It is no accident the federal government has neglected infrastructure spending.

The so-called Reagan revolution won the day: Government is viewed as the problem and the whole national political debate has moved to the right, with Democrats as well as Republicans wary of tax increases and bold spending proposals. The $800 billion 2009 stimulus package reflected current accepted norms: Much of the stimulus came in the form of tax cuts instead of direct spending on infrastructure. Such spending would have improved the national infrastructure, created jobs, and increased tax revenues, since people who work pay taxes. It would have been a win-win-win.

But Democrats bowed to perceived wisdom in limiting spending on infrastructure improvements in a fruitless effort to gain Republican votes for the stimulus bill.

Reluctance to spend money on the infrastructure is a chronic problem. The Highway Trust Fund, which funds road construction and mass transit, is depleted because Congress has not raised the federal gas tax in two decades. Democrats have introduced a measure in Congress to raise the tax by 15 cents a gallon to replenish the fund and pay for new construction. The fate of the bill is uncertain.

Representative Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat, said, “Every credible independent report indicates that we are not meeting the demands of our stressed and decaying infrastructure system — roads, bridges and transit.” That’s an understatement; The American Society of Civil Engineers has concluded that the United States must spend $3.6 trillion on transportation and other infrastructure by 2020 to remain competitive in the global marketplace.

It’s easy to see the need. Bridges have collapsed in recent years; roads are full of potholes; train travel is agonizingly slow compared to Europe and Japan; airports are overcrowded and uncomfortable; and so on. Local and state governments can’t afford the huge amount of money needed; the construction projects are beyond the purview of private industry.

We used to do great things. During the Great Depression, the nation built the Tennessee Valley Authority and Hoover and Grand Coulee Dams. These were public projects built with public money; they answered real needs, providing flood control and electric power to millions of people, among other benefits.

Instead, the national debate, guided by conservative ideology, extols smallness. Limited government, inevitably, means limited accomplishments.

The issue is not to single out Joe Scarborough. The issue is that conservatives won the debate: We no longer have the money, because we won’t raise revenues, and we no longer have the will to tackle big projects.

Joe Scarborough: It’s no surprise our infrastructure is third world.

Posted December 6, 2013

 

 

Snubbery on the Right

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie currently has two distinctions: first, he’s the most popular Republican in the country; and two, he won’t be speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the right wing’s annual dog-and-pony show.

The justification for snubbing the Republican governor of a blue state who has a 74 percent approval rating?

“CPAC is to conservative politics what all-star games are to professional athletes,” writes Al Cardenas, the head of the American Conservative Union, the group that organizes CPAC. “You get invited to speak amongst literally thousands of potential candidates. Governor Christie was invited to CPAC last year because he did a great job in N.J. facing up to the teachers unions, balancing the budget and cutting debt. This past year he strongly advocated for the passage of a $60+ billion pork barrel bill, containing only $9 billion in disaster assistance and he signed up with the federal government to expand Medicaid at a time when his state can ill afford it, so he was not invited to speak.”

In other words, by the criteria of the far right, Christie had a bad year.

But Cardenas adds that all is not lost for the governor: “Hopefully he will be back in top form next year. We would be delighted to invite him again.”

Who in the conservative firmament had a good year in 2012, thus warranting a coveted speaking spot at CPAC? The ACU’s Web site lists the featured speakers. Sarah Palin is prominently displayed. Her last political move was to resign as governor of Alaska.

Also speaking: Mitt Romney, who lost a winnable presidential election. Then there’s Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Perry, all of whom tripped up in the Republican 2012 primaries. Also Allen West, who was defeated for reelection in a Florida congressional district. And Carly Fiorina, whose vast wealth could not buy a Senate seat from California.

Wayne LaPierre and David Keene, leaders of the National Rifle Association, will be in attendance, reassuring all Americans of their Second Amendment rights.

Other featured speakers: Crystal Wright, T.W. Shannon, Katie Pavlich, Wayne Allen Root, Art Linares, Sonnie Johnson, Chelsea Henry. (I don’t know who they are either.)

Conservatives may be angry at Christie for supporting emergency relief for victims of Hurricane Sandy (his state was hit hard, after all) and for signing up for Medicaid expansion (so have Rick Scott of Florida Jan Brewer of Arizona, among other Republican governors). But Christie’s real sin was to praise President Obama for his rapid response to Sandy’s devastation. Worse yet, Christie literally and figuratively hugged the president who is hated by many on the right. Even worse yet was the timing of the hug, coming just days before the election.

Christie’s exclusion from CPAC comes as some Republicans, facing the implications of their 2012 electoral rout, are calling for the party to be more inclusive. Here’s the conservative spin of Joe Scarborough of Morning Joe: “Chris Christie is sitting at a 74% approval rating in New Jersey. And I thought it was so funny, someone last night said, ‘you know, Chris Christie doesn’t have a future inside the Republican party,’ and I started laughing. This Republican party, this part of the Republican party that’s lost 5 out of the 6 presidential elections, this part of the Republican party doesn’t have a future in the Republican party. Chris Christie’s future? Pretty damn bright.”

As for the governor, who’s frequently mentioned as a GOP 2016 contender, he professes to be unfazed by the controversy. “I didn’t know that I hadn’t been invited to CPAC until two days ago when I saw it in the news,” Christie told supporters.

The governor says he has other priorities: “I can’t sweat the small stuff. I’ve got a state to rebuild.”

The often volatile Christie has no hard feelings: “Listen, I wish then all the best. They’re going to have their conference, they’re going to have a bunch of people speaking there. That’s their call… It’s not like I’m lacking for invitations to speak around the country.”

Posted March 1, 2013

Wayne’s World

Wayne LaPierre secretly supports gun control.

How else to interpret his rant in the The Daily Caller? LaPierre’s jeremiad, called “Stand and Fight,” is so over-the-top, so full of bigotry and bile, that he must intend it to produce a result opposite from what the reader thinks at first.

LaPierre claims “tens of millions of Americans are already preparing to Stand and Fight to protect their families and homes. These good Americans,” the NRA’s executive vice president says, have the right “to own and carry firearms for lawful protection against violent criminals who prey on decent people.”

Now, he says, “additional threats are growing.” Latin American drug gangs invade our cities through a porous southern border. These invaders are “criminals whose jobs are murder, rape, robbery, and kidnapping.” Worse than criminals overrunning the border is the threat from al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations, who use the border as “a path of entry into the country.”

Citizens, arm yourselves against the terrorist threat!

Wait, it’s worse than you think in Wayne’s world, because the Obama administration won’t accept responsibility when the next terrorist attack comes, but the president will use it as a pretext “to unleash a tsunami of gun control.”

A tsunami! Wow! Hard to imagine anything worse.

Wayne LaPierre does: He imagines a nightmarish scenario occurring after President Obama leads the nation to financial ruin. Bankrupt governments at all levels will be unable “to pay for police protection.” Owning a gun becomes an act of self-defense; “It’s survival. It’s responsible behavior, and it’s time we encourage law-abiding Americans” to arm themselves.”

LaPierre provides a preview of this dystopian universe in his recreation of south Brooklyn after Hurricane Sandy’s devastation. “We saw the hellish world that the gun prohibitionists see as their utopia,” LaPierre writes. “Looters ran wild… There was no food, water or electricity. And if you wanted to walk several miles to get supplies, you better get back before dark or you might not get home at all.”

As Joe Scarborough of Morning Joe points out, LaPierre offers no details on where in south Brooklyn this allegedly occurred. There were, to be sure, reports of looters ransacking stores after the floodwaters receded, but they were minor and seemingly in all cases the looters quickly dispersed when confronted by security guards.

Hardly “a hellish world.”

Except in Wayne’s World, where the subtext is obvious and frightening.

Hispanic drug gangs, don’t go out after dark, rioters in south Brooklyn? Get the picture? As Scarborough points out, LaPierre’s apocalyptic rant is “laced with racial overtones.”

LaPierre’s anti-immigrant, racist screed poses a problem for his allies in the Republican Party. Again, Joe Scarborough, a self-styled conservative Republican: GOP leaders, “If they were smart, would condemn” LaPierre, “but they’re not smart; they’re scared, and if they keep running scared they’re going to lose more votes, they’re going to get hammered in future elections if they allow this clown to continue to lead them around by their nose.”

But what if LaPierre were really a secret advocate of gun control? Then his rant would be brilliant.

Nah! No one’s that Machiavellian!

Could it be?

Posted February 15, 2013