Tag Archives: Roger Stone

Election Violence

[T]he only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged. Remember that. It’s the only way we’re going to lose this election, so we have to be very careful. — President Donald Trump to campaign supporters in August.

Trump is trying to convince his supporters — probably has already persuaded many of them — that Democrats are stealing the election. His constant litany against voting by mail is part of his strategy. If his supporters, many of whom are heavily armed, are convinced that a Trump loss can only occur in a “rigged” election, will they simply accept the result? Will Trump demurely step aside or will he urge his supporters to demonstrate their “Second Amendment” rights, as he has in the past? 

Many voters — on both sides — may find their nerves frayed if, as is likely, the results on Election Day are not clear. With millions of voters casting their ballots by mail, the tabulating will likely be slow. It may take days, probably weeks, to know the winner. A likely scenario for this November mimics what happened two years ago. On November 6, 2018, it appeared that Democrats had scored modest gains in the House and Senate, but not the expected “blue wave.” But, because more Democrats voted by mail than Republicans, many races shifted — the so-called “Blue Shift” — into the Democratic column as the mail-in votes were counted. 

Expect the president and his sycophants to take to Twitter and the air waves to demand that election officials certify the results as of November 3 — Election Day. There is a precedent for this in Trump’s response to the very close senatorial and gubernatorial races in Florida in 2018. “The Florida Election should be called in favor of [Republicans] Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis in that large numbers of new ballots showed up out of nowhere, and many ballots are missing or forged. An honest vote count is no longer possible-ballots massively infected. Must go with Election Night!” the president tweeted. Scott and DeSantis won in the end, but Trump was quick to yell fraud, even though there was no evidence of any. 

American elections are usually close, and the body politic today is divided evenly into opposing camps who no longer trust each other to play by the rules. Add to this toxic mix increasing evidence of political violence and a president who encourages his supporters to take matters into their own hands and you have a powder keg. In recent weeks, armed individuals have shown up at more than 50 demonstrations. A 17-year-old from Illinois drove to Kenosha, Wisconsin, armed with an assault rifle that he used to kill two demonstrators and wound a third.  Armed right-wing militants shut down the Michigan legislature over mask wearing and social distancing. In Portland, Oregon, unidentified federal officials shoved demonstrators into unmarked vans.  

Stoking violence appears to be part of Trump’s reelection strategy. He retweeted recently a prediction by conservative provocateur Dinesh D’Souza that “recent riots and political unrest could lead to ‘rise of citizen militias around the country.’” This past week, the president appeared to endorse extrajudicial executions when he described the death of an alleged shooting suspect at the hands of U.S. Marshals as “retribution.” Trump has a long history of appealing to the worst instincts of his supporters. He began his climb to political power by graphically warning of “rapists” from Mexico.

Election violence in the United States is more common than most Americans would like to think. There is, of course, the example of the Civil War when Southern Democrats refused to accept the election of a Republican president because he opposed the expansion of slavery into the territories. Three-quarters of a million Americans died as result of that refusal, which led to secession and the Civil War. 

In 1856 in Baltimore, nativist Know-Nothings used gunfire to keep opponents form the polls, and in many districts in the city immigrants were not able to vote at all. In 1874, five-thousand men fought in the streets of New Orleans in a battle that pitted supporters of Louisiana’s Republican governor against the White League, a group allied with Democrats and opposed to racial equality and Black suffrage. Forty years earlier, battles between Whigs and Democrats on election day in Philadelphia resulted in the burning to the ground of an entire city block. 

Violence has been rare in recent elections, with the exception, perhaps, of the so-called “Brooks Brothers” riot in Miami in 2000 in which Republican campaign operatives, congressional staffers, and lawyers — many of them in suit jackets and ties — invaded the Miami-Dade County election office, ending the recount of votes in that heavily Democratic city. Perhaps the most famous operative on the scene was Roger Stone, the old Richard Nixon “dirty trickster” and current Trumpista. Stone, a convicted felon, has said the president should declare “martial law” and seize power if he loses in November. 

Trump — who encourages violence in the first place — might use violence as a pretext to attempt something along the lines suggested by Stone. Benito Mussolini exploited violent clashes between his Blackshirts and their left-wing opponents to ascend to power. The Fascist Italian dictator positioned himself as the only person who could end the violence that he himself had encouraged from the beginning. A similar scenario played out in Germany in 1933 when Adolf Hitler used the burning of the Reichstag as the pretext to consolidate dictatorial power. 

Trump is a good deal lazier than the Mussolini and Hitler, and the United States has stronger institutions and, hopefully, a deeper commitment to constitutional norms than either Italy or Germany had. But, the danger of violence remains great, which is why it is necessary that Joe Biden win an overwhelming victory in November, a victory so big that all Trumpian claims of fraud would be viewed as absurd whining.

Posted September 15, 2020

The Dictator’s Playbook

Authoritarian regimes come to power either by forcefully overthrowing — in a coup or a revolution — the existing government or through an election after which the victors corrupt democratic institutions. In the latter case, the typical way to undermine a democracy is to delegitimize an independent press and bend the judicial system to the will of the chief executive. Such is a putative dictator’s playbook, employed in several Eastern European countries in recent years.

In Hungary, the self-described “illiberal democracy” of Prime Minster Viktor Orbán has intimidated the media by feeding stories with little factual basis to favored outlets that are staunch supporters of official policy and by not allowing independent newspapers and broadcasters access to government officials. At the same time, Orbán’s far-right political party exercised its muscle in the Hungarian Parliament to install a parallel court system that cements executive control of the judiciary. The Polish Law and Justice Party — in power since 2015 — has waged a similar campaign to undermine the rule of law by packing the courts with subservient jurists who willingly implement the party’s far-right agenda. In Hungary, Poland, and other former Soviet satellites, the hopes that democratic societies would follow the fall of communism have been dashed. 

President Donald Trump may not have studied the Hungarian and Polish examples closely, if at all — he studies very little, by all accounts — but in his three years in the White House he repeatedly has demonstrated his hostility to democracy. Trump’s attacks on the long American tradition of a free press began before his election to the presidency, and they have intensified since. He has called individual reporters “nasty” and accused The New York Times of “treason.” Like all dictators, Trump cries “fake news” not at stories that are inaccurate but at accounts that accurately report news he does not like. He has even employed the Stalinist phrase “enemy of the people” in tweets referring to “The Fake News Media.”

At the same time, Trump endeavors to create an “alternate reality” by promulgating easily disproved conspiracy theories which he and his allies dole out to the compliant state media, also known as Fox News. Millions of Trump’s loyal followers gobble up disinformation spun by the administration and foreign actors with their own agendas. And, in shades of Orbán’s Hungary, administration officials have denied access to reporters from what the administration deems hostile news outlets. Just last month, for example, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo refused to allow NPR’s diplomatic correspondent a seat on his airplane because the secretary did not like a line of questioning on Ukraine pursued by another NPR reporter. 

The American tradition of a free press is well established, and numerous attacks by Trump and his lackeys have not cowed national institutions such as The New York Times and The Washington Post. But, the relentless assaults combined with the availability of social media and the ability of information and disinformation to go viral in a matter of minutes makes it easier for Trump to spread lies than it was for dictators in the past. 

Trump’s war on the judiciary is even more worrisome than his onslaughts on the press. Since his acquittal in the sham trial conducted by sycophantic Republican senators, Trump has retaliated against those who testified against him during impeachment. While not explicitly an attack on the judicial system, vengeance has been meted out against those who testified pursuant to a legal subpoena and who dared to tell the truth. At the same time, Trump has tried to bend the Justice Department to his whims in protecting those who assisted his illegal activities. He inveighed against federal prosecutors who recommended a jail sentence for Trump crony Roger Stone that fell within federal sentencing guidelines. He also attacked the judge in the Stone case and the forewoman of the jury that convicted Stone. 

The president considers the Attorney General his own personal lawyer. Trump hated Jeff Sessions because the ultra-right wing Alabamian had the temerity to follow guidelines requiring him to recuse himself in the Russia investigation. Sessions had no choice in the matter, but Trump saw recusal as an act of disloyalty. In William Barr, the current attorney general, Trump believes he has found his Roy Cohn who will protect him. Barr’s recent protestation that Trump’s tweets make it difficult for Barr to do his job sound more like a coverup than a heartfelt claim staking out judicial independence. A plausible explanation of Barr’s remarks suggest he meant: Mr. President stop tweeting and allow me quietly to be your lackey.

Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch pointed out that the Department of Justice, unlike other federal agencies, is named for an ideal. Trump does not believe in ideals; he sees the world comprising those who are for him and those against him. No president before Trump sought to weaponize criminal law, turning the independent judiciary into a cudgel to punish political enemies — he still calls for Hillary Clinton to be locked up — and a shield for allies who run afoul of the law. Not even Richard Nixon went as far as Trump appears willing to go. 

Trump’s undermining of democracy will accelerate if there is a second term. Revenge will be pursued against numerous perceived enemies. It is not hard to imagine Trump finding a way to use federal benefits and tax breaks to go after the Mormon church in retaliation for Senator Mitt Romney voting guilty in the Senate trial. The Treasury Department already has handed Hunter Biden’s financial records to Senate Republicans pursuing their quixotic case against the former vice president’s son. Who knows what Trump and his allies will conjure up against potential Democratic opponents between now and election day?

This is a president who believes the Constitution gives him unlimited powers. He appears willing to act on that mistaken belief in frightening ways in a potential second term. Republicans have proven they will not provide any check on Trump’s perceived power. Even more frightening is the possibility of what might happen should Trump lose in November. Will he refuse to vacate the White House on a phony pretext of electoral fraud? In 2016, he declined to commit to accepting the results of the election and then claimed — with no evidence — that millions of fraudulent votes were cast. 

Trump is a born cheater, and he will try to cheat in the 2020 election, either by rigging it or not abiding by its results. It is what dictators do, and Trump is a dictator who knowingly or unknowingly is following the examples of other dictators in amassing power and undermining democracy and the rule of law.

This is a scary time.

Postscript: I wrote this piece the afternoon before posting. It sat on my desktop for several hours, and, as I thought about the implications of what I had written, I became depressed. The truth is, I love this country, its institutions, and its history. My grandparents, both maternal and paternal, came here in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, fleeing pogroms, tyranny, and poverty, seeking a better life. The United States was good to them and to their children and grandchildren. The thought that tyranny is fast approaching — if it is not already here — is terribly upsetting to me. I trust it is to you, as well. 

Posted February 18, 2020

The Don and His Consigliere

“Liar, liar, pants on fire!” That playground taunt, delivered by Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona and accompanied by a poster, was the epitome of the Republican defense of President Donald Trump during the day-long testimony of former Trump fixer Michael Cohen before the House Oversight Committee. Admittedly, Trump — who acts like a mob boss — is a tough guy to defend, so it should surprise no one that the Republican strategy was to impugn the bearer of the bad news rather than to counter the substance of Cohen’s remarks.

Chris Christie, a former governor of New Jersey and a Trump defender, noticed the weakness of the GOP ploy. The president, Christie said, must have been “fuming that no one’s defending him.” Christie labeled the lame performance “either a failure of those Republicans on the Hill or a failure of the White House to have a unified strategy with them.” 

In truth, there was not much Republicans could do. Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina tried to defend Trump against Cohen’s accusation of racism by positioning an African American woman — Lynne Patton, a longtime Trump aide and current official at the Department of Housing and Urban Development — over his shoulder as a prop to demonstrate diversity. That piece of theater led to a scuffle later in the hearing when Representative Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat, labeled the use of Patton a “racist act.” Meadows bristled at the thought Tlaib was calling him a racist, but she insisted she was talking about the act, not Meadows.

For the most part, GOP members simply used their time not to poke holes in Cohen’s testimony — which would have been difficult because he provided documentary evidence for many of his charges — but to question his motives or to attack Democrats for holding the hearing in the first place. It seems Republicans on the Oversight Committee have no idea what oversight means, since they refused, when they were in the majority, to hold any substantive hearings to investigate credible charges of Trumpian misdoings.

Gosar of the playground taunts was disowned last November by six siblings, all of whom endorsed his opponent in the 2018 midterm election. “We gotta stand up for our good name,” said David Gosar in a political advertisement on behalf of his brother’s opponent. “This is not who we are.” But, it is who the member of Congress is. Gosar got so excited by his attack on Cohen that he stumbled over his words. Others also demonstrated a fair degree of apoplexy. Meadows looked as if he were about to have a coronary when he tried to nail Cohen for allegedly lying on a committee form about whether the former Trump aide had been paid for services by a foreign government. The dispute demonstrated only that Meadows had not accurately read the question on the form. 

Ohio Representative Jim Jordan expressed outrage that Lanny Davis — a friend of Hillary and Bill Clinton — represented Cohen. Jordan and others repeatedly attacked Cohen as a convicted perjurer. Cohen is going to jail for that crime, and other misdeeds. But, even liars sometimes tell the truth, especially when they have documents to back up their assertions. 

Much time was spent on Cohen as a would-be influence peddler and prospective recipient of lucrative book and movie deals. Numerous Republican members tried to get Cohen to vow he would not profit from his notoriety, which Cohen refused to do. Republicans also tried to portray Cohen as a grasping office seeker disappointed he did not get a job in the White House. All in all, the strategy of attacking Cohen as a dishonest criminal who should not be believed begs an important question: Why did Trump employ such a disreputable person for a decade?

The truth is, of course, that Cohen is much like Trump, who was something of a mentor to the younger man. Apparently, Cohen had easy access to Trump and his family. According to Cohen, he briefed Trump, Don Jr., and Ivanka at least 10 times during the 2016 presidential campaign about the Trump family’s attempt to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. That gives the lie to Trump’s claim of no business dealings with Russia and implicates Ivanka for the first time in that sordid episode. One other family note: Don Jr. might want to inquire as to the veracity of Cohen’s statement that father thought son “had the worst judgement of anyone in the world.”

Cohen produced checks indicating Trump reimbursed his fixer for the hush money paid to Stormy Daniels while Trump was in the White House. Cohen also testified that he was present in July 2016 when Trump took a call on speakerphone from Roger Stone who said, “He had just gotten off the phone with Julian Assange and that Mr. Assange told Stone that, within a couple of days, there would be a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign.” According to Cohen, Trump replied, “Wouldn’t that be great.” 

Cohen also offered tantalizing hints of more investigations. When one member of Congress asked about Cohen’s last conversation with his former boss, Cohen declined to give details, saying it is “being investigated right now” by federal prosecutors in New York. As for other instances of possible wrongdoing or crimes by Trump, Cohen repeated, “Again, those are part of the investigation.” Stay tuned!

The former consigliere reaffirmed that Trump operated like a mob boss. Trump never gave explicit instructions to Cohen to do wrong, but Cohen understood the “code.” Like a good Mafia underling, Cohen was not hesitant to threaten those who might stand in Trump’s way. When asked, Cohen said he issued about 500 threats on behalf of Trump (that includes threats of litigation) in his decade of employment. So, Cohen should not have been shocked that Trump used mob language in calling his former aide a “rat.” Nor should anyone have been surprised that on the eve of Cohen’s testimony, Florida Republican Representative Matt Gaetz, who has a history of incendiary comments, tweeted, “Hey @MichaelCohen212 — Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends?” (The tweet has been deleted, but the gist was repeated on the House floor.)

Cohen’s testimony — and the antics of a fool like Gaetz — demonstrate once again that, as Cohen pointed out, Trump corrupts everyone who comes in contact with him. That may be the greatest tragedy of this sordid presidency.

Posted March 1, 2019

Trump’s Most Dangerous Threat

Donald Trump and his thuggish team have made many scary and dangerous remarks during his campaign, but the scariest and most dangerous of all is their suggestion of civil unrest after he loses a supposedly “rigged” election.

Last week, in a rally in Ohio, Trump warned, “The election’s going to be rigged.” Similarly, he told Sean Hannity of Fox News, “I’m telling you, November 8, we’d better be careful, because that election is going to be rigged.” Other Trumpians, including the vile Roger Stone, have been egging Trump to make this argument. “I think we have widespread voter fraud, but the first thing that Trump needs to do is begin talking about it constantly,” Stone said. “If there’s voter fraud, this election will be illegitimate, the election of the winner will be illegitimate, we will have a constitutional crisis, widespread civil disobedience, and the government will no longer be the government.” If that is not frightening enough, Stone added, “I think [Trump’s] gotta put them on notice that their inauguration will be a rhetorical [sic], and when I mean civil disobedience, not violence, but it will be a bloodbath. The government will be shut down if they attempt to steal this and swear Hillary in. No, we will not stand for it. We will not stand for it.”

Talk of rigged elections and voter fraud is symptomatic of a sore loser, which Trump, no doubt, would be. His egomania would prevent him from graciously conceding defeat, whether he loses by two votes or 22 million votes. But, the apoplectic language employed by the Trump camp, with references to civil disobedience and hints of violence, is exceedingly dangerous because it feeds ideas to Trump’s crowds who tend to be disgruntled, angry, and sometimes physically hostile. Such language transcends the candidate and questions and imperils the sanctity of the American political system.

For all of our Constitutional protections and the magisterial body of law governing society, the American system is fragile and depends on the people believing the electoral system is fair. One of the great accomplishments of the American republican experiment was the immediate acceptance of the peaceful transfer of power.  When George Washington stepped down as president after two terms, he did something unknown to his contemporaries: He willingly ceded power to his successor, John Adams. And, when Adams turned the presidency over to Thomas Jefferson in 1800, he also did something unprecedented: He participated in the peaceful transfer of power from one group of people with a particular set of ideas to another group with very different ideas. Nothing in the history known to the people of the time prepared them for those momentous events.

Only once in American history has a substantial group of citizens refused to accept the outcome of an election: In 1860, when the South seceded from the Union rather than see Abraham Lincoln inaugurated as president. The result was tragic: Civil War and more than 650,000 Americans dead.

Even Al Gore, who could legitimately question the outcome of the 2000 election, accepted the results with equanimity. Gore’s gracious concession to George W. Bush came even though the Democratic nominee won the popular vote and had every reason to believe he would win in the electoral college but for a botched election in Florida and the Supreme Court’s partisan decision to stop that state’s recount. Gore offered to meet Bush “so that we can heal the divisions of the campaign and the contest through which we’ve just passed.” The former vice president invoked Stephen Douglas, who, on learning he had lost to Lincoln, declared, “Partisan feeling must yield to patriotism. I’m with you, Mr. President, and God bless you.”

Trump is no Al Gore nor Stephen Douglas. Not even close! Graciousness and fairness are not in his DNA. Trump has a history of hyperventilating about electoral defeats. In 2012, Trump tweeted that Barack Obama “lost the popular vote by a lot and [still] won the election. We should have a revolution in this country.” Trump was, of course, wrong. Obama handily won the popular vote and the Electoral College. But, facts rarely matter for the reality TV star. He further tweeted, “The phoney [sic] electoral college [sic] made a laughing stock of our nation.” He was still not done: “We should march on Washington and stop this travesty.”

Trump can read the polls, and he knows he is imploding nationally and, more critically, in key battleground states. That is why he and others are raising the issue of voter fraud, particularly citing the string of recent court decisions overturning Republican-passed legislation in several states imposing strict and discriminatory ID requirements to vote. In an interview with Phil Rucker of The Washington Post, Trump said, “I mean the voter ID situation has turned out to be a very unfair development. We may have people vote 10 times.” In the same interview, Trump said, “There’s a lot of dirty pool played at the election, meaning the election is rigged,” which is why “I don’t want to jump the gun” in promising to concede graciously, as Gore did, should Hillary Clinton win. “I don’t want to talk about that,” Trump added.

Again, Trump is wrong. There is absolutely no evidence of widespread in-person voter fraud. Justin Levitt of Loyola Law School conducted a widely respected analysis of elections from 2000 to 2014, and in a survey of nearly a billion ballots, he found a total of 31 instances of in-person fraud. After a five-year investigation ending in 2007, the Bush administration discovered no evidence of any systematic attempt to commit electoral fraud. A federal judge in Wisconsin, in ruling against parts of that state’s voter ID law, concluded, “Virtually no voter impersonation occurs.” Finally, a federal appeals court concluded that North Carolina’s restrictive voting law was discriminatory because it “target[ed] African Americans with almost surgical precision” to “impose cures for problems that did not exist.”

Truth matters little to Trump. He will continue, no doubt, to claim electoral fraud. It is an attempt to delegitimize his probable defeat by blaming it on a “rigged” system. It is also an attempt to delegitimize a probable Clinton presidency. Trump, after all, championed “birtherism,” the ultimate gambit to delegitimize a president by claiming Barack Obama was born in Kenya and, thus, is not eligible to be president. The repeated chants of “lock her up” at the Republican convention and in Trump rallies in reference to Clinton is an early attempt to delegitimize her possible presidency and is analogous to the “birther” claims about Obama.

“Lock her up” and “birtherism” are not normal American political rhetoric. Trump’s indulging in such political dialogue is exceedingly dangerous for it calls into question the legitimacy of the entire American political system. But, it is also pure Trumpism. Expect more of this kind of rhetoric. We should be very worried about its dangerous effects.

Posted August 9, 2016

Convention of Hate

crop_606rncthursday_0321469154431-1Donald Trump proved once again that he is not a conventional candidate. He read his speech off teleprompter in a flat cadence. But his red-faced anger — stoking on the convention floor the hate that marked so many of his rallies — came through, especially toward the end of an address that went far longer than convention planners had anticipated.

Trump channeled his inner Richard Nixon, making at least a dozen references to that old Nixonian catchphrase “law and order,” and he assured the cheering delegates, “There can be no prosperity without law and order.” He invoked the phrase in reference to terrorism, the violence of recent weeks plaguing American cities, and immigration. “I have a message to every last person threatening the peace on our streets and the safety of our police: when I take the oath of office next year, I will restore law and order to our country,” Trump said. It was no surprise that loud cheers greeted Trump’s promise to build a wall on the Mexican border.

Trump also resurrected a theme that surfaced earlier in this campaign, vowing to put “America First.” He is either oblivious to the odious historical references of the phrase, or simply does not care. “America First” was the slogan of those who vowed to keep the United States out of the fight against Nazi Germany. The America First Committee was the organizational leader of the non-intervention movement, and under the influence of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh — who admired the military prowess of Hitler’s Germany — America First became increasingly anti-Semitic. The draft of Trump’s speech made it clear that the citation of America First was deliberate, since it capitalized the word “First.”

Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York City, was one of the speakers goading the delegates on the convention floor.

Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York City, was one of the speakers goading the delegates on the convention floor.

Trump’s acceptance speech topped off a convention dominated by hate. Hatred could be seen on the faces of the delegates when shouting “Lock her up” whenever Hillary Clinton’s name was mentioned and on the faces of speakers goading the delegates on the floor. “Lock her up” chants broke out several times during the candidate’s speech. The most egregious example of the anti-Clinton hatred came from a delegate from New Hampshire, Al Baldasaro, who declared in a radio interview, “Hillary Clinton should be put in the firing line and shot for treason.” The Secret Service is investigating, as well it should.

The biggest question dividing the delegates in Cleveland was whether the former secretary of state should be thrown in the clink, presumably for a very long time, or executed, as suggested by the charming Mr. Baldasaro. As for the charges, well, today’s Republicans bring to mind Stalinist Russia where guilt was declared first, then the charges found to justify the previously agreed upon sentence. I suppose Clinton’s email ethical indiscretions and subsequent lies are what is riling the Republican base, but let’s be serious, we stopped executing people for such actions long ago. Really, we in America never executed people for such “crimes.”

Actually, the Trump campaign appears split on the appropriate punishment for Clinton. The candidate has landed in the moderate camp, last month suggesting jail time: “Hillary Clinton has to go to jail, okay? She has to go to jail…. She’s guilty as hell.” Long-time adviser Roger Stone argues for more. “Hillary must be brought to justice — arrested, tried, and executed for murder,” he tweeted two years ago, before the email controversy erupted. Presumably, Stone believes Clinton should be executed for the Benghazi tragedy, even though innumerable Republican-dominated congressional committees spent millions of taxpayers dollars and hours and hours of time probing that sad event and found no dereliction of duty.

Ben Carson, a defeated presidential candidate, invoked Lucifer.

Ben Carson, a defeated presidential candidate, invoked Lucifer.

The anti-Clinton animosity reached its nadir when Ben Carson, a famed pediatric neurosurgeon turned crackpot, tied Clinton to leftist community organizer Saul Alinsky (the right tried this tack in 2008 with Barack Obama) and then linked Alinsky to Lucifer. It was a nifty verbal trick, leading Carson to conclude that Clinton’s “role model” was “somebody who acknowledges Lucifer.” Really, you can’t make this stuff up!

So, the lunatic fringe, spewing hate, has captured control of one of the nation’s two major political parties. It is the culmination of what began in 1992 (if not earlier) when mainstream Republicans stopped casting their opponents as merely wrong or misguided, or both, but as illegitimate representatives of an opposition party that was determined to ruin the nation. The incessant Republican investigations of the Bill Clinton era, the assertion that the Clintons were responsible for the death of Vince Foster (an unfounded allegation resurrected by Trump this time around), and the absurd impeachment proceedings against the president demonstrated how far off the deep end the Republicans had fallen.

But nothing done by Republicans in the 1990s matched the animosity toward Barack Obama. The racist obstructionism by the GOP attained its apogee in the birtherism movement, led by Trump, and the repeated assertions that the president is a Muslim determined to impose Sharia law on a hapless nation. The GOP establishment long tolerated the crackpots and conspiracy purveyors on the party’s fringes. But, what has now changed and culminated in the shenanigans and hate-mongering in Cleveland is that Trump the candidate never pretended to respectability. Paraphrasing E.J. Dionne  in The Washington Post, Trump is proud to hang out in the weeds with conspiracy peddlers. The result: The lunatic fringe is not just tolerated; it is in control of the party.

The GOP has reached this point because it is a political party united by one thing: Hate. Different elements of the party hate different groups: Immigrants, minorities, intellectuals, gays, feminists, and others far too numerous to list. A coalition of grievances, the Republican Party is united by an overarching hatred of the Democratic Party, a political organization that welcomes every group Republicans reject.

The latest manifestation of that hatred is the wish, expressed by some delegates, to see Hillary Clinton either hanging from a tree or in front of firing squad.

Posted July 22, 2016

Trump and “The Washington Post”

Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. — Thomas Jefferson to Edward Carrington, January 16, 1787, in Paul Leicester Ford, The Works of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 5, p. 253.

Donald Trump is no Jeffersonian, as he proved this week by revoking the press credentials of The Washington Post. Rather, he has more in common with the rulers of police states who routinely shut down media outlets that displease them.

The Washington Post unfortunately covers Mr. Trump very inaccurately,” reads a statement on Trump’s website. The Post’s sin? The accurate reporting of Trump’s words under the headline, “Donald Trump seems to connect President Obama to Orlando shooting.” The article quoted Trump saying on FOX News Monday morning, “Look, we’re led by a man that either is not tough, not smart, or he’s got something else in mind. And, the something else in mind — you know, people can’t believe it. People cannot, they cannot believe that President Obama is acting the way he acts and can’t even mention the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism.’ There’s something going on. It’s inconceivable. There’s something going on.”

The nerve of the Post! Reporting accurately Donald Trump’s words! Whoever heard of such a thing?

“I am no fan of President Obama, but to show you how dishonest the phony Washington Post is, they wrote, ‘Donald Trump suggests President Obama was involved with Orlando shooting’ as their headline. Sad!” Trump posted on his Facebook page. But, then, Trump tweeted, “Media fell all over themselves criticizing what DonaldTrump ‘may have insinuated about @POTUS.’ But he’s right.” So, Donald Trump, which is it?

Trump’s tweet linked to a story published on the conservative Breitbart News website based on a 2012 Defense Intelligence Agency cable sent to about two dozen government officials, including then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The cable, which was not verified intelligence, refers to the early days of the armed insurgency against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and it said al-Qaeda in Iraq, the precursor of the Islamic State, is part of the anti-Assad opposition backed by “Western countries, the [Persian] Gulf states, and Turkey.”

Trump seems to believe this assertion proves the Obama administration supported the Islamic State, a rather circuitous and loopy interpretation of the cable, which also said, “There are some elements of the Syrian opposition that were vulnerable to extremists.” That claim buttressed those in the administration wary of committing resources to the opposition for fear the aid might wind up in the hands of terrorists.

Clinton, Trump’s Democratic opponent, is not a staunch fan of the working press either, though she has not revoked the credentials of any news organizations or individual reporters nor has she bombastically attacked alleged biased coverage. Clinton has not been accessible to the press, and she has not held any press conferences. Still, there is a huge difference between Clinton’s attitude toward a free press and Trump’s. His current feud with The Washington Post is not Trump’s first attempt to cow the media. He has threatened to “open up” libel laws, thereby undermining the First Amendment by making it easier for him to sue news outlets that anger him. He has threatened to use antitrust laws to intimidate Amazon founder and Post owner Jeff Bezos. And, Trump adviser Roger Stone has suggested that a President Trump might retaliate against CNN by rescinding its FCC license.

Trump has blacklisted many other news organizations, including Gawker, BuzzFeed, Politico, Univision, Mother Jones, the Des Moines Register, the New Hampshire Union Leader, the Daily Beast, and Huffington Post. The bans are enforced erratically and their duration has been arbitrary. At other times, individual reporters have been banned from Trump campaign events, and some reporters have been roughed up by Trump operatives. Such bans generally are not very effective. Banned reporters have covered Trump events by buying general admission tickets. In any event, the best news reporting often derives not from attending the often rote speeches and campaign events of candidates, but by digging for facts and stories.

Post Executive Editor Martin Baron issued a statement promising that the newspaper would not be intimidated. “Donald Trump’s decision to revoke The Washington Post’s press credentials is nothing less than a repudiation of the role of a free and independent press,” Baron said. “When coverage doesn’t correspond to what the candidate wants it to be, then a news organization is banished.  The Post will continue to cover Donald Trump as it has all along — honorably, honestly, accurately, energetically and unflinchingly. We’re proud of our coverage, and we’re going to keep at it.”

Trump’s assault on a free press is Nixonian in its breadth. It is the culmination of decades of conservative attacks on the alleged “bias” of the so-called mainstream media. It has always been an absurd accusation, but no more than the assertion by Trump that the Post is biased against him.

News organizations ought to consider the appropriate response to Trump’s disregard for a free press: An end to all the free coverage Trump has received. Trump vaulted to the Republican Party nomination because the media shamelessly and, usually, uncritically covered his every tweet and absurd statement. So, no more live coverage of Trump rallies. Such coverage is tantamount to unpaid advertising. No more Trump call-ins to cable news shows, another way for the candidate to get free coverage. And, here is a real eye-opener: Real-time fact-checking of Trump’s frequent lies and mis-statements.

The truth, of course, is that it is unnecessary for the Post, or any other news organization, to point out Trump’s lies and innuendos. His words speak for themselves.

Posted June 17, 2016