“A House of Mirrors”
Is disorientation – deliberate, ever-changing, coordinated – the defining characteristic of the Trump regime thus far? Perhaps not. Benjamin Wittes’s early description of Trump’s rule, “Malevolence tempered by incompetence” still seems the most succinct and accurate description. But Trump and his propaganda ecosystem thrive and rely upon producing a Bizarro, gaslit alternate world to hold their base in thrall and to keep everyone else on edge and off balance. Without the constant stream of disinformation, could that world survive?
From Trump this can take the form of projection or inversion – as when the most corrupt president* in history calls Hillary “crooked” – or when he simply lies. For his propaganda network – Fox, Breitbart, Sinclair, InfoWars – it’s often a combination of under-reporting or not reporting the actual news while creating an alternate-fact world based fundamentally on lies. For both, the funhouse they create has to keep their audience outraged and convinced of their victimhood. The result is today’s Republican Party, essentially one of white grievance and nationalism.
Examples this week included Trump’s continuing, escalating attacks on immigrants – essentially an assault on people of color – and also his attacks on the freedom of the press. The press attacks were twofold, though you might have missed them if you weren’t paying attention. The first was a continuing Twitter assault on Amazon. On the face of it, this was an attack on a major American business – something no president before Trump would have dreamed of doing. But the reason for it was that Amazon’s owner, Jeff Bezos, also owns the Washington Post. And the Post has done great reporting on Trump’s many abuses of his office. His attacks on the company are aimed indirectly at the paper.
The second was his support for Sinclair Group, a pro-Trump media empire which this past week forced its local news anchors to parrot an anti-Mainstream Media message written by the company. Sinclair’s growing reach threatens to extend the power of the Trump disinformation system. No wonder he likes it.
A fitting touch to this week’s Hall of Mirrors was a tweet from Rosanne Barr that claimed that Trump was rescuing hundreds of child sex slaves every month. This produced a widespread reaction of WTF?? until it became apparent that Rosanne, herself a Trump supporter, had waded deep into an insane conspiracy theory known as “The Storm”.
“Sounds like ad hominem to me. Maybe practice some better rhetoric?”
– Parkland student Delaney Tarr, replying to Laura Ingraham taunting her classmate, David Hogg
As with most weeks, there was also a bright spot. And once again it was from the Parkland students. Fox “News” host Laura Ingraham tweeted a cutting remark about student David Hogg’s disappointment at getting into several colleges he’d applied to. Ingraham makes a living being mean, but for many people this went too far. She also attacked the wrong person. Hogg, instead of being cowed, called for a boycott of her show’s sponsors. After ten had pulled out, she apologized and announced that she was taking a week off.
The right continues to attack Hogg and his fellow students but has been frustrated by the difficulty of using personal attacks against students who survived a terrible tragedy and who don’t stoop to name-calling or character attacks. Instead they continue to oppose the NRA and demand change while also calling for greater understanding, for cherishing life – and for love. They’re an inspiration.
The Meaning of Easter
- Trump celebrated Easter Sunday by tweeting “NO MORE DACA DEAL! These big flows of people are all trying to take advantage of DACA” and further hysteria, apparently fueled by watching an alarmist Fox segment about refugees fleeing Honduras and by spending time with Sean Hannity and Stephen Miller. The tweets were a Trumpian mix of outright nonsense, apparent confusion and vitriolic hate. Couldn’t have picked a better day.
Fueling That “Extraordinary Growth”
- Meanwhile with employment the lowest it’s been in years, businesses can’t find all of the workers they need. Gee, if only they could find some immigrants to hire, maybe the economy wouldn’t be held back…
- Then again, maybe it won’t be a problem for long. China announced that it would impose tariffs as high as 25% on 128 products, ranging from wine to steel pipes, in response to the trade war Trump started last month. Combined with worry over the Facebook’s privacy scandal, markets plunged. Despite Trump’s claims that it’s “easy to win” trade wars, normally they produce only losers, as it seems we’re about to find out.
- And what is it they always say that business needs in order to make investments? Oh, right, predictability. Doesn’t quite fit with the “I love chaos” White House.
Mom, What’s a “Kleptocracy?”
- One of the things about the Trump regime is that so much bad stuff is happening all the time, it’s hard to take in how much it matters. An example is the ongoing parade of corruption and self-dealing. In the past week a federal court ruled that Maryland and the District of Columbia have standing to sue Trump for violations of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which prohibits him from receiving monies from foreign governments, essentially to prevent them from bribing him. At issue is Trump’s continued ownership of the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.. Holding events there has become a way for governments and others to curry favor with the president*. As the suit moves forward, it should allow the plaintiffs to discover and make public Trump’s financial records, potentially including tax returns.
- Also in the news about corruption was EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt, when it became known that he had received an incredibly generous apartment rental rate from the wife of an energy lobbyist. It’s not Pruitt’s first brush with scandal and almost surely won’t be his last.
- Pruitt also announced that the EPA would roll back fuel efficiency requirements for cars and trucks bowing – and scraping! – to demands from auto manufacturers. His statement also suggested that the EPA would challenge California’s right to set its own emission standards, which we’ve done for years. Over our dead bodies, Scotty.
This Is No Way to Run HR
- Veterans' Affairs Secretary David Shulkin (who had also been involved in an ethics scandal a few months ago) was fired by Trump, who intends to replace him with his personal physician, Dr. Ronny Jackson. Although the White House claimed that Shulkin resigned, there’s no evidence to back that assertion – which could have implications for who the interim director is. Shulkin wrote an op-ed piece claiming that the administration wanted him out because he opposed privatizing the VA. And while Jackson is highly regarded as a doctor, he has zero experience running an organization. The VA is the second largest bureaucracy in the U.S. government and cares for the health of those who have served in our armed forces. What could go wrong?
You’re the Puppet! You’re the Puppet!!
- Russia reported that Trump, in addition to congratulating Putin on rigging his own re-election, also invited him to visit the White House. Meanwhile, Trump has yet to denounce Putin’s poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England.
- It came to light that the Mueller investigation (into the Russian attack on our democracy on behalf of Trump in 2016) had told Rick Gates, associate of Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort that they didn’t need his help to convict Manafort on an assortment of charges. They already had the evidence for that. Instead they were looking for useful information about the Trump campaign and Russia. Gates must have shown he was able to produce that or they wouldn’t have made a deal.
- Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, fired ignominiously by Trump hours before his retirement date, closed his crowd-funded legal defense fund after raising $537,000 in only a few days.
The Teachers Strike Back
- Teachers by the tens of thousands have struck in protest over abysmally low pay and underfunded schools in Oklahoma and Kentucky. Both states have followed the Republican dogma, pioneered ruinously in Kansas, of viciously cutting taxes. According to a myth handed down from generation to generation of Republican lawmakers, this will always result in miraculous economic growth, providing all the money needed for the handful of services government should provide if it’s not going to spoil its citizens and undermine their self-reliance. What happens in real life, though, is what happened in Kansas. And West Virginia. And Oklahoma. And Kentucky. Schools run out of money, can’t run a full school week, and can’t pay teachers properly. West Virginia teachers won a raise recently and now the model is spreading. Arizona could be next.
And this past week was supposedly relatively uneventful. It’s critical to remember that none of this is normal. In anything approaching a traditional definition, we don’t currently have a president, an administration, or a White House. Instead we have an unqualified, unscrupulous, sadistic authoritarian who now believes he can do it all “on his own”. It’s essential for us to keep pressure on Congress to hold the line the best that we can and to flip the House and the Senate to turn Congress blue so that we can start to bring back normal – and our country. Join us!
– Tom Benthin
A reminder: a key resource for tracking all the abnormal events from the past week of the Trump presidency is Amy Siskind’s Weekly List: theweeklylist.org .
Before the disaster of the 2016 election we could follow the events that affected our lives by checking the news or seeing occasional posts on Facebook. Since then, with Trump’s erratic, aggressive and autocratic behavior and the Republicans’ unceasing attacks on our government and their efforts to transfer ever more money from working Americans to the rich, it has become much more difficult – and more important – to find our way through the weekly onslaught of news. To get ourselves grounded in the facts and to prepare for the week of action ahead, we provide this weekly summary of critical events to help us cut through the distractions and stay focused and informed as we fight to preserve our democracy.