Donald Trump floated the idea of getting “an extension for the presidency” this week in front of a crowd of his revelers in Elkhart, IN. It’s not the first time Trump has contemplated dictatorship. In March, he admired the maneuvering of Chinese President Xi Jinping in becoming “President for life,” musing, “Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot someday.” The gut reaction of most Americans to the thought of anyone establishing that type of singular autocratic rule over our country is to think, No way—not in the United States. But this week revealed some of the starkest signs yet that the conditions for just such an eventuality are already taking hold. The revelation that several international corporations fun
neled several million dollars into a shell company set up by Michael Cohen—who had zero expertise in their industries and by at least one account did absolutely no work—ripped the mask off a pay-to-play scheme that resembles an autocracy like Russia’s.
While we can’t say for certain yet whether these companies received a direct business benefit from the money they paid Cohen, it sure looks that way at first blush. Just this week, we watched the stocks of pharmaceutical companies jump after Donald Trump backed off a campaign promise to make prescription medications more affordable. One Pharma giant that benefitted from the announcement was Novartis, which shelled out $1.2 million to Cohen even though company executives claim they only met with him one time. But that’s not the only place where evidence emerged that Trump himself is single-handedly picking winners and losers among the corporations of the world. FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai announced the death of Net Neutrality would become official next month on June 11—a huge win for telecom behemoths like AT&T, which lavished $600,000 on Cohen. In fact, on MSNBC Friday the executive director of American Oversight, Austin Evers, revealed AT&T executives secured a private dinner in Barcelona with Pai—just one month after hiring Cohen. That’s some pretty sweet access.
This dynamic sets up a bribery/extortion loop where the money that flows to the autocrat from the industry titans, then flows back to the industry titans. Being a successful business person eventually becomes one in the same with being a supporter of the regime. “The danger,” Bassin said, “is that when elections come around, the powerful industry titans keep the regime in power because they know where their bread is buttered—they’re getting an advantage in the regulatory marketplace over others and they want to keep that advantage.” What Bassin is describing is exactly why the Russian oligarchs don’t have any interest in toppling Putin, who was just sworn into his fourth term as president this week. In a normal analysis piece, I would end here after following one example to completion. But I feel personally compelled to elevate another way the Trump administration is modeling autocratic regimes because it is so horrific.
Trump and his lieutenants have now officially adopted the policy of separating children from parents who cross the U.S. border seeking asylum. In a New Yorker piece this week, Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen explained how the practice of breaking up families is an age-old totalitarian tactic. “Hostage-taking is an instrument of terror,” Gessen wrote, “Capturing family members, especially children, is a tried-and-true instrument of totalitarian terror.” In fact, one of the reasons Trump reportedly unloaded on his Homeland Security chief this week was because he thought she was resisting his order to separate children from their parents. The president and his aides in the White House had been pushing a family separation policy for weeks as a way of deterring families from trying to cross the border illegally. In other words, they’re terrorizing these families for their own political benefit under the guise of enforcing immigration law. If you find it impossible to imagine a scenario where Trump could engineer an “extension” of his presidency, look around—the seeds of autocratic rule have not only been planted by Trump and his coterie, they are already taking hold right before our eyes. We can only hope they are successfully stamped out by the law enforcement officials who Republican lawmakers are in the process of intentionally trying to cripple.
I despise bullies. This doesn’t stem from my playground years but rather from a career in my 20s performing with a professional symphony orchestra. Orchestra conductors are notorious tyrants, cruel and demanding, with near-total control over the artistic lives of the players. To consolidate power, they turn players against one another, prey on weakness, destroy confidence. As we used to note, many conductors are evil geniuses, but all are evil. Over the decades since that time, my position on conductors has softened (a little), but my position on bullies has not. And I believe a big majority of the population shares this antipathy. Witness the box-office success of movies like “Horrible Bosses” and “Revenge of the Nerds,” in which bullies get their comeuppance. Consider also the frequent anti-bullying public service efforts, the latest of which is the first lady Melania Trump’s “Be Best” campaign. So it is mystifying that the ultimate market-based phenomenon in a democracy — political discourse — is currently dominated by this despised character trait. From television to social media to everyday politics at the highest level, we see the powerful belittling, maligning and mocking those with lower status. If we hate bullies, why are they rewarded in the public sphere with fame, attention and even electoral success? Why aren’t they repudiated?
There are three explanations. First, people tend to be selective ethicists. The other side’s bully is a horrible person; your side’s bully is a “truth teller.” Indeed, we sometimes even flip the script and say our bully is actually a victim who is simply fighting back against even bigger bullies. Second, people are, paradoxically, attracted to bullies. In her book “The Allure of Toxic Leaders,” the social scientist Jean Lipman-Blumen shows that people complain about political dictators and tyrannical executives yet nearly always remain loyal out of a primordial admiration for power and need for security in an uncertain world. The third explanation is simple acquiescence. In a famous study published in 1999 in the Journal of Adolescence, three psychologists investigated how children act when they witness an act of bullying. Hundreds of schoolchildren were videotaped on the playground, and nearly 200 bullying incidents were recorded. Bullies love audiences, and in more than half of the cases, two or more peers were present in addition to the bully and victim. And how did the peers react? Twenty-one percent joined the bully, while 25 percent defended the victim. The rest — 54 percent — watched the incident passively, neither joining in nor defending the victim.
Americans are facing an “epidemic of dishonesty” in Washington that is more dangerous than terrorism or communism, according to former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. In a commencement speech on Saturday at Rice University in Houston, the billionaire said “an endless barrage of lies” and a trend toward “alternate realities” in national politics pose a dire threat to US democracy. The 76-year-old, who flirted with an independent presidential run in 2016, did not call out any politicians by name. Although he derided Donald Trump as “a con” and a “dangerous demagogue” before his election, in an interview before the speech at Rice Bloomberg refused to comment specifically on the president. Fact checkers have determined that Trump has made hundreds of false and misleading statements since entering the Oval Office. “This is bigger than any one person,” Bloomberg said. “It’s bigger than any one party.”
In his speech, Bloomberg evoked the legend of the nation’s first president, George Washington, who as a boy supposedly said he could not tell a lie when asked if he cut down a cherry tree. “How did we go from a president who could not tell a lie to politicians who cannot tell the truth?” Bloomberg asked. He blamed “extreme partisanship” for an unprecedented tolerance of dishonesty in US politics and said people were now committed more to their political tribes than the truth, suggesting that the nation is more divided than any time since the civil war. “There is now more tolerance for dishonesty in politics than I have seen in my lifetime,” Bloomberg said. “The only thing more dangerous than dishonest politicians who have no respect for the law is a chorus of enablers who defend their every lie.” “When elected officials speak as though they are above the truth, they will act as though they are above the law,” Bloomberg told graduates. “And when we tolerate dishonesty, we get criminality. Sometimes, it’s in the form of corruption. Sometimes, it’s abuse of power. And sometimes, it’s both. “The greatest threat to American democracy isn’t communism, jihadism, or any other external force or foreign power. It’s our own willingness to tolerate dishonesty in service of party, and in pursuit of power.”
Rush Limbaugh was the harbinger of the alt-right press of today, starting out in the 80’s with his clarion conspiracy call decrying the mainstream media. He assured us, from his vicodin induced haze, that only he knew how “they” were out to get the ordinary Joe, the forgotten American, and only he could balance the scales with the purported truth he was imparting. Along came Drudge, Fox News, and finally the internet and social media, which collectively blossomed into the alt-right press platform of today, complete with alternative facts, and yes, that world is indeed one to be reckoned with.
There are two Mueller probes. There’s the one that exists in the Fox News-addled mind of President Trump and his supporters, which features dark conspiracy-mongering about a “Deep State coup” against Trump; out-of-control federal agents jackbooting poor, hapless Trump allies; and, of course, the corrupt failure to prosecute Hillary Clinton. Then there’s the one that exists in most mainstream news accounts, which features a team of investigators mostly going by the book, never leaking, methodically following the facts, albeit very aggressively, wherever they will lead. The gaping disconnect between these two Mueller probes is driven home by two new pieces: one from New York magazine, which reports alarming new details about Trump’s addiction to Fox News and how that has shaped his perception of the Mueller investigation; and one from The Post, which paints a detailed picture of how the probe has actually been operating day in and day out. The New York magazine piece reports that former White House advisers Sean Spicer and Reince Priebus sought to deliberately drive Trump deeper into the Fox News bubble, because he was getting overly agitated by criticism on MSNBC and CNN. They did this by talking up Fox’s high ratings and importance to Trump’s base until Trump’s television diet became, as one former official put it, “mainly a complete dosage of Fox.” But this has created its own alarming problems, officials now say. Fox gets Trump riled up about topics that weren’t supposed to be on that day’s agenda, forcing White House staff to scramble to refocus. And Trump’s addiction to Sean Hannity — who has become a kind of walking security blanket for the president — is having a deep impression on his view of the Mueller investigation.
“Fox & Friends” host Pete Hegseth trashed the “failing New York Times” on Friday for supposedly not reporting on the recent capture of five ISIS leaders, apparently unaware the paper beat Fox News to the story. “I looked for the five ISIS leaders captured in the failing New York Times,” Hegseth said, flipping through the newspaper. “And in the print edition today, I have not seen it yet.” Hegseth didn’t find the story in Friday’s New York Times because the paper covered it on Wednesday. Hegseth’s own station, Fox News, reported on the Times’ coverage a day later, on Thursday.
More than half of the Facebook ads created by the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency to influence Americans during and after the last presidential election made references to race, according to a new analysis by USA Today. The news organization reviewed every one of the 3,517 IRA ads released to the public earlier this week by the House Intelligence Committee (IRA), and its reporters discovered that nearly 2,000 of the ads referred to race — accounting for some 25 million impressions from targeted Facebook users. Previous examinations of a smaller selection of the ads established that the IRA worked to influence voters using already contentious American issues like race, immigration, gun rights, sexual orientation, and political party tribalism, but this new analysis makes it clear that racial tension was the Russian operation’s go-to wedge.
Our job as reasonable, common sense, patriotic Americans, is to influence conservatives back from the abyss by exposing them to news articles which are indeed sane. The following excerpts from this next article show that sharing the various op-eds found throughout our blog site can really make a positive impact on informing people & changing common misconceptions. I know it can be especially challenging to get the Fox News/echo-crowd to leave their bubble long enough to actually read these thoughtful opinion pieces based on demonstrable facts. But this research indicates if you can convince them to read such op-eds, it can really do some good. Forwarding to them our blog site would give them access to these real news stories if they’d only read the excerpts or click on the links. So as patriotic Americans who love our country, let’s join in together on a crusade to penetrate that hermetically-sealed echo-bubble & expose rational truths, helping them become more open-minded & accepting of various viewpoints. This report should provide a huge incentive for all of us to want to do our part this-column-will-probably
Will this essay — or the op-eds nearby — change your mind? The traditional op-ed may seem quaint compared with tweetstorms, tell-all interviews and cable news shouting sessions. Skeptics may be forgiven for dismissing this medium as old-fashioned and ineffective. We have new evidence, however, that should persuade even a determined skeptic. In a peer-reviewed study we published this month, we find op-eds do change minds. After reading opinion pieces, we found people were far more likely to agree with the author’s point of view. Even in today’s allegedly post-fact world, people are capable of considering new evidence and reaching new conclusions. We find not only can op-eds change the minds among general readers, but also among Washington policy professionals as well.
That suggests each well-written op-ed changes a lot of minds. If a successful op-ed is read by about a half-million people, we can expect it changes between 50,000 and 100,000 minds. But are op-eds only preaching to the choir — convincing partisans already predisposed to agreeing with them? That is not what we found. While there are some small differences in results, we find Republicans, Democrats and independents were persuaded by the op-eds. The real difference is not in how many beliefs shift; it is in where those beliefs started. For instance, 55 percent of Democrats who read the op-ed on infrastructure came to agree with the author, compared with 42 percent who did not read the op-ed — an increase of 13 percentage points. However among Republicans, 89 percent who read this op-ed came to agree with the author, compared with 69 percent who did not read the op-ed — an increase of 20 points. In both cases, a significant percentage of opinions changed — but that still left a gap between the Democrats’ and the Republicans’ beliefs. We replicated our study among a sample of 2,000 congressional staffers, journalists and other professionals. This sample was obtained by emailing a list of 32,500 policy and political professionals and inviting them to participate. On average, the share of these “elite” readers who came to agree with the op-ed’s argument increased by 12 percentage points.
Perhaps more surprising, these effects persisted. When we followed up with another survey with our participants a month later, op-ed readers were still significantly more likely than non-readers to agree with the authors whose op-ed they read. The immediate effect of the veterans op-ed was 28 percentage points, but after a month, the effect had halved to 14 points. This pattern was consistent across all five op-eds: The effects of reading the piece were approximately 50 percent of the original size after 30 days. Our results show even now, in a divisive period in our national politics, Americans are capable of considering diverse views, absorbing facts and even changing their minds. Contrary to a large volume of commentary from many quarters, the “other side” is not immune to evidence and argument. Persuasion is possible, even commonplace. This is good news, both for editorial pages and for members of the public who read them.
Evangelicals now own Trump. It was their voting at more than 80% for Trump that got him elected, & their continuing strong support is what keeps enabling & unleashing him. I can’t dismiss the idea God led evangelicals to support him for the expressed purpose of stocking the courts with conservatives, setting the stage for eventually tipping the scales on the abortion issue. In addition, let me give us an ideal scenario that I would love to see play out, a dream fantasy if you will even beyond reversing Roe v. Wade. Trump’s reputation is based on being this great dealmaker. Imagine if he strikes deals with North Korea (singapore-donald-trump-kim-jo
But I’m still looking for more plausible explanations for the inexplicable, how could evangelicals willingly align themselves with moral degradation?: chart-of-the-day
But any religion that purports to show the whole world the keys to heaven & avoidance of hell, they’d better also show to the world the highest integrity & moral values. And if any church religion in its aggregate has as a stated or implied goal reaching a lost world, where the enemy is Satan (the father of lies), appealing to outsiders becomes problematic & seriously sabotaged when the faithful are perceived having an unwavering devotion to a worldly leader known to be a chronic liar. So any faith seen as synonymous with Donald Trump as the world increasingly believes, may soon become a faith detached from its higher purpose. Just one of many examples occurred yesterday watching perpetually-nutty pastor Robert Jeffress give a prayer at the ceremony for the U.S. embassy in Israel moving to Jerusalem, where he gave honor & praise to the one true almighty king, President Donald Trump. The world is seeing evangelicals representing something totally different in our faith these days, which is no longer the love & grace of Christ.
Do not expect that King Trump is the second version of King Cyrus. If the faithful choose to dance with the Devil, expect a severe backlash is coming. We’re already seeing it: how-the-religious-right-is-shr
Fox News’s business model is built on promoting crackpot ideas and airing hateful rhetoric that feed the anger and resentment of its base. That means tearing down genuine heroes who challenge the Great Leader Trump. They are utterly comfortable voicing obnoxious slurs, revealing a stunning lack of human decency. They are superstars in the right-wing ecosystem, not in spite of their crass, bigoted views, but because of them.” Rubin went on to say that nothing that comes out of the Trump White House should surprise anyone anymore, due to the culture he not only brought with him, but continues to nurture. “This is the political culture blessed and cheered on by evangelical leaders — for whom nothing Trump or his cronies do (be it paying hush money to a porn star or slandering a POW or endorsing an alleged child molester) is over the line,” she wrote. “There is something dark and twisted at the core of the Trumpian political movement and philosophy (if you can call it that). You don’t get criticized, let alone fired, for perpetuating hurtful conspiracy theories (about Seth Rich’s death, President Obama’s birth certificate or McCain’s captivity) or for voicing hateful views.” “In short, not all of Trump’s followers and enablers are bad people, but in the Trump universe, bad people sure do flourish,” she concluded.