Maybe we’re too busy laughing to see it. Perhaps it’s the jokes and memes that Donald Trump generates in abundance, the gift that keeps on giving, that blinds us to a chilling fact that we’d rather not face. Put simply, the leader of the world’s most powerful nation is behaving like an authoritarian dictator, one who threatens democracy in his own country and far beyond.
It’s all there, if you can bear to look at it. From the kleptocratic impulse – Trump pushing to meet foreign leaders at his hotels, so that he can profit – to his undisguised admiration for his fellow strongmen. Trump can’t get enough of Kim Jong-un, handing him another propaganda gift last weekend by setting foot in, and thereby legitimising, the slave state Kim rules so bloodily – and, once again, getting nothing in return. But in Osaka, at the G20 summit, he was also palling around with Mohammed bin Salman, even though the UN and the CIA both agree the Saudi leader was directly responsible for the violent murder of US resident Jamal Khashoggi. As for the simpering deference Trump shows Vladimir Putin, it’s a wonder Trump’s supporters describe him as a strongman at all: next to the Russian president, he looked like a teenager with a crush. Draw up a checklist of the semiotics of dictatorship and Trump ticks every one. He muses out loud about being president for life, saying it would be “great”. He’s indicated often that he would not accept the outcome of an election he lost. He’s threatened to jail his political opponents. He has the despot’s attitude to the truth – lying routinely, even about trivial matters, partly to demonstrate power. So great is his sway over his devotees, he can make them believe even what is provably false.
And he has the despot’s contempt for a free press, forever railing against the “fake news” media and all but abolishing the White House daily briefing, which at least aimed to hold successive administrations to account. Note his abuse of power to pursue vendettas against the companies that own media organisations that displease him: seeking to raise postal charges on Amazon, as retaliation against the Washington Post, owned by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos; and moving to block the AT&T-Time Warner merger to hurt CNN. The most chilling moment of his encounter with Putin last weekend came when the two men bonded over their shared loathing of journalists: “Get rid of them,” Trump said to his Kremlin counterpart, perhaps envious of the toll of 26 murdered journalists notched up in Russia during the Putin years.
His disregard for the rule of law is also that of the autocrat. His aides simply ignore subpoenas to appear before Congress, while in the name of his invented migrant “crisis” at the southern border, he became the first US president ever to declare a national emergency solely to circumvent the authority granted to Congress by the constitution. “That was a pretty straightforward authoritarian power-grab,” according to Kristy Parker, a former Department of Justice lawyer now with the Protect Democracy advocacy group. Why don’t we see all this as the behaviour of a would-be dictator? Part of it is a language problem. The archetypal despot lodged in the collective imagination does not speak English. Dub a Trump speech into, say, Italian, show it in black and white, and perhaps then we’d spot the similarity. Part of it is that Trump has not been able to do his worst. No elections have been overturned, no dissidents jailed, no journalists arrested. The restraints of the US system have, so far, kept Trump in check.
Yet that can lull us into a false sense of security, what political scientist David Runciman calls “the confidence trap”: the belief that, because democracy has withstood past threats, it will withstand present and future ones too. That’s complacent, not least because those restraints are fraying fast. Note how Trump is appointing sympathetic judges in record numbers: you can’t rely on the courts to check an authoritarian president if the courts are increasingly in that president’s image. All this poses an urgent dilemma in the US, as Americans work out how best to hold back a president who is a menace to the constitution. Impeachment carries great political risk, even if it is the Democrats’ constitutional – and moral – duty. But Trump presents a challenge to America’s international allies too. Like it or not, the US is the mightiest player in the democratic world. When that country is led by a would-be dictator, it undermines global democratic standards. How can the west stand up to, say, Viktor Orbán, when it indulges Donald Trump? Citizens and governments around the world need to realise that acting as if nothing has changed will not do; that Trump should not be treated as if his presidency were normal when it is nothing of the sort. But first, we need to see clearly what’s happening – and, perhaps, stop laughing.
Losing Local Papers Becoming a Dire Emergency
This can’t be good. A free press is a key foundational element to a free democracy. The trending towards massive cuts to newspaper employment, particularly at the local level, is having a detrimental effect on keeping citizens informed & public officials accountable. It’s hard to know what the answer is, but I do know a free independent press must persist if we want to keep our free society. See the entire article from thehill.com/homenews/media/
Job losses at newspapers is the driving force behind an overall continued decline in newsroom employment, according to an analysis of new survey data released by the Pew Research Center on Tuesday. The data, collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, shows that from 2008 to 2018, newsroom employment in the U.S. was cut by 25 percent. The overall number of employees in newspaper, radio, broadcast television, cable and other information declined from about 114,000 in 2008 to 86,000 in 2018. The newspaper sector saw the biggest drop in employees. In 2008, there were approximately 71,000 employees working at U.S. newspapers. In 2018, that number was just 38,000, a decrease of 47 percent.
The digital-native sector was the only area to experience significant growth over the past decade, with the number of employees increasing by 82 percent from about 7,400 workers in 2008 to approximately 13,500 in 2018. Broadcast television newsroom employee levels have remained unchanged at about 28,000 between 2008 and 2018. Radio broadcasting has lost more than a quarter of its newsroom employees, however, going from about 4,600 workers in 2008 to about 3,400 in 2018.
The statistics come six weeks after New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet predicted that “most local newspapers are going to die in the next five years.” “The greatest crisis in American journalism is the death of local news,” Baquet said at the International News Media Association World Congress in New York City in May. “I don’t know what the answer is. “Their economic model is gone. I think most local newspapers in America are going to die in the next five years, except for the ones that have been bought by a local billionaire,” Baquet continued.
“I think that everybody who cares about news — myself included, and all of you — should take this on as an issue,” the 62-year-old Pulitzer Prize winner added. “Because we’re going to wake up one day and there are going to be entire states with no journalism or with little tiny pockets of journalism. “I’m not worried about Los Angeles and New York. I don’t know what the model is for covering the school boards in Newark, N.J. That makes me nervous,” he added.
More Insights on the Threats to Our Democracy from Trump the Dictator
Blast from the Past! This article from the archives during the 2016 campaign has been shown to be remarkably accurate, so it’s worth revisiting: nymag.com/intelligencer/2016/
They want the interference since they can’t win fair & square: alternet.org/2019/07/trump-
Siding with their extreme tribe over their nation & democracy: salon.com/2019/07/10/how-far-
America might be doomed with a second term: mediaite.com/politics/former-
The 11,000 lies Trump has told us after two & 1/2 years in office is a real challenge to keep track of. The WaPo gang has to track his every word, fact-check it, & in some cases wait for awhile to find out whether any statement was a lie or not. Trump has displayed a penchant for being such a pathological liar, he may not even realize anymore when he’s lying: alternet.org/2019/07/trump-
MSNBC commentator Charlie Sykes called out President Donald Trump for his frequent association with disgusting men who do evil things. Trump himself has been accused of several disgusting acts, some of which he openly admitted to, yet, Trump is still embraced by not only his party but the “family values” crowd. “I’ve read Charlie Sykes and Annie’s reporting with my jaw on the floor,” said MSNBC host Nicolle Wallace of the New York Times report about Trump and Epstein. “I’m still gobsmacked by the culture, and I don’t say this in the vain of prudishness but the culture of objectifying women. All of these facts came before Election Day in 2016, the Bulwark editor-in-chief noted.
“This was a pattern that was well known,” Sykes explained. “The fact he would actually walk in on the contestants of Miss Teen America, Miss Teen U.S.A. This is who Donald Trump is. This is who he embraces.” Sykes said that the difference here is that Trump can’t ignore an industrialized pedophilia ring as nothing more than “locker room talk.” “It links to something that you can’t just say boys will be boys. This isn’t locker room talk,” Sykes said. “This is hanging around with one of the most notorious pedophiles and also this intersection of the arrogance, the wealth, the indulgence in whatever you want to describe it as, that I think is going to be problematic for Donald Trump.” He went on to say it’s clear that “nothing actually matters” when it comes to these issues with the Republican Party and Trump’s fans.
As we anticipate Robert Mueller’s appearance before Congress, might it be he overlooked some very important aspects of the Russian probe? Or perhaps under pressure from Trump, the DOJ restricted what Mueller was allowed to explore? Next week’s public testimony should be riveting:
It looks as though the primary conspiracy theory contrived by Trump, Barr, his congressional pundits & the echo about the origins of the Russia case have blown up in their faces. After Christopher Steele was recently grilled by the DOJ about his dossier, it became clear he had valid concerns about the Russians intruding in our 2016 election, along with unsavory contacts some Trump campaign staff had with Russians. It’s also become obvious the FBI FISA warrants were justified & warranted. I don’t know of any of the numerous conspiracy theories trotted out by Trump sycophants the past couple years that had any validity, which include their repeated faux outbursts about the Steele dossier as we see inside these links:
The full article is seen here from politico.com/story/2019/07/09/
Christopher Steele, the former British spy behind the infamous “dossier” on President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia, was interviewed for 16 hours in June by the Justice Department’s internal watchdog, according to two people familiar with the matter. The interview is part of an ongoing investigation that the Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, has been conducting for the past year. Specifically, Horowitz has been examining the FBI’s efforts to surveil a one-time Trump campaign adviser based in part on information from Steele, an ex-British MI6 agent who had worked with the bureau as a confidential source since 2010. Horowitz’s team has been intensely focused on gauging Steele’s credibility as a source for the bureau. But Steele was initially reluctant to speak with the American investigators because of the potential impropriety of his involvement in an internal DOJ probe as a foreign national and retired British intelligence agent. Steele’s allies have also repeatedly noted that the dossier was not the original basis for the FBI’s probe into Trump and Russia.
The extensive, two-day interview took place in London while Trump was in Britain for a state visit, the sources said, and delved into Steele’s extensive work on Russian interference efforts globally, his intelligence-collection methods and his findings about Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, who the FBI ultimately surveilled. The FBI’s decision to seek a surveillance warrant against Page — a warrant they applied for and obtained after Page had already left the campaign — is the chief focus of the probe by Horowitz. The interview was contentious at first, the sources added, but investigators ultimately found Steele’s testimony credible and even surprising. The takeaway has irked some U.S. officials interviewed as part of the probe — they argue that it shouldn’t have taken a foreign national to convince the inspector general that the FBI acted properly in 2016. Steele’s American lawyer was present for the conversation.
The interview was first reported by Reuters. During the 2016 election, Steele was hired by the opposition research firm Fusion GPS to research Trump’s Russia ties. His work was funded in part by a law firm that represented the Democratic National Committee. Since then, Steele has become a villain to Trump allies who claim that anti-Trump DOJ officials conspired to undo the results of the 2016 election. Conservatives have also seized on Mueller’s conclusion that no criminal conspiracy existed between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin as evidence that Steele’s sensational dossier was a fraud. But the extensive interview with Steele, and the investigators’ sense that he offered new and important information, may dampen expectations among the president’s allies who’ve claimed that Steele’s sensational dossier was used improperly by the bureau to “spy” on the campaign.
Page had been on the FBI’s radar since 2013, when he interacted with undercover Russian intelligence agents in New York City. A trip to Moscow in the summer of 2016 further aroused the bureau’s suspicions, according to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant the FBI got approved in October 2016, allowing the bureau to intercept his electronic communications. Steele’s defenders have noted that the information he provided which made it into the FISA warrant application to monitor Page was not far off. According to Steele’s sources, Page met with high-level Russian officials while in Moscow in July 2016, including the CEO of Russia’s state-owned oil giant Rosneft. Page denied the claim publicly until pressed under oath by lawmakers in 2017, when he acknowledged meeting “senior members of the presidential administration” during his trip, as well as the head of investor relations at Rosneft. Page had originally claimed only that he went to Moscow to give the commencement address at the New Economic School.
Seth Rich Conspiracy had Russian Origins
Another preposterous conspiracy that Trump’s loyal echo & insanity Hannity in particular kept hyping for months involved unrelenting speculation on who killed Seth Rich. The story goes Rich was murdered before he could spill the beans on information damaging to Hillary. Turns out that whole story was cooked up by Russian intelligence & blasted out on social media by Russian bots. From there the right-wing echo, including Fox & the ever-lying Hannity, hyped up the story as gospel. So chalk this one up as part of the massive Russian disinformation campaign before & after the 2016 election, which in cahoots with the corrupt echo & Comrade Hannity spread their false propaganda to literally more than a hundred million Americans: dailykos.com/stories/2019/7/9/
The real media generally uses the term sources say without divulging their sources, while the opinionated far-right echo routinely makes stuff up without any sources. That’s why the media is generally accurate while the echo is not: gq.com/story/fox-news-seth-
With the revelation this week that Fox News helped Russian intelligence agents spread the vulgar conspiracy theory about Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich’s murder in 2016, we have entered a dark and dangerous place. We’re at the point where a major American cable news channel teamed up with forces from a foreign adversary in order to damage a major political party in this country. What do we even call this? Treason? The fifth column inside the United States? We are so far beyond Fox News being a useful platform for Republicans to spread bits of partisan misinformation. We’re talking about a huge, powerful media entity that essentially aligns itself with foreign agents to undermine American democracy from within. And no, that’s not hyperbole. Those are the established facts, per a Yahoo News investigation.
Fox News put its full weight behind the Rich smear (first engineered by Russian intelligence agents) with a bogus “exclusive” report and a series of on-air segments, which later had to be retracted. The claim was that Rich had been in contact with a WikiLeaks player before he died, he provided them with tens of thousands of DNC emails, and that a vast cover-up was keeping the story hidden from public view. Fox News star Sean Hannity tweeted an increasingly frantic series of tweets (now deleted, as you can see) about Fox’s alleged Rich scoop. What was particularly offensive about the Rich story “breaking” on Fox News was that it seemed like the network was hyping the hollow tale as a way to avoid dealing with the then-unfolding bombshell news of Robert Mueller being named special counsel to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election. Desperate for a distraction and desperate not to acknowledge the bad political news for Trump, Fox opted to peddle concocted stories based on shrouded, anonymous sources. After multiple Fox personalities pushed wild tales about Rich’s murder, Rich’s parents took legal action to try to stop the network’s heartless behavior. “We lost his body the first time, and the second time we lost his soul,” Mary Rich told ABC News. “They took more from us with the lies, so we want our son’s life and his soul restored, and I want our life back so we can move forward again.”
Fox News wasn’t alone in its ghoulish behavior. Breitbart.com ran an article on its home page claiming that Fox’s claims may prove that the hack of DNC emails was “an inside job.” The Drudge Report ran a screaming banner headline claiming Rich “had contact” with WikiLeaks, and linked to the Fox article. “This is what happens when a murder victim becomes a pro-Trump meme,” lamented the Washington City Paper. Of course, the Fox News exclusive was a “complete fabrication,” Sines told Yahoo News. Coming under attack even from some conservative commentators for the way Fox News, and especially Hannity, wildly hyped the bogus story about a murder victim, network executives announced they would conduct an internal review of the Rich story. Two years later, Fox News has not released any findings. But according to Yahoo News, Fox News editors concluded pretty early that the report, based on an anonymous “federal investigator” source, was likely a sham. “Fox editors came to have doubts that the [source] was in fact who he claimed to be or whether the person actually existed.” These are dark days, indeed. And 2020 could get even worse.
The Ruskies Likely Swung the 2016 Election
To those who think the 2016 election could not have been altered or decided by Russian interference, think again! That massive disinformation campaign exposed hundreds of millions of Americans to their lies & conspiracies, while fewer than 100,000 votes in 3 key states were enough to sway the election! But Trump continues to give the Russians a free pass, since he wants them to again determine the outcome of the 2020 election over the will of the American people: salon.com/2019/07/10/how-the-
Fox Fake News Went Rogue
Dictators Require a Fawning Media
Trump the dictator demands he dictates the narratives coming from his state-run TV. So he actually lashed out at his normally cheerleading TV network for not sufficiently praising & worshiping him. Other dictators around the world get nothing but glowing accolades from their media without even a hint of dissent, so our wanna-be dictator demands the same treatment. Whenever he doesn’t get total loyalty, he gets mad. Check out this conclusion to washingtonpost.com/opinions/
The next Fox News personality to receive a late-night phone call from Trump should explain to the president how the whole Fox News scam works. That is, the network was launched on the “fair and balanced” lie — the idea that while other networks provide slanted coverage, Fox News is the only place that shoots straight. (For a dramatization of this founding myth, try the new Showtime series “The Loudest Voice,” which is based on the reporting of Gabriel Sherman, chief biographer of late Fox News chief Roger Ailes.) The truth is that Fox News has evolved into a two-headed monster. “Opinion shows” — “Fox & Friends,” “Hannity,” “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” for example — routinely twist the truth in service to President Trump. The so-called “straight-news” shows — which pull in far smaller audiences — attempt to counterbalance the propaganda, though an investigation by Media Matters for America found that the “news” side of the network quite routinely pushes conservative misinformation.
The trappings of a straight-news product give Sean Hannity the cover he needs to tell millions of people each night precisely what Trump wants them to hear. When Hannity and his fellow “opinion” travelers at Fox News sustain criticism for their distortions, the PR response invariably points to the ballast provided by the straight-newsers like Wallace’s “Fox News Sunday” and Shepard Smith’s daily afternoon program. It’s this very separation that allows Fox News to advance the claim that it’s just like a traditional newspaper consisting of news and opinion staffs. Trump, however, has no patience for the dull make-believe news coverage in between the good stuff at Fox News. He wants his “Hannity” on Sunday night. What do you say, Sean?
Concluding Part 2 with Short Bits
Both Reid and Wehner look explicitly to life after Trump. “Can America undo the damage he has done?” Reid asks. She hopes that new national leadership can attempt to mend the country. “Are we ready to do the hard work of repairing these fissures?” Wehner asks. He prefers that Americans change one another through individual suasion and the force of personal example. There are areas where they come together. They agree that American evangelicals have betrayed their beliefs for political power, for instance. (Wehner publicly broke with the evangelical movement in late 2017, citing its support for Trump and Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama.) They both decry Trump’s assault on truth. They highlight how his presidency has prompted a surge of political activism among ordinary citizens. (That’s a standard applause line in just about every book critical of the Trump presidency, though it’s strange solace to cheer how Trump has made even apolitical Americans desperate enough to engage.) And both authors, like so many others, call for a renewal of the American story. Yes, of course. But pining for a new narrative can only be our narrative for so long. Reid and Wehner often agree on where they stand on the president, but far less so on what to do about it. Policy elites are incompetent — or they should attempt big changes. Trump voters are racists — or they’re just really, really disappointed. The country is divided into “two starkly different and disunited Americas,” as Reid puts it, or it is suffering “a crisis of confidence” in its ability to navigate its differences, as Wehner concludes. Perhaps the 2020 election will settle things. But don’t count on it. After all, we’re still fighting over what 2016 meant.