Jeff Sessions just can't keep his stories straight
Sessions testified before congress about the Russia investigation today. It didn't go well:
Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday offered a revised account of his contacts with Russians during the 2016 campaign. During his confirmation hearing in January he falsely claimed he had no contacts with Russian officials during the presidential campaign—when he was a prominent supporter of Donald Trump—but subsequently acknowledged he had met with Sergey Kislyak, then the Russian ambassador to the United States. He insisted, however, that they did discuss any campaign-related issues. Yet while testifying before the Senate judiciary committee, he switched his story again, noting that it was possible that Trump campaign positions did come up with the Russian ambassador.
Sessions spoke with Kislyak on at least three occasions: in April at a Trump foreign policy speech at Washington’s Mayflower hotel; at the Republican National Convention in July; and at an August meeting in his Senate office. But during his confirmation hearing in January he said there had been no contact between him and any Russians.
After the the Washington Post on March 1 reported Sessions’ meetings with Kislyak, Sessions said his conversations with the ambassador were cursory and related to his work as a senator, not his status as a Trump adviser. “I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign,” Sessions said later that month when he announced that he would recuse himself from matters relating to the FBI probe of Russian interference in the election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.
In June, appearing before the Senate intelligence committee, Sessions altered his story again, saying, “I have never met with or had any conversation with any Russians or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election in the United States.”
On Wednesday, when Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) pressed Sessions on his contacts with Kislyak, the attorney general once more shifted his account, leaving open the possibility that campaign-related matters may have arisen. “I don’t think there was any discussion about the details of the campaign other than it could have been in the meeting in my office or at the convention that some comment was made about what Trump’s positions were,” he said. “I think that’s possible.”
Sessions also told Leahy he “did not recall” if he discussed emails—the Vermont senator seemed to be referring to the emails hackers stole from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign—with any Russian officials. Leahy, a former prosecutor, said that Sessions had shifted from issuing flat denials about the nature of his contacts with Russians to now saying that he could not recall his conversations. Leahy later told reporters that Sessions had changed his story and given “false testimony” in January.
Sessions reacted indignantly to Democrats who challenged him about his interactions with Kislyak. He accused Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who pressed Sessions to explain his shifting accounts, of treating him unfairly and “improperly framing the subject.” Sessions declined Franken’s request that he answer questions simply. “I don’t have to sit here and listen to his charges without having a chance to respond,” Sessions said. “Give me a break.”
Grassley said later in the hearing that former FBI Director James Comey in March gave a classified briefing to Grassley and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the committee’s top Democrat, regarding Sessions’ contacts with Kislyak. (In June the Washington Post reported that intelligence intercepts did indicate that Sessions had discussed campaign-related matters with Kislyak, who then shared this information with Moscow.) But Grassley added that the FBI has refused to share the information with other members of the committee.
President Trump appeared to distance himself further from a bipartisan Senate health-care effort Wednesday, warning against “bailing out” insurance companies.
“I am supportive of Lamar as a person & also of the process, but I can never support bailing out ins co’s who have made a fortune w/ O’Care,” Trump wrote on Twitter. He was referring to Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who forged a deal with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) that was released Tuesday and was greeted by ample GOP skepticism.
The president’s tweet Wednesday was his latest conflicting statement about the Alexander-Murray plan.
The compromise would authorize payments to health insurers that help millions of lower-income Americans afford coverage in exchange for granting states greater flexibility to regulate health coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
That's Bannon talking, telling him that "bailing out insurance companies" is a good talking point. They may even think they can pull over some lefties with that disingenuous line.
Here's the problem. All of the GOP repeal and replace bills include huge payments to insurance companies. Not that Trump's dipshit supporters know or care. Still, it seems worth pointing out that this is a stupid "populist" line that isn't true.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) sat down with Mike Allen immediately after getting off the phone with President Trump, who called to encourage him about the bipartisan health care bill he announced yesterday with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). Trump told Alexander that he supports the effort, is glad they're trying, but still needs to review the deal to "reserve his options."
Alexander's bottom line: "Trump completely engineered the plan that we announced yesterday," by calling me repeatedly and asking Sen. Murray to be a part of it. "He wanted a bipartisan bill for the short term."
Yes, but: Minutes later, Trump tweeted: "I am supportive of Lamar as a person & also of the process, but I can never support bailing out ins co's who have made a fortune w/ O'Care."
House Speaker Paul Ryan's take: "The speaker does not see anything that changes his view that the Senate should keep its focus on repeal and replace of Obamacare," Doug Andres, Ryan's press secretary, told Axios.
It truly is the gang that couldn't shoot straight. We'll be so lucky to live through this.
So why DID he fire Comey then?
So Trump didn't fire Comey over the Russia investigation and he didn't fire him for the official reason --- that he had treated Hillary Clinton unfairly during the election:
I guess I'll go with the reason I've always thought played a huge role in Trump's decision making. Comey is taller than Trump. He doesn't like that.
Of course he hasn't called the families of all the fallen soldiers
by digby Yes, he lied:
Like presidents before him, Trump has made personal contact with some families of the fallen but not all. What’s different is that Trump, alone among them, has picked a political fight over who’s done better to honor the war dead and their families.
He placed himself at the top of the list, saying on Tuesday, “I think I’ve called every family of someone who’s died” while past presidents didn’t place such calls.
But AP found relatives of four soldiers who died overseas during Trump’s presidency who said they never received calls from him. Relatives of two also confirmed they did not get letters. And proof is plentiful that Barack Obama and George W. Bush — saddled with far more combat casualties than the roughly two dozen so far under Trump — took painstaking steps to write, call or meet bereaved military families.
After her Army son died in an armored vehicle rollover in Syria in May, Sheila Murphy says, she got no call or letter from Trump, even as she waited months for his condolences and wrote him that “some days I don’t want to live.”
In contrast, Trump called to comfort Eddie and Aldene Lee about 10 days after their Army son was killed in an explosion while on patrol in Iraq in April. “Lovely young man,” Trump said, according to Aldene. She thought that was a beautiful word to hear about her boy, “lovely.”
I'm sure he'll say the one who didn't hear from his is a liar and that AP is fake news. And his people will believe him. They believe everything he says.
But it really is calumny to lie about the other president's being less caring towards the fallen than he is. It's really low. This is a burden that they all care about, even the bad ones, although I'm pretty sure that excludes Trump since he's a sociopath and doesn't really care about anything but himself.
Trump’s delay in publicly discussing the men lost at Niger did not appear to be extraordinary, judging from past examples, but his politicization of the matter is. He went so far Tuesday as to cite the death of chief of staff John Kelly’s son in Afghanistan to question whether Obama had properly honored the war dead.
Kelly was a Marine general under Obama when his Marine son Robert died in 2010. “You could ask General Kelly, did he get a call from Obama?” Trump said on Fox News radio.
A White House official said later that Obama did not call Kelly but not respond to questions whether some other sort of outreach was made. Kelly, who was absent from a pair of public White House events on Tuesday, was sitting near the president in his tax meeting on Wednesday but did not address reporters.
Democrats and some former government officials were livid, accusing Trump of “inane cruelty” and a “sick game.”
Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, an Iraq veteran who lost both legs when her helicopter was attacked, said: “I just wish that this commander in chief would stop using Gold Star families as pawns in whatever sick game he’s trying to play here.”
For their part, Gold Star families, which have lost members in wartime, told AP of acts of intimate kindness from Obama and Bush when those commanders in chief consoled them.
Trump initially claimed that only he among presidents made sure to call families. Obama may have done so on occasion, he said, but “other presidents did not call.”
He equivocated Tuesday as the record made plain that his characterization was false. “I don’t know,” he said of past calls. But he said his own practice was to call all families of the war dead.
But that hasn’t happened.
No White House protocol demands that presidents speak or meet with the families of Americans killed in action — an impossible task in a war’s bloodiest stages. But they often do.
Altogether some 6,900 Americans have been killed in overseas wars since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the overwhelming majority under Bush and Obama.
Despite the much heavier toll on his watch — more than 800 dead each year from 2004 through 2007 — Bush wrote to all bereaved military families and met or spoke with hundreds if not thousands, said his spokesman, Freddy Ford.
Veterans groups said they had no quarrel with how presidents have recognized the fallen or their families.
“I don’t think there is any president I know of who hasn’t called families,” said Rick Weidman, co-founder and executive director of Vietnam Veterans of America. “President Obama called often and President Bush called often. They also made regular visits to Walter Reed and Bethesda Medical Center, going in the evenings and on Saturdays.”
He didn't bother to learn the fallen soldier's name before he called his widow. And he still doesn't know her name either.
Of course, he doesn't care to know them. He prefers soldiers who don't get killed, ok?
As I have noted in many Salon columns over the past year, Donald Trump has been saying from the beginning of his term that he believed the best political move he could make with respect to health care would be to sabotage it and blame the Democrats. On Jan. 11, while Barack Obama was still president, Trump held a press conference and said:
We don’t wanna own it, we don’t wanna own it politically. They own it right now. So the easiest thing would be to let it implode in ’17 and believe me, we’d get pretty much whatever we wanted, but it would take a long time.
For Trump, everything in life is about taking credit for things he hasn't done and blaming others for things he has done. This is how he defines "winning."
The Republicans in Congress talked him out of that approach, because they understood that they would own whatever happens with health care. They now have total control of the government (at least in theory) and are expected to fix problems in the American health care system. Three days after he made that comment, Trump told The Washington Post he had a plan that just needed some final tweaking:
We're going to have insurance for everyone. There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can't pay for it you don't get it. That's not going to happen with us. It's very much formulated down to the final strokes. We haven't put it in quite yet but we're going to be doing it soon.
He lied, obviously. He had no plan. What he may not have realized was that Republicans in Congress didn't have one that he could take credit for either. They spent the best part of a year trying to cobble together something they could describe as "repeal and replace," tuck some fat tax cuts inside it and call it a day. They tried and, as we know, they failed. Trump has been flailing around ever since, trying to evade responsibility, desperate to spin this abject defeat as a win.
At one point he simply denied that it had happened that way, weirdly claiming that the Senate had the win in the bag but a senator was in the hospital. He may have been conflating John McCain's absences for cancer treatment with the fact that McCain dramatically voted no on the "skinny repeal" bill, but in any case, it was delusional. There was no senator in the hospital and Republicans simply did not have the votes.
As it happens, through negotiations in the Senate over the course of several months, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., had worked on a bipartisan deal to shore up the Affordable Care Act, which did have some issues that needed to be addressed. They were reportedly making serious progress after the first vote failed in the Senate, until Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., decided to stage a final push for "repeal and replace." Trump and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Alexander to stand down.
That didn't work either and, sullen over his bad press, Trump decided last week to go back to his own favored plan. That was when he pulled the plug on the Cost Sharing Reductions (CSRs), the government's payments to health insurers that help millions of lower-income Americans afford coverage. Combined with other administration policies, such as reducing the funding used to promote the sign-up period and pay the workers who guide customers through the process, it amounts to the kind of sabotage that Trump suggested back in January.
On Tuesday, however, Trump abruptly announced that Alexander and Murray had come up with what he called a "short-term fix," sounding as though he were going to back it. Despite the fact that the two senators had been working on this for months, Trump tried to take credit by claiming that his hardball tactics with the CSRs had forced them to come together and hammer out a deal.
At this point, nobody knows if anything will actually come of this. The House didn't seem to know anything about the Alexander-Murray plan, which is kind of a problem. Trump himself seemed to backtrack, tweeting later in the day, “any increase in ObamaCare premiums is the fault of the Democrats for giving us a ‘product’ that never had a chance of working” and then, in a speech before the Heritage Foundation on Tuesday night, saying, "I continue to believe Congress must find a solution to the Obamacare mess instead of providing bailouts to insurance companies." So who knows what he's really doing?
As a candidate, Donald Trump sold himself as a deal maker. As president, he's governing more as a hostage taker. Across an array of domestic and foreign challenges, Trump's go-to move has become to create what amounts to a political hostage situation. He's either terminating, or threatening to terminate, a series of domestic and international policies adopted by earlier administrations -- and insisting that others grant him concessions to change his mind.
Brownstein cites the health care gambit but also talks about how Trump is attempting similar maneuvers with his threats to withdraw from NAFTA, rescinding the DACA executive order and a full array of dangerous foreign policy provocations. Essentially, he's creating crises for others to fix so that he can take the credit -- or blame the other parties for failing to meet his demands.
The problem is that it never really works. He seems to believe that threatening to kill the hostages gives him leverage. It doesn't. As Brownstein notes, it more often leaves him stumbling around, isolated, with his opposition hardened and his allies divided and forming new relationships against him. It's a doomed strategy.
He's basically holding himself hostage and telling the world, "Give me what I want or the president gets it." It's tempting, right? The problem is that if he follows through on his threat he's going to take a lot of people with him.
In the House and Senate, several Republicans who sit on key committees are starting to grumble that the investigations have spanned the better part of the past nine months, contending that the Democratic push to extend the investigation well into next year could amount to a fishing expedition. The concerns are in line with ones raised by President Donald Trump, who has publicly and privately insisted he's the subject of a "witch hunt" on Capitol Hill and by special counsel Robert Mueller.
Democrats, meanwhile, are raising their own concerns that the congressional Russia probes are rushing witnesses -- including the testimony of President Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner -- as well as stalling appearances of other key Trump associates.
CNN interviewed more than two dozen lawmakers and aides on the three committees probing Russia's election meddling and possible collusion with Trump's team, which highlighted the partisan tensions and suspicions bubbling beneath the surface -- and increasingly out in the open.
Sen. Jim Risch, a senior GOP member of the Senate intelligence committee, said "nobody wants to move this so quickly that we miss something," but added: "The question is how many weak leads can you follow?"
"We're a long ways down the line," Risch, an Idaho Republican, told CNN. "And with any of these things, the law of diminishing returns comes to play, and that's where we are right now, by any description."
"I don't see any reason why it couldn't be done this year," said Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican who sits on the intelligence and judiciary committees, calling for a final report in time to make changes ahead of the 2018 elections to prevent against more Russian cyberattacks.
The comments were echoed among influential Republicans across the three panels investigating potential Russian collusion with the Trump campaign. And the remarks present a fresh challenge for the GOP leaders of those committees, who are trying to navigate pressures from their members to finalize the inquiries while also attempting to chase down all relevant leads, which take time to pursue.
Rep. Mike Conaway, the Republican who is leading the House intelligence committee's Russia investigation, said this when asked about the timeline for issuing a final report: "Absolutely sooner than later. As soon as we get the things done we need to do in order to get the report written and finalized, we'll do that."
Conaway declined to put a date on a final report, however.
Sen. Richard Burr, the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, said Tuesday it's still his "aspirational goal" to finish the investigation this year.
Jason Chaffetz, the Utah congressman wrapping up his first term atop the powerful House Oversight Committee, unendorsed Donald Trump weeks ago. That freed him up to prepare for something else: spending years, come January, probing the record of a President Hillary Clinton.
“It’s a target-rich environment,” the Republican said in an interview in Salt Lake City’s suburbs. “Even before we get to Day One, we’ve got two years’ worth of material already lined up. She has four years of history at the State Department, and it ain’t good.”
In a tweet Wednesday night, Chaffetz reaffirmed his distaste for Clinton and his refusal to endorse Trump — but reversed his plans not to vote for the Republican nominee.
But a foreign country interfering in the election is taking up too much time.
I wish I knew why they were so damned sure the Russian government would always work on their behalf in the future.
I do want to hear some more from them about patriotism, though. I keep forgetting what it means.
The sitting president is going to give the entire country PTSD.
Every morning's check of headlines brings another another punch to the gut. Yes, that is what his base wanted — for him do to their ideological opponents what they cannot. And to restore what they consider the natural order: them at the top of the social pecking order. Vicariously, if not in any real sense.
Hearing from veteran now: "The poor are the ones who fight and die in wars that never end, the rich have no stake." #PoorPeoplesCampaign
Your daily dose of outrage has been the business model of conservative talk radio for decades. Now it is the governing style of the Executive Branch.
Except what the sitting president's base feeds on is toxic. Something the saner among us eschew for our own mental health. Now, short of going off the grid or retreating to monasteries, it is there every day.
Last night, the body of U.S. Army Sgt. La David Johnson arrived in Miami. Johnson died in an ambush with American Special Forces in Niger two weeks ago. As his widow and family were en route to meet the military transport, she finally received a call from the sitting president, Business Insider reports:
Wilson heard the conversation over the speaker phone and told CNN's Don Lemon:
"This is a young, young woman, who has two children, who is six months pregnant with a third child. She has just lost her husband. She was just told that he cannot have an open-casket funeral, which gives her all kinds of nightmares — how his body must look, how his face must look — and this is what the president of the United States says to her?"
"I asked them to give me the phone because I wanted to speak with him," she said. "And I was going to curse him out. That was my reaction at that time. I was livid. But they would not give me the phone."
That was not what I was hoping to write about this morning. In Binghamton, NY, the national Poor People's Campaign continued last night. The Rev. Dr. William Barber II was just delivering a strong dose of truth:
Fans everywhere are mildly disappointed. Desperate for sauce packets, a vocal population has made their demands known. Nearly everyone, it seems, has an opinion on the matter.
So where is Hillary Clinton?
In a times like this, we expect our leaders to take action. Maybe shouldn't be surprised that neo-liberal sellout Hillary Clinton — who we all know is the hands of big condiment — has failed to issue a public statement on the matter.
That doesn't make it any less damning.
Over the years, Hillary Clinton has made her "love" for hot sauce known in multiple interviews, even going so far as to carry a bottle of hot sauce in her bag. Her affection for spice just doesn't feel genuine: compare it to President Obama's love of mustard, which is obviously 100 percent authentic and comes directly from his far more authentic soul.
Hillary makes herself out to be a friend of the condiment community. Photo-op after photo-op show her at diners, pouring ketchup and hot sauce onto her overcooked burgers in a poll-tested, DNC-approved, strategy to make her look human.
Yet when the Szechuan sauce crisis finally emerged, the former Secretary of State had nothing to offer us but her craven silence.
Let me be clear: There is one person to blame for the Szechuan sauce outage, and that person is not the CEO of McDonalds. That person is somehow Hillary Clinton.
Perhaps if Hillary Clinton hadn't been so aligned with other condiments, McDonalds wouldn't have been so underprepared for their initial corporate promotion. People like Hillary Clinton have been lining their pockets with Heinz Ketchup wrappers and selling the Democratic party's condiment preferences to the highest paying bidder for years. Over time, voters became slowly alienated by third-way condiment Democrats. Some of whom, it is believed, use organic ketchup in a desperate attempt to satisfy their high-sodium lobbyist base.
Can we really blame voters for turning to Taco Salad Donald Trump in a time of such great need? I've been to these communities. I've seen the salt shakers full of rice. I've witnessed the pre-ground pepper.
It's time for Hillary Clinton to finally accept her full responsibility for the temporary Szechuan sauce outage, the 2016 election, climate change, this random hole I got in my pants yesterday, Harvey Weinstein, the mediocre seventh season of Game of Thrones, ugly birds, polio, Hurricane Maria and rompers for men — before leaving politics for good.
Then, and only then, will we finally probably not forgive her.
The Daily Beast confirmed that senior White House officials signed off on this specific line of attack as legitimate communications strategy. When The Daily Beast emailed White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to ask if she was an official telling reporters at multiple news outlets that Obama did not call Kelly, she declined to comment on the record.
She also did not respond to a question regarding if Kelly personally signed off on turning his deceased son into a political weapon to attack Trump’s predecessor this week.
Obama administration officials were shaken by Trump’s revisiting of the attack line. It was noted that Kelly and his wife attended a Gold Star families breakfast at the White House in 2011 and sat at the First Lady’s table. But that point seemed secondary to the shock many felt that the administration was using the death as a political cudgel.
Alyssa Mastromonaco, the Obama deputy chief of staff, who had harshly criticized Trump when he first made the charge on Monday, told The Daily Beast that she was “traumatized” to see him do it again on Tuesday. On Twitter, Obama's national security spokesman Ned Price, encouraged Kelly to put a “stop” to “this inane cruelty.” Other former Obama officials simply couldn't fathom that Kelly would have signed off on this, to the point where they said it was affecting them on a human level.
“This debate is so sad,” Tommy Vietor, a veteran of the 2008 Obama campaign who later served as a National Security Council spokesman, said on Tuesday. “People should read the speech Gen. Kelly gave at the service of two Marines who died shortly after his son did. I think that’s the tone we should use when we talk about fallen service members. We shouldn’t politicize these things.”
Who knows if loathing for Trump will get people to the polls? But it's there:
Gallup asked 2,016 U.S. adults Oct. 2-5, "How supportive are you of Donald Trump on a 100-point scale where zero means you do not support anything he is doing as president and 100 means you support everything he is doing as president?" The average score among all adults is 43 -- slightly higher than Trump's 39% job approval rating for the same four days of polling.
Reflecting the generally polarized nature of U.S. politics today, a majority either dislike most of what Trump is doing (43% give a score of 20 or lower) or support almost everything he's doing (22% give a score higher than 80). About a third of Americans have relatively mixed feelings, neither strongly supporting nor opposing the Trump presidency.
Among Democratic and Republican partisans, the averages for each group fall at opposite ends of the scale:
Among Democrats, the average score is 16. Although a majority of Democrats give Trump's actions a score of 3 or lower, a quarter of Democrats score the Trump presidency a 21 or higher.
Republicans support Trump less wholeheartedly than Democrats oppose him, giving him an average score of 77. About half of Republicans (47%) give his presidency a score of 80 or lower.
Independents' average score is 40. Slightly more than a third (37%) give Trump a rating between 21 and 80.
I don't know if people will get out to vote. There is an encroaching withdrawal and malaise setting in --- there's just so much political horror people can take. But hopefully, everyone will do the one thing that requires just a small amount of effort but will make a huge difference if we all pitch in: vote.
It can be done. The Democrats tossed out the Republican congress in 2006. The Republicans turned round and did the same thing in 2010. It's never been more vital than now.
I wrote about the chilling rumors in DC about who might move into the CIA director's slot if Mike Pompeo is moved over to Secretary of State for Salon this morning:
It may be that it took direct, vicious attacks on the mainstream media for its practitioners to understand the catastrophe of Donald Trump and cover him both factually and, more important, truthfully. They aren't perfect, but they aren't being the lapdogs we all saw during the Bush administration and thank goodness for that. Still, they have yet to kill some stale old tropes that desperately need to be thrown overboard. One of them is this idea that there are "grownups" out there somewhere who will come rescue us from the folly of our democratic choices.
Back in 2001, the entire press corps was delirious over the ascension of George W. Bush after the years of Bill Clinton and his hippie White House. Those so-called "grownups" wreaked havoc, and the press seemed to be chagrined enough by the Bush administration's failures to let Barack Obama's quiet dignity speak for itself. But with the election of Donald Trump and his infantile bullying, this meme has returned in a big way. I wrote about this latest iteration of the "finally, the adults are back in charge" line a few months ago, and it's only become more frequent and more desperate as the administration sheds its original cast of characters in favor of what Trump refers to as "my generals." (It's like a remake of "Seven Days in May" around there these days.)
If Pompeo were to be moved into Tillerson's spot, that would open up the CIA job, and word is that Trump is considering Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas for that position. Cotton is only 40 years old and has had one term in the House and three years in the Senate, so he seems a bit young for the job. (In fact, he's the youngest current U.S. senator.) But he's apparently enough of a grownup to join the Trump babysitters' club. Axios reported:
MSNBC and conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt — who talks frequently to Cotton on and off the air, and first floated the idea of Cotton for CIA — told me that Pompeo, Cotton, SecDef Mattis and Chief of Staff Kelly would be "a quartet of serious intellectuals and warriors in the 'big four' jobs." And you could add National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster as a fifth.
Hewitt also said that Cotton and Trump get along well and that he and Pompeo both "like and listen to the president" and "accept his realism in foreign affairs." Trump's views on foreign affairs are not of what is called the "realist" school, nor are they actually realistic, so I'm not sure what Hewitt's referring to. But it sounds as though both men are champion Trump flatterers, which makes the president comfortable and happy.
On the substance, Cotton is a terrible choice. He comes from Arkansas, but he went to Harvard for both undergrad and law school. Then he served in Iraq and Afghanistan as an Army Ranger and worked in management consulting at McKinsey & Company, before embarking on his long-planned political career. (I wrote about him back in 2015, calling him Sarah Palin with a Harvard degree.)
His one term as a congressman was unremarkable, but he flew into the Senate like a whirlwind and immediately embarrassed the entire Republican caucus by catching them all on their way out of town and getting them to sign an ill-considered letter he wrote to the Iranian government telling them that the nuclear agreement wasn't worth the paper it was written on. As former Bush speechwriter and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson wrote at the time:
The document was crafted by a senator with two months of experience under his belt. It was signed by some members rushing off the Senate floor to catch airplanes, often with little close analysis. Many of the 47 signatories reasoned that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s endorsement was vetting enough. There was no caucus-wide debate about strategy; no consultation with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who has studiously followed the nuclear talks (and who refused to sign).
This was a foreign policy maneuver, in the middle of a high-stakes negotiation, with all the gravity and deliberation of a blog posting. In timing, tone and substance, it raises questions about the Republican majority’s capacity to govern.
Those questions have now been answered. It has no such capacity.
Cotton is clearly an intelligent man, but his instincts are highly Trumpian. It's seems likely that he's among the advisers who pushed the president toward decertification of the Iran deal based on no evidence. As CIA director, he would have no compunction about doing whatever is necessary to "find" evidence to achieve his long-cherished goal of a war with Iran. (It wouldn't be the first time the CIA director declared a "slam dunk" in such a situation.)
According to Molly Ball of The Atlantic, Cotton's Harvard thesis reveals his philosophy:
Cotton insists that the Founders were wise not to put too much faith in democracy, because people are inherently selfish, narrow-minded, and impulsive. He defends the idea that the country must be led by a class of intellectually superior officeholders whose ambition sets them above other men. Though Cotton acknowledges that this might seem elitist, he derides the Federalists’ modern critics as mushy-headed and naive.
“Ambition characterizes and distinguishes national officeholders from other kinds of human beings,” Cotton wrote. “Inflammatory passion and selfish interest characterizes most men, whereas ambition characterizes men who pursue and hold national office. Such men rise from the people through a process of self-selection since politics is a dirty business that discourages all but the most ambitious.”
On the surface, such a belief would seem to be an odd mix with the allegedly populist Donald Trump and his "alt-right" white nationalist allies, but it really isn't. Trump himself is a big believer in eugenics and Steve Bannon is looking for a few good men to lead his army into the big final battle. Tom Cotton may be just the grownup they've been looking for.
The great San Antonio Spurs coach called up Dave Zirin to speak on the record about Trump's latest atrocity:
“I’ve been amazed and disappointed by so much of what this president had said, and his approach to running this country, which seems to be one of just a never ending divisiveness. But his comments today about those who have lost loved ones in times of war and his lies that previous presidents Obama and Bush never contacted their families are so beyond the pale, I almost don’t have the words.”
At this point, Coach Pop paused, and I thought for a moment that perhaps he didn’t have the words and the conversation would end. Then he took a breath and said:
“This man in the Oval Office is a soulless coward who thinks that he can only become large by belittling others. This has of course been a common practice of his, but to do it in this manner—and to lie about how previous presidents responded to the deaths of soldiers—is as low as it gets. We have a pathological liar in the White House, unfit intellectually, emotionally, and psychologically to hold this office, and the whole world knows it, especially those around him every day. The people who work with this president should be ashamed, because they know better than anyone just how unfit he is, and yet they choose to do nothing about it. This is their shame most of all.”
I couldn't have said it better myself.
I don't know how long we and individuals can live with this rage. But as long as I have it I know I am not insane.
The Washington Post and "60 Minutes" have exposed congressional and industry complicity in creating (and perpetuating the prescription opioid drug epidemic that has claimed tens of thousands of American lives. It is another object lesson in whose interests take priority on Capitol Hill.
The "60 Minutes" report Sunday profiled whistleblower Joe Rannazzisi who once ran the Drug Enforcement Agency's Office of Diversion Control. The office is charged with preventing prescription drugs from reaching the black market. Congress came under pressure from pharmaceutical distributors after Rannazzisi's efforts to prosecute corrupt pharmacists he calls "drug dealers in lab coats" began reaching higher up the supply chain:
JOE RANNAZZISI: This was all new to us. We weren't seeing just some security violations, and a few bad orders. We were seeing hundreds of bad orders that involved millions and millions of tablets. That's when we started going after the distributors.
Industry pushers began pushing back. Rannazzisi found his prosecutions systematically slowed by superiors. "Cases his supervisors once would have easily approved, now weren't good enough," the report explains. The industry began hiring former DEA lawyers to help quash their former agency's prosecutions through lobbying and, in particular, through drafting legislation.
It's easier to slip something by when the industry's drafter knows how DEA investigations work and how to strategically circumvent them.
A handful of members of Congress, allied with the nation’s major drug distributors, prevailed upon the DEA and the Justice Department to agree to a more industry-friendly law, undermining efforts to stanch the flow of pain pills, according to an investigation by The Washington Post and “60 Minutes.” The DEA had opposed the effort for years.
The law was the crowning achievement of a multifaceted campaign by the drug industry to weaken aggressive DEA enforcement efforts against drug distribution companies that were supplying corrupt doctors and pharmacists who peddled narcotics to the black market. The industry worked behind the scenes with lobbyists and key members of Congress, pouring more than a million dollars into their election campaigns.
"They made it and camouflaged it so well all of us were fooled. All of us. Nobody knew!" Sen. Manchin said. "There's no oversight now ... that bill has to be retracted ... has to be repealed."
The law sailed through the Senate last spring. It had the backing of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and was sponsored by members of both parties, so nobody in Congress thought to question it.
Missouri Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill introduced a bill Monday to repeal last year's law. "60 Minutes" asks:
Who drafted the legislation that would have such a dire effect? The answer came in another internal Justice Department email released to 60 Minutes and The Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act: "Linden Barber used to work for the DEA. He wrote the Marino bill."
In a not-unrelated post this morning, Paul Krugman takes on the lies used to sell the GOP tax cut plan. He writes:
In fact, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the hope for tax cuts is the main thing keeping congressional Republicans in line behind Donald Trump. They know he’s unfit for office, and many worry about his mental stability. But they’ll back him as long as they think he might get those tax cuts through.
So what’s behind this priority? Follow the money. Big donors are furious at missing out on the $700 billion in tax cuts that were supposed to come out of Obamacare repeal. If they don’t get big bucks out of tax “reform,” they might close their pocketbooks for the 2018 midterm elections.
Money is speech, saith the Supreme Court. And those with the deepest pickets speak the loudest. It is commonplace to hear community activists protesting police violence to chant, "Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect?" The rest of us should ask Congress the same thing. Even if the question is rhetorical.
* * * * * * * *
Request a copy of For The Win, my county-level election mechanics primer, at tom.bluecentury at gmail.
A North Korean official told CNN the regime first wants to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of going "all the way to the East coast of the mainland U.S." before engaging in diplomacy. North Korea isn't ruling out diplomacy, but it wants to maximize its leverage before coming to the bargaining table.
That's very wise of him. Any closer American cities just wouldn't be that big of a big deal, amirite? He needs the leverage of threatening the east coast where the important people are.
Oh, gawd. Read the whole thing. It's long but you won't be able to tear yourself away. He's profoundly incompetent, bigoted, hateful, corrupt, weak-willed, ruthless, sycophantic, and dumber than an amoeba with cognitive issues. He's also one heartbeat away from becoming the most powerful person in the world.
Here's a taste. The combination of cruelty, stupidity, and sheer incompetence is breathtaking. And this is just one of many, many stories Mayer tells:
In 2015, Ed Clere, a Republican state legislator who chaired the House Committee on Public Health, became aware of a spike in the number of H.I.V. cases in southern Indiana. The problem appeared to be caused by the sharing of needles among opioid abusers in Scott County, which sits across the Ohio River from Louisville, Kentucky. In a place like Scott County, Clere said, “typically you’d have no cases, or maybe one a year.” Now they were getting up to twenty a week. The area was poor, and woefully unprepared for a health crisis. (Pence’s campaign against Planned Parenthood had contributed to the closure of five clinics in the region; none had performed abortions, but all had offered H.I.V. testing.) That same year, the state health commissioner called Indiana’s H.I.V. outbreak a public-health emergency.
Clere came of age during the aids crisis, and had read Randy Shilts’s best-selling account, “And the Band Played On.” He tried to get the legislature to study the possibility of legalizing a syringe exchange, which he felt “was a matter of life and death,” and could “save lives quickly and inexpensively.”
But conservatives blocked the idea, and Pence threatened to veto any such legislation. “With Pence, you need to look at the framework, which is abstinence,” Clere said. “It’s the same as with giving teen-agers condoms. Conservatives think it promotes the behavior, even though it’s a scientifically proven harm-reduction strategy.” In March, 2015, Clere staged a huge public hearing, in which dozens of experts and sufferers testified about the crisis. Caught flat-footed, Pence scheduled his own event, where he announced that he would pray about the syringe-exchange issue. The next day, he said that he supported allowing an exchange program as an emergency measure, but only on a temporary basis and only in Scott County, with no state funding. Clere told me that he spent “every last dime of my political capital” to get the bill through. After Scott County implemented the syringe exchange, the number of new H.I.V. cases fell. But Republican leaders later stripped Clere of his committee chairmanship, a highly unusual event. “I commend Representative Clere for the efforts to help the state deal with this,” Kevin Burke, the health officer in neighboring Clark County, told me. “But he paid a price for it.”
Is he worse than you-know-who? Okay... there are two last people you want to see president. But that doesn't mean Pence is better. tristero 10/16/2017 04:30:00 PM
While we're ditching norms and rules, how about the Goldwater Rule?
I don't know about you, but among all the ways the White House staff has to work overtime to deal with the unfit imbecile they work for, this is the most disturbing:
One defining feature of managing Trump is frequent praise, which can leave his team in what seems to be a state of perpetual compliments. The White House pushes out news releases overflowing with top officials heaping flattery on Trump; in one particularly memorable Cabinet meeting this year, each member went around the room lavishing the president with accolades.
Senior administration officials call this speaking to an “audience of one.”
That's cute. But this is how people treat a king, not a president --- a malevolent King like Joffrey from Game of Thrones.
It's hard to believe that they need to do this since Trump flatters himself 24/7 but I guess it's never enough. In fact, it's a sign of serious mental and emotional impairment:
The removal of Trump using the Twenty-fifth Amendment is the aim of a newly launched social movement composed of mental-health professionals. The group, called Duty to Warn, claims that Donald Trump “suffers from an incurable malignant narcissism that makes him incapable of carrying out his presidential duties and poses a danger to the nation.” On Saturday, the organization held coördinated kickoff events in fourteen cities, where mental-health experts spoke out about Trump’s dangerousness and, in several, took to the streets in organized funereal marches, complete with drum corps.
Dr. John Gartner, the founder of Duty to Warn, told me that the event drew nearly a thousand participants across the country. At the Washington, D.C., event, the group presented an award to Representative Jamie Raskin, a Democrat from Maryland and the sponsor of a bill that the group endorses. H.R. 1987 proposes an “Oversight Commission on Presidential Capacity” that, under the Twenty-fifth Amendment, would serve as the congressionally appointed body for determining if the President cannot execute the powers and duties of his office owing to mental illness or deficiency.
According to a recent Quinnipiac poll, a majority of American voters now believe that Trump is not “fit to serve as President.” While many lay members of the public have observed Trump’s increasingly erratic and unstable behavior, commentary from mental-health experts about Trump’s mental state was slow to gather steam because of the Goldwater Rule, an ethical principle of the American Psychiatric Association that says that psychiatrists cannot express professional opinions about public figures they have not personally examined. “Because we were silenced by the Goldwater Rule, we failed to warn the public that they were heading over the Niagara Falls,” Gartner said. The Duty to Warn movement now represents an outright rebellion against the yoke of the professional norm.
As I’ve written previously, the A.P.A. adopted the Goldwater Rule after members published harsh assessments of the Republican senator Barry Goldwater’s mental fitness to be President during his 1964 election campaign; the consensus was that these were little more than political opinions dressed up as authoritative psychiatric diagnoses. Earlier this year, in response to members’ questions and discontent about the Goldwater Rule’s application with respect to Trump, the A.P.A. debated the issue and announced that not just diagnoses but any “opinion about the affect, behavior, speech, or other presentation of an individual that draws on the skills, training, expertise, and/or knowledge inherent in the practice of psychiatry” was off limits.
Whatever the motivations and fears behind the rule, a taboo has been broken. Numerous Duty to Warn participants contributed essays to a new book, “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President,” which just landed on Sunday’s Times best-seller list—a sign of the public’s eagerness to know just how afraid they should be of Trump. Duty to Warn has also announced the formation of the “Twenty-fifth Amendment pac,” which will raise money for political candidates to run on the very issue of removing Trump via the Twenty-fifth Amendment. “We want to be to the Twenty-fifth Amendment what the N.R.A. is to the Second Amendment,” Gartner said. He believes that fear drives people to the polls, and “what people are most afraid of right now is Donald Trump.”
The formation of the new pac extends beyond simply advocating that psychiatrists and psychologists should be free to offer opinions on public figures. It pivots explicitly into the territory of political advocacy, organization, and activism—which is certain to remind many in the profession of the very sin that led psychiatrists to adopt the Goldwater Rule in the first place. Gartner said that Trump presents “the greatest psychiatric emergency in the history of the United States, maybe in the history of the world.” “The only psychiatric solution here is a political solution,” he said.
The Goldwater Rule’s namesake led the delegation that was sent, in 1974, to tell President Richard Nixon, in the wake of the Watergate scandal, that he had lost support in Congress and could not avoid impeachment; Nixon resigned the next day. Many appear have given up on impeachment of President Trump for the moment. But it’s a real turning point when mental-health professionals are so willing to organize politically, break brazenly with long-standing protocol, and even risk discipline by licensing boards. After this, talk of Trump’s removal under the Twenty-fifth Amendment may not seem so crazy.
Talk of Trump being no worse than any other president is what's going to keep him in office and get him re-elected.
VIENNA—After a scandal-ridden three-way race in which immigration was presented as the core of almost every problem in the country, exit polls today have the far right Freedom Party (FPÖ) vying for second place behind the conservative People’s Party. The Conservatives had picked up on many of the FPÖ’s themes, but put a prettier face on it all under the leadership of 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz. He will be Austria’s next chancellor.
What a comeback for the far right, which was defeated and seething less than a year ago.
To be sure, there was a dirty battle between the two centrist parties, who accused each other, among other things, of espionage. And the FPÖ’s leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, was praised for what some called a “statesmanlike” performance, even if others had a rather more radical view. (Outside a Vienna polling station Sunday one confused looking man called out “Heil Hitler, Heinz Strache,” and raised his arm in a salute.)
But one should keep one’s eye on a group of young people who have neat haircuts and university degrees, but thinly disguised xenophobic views, and played a small but important part in Sunday’s elections. They call themselves “identitarians.” To their chagrin, a domestic intelligence report from 2014 calls them right-wing extremists.
Frequently described as the European equivalent of the alt-right, they have a keen sense of publicity and know how to push people’s buttons, yet all the while they are careful to present themselves as upstanding young citizens.
“We disagree on whether the Germans should be grateful to the Soviet Union for freeing them from Fascism.”
The group’s leader, Martin Sellner, whose father is a doctor, always takes care to say “please” and “thank you.”
But even Sellner has a sinister side: The person he claims to fear most in the world is his ex-mentor, a middle aged neo-Nazi currently sitting in jail for running a hate site. And Sellner is also not allowed to own or use firearms since he shot up the subway with a pepper defense spray (intended for fighting off wild animals) after the annual “Academic Ball” in Vienna earlier this year.
Normally, the identitarians’ idea of daring is exemplified by the T-shirts they wore last year in the campaign against Green Party candidate Alexander Van der Bellen: FCK VDB, they said. They also handed out fliers that said “not my president.”
These are the kind of camera-ready actions that draw praise from the German-speaking neo-Nazi scene. But the identitarians are desperate to distance themselves publicly from explicit violence and racism, even as they preach that migration is a threat to European “identity.”
Typically, they will “occupy” deserted border stations for the sake of publicity. But when one of their number threw an ashtray at counter-protesters at a demonstration two years ago, the others tried to hold him back. They also see themselves as part of a broader movement, having copied much of their style and some of their tactics from the Bloc Identitaire that was founded in France in 2003.
Now that some of their beloved FPÖ positions can be found replicated in the manifesto of Sebastian Kurz, there is an irony: “At this point, they know they will do more harm than good for the FPÖ,” according to Kathrin Glösel, who wrote a book, Die Identitären, about the group. “All they can hope for now is a second- or third-rank job in the Freedom Party.”
Perhaps, but the group has proved imaginative, even when it fails.
After being booed down repeatedly by counter-protesters in Vienna, they took their show to the Mediterranean last summer with the highly publicized intention of stopping rescue boats that were bringing immigrants to Europe. In the event, these nautical amateurs ended up stranded in Barcelona without money (or snacks). They were accused of smuggling. Even for the far right, there is such a thing as bad publicity.
It’s in the nature of fringe-right provocateurs that when they succeed, and their demands actually go mainstream, they may lose face. Or as Sellner broke it to his online fan base last week, “we will lose the wind in our sails.”
“Pettibone took him to visit Taco Bell and a shooting range, activities that he describes as 'typical Midwest conservative.'”
But for a wannabe intellectual like Sellner, pending domestic irrelevance isn’t a tragedy.
Before this summer, the 28-year-old had never been abroad for more than three weeks. But when Sellner returned home from Barcelona to national scorn, he didn’t wait long before booking a flight to America. He wanted to visit Brittany Pettibone, the “Pizzagate expert,” and one of the American YouTube C-listers who flew to Catalonia to film herself standing around on Sellner’s boat last summer. He tells The Daily Beast the two are dating now.
It wasn’t all romance, though.
“America has alternative news networks that we in Europe can only dream of,” Sellner told The Daily Beast, describing his trip as a “study tour.” And Sellner, who wrote on his blog that he learned “how important infowar is” and how much Europe “has to catch up,” wasn’t the only one who kept a diary. A video shot somewhere outside a ranch in the States shows him with Brittany Pettibone and Canadian Donald Trump supporter Lauren Southern, as they talk about how Europe’s identitarians are better than North Americans at “real life activism.”
“We are now seeing far right groups crossing ideologies and borders for the sake of having a bigger impact,” she tells The Daily Beast. “This means that the groups will become more similar to each other—and more dangerous.”
Just ask the notorious right-wing troll Charles Johnson. Sellner’s “Defend Europe” mission would have failed even more badly if it hadn’t been for him: At first it looked like the identitarians, supported as they were by the likes of David Duke and the Daily Stormer, were not going to be able to collect money for their mission. Eights banks shut down their accounts. Paypal and Patreon both said no. But then Sellner’s group ended up on Johnson’s crowdfunding app, Wesearchr, and suddenly Sellner and his friends were up to $234,456.
Another example cited in ISD’s upcoming report, “Frinsurgency: The Impact of the Fringe,” to be released Monday, was how German-speaking right-wing extremists tried to boost the far right Alternative für Deutschland party (AfD) in German elections. To develop Reconquista Germania—a right-wing extremist forum that preaches “Blitzkrieg against the old parties!”—they teamed up with meme makers who fought for Trump’s election.
Austria’s identitarians began abandoning Infokrieg, their own online community for information warfare, in favor of Reconquista Germania just one day after the AfD took 13 percent of the German vote and became the third strongest party in the Bundestag.
Over the past week, RG has been busy creating FPÖ memes (they have, innovatively, reinvented Pepe the Frog in blue and black) and memes that make fun of Christian Democrat candidate Sebastian Kurz (whom they call a “Heuchler,” or hypocrite).
Sellner advertised the RG forum on his YouTube channel in July. He told us he even invited Nikolai Alexander to record an interview with him, but Alexander declined.
Yuri Kofner, an old contact of Sellner’s, who runs a think tank in Munich which pushes the Eurasianist ideology of the Russian philosopher Alexander Dugin, is also a fan of Reconquista and says he has been messaging with “Alexander” as well.
“We disagree on whether the Germans should be grateful to the Soviet Union for freeing them from Fascism,” Kofner told The Daily Beast. “But these are smaller differences.”
There was a time when America’s extreme right didn’t want anything to do with German nationalists, because of, you know, World War II. But according to Sellner, all these conflicts are no longer an issue. “When patriots network,” he says, they “network without giving up their national identities.”
To give an example, Sellner cites his romantic entanglement with the 25-year-old Pettibone, who, he says, visited him in Vienna last week. He showed her “cafés and museums.” But when they were in the U.S. together, Sellner says Pettibone took him to visit Taco Bell and a shooting range, activities that he describes as “typical Midwest conservative.”
“We want to keep the best of both continents,” Sellner says.
In America, Sellner adds, sounding like a typical ever-so-slightly intimidated German-speaking exchange student, things are more “commercialist” and “high pressure” than in Europe, but basically, “I liked it a lot.”
Before they got into action stunts and fancy propaganda videos, the identitarians in Austria were represented by a man called Alexander Markovics, who is a big fan of Alexander Dugin and stars as an expert for Russia Today when the TV station covers news in Austria.
Some researchers believe that Markovics was replaced by Sellner in 2016 so he could work on contacts to the east away from the spotlight. Glösel, the author of Die Identitären, thinks Markovics was kicked out for being too long-winded, uncharismatic and camera shy.
In Austria, now as never before, the faces of the right wing and the far right are media-wise, on-message, and know all too well that cameras love them.
Trump is uniquely dangerous and stupid. And he's in office at a particularly dangerous time. This is not normal.
The producers of "The Handmaid's Tale" couldn't have possibly known how timely their TV version of Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel would be when they first pitched it. The horrifying misogyny of Donald Trump's presidential campaign was illustrated most vividly by his responses to women coming forward with complaints about his harassment and assaults over the years in the wake of the release of the Access Hollywood tape.
The shocking disclosures over the past year that Roger Ailes and Harvey Weinstein basically led reigns of terror at the top of the political media and entertainment world for decades brings Trump's behavior once more into sharp relief. One would assume that America's conservative Christians would be totally appalled. Instead, this past weekend, Trump became the first sitting president to attend the Family Research Council's annual gathering, the Values Voter Summit, where he received a hero's welcome.
Perhaps that's not surprising. Despite Trump's long record of immoral behavior, white conservative evangelicals are among the most fervent and loyal of his supporters. A Reuters poll last month showed more than 60 percent of white evangelicals back him, a far higher number than his overall approval rating, which hovers in the 30s. At the gathering of activists this weekend, they responded in ecstasy as Trump robotically read a speech about how he and they were unified in their love of family, liberty, the constitution, the flag and the rule of law. According to Trump, their shared values are the most important of all:
George Washington said that “religion and morality are indispensable” to America’s happiness, really, prosperity and totally to its success. It is our faith and our values that inspires us to give with charity, to act with courage, and to sacrifice for what we know is right.
You just have to laugh.
Think Progress interviewed some of the attendees who said things like, “I love President Trump. He’s really evolved . . . he has a biblical worldview now as opposed to just a billionaire’s worldview." That's absurd, of course. He does value their votes, asking a group of religious leaders the other night, "The Christians, they know what I'm doing for them, right?"
Unlike the other big annual conservative confab, CPAC, the Values Voter Summit has generally focused on social issues. They did again this time, with Trump himself declaring victory in the war on Christmas:
You go to department stores, and they'll say, "Happy New Year" and they'll say other things. And it will be red, they'll have it painted, but they don't say it. Well, guess what? We're saying “Merry Christmas” again.
Everyone cheered madly.
Fox News radio host Todd Starnes claimed that liberals want to criminalize masculinity and described the Boy Scouts' recent (partial) decision to admit girls as "a war on boys." The NRA's Dana Loesch announced that "feminism is dead." Patriarchy has many fans in that crowd.
The Islamophobes were out in force, openly agitating for their grand theory of the clash of civilizations. Wild-eyed former congresswoman and presidential candidate Michele Bachmann and anti-immigrant activist Brigitte Gabriel accused Muslims of everything from being rapists who have "no respect for women" to being carriers of infectious diseases. Frank Gaffney, perhaps the most paranoid anti-Muslim leader in the country, claimed that the Muslim Brotherhood is working hand in hand with the Southern Poverty Law Center.
All of these are common right-wing Christian conservative battle cries, although they sounded harsher and more aggressive than usual. This year something new and disturbing was added to the mix: white nationalism. Breitbart chief and former White House strategist Steve Bannon and former White House adviser Sebastian Gorka were both big-name speakers at the summit. Neither is known for his piety, to say the least.
When asked about this association with white supremacist views, the attendees either said they were comfortable with it or simply refused to accept it. The same person who said she believes Trump has a biblical worldview said, "I don’t see them as white nationalists." Another simply denied it all, saying “I’ve never heard them encourage hateful actions. I don’t attribute them to these hate groups.”
One woman knew who to blame for all this white supremacy stuff:
You know what’s emboldened neo-Nazis? Eight years of the previous regime saying "All white people are terrible and you have to pay back for what someone did 200 years ago" and stir up racial stuff.
None of these people had read the blockbuster BuzzFeed exposé about the extensive Breitbart collusion with white supremacists. Or if they had, they were fine with it.
Gorka got sustained applause for telling the audience, "The left has no idea how much more damage we can do to them as private citizens." He got a standing ovation at the end of his talk. He didn't talk about religion. He talked about waging war on the left.
Steve Bannon made his pitch to take over the Republican Party, exhorting the crowd to vote out everyone they've been supporting for years. He shared his unique apocalyptic worldview with a crowd that literally believes in the apocalypse -- and they loved it. Tugging on their traditional values heartstrings in a new way that speaks to their love of Donald Trump and authoritarianism, he attacked Sen. Bob Corker for mocking and ridiculing "a commander in chief when we have kids in the field," conflating Trump with the flag and the troops in a new and dangerous way. (The criticism of the anthem protests as attacks on the troops and their commander runs along similar authoritarian lines.)
Bannon told Donald Trump's white conservative Christian base that liberals are scared of them: “They fear you. And they fear you because they understand you’ve had a belly full and you’re taking your country back."
He didn't have to explain whom they were taking it back from, since everyone present knew exactly who the enemies of God-fearing Real Americans are. It's fair to say that many of them were already members of Bannon's white nationalist posse, blaming Obama for causing all these problems with the you-know-whats and letting those Muslims run rampant with their Sharia law and all. But if anyone there wasn't on board with this "alt-right," neofascist vision for America, they didn't seem disturbed by it in the least. They didn't walk out. They gave Bannon an enthusiastic ovation.
The marriage of the Christian right and authoritarian white nationalism looks like a match made in heaven -- or perhaps in the other place, depending on your perspective. "The Handmaid's Tale" seems less and less implausible every day.
Thanks for the live tweeting by Adele Stan and Right Wing Watch throughout the weekend for many of the details included in this piece.