Wednesday, August 16, 2017



Copyright © 2017 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

President Donald Trump is a racist and a white supremacist. Even the most progressive media are tiptoeing about that clear and obvious fact, of which his bizarre reaction to the August 13 events in Charlottesville, Virginia is only the latest evidence. There was the launch of his Presidential campaign over two years ago — is it that long that we’ve had to deal with his pestilential presence at the center of American politics? — with his now-infamous speech denouncing immigrants from Mexico as criminals, drug dealers and rapists. There was the pledge to ban all Muslims from coming into the U.S. as soon as he could find a constitutional and legal pretext for doing so.
There was Trump’s bizarre insistence that Americans of color aren’t “real” Americans. He stated that Gonzalo Curiel, the judge in the lawsuits against him by people who were scammed by his so-called “Trump University,” was “Mexican” even though he was born in Indiana, and that meant he couldn’t be a fair judge in a case involving Trump. He said Omar Mateen, the alleged shooter of 49 people at a Gay bar in Orlando, Florida on June 13, 2016, was “an Afghan” even though he was born in Queens, New York — just as Trump himself was. (It got even weirder when Trump said the real people to blame for the Orlando massacre were the federal immigration officials who had let Mateen’s Afghan parents into this country.) And of course he spent over five years, from 2011 to 2016, denouncing then-President Barack Obama as a “Kenyan” and saying he didn’t meet the constitutional requirement that the President be “a native-born citizen.”
Trump’s racism and white supremacism were also evident when he insisted, both before and after the election, that millions of “illegal” voters were casting ballots against him — and his repeated statements that he would have won the popular vote against Hillary Clinton if it weren’t for three to five million “illegal” votes. Trump’s racist attitudes were evident when he set up his Voter Integrity Commission, ostensibly to stamp out “election fraud” but really to validate and extend nationwide the long-term agenda of the Republican Party to keep itself in power indefinitely by preventing people likely to vote against it — young people, poor people and especially people of color — from being able to vote at all.
And Trump’s racism and white supremacism were values he was, in the words of Oscar Hammerstein II’s classic song from the 1949 musical South Pacific, “carefully taught” — in his case, by his father, Fred Trump. In 1927 Fred Trump was one of seven people arrested at a Ku Klux Klan Memorial Day rally in Queens, New York. In 1950 he was called out by name by folksinger Woody Guthrie, who had just moved into a Fred Trump-owned building in New York — and then found himself forced to move out again when he learned the Trump Organization systematically discriminated against Blacks in housing rentals. The Trump Organization was sued by the federal government for housing discrimination at least twice, once when Fred Trump was still in charge and once after he had handed over the reins to his son Donald.
So it should have been no surprise when, immediately after Trump’s election, Richard Spencer, a leader of the so-called “alt-Right” — a movement challenging traditional conservatives precisely over their refusal openly to embrace racism and white supremacism — led a rally in Washington, D.C. in which the attendees shouted, “Hail Trump!” and gave the raised-arm Nazi salute. The rally was part of a conference that drew such “alt-Right” luminaries as Spencer, Jared Taylor (who once said the police were justified in racially profiling African-Americans and law-abiding Blacks should just accept it as the price they paid for having so many criminal brethren), and Peter Brimelow. (The event itself and Brimelow’s participation are documented at
Peter Brimelow’s name stuck out to me because I’d encountered him in the 1980’s when he was a contributing editor to the Right-wing magazine National Review — at least before he became too rabidly “alt-Right” even for them. He’d written a series of articles denouncing immigration and calling for drastic cutbacks in documented (so-called “legal”) immigration as well as a hard-line border enforcement policy against undocumented immigrants. In one of his articles, which he later collected into a book called Alien Nation, Brimelow said the U.S. needs to impose severe restrictions on legal immigration to “preserve America’s ethnic mix” — i.e., to keep the U.S. a white-majority country.
Brimelow was one of Trump’s advisors on immigration policy during his Presidential campaign, and on August 2, 2017 ( Trump appeared at a media event with U.S. Senators Tom Cotton (R-AK) and David Perdue (R-GA) to announce support for a bill that would drastically reshape America’s immigration policy in ways similar to those Brimelow had called for 30 years earlier.
In addition to shrinking the total number of green cards issued each year from 1 million to 500,000, the Trump-Cotton-Perdue-Brimelow immigration plan would shift from an immigration policy based on family unification to a so-called “merit-based” one in which prospective immigrants would be allotted preferences based on education levels, career skills and ability to speak English. It would also cap the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. at 50,000 and also eliminate a “visa lottery” that awarded 50,000 green cards per year, mostly to Africans.
Though events move so quickly during the Trump administration that that immigration policy announcement has been virtually forgotten, it’s significant as one of the most obvious ways in which Trump and his alt-Right brethren have sought to put their ideas into practice as public policy. Though alt-Rightists like Spencer and former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke have carefully avoided claiming Trump as one of their own — for one thing, Spencer said after Charlottesville, Trump does not believe in “identitarianism,” the loony-tunes belief of the so-called “Christian Identity” churches that Jesus Christ was Aryan and the Aryans, not the Jews, are God’s chosen people — they have hailed him as an “American nationalist” and a leader who will bring new publicity and new adherents to their ideas.

Spencer’s Latest Hatestock

It was Richard Spencer, mastermind of the neo-Nazi rally celebrating Trump’s election back in November 2016, who also was the principal organizer of the Hatestock in Charlottesville. He issued the call under the name “Unite the Right,” obviously hoping that more traditional conservatives could be lured to march with him and accept his Darth Vader-like invitation to move over to the Dark Side of the Right. The ostensible purpose of his rally was to protest the decision by the Charlottesville city government to take down a statue of General Robert E. Lee, commander in chief of the Confederate armies during the Civil War and thereby the leader of the military campaign to preserve slavery, from a city park and remove Lee’s name from the park, renaming it “Emancipation Park.”
The Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally drew the typical sorts of people who show up for these things, a batch of young and some not-so-young white men (if there were any women involved I haven’t seen them in the TV clips, but then America’s neo-Nazis reproduce the original Nazis’ sexism as faithfully as they reproduce their racism). Some of them looked robust and reasonably attractive, but most were such twerps that I suspect if Leni Riefenstahl, director of the original Nazis’ infamous propaganda film Triumph of the Will, had seen them, she’d have thrown up her hands in despair and said, “I’m supposed to make them look like a master race?”
Later President Trump would say that most of the people who showed up for the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville weren’t neo-Nazis or racists but simply people defending the statue of Robert E. Lee against historical revisionism. But anyone who showed up for the event with that relatively benign an idea of its agenda should have been disabused quickly. In addition to a smattering of U.S. flags, the participants carried Confederate flags, Nazi German flags and banners containing the “Vanguard” logo and other insignia of American neo-Nazi and skinhead groups. They marched with cheap tiki torches in a pathetic D.I.Y. attempt to mimic the dramatic torchlight processions of the original Nazis Riefenstahl had so powerfully filmed in Triumph of the Will. What’s more, the attitude of the participants in “Unite the Right” wasn’t that of a bunch of peaceful protesters out merely to petition their city government to keep Robert Lee’s statue and name in that park. Many of them came armed, and it’s clear from the video footage that even those who didn’t were spoiling for a fight, anxious to draw out Left-wing counter-protesters whom they could bully and assault.
And, tragically, progressives, Leftists and just plain decent Americans took their bait. If there’s one lesson I hope the Left comes away with from Charlottesville, it’s that we need to rethink the ways in which we respond to and confront the hate-filled calls of Richard Spencer and other alt-Rightists. Next time Spencer calls one of his Hatestocks, I’d like the Left either to ignore him completely — let his event drown in an under-attended wake of idiots spouting rhetoric whose insanity is equaled only by its inanity — or organize, not a counter-demonstration at the site of the alt-Right action, but an event of our own at a different venue in the same community. The energies of progressives and Leftists in Charlottesville would better have been spent organizing a giant teach-in with speakers hailing the virtues of racial equality and diversity, and offering some badly needed history lessons in what the Civil War was really about and why Robert E. Lee is not a fit person to be honored anywhere in the U.S. in 2017.
Instead, the Left took to the streets and gave Spencer’s alt-Rightists exactly what they wanted — an enemy they could confront, yell at, swing blunt instruments at and, in one tragic incident, run down and kill with a car. A 20-year-old “Unite the Right” participant named James Alex Fields, Jr. is accused of turning his car into a crowd of anti-Right protesters in Charlottesville, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others. The alleged assailant was driving a Dodge Challenger — itself an iconic car for U.S. Confederate sympathizers thanks to its appearance on the 1980’s TV series The Dukes of Hazzard, whose lead characters not only drove a Dodge Challenger but painted it in Confederate colors and actually called it the “General Lee”!
Heather Heyer became one of those people you’ve never heard of until after their death but who seems so nice, warm, loving and committed to noble ideals you wish you’d have had the chance to meet her. Her mother appeared on TV with a grief-ridden statement so moving even President Trump found words to praise it, saying essentially that the last thing Heather would have wanted was for her death to bring more hate into the world, and calling on the people of America to sow love where there is hate and honor her daughter by healing and bridging the gaps between races.

The [N]ever-Changing Trump

And what did President Donald Trump have to say about Charlottesville? Therein hangs a tale. He first spoke about it on August 13, when the bodies were almost literally still warm. He read from a prepared text and said, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence.” So far, so good, you might say — but then Trump went off script and added, “On many sides — on many sides,” seemingly equating the neo-Nazis and neo-Confederates who had taken to the streets in Charlottesville to spew racial hatred, bigotry and white supremacy with the courageous, if arguably ill-advised, progressive, Leftists and decent Americans who had put their own lives on the line (and, in one case, lost hers) to stand against them.
Trump’s odd remarks drew a firestorm of criticism not only from the people you’d expect — Democratic Congressmembers and leaders of civil-liberties and civil-rights organizations — but from some you wouldn’t. Perhaps the most moving denunciation of Trump came from Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who tweeted, “We should call evil by its name. My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.”
Lindsey Graham, another Republican Senator — and one from the birthplace of the Confederacy, South Carolina — said, “These [‘alt-Right’] groups seem to believe they have a friend in Donald Trump in the White House. I don’t know why they believe that, but they don’t see me as a friend in the Senate, and I would urge the president to dissuade these groups that he’s their friend.”
Two days after his initial comments, on Monday, August 15, Trump appeared to backtrack from his initial statement blaming “many sides” for the violence in Charlottesville. “Racism is evil and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists,” he said that time. But he read it off a Teleprompter and said it in such a flat, affect-less way a lot of Americans wondered if he really meant it. Actor Bryan Cranston joked that Trump looked like he was “making a hostage tape” in that video — i.e., reading a statement he didn’t believe in because he was being held captive and forced to do so under the threat of torture.
Just one day later, on Tuesday, August 16, Trump gave a wild and woolly press conference outside his Trump Tower building in New York City in which he made clear he didn’t believe the hostage tape he’d made the day before. In addition to lashing out again and again at some of his favorite targets, including the “fake news” media and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) — who had had to make actual hostage tapes during his 5 ½ years in captivity as a prisoner of war in North Viet Nam (and who famously blinked his eyes in Morse Code to let the world know what he really believed as opposed to what his captors were making him say) — he backtracked on his backtrack and once again let the world see his racist, white supremacist id.
Trump began his August 16 press conference by saying he hadn’t made a full statement about Charlottesville until the previous day because he was still trying to make sure what the facts were so his statement would be accurate. That in itself was pretty hilarious given how free-wheeling he’s been with accusations against his real or perceived political enemies. As Stephen Colbert joked that night on his talk show, “‘I wait for the facts,’ okay? Just ask the millions of illegal voters who refused to look for Obama's birth certificate during my record-breaking inauguration, okay? It's all on the Obama wiretaps.”
Then it got worse. Trump wouldn’t refer to the murder of Heather Heyer as an act of terrorism, even though he’d been scathing during his campaign against Obama and Hillary Clinton for refusing to call attacks committed by Muslims “radical Islamic terrorism.” He insisted that the anti-Right protesters in Charlottesville had included people he called “alt-Left,” anarchist “Black Bloc” members who, Trump said, actually started the violence. “What about the fact they came charging, that they came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs?” Trump said. “Do they have any problem? I think they do. … [Y]ou had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. And nobody wants to say that, but I’ll say it right now. You had a group on the other side that came charging in, without a permit, and they were very, very violent.”
Frankly, as a progressive American committed to values of economic and social equality, civil liberties and racial justice, I’ve long wished the “Black Bloc” would just go away. I’ve had long conversations with thoughtful anarchists who on occasion have gone in “Black Bloc” drag and participated in demonstrations, but done so responsibly and non-violently. But I have nothing but contempt for the “Black Bloc” activists in Berkeley and elsewhere who have raised chants like, “No free speech for racists!” and threatened violence at such intense levels that Right-wing speakers like Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos have been prevented from speaking. Not only is this morally wrong — the way to answer hate speech is with just speech, not to shut down the hate speakers — it’s also politically dumb. It allows the Right to portray themselves as innocent victims being shouted down by all those big, bad, horrible Leftists.
But that’s not what happened in Charlottesville. It was the Right who came spoiling for a confrontation. It was the Right who came armed, not with clubs but with guns. It was the Right who drew blood. And they did so not in the name of a reasoned ideology — not even in the name of the modern-day American Republican Party’s platform of lassiez-faire Libertarianism in the economy and a Big Brother-ish government micro-managing people’s social lives in general and their sex lives in particular — but under banners originally raised in defense of slavery and genocide.
And once again, America’s mainstream Right joined its progressive Left in protest against Trump’s seeming endorsement of “alt-Rightists” and their cause. “To understand the significance of Trump’s words, you have to understand a bit about the alt-Right,” said National Review contributor David French. “While its members certainly march with Nazis and make common cause with neo-Confederates, it views itself as something different. They’re the ‘intellectual’ adherents to white identity politics. They believe their movement is substantially different and more serious than the Klansmen of days past. When Trump carves them away from the Nazis and distinguishes them from the neo-Confederates, he’s doing exactly what they want. He’s making them respectable. He’s making them different. But ‘very fine people’ don’t march with tiki torches chanting ‘blood and soil’ or ‘Jews will not replace us.’”
In 1964, when the Ku Klux Klan offered Republican Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater their endorsement, largely because of his vote as a U.S. Senator against the landmark Civil Rights Act that year, Goldwater forthrightly and angrily said that he wanted no part of the Klan or their support. By contrast, when former Klan Grand Wizard David Duke endorsed Trump in 2016, Trump gave at best a tepid criticism of him and continued to nudge-nudge, wink-wink towards him and the rest of the racist, white-supremacist Right the way he did on August 15 with his most recent remarks on Charlottesville. And Duke repaid Trump’s tacit support with active praise, sending out a tweet which read, “Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa.” [BLM stands for “Black Lives Matter” and “Antifa” is a loose-knit coalition of Left-wing anarchists who stage demonstrations against Right-wing groups and events they consider fascist.]

Being Trump Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

One of the most eternally fascinating things about Donald Trump is his utter unwillingness ever to admit he has been wrong or even made a mistake about anything. In the July 25, 2016 issue of The New Yorker (, Tony Schwartz, ghost writer of Trump’s best-selling “autobiography” The Art of the Deal, said of Trump, “Lying is second nature to him. More than anyone else I have ever met, Trump has the ability to convince himself that whatever he is saying at any given moment is true, or sort of true, or at least ought to be true.”
That’s why absolutely none of the attempts by people who had Trump’s ear — or thought they did — to restrain him, to counter his worst impulses, to turn the energy and drive that are his most obvious positive qualities towards good things for the nation, or even good things for the Republican Party and the economic Libertarian/social conservative agenda for which it stands, have failed, The Washington Post just reported ( that retired General John Kelly, who just moved over from being Secretary of Homeland Security to chief of Trump’s White House staff, has become the latest appointee frustrated by his inability to corral Trump and steer him away from his worst impulses.
According to Post reporters Ashley Parker and Robert Costa, Trump’s moral equivocation about Charlottesville “left Kelly deeply frustrated and dismayed just over two weeks into his job, said people familiar with his thinking. The episode also underscored the difficult challenges that even a four-star general faces in instilling a sense of order around Trump, whose first instinct when cornered is to lash out, even self-destructively.”
But John Kelly is still working for President Trump. So is Gary Cohn, Trump’s economic adviser, who had to listen to Trump’s tirade on Charlottesville up close on August 16 and, as a Jew, felt incredibly uncomfortable with his boss’s tacit endorsement of neo-Nazis. “Those close to Cohn described him as ‘disgusted’ and ‘frantically unhappy,’ although he did not threaten to resign,” Post reporters Parker and Costa wrote in the above-cited article. “But Trump felt vindicated after the remarks, said people familiar with his thinking. He believes that his base agrees with his assertion that both sides are guilty of violence and that the nation risks sliding into a cauldron of political correctness.” 
One of my hopes that Trump’s Presidency wouldn’t be as bad as he’d made it sound like it was going to be during his campaign was the belief that somehow or other, fellow members of America’s ultra-rich elite would be able to talk sense into him. Surely, I thought, when Trump tried to do anything particularly damaging to the economy, some of his fellow 0.01-percenters would reach out to him and say, “You realize how much money this is going to cost us? You realize how much money this is going to cost you?” But so far it hasn’t worked out that way; despite the consensus among quite a few American CEO’s — even those running fossil-fuel companies — that America should stay in the Paris climate agreement, Trump pulled us out of it with a grandiose pseudo-populist statement that he was elected “to represent Pittsburgh, not Paris.”
The latest failure of Trump’s corporate brethren to corral him started on Tuesday when Ken Frazier, CEO of Merck, abruptly stepped down from one of the advisory groups Trump had set up to get CEO’s involved in his administration. Though one of the groups hadn’t met at all and the other had been little more than an opportunity for photo ops, Frazier, who is Black, announced he could no longer serve on Trump’s Manufacturing Jobs Initiative after Trump’s Charlottesville comments. Trump lashed out at Frazier, saying that the CEO of Merck should be working harder at lowering drug prices than criticizing him. Significantly, he did not similarly attack the next two CEO’s who got off the Initiative, those from Intel and Under Armour, who happened to be white.
Within the next two days, CEO’s on the Manufacturing Jobs Initiative and Trump’s other business advisory group, the Strategic and Policy Forum, were conference-calling each other debating whether they should all resign from those groups en masse or go even further and call for the groups to be disbanded. Somehow, Trump got word of this and responded by sending out a tweet unilaterally abolishing both groups himself. Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum, I am ending both,” Trump tweeted. “Thank you all!” The President of the United States sounded for all the world like a grade-school kid who, not liking the way the other children were playing with his football, decided to take it and go home.
The message is coming through loud and clear: Donald Trump doesn’t care what you think of him. Donald Trump doesn’t care what anybody thinks of him. As long as he can count on a hard core of support in the South and the Rust Belt — the core that elected him President in the first place even though he lost the popular vote — he is convinced he can win re-election in 2020 as a minority president just as he got elected in 2016 as a minority president. And even though Trump’s actual policies, including a health care bill that would have eviscerated Medicaid, slashed funding for substance-abuse treatment and thrown between 16 and 32 millions of Americans out of access to health insurance, and a so-called “tax reform” likely to benefit only the rich, hurt his base voters, they nonetheless are staying with him.
They’re staying with him less because of anything he does than the attitude he projects. Donald Trump has won the undying affection of a great swath of American voters by standing up for the attitude that America is, always was and always will be a nation run of, by and for white, straight, cisgender males who own guns, eat meat and get their energy from “manly” digging or drilling for fossil fuels, not from “feminine” sources like solar or wind. To Trump’s voters, the ideas that whites are superior to people of color, men superior to women, straights superior to Queers, and Transgender people are “confused” and therefore don’t belong in the military are utter, unimpeachable truths, beyond debate and questioned only by malevolent losers who want to ruin America.
The United States is facing the same crossroads Russia faced in 1917 (and again in 2000), Italy in 1922, Germany in 1933, China in 1949, Cuba in 1959 and Venezuela in 1999. A dictatorial leader with a fanatical minority following has taken over this country and is running it basically the way he pleases, essentially ruling by decree and ignoring the prerogatives of an elected legislature and a supposedly independent judiciary. The tide that swept him into office has largely nullified the constitutional checks and balances that were supposed to keep the leader from amassing personal power and using it however he sees fit. He is keeping himself in power largely by assuring the continued loyalty and fanaticism of his base, which he does basically by telling them over and over again that they are “winners” and everyone who opposes him is a “loser” and therefore not worth bothering with.
Donald Trump has the potential to destroy American democracy. A United States firmly under his one-man rule (which, thank goodness, it isn’t yet!) would be one in which elections would still happen — as they did in the Soviet Union throughout its existence — but their outcomes would be predetermined, and therefore meaningless. A Trump dictatorship would be one like Stalin’s, in which even his closest associates would continually have to watch their backs to make sure they were flattering the boss enough to reassure him of their “loyalty” — one of Trump’s favorite words, though in his definition a one-way street in which he is supposed to receive loyalty but is under no obligation to give it.
    It is not foreordained that the United States of America will remain under Donald Trump’s one-man rule forever, or at least until he croaks and his designated successor takes over. (One wonders how his friends in the neo-Nazi movement feel about the rather obvious fact that Trump’s designated successor, at least as far as we can deduce by the wide range of responsibilities he has already given him, is his Jewish son-in-law, Jared Kushner.) What is clear is that the forces, if any, that will derail Trump’s ambitions do not yet exist, and a very careful strategy involving both electoral involvements and mobilizations outside the system will be needed to bring a successful anti-Trump resistance into being.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Miss V from Moscow


Copyright © 2017 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

You’ve probably never heard of the 1942 film Miss V from Moscow, and there’s no particular reason why you should have. It was a 66-minute cheapie, made at the PRC studio, whose initials officially stood for “Producers’ Releasing Corporation” but whose movies, with a few inspired exceptions, were generally so bad Hollywood wags started calling them “Pretty Rotten Crap.” Miss V from Moscow is a World War II story that deals with a Russian agent (Lola Lane) who because of her striking resemblance to a well-known woman Nazi the French Resistance has just killed, is sent to Paris to impersonate the Nazi, infiltrate the German occupation command and get secret information the Allies can use. If you’re curious about this so-bad-it’s-good camp classic, you can download or stream it at
But I couldn’t help thinking of this lousy little movie when it turned out that over a year ago, Donald Trump, Jr., his brother-in-law Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort, then managing Donald Trump, Sr.’s Presidential campaign, had a meeting at Trump Tower in New York City with a real Miss V from Moscow. Her name was Natalia Veselnitskaya, and the meeting took place on June 9, 2016, exactly 13 months to the day before the New York Times first published an account of it. Originally Trump, Jr. said the meeting was held merely to discuss ways to facilitate American couples’ adoptions of Russian babies. Then things started to get weird, as they often do with stories about Trump and his family.
It turned out that the meeting had been brokered by a wealthy Russian real-estate developer (which already gives him an important commonality with Donald Trump!) named Aras Agalarov. The Trumps knew Aras and his son, Emin Agalarov, who was trying for a career as an international pop singer and, like Madonna and Prince, elected to go by only his first name. Emin had, in fact, got Trump, Sr. to appear in one of his videos, opening it with a parody of his role on the “reality” TV series The Apprentice. The meeting was actually set up by Rob Goldstone, a native of Great Britain who was working as Emin’s publicist, and he told Trump, Jr. that the “Crown Prosecutor” of Russia (an odd turn of phrase because that’s what the British call their equivalent of the U.S. Attorney General but the Russians, who haven’t had a monarch since 1917, call theirs the “State Prosecutor”) was sending them a representative who would give the Trump campaign damaging information about his likely general-election opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton.
On July 11, Trump, Jr., aware that the New York Times was about to publish them anyway, revealed the e-mails that had set up his meeting with Miss V from Moscow in a series of feeds on his dad’s favorite communications medium, Twitter. The e-mails started with one from Rob Goldstone, who boasted that the Russian state prosecutor had met with Aras Agalarov and “offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.” Goldstone added that this would be “obviously very high-level and sensitive information, but [it] is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
Later Goldstone sent Trump, Jr. another e-mail referring to Miss V from Moscow as a “Russian government attorney” and offering to schedule a meeting between them. Trump’s response made it clear he thought the meeting would be with someone from the Russian government and its purpose would be to give him, his dad and his dad’s campaign damaging information about Hillary Clinton. What’s more, he could barely contain his enthusiasm at the prospect. “If it’s what you say, I love it,” Trump, Jr. wrote, adding that his only wish was that the information would come to them later in the campaign, when its release would be even more devastating to Clinton and her prospects.
Alas, if Trump, Jr. was hoping for a treasure trove of damning information about Hillary Clinton, he was sorely disappointed. It turned out that Miss V from Moscow is a Russian government lobbyist, and since 2012 has been assigned to get the U.S. to repeal the Magnitsky Act. In 2009 a Russian attorney named Sergei Magnitsky was hired by an American investor to find out why the Russian government had suddenly turned against him and wanted to seize his businesses and throw him out of Russia. Magnitsky investigated and uncovered a massive tax fraud involving Russian officials, including people close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Then the Russians arrested him, and while in custody over the next year he was beaten, tortured and ultimately killed.
The U.S. Congress responded with a law whose full name was the Russia and Moldova Jackson-Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012. It passed the U.S. House of Representatives in November 2012 and passed the U.S. Senate and was signed into law by then-President Barack Obama in December. According to the Wikipedia page on the Magnitsky Act, “The main intention of the law was to punish Russian officials who were thought to be responsible for the death of Sergei Magnitsky by prohibiting their entrance to the United States and their use of its banking system.” In April 2013 the Obama administration published a list of 18 specific Russian officials suspected of being involved in Magnitsky’s torture and murder, and therefore covered by the Act.
Vladimir Putin’s government went ballistic over the Magnitsky Act. Not only did he hire American lobbyist Kenneth Duberstein to persuade the U.S. Congress to repeal it, he also pushed a law through his own legislature, the Duma, forbidding U.S. couples from adopting Russian children as long as the Magnitsky Act was in effect. He’s since added bills to prevent U.S. citizens from working with non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) in Russia to challenge Russia’s human rights record, and to prevent any foreigner from appearing on Russian television “if they discredited the state,” but the adoption issue is apparently the lure with which Putin and his government hope to “hook” the Americans into getting rid of that pesky Magnitsky Act.
The logical conclusion from what we know about the June 9 meeting is that Miss V from Moscow, a private attorney hired by the Russian government to work on getting the U.S. to get rid of the Magnitsky Act, and a whole bunch of other Russians whose identities only dribbled out later over the next two weeks after the New York Times first broke the story that the meeting had happened, met with Trump, Jr., Kushner and Manafort at the Trump Tower. Trump, Jr. came to the meeting expecting dirt on Hillary Clinton; instead he got a presentation from Miss V and, presumably, the other Russians in the room — including Russian lobbyist and former military officer Rinat Akhmetshin and Irakly “Ike” Kavaladze, senior vice president at Aras Agalarov’s investment company and accused money launderer of more than $1.4 billion for various Russian individuals and corporations — pleading with him to get a commitment from his dad to get rid of the Magnitsky Act so, among other things, American couples could adopt Russian kids again.

Since July 22: Ancient History

It’s a measure of how fast things move in TrumpAmerica that the above seems like ancient history even though I wrote it on July 22, when it seemed like the controversy over Donald Trump, Jr.’s (and Jared Kushner’s, and Paul Manafort’s) meeting with Miss V from Moscow (and so many other Russians that CNN’s estimate of the total number of people swelled to eight, and one TV host joked that if there were any Russians who were in New York City on June 9, 2016 who hadn’t been at the Trump Tower meeting, he’d like to know about it) was going to dominate the news for a while. Since then, as I pointed out in my last post about President Trump, he’s been able, like the master media juggler he is, to keep so many balls in the air it seemed like the meeting with Miss V from Moscow —which a lot of Trump adversaries were hoping would provide the first hard evidence of collision between Trump’s associates and Russia to rig the 2016 election in Trump’s favor — would be forgotten.
There was the Republican health care bill in the U.S. Senate, the “repeal and replace” of the Affordable Care Act (which I’m trying to avoid referring to by the pejorative term “Obamacare”), which failed. There was the next Republican health care bill in the Senate, the “repeal and don’t replace” — or, at least, “repeal and give us two more years to come up with a replacement even though we haven’t done that in the seven years we’ve been screaming about ‘Obamacare’” — which failed. There was the third Republican Senate health care bill, the so-called “skinny repeal,” which even the people proposing it acknowledged was bad public policy, which also failed.
There was Trump’s sudden series of tweets announcing that he was going to ban Transgender people from serving in the U.S. military — which he said he had issued after seeking the advice of “my Generals” (capitalization his, not mine). One general in particular — James Mattis, the Secretary of Defense — said he’d been blindsided by the announcement and hadn’t received an executive order, a Presidential directive or any of the other documents by which Presidents tell the military they want something done. There were the series of quasi-fascistic rallies Trump held, commandeering a Boy Scout Jamboree in West Virginia and a law enforcement officers’ meeting in Suffolk County, Long Island, New York to push his political agenda and, at the Long Island event, actually advocate and call on officers to commit police brutality.
There was the now-you-see-him, now-you-don’t hiring and firing of Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci as White House communications director. Stephen Colbert has even made Scaramucci’s 10-day tenure a unit of measuring time; when Trump went to his Bedminster, New Jersey golf course for 17 days of what Trump billed as “a working vacation,” Colbert joked, “That’s 1.7 Scaramuccis.” There was the hiring of General John Kelly, most recently Trump’s Secretary of Homeland Security, as the new White House Chief of Staff, and Kelly’s driving out Scaramucci the way Scaramucci drove out the previous White House Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus, and the previous White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer — leading some commentators to make the sorts of “circular firing squad” jokes about the Trump White House that are usually made about Leftists.
And there’s Trump’s implacable pushing of an anti-worker, anti-immigrant, anti-environment agenda through all the apparent (and, I would argue, largely illusory) chaos surrounding his administration. Greg Kaufmann recently reported on The Nation’s Web site,, on four little-discussed issues on which Trump abruptly reversed Obama administration decisions protecting the environment (a ban on neurotoxic pesticides and a delay on regulations to strengthen safety regulations on chemical factories), teenage women (the abrupt defunding of studies on how to keep them from getting pregnant) and immigrants (a threat to end the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program that protected underage children brought into the U.S. by their parents from being deported).
“Trump is losing many of his high-profile fights,” Kaufmann acknowledged in his Nation article. “But in dozens of less-noticed ways, his administration is advancing its extreme agenda that exacerbates political and economic inequality. As much of the media remains fixated on the Russia story and the Great Trump Dysfunction, journalists and advocates will need to work harder than ever to make sure the damaging daily actions of this administration aren’t ignored.” And the actions Kaufmann cited aren’t the only ones. There’s Trump’s appointment of his so-called “Elections Integrity Panel” to put into effect the Republican Party’s blueprint for staying in power indefinitely by keeping people who wouldn’t vote for it from being able to vote at all — and the chilling demand its vice-chair, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, made to all secretaries of state to provide them the names, addresses, partial Social Security numbers, military and criminal records, and voting histories of every registered voter in America — and the masses of people in Colorado, one of the states going along with these demands, who are telling state officials to take them off the voter rolls, making the Hobson’s choice the Trump administration is demanding to protect their personal privacy over their political rights.
There are also the chilling actions Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III (whose name is a living family memorial to the wrong side in the Civil War, the one whose so-called “heroes” fought to keep African-Americans enslaved forever) is taking to get himself back in the good graces of Trump, who soured on Sessions when he recused himself from running the Trump-Russia investigation and thereby failed to protect Trump from being investigated at all. There’s Sessions’ revival of the failed “War on Drugs” from the 1980’s, which led to the mass incarceration of African-Americans and other people of color; his continued attacks on immigrants’ rights; his revival of the use of private prisons by the federal government after Obama and his Department of Justice put an end to that disgusting practice; and most recently his all-out war on leakers, whom he regards as spies punishable under the draconian provisions of the 1917 Espionage Act. So far he hasn’t threatened to prosecute the journalists and news organizations that publish stories based on leaks, but he hasn’t definitively said he won’t, either.
And, most ominously, there’s Trump’s obvious desire to get the U.S. into a state of total war. He doesn’t really seem to care which of the two most obvious adversaries, North Korea or Iran, the war is against. On August 6 Doyle McManus published a column in the Los Angeles Times,, noting that Trump is determined to fulfill his campaign promise to tear up the international agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear program. After noting that Trump has until October to tell Congress whether, in his judgment, the Iranians are in compliance with the deal, McManus quoted a Wall Street Journal interview in which Trump said, “If it was up to me, I would have had them noncompliant 180 days ago. [Next time] I do not expect that they will be compliant.”
It sounds like the famous scene in the Marx Brothers’ 1933 film Duck Soup in which Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx), dictator of Fredonia, is about to conclude a peace deal with Ambassador Trentino (Louis Calhern) of his country’s historic rival, Sylvania. Only Firefly gets so worked up at the possibility that Trentino will embarrass him by refusing to shake his hand in front of the Fredonian people that when Trentino finally shows up, without giving him the chance to do anything, Firefly says, “So you won’t shake my hand, eh?” Then he slaps Trentino across the face and says, “This means war!”
More recently, in a war of nerves with North Korea that probably has the rest of the world quaking with fear over the prospect of two nuclear-armed countries with crazy leaders fighting a war with each other, North Korea threatened to retaliate against the U.S. over sanctions against it approved unanimously by the United Nations Security Council — including North Korea’s two main allies, China and Russia — with attacks on the U.S. According to the New York Times (, Trump told reporters visiting him at Bedminster, “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He [North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un] has been very threatening beyond a normal state and as I said they will be met with fire and fury, and, frankly, power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”
I think President Trump is well aware of what happened to the most recent previous Republican President, George W. Bush, when the U.S. found itself at war. On September 10, 2001, Bush’s Presidency looked almost as “beleaguered” as Trump’s does now. True, he’d been able to get two major pieces of legislation through Congress, a tax cut and the “No Child Left Behind” education law — which is two more than Trump has been able to do — but otherwise his agenda was stalled. He’d even lost his partisan majority in the Senate when Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords became an independent and caucused with the Democrats. The consensus among Washington’s pundits was that Bush, Jr. would be a one-term president like his dad. Then 19 terrorist goons affiliated with al-Qaeda flew airplanes into the New York World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
All of a sudden, with the U.S. under attack, the nation rallied around Bush, his poll numbers soared into the stratosphere, Congress did whatever he wanted it to — including the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the passage of the blatantly repressive USA PATRIOT Act, and authorization for what turned out to be a pointless and counterproductive war against Iraq, which didn’t have weapons of mass destruction and had had nothing to do with 9/11 — and he cruised to an easy re-election in 2004. Trump knows that recent history. He also knows that the best way to quell dissent in a restive domestic population is to do what the dying Henry IV tells his son and heir, Prince Hal, in Shakespeare’s play Henry IV, Part 2: “busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels.”
A big war — the bigger, and the costlier in terms of human treasure as well as human lives, the better — would solve virtually all of Trump’s political problems. In the trauma following a North Korean nuclear attack on the U.S. mainland — even a failed one — Trump could, like Bush, seek new and extensive legislation against dissenters and media and move the U.S. ever closer to a police state. He could do what I suspect he’s always wanted to do — get Congress to suspend the Constitution and rule by decree, essentially becoming a dictator without having to put up with any of this nonsense about separation of powers, freedom of speech and press, or civil rights. He could rip up what’s left of the welfare state by saying the money is needed to fund the war.
And a recent remark in an interview on ABC’s This Week (53 seconds in at by Trump spokesperson Kellyanne Conway suggests this is precisely what the increasingly restive voters in Trump’s base are waiting for. Asked why Trump’s popularity is starting to go down even among the white, less educated voters who powered him to victory, Conway said, “They are telling him, ‘Just enact your program. Don’t worry about a Congress that isn’t supporting legislation to get big-ticket items done, and don’t worry about all the distractions and diversions and discouragement that others who are still trying to throw logs in your path are throwing your way. Focus on the agenda.’ And he’s doing that.” In other words, damn the Congress, damn the media, damn the Constitution — just enact your program: full speed ahead towards a TrumpAmerica dictatorship!

Miss V’s Comeback

So it was surprising, to say the least, when in the middle of all this maelstrom of news events created by the ever-industrious elves (though, given the malevolence of most of the actions they’re taking, “orcs” might be a more appropriate name) in the Trump White House, Miss V from Moscow and her starring role at the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and an apparent cast of Russian thousands made a comeback. It happened at the end of July, when hints started to emerge that that first false statement about the June 9, 2016 meeting, in which Donald Trump, Jr. said all he and Miss V from Moscow had been discussing was facilitating the adoption of Russian children by American couples, had been reviewed and influenced by … Donald Trump, Sr.
On July 31 the Washington Post broke a story ( that claimed Trump, Sr. didn’t just review and influence his son’s statement: he actually wrote it. The story came out right after the G-20 summit, at which Trump, Sr. had met his apparent idol and role model, Russian President Vladimir Putin, for the first time. “On the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Germany last month, President Trump’s advisers discussed how to respond to a new revelation that Trump’s oldest son had met with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign — a disclosure the advisers knew carried political and potentially legal peril,” wrote the Post’s gang of four reporters on the story: Ashley ParkerCarol D. LeonnigPhilip Rucker and Tom Hamburger
“The strategy, the advisers agreed, should be for Donald Trump Jr. to release a statement to get ahead of the story,” the Post’s article said. “They wanted to be truthful, so their account couldn’t be repudiated later if the full details emerged. But within hours, at the president’s direction, the plan changed. Flying home from Germany on July 8 aboard Air Force One, Trump personally dictated a statement in which Trump Jr. said that he and the Russian lawyer had ‘primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children’ when they met in June 2016, according to multiple people with knowledge of the deliberations. The statement, issued to the New York Times as it prepared an article, emphasized that the subject of the meeting was ‘not a campaign issue at the time.’ The claims were later shown to be misleading.
Within a few days of Trump, Sr.’s ghostwritten statement in Trump, Jr.’s name, Trump, Jr. had released a thread of e-mails basically telling the story of how the meeting occurred ( In the call for the meeting, the person who set it up, British music publicist Rob Goldstone, actually told Trump, Jr. that the person he was going to me, Natalia “Miss V from Moscow” Veselnitskaya, had “offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.”
“If it’s what you say, I love it!” Trump, Jr. e-mailed back, though he added that anti-Hillary information would be even more useful closer to the election, in September or October, than in June. There’s no evidence so far that Miss V from Moscow or any of the other multitudinous Russians present actually did offer Trump, Jr., Trump, Sr.’s son-in-law or Trump, Sr.’s then-campaign manager any actual damaging information on Hillary Clinton.
There’s also some truth in Trump, Sr.’s statement that his campaign already had all the derogatory anti-Clinton information they could use and didn’t need any more from the Russians. After all, as Right-wing hatchet man turned Hillary Clinton super-PAC director David Brock noted in his book Blinded by the Right, in 1993 Right-wing billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife had underwritten something called “The Arkansas Project,” which involved sending operatives to Arkansas with scads of Scaife’s money they were willing to give to anyone who had derogatory information on Bill and Hillary Clinton.
A lot of people showed up to claim their share of Scaife’s anti-Clinton funds. Most of them didn’t actually know any derogatory information about Bill and Hillary Clinton, but that wasn’t a problem. They just made stuff up, and much of what they made up has become part of the Hillary Clinton Black Legend to this day and got dredged up when she ran for President in her own right in 2008 and again in 2016. To America’s radical Right, the Arkansas Project is the gift that keeps on giving; no doubt the lies it bribed people to tell about the Clinton family will get dug up and plastered once again, this time over Chelsea Clinton if she ever dares to run for office.
Getting back to the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting, Miss V from Moscow and the other Russian officials there apparently royally disappointed Donald Trump’s son and son-in-law because all they wanted to talk about was adoption. Remember that to Miss V from Moscow, Vladimir Putin’s designated lobbyist to get the U.S. Congress to repeal the Magnitsky Act, “adoption” is code for “giving immunity to Russian law enforcement officials who torture and murder political dissidents and inconvenient investigators.”
So it was even more astonishing that when Trump finally acknowledged that he’d had a second, semi-private meeting with Putin at the G-20 summit in addition to the public one everyone knew about (and Trump, with his apparent allergy towards being honest about anything, said had lasted only 15 minutes even though the people who witnessed it said it went on for an hour), he said that all he and Putin had talked about for that 15-minute hour was, you guessed it, “adoption.”
Actually, it’s not all that clear that President Trump would disapprove of the way Russian police beat, tortured and ultimately killed dissident Sergei Magnitsky. Not only did Trump openly encourage people at his campaign rallies to beat up hecklers and protesters, and offer to fund their legal defense if they were arrested, he promised as a candidate to keep Guantánamo open and subject terror suspects to waterboarding and “worse.”
What’s more, his recent remarks to American law-enforcement officials on how they should treat the people they arrest (who, according to one of those pesky old-fashioned American principles called the “presumption of innocence,” are assumed to be innocent until proven guilty) — “When you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over? Like, don’t hit their head, and they just killed somebody — don’t hit their head. I said, you can take the hand away, O.K.?” — all too strongly hints that Trump and Magnitsky’s torturers and murderers are brothers under the skin.
Meanwhile, even under the glare of a potential confrontation between Trump and Kim Jong Un — two crazy leaders of nuclear-armed states with hair-trigger tempers and bad hairdos — and the possibility of a Trumpmageddon, that pesky Russia investigation won’t go again. On August 9 the Washington Post published two articles about a raid just before dawn on July 26 at the home of Paul Manafort, Trump’s ex-campaign manager and former political consultant for a pro-Russian presidential candidate in Ukraine. One story, at, was a straightforward news piece about the raid.
The other, at, is an “analysis” by Post writer Amber Phillips. One of the four reasons she cites for why federal investigators would be so interested in Manafort is, “He was in that meeting,” referring to June 9, 2016 at Trump Tower. “When Donald Trump, Jr. was told the Russian government was trying to help his father win, and oh by the way, do you want to meet with a Russian lawyer who has dirt on Hillary Clinton, Trump, Jr. didn’t go alone. He brought along Manafort and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law. It appears Manafort took detailed notes of that meeting, and those notes could be key evidence if there are any collusion-related charges.”
Phillips quotes Jeffrey Jacobovitz, a white-collar attorney who represented officials in Bill Clinton’s administration, as saying that meeting between Manafort, Trump, Jr., Kushner, Miss V from Moscow and various other Russians is “as close as you can get to a smoking gun” documenting the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russian officials to sabotage Hillary Clinton’s campaign and help Trump become President. It could be, assuming anyone is still around to write the history of World War III after Trump and Kim Jong Un trigger it in their Battle of the Egos, that the whole Trump-Russia investigation will be little more than a footnote to the story of how Trump normalized nuclear war and ended human life on earth even more quickly than his head-in-the-sand rejection of the overwhelming evidence that humans are changing the earth’s climate.
But until that happens, the modern-day Miss V from Moscow story is an awful lot of fun to watch, especially given the glimmer of hope it provides that spoiled rich kid turned international bully Donald Trump may finally get his well-deserved and much-overdue comeuppance. It’s certainly more entertaining than that old PRC movie whose title I appropriated for this piece and as my nickname for Natalia Veselnitskaya!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Trump's Juggling Act


Copyright © 2017 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Maybe I used the wrong metaphor from vaudeville to describe the Presidency of Donald Trump. In a recent post I compared him to a sleight-of-hand stage magician, using cunning techniques to misdirect his audience so they see only what he wants them to see and not what he’s really doing. In the last week of July, though, he’s seemed more like a juggler, keeping multiple balls in the air until his audience grows dizzy trying to tell them apart. The week began with the impending Republican vote on repealing and maybe replacing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), colloquially and derisively known as “Obamacare.”
It also began with the Trump administration continuing to deal with controversies over its relations with Russia, particularly over a meeting held June 9, 2016 in Trump Tower between Donald Trump, Jr.; Trump Sr.’s son-in-law (and, I suspect, desired successor) Jared Kushner; Trump’s then-campaign manager Paul Manafort; a Russian woman attorney named Natalia Veselnitskaya, whom I instantly nicknamed “Miss V from Moscow” after a deservedly obscure 1942 “B” movie with that title; and a whole lot of other Russians, including one who’s a former Russian intelligence officer and another who used to run a money-laundering scam and whom the pre-Trump Justice Department was trying to put on trial.
Since then, the U.S. Senate has voted down three, count ’em, three attempts to repeal all or part of the ACA — a “repeal and replace” plan that would have thrown 22 million Americans off of health insurance; a repeal-only bill that would have thrown off 32 million; and a so-called “skinny” repeal that would only have thrown off 16 million — and Trump has sent out tweet after tweet reflecting his own indecision whether to “let Obamacare fail” or demand that the Senate Republicans try again. But there aren’t that many people talking anymore about either the Senate’s failure to repeal the ACA or the June 9, 2016 meeting between Trump’s family and Miss V from Moscow.
That’s because Trump has thrown so many other balls into his juggling act. He’s brought in Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci, a fellow New York financier whose name and personal style both seem to have come from The Sopranos, who unleashed an expletive-filled tirade against just about everyone else on Trump’s staff, including chief of staff (and former Republican National Committee chair) Reince Priebus, whom The Mooch called “a fucking paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac,” and chief strategist Steve Bannon, of whom The Mooch said, “I’m not trying to suck my own cock. I’m not trying to build my own brand off the fucking strength of the President. I’m here to serve the country.” When he wasn’t talking like that about Trump’s other staff people, The Mooch was alternately threatening to fire and to “kill” (his word, not mine!) anyone on the staff caught leaking information to reporters.
The Mooch has already nailed Reince Priebus’s scalp to his wall, leaving Trump a Cabinet vacancy because he tabbed Homeland Security Secretary (and former Marine general) John Kelly as Priebus’ replacement. Trump may have another empty spot in his Cabinet soon because he’s continuing his jihad against Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The Attorney General has been a perfect servant of Trump’s agenda of immigrant bashing, 1980’s-style “tough on crime” zaniness and voter suppression, but Sessions ran afoul of the Donald for the one thing he did right. He “recused” — that is, stepped down — from overseeing any investigation of possible Russian influence on the 2016 U.S. Presidential election because, as the first elected official to endorse Trump and a frequent surrogate for him on the campaign trail, he’d been an intimate and high-echelon part of Trump’s campaign.
Trump’s mad at him for that because that means Sessions isn’t available to protect Trump from being investigated at all. Instead Sessions’ deputy, Rod Rosenstein (whom Trump has denounced as a Democrat from Baltimore even though Rosenstein is a Republican from Bethesda) appointed a special counsel, Robert Mueller, of whom Trump seems to be saying, to paraphrase what English King Henry II said of his Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas à Becket, before someone in his entourage got the message and knocked Becket off, “Will no one rid me of this dastardly prosecutor?”
But those weren’t enough balls for Trump. He also issued a provocative and quite out-of-the-blue set of three Twitter messages announcing that he was going to ban Transgender people from serving in the U.S. military because “our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that Transgender [people] in the military would entail.” He didn’t bother actually issuing an executive order, a command directive or any of the other documents Presidents usually put out when they’re telling the military to do (or not do) something. He just tweeted and left the people he called “my Generals” (the capitalization is his, not mine) to figure out what he meant, including whether they could let Transgender people already serving stay in and just not admit new ones, or they were supposed to purge them all.
And as if that weren’t enough, Trump also made two all-out speeches that showed his skill at using other people’s crowds as his props. On July 24 he addressed the Boy Scouts of America’s Jamboree in West Virginia, an occasion other Presidents have deliberately kept nonpolitical. Not Trump: his speech was essentially a Trump’s Greatest Hits set, laced with criticisms of Hillary Clinton, Democrats, Republicans, Washington, D.C. (Trump said he’s thinking of changing his nickname for it from “swamp” to “cesspool” or “sewer”), the media and his other favorite targets. What’s more, the crowd of 45,000 Boy Scouts and his families basically turned into Trump’s call-and-response congregation, shouting approval and repeating his catch-phrases back to him. The clips I saw on TV reminded me of a Hitler Youth rally: the only element missing was Leni Riefenstahl to give the clips some visual distinction.
Trump went even further to an audience he thought would be at least as appreciative of him as the Boy Scouts: a group of uniformed law enforcement officers at Suffolk County, New York. “When you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over?” Trump said, making fun of the way police officers put their hands on top of the heads of people they’re arresting so they don’t hit the tops of their heads against the car. “Like, don’t hit their head, and they just killed somebody — don’t hit their head. I said, you can take the hand away, okay?”
The Suffolk County police quickly issued a statement to the effect that they were horrified by Trump’s suggestion and they were not about to do anything to give their officers the idea that they could go out of their way to hurt suspects just because the President of the United States seemed to have given them the green light to do so. “The Suffolk County Police Department has strict rules and procedures relating to the handling of prisoners, and violations of those rules and procedures are treated extremely seriously,” the department e-mailed to its officers and the media. “As a department, we do not and will not tolerate ‘rough[ing]’ up prisoners.”
Other police departments, including Los Angeles and New York — both of which have long reputations for abusive and arbitrary treatment of citizens, especially people of color — quickly followed suit. The people running these departments said they’d carefully worked out policies to minimize the injuries to suspects, and they expected their officers to follow them no matter what the President said. But the militaristic images of these speeches, as well as their violent, thug-like content, reinforced as much as anything else has how much Trump hates democracy and would much rather be a Führer or a Soviet Premier or a North Korean “Dear Leader” than a powerful but still constitutionally limited president of a democratic republic.

Health Care Lives — More or Less

The biggest surprise of the week — at least for me — was that the Affordable Care Act survived the onslaught of the U.S. Senate Republican majority, albeit by the skin of its dentures. For seven years the Republican Party has been promising to get rid of what Trump and other Republicans have variously called the “disaster,” “train wreck” and “abomination” of “Obamacare.” They rode public opposition to the law — especially the so-called “individual mandate” that forces people to buy health insurance or pay a tax penalty — to sweeping election victories in 2010 (when they took the House of Representatives away from the Democrats), 2014 (when they took the Senate) and 2016 (when they took the Presidency).
During the 2016 campaign Trump promised to “repeal and replace Obamacare” on “day one of his Presidency.” It didn’t happen, mainly because the Affordable Care Act is an actual law passed by Congress and therefore he couldn’t get rid of it merely by signing an executive order, the way he could get rid of the civil rights of immigrants and Muslims. In May the House of Representatives, after a false start two months earlier, passed the so-called “American Health Care Act,” or AHCA (which I thought should have had a verb on the front of its name to describe what it would really do, like “Destroy American Health Care Act” or “Eviscerate American Health Care Act”), which the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated would take health coverage away from 23 million people.
The AHCA not only attacked the Affordable Care Act, it also drove a stake through the heart of Medicaid, which began in 1965 as a government program to help poor Americans have access to health care. It’s since ballooned to cover one out of every six Americans — in certain far-flung states like Alaska, it’s one out of four. Forty-nine percent of all U.S. mothers who give birth today have their health care provided by Medicaid. Most residents of nursing home have their costs paid, all or in part, by Medicaid so their families don’t have to worry about grandma and grandpa impoverishing them. Medicaid is a joint federal-state program, in which the states decide who should be allowed in and what benefits they’ll receive, and the feds pay a share of the states’ cost for whatever they decide to cover.
The AHCA would have changed all that. Instead, the federal contribution to each state would have been capped at what it is now, and allowed to grow only by the overall rate of inflation — not the rate of increase of health-care costs, which is several times larger. This would have forced state governments either to kick scads of people off Medicaid, drastically reduce the services the program offers, or both. A lot of state governors — Republicans as well as Democrats — blanched at something so gratuitously cruel. So did a handful of Republican Senators, notably Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) — remember I just said one out of every four Alaskans receives Medicaid benefits?
The wild card in all of this turned out to be former Republican Presidential nominee Senator John McCain (R-Arizona). McCain’s saga began when he went back home for what was supposed to be a routine operation to remove a blood clot from behind his left eye. Before he left Washington he put out a statement denouncing the closed-door process Senate leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) had ordered in which a gang of 13 Republican Senators, all male and all white except Ted Cruz (R-Texas), wrote the Senate’s version of the bill, the “Better Care Reconciliation Act” (BCRA), in secret.
“The Congress must now return to regular order, hold hearings, receive input from members of both parties, and heed the recommendations of our nation’s governors so that we can produce a bill that finally provides Americans with access to quality and affordable health care,” McCain wrote before he left for his date with an Arizona surgeon under the Congressional health care plan, which covers virtually everything. Then he got the terrible news that that little blood clot was actually a sign of a particularly aggressive sort of brain cancer called glioblastoma.
McCain’s public career has been a Jekyll-and-Hyde alternation between hero and hypocrite: between his courageous 5 ½ years of resistance to North Viet Namese oppression and torture as a prisoner of war and his craven belief that his way to the White House in 2008 led to throwing the crazy base of his party some red meat by appointing Sarah Palin (then-Governor of Alaska and sworn political enemy of Lisa Murkowski and her father) as his running mate. He got out of his hospital bed, went to D.C., got a hero’s welcome in the Senate — and then provided the deciding vote to pass the Motion to Proceed on the BCRA, thereby ratifying Mitch McConnell’s secret process he had earlier denounced. Then McCain the hero made a speech on the Senate floor saying basically the same things he’d said in his written statement before he left — and McCain the hypocrite voted for the BCRA itself even though he’d previously denounced it as “a shell of a bill.”
But the saga of the two McCains wasn’t over yet. After President Trump — who during the campaign had said McCain wasn’t really a Viet Nam War hero because he’d been captured and “I like people who weren’t captured” — saluted McCain as “a brave man” for having voted for the Motion to Proceed and the BCRA (which lost because there were a few other Republican defectors), McCain switched sides again and voted against an outright repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Mitch McConnell and his crew, scrambling for alternatives, then came up with something bizarre and outrageous called the “skinny” repeal, which would have got rid of only three parts of the ACA: the individual mandate that everyone has to have health insurance, the employer mandate that every company above a certain size has to provide it, and the tax on medical devices that provides a small part of its funding.
An indication of how absurd this process got was exemplified when a number of Republican Senators, including Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), gave a press conference on the eve of the vote on the “skinny” bill and said they were voting for it even though they didn’t like it and didn’t want to see it become law. They called it “bad public policy” and a “fraud.” Why would they vote for it if they thought it was bad public policy and a fraud, and didn’t want to see it become law? Because the House had already passed their version of a bill to repeal and replace the ACA, and the Senate therefore had to pass something to get the issue before a joint House-Senate conference committee.
That’s how differences between House and Senate versions of a bill usually get resolved. Both houses appoint members to a conference committee, and that group meets behind closed doors to work out a compromise between the two versions. Then the conference compromise gets referred back to each house, and if it passes the House and Senate, it goes to the President either to be signed into law or to be vetoed. Only House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) wouldn’t guarantee that he’d actually call a conference. He refused to rule out his other option: to ask the House to vote on the Senate bill as is, thereby sending the Senate’s fraudulent, bad public policy to President Trump, who’d said he was waiting in the Oval Office with his pen to sign whatever Congress gave him.
It all ended on July 27, when McCain the hypocrite once again yielded his place on the U.S. Senate floor to McCain the hero. Having already joined six other Republican Senators — Collins, Murkowski, Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee), Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia), Dean Heller (R-Nevada), and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) — in voting against the repeal-don’t-replace bill the day before, McCain kept his vote open on the “skinny repeal” until nearly the last minute, gave Vice-President Mike Pence (who was there in case his vote was needed to break a tie) a thumbs-up signal, and then spoke an almost inaudible “no.”
There was another hero on the Senate floor that night, who’s been much less discussed than McCain: Senator Mazie Hirono (D-Hawai’i). Like McCain, she’s suffering from an incredibly invasive and aggressive cancer, though in her kidneys instead of her brain. She was actually recovering from surgery on her kidneys to stop the cancer when the vote on the health-care bill came up. Unlike McCain, her vote wasn’t going to affect the outcome one way or the other — all 46 Senate Democrats, plus the two independents (Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont) who caucus with them, had already formed a solid phalanx of opposition against any Republican attempt to repeal the ACA, and without her the final vote against the “skinny repeal” would have been 51 to 48 instead of 51 to 49.
But that didn’t stop Senator Hirono from getting out of her hospital bed, heading to Washington and bearing personal witness against the evil the Republicans, in their Libertarian fervor to destroy not only the ACA and Medicaid but all social insurance programs, were trying to wreak on the American health-care system. On July 25, after the Senate passed the Motion to Proceed, Hirono said, “Any proposal Senate Republicans come up with will kick millions off of their health care and hurt the sickest, oldest, and poorest in our communities. If this is what the Republican Party wants to stand for, the American people will hold them accountable.”
The real heroes in the health-care debate are the tens of thousands of Americans, many of them with disabilities, who went to town-hall meetings held by Republican Senators and Congressmembers who dared to have them and crashed the offices of those who didn’t to tell them they literally might die if the ACA were repealed and the Medicaid funding cap enacted. They are people like Mazie Hirono, who told the Senate flat-out she didn’t see why anyone else with cancer shouldn’t have the same excellent access to treatment she has from being a member of Congress; and Jimmy Fallon, who said on his TV show he didn’t see why anyone with a son born with a horrendous birth defect should have to watch their baby suffer, and maybe die, for lack of access to medical care he can finance for his son because he’s a well-paid TV star.
And they are Republicans like Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, John McCain and governors like John Kasich (R-Ohio) and Brian Sandoval (R-Nevada). I may disagree with them on plenty of issues, but at least I can acknowledge that there are some Republicans out there who haven’t totally drunk Ayn Rand’s Kool-Aid and abandoned the whole notion that one of government’s functions is to help those who can’t take care of themselves. Indeed, I said during the last Presidential campaign that the country would have been far better served if Bernie Sanders had been the Democratic nominee and John Kasich the Republican. Instead of Wall Street whore Hillary Clinton and lying egomaniac Donald Trump, we would have had a choice between two dedicated public servants who agree on what the problems facing America are, even though they disagree profoundly on how we should go about solving them.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Goodbye, Affordable Care Act

GOP’s Senate Victory the First Step Towards Getting Rid of Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security


Copyright © 2017 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

On Tuesday, July 25, 2017 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States Senate voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA, so-called “Obamacare”) and repudiate once and for all the idea that the federal government either will or should guarantee all American citizens access to health care. Officially the vote was simply a so-called “Motion to Proceed” — the Senators giving themselves permission to consider various alternatives for getting rid of the ACA — but don’t let that fool you. It’s only a matter of time before the Senate passes a bill either to “repeal and replace” the ACA or to repeal it outright with no replacement, and the only real suspense will be just what, if anything, will replace the ACA when the Senate finally acts and the House of Representatives, which already passed their own “repeal and replace” bill last May, either adopts the Senate version or sets up the standard “conference” process by which the two houses of Congress reconcile differences in the bills they pass.
The only open question is just what the Republican caucus of the Senate can come up with which will satisfy both the so-called “moderates” and the hard-line Right-wingers who are driving this process and will be satisfied with nothing less than a full-blown ACA repeal that gets the federal government out of the health care business once and for all. That’s why the Senate leader, Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) plans to have one vote after another on various schemes to repeal the ACA, some of them attached to a “replacement” and some attached to nothing at all, until he finally comes up with something that can get the votes of the necessary 50 Republican Senators. With the math so tight — there are 52 Republican Senators, 46 Democratic Senators and two independent Senators who caucus with the Democrats — McConnell can afford to lose only two votes in his caucus to keep the vote total at the 50-50 tie which will allow Vice-President Mike Pence to use his Constitutional power to break the tie and pass whatever it is McConnell wants.
Like the brain-eating ghouls in George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and his other follow-up films (and Romero’s death in the middle of the Senate’s ACA deliberations seemed macabrely appropriate), the bills to “repeal and replace” — or just “repeal and not replace” — the ACA keep coming long after they’ve been pronounced dead. The House of Representatives got so stuck on their version, which they called the “American Health Care Act” (AHCA, which seems to require a verb in front of it, like “Destroy American Health Care Act” or “Eviscerate American Health Care Act,” to describe its contents accurately), House Speaker Paul Ryan pulled it from a vote in March. But it was back, even meaner and nastier than before, in May, when Ryan scheduled another vote and even Republican House members who had criticized the bill before as too harsh voted for the new, worse version anyway, and it passed.
The Senate’s own version, the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) — “reconciliation” not as in “working to bring people together and settle their differences,” but as in “budget reconciliation,” an arcane process that allows the Senate to pass something with a simple majority and not risk having it filibustered by the minority — first surfaced in June after a secret two-week process in which McConnell and 12 other hand-picked Senators — all Republican, all male, and all white except Ted Cruz (R-Texas) — drafted the bill in such lordly isolation from the rest of the Senate, let alone the rest of the country, that not even all the members of the “Gang of 13” knew for sure what was in it. When they finally released the BCRA draft June 22, just about everyone outside the Republican Senate caucus was horrified. Like the House bill, it replaced the direct subsidies that had helped people purchase individual health insurance policies under the ACA with tax credits that wouldn’t benefit the lowest-income people.
Like the House bill, it eliminated the federal guarantee for Medicaid, the 1965 health-care program for the poor. Instead of paying a share of whatever the states needed to cover everyone they decided should be eligible for Medicaid, the federal government would put a cap on its contribution and raise that only by the general rate of inflation — not the rate of increase in health-care costs, which is several times that. The Medicaid cuts, which both the House bill and the original draft of the BCRA used to fund enormous tax cuts for the richest Americans, are crucial to the bill not only because the ACA relied largely on expanding Medicaid coverage to increase Americans’ access to health insurance, but because Republicans have never liked the idea that the government should have any role in guaranteeing people’s access to health care. On the July 25 Hardball program on MS-NBC, host Chris Matthews point-blank asked former Republican Party chair Michael Steele if he thought the government should guarantee every American access to health coverage. Steele answered, quickly and bluntly, “No.”
There were other nasty wrinkles in the BCRA, including a total ban on government funding of Planned Parenthood and a policy that no health policy that covered abortion should get so much as one dime in assistance from the federal government. An amendment suggested by Ted Cruz, which the most hard-line Right-wing Republican Senators insisted on including in the bill before they would support it, would allow insurance companies to sell low-cost, high-deductible, highly restricted health insurance policies if they also offered ones that met the quality standards of the ACA. One of the principal arguments made by supporters of this amendment was that, since men don’t get pregnant, they shouldn’t have to pay for policies that offer maternity coverage — ignoring the obvious biological fact that every time a woman gets pregnant, a man has been involved in the process. That’s what you get when you draft your bill behind closed doors and include only men. It’s probably no accident that the two Republican Senators who had the courage to vote down the Motion to Proceed on July 25 were women: Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).
When the BCRA draft finally saw the light of day, just about everyone was horrified. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO), a nonpartisan body that’s supposed to give Congressmembers and Senators objective advice about the outcomes of a potential policy, said that 22 million Americans who now have health coverage would lose it under the BCRA. (Their estimates for the House bill were 23 million and for a simple repeal of the ACA with no replacement were 32 million.) Health insurance companies, who were already jacking up premiums for individual policies under the ACA — one of the big pieces of evidence Republicans have used to argue the ACA is self-destructing and needs to be repealed and replaced — said that the Republican alternatives would be even worse: they’d get rid of the widely hated “individual mandate” that requires all Americans to buy health insurance and therefore screw up the “risk pool.” What they’re afraid of is that, without a mandate, people won’t buy insurance until they get sick and actually need it — and with fewer healthy people paying into the pool, they’ll be spending more money to cover more sick people and will have to raise everybody’s rates to make up for it.
When Congress left Washington, D.C. for the July 4 recess, those few Congressmembers and Senators who dared to go home and face their constituents in town meetings got an earful. Senators and Congressmembers who didn’t hold town halls found people, many of them in wheelchairs or otherwise visibly disabled, picketing and in some cases occupying their offices, saying if one of the Republican health bills passed the loss of Medicaid coverage would literally kill them. Republican governors who had chosen to take the ACA’s opportunity to expand their Medicaid rolls to covered their states’ uninsured, like John Kasich of Ohio and Brian Sandoval of Nevada, protested that the Republican health bills would break their states’ budgets because they’d either have to make up for the federal Medicaid funds they’d lose or, more likely, cut back the number of people eligible for Medicaid and/or the services offered them.
Nonetheless, Mitch McConnell is keeping the Republican drive to repeal the ACA alive in the Senate — and after the July 25 vote on the Motion to Proceed, it’s a virtual certainty that he will be able to get some sort of ACA repeal through the Senate and President Donald Trump, who’s said he’s just waiting at his desk at the Oval Office with a pen, will sign it into law. On that dark day, not only will the United States government immediately cut millions of people off of access to health care, some of whom will quite literally die without it, it will turn its back on the hope of many who supported the ACA as the first step towards bringing the United States in line with every other economically and industrially advanced nation in regarding health care as a right, to which all residents are entitled and all pay for collectively through taxes.
The Republican attitude towards health care is exactly the opposite. They regard health care like any other commodity, to which The Market should control access. If you can afford health care, the Republicans believe, you should have it. If you can’t, you should do without or beg for your care from family members, friends or churches. House Speaker Paul Ryan signaled his real intentions when the House passed the AHCA and he said, “This is not an end, it’s only the beginning.” What it’s a beginning for is the ultimate Republican goal to repeal all America’s social insurance programs: the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid, Medicare and the big one, Social Security. To the ideologues currently in charge of the Republican party, it’s none of the government’s damned business to help people have access to health care or to keep from being poor (or impoverishing their families) in their old age.
Quite a lot of the commentary on the Republican health bills has essentially run along the lines of, “How can they do this?” How can they blithely vote for a bill that takes health coverage away from 22 or 23 or 32 million people? How can they literally step over people in wheelchairs on their way to their offices and vote for a bill that could kill their visitors? How can they negotiate people’s access to health care away in secret and vote on it in such unseemly haste? Why, this line of argument runs, are the Republicans so cruel? The answer, as I’ve explained in previous posts on this blog, is, in one word, Libertarianism.

Libertarianism and Leninism

Libertarianism, in short, is a political philosophy that holds that the individual is supreme and no person owes anything to anyone else. As its founder, novelist, essayist and lecturer Ayn Rand, summed it up, “I will not live my life for any other person, nor ask another person to live his life for mine.” What this translates to in politics is the belief that the government has no business taxing the rich to pay for services for the not-so-rich. To do that, Libertarians argue, is theft and enslavement. When Rand was asked the question a lot of people are asking about her ideological heirs in the Republican Party today — what do you do about the sick and disabled; if you’re not willing to have government help them, do you just let them die? — she replied, “Misfortune does not justify slave labor.” In other words, a government has no right to take tax money from the rich to keep not-rich people from dying: that just enslaves the rich to the not-rich.
Indeed, one of the key elements of Libertarianism — like its 19th-century predecessor, Social Darwinism — is the belief that rich people are actually intellectually and morally superior to non-rich people and represent a higher order of humanity, a step forward in human evolution. Libertarians generally divide society into the “makers,” the handful of intellectually brilliant, morally unassailable rich people at the top who are responsible for all human advancement and progress; and the “moochers” or “takers” who want what the rich have without being able or willing to work for it and get it themselves. Rand expressed much of her philosophy in novels like The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957), and one of her plot devices was to have her super-rich heroes lose their money due to the machinations of all those pesky moochers and takers — and then, through their intellectual brilliance and physical and moral prowess, get it all back again.
Much of what separates the American Right from the European Right stems from its wholesale embrace of the Libertarian ideology. When Donald Trump ran for President he deliberately confused a lot of people by sounding more like a European than an American Rightist. Europeans like Britain’s Nigel Farage, France’s Marine le Pen, the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders and Austria’s Jorg Haider didn’t question those countries’ social insurance systems and safety nets for the poor; rather, they justified their opposition to immigration largely on the basis that social services should be reserved for the “real” British, French, Dutch or Austrians, not for swarthy, dark-skinned people from other countries with different cultures, languages and religions.
When Trump ran for President he posed as a European-style conservative pledging to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. He viciously baited immigrants but framed his arguments against them partly in cultural terms — they’re criminals, rapists, terrorists who want to take what we have and bring our system down instead of assimilating — but also on the ground that America was being “overrun” with immigrants who would overwhelm the social safety nets and thereby reduce the amount of aid available for “real” (i.e., white) Americans. But he’s actually governed as a hard-core Libertarian, and I suspect that’s because Libertarianism feeds the two things most important to Donald Trump: his fortune and his ego. Not only does Libertarianism generate social policies that will make Trump even richer than he is, it flatters him by telling him that he’s a better, more evolved human being because he is super-rich.
There’s another model for what the Republicans are doing these days, and it’s an odd one. It’s an authoritarian Russian leader whose first name is Vladimir and whose last name is five letters ending in “n.” No, not Vladimir Putin: Vladimir Lenin, the founder of Russian Communism who took over his country in 1917 and started a tyrannical regime it took 74 years to get rid of. It may seem inconceivable that modern-day U.S. Republicans would have any reason to like Lenin when they hate, loathe, despise and detest everything he stood for ideologically — but they admire him immensely as a strategist and a tactician. Lenin literally wrote the book on how a minority of a society can, through sheer determination, will and the ability to take advantage of crisis situations, maintain power indefinitely, stifle all dissent, and push through an unpopular program.
The book was called What Is To Be Done? Lenin published it in 1902, and it was a strategy for the takeover of Russia that relied on some basic rewrites of the theories of Karl Marx. Marx had believed that capitalism would inevitably collapse and be overthrown in a revolution led by the “proletariat” — the industrial working classes. One obvious question was how would the proletarians who made the revolution learn how to run the society and the economy once they won. Marx said it would essentially be through on-the-job training: the skills the proletarians would need to acquire to organize and win their revolution would enable them to run things once they won. Lenin disagreed: he said that on their own the workers would only get as far as organizing trade unions.
To go beyond that and actually contest for power, Lenin said, the workers would need a small core of intellectually educated and fanatically dedicated experts in Marxist theory to run the movement on the workers’ behalf. He called this group a “vanguard party” and said they should operate according to a principle he called “democratic centralism.” What that meant in practice is that the members of the vanguard party should settle their differences behind closed doors: once they made a decision and announced it publicly, every member of the vanguard party should fully stand by the decision as it was communicated to the proletarians who were their supposed constituency, as well as any remaining capitalists who were still resisting the revolution and anyone else who could conceivably oppose them. In other words, to the outside world the vanguard party must appear to be unanimous, even when they weren’t.
The obvious flaw in Lenin’s strategy was that there was no outside check on his “vanguard party,” no institutional arena through which people with different ideas of how to do things could challenge its authority. The “vanguard party” that seized power to set up a “dictatorship of the proletariat” could all too easily become a dictatorship over the proletariat. This flaw was noticed as early as 1904, 13 years before Lenin and his party actually seized power, by German socialist Rosa Luxemburg. She read What Is To Be Done? and wrote a scathing essay in reply, “Leninism or Marxism?,” in which she correctly predicted that any revolution that won power by Lenin’s tactics would degenerate into tyranny.
Lenin’s political writings and his success in implementing them and winning absolute power for himself and his party in Russia became a role model for many other would-be dictators — and not just fellow Leftists, either. By chance I recently read Leonard Schapiro’s history The Russian Revolutions of 1917 — the first one, in February/March, which overthrew the Czar and attempted to establish a democratic republic in his place; and the second, in October/November, in which Lenin and his party seized power, overthrew democracy and started a monopoly on political authority that lasted three-quarters of a century — and got a cold chill when he explained that the the secret police force Lenin founded, like many of his other authoritarian policies, “came into existence as response to the conditions that arise when a minority is determined to rule alone.”

The Republicans: A Minority Determined to Rule Alone

There can be little doubt that today’s U.S. Republican Party is “a minority determined to rule alone.” Though more people voted for Hillary Clinton than for Donald Trump to be President in 2016, and more people voted for Democrats than for Republicans to be in the House of Representatives in 2012, that didn’t matter because the Republicans have been so good at exploiting the anti-democratic features the Founding Fathers built into the U.S. Constitution. The framers of the Constitution were openly distrustful of democracy, and they set up a system in which members of the House would be the highest-ranking federal officials chosen by direct election — and even those “elections” would be restricted to white male landowners.
The framers not only created the Electoral College to keep voters from electing the President directly, they set up a Senate that represented each state equally, regardless of population, and said it would be state legislators, not voters, who elected Senators. That changed in 1913 with the passage of the 17th Amendment, but quite a few Tea Party members in the early 2010’s actually urged that be repealed and legislators, not voters, be given back the power to choose Senators. More recently, this demand has been taken up by the powerful and influential American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
Given how totally Republicans have out-organized Democrats in taking control of state legislatures and governorships, according to John Nichols in The Nation, if implemented now this would produce a Senate with 64 Republicans and 36 Democrats instead of the current 52-48 split. (See Before the 17th Amendment U.S. Senate seats were openly bought and sold through campaign contributions to key legislators — Leland Stanford (R-California), the Donald Trump of the 19th century, purchased a Senate seat for which he was outrageously unqualified — and that’s why progressive activists at the time pushed for direct election.
Even if the 17th Amendment remains in force, the equal apportionment of Senators to each state regardless of population is fundamentally undemocratic. The framers probably thought it was a compromise they could live with because at the time the Constitution was ratified in 1789, the most populous state, Virginia, had nine times the number of people as the least populous, Rhode Island. Today the most populous state, California, has 250 times as many people as the least populous, Wyoming. So not only was the Senate an undemocratic institution from the get-go, shifts in population and particularly the increasing urbanization of America has made it horrendously more undemocratic over time.
The Republicans’ political successes at the state level have been key to their ability to seize control of the entire federal government even though they remain a minority of the electorate. The Constitution gives state governments virtually total control over who may or may not vote. The great amendments that extended the franchise — the 15th, which (at least on paper) banned discrimination against people of color; the 19th, which extended the vote to women; the 24th, which abolished the poll tax; and the 26th, which lowered the age of voting eligibility to 18 and made it uniform nationwide — were all framed as specific limitations on the otherwise absolute authority of state legislatures and governors to determine who may or may not vote.
The Constitution also gives state legislators power to create the districts for House members as well as the state legislatures themselves. Republicans have used this power in recent years to do ever more precise gerrymandering to make sure that, no matter how many votes Democrats get, it will be virtually impossible for them ever to take back a House majority. And the control the Constitution gives state governments over who does and doesn’t have the right to vote is increasingly being used in Republican-dominated states to make it as easy as possible for people likely to vote Republican (older people, affluent people, white people) to vote — and as hard as possible for people not likely to vote Republican (younger people, poorer people, people of color) to vote.
During Barack Obama’s Presidency a lot of Democrats spoke confidently that their party would soon become an unassailable majority in American politics because of so-called “demographic changes” — a younger population with a lower total percentage of whites — that were supposedly going to make them the majority party over time. The Republicans responded, not (as some Republicans suggested they should) with a campaign to reach out to younger, less affluent and non-white voters, but through a concerted campaign to make sure the electorate stayed dominated by older, better off whites even as the overall population became poorer, younger and more ethnically diverse.
People who criticize President Trump’s so-called “Election Integrity Commission” as a creature of his paranoid belief that he would have won the popular vote against Hillary Clinton if it were not for the “millions of illegal votes” cast for her, as he’s claimed in his tweets, are missing the point completely. The Election Integrity Commission, chaired by Vice-President Mike Pence with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach as vice-chair and former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell as a member, is actually designed to implement nationwide strategies by which Pence, Kobach, Blackwell and other Republican governors and secretaries of state have turned their states “deep-red” Republican.
These include onerous photo ID requirements, setting up more polling places in affluent areas and keeping them open longer (while cutting back polls and closing them sooner in less well-off communities, including communities of color), eliminating early voter registration and so-called “motor voter” registration, restricting the ability of voters to seek help casting and turning in their ballots, and expanding both the number of crimes for which your right to vote can be taken away and the length of time a criminal conviction will cost you your right to vote. One particularly blatant example of the real purpose of voter ID laws was provided in Texas, whose law says that a student ID can’t be used as legitimate proof of identity at a polling place — but a permit to carry a concealed weapon can.
In addition, the Election Integrity Commission has engaged in outright voter intimidation through their sweeping demand for private personal information, including partial Social Security numbers, on every registered voter in America — which has led voters in Colorado, one of the states that isn’t resisting these demands, to ask that their names be taken off the roles. (See In other words, the Trump administration is sending Americans a message: you can have the right to vote or you can preserve the privacy of your personal information. You can’t do both.
Restrictions on people’s right to vote and shrewd exploitation of the Constitution’s anti-democratic features are just two elements in a multi-faceted strategy by the Republican Party to achieve what President George W. Bush’s chief strategist, Karl Rove, called “full-spectrum dominance” of American politics. One of the most bizarre aspects of the strategy is that even the people the Democrats are able to elect are being frozen out of the decision-making process as much as possible. Recently, Congressmember Jerrold Nadler (D-New York) was interviewed on MS-NBC after Attorney General Jeff Sessions appeared before the House Judiciary Committee, of which Nadler is a member — but Sessions would only answer questions from Republicans on the committee, not Democrats.
Not only did Mitch McConnell convene an exclusively Republican committee to write the U.S. Senate’s proposal to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, President Trump himself expressed his contempt for the very idea that the other political party in the Senate should be allowed to have anything to do with it. When preliminary vote counts on the BCRA showed four Republican Senators against it, Trump said publicly that “48 to 4” sounded like a really big majority to him. And when the Motion to Proceed on health-care legislation passed July 25, Trump was even more blatant, saying that the margin of passage was “51 to whatever.” Given Trump’s famous statement about journalist Megyn Kelly that during her tough questioning of him on a 2015 Republican candidates’ debate that “she had blood coming out of her eyes, or her wherever,” if I were a Democratic Senator I’d have a pretty strong feeling that the President of the United States has just compared me to menstrual blood.
As I’ve pointed out in previous posts, Donald Trump does not want, and never has wanted, to be the powerful but still constitutionally limited president of a democratic republic. He wants to be a dictator. His response to the allegations that members of his campaign colluded with Russian officials to “fix” the 2016 election in his favor has been to denounce it as a “witch hunt,” fire the FBI director leading the investigation, threaten to fire the special counsel as well as his own Attorney General, and publicly muse over the possibility that he could simply use the Presidential pardon power to get himself and all his aides off the hook.
Trump’s dictatorial nature is shown in his far greater comfort level in international meetings around other dictators — particularly ones like Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, and Poland’s Andrzej Duda, who took power in at least nominally republican countries and turned them into authoritarian states, as I’m convinced Trump wants to do to the U.S. — in international meetings than democratically elected leaders like Germany’s Angela Merkel or Australia’s Malcolm Turnbull. It’s also shown in the extraordinarily expansive portfolio he’s assigned to his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who got to issue his public denial of collusion with Russia from a podium with the White House logo on it, in front of the White House itself — a clear public message that Trump wants Kushner to succeed him as President when age and the 22nd Amendment term him out in 2025.
Trump’s entire life has been one in which, by sheer grit, determination and utter unscrupulousness, he has survived crises which would have brought down a lesser mortal. He did it in 1991, when his Atlantic City casinos went bankrupt and the banks who’d lent him the money to build them were about to foreclose on him — only he convinced them that the casinos would be more lucrative with his name on them than without it. He did it over and over again during his Presidential campaign, when he recovered from disasters (including his taped comments that virtually boasted about raping women and his open incitement of violence against protesters at his rallies, as well as his boorish, almost unhinged treatment of Hillary Clinton during the debates) that would have sunk the campaign of almost anyone else, and won a stunning upset from which his political opponents are still haplessly reeling.
And as Donald Trump marches America ever closer towards a personal dictatorship — and the Republicans in Congress continue to enable him — who’s going to stop him? Despite his much-vaunted reputation for “integrity” and his public statement that it was time for the Senate to return to “regular order” and create a health bill through open debate in the committee process, when push came to shove Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) got behind Trump’s agenda on July 25 and voted not only for the Motion to Proceed but also for the BCRA, the very bill created by the secret process he had denounced in his floor speech. Like a good little “democratic centralist” soldier in a Leninist “vanguard party,” McCain put party, not country, first and voted for a process and a bill he said he abhorred.
The Republicans in both the House and Senate are, with a few exceptions, deeply committed to a Libertarian ideology that wants to wipe out all social welfare programs and all civil-rights protections, as well as all restrictions on corporations’ ability to exploit workers, consumers and the environment. (Ayn Rand was bitterly anti-environmentalist; she literally believed the power of capitalist entrepreneurs was so great it could change the laws of nature, and her hatred of environmentalism got passed on to the current Republican Right and is yet one more difference between the American and European Right.) They will stick solidly behind Donald Trump as long as they think he can still be of use to them in pushing the end of America’s welfare state and the end of all restrictions on business; only if he loses enough credibility with the Republican base for them to think he’s not of use to them anymore, and President Mike Pence would be, will they abandon him and impeach him or force his resignation.
During the July 25 telecast of Chris Matthews’ Hardball on MS-NBC, Matthews asked one of his three-person panels to predict whether President Trump will be able to serve out his full term. All three members said he not only will, he’ll be re-elected and serve out a second full term as well. Indeed, it’s quite possible that the Trump regime will last a full quarter-century: President Donald Trump, 2017-2025; President Jared Kushner, 2025-2033; President Ivanka Trump, 2033-2041. And at the end of that time the U.S. will be a profoundly different country from what it is today, resembling the U.S. in the 1880’s (the real period Trump, like Ayn Rand, thinks was when America was “great” and to which he wants to return us so we can be “great again”): total dominance of the political system by the rich, second-class citizenship for working people and people of color, environmental devastation, women back in the kitchen, people of color back at the back of the bus, Queer people back in the closet and a Hunger Games-style economy in which the overwhelming majority of people starve (and with little or no access to health care) while a handful of aristocrats feast.