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kottke.org posts about Donald Trump

The US Isn’t Ready for Another Pandemic

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 02, 2021

Olga Khazan writing for The Atlantic:

After an inept coronavirus response, will the United States do better when the next pandemic strikes? Experts generally agree that America learned from the past year, and that the next public-health crisis won’t be quite as bewildering. But America’s pandemic preparedness still has major gaps, some of which are too big for any one administration to fix. In recent weeks, I’ve called back many of the experts I interviewed over the past 18 months about masks, testing, contact tracing, quarantine, and more. I asked them, “Are we ready for another one?” The short answer is “Not quite.” The long answer is that being truly “ready” will be harder than anyone realizes.

The Trump administration mishandled the American response to Covid-19 so completely that it’s tempting to pin most of the pandemic carnage on him. But the more I read about the pandemic (Michael Lewis’s The Premonition is a recent example), the more I have come to believe that the majority of the American pandemic deaths were baked in, no matter who was President. Trump was definitely a worst-case scenario, but even a more competent person in the White House in Jan 2020 (like Clinton or Sanders or Romney) would not have done so much better. Poor public health infrastructure, politicized government agencies, no mandatory paid leave, an overpriced healthcare system that only works for some, uncoordinated national response (+ federalism), years of defunding government programs, a reactive (rather than proactive) CDC, unhealthy populace, poverty, systemic racism in medicine, entitled individualism, high rate of uninsured people, growing anti-science sentiment — the pandemic was destined to race through the United States like a brush fire no matter what.

Even the European Union, whose member nations do not share many of America’s aforementioned challenges (but have other issues), did only marginally better than the US in preventing Covid deaths. The UK did worse:

a chart showing the cumulative covid deaths per million of the US, UK, EU, and world

Inside the Insurrection on Congress

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 01, 2021

This is an incredible video investigation by the NY Times of the January 6th attack on Congress by terrorists, rioters, and supporters of Donald Trump. They analyzed hundreds of videos, police bodycam footage, and police communications to reconstruct a minute-by-minute account of the Capital breach.

From the accompanying article of six takeaways from the investigation:

Most of the videos we analyzed were filmed by the rioters. By carefully listening to the unfiltered chatter within the crowd, we found a clear feedback loop between President Trump and his supporters.

As Mr. Trump spoke near the White House, supporters who had already gathered at the Capitol building hoping to disrupt the certification responded. Hearing his message to “walk down to the Capitol,” they interpreted it as the president sending reinforcements. “There’s about a million people on their way now,” we heard a man in the crowd say, as Mr. Trump’s speech played from a loudspeaker.

The call and response didn’t stop there. We found evidence of his influence once the violence was well underway. In one moment, a woman with a megaphone urged rioters to climb through a broken window by asking them to “stand up for our country and Constitution” — echoing the language in an earlier tweet from Mr. Trump. In another, as the police were pushing to clear the mob off the building, a rioter screamed at officers: “I was invited here by the president.”

It is astonishing to me how close we came to having a hostage or assassination situation with members of Congress and the Vice-President — like literal seconds and minutes away — and how is this not the only topic of conversation over the past 6 months in our country? And not only that, it’s clear that we’re not really going to do anything about it, aside from beefing up Capitol security and imprisoning some of the insurrectionists. This isn’t over — as the video’s narration states near the end: “The forces that brought them there have not gone away.”

Update: From Brian Stelter’s Reliable Sources newsletter:

But Rangappa could have also been talking about CNN’s efforts in court to obtain riot footage; or ProPublica’s recent investigation that indicated “Senior Trump Aides Knew Jan. 6 Rally Could Get Chaotic;” or Just Security’s new “clearinghouse” for riot research. Her broader point is spot on: Newsrooms have been putting the January 6 puzzle pieces together, creating a detailed rough draft of history, in spite of partisan efforts to bury that history.

The Advantages of Political Buffoonery

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 23, 2021

From a short piece riffing on Idi Amin and the political utility of being a buffoon by Mark Leopold, author of an Amin biography:

What, then, are the advantages of political buffoonery? Off-hand, considering Amin’s career, I can think of at least five:

1) It leads opponents to underestimate the ability and intelligence of the buffoon.

2) It provides deniability — “it was only a joke.”

3) It appeals to core supporters (many Africans loved Amin’s teasing of the former colonial masters).

4) It serves as a distraction from the more serious, perhaps frightening or incompetent, actions of the leader, what we now call the “dead cat” tactic.

5) It leads to ambiguity (was it a joke or not?), producing confusion and uncertainty about how to respond.

Behind all this is clearly what Freud recognized as the aggressive nature of joking. I suggest that buffoonery is, at root, a quintessentially masculine characteristic.

If you’ve lived though recent UK and US politics, I expect you’re furiously nodding your head at all this right now. (via sam potts)

USA Downgraded from Democracy to Anocracy (“Part Democracy and Part Dictatorship”)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 27, 2021

Using the POLITY data series, The Center for Systemic Peace has downgraded the system of government of the United States of America from a democracy to an anocracy, a “regime that mixes democratic with autocratic features”. From a notice on the front page of the CSP website:

The USA has dropped below the “democracy threshold” (+6) on the POLITY scale in 2020 and and is now considered an anocracy (+5). It has also lost its designation as the world’s oldest, continuous democracy; that designation now belongs to Switzerland (171 years), followed by New Zealand (142) and the United Kingdom (139). Further degradation of democratic authority in the USA will trigger an Adverse Regime Change event.

The downgrade can be tied directly to the Trump administration’s actions over the past four years:

In 2019, CSP changed the USA code for Executive Constraints from 7 to 6 due to the executive’s systematic rejection of congressional oversight; dropping its POLITY score to +7 and resetting its DURABLE score to “0”. In 2020, the coding for Executive Constraints will fall another point or two due to the executive’s systematic purge of “disloyalists” from the administration, forceful response to protest, vilification of the main opposition parties; and undermining public trust in the electoral process, reducing the USA POLITY score in 2020 to +5 (anocracy).

Their analysis also places the US at “high risk of impending political instability (i.e., adverse regime change and/or onset of political violence)” and designates “the ongoing efforts of the USA executive to circumvent electoral outcomes and subvert democratic processes as an ‘attempted (presidential) coup’”.

Goodbye to Our White Supremacist President

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 20, 2021

For the occasion of Donald Trump’s last day as President, Ta-Nehisi Coates revisits his essay published in the October 2017 of The Atlantic, The First White President, which argued persuasively that Trump is a white supremacist. In a new introduction, he writes:

It was popular, at the time of Donald Trump’s ascension, to stand on the thinnest of reeds in order to avoid stating the obvious. It was said that the Trump presidency was the fruit of “economic anxiety,” of trigger warnings and the push for trans rights. We were told that it was wrong to call Trump a white supremacist, because he had merely “drawn upon their themes.”

One hopes that after four years of brown children in cages; of attempts to invalidate the will of Black voters in Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Detroit; of hearing Trump tell congresswomen of color to go back where they came from; of claims that Joe Biden would turn Minnesota into “a refugee camp”; of his constant invocations of “the Chinese virus,” we can now safely conclude that Trump believes in a world where white people are — or should be — on top. It is still deeply challenging for so many people to accept the reality of what has happened — that a country has been captured by the worst of its history, while millions of Americans cheered this on.

“He Ended Up As Nothing”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 20, 2021

Roxane Gay, The Last Day of Disco(rd):

I am tired of reciting all his crimes, misdeeds, and failures. Trump was a cruel, petty tyrant of a president who surrounded himself with similarly terrible people, slobbering sycophants, and political operatives who knew they could advance their agendas so long as they told him what he wanted to hear.

Trump is the living embodiment of shamelessness. He cannot be shamed. He does not care about the 400,000 dead Americans he has barely acknowledged. He does not care about the suffering he has caused. He does not care about anything that happens beyond the country’s borders. He does not care that he has disrupted the peaceful transfer of power. He is a catastrophe and he does not care. His children are exactly like him. His wife is exactly like him. I wish nothing but the very worst for them, for the rest of their days.

This Is a Wake-Up Call

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 19, 2021

This video from Matthew Cooke is an excellent and succinct plea for Republicans and Trump supporters to come back to reality.

This is a wake-up call for Republicans. America elected Joe Biden by over 7 million votes, and you’re confused because you didn’t see us flock to his rallies and cheer his smackdowns like we were at a pro wrestling event during a global pandemic. We don’t wear matching hats or have “no more malarkey” flags waving from the backs of our trucks. Do you know why? Because Biden is not our tribal warlord. We believe the job of a U.S. President is to represent more than one interest group. That’s why 81 million of us turned out to stop a narcissistic personality cult that embodies all seven of the deadly sins — most of all pride, which you’ve taken to levels of blasphemy, claiming your political leaders are handpicked by Jesus Christ.

This country is called the United States and we have multiple converging crises that need adult supervision but we are being distracted trying to get control over a critical mass of you who no longer believe in reality.

I don’t know if it will be persuasive to actual Republicans, but it’s a solid attempt.

The Storm Is Here

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 15, 2021

From Luke Mogelson in The New Yorker, Among the Insurrectionists is an amazing and surreal account of how the January 6th domestic terror assault on Congress1 unfolded. (Note: This piece contains accounts of violence and lots of racist, anti-Semitic, misogynist, homophobic language.)

The America Firsters and other invaders fanned out in search of lawmakers, breaking into offices and revelling in their own astounding impunity. “Nancy, I’m ho-ome! ” a man taunted, mimicking Jack Nicholson’s character in “The Shining.” Someone else yelled, “1776 — it’s now or never.” Around this time, Trump tweeted, “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country. … USA demands the truth!” Twenty minutes later, Ashli Babbitt, a thirty-five-year-old woman from California, was fatally shot while climbing through a barricaded door that led to the Speaker’s lobby in the House chamber, where representatives were sheltering. The congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, later said that she’d had a “close encounter” with rioters during which she thought she “was going to die.” Earlier that morning, another representative, Lauren Boebert — a newly elected Republican, from Colorado, who has praised QAnon and promised to wear her Glock in the Capitol — had tweeted, “Today is 1776.”

When Babbitt was shot, I was on the opposite side of the Capitol, where people were growing frustrated by the empty halls and offices.

“Where the fuck are they?”

“Where the fuck is Nancy?”

No one seemed quite sure how to proceed. “While we’re here, we might as well set up a government,” somebody suggested.

Notably, the piece places the insurrection in the proper context alongside Trump’s campaign of misinformation (which began even before his Presidency and has focused heavily on election fraud) and as part of an escalating series of actions by militant fascist groups in DC and around the country.

In the days before January 6th, calls for a “real solution” became progressively louder. Trump, by both amplifying these voices and consolidating his control over the Republican Party, conferred extraordinary influence on the most deranged and hateful elements of the American right. On December 20th, he retweeted a QAnon supporter who used the handle @cjtruth: “It was a rigged election but they were busted. Sting of the Century! Justice is coming!” A few weeks later, a barbarian with a spear was sitting in the Vice-President’s chair.

Cause, effect. Here are more instances, from various times during the past few months:

It was clear that the men outside Harry’s on December 12th had travelled to D.C. to engage in violence, and that they believed the President endorsed their doing so. Trump had made an appearance at the previous rally, waving through the window of his limousine; now I overheard a Proud Boy tell his comrade, “I wanna see Trump drive by and give us one of these.” He flashed an “O.K.” hand sign, which has become a gesture of allegiance among white supremacists. There would be no motorcade this time, but while Fuentes addressed the groypers Trump circled Freedom Plaza in Marine One, the Presidential helicopter.

During the Presidential campaign, Trump’s histrionic exaggerations of the threat posed by Antifa fuelled conservative support for the Proud Boys, allowing them to vastly expand their operations and recruitment. The day after a Presidential debate in which Trump told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by,” Lauren Witzke, a Republican Senate candidate in Delaware, publicly thanked the group for having provided her with “free security.”

Early returns showed Trump ahead in Michigan, but many absentee ballots had yet to be processed. Because Trump had relentlessly denigrated absentee voting throughout the campaign, in-person votes had been expected to skew his way. It was similarly unsurprising when his lead diminished after results arrived from Wayne County and other heavily Democratic jurisdictions. Nonetheless, shortly after midnight, Trump launched his post-election misinformation campaign: “We are up BIG, but they are trying to STEAL the Election.”

The next day, I found an angry mob outside the T.C.F. Center. Police officers guarded the doors. Most of the protesters had driven down from Macomb County, which is eighty per cent white and went for Trump in both 2016 and 2020. “We know what’s going on here,” one man told me. “They’re stuffing the ballot box.”

In April, in response to Whitmer’s aggressive public-health measures, Trump had tweeted, “Liberate Michigan!” Two weeks later, heavily armed militia members entered the state capitol, terrifying lawmakers.

During Trump’s speech on January 6th, he said, “The media is the biggest problem we have.” He went on, “It’s become the enemy of the people. … We gotta get them straightened out.” Several journalists were attacked during the siege. Men assaulted a Times photographer inside the Capitol, near the rotunda, as she screamed for help. After National Guard soldiers and federal agents finally arrived and expelled the Trump supporters, some members of the mob shifted their attention to television crews in a park on the east side of the building. Earlier, a man had accosted an Israeli journalist in the middle of a live broadcast, calling him a “lying Israeli” and telling him, “You are cattle today.” Now the Trump supporters surrounded teams from the Associated Press and other outlets, chasing off the reporters and smashing their equipment with bats and sticks.

Mogelson has reported on wars in Afghanistan and Syria — and now in America. You should read the whole thing.

Update: This is an incredible video companion to this article — videos shot by Mogelson during assault on Congress:

  1. I’ve seen many folks and media outlets refer to the events of January 6, 2021 as an attack “on the Capitol”. While that is technically correct, focusing on the venue obscures the true target: Congress. This was an attack on the entire legislative branch of the United States government. Being explicit about that point is important.

The Big Lie

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 13, 2021

From Timothy Snyder, an incredible piece on Trump, the coup attempt, and this fascist moment in American history. (Snyder, you may remember, wrote about 20 lessons on fighting authoritarianism from the 20th century shortly after the 2016 election that he later turned into a book.)

Post-truth is pre-fascism, and Trump has been our post-truth president. When we give up on truth, we concede power to those with the wealth and charisma to create spectacle in its place. Without agreement about some basic facts, citizens cannot form the civil society that would allow them to defend themselves. If we lose the institutions that produce facts that are pertinent to us, then we tend to wallow in attractive abstractions and fictions. Truth defends itself particularly poorly when there is not very much of it around, and the era of Trump — like the era of Vladimir Putin in Russia — is one of the decline of local news. Social media is no substitute: It supercharges the mental habits by which we seek emotional stimulation and comfort, which means losing the distinction between what feels true and what actually is true.

Post-truth wears away the rule of law and invites a regime of myth. These last four years, scholars have discussed the legitimacy and value of invoking fascism in reference to Trumpian propaganda. One comfortable position has been to label any such effort as a direct comparison and then to treat such comparisons as taboo. More productively, the philosopher Jason Stanley has treated fascism as a phenomenon, as a series of patterns that can be observed not only in interwar Europe but beyond it.

My own view is that greater knowledge of the past, fascist or otherwise, allows us to notice and conceptualize elements of the present that we might otherwise disregard and to think more broadly about future possibilities. It was clear to me in October that Trump’s behavior presaged a coup, and I said so in print; this is not because the present repeats the past, but because the past enlightens the present.

Snyder quotes Hannah Arendt in this piece and I’m going share a quote of hers I’ve shared before:

The moment we no longer have a free press, anything can happen. What makes it possible for a totalitarian or any other dictatorship to rule is that people are not informed; how can you have an opinion if you are not informed? If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer. This is because lies, by their very nature, have to be changed, and a lying government has constantly to rewrite its own history. On the receiving end you get not only one lie-a lie which you could go on for the rest of your days-but you get a great number of lies, depending on how the political wind blows. And a people that no longer can believe anything cannot make up its mind. It is deprived not only of its capacity to act but also of its capacity to think and to judge. And with such a people you can then do what you please.

I think about her last line all the time: “And with such a people you can then do what you please.” Like make them assault Congress on behalf of yourself and your political party. This was not Snyder’s closing paragraph, but I’m going to end this post with it:

The lie outlasts the liar. The idea that Germany lost the First World War in 1918 because of a Jewish “stab in the back” was 15 years old when Hitler came to power. How will Trump’s myth of victimhood function in American life 15 years from now? And to whose benefit?

The lie outlasts the liar. Read the whole piece; it’s great.

No Evidence of Voter Fraud Reported by Election Officials Nationwide

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 11, 2020

The headline and first few paragraphs of today’s front-page story in the NY Times say it all: The Times Called Officials in Every State: No Evidence of Voter Fraud.

Election officials in dozens of states representing both political parties said that there was no evidence that fraud or other irregularities played a role in the outcome of the presidential race, amounting to a forceful rebuke of President Trump’s portrait of a fraudulent election.

Over the last several days, the president, members of his administration, congressional Republicans and right wing allies have put forth the false claim that the election was stolen from Mr. Trump and have refused to accept results that showed Joseph R. Biden Jr. as the winner.

But top election officials across the country said in interviews and statements that the process had been a remarkable success despite record turnout and the complications of a dangerous pandemic.

Of course, the Republicans have made no fraud claims about states where they did well. Every Republican who the media projected to be the winner has claimed victory on that basis. And if the Democrats were somehow cheating, wouldn’t they have done far better on down-ballot races — presumably hundreds of thousands of fake ballots for Biden would also have gone for Democratic Senate and House candidates as well? The whole thing is obviously absurd.

“Voting Trump Out Is Not Enough”

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 10, 2020

For the New Yorker, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor writes that as much noise and pain that Donald Trump generated while he was in office, it can’t hold a candle to America’s systemic problems, which remain unaddressed by both major parties.

Like tens of millions of Americans, I voted to end the miserable reign of Donald J. Trump, but we cannot perpetuate the election-year fiction that the deep and bewildering problems facing millions of people in this country will simply end with the Trump Administration. They are embedded in “the system,” in systemic racism, and the other social inequities that are the focus of continued activism and budding social movements. Viewing the solution to these problems as simply electing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris both underestimates the depth of the problems and trivializes the remedies necessary to undo the damage. That view may also confuse popular support for fundamental change, as evidenced by Trump’s one-term Presidency, with what the Democratic Party is willing or even able to deliver.

Totally Under Control

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 02, 2020

In secrecy over the past several months, filmmaker Alex Gibney has been making a documentary film about the US government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic called Totally Under Control. He and co-directors Ophelia Harutyunyan and Suzanne Hillinger interviewed “countless scientists, medical professionals, and government officials on the inside” to produce the film.

Academy Award-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney, directing with Ophelia Harutyunyan and Suzanne Hillinger, interrogates this question and its devastating implications in Totally Under Control. With damning testimony from public health officials and hard investigative reporting, Gibney exposes a system-wide collapse caused by a profound dereliction of Presidential leadership.

Gibney previously directed Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Going Clear, and Zero Days (all excellent documentaries). The film comes out in theaters on October 13 and on Hulu on October 20.

The President Is a White Supremacist. And So Are You if You Support Him.

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 30, 2020

Last night in a debate with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, Donald Trump, the actual President of these United States, not only declined to condemn white supremacy, he gave an order to an openly white supremacist group on national television. Here’s the quote and the video:

Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what, I’ll tell you what. Somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left. Because this is not a right-wing problem. This is a left-wing problem.

Stand by. Somebody’s gotta do something about antifa and the left. Proud Boy members knew exactly what Trump was telling them — it’s as plain as day. (I’ve grown weary of pointing out the parallels to Nazism and Italian fascism, so I’ll leave that as an exercise to the reader in this case. The answer may involve shirt colors.)

We’ve long passed the point at which everyone should understand in no uncertain terms that Trump is an authoritarian, racist, white supremacist (among other things). Hell, this is what many of his supporters like about him. But it should also be clear to his supporters, all of his supporters (especially the ones who hold their nose and support him because of Christian values or fiscal policy or abortion), that by voting for this man knowing what we all clearly know about him, you are a white supremacist. Period. I understand the perfect candidate doesn’t exist and that our system of voting requires us to compromise some of our values in order to support progress towards bigger goals, but good luck explaining that you voted for an actual white supremacist to your grandchildren someday (if you can stomach telling them the truth). Some values cannot be compromised.

The Approaching Crisis of the 2020 Election

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 24, 2020

This is an excellent piece in The Atlantic by Barton Gellman on The Election That Could Break America. Excellent and hair-raising. It outlines several of the ways that Donald Trump & the Republicans could disrupt the election process to produce an ambiguous outcome and use the chaos to retain the presidency.

The worst case, however, is not that Trump rejects the election outcome. The worst case is that he uses his power to prevent a decisive outcome against him. If Trump sheds all restraint, and if his Republican allies play the parts he assigns them, he could obstruct the emergence of a legally unambiguous victory for Biden in the Electoral College and then in Congress. He could prevent the formation of consensus about whether there is any outcome at all. He could seize on that un-certainty to hold on to power.

Trump’s state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for postelection maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states. Ambiguities in the Constitution and logic bombs in the Electoral Count Act make it possible to extend the dispute all the way to Inauguration Day, which would bring the nation to a precipice. The Twentieth Amendment is crystal clear that the president’s term in office “shall end” at noon on January 20, but two men could show up to be sworn in. One of them would arrive with all the tools and power of the presidency already in hand.

Read on for the details about how that could happen (voter suppression, mail-in voting, the “blue-shift”, the expired consent decree governing “ballot security” operations at polls, deploying the military to “Democrat-run cities” to “protect ballots”, hand-picked electors in Republican-controlled swing states). But Gellman is clear: some or all of this is going to happen.

Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.

Trump’s invincible commitment to this stance will be the most important fact about the coming Interregnum. It will deform the proceedings from beginning to end. We have not experienced anything like it before.

(As a quick aside, just yesterday, after Gellman’s piece was finalized, Trump again declined to commit to a peaceful transfer of power.)

I’m not a political scientist nor a therapist, but as someone who has been writing for years that Trump will never willingly leave office, I urge those of you who don’t want America to slide further into autocracy to acclimate yourself to the worst case scenario here so that you’re not completely devastated and immobilized when Election Day and then Inauguration Day comes and this shit happens. Don’t ignore this, optimistically rationalize it away, or stuff it deep down inside you; face it now, directly, and be prepared to assist in the fight for democracy and justice that’s coming.

Update: Here’s a thread by lawyer & author Teri Kanefield responding to The Atlantic piece that’s gotten some attention on Twitter.

First, remember that each state has rules that govern the certifying of their elections.

Yes, laws still matter.

The Trump legal advisor wants you to think they don’t.

Why? Because when enough people lose confidence in democracy, democracy will fail.

That’s why…a goal of active measures is to get you to lose confidence in democratic processes.

Trump is trying his best to get you to lose confidence in democratic processes.

He is trying to make you think he can pull this off.

New polls came out today showing that Trump is ten points behind nationally.

The Strongman needs you to think he’s strong. He doesn’t want you talking about the polls.

If he was winning, he’d want you talking about the polls.

There are some good details in there, but ultimately she’s really only talking about one aspect of the piece (the election certification) and it remains to be seen whether national polling during a pandemic and more than a month before the election will have anything to with reality when it comes to actual counted votes in a selection of swing states. As the 2016 election showed, all you really need is to bend things your way a little bit in a few states and you’ve got yourself an election or crisis or whatever. (via @heathr)

Living in a Conspiracy Nation

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 14, 2020

We are in a spectacularly unprecedented moment in our nation’s history. If you do not believe that is the case, perhaps these two recent news reports in completely sober (and even socially conservative) publications will persuade you. Charlotte Alter reports from my home state of Wisconsin for Time magazine:

In more than seven dozen interviews conducted in Wisconsin in early September, from the suburbs around Milwaukee to the scarred streets of Kenosha in the aftermath of the Jacob Blake shooting, about 1 in 5 voters volunteered ideas that veered into the realm of conspiracy theory, ranging from QAnon to the notion that COVID-19 is a hoax. Two women in Ozaukee County calmly informed me that an evil cabal operates tunnels under the U.S. in order to rape and torture children and drink their blood. A Joe Biden supporter near a Kenosha church told me votes don’t matter, because “the elites” will decide the outcome of the election anyway. A woman on a Kenosha street corner explained that Democrats were planning to bring in U.N. troops before the election to prevent a Trump win.

One in five. 20%. Alter continues:

This matters not just because of what these voters believe but also because of what they don’t. The facts that should anchor a sense of shared reality are meaningless to them; the news developments that might ordinarily inform their vote fall on deaf ears. They will not be swayed by data on coronavirus deaths, they won’t be persuaded by job losses or stock market gains, and they won’t care if Trump called America’s fallen soldiers “losers” or “suckers,” as the Atlantic reported, because they won’t believe it. They are impervious to messaging, advertising or data. They aren’t just infected with conspiracy; they appear to be inoculated against reality.

Democracy relies on an informed and engaged public responding in rational ways to the real-life facts and challenges before us. But a growing number of Americans are untethered from that. “They’re not on the same epistemological grounding, they’re not living in the same worlds,” says Whitney Phillips, a professor at Syracuse who studies online disinformation. “You cannot have a functioning democracy when people are not at the very least occupying the same solar system.”

Alter found conspiracy thinking on the left (Trump created Covid?!) but it was way more batshit crazy on the right:

On a cigarette break outside their small business in Ozaukee County, Tina Arthur and Marcella Frank told me they plan to vote for Trump again because they are deeply alarmed by “the cabal.” They’ve heard “numerous reports” that the COVID-19 tents set up in New York and California were actually for children who had been rescued from underground sex-trafficking tunnels.

Arthur and Frank explained they’re not followers of QAnon. Frank says she spends most of her free time researching child sex trafficking, while Arthur adds that she often finds this information on the Russian-owned search engine Yandex. Frank’s eyes fill with tears as she describes what she’s found: children who are being raped and tortured so that “the cabal” can “extract their blood and drink it.” She says Trump has seized the blood on the black market as part of his fight against the cabal. “I think if Biden wins, the world is over, basically,” adds Arthur. “I would honestly try to leave the country. And if that wasn’t an option, I would probably take my children and sit in the garage and turn my car on and it would be over.”

(At this point, you may want to take a short break, as I did, to either fully absorb this madness or to try to wipe your mind of it completely. Neither worked for me, but I did have a nice little stroll.) Ok, ready for round two? From The Economist, How construction workers in Ohio view the election:

“He’s done a great job, he’s got everyone back to work. I’m pretty much 100% for him,” said Kyle, a 30-year-old electrician. “He shoots his mouth off but at least that shows he’s honest,” said Jason, a pipe-fitter, who said he especially liked Mr Trump’s commitment to reducing the national debt. “He’s done more for our country than the past ten presidents put together,” said an older builder, Jeff, skimming wet concrete on a new road. “He’s made — who is it, China or Japan? — pay our farmers billions of dollars. He got health care done, which the Democrats could never do. He built the wall.”

None of this is true, aside from Trump shooting his mouth off. These lies aren’t as spectacular as the blood-drinking pedophilia, but in some ways they’re even worse because they’re so easily fact-checked (e.g. Trump has increased the national debt) but still believed.

Bonus items that I randomly ran across this morning: 1) A recent local news report on an anti-mask rally in Utah, where some folks assert that Covid-19 is a hoax and that asymptomatic carriers don’t exist (oh, and a woman draws a parallel between George Floyd not being able to breathe and people not being able to breathe with a face mask on). 2) The assistant secretary of public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services, an actual government official, “accused career government scientists on Sunday of ‘sedition’ in their handling of the pandemic and warned that left-wing hit squads were preparing for armed insurrection after the election”.

I’ve said this several times before, but I keep coming back to this quote from Hannah Arendt:

If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer. This is because lies, by their very nature, have to be changed, and a lying government has constantly to rewrite its own history. On the receiving end you get not only one lie — a lie which you could go on for the rest of your days — but you get a great number of lies, depending on how the political wind blows. And a people that no longer can believe anything cannot make up its mind. It is deprived not only of its capacity to act but also of its capacity to think and to judge. And with such a people you can then do what you please.

Fox News, talk radio, and Facebook — aided and abetted by clueless mainstream media outlets who feel the need to cover “both sides” equally — have been pounding away on Americans for decades, feeding them misinformation and hate. Trump ratcheted that rhetoric up, legitimized it with the office of the president, and is reaping the rewards — “with such a people you can then do what you please”.

Trump Supporters Should Face Negative Consequences for Their Actions

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 09, 2020

Trump Boat Sunk

Designer & writer Gabrielle Blair, creator of the popular Design Mom blog, on The Consequences of Your Actions.

It makes me sick to my stomach that you, a Trump supporter, ever read or watch or listen to anything I’ve created. This is true even if I know you in real life.

I see what you are trying to do. You want me to treat you like a decent human being. But you are not behaving like a decent human being.

A decent person doesn’t align themself with people who are proudly racist and who insist America doesn’t have a racism problem.

A decent person doesn’t align themself with people who believe viral right-wing stories on Facebook over trained journalists, who think Q is real, who think the pandemic is fake, who think the earth is flat.

Blair continues:

You want to vote for Trump and experience no negative consequences.

But that’s not an option.

One of the consequences of your actions? I do not respect you.

Leave them to their terrible art:

I want to see you shunned by every person and organization that doesn’t support Trump. No more access to their books, movies, products, music, events, artists & influencers — till you are left with nothing but Smashmouth concerts, and Ben Shapiro talking about his sex life.

(And just so I don’t get email about this, the boat image at the top of the page is photoshopped. It’s an example of what the kids today are calling a “meme”.)

The Next Reconstruction?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 08, 2020

In The Atlantic, Adam Serwer writes about the parallels between the present moment and Reconstruction, the post-Civil War period where the biggest strides toward racial justice in America were taken. In response to the protests happening in American streets this summer, Trump pulled out Nixon’s “law and order” playbook but that move backfired on Trump, much like the way that Andrew Johnson’s push for the US government to remain white during the early years of Reconstruction did.

The shift that’s occurred this time around “wasn’t by happenstance,” Brittany Packnett Cunningham, an activist and a writer, told me, nor is it only the product of video evidence. “It has been the work of generations of Black activists, Black thinkers, and Black scholars that has gotten us here” — people like Angela Davis, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Michelle Alexander, and others. “Six years ago, people were not using the phrase systemic racism beyond activist circles and academic circles. And now we are in a place where it is readily on people’s lips, where folks from CEOs to grandmothers up the street are talking about it, reading about it, researching on it, listening to conversations about it.”

All of that preparation met the moment: George Floyd’s killing, the pandemic’s unmistakable toll on Black Americans, and Trump’s callous and cynical response to both.

Still, like Andrew Johnson, Trump bet his political fortunes on his assumption that the majority of white Americans shared his fears and beliefs about Black Americans. Like Johnson, Trump did not anticipate how his own behavior, and the behavior he enabled and encouraged, would discredit the cause he backed. He did not anticipate that the activists might succeed in convincing so many white Americans to see the protests as righteous and justified, that so many white Americans would understand police violence as an extension of his own cruelty, that the pandemic would open their eyes to deep-seated racial inequities.

“I think this country is at a turning point and has been for a little while. We went from celebrating the election of the first Black president in history to bemoaning a white nationalist in the White House,” Alicia Garza told me. “People are grappling with the fact that we’re not actually in a post-racial society.”

If the reaction to eight years of Obama was a white nationalist President, then maybe the reaction to that is, finally, the beginning of true racial justice and equality in America. But here is the big question:

In the past, the dream of remaking society has faltered when white Americans have realized what they would have to sacrifice to deliver freedom. The question now is whether this time is different.

And further:

Believing in racial equality in the abstract and supporting policies that would make it a reality are two different things. Most white Americans have long professed the former, and pointedly declined to do the latter. This paradox has shown up so many times in American history that social scientists have a name for it: the principle-implementation gap. This gap is what ultimately doomed the Reconstruction project.

A research paper on the principle-implementation gap puts it plainly:

White Americans accept equality as an ideal yet reject interventions designed to achieve that ideal.

Serwer goes on to say that the sticking point is often economic justice — versus the easier-to-swallow civic justice. Ok, just go read the whole thing before I quote it all. (via @michaelharriot, who called the piece “spectacular”)

Eric Godal’s Anti-Fascist Illustrations Updated for 2020

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 03, 2020

Piascik Anti Fascist

Piascik Anti Fascist

In the 1930s and 40s, artist Eric Godal drew some anti-fascist political cartoons that urged people not to listen to right-wing authoritarians who want to destroy and pillage society for their own ends. Godal, a German Jew, had escaped the clutches of Nazi Germany in the 30s and labored to warn America and the world about the fate of the Jews in Europe.1

Illustrator Chris Piascik has updated Godal’s drawings for 2020 to feature our own corrupt crackpot wannabe dictator. Calling Donald Trump a fascist is hardly controversial these days — he clearly is. What his supporters need to reckon with is: are they?

  1. Godal’s mother was able to get out of Germany on a boat but was denied entry to the United States as a refugee by the Roosevelt administration. She was sent back and eventually murdered in a Nazi death camp.

Michelle Obama Makes the Case for Voting Trump Out

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 18, 2020

In her impassioned speech on the first night of the Democratic National Convention, Michelle Obama made her case for Americans to come together and vote Donald Trump out of office. In her remarks, she zeroed in on his incompetence, his total lack of empathy for anyone but himself, and his desire for division.

So let me be as honest and clear as I possibly can. Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country. He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is.

Now, I understand that my message won’t be heard by some people. We live in a nation that is deeply divided, and I am a black woman speaking at the Democratic convention. But enough of you know me by now. You know that I tell you exactly what I’m feeling. You know I hate politics. But you also know that I care about this nation. You know how much I care about all of our children.

So if you take one thing from my words tonight, it is this: if you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me, they can, and they will if we don’t make a change in this election. If we have any hope of ending this chaos, we have got to vote for Joe Biden like our lives depend on it.

And voting this year means putting in some extra work so that our votes count:

But this is not the time to withhold our votes in protest or play games with candidates who have no chance of winning. We have got to vote like we did in 2008 and 2012. We’ve got to show up with the same level of passion and hope for Joe Biden. We’ve got to vote early, in person if we can. We’ve got to request our mail-in ballots right now, tonight, and send them back immediately and follow up to make sure they’re received. And then, make sure our friends and families do the same.

We have got to grab our comfortable shoes, put on our masks, pack a brown-bag dinner and maybe breakfast too, because we’ve got to be willing to stand in line all night if we have to.

You can read the entire transcript of her speech or watch it above. It’s worth your time.

Neither Snow nor Rain nor Heat nor Dip of Shit

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 14, 2020

USPS Rain Snow Fascism

An anonymous USPS employee has written about the recent changes at the Post Office since new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy (“a lifelong Republican, a Trump mega-donor/fundraiser, and a high ranking RNC official”) took over and has set about gutting it from the inside.

All of the potential angles for corruption make DeJoy’s aims pretty tough to figure out. He’s a small market conservative from the private sector running a massive government agency. He’s a Trump ally running the agency responsible for ballots during an election year. He also has a direct financial interest in seeing us fail. Take your pick. You’re probably right no matter what. And judging by the chaos he’s unleashed into USPS in just his first two months, “all of the above” might be your best bet.

See, up until just two months ago, every letter carrier, clerk, mail handler, truck driver, etc, worked under one pretty simple philosophy: every piece, every address, every day. Everyone in the chain of custody for mail made sure every piece got as far along in the system as it could, and if it made it to my hands, in my office, it was getting delivered. That’s how I’ve done it for my career, how the guys who have been doing it for forty years have always done it, and that’s literally how Ben Fucking Franklin’s guys did it. You can almost hear Aaron Sorkin’s orgasm as he punches up the Bradley Whitford speech about the majesty of it all.

But two months ago is also when that abruptly stopped. After a couple hundred years, it just…stopped. On the ground floor, there’s a lot of arguing about who is ordering what, and what’s going to be permanent, and what’s going to be a trial run, but at the end of the day, the result is obvious: I go into my job, every single morning, and don’t deliver hundreds of pieces of available mail that used to get delivered. The only reason given is some vague nonsense about “operational efficiency” and “cost savings.”

And this was written before reports of sorting machines being removed without explanation ahead of a presumed huge surge of election-related mail. I think we should actually be pretty alarmed by this. Here’s Jamelle Bouie on Trump’s election night strategy (and how to counter it: vote in person):

There’s no mystery about what President Trump intends to do if he holds a lead on election night in November. He’s practically broadcasting it.

First, he’ll claim victory. Then, having spent most of the year denouncing vote-by-mail as corrupt, fraudulent and prone to abuse, he’ll demand that authorities stop counting mail-in and absentee ballots. He’ll have teams of lawyers challenging counts and ballots across the country.

He also seems to be counting on having the advantage of mail slowdowns, engineered by the recently installed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. Fewer pickups and deliveries could mean more late-arriving ballots and a better shot at dismissing votes before they’re even opened, especially if the campaign has successfully sued to block states from extending deadlines. We might even see a Brooks Brothers riot or two, where well-heeled Republican operatives stage angry and voluble protests against ballot counts and recounts.

(via waxy)

Daft Trump - Harder, Woman, Faster, Camera

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 24, 2020

Donald Trump’s idiotic brag about how well he did on a cognitive test (“Person. Woman. Man. Camera. TV.”) set to Daft Punk’s Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.

You just have to laugh because if you actually stop to think about how much harm this man has done and will continue to do in his remaining time in office, the incandescent rage might make you pass out.

The Pandemic and the American Mountain of Dead

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 30, 2020

For his piece The 3 Weeks That Changed Everything in The Atlantic, James Fallows talked to many scientists, health experts, and government officials about the US government’s response to the pandemic. In the article, he compares the pandemic response to how the government manages air safety and imagines what it would look like if we investigated the pandemic catastrophe like the National Transportation Safety Board investigates plane crashes.

Consider a thought experiment: What if the NTSB were brought in to look at the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic? What would its investigation conclude? I’ll jump to the answer before laying out the background: This was a journey straight into a mountainside, with countless missed opportunities to turn away. A system was in place to save lives and contain disaster. The people in charge of the system could not be bothered to avoid the doomed course.

And he continues:

What happened once the disease began spreading in this country was a federal disaster in its own right: Katrina on a national scale, Chernobyl minus the radiation. It involved the failure to test; the failure to trace; the shortage of equipment; the dismissal of masks; the silencing or sidelining of professional scientists; the stream of conflicting, misleading, callous, and recklessly ignorant statements by those who did speak on the national government’s behalf. As late as February 26, Donald Trump notoriously said of the infection rate, “You have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down close to zero.” What happened after that — when those 15 cases became 15,000, and then more than 2 million, en route to a total no one can foretell — will be a central part of the history of our times.

But he rightly pins much of the blame for the state we’re in on the Trump administration almost completely ignoring the plans put into place for a viral outbreak like this that were developed by past administrations, both Republican and Democratic alike.

In cases of disease outbreak, U.S. leadership and coordination of the international response was as well established and taken for granted as the role of air traffic controllers in directing flights through their sectors. Typically this would mean working with and through the World Health Organization — which, of course, Donald Trump has made a point of not doing. In the previous two decades of international public-health experience, starting with SARS and on through the rest of the acronym-heavy list, a standard procedure had emerged, and it had proved effective again and again. The U.S, with its combination of scientific and military-logistics might, would coordinate and support efforts by other countries. Subsequent stages would depend on the nature of the disease, but the fact that the U.S. would take the primary role was expected. When the new coronavirus threat suddenly materialized, American engagement was the signal all other participants were waiting for. But this time it did not come. It was as if air traffic controllers walked away from their stations and said, “The rest of you just work it out for yourselves.”

From the U.S. point of view, news of a virulent disease outbreak anywhere in the world is unwelcome. But in normal circumstances, its location in China would have been a plus. Whatever the ups and downs of political relations over the past two decades, Chinese and American scientists and public-health officials have worked together frequently, and positively, on health crises ranging from SARS during George W. Bush’s administration to the H1N1 and Ebola outbreaks during Barack Obama’s. As Peter Beinart extensively detailed in an Atlantic article, the U.S. helped build China’s public-health infrastructure, and China has cooperated in detecting and containing diseases within its borders and far afield. One U.S. official recalled the Predict program: “Getting Chinese agreement to American monitors throughout their territory — that was something.” But then the Trump administration zeroed out that program.

Americans, and indeed everyone in the world, should be absolutely furious about this, especially since the situation is actively getting worse after months (months!) of inactivity by the federal government.

A Catalog of Trump’s Worst Cruelties, Collusions, Corruptions, and Crimes

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 25, 2020

Since the early days of Donald Trump’s presidency, the editors at McSweeney’s have been keeping track of his various “misdeeds”. With the election coming up, they’ve published the full list: Lest We Forget the Horrors: A Catalog of Trump’s Worst Cruelties, Collusions, Corruptions, and Crimes: The Complete Listing (So Far).

We called this list a collection of Trump’s cruelties, collusions, and crimes, and it felt urgent then to track them, to ensure these horrors — happening almost daily — would not be forgotten. This election year, amid a harrowing global health, civil rights, humanitarian, and economic crisis, we know it’s never been more critical to note these horrors, to remember them, and to do all in our power to reverse them.

I know we know who this guy is by now (we knew who he was before he was elected), but the categories they’re using for a sitting US President is still shocking and upsetting — including “Sexual Misconduct, Harassment, & Bullying” and “White Supremacy, Racism, & Xenophobia”. I read through the 739 items in the list (so far) and pulled out some of the lowlights.

June 16, 2015 — In his speech announcing his candidacy for President of the United States, Donald Trump said, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

October 7, 2016 — In the 2005 Access Hollywood tape, Donald Trump bragged to Billy Bush about grabbing women by their genitals without consent. In the video published by the Washington Post, Trump said, “I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it, you can do anything… grab them by the pussy.” Trump said his statements were “locker room banter” and apologized “if anyone was offended.” He later issued a further response to the tape’s release, saying, “I’ve never said I’m a perfect person.”

October 7, 2016 — Donald Trump reiterated his false claim that the young men known as the “Central Park Five” were guilty of sexually assaulting a jogger in 1989, despite DNA evidence that exonerated them.

February 1, 2017 — In a rollback of an Obama-era protection, Donald Trump’s White House withdrew the Mercury Effluent Rule, which regulated the safe use and disposal of mercury in American dental offices. The Natural Resource Defense Council estimated the repeal would discharge five tons of the neurotoxic substance into water supplies each year. Even trace amounts of mercury can harm brain function and damage the human nervous system, particularly in pregnant women and infants.

March 10, 2017 — Donald Trump abruptly ordered 46 Obama-era prosecutors to tender their resignations. Among the dismissed prosecutors was Preet Bharara, an attorney renowned for his work uprooting government corruption. Bharara served as the U.S. attorney in New York City and, at the time of his removal, had jurisdiction over Trump Tower in New York. When he was fired, Bharara was reportedly building a case against Rupert Murdoch and Fox News executives for a variety of indiscretions related to violations of privacy.

October 23, 2017 — When asked about gay rights while in the company of Mike Pence, Donald Trump joked, “Don’t ask that guy — he wants to hang them all!”

February 5, 2018 — During a speech at a factory in Ohio, Trump wondered aloud whether Democrats had committed treason against the United States for withholding their applause during his State of the Union Address. “Can we call that treason? Why not? I mean, they certainly didn’t seem to love our country very much.”

Ok, I can’t read any more of these. Look, I get that if you compile a list of anyone’s worst moments, they’re not going to come out looking good. But this list is overwhelming — even if you just consider the (many!) sexual assaults or just the stuff that he’s said, plainly and unapologetically, in public. Hell, Trump likely thinks that a lot of this is the good stuff. That a) around 40% of Americans either approve of or are comfortable ignoring his behavior, and b) that paltry 40% might be enough to get him reelected (as Republicans around the country continue to try their damnedest to take away citizens’ voting rights) should SCARE THE ABSOLUTE SHIT out of all of us.

Are They Police? Or an Army?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 01, 2020

Nick Baumann on the militarization of the American police:

“You create this world where you’re not just militarizing the police — you equip the police like soldiers, you train the police like soldiers. Why are you surprised when they act like soldiers?” Rizer, a former police officer and soldier, said. “The mission of the police is to protect and serve. But the premise of the soldier is to engage the enemy in close combat and destroy them. When you blur those lines together with statements like that … It’s an absolute breakdown of civil society.”

American police officers generally believe that carrying military equipment and wearing military gear makes them feel like they can do more, and that it makes them scarier, Rizer’s research has found. Officers even acknowledge that acting and dressing like soldiers could change how the public feels about them. But “they don’t care,” he said.

In 2015, after the militarized police response to the protests in Ferguson, Mo., President Obama restricted the sales of military equipment by the Pentagon to police departments.

Mr. Obama ordered a review of the Pentagon program in late 2014 after the police responded to protests with armored vehicles, snipers and riot gear. The images of police officers with military gear squaring off against protesters around the country angered community activists who said law enforcement agencies were reacting disproportionately.

In addition to the prohibitions on certain military surplus gear, he added restrictions on transferring some weapons and devices, including explosives, battering rams, riot helmets and shields.

The Pentagon said 126 tracked armored vehicles, 138 grenade launchers and 1,623 bayonets had been returned since Mr. Obama prohibited their transfer.

In 2017, Donald Trump fully restored the practice of transferring military goods to police, grenade launchers and all.

Update: Would just like to note that the 1033 Program was signed into law by Bill Clinton, has historically enjoyed bipartisan support, and was greatly expanded under Obama.

A recent study show that, under the Pentagon’s 1033 program, enacted in 1997, the value of military weapons, gear and equipment transferred to local cops did not exceed $34 million annually until 2010, the second year of the Obama administration, when it nearly tripled to more than $91 million. By 2014, the year that Michael Brown was shot down — and when the full Congress, including 32 members of the Congressional Black Caucus, rejected a bill that would have shut down the 1033 program — Obama was sending three quarters of a billion dollars, more than $787 million a year, in battlefield weaponry to local police departments. In other words, President Obama oversaw a 24-fold (2,400%) increase in the militarization of local police between 2008 and 2014. Even with the scale-back announced in 2015, Obama still managed to transfer a $459 million arsenal to the cops — 14 times as much weapons of terror and death than President Bush gifted to the local police at his high point year of 2008.

(thx, chuck)

The Plan Is to Have No Plan

posted by Jason Kottke   May 05, 2020

This short description by Jay Rosen accurately describes the Trump administration’s plan for dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.

The plan is to have no plan, to let daily deaths between one and three thousand become a normal thing, and then to create massive confusion about who is responsible — by telling the governors they’re in charge without doing what only the federal government can do, by fighting with the press when it shows up to be briefed, by fixing blame for the virus on China or some other foreign element, and by “flooding the zone with shit,” Steve Bannon’s phrase for overwhelming the system with disinformation, distraction, and denial, which boosts what economists call “search costs” for reliable intelligence.

Stated another way, the plan is to default on public problem solving, and then prevent the public from understanding the consequences of that default. To succeed this will require one of the biggest propaganda and freedom of information fights in U.S. history, the execution of which will, I think, consume the president’s re-election campaign.

While his actions often have complex effects, Trump has never been a complicated person. This “plan” fits with what we know about Trump’s personality & behavior, plays to his strengths by relying on reactions & tactics and not strategy, is consistent with Occam’s razor, allows his administration to continue pursuing his aggressive agenda (restricting immigration, strengthening big business, weakening public institutions, enriching himself, consolidating power, getting re-elected), and whips his base into a frenzy. As Dave Eggers put it in a satirical opinion piece for the NY Times:

Having no plan is the plan! Haven’t you been listening? Plans are for commies and the Danish. Here we do it fast and loose and dumb and wrong, and occasionally we have a man who manufactures pillows come to the White House to show the president encouraging texts. It all works! Eighteen months, 800,000 deaths, no plan, states bidding against states for medicine and equipment, you’re on your own, plans are lame.

There’s no galaxy brain here, only a twitchy muscle attached to a frayed nerve.

Will Trump Ever Leave the White House?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 02, 2019

In an opinion piece for the NY Times, Thomas Edsall asks the provocative question: How and when will President Trump leave the White House? In the course of attempting to define and then answer the question, he talks with a number of political experts about how a successful impeachment or a 2020 election defeat could play out. When he asked “eminently reasonable scholar” David Leege about it, Leege said:

We should not assume that either a 2020 election defeat or impeachment/conviction will remove Trump from the White House.

Both before Trump was elected in 2016 and during his term, he has made frequent references to “my 2nd Amendment friends”’ and increasingly the “patriots” who constitute the military.

As president, Trump has resisted any effort to curb citizen access to guns and ammo. He puts on a modest show of concern when a particularly bad gun massacre occurs but, in the end, he sees armed citizens as a significant personal asset.

And if the 2020 election is at all close, you’d might see something like what happened in 2000 with Bush/Gore, except way worse, given today’s hyper-partisan political atmosphere. Here is Harvard’s Steven Levitsky:

It is possible that Republicans would close ranks behind Trump, resulting in a constitutional crisis. If right-wing media and the G.O.P. politicians were to remain solidly behind Trump, as they largely have thus far in previous scandals, there would be no easy constitutional exit.

I’ve had a bad feeling about just this possibility for a few years now. From a post I wrote in Sept 2017:

But watching Trump as President over the past few months, is it really that difficult to imagine him going full OJ here when confronted with losing his powerful position? Instead of Simpson being driven around LA in the white Bronco by Al Cowlings followed by a phalanx of police cruisers, on January 20, 2021, it’ll be Trump locked in the White House with Senator Kid Rock, taunting the military via Twitter to come in and get him. That sounds more plausible than Trump genteelly hosting the incoming Democratic President for tea in what USA Today calls “the 220-year-old ritual that has become a hallmark of American democracy: The orderly transition of power that comes at the appointed hour when one president takes the oath of office and his predecessor recedes into history”. Aside from “power”, not a single other word in that sentence even remotely describes anything Trump has ever cared about.

It will indeed be interesting and terrifying to see what happens here.

Motivated Reasoning and Tribal Loyalty in Politics

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2019

For years, researchers have identified a link between a person’s “moral foundations” and their political views. In a piece for The Atlantic, Olga Khazan summarized it like so:

According to the researchers who invented the quiz, the issues that most concern political liberals tend to fall under the category of “individualizing” moral foundations, which have more to do with personal standards: care versus harm and fairness versus cheating. Political conservatives, meanwhile, tend to be more concerned about group-focused “binding” foundations: loyalty versus betrayal, authority versus subversion, and disgust versus purity. If loyalty is extremely important to you, the research suggests, you might care deeply about supporting the troops, and therefore you might be more likely to be politically conservative.

She then goes on to describe the results of a new study that suggest that maybe our morals are determined by our political affiliation and not the other way around.

In a series of analyses published recently in the American Journal of Political Science, the three researchers found that people’s moral codes don’t cause or predict their political ideology; instead, people’s ideology appears to predict their answers on the moral-foundations questionnaire. As Peter Hatemi, one of the study’s authors and a political-science professor at Pennsylvania State University, puts it: “We will switch our moral compass depending on how it fits with what we believe politically.”

This could explain how the Republicans’ opinion of Russia changed so quickly in the wake of allegations that Donald Trump colluded in Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, the Republican flip-flop on climate change, the evangelical Christian embrace of the most immoral President in recent history, and the leftward swing of many Democratic Party members, following their most visible politicians (Bernie, Warren, AOC) & most vocal supporters away from Obama’s centrism.

Fox News: Unfair and Unbalanced Propaganda

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 04, 2019

Jane Mayer, author of the very well-reviewed Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, has a big piece in the New Yorker today on the close relationship between the Trump administration and Fox News.

Hannity was treated in Texas like a member of the Administration because he virtually is one. The same can be said of Fox’s chairman, Rupert Murdoch. Fox has long been a bane of liberals, but in the past two years many people who watch the network closely, including some Fox alumni, say that it has evolved into something that hasn’t existed before in the United States. Nicole Hemmer, an assistant professor of Presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center and the author of “Messengers of the Right,” a history of the conservative media’s impact on American politics, says of Fox, “It’s the closest we’ve come to having state TV.”

Hemmer argues that Fox-which, as the most watched cable news network, generates about $2.7 billion a year for its parent company, 21st Century Fox — acts as a force multiplier for Trump, solidifying his hold over the Republican Party and intensifying his support. “Fox is not just taking the temperature of the base — it’s raising the temperature,” she says. “It’s a radicalization model.” For both Trump and Fox, “fear is a business strategy — it keeps people watching.” As the President has been beset by scandals, congressional hearings, and even talk of impeachment, Fox has been both his shield and his sword. The White House and Fox interact so seamlessly that it can be hard to determine, during a particular news cycle, which one is following the other’s lead. All day long, Trump retweets claims made on the network; his press secretary, Sarah Sanders, has largely stopped holding press conferences, but she has made some thirty appearances on such shows as “Fox & Friends” and “Hannity.” Trump, Hemmer says, has “almost become a programmer.”

The subhead of the piece is: “Fox News has always been partisan. But has it become propaganda?” If you’ve been paying attention here over the past couple of years, you know I believe the answer to that question is “yes”. See also Blame Fox News for Fake News, Not Facebook, Study: Watching Fox News Has Big Effect on Voting Patterns, Fox News Is Poisoning America. Rupert Murdoch and His Heirs Should Be Shunned., and Fox News Isn’t A Normal Media Company. We Have To Stop Treating It Like One.

How the KGB Weaponized Fake News (and How It’s Still Hurting Us Today)

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 27, 2019

The US government created HIV. The CIA killed Kennedy. The KGB deliberately spread disinformation designed to hurt the US and its allies for decades. In this excellent three-part video series from the NY Times, they show how this KBG program worked and how, under Vladimir Putin, it continues to affect world politics.

The first installment is an introduction to how the KGB wielded disinformation as well as a profile of one of their most successful operations: convincing the world that the US government created the AIDS epidemic. It took almost 4 years, but an article planted by the KGB in an Indian newspaper was eventually reported by Dan Rather on the CBS evening news, embraced by anti-AIDS activists, and believed by many foreign governments.

In the words of a KGB agent that defected to the US, the goal of Soviet disinformation was “to change the perception of reality of every American to such an extent that despite the abundance of information, no one is able to come to sensible conclusions in the interests of defending themselves, their families, their community, and their country.” It was a denial of service attack on the truth.

Fast forward through the end of the Cold War and to the rise of former KGB agent Vladimir Putin. Now Russia is creating fake news stories like Pizzagate which now form the basis of US domestic and foreign policy because our President watches Fox News every morning. In the second segment, the Seven Commandments of Fake News are introduced:

The commandments are:

1. Find the cracks in the fabric of society, the social, demographic, economic, and ethnic divisions.
2. Create a big lie, something that would be very damaging if you could get people to believe it.
3. Wrap the lie in a kernel of truth.
4. Conceal your hand, make it seem like the story came from somewhere else.
5. Find yourself a useful idiot.
6. Deny everything, even if the truth is obvious.
7. Play the long game.

In the third video, they look at what can be done to combat Russia and other players in this war of disinformation, and how ineffective the response has been on the part of the US government (including the Obama administration) and social media companies:

There are certainly no shortage of useful idiots for Putin to exploit. Fox News and Trump top the list along with the alt-right media charlatans, but YouTube’s algorithms, Facebook’s business model, and the everyday American citizens like you and me are also to blame. Add into the mix that Trump is also waging his own disinformation campaign against the American public, and there’s a lot to ponder and despair.

See also Putin’s Playbook for Discrediting America and Destabilizing the West.

It’s So Cold Out! Where’s the Global Warming?!

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 30, 2019

In what is now an annual tradition, when the temperatures in some part of the US plunge below zero degrees on the Fahrenheit scale, some nitwit Republican climate change-denier live-tweets from the back pocket of industry something like “It’s so cold out where’s the global warming when we need it???? #OwnTheLibs”. This time around, it was our very own Shitwhistle-in-Chief who tweeted merrily about the current polar vortex bearing down on the Midwest:

In the beautiful Midwest, windchill temperatures are reaching minus 60 degrees, the coldest ever recorded. In coming days, expected to get even colder. People can’t last outside even for minutes. What the hell is going on with Global Waming? Please come back fast, we need you!

Some time ago, Randall Munroe addressed what severe cold in the US has to do with climate change on XKCD: it used to be colder a lot more often but we don’t really remember it.

XKCD Cold Weather Global Warming

When I was a kid growing up in Wisconsin, I recall experiencing overnight low temperatures in the -30°F to -40°F range several times and vividly remember being stranded in my house for a week in 1996 when the all-time record low for the state (-55°F) was established in nearby Couderay.

Munroe’s observation isn’t even the whole story. Jennifer Francis, senior scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center, writes that the polar vortex bringing cold air into the Midwest is connected to the rapidly warming Arctic.

Because of rapid Arctic warming, the north/south temperature difference has diminished. This reduces pressure differences between the Arctic and mid-latitudes, weakening jet stream winds. And just as slow-moving rivers typically take a winding route, a slower-flowing jet stream tends to meander.

Large north/south undulations in the jet stream generate wave energy in the atmosphere. If they are wavy and persistent enough, the energy can travel upward and disrupt the stratospheric polar vortex. Sometimes this upper vortex becomes so distorted that it splits into two or more swirling eddies.

These “daughter” vortices tend to wander southward, bringing their very cold air with them and leaving behind a warmer-than-normal Arctic.

(via @mkonnikova)