‘Very Brazen About It’

In the video above, Dr. Sarah Kendzior describes the brazen nature of autocracy: not merely does an autocrat flaunt norms, but he does so to remind others of his power, and to attempt to instill in normal, freedom-loving people a feeling of hopelessness in the face of power aberrantly exercised.

In response to these tactics, one should (1) remind repeatedly how contrary to a well-order society authoritarianism is, (2) prepare for a long campaign in opposition, and (3) apply maximum, collective pressure, at times of one’s own choosing, against an authoritarian’s greatest vulnerabilities.

A longer view is both steadying and rational: one manages reverses more easily, and applies one’s reasoning most effectively. (There is this requirement of a long view: a long memory.)

Video via Sarah Kendzior On The Impending Trump Autocracy: ‘They’re Very Brazen About It.’

The Fellow Travelers

Jeremy Peters nicely describes the descent of far too many into mere fellow travelers for Putin, a dictator, imperialist, and murderer (Peters is far too mild about Putin, but he’s ably identified the self-hating Americans who support Russian’s dictator, and some of whom are perhaps even fifth columnists for Russia):

WASHINGTON — Years before the words “collusion” and “Russian hacking” became associated with President Vladimir V. Putin, some prominent Republicans found far more laudatory ways to talk about the Russian leader.

“Putin decides what he wants to do, and he does it in half a day,” Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York mayor and longtime friend and adviser to President Trump, gushed in 2014.

Mr. Putin was worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize, K. T. McFarland said in 2013, before going on to serve a brief and ill-fated stint as Mr. Trump’s deputy national security adviser.

“A great leader,” “very reasoned,” and “extremely diplomatic,” was how Mr. Trump himself described Mr. Putin that same year.

Though such fondness for Mr. Putin fell outside the Republican Party’s mainstream at the time, it became a widely held sentiment inside the conservative movement by the time Mr. Trump started running for president in 2015. And it persists today, despite evidence of Russian intervention in the 2016 American election and Mr. Putin’s increasingly authoritarian tendencies at home.

Via Reverence for Putin on the Right Buys Trump Cover.

Chris Hayes: Does Trump Jr.’s Email Thread Reveal He Had a Phone Conversation Before His 6.9.16 Meeting?

Having a prior phone conversation with the person who arranged the meeting, of course, makes it even less likely that Trump fils was ignorant of the subject matter.

Trumpism Down to the Local Level

I wrote last week, in a post entitled ‘What Putin’s team is probably telling him about Trump,’ about five degrees of culpability for Putinism’s insinuation and degradation of American politics.

One could modify that list only slightly, and thereby describe Trump’s present influence in America:

(1) those who have served the Trump as operatives and surrogates to advance his agenda in opposition to America liberty and sovereignty, (2) those sympathetic to Trumpism (including white nationalists, anti-Muslim bigots, and theologically-confused & intellectually-stunted Americans who ludicrously think that Trump’s a moral exemplar), (3) those who wilfully refuse to see the damage Trump has done, (4) those who for years have maintained the low standards that have allowed Trump-style lies and misconduct to flourish (including every glad-handing Babbitt in every town in America), and (5) those of us who should have seen more clearly, and dealt with the rest more assertively & decisively, all these years gone by.

Most people, facing a conflict not of their wishes, would yet prefer to fight on only one front. America has not had that luxury in prior conflicts, and those of us in opposition do not have that luxury now. Some might have hoped to fight only nationally, and others to do so only locally. However one might apportion one’s time, there is a need to engage on both fronts.

Those supporting Trumpism declared boldly (and falsely) in 2016 that theirs was an existential struggle. I don’t believe for a moment that their situation was such; I’ve no doubt that they’ve now pushed those in opposition into such a conflict. What they unreasonably feared for themselves they’ve now unjustly inflicted on others.

So be it. Americans have faced secessionist slaveholders, copperheads, klan, and bund. Each threat we overcame, each danger in its time we consigned to the outer darkness.

We will slog through this time, through its dark politics, by use of law and a better politics, until it is no longer necessary to do so.

Gabriel Schoenfeld on ‘Trump and his whole circus – They have no good choices’

Gabriel Schoenfeld, the author of Necessary Secrets: National Security, the Media, and the Rule of Law, was a senior adviser to the 2012 Romney for President campaign. He observes the damage that Trump has done to the GOP:

Figures like Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer, cogs in the White House machinery who today seamlessly defend Trump and his lies, did not come to Trump World from the fever swamps of Breitbart News. They are from the heart of the GOP apparatus, the Republican National Committee, where only yesterday — in the aftermath of Mitt Romney’s 2012 defeat — they were preaching moderation and inclusiveness.

Employing their skills to rationalize Trump’s fabrications, his misogyny, his debasement of discourse and language, and his strange admiration for and acquiescence to Vladimir Putin, these apparatchiks have compromised themselves even more than Trump’s band of true believers. There is no going back. The latter — figures like Jeffrey LordKayleigh McEnany,and Katrina Pierson — have come to resemble a cult of unswerving loyalty to Trump and the Trump line….

As the Russian collusion story enters a new and perhaps decisive phase, it would not be surprising to see these intellectuals [Bennett, Gelernter, Kimball], along with the political operatives and politicians, stick with Trump to the bitter end. Having wandered into the muck, they are loath to admit how badly they’ve soiled themselves, let alone turn back. Their dilemma is quite similar to the one their hero now faces as the lies unravel and the truth comes to light. They have no good choices. The rest of us can take satisfaction that the ship of fools has run aground.

Via Don Jr. Russia emails trap Trump and his whole circus. They have no good choices.

There’s much yet to come, and those of us in opposition will see it through, confident from the beginning that we have been right in that opposition.

Trump Uses the Same Old Russia Excuses

For more on how Trump sows fear, uncertainty, or doubt to evade simple, direct questions, see David Graham’s The Trump Uncertainty Principle @ The Atlantic (“When Trump wants to rebut a charge, he seldom flatly denies it. Instead, he generally prefers to sow doubt, skillfully stressing uncertainties to obfuscate and muddy the issue.”)

One hears much from Trump’s most fervent supporters about the need for personal responsibility, greatness, etc., but when the object of their devotion speaks he uses techniques common only to an excuse-making child.

‘What Putin’s team is probably telling him about Trump’

Michael Morell, former deputy director of the CIA from 2010 to 2013 and twice acting director, and Samantha Vinograd of the National Security Council staff from 2009 to 2013, speculate from experience on What Putin’s team is probably telling him about Trump:

This is a speculative account of a memo that Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s national security team would likely send him as he prepares to meet with President Trump for the first time this week. It is not a reflection of how we see the issues; it is a reflection of how we think Putin’s closest aides see the issues.

Mr. President, when you meet with President Trump at the Group of 20 meeting this week in Hamburg, you will do so at a historic time. Russia is in its strongest position since the end of the Cold War; the United States, our great adversary, is the weakest it has been. We are on the road to achieving our fundamental national security objectives — for Russia to retake its place as a great power and to have a sphere of influence in the countries on our periphery.

This did not happen by chance; it happened because we took action. We undertook the most successful covert political influence campaign since World War II. We kept our nemesis Hillary Clinton out of the White House, and we installed a president who is deepening existing schisms in his country while creating new ones at home and abroad. This is the first time in history that the United States has been attacked by another country and not come together as a nation; instead, our actions have caused it to come apart. This is a great victory for us.

Needless to say, I’m not able to speculate reasonably on what Putin’s advisors are telling the Russian dictator, but any guidance that tells him that he’s won a great victory over America seems right to me.

Trump is a huge gift to Russian power, nearly in proportion to his ignorance, bigotry, nativism, mendacity, authoritarian tendencies, and preference for foreign autocrats.

Saying all this about Trump is simply stating the obvious about him, but it’s worth remembering that a core of American fellow travelers and fifth-columnists, having more sympathy for Putinism than America values, made Putin’s meddling and Trump’s excreable rise possible. (See, Useful Idiots: Trump is getting played by the Russians – but so is the rest of the GOP, where John Stoehr applies the phrase, dubiously attributed to Lenin, to contemporary politics.)

There are, in a rough, descending order of culpability for Putin’s interference in our politics, the following: (1) those who have collaborated with Russians or other third parties to undermine American liberty & sovereignty, (2) those sympathetic to Putinism (including white nationalists, anti-Muslim bigots, and theologically-confused & intellectually-stunted Americans who ludicrously think that Putin’s a moral exemplar), (3) those who wilfully refuse to see the damage Putin has done, (4) those who for years have maintained the low standards that have allowed Putin’s lies to flourish (including every glad-handing Babbitt in every town in America), and (5) those of us who should have seen more clearly, and dealt with the rest more assertively & decisively, all these years gone by.

‘So soft I want to put them in a pillowcase’

Dave Weigel (@daveweigel), on Twitter, describes nicely the kind of questions that Trump gets from Fox & Friends: “The questions from the Fox and Friends exclusive with Trump are so soft I want to put them in a pillowcase.”

I’ve added Weigel’s transcription of questions, below. Residents of Whitewater would be familiar with a local version of these questions. Indeed, a national program like Fox & Friends now offers questions no more challenging than questions that a local newspaper or the Banner might direct to a town politician. Where once one hoped that better national standards might inspire weak local coverage, one now finds that a national program (among many others) is as soft & supine as these local publications are.

James Comey Testimony, U.S. Senate, 6.8.17

Below is a video of James Comey’s June 8th open-session testimony before the U.S. Senate, a link to a transcript of these remarks, and his printed statement for the record (released before the hearing but not delivered in Comey’s oral testimony given today).

James Comey testimony transcript on Trump and Russia @ POLITICO.

Statement for the Record, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, James B. Comey, June 8, 2017:

Download (PDF, 106KB)

Rubin & Kendzior on Trump-Russia

Jennifer Rubin and Sarah Kendzior offer complimentary observations on Trump-Russia, that compound word for the evident association between Trump and Putin’s authoritarian state.

Rubin’s remarks are from yesterday, Kendzior’s from May 20th.

Rubin asks, of Trump, Would a spy for Russia be acting any differently?:

By whatever means, Russia has reaped unexpected and unparalleled benefits from Trump’s presidency. One can attribute all these individual actions to luck or coincidence, I suppose. But Trump has yet to take a single action nor have a single public interchange that harmed Russia’s interests. You’d think by the law of averages he’d once in a while stumble into a position that put him fundamentally at odds with Russia. That, however, has not occurred. Nor has it been possible for respected advisers to keep him from giving Russians intelligence data, sowing discord with allies and employing his son-in-law, whose contacts with the Russians seem curiouser and curiouser each day.

Sarah Kendzior, in a television interview, sees a close connection between Trump & Putin as a consequence of their shared disregard for the rule of law, corruption, and authoritarian personalities:


In either case, Trump will never get past Trump-Russia, because that close connection defines his politically degenerate outrlook.

Considering The Politics of Resentment, Concluding Thoughts (Part 9 of 9)

This is the ninth in a series of posts considering Katherine Cramer’s Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker.

I first thought I’d post, chapter by chapter, on Katherine Cramer’s Politics of Resentment after I read her 11.13.16 article in the Washington Post, “How rural resentment helps explain the surprising victory of Donald Trump.”

That’s quite the title, enticing readers (especially opponents of Trump, as I am) to learn about a purported key to his rise.

Her work offers no insights about Trump’s rise.

In Politics of Resentment, Cramer contends that rural voters were resentful, that they favored small government solutions against their interests, and that voters’ concerns were of economic anxiety and not so much about race.

Trump ran on a platform that advocated (mendaciously but insistently) a trillion dollars in infrastructure spending, healthcare supposedly better than ObamaCare, protectionism to compel jobs back to the Midwest, wall-building to restrict immigration from Mexico (although most immigrants are not Mexican), and insistence on a registry for Muslim Americans.

That’s not a small government agenda.

Cramer’s entire book is premised on the notion that rural residents are so resentful they favor small government over their own supposed economic interests.

Trump’s entire campaign rested firmly on lavish promises of spending, a trillion for public works, and a steady diet of anti-Mexican and anti-Muslim rhetoric. Indeed, Trump’s campaign only took off after he insisted on immigrations to keep from America a flow of immigrants he falsely smeared as rapists, murderers, etc.

All the while, Trump relied on a steady diet of lies and ludicrous claims from Putin’s trolls to smear his principal opponent. This undermining of standards of truth and evidence is one of the most significant developments of our time, but Cramer’s book has nothing to say on the matter (and neither does her November WaPo article.)

On its own terms, Cramer’s book disappoints; as an explanation of Trump’s rise, it offers nothing useful.

Previously: Parts 1, 23, 4567, and 8.

Next week: On Monday, I’ll begin a series on Amy Goldstein’s Janesville: An American Story.

Sarah Kendzior Ponders Foreign Affairs ‘In the Shadow of Putin’

Sarah Kendzior, an anthropologist with a background studying the dictatorships in the former Soviet republics of central Asia, speaks to Lindsay Beyerstein on Beyerstein’s The Breach podcast:

This week on The Breach, journalist Sarah Kendzior joins us to talk about the weaponization of information in Putin’s Russia. The full extent of Russia’s influence on the 2016 presidential election is still under investigation, but Russia has a well-documented history of influencing politics abroad with propaganda, disinformation, cold hard cash, and even cyber warfare. Russia’s hacking of the Democratic National Committee was not an isolated incident.

SeeThe Breach: In the Shadow of Putin With Sarah Kendzior @ Rewire. A transcript of the podcast is available online.

Kendzior’s remarks about Russian political goals in 2016 are only part of a notable interview:

Lindsay: Some intelligence analysts have said that Putin’s initial goal was just to be a chaotic influence on the election but that he eventually gravitated towards a preference for Trump. Does that make sense?

Sarah: I think both things are possible. In a sense, it’s a win/win. To start off, I think that our institutions were already fragile before Russia intervened in any way. I think because they were fragile, Russia was able to pull off what they seem to have done in the manner that they did it. So I think in one sense they’re exacerbating problems that already existed and making them worse through propaganda and political maneuvering and other means. I think he also preferred Trump to win in part because Clinton was a fiercer opponent in terms of Russia’s geopolitical aims, but also because of this long history that Russia seems to have with Trump ranging from Manafort to Trump’s connection to oligarchs to various people who Trump employed in the cabinet, including Flynn who’s now gone, but also, Jeff Sessions, Rex Tillerson who received the order of friendship. Trump designed the cabinet that’s extremely pro Putin that has many individuals that have personal ties and corporate ties, and obviously that works to their advantage.

‘The Closest Thing We Have to State TV’

In the clip above, Seth Meyers considers the relationship between Fox News and the Trump Administration, concluding that Fox News is ‘the closest thing we have to state TV,’ represents ‘sycophantic coverage,’ and that ‘instead of a Bible, Trump should have been sworn in on a TV Guide.’ (H/t to Raw Story for the pointer.)

Small towns across America are familiar with publications that are – in support and in effect – quasi-government publications. In the Whitewater area, it’s nearly impossible to imagine the Daily Union or Banner as offering anything other than sycophantic coverage. It’s fair to qualify this as nearly impossible, as ever so rarely one of these publications will stray from an insider’s line, for reasons of personal pique if not actual substance.

We’ve had years of coverage like this, weakening the quality of our politics and thinking, so much so that those in authority sometimes (but not always) seem like parodies of ill-preparation and weak analysis. Low quality of this kind is That Which Paved the Way, enabling a federal government led by the very worst among us.