I lived in the post-truth Soviet world and I hear its echoes in Trump’s America

Garry Kasparov

The totalitarian Soviet Union where I grew up tried to dominate the truth, to distort it and control it. Reality was whatever the Party put out on the nightly news, or in the official newspapers, Pravda, which means “Truth” and Izvestia, which means “News.”

It was increasingly obvious back then, even to communist true believers, that what we were being told didn’t match the world we saw around us. As the joke went, “there is no news in the truth and no truth in the news.” Eventually the disparity between truth and lies became too great; life wasn't improving and more and more information was making it through the Iron Curtain. Denying reality became too grave an insult to our dignity, an under-estimated ingredient in the spirit of revolution.

I have lived through several world-changing upheavals. I’m a post-Soviet citizen; the country of my birth ceased to exist in 1991. We enjoyed less than a decade of tenuous freedom in Russia before Vladimir Putin launched its post-democratic phase. My ongoing attempts to fight that tragedy led to my exile in the United States. Now my new home finds itself locked in its own perilous battle — a battle to avoid becoming the latest member of the post-truth world.

President Donald Trump and his Republican defenders in Congress have followed his lead in declaring war on observed reality. Critical reports are “fake news,” journalists reporting the facts are “enemies of the people,” a phrase from Vladimir Lenin’s debunked conspiracy theories is repeated, and public servants testifying under oath about documented events are dismissed as Never Trumpers.

Unable to change the facts, Trump and his supporters instead try to shift the debate into an alternate universe where the truth is whatever they say it is today. Trump repeats the same lies over and over, and it’s hard to say which is more troubling — that his followers don’t realize that they are lies or that they don’t care. Globalization and the internet may have made the world smaller, but now we’re experiencing a counterattack, the regionalization of truth.

The internet was supposed to shine the light of truth into every corner of the world, breaking the authoritarians’ monopoly on information. But it has also become a light-speed delivery system of lies and propaganda. The web has been chopped into pieces. Like a shattered mirror, each fragment reflects a different distorted image instead of a single reality.

Protests in Iran are difficult to follow when the regime can shut down internet access across the country. It’s easier to find out about Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests in just about any country other than China, thanks to their draconian censorship. Russia jails bloggers and shuts down nongovernmental organizations while flooding the country, and the world, with disinformation.

It’s alarming to see America taking its own Trumpian path down this dark road. In the USSR, we didn’t have a choice of which news channel to watch. Americans have limitless options, but many voluntarily confine themselves to a few like-minded sources. For Trump’s followers in particular, denying reality is a badge of honor, a symbol of belonging to a defiant cult.

If you watched the impeachment hearings only on Fox News, you would have thought things were going great for the President. Any phrase that might sound like it exonerated him — and there weren't many — was repeated over and over like a mantra. The copious and damning evidence provided may as well not have existed.

This partisan split along the lines of reality is in keeping with Trump’s larger war on integrity, the rule of law, and traditional American values and allies. It’s the model of regional powers and regional facts and regional values long touted by Putin and China’s Xi Jinping. There is no good or evil, just business as usual, with no place for moral arguments over Chinese concentration camps or Russia bombing hospitals in Syria.

American companies are also falling in line, with Apple recently changing its maps app inside Russia to show the illegally annexed Ukrainian territory of Crimea as Russian. (Google has done so for years.)

American tech giants are happy to help Putin create a false reality inside the borders of Russia. Apparently Apple and Google will stand up to the FBI, but not the FSB, aka the KGB. Software is soft power, and U.S. companies betray the values of the nation that enabled their success by doing the bidding of dictators. Tech firms defending themselves by saying it’s just business, not politics, sound a lot like the Hollywood studios that edited their movies and fired Jewish staff under Nazi pressure in the 1930s.

What’s the truth? In the era of regionalized facts, it depends on where you stand, what channel you’re watching, and what party you belong to. But there cannot be a red state reality and a blue state reality any more than there should be one world map inside of Russia and a different one outside. Trump is finally facing the music, and that must begin with everyone facing the facts.

Garry Kasparov, 37, is a Russian chess grandmaster, former world chess champion, writer and political activist. He is widely regarded in the West as a symbol of opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin. His article is from CNN, December 4, 2019, and was reprinted in PeaceMeal, May/June 2020.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Trump calls the pandemic ‘worse than Pearl Harbor’ — and declares a cease-fire

Dana Milbank
The Washington Post, May 6, 2020

In 1939, Albert Einstein wrote secretly to President Franklin D. Roosevelt about the potential need for “quick action” toward the development of atomic weapons. After Roosevelt received a scientific briefing, he is said to have called in his military aide, Gen. Edwin “Pa” Watson. “Pa! This requires action!” FDR said.

Thus began what would become the Manhattan Project, a sprawling collaboration among the military, academics and corporations, ultimately employing 130,000 and spending the then-extraordinary sum of $2.2 billion in successfully building the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Oak Ridge, Tenn., worked on uranium; Chicago worked on plutonium; Hanford, Wash., built reactors; Los Alamos, N.M., designed bombs; and Alamogordo, N.M., held testing.

One can imagine how things might have gone if Donald Trump had been the president who received Einstein’s letter: After two months, he would have congratulated himself for a “phenomenal job,” wound down his atomic task force and left the whole nuclear thing to the states.

Texas would compete with Florida for uranium, while New Jersey and Ohio bid up plutonium prices.

New York, making bombs, wouldn’t be in touch with Washington state, which would be retrofitting the B-29 without specs.

J. Robert Oppenheimer, complaining about the lack of coordination, would be demoted and denied whistleblower protection.

The bombs wouldn’t work properly in tests, the bombers would take off without enough fuel, Trump would blame the governor of Michigan — and we’d all be speaking Japanese.

Trump has declared himself a “wartime president” and, on the afternoon of May 6, he asserted that “we went through the worst attack we’ve ever had on our country,” calling the pandemic “worse than Pearl Harbor.”

Yet, incredibly, he is declaring a premature cease-fire against a virus that has killed more than 70,000 Americans — by coincidence the same number killed the day the bomb fell on Nagasaki. Congratulating his coronavirus task force for a “phenomenal job,” Trump indicated Tuesday that he would shut it down — then reversed himself Wednesday after a resulting furor, saying he “had no idea how popular the task force is.”

Instead of mobilizing the nation for testing, contact tracing, antivirals and vaccines, he declared that his administration did a “phenomenal job” and applauded the reopening of workplaces, while calling for schools to reopen without adequate protections in place. Vice President Pence thinks “we could largely have this coronavirus epidemic behind us” in just a few weeks.

Speculation by Fox News and the president about covid-19 cures is making it more difficult for health officials to do their job, says media critic Erik Wemple.

On Capitol Hill on Wednesday, scientists again pleaded for a stronger response. “We risk complacency in accepting the preventable deaths of 2,000 Americans each day,” Caitlin Rivers of Johns Hopkins University told a House panel. She said the country is doing only a third of the testing needed “to gain control of this outbreak” and warned that we could “again create the conditions that led to us being the worst affected country in the world.”

Tom Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that “governments and private companies must join forces to make massive continued investments in testing.”

And the Trump administration? It boycotted the hearing, refusing to let top doctor Anthony Fauci testify. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), the panel’s ranking Republican, protested, saying Fauci’s testimony would have been “useful to this country.”

But Trump talks about the pandemic as if it has passed. “We have saved millions of lives, but now we’re going to make our comeback,” he said in the Oval Office on Wednesday, as a nurse standing behind him, protected neither by mask nor social distancing, twiddled his thumbs.

Trump congratulates himself for “an incredible job on testing,” backing that up once again Wednesday with his wildly false claim that the United States has tested more than all other countries combined. He said states “have everything they need” and that if any American worker is nervous about possible exposure and wants to get a test, “they should have no problem.”

Perhaps because the White House has loads of tests — those coming near Trump are tested repeatedly — Trump doesn’t realize most Americans who want tests still can’t get them. On Wednesday, I tried — and failed — to arrange a test for an 85-year-old family member with cancer and diabetes.

Trump’s idea of a Manhattan Project is apparently to install a Manhattan real estate investor — Jared Kushner — in charge of a group of volunteers prioritizing protective-equipment requests from Fox News personalities. Without a federal government empowering a real Manhattan Project, some scientists, billionaires and industrialists have tried to form their own, the Wall Street Journal reports. But group members recognize their ideas “could be ignored altogether by the Trump administration.”

Of course they’ll be ignored. Trump has already declared an early and unilateral cease-fire with the virus.

In his perverse version of a Manhattan Project, the Enola Gay has taken off, but the pilot has no flight plan and the bomb is still a prototype in the model shop.


(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Trump’s pardons for servicemen raise fears that laws of war are history

Army First Lt. Clint Lorance, on November 15, changed out of the drab inmate’s uniform he had worn for six years and left the military prison at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas a free man. He arrived minutes later at a nearby hotel, where his family swallowed him in a group embrace, crying tears of joy.

“I want to say thank you to President Trump,” he said amid a throng of well-wishers. “And I want the rest of the country to do that, too.”

The president on Friday cleared Lieutenant Lorance and two other servicemen accused or convicted of war crimes, drawing cheers from thousands of supporters who said the men had been unfairly punished for decisions made in the confusion of war.

But many in the military, especially in military legal circles, are not celebrating. Mr. Trump’s reprieves, issued against the advice of top defense officials, were seen as a sign of disregard not only for the decisions of military juries, but for the judicial process itself.

Military officials publicly accepted the president’s orders — pardons for Maj. Matthew Golsteyn of the Army Special Forces and Lieutenant Lorance, and a sentence reduction for Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher of the Navy SEALs — with a terse “yessir.”

Privately, though, many worried that Mr. Trump’s actions could erode discipline by sending a message to troops and commanders that, in some cases, the laws of war would not apply. “It’s just institutionally harmful,” said Rachel VanLandingham, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and former judge advocate who now teaches law at Southwestern Law School. “This isn’t about these three individuals. It’s about the whole military justice system and whether that system itself is something of value to the operations of the military.”

While all three men were accused of war crimes, the details of their cases raised disparate concerns for military order.

Lieutenant Lorance was convicted at trial in 2013 for ordering the shooting of a group of civilians in Afghanistan, an order he then tried to cover up. He was given a full pardon.

Chief Gallagher was charged with the murder of a captive in Iraq but was acquitted this summer of all charges except for the minor charge of posing for a photo with a corpse.

Major Golsteyn was awaiting trial on charges that he murdered an unarmed Afghan in 2010.

“Golsteyn is the most troubling, because the system was never given a chance to work,” said Charles Dunlap, a retired major general who was the deputy judge advocate general of the Air Force and is now the head of Duke University’s Center on Law, Ethics and National Security. “A court-martial is the best way to determine the facts,” he added. “We were never able to find out whether the facts would clear Golsteyn or not.”

Many senior military leaders felt the pardons sent the wrong message, said Phillip Carter, an Iraq War veteran who researches military issues at the RAND Corporation. “Ever since Vietnam, the leadership has sent a message that there is a link between discipline, respect for laws of war and military effectiveness,” Mr. Carter said. “The pardons send a different message that sometimes the laws get in the way.”

Mr. Trump is not the first commander in chief to wield the power of clemency in a polarizing way.

Washington pardoned men convicted of treason in the Whiskey Rebellion of 1791-94 despite howls of protest from other Federalists, said Mark Osler, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.

President Abraham Lincoln repeatedly pardoned soldiers sentenced to death for desertion, even though his generals warned it would undermine battlefield discipline. President Gerald Ford announced in 1974 at a convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars that he planned to conditionally pardon 13,000 deserters and draft dodgers, which did not go over well with the audience of war veterans. His successor, Jimmy Carter, unconditionally pardoned hundreds of thousands of draft evaders.

“It has happened after every war,” Mr. Osler said. “Pardons are used as a way to forgive the crime and heal the nation. What is different now is, the signal here seems to be to embrace the crime, not forgive it. President Trump seems to be sending a message that the gloves are off, that we are not going to constrain our military.”

Reactions from combat veterans were split. Many thanked the president for intervening on behalf of men who had volunteered to serve and protect their country. Others said the gesture of forgiveness tarnished the service of troops who served in the same vexing conditions, but did not break the laws of war.

“This is a sad day for the tens of thousands of us who led troops in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan who were proud of the way in which we maintained our good order and discipline in the face of many challenges,” Andrew Exum, a former Army Special Forces officer who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, said on Twitter. “These men, now pardoned, remain a disgrace to our ranks.”

– edited from The New York Times, November 17, 2019
PeaceMeal, November/December 2019

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

What Trump is teaching our children

Charles_Blow.jpg (2673 bytes)Charles M. Blow
The New York Times, July 18,2019

When our children are young, we work doggedly to foster in them a deep and abiding sense of morality, ethics and character. We try to teach them to always tell the truth, to be kind and generous, to be brave enough to do the right thing even if others aren’t as brave.

We try to teach them empathy and compassion, that caring about the less fortunate betters society and is also self-edifying.

We teach them to be gracious and thankful and not to brag or bully. Also, don’t lie, cheat or steal.

We teach them to have self-respect and to respect others. We teach them that everyone is equally worthy and valuable, no matter who they are, what they look like, how much or little they have or to which God they pray, if they pray at all.

We do all this as our children are coming to know how honor and integrity are constructed, maintained and defended. We want to raise good people and good citizens, people who respect society and follow the rules, though not blindly. We want them to question the world, and if they identify injustice, work to eliminate it.

We as parents are the first teachers, the most important ones, but there are many tangential teachers as well, at family gatherings, at school, at places of worship, on playgrounds, and also in literature, on television and on social media.

The president of the United States is one of those teachers. I don’t think many children follow a president or the politics around that presidency on a routine basis, but the sense of the president sinks in.

They know that the president should be one of the best of us, not the worst. When children do well, adults often say, “You could be president someday.” The presidents who children are taught to venerate are those who are judged to have been honorable men who changed the country for the better.

This is on some level hagiography — scratch the surface and the flaws are revealed — but there is also value in the lessons.

Trump is exploding all of that. He is everything we teach our children not to be. In Trump’s world of immorality, the lessons being taught undo all the principles parents struggle to instill.

He is teaching our children that there is no absolute truth, there is “alternative fact.” It’s not what you say, but how you say it and how vociferously you can defend it.

He is teaching little boys that women’s bodies exist as playgrounds for privileged men, and that there is no price to be paid if you are popular enough or rich enough.

He is teaching little girls that if they are ever victims of sexual assault by a popular, wealthy boy and deign to reveal it, they will likely to come under withering verbal assault.

He is teaching our children that the color of one’s skin does indeed supersede the content of one’s character. He is teaching them that there is a skin-color hierarchy in which whiteness is perched on top.

He is teaching the black and brown children that their citizenship and connection to this country is tenuous and fractional, not like white children.

He is teaching them that it is a perfectly normal to separate some children from their parents, put them in cages, and argue that they don’t need soap, or toothbrushes or have the lights turned off so that they can go to sleep.

He is teaching them to never acknowledge an error, that apologies are for suckers, that what’s right is whatever you say it is.

And, here’s the thing: The children growing up in enormous portions of American households accept, defend and even applaud Trump’s behavior. What lessons are those children absorbing? What behaviors will be modeled on Trump’s example?

My own children came of age in their political awareness under President Obama. I didn’t always agree with his policy, but he was an honorable man whom I could point to as an honorable example.

What do Trump’s supporters tell their children about his incessant lying, the multiple accusations that he either was sexually inappropriate with women, assaulted them or even raped them?

How do they explain Trump’s racism to these children?

The example Trump is setting will outlast him. In the same way, Obama’s example helped reinforce for my children that anything is possible with hard work and perseverance.I fear today’s children are being taught that there are no rules for he who wins.

The next generation of politicians, doctors and lawyers are watching us all right now, and they are watching him. And Trump is teaching them that you can be the worst version of yourself, rise to the most powerful position in the world, and scare people into not holding you accountable.

Congratulations, America.

– PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2019

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Trump suggested nuking hurricanes to stop them from hitting the United States

President Trump has suggested multiple times to senior Homeland Security and national security officials that they explore using nuclear bombs to stop hurricanes from hitting the United States, according to sources who have heard the president’s private remarks and been briefed on a National Security Council memo-randum that recorded those comments.

During one hurricane briefing at the White House, Trump said, “I got it. I got it. Why don’t we nuke them?” according to one source who was there. “They start forming off the coast of Africa, as they’re moving across the Atlantic, we drop a bomb inside the eye of the hurricane and it disrupts it. Why can’t we do that?” the source added, paraphrasing the president’s remarks.

Asked how the briefer reacted, the source recalled he said something to the effect of, “Sir, we’ll look into that.” Trump replied by asking incredulously how many hurricanes the U.S. could handle and reiterating his suggestion that the government intervene before they make landfall.

“The briefer was knocked back on his heels,” the source in the room added. “You could hear a gnat fart in that meeting. People were astonished. After the meeting ended, we thought, ‘What the f---? What do we do with this?’ ”

A senior administration official, who was briefed on the president’s hurricane bombing suggestion, defended Trump’s idea and said it was no cause for alarm. “His goal — to keep a cata-strophic hurricane from hitting the mainland — is not bad,” the official said. He added, “What people near the president do is they say, ‘I love a president who asks questions like that, who’s willing to ask tough questions.’ ... It takes strong people to respond to him in the right way when stuff like this comes up. For me, alarm bells weren’t going off when I heard about it, but I did think somebody is going to use this to feed into ‘the president is crazy’ narrative.”

Trump called this story “ridiculous” in a tweet from the G7 summit in France. He added, “I never said this. Just more FAKE NEWS!”

Trump didn’t invent this idea. The notion that detonating a nuclear bomb over the eye of a hurricane could be used to counteract convection currents dates to the Eisenhower era, when it was floated by a government scientist. The idea keeps resurfacing in the public even though scientists agree it won’t work. The myth has been so persistent that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. government agency that predicts changes in weather and the oceans, published an online fact sheet for the public under the heading “Tropical Cyclone Myths Page.”

The page states: “Apart from the fact that this might not even alter the storm, this approach neglects the problem that the released radioactive fallout would fairly quickly move with the tradewinds to affect land areas and cause devastating environ-mental problems. Needless to say, this is not a good idea.”

About three weeks after Trump’s 2016 election, National Geographic published an article titled, “Nuking Hurricanes: The Surprising History of a Really Bad Idea.” It found, among other problems, that dropping a nuclear bomb into a hurricane would be banned under the terms of the Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty between the United States and former Soviet Union. So that could stave off any experiments, as long as the U.S. observes the terms of the treaty.

The Late Show host Stephen Colbert quipped, “So, the most powerful man in the world wants to nuke the wind. If you nuke a hurricane, you get a radioactive hurricane. It’s like putting Chernobyl on jet skis.”

– edited from Axios, August 25, 2019
PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2019

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Is Trump order to prepare arms-control push with Russia and China a deception?

In a surprising turnabout, President Trump has ordered his administration to prepare a push for new arms-control agree-ments with Russia and China after bristling at the cost of a 21st-century nuclear arms race. According to a senior admin-istration official, the aim of the nascent effort is to bring Russian nuclear weapons unregulated by treaties under new limits and persuade China to join an arms-control pact limiting or verifying its nuclear weapon capabilities for the first time.

The initiative is still in its earliest stages, with officials preparing options for how to implement Trump’s order. It is doubtful whether it will yield results in an administration that has locked horns with Moscow and Beijing and has less than two years left in its first term.

Trump said that Washington, after concluding a trade deal with Beijing, should strike agreements to reduce military spending. “Between Russia and China and us, we’re all making hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of weapons, including nuclear ” Trump said. “It doesn’t really make sense that we’re doing this.”

A trilateral nuclear arms-control agreement among the United States, Russia and China would be a watershed diplomatic achievement; separate treaties alone would be significant. But normally, such pacts require years of negotiation and diplomatic outreach, a stretch for an admin-istration that has withdrawn from arms-control treaties but has not brokered any new ones.

The initiative comes as Russia, China and the United States all enhance their nuclear weaponry — and as the clock ticks on the New START accord, the last big arms-control pact remaining between Washington and Moscow, which expires in 2021.

The White House is now looking to lay the groundwork for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, prompting skepticism among some arms-control advocates, who watched with dismay as the president withdrew from a hard-won nuclear accord with Iran and the three-decade-old Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia. The Trump administration cited short-comings in the Iran agreement and Russia’s violations of the INF Treaty as rationales for pulling out of the pacts.

China has long resisted involvement in arms-control agree-ments, in part because its suite of nuclear weapons is not as vast as the U.S. or Russian arsenals. Russia has also resisted any limits on its smaller nuclear weapons that fall outside current agreements.

As president, Trump has surrounded himself with propo-nents of U.S. unilateralism, including White House national security adviser John Bolton, a disarmament skeptic. Bolton led the charge to withdraw the United States from the INF Treaty — a pact signed by President Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987 that led to both countries eliminating their ground-launched midrange missiles. Because of the U.S. withdrawal, the treaty will end formally in August. Bolton also took the lead in President George W. Bush’s withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia.

Officials in the Trump administration have raised concerns about the wide range of small and highly maneuverable nuclear weapons that Russia possesses or is developing — arms the United States lacks in such numbers. Those tactical or battle-field nuclear weapons fall outside the parameters of New START and, therefore, face no regulation. There are also questions about whether New START’s provisions would cover other Russian weaponry under development, including a nuclear torpedo that Putin has touted as impervious to American defenses.

The worry at the Pentagon is that Russia is developing the suite of smaller, more agile nuclear weapons outside the limits of New START for possible use in a “limited nuclear strike.” The idea, U.S. officials fear, would be to raise the stakes for the United States by using a small nuclear weapon against an American ally, prompting Washington to rethink whether it is worth coming to the nation’s defense. Russian officials deny they have such a doctrine, which the Pentagon regularly describes as “escalate to de-escalate.”

China — which possesses a full nuclear triad of bombers, submarines and ICBMs as well as an increasingly sophisticated suite of missiles — has refused to negotiate caps on its nuclear weapons program through such arms-control agreements. In the case of the INF Treaty, even as Russia and the United States were curtailing their production of intermediate-range missiles, China was deploying them in the Pacific.

Some disarmament advocates worry that Trump’s more hawkish advisers are floating a broader arms-control discussion with Russia as a way to kill the New START accord. Those advocates express concern that the initiative will set an impossibly high standard for a new agreement, essentially creating a pretext for Trump to walk away from New START when Moscow does not agree to expanded limits.

Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said the United States should first extend New START and then move on to bigger ambitions.

“There is simply not enough time, and not enough trust, to negotiate, let alone ratify, a complex, new, legally binding treaty with Russia that addresses these difficult new issues before New START expires in February 2021,” Kimball said in an email. “And if team Trump suggests China must join New START or that Russia must agree to limits on tactical nukes as a condition for its extension, that should be recognized as disingenuous proposals designed to create a pretext for killing New START.”

– edited from The Washington Post, April 25, 2019
PeaceMeal, May/June 2019

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Making America hate again

Richard Cohen
President, Southern Poverty Law Center

It’s been nearly four years since Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign by demonizing Mexicans as “rapists” and drug dealers. As a candidate, he rode the politics of white racial resentment over immigration and our country’s changing demographics all the way to the White House. And as president, he has continued to fan the flames of hate and division in ways both large and small — like referring to violent white nationalists in Charlottesville as “very fine people” and elevating offensive, often downright racist content on his Twitter feed. Trump has also invited hate groups and their sympathizers to formulate public policy.Given his rhetoric and actions, it’s no surprise that we’ve just documented the fourth straight year of growth in the number of hate groups operating in the United States. It’s the period coinciding roughly with Trump’s campaign and presidency, and it comes after three straight years of hate group declines toward the end of the Obama era.

The number of hate groups reached a record high of 1,020 in 2018.

The proliferation of hate groups and the mainstreaming of hate and extremism has come at a deadly cost. In 2018, white supremacists killed at least 40 people in the United States and Canada, more than double the number of such killings in 2017. These murders happened everywhere, from a Kroger supermarket in Kentucky to the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

The Atomwaffen Division, a violent neo-Nazi organization whose members are allegedly associated with as many as five killings since May 2017, saw enormous growth in 2018, expanding from a single chapter to 27 last year.

Sadly, there are parallels between these horrific actions and Trump’s rhetoric.

Trump began 2018 by declaring that Haiti and other majority-black countries in Africa were “shitholes.” He closed out the midterm election campaign (which also featured a mail bomb campaign targeting the president’s critics by a supporter who wanted to “go back to the Hitler days”) with anti-immigrant hysteria about migrant caravans headed toward the Southern border. It was antisemitism and the fear of these caravans and “white genocide” that motivated Robert Bowers to murder 11 people in Pittsburgh.

Trump has had plenty of help sowing fear. Fox News not only parrots, amplifies and mainstreams his extreme rhetoric, it sometimes also serves as his inspiration.

Tucker Carlson was the apparent source of Trump’s false claim about white South African farmers being massacred by black people. Fellow Fox host Laura Ingraham took up the banner of white grievance in August, declaring, “The America we know and love doesn’t exist anymore. ... Massive demographic changes have been foisted on the American people, and they are changes that none of us ever voted for and most of us don’t like.” In case the message was too subtle, Carlson later said, “It is never true that diversity is your strength.”

Among the millions of Americans tuning in to this noxious brew were appreciative white supremacists. Andrew Anglin, the operator of the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website, referred to Carlson’s show as “Tucker Carlson AKA Daily Stormer TV.” He added, “Wow, someone important is reading my articles.”

Several key Trump advisers have deeply troubling ties to anti-Muslim, anti-LGBT or anti-immigrant hate groups. With former hate group staffers installed in key roles, it’s clear that these groups are significantly influencing the administration’s agenda on everything from immigration and civil rights to national security and lifetime appointments to the judiciary.

Washington pundits and journalists expend considerable energy attempting to discern the president’s motivations for any particular action. Regardless of his intentions, Trump has mainstreamed hate and extremism more than any other modern president.

His party and the conservative media have been consumed by his race-based form of populism. And now all of us are living with the consequences of Trumpism, especially the millions harmed by this administration’s hateful policies on immigration, education, civil rights, health care and many other issues.

As bleak as it seems, however, we know our work is making a difference. We’re taking legal action to stop some of the administration’s worst abuses. And we’re having great success in combating the spread of hate online in the Trump era.

– SPLC Report, Spring 2019
PeaceMeal, May/June 2019

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

President Trump has made more than 10,000 false or misleading claims

It took President Trump 601 days to top 5,000 false and mis-leading claims in The Fact Checker’s database, an average of eight claims a day. But on April 26, just 226 days later, he crossed the 10,000 mark — an average of nearly 23 claims a day in this seven- month period, which included the many rallies he held before the midterm elections, the partial government shutdown over his promised border wall, and the release of the special counsel’s report on Russian interference in the presidential election.

This milestone appeared unlikely when The Fact Checker first started this project during his first 100 days in office. But the tsunami of untruths just keeps looming larger and larger.

In recent days, the president demonstrated why he so quickly has piled up the claims. There was a 45-minute telephone inter-view with Sean Hannity of Fox News on April 25: 45 claims. There was an eight-minute gaggle with reporters the morning of April 26: eight claims. There was a speech to the National Rifle Association: 24 claims. There was a 19-minute interview with radio host Mark Levin: 17 claims. And, finally, there was the campaign rally on April 27: 61 claims.

The president’s constant Twitter barrage also adds to his totals. All told, the president racked up 171 false or misleading claims in just three days, April 25-27. That’s more than he made in any single month in the first five months of his presidency.

Trump’s campaign rallies continue to be a rich source of misstatements and falsehoods, accounting for about 22 percent of the total. The rally in Green Bay on April 27 was little different, with claims that covered a range of issues:

• He exaggerated the size of trade deficits with Japan, China and the European Union and falsely claimed the United States loses money from such deficits.

• He said he had “nothing to hide” from the Russia investigation but refused to testify under oath.

• He continued his practice of inflating the jobs created under his administration by starting the count from the election, not his inauguration.

• He launched a series of exaggerated or false attacks on Democrats, including claiming the Green New Deal will require every building in Manhattan to be replaced (no) and saying Democrats support the killing of healthy babies that have been born (no).

• He made a series of false claims about immigration, such as “open borders bring tremendous crime” (there is no documented link between illegal immigration and crime).

– edited from The Washington Post, April 29, 2019
PeaceMeal, May/June 2019

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

“The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. Lies will pass into history.”

~ George Orwell, 1903-1950, English novelist and critic

In Paris, Trump walks alone as French president rips nationalism

Noah Bierman
Los Angeles Times, November 11, 2018

PARIS – President Donald Trump walked apart from the dozens of world leaders who marched together on Armistice Day, November 11, toward the Arc de Triomphe to commemorate the moment when World War I ended 100 years ago, a time when Western allies believed the world’s survival depended on American leadership and global cooperation.

Then Trump watched uncomfortably as French President Emmanuel Macron warned that nationalism, a label Trump recently embraced for his “America First” movement, threatened to undermine global order and inflict more suffering on the world.

“Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism,” Macron said. “By saying, ‘Our interests first, who cares about the others?’ we erase what a nation holds dearest, what gives it life, what gives it grace, and what is essential for its moral values.”

Macron’s address was another dramatic recognition of the widespread anger and concern in Europe and elsewhere about Trump’s belligerent rhetoric and policies, which have isolated the United States in some areas and challenged the institutions that took shape after the two world wars to ensure peace.

The White House said Trump didn’t join other leaders in marching under umbrellas to the Armistice Day centennial com-memoration, arriving by motorcade instead, because of security concerns. But it also symbolized how Trump views himself as apart from other world leaders and his predecessors in the White House, who transformed America into the world’s only superpower.

As the U.S. president, Trump was given a front-row-center seat among the other leaders, receiving a hearty handshake from Macron and a thumbs up from Russian President Vladimir Putin after Trump took his place under a temporary viewing structure that protected them from rain.

But the keynote speech delivered by Macron was not designed to comfort Trump. Macron recounted the suffering inflicted by World War I — millions of lives lost, millions more ruined, the orphans, the destroyed villages, “the scars of which are still visible.” He cast nationalism as a dangerous and selfish ideology that pushed countries into that war and now risked undermining its lessons. Ignoring those lessons, he said, led to World War II and even more suffering.

Trump sat between his wife, Melania, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel as Macron, who stepped up his criticism of right-wing European and American nationalism last week, warned of “old demons that are coming back to the surface.”

Merkel has also stood in opposition to Trump’s worldview, promising common cause and unity with Macron during a ceremony the previous day intended to show reconciliation between the former adversaries.

“The lesson we draw of the Great War cannot be rancor and resentment against other nations and it cannot be allowing the past to be forgotten,” Macron said. He did not name Trump, but his aim was clear. “Let us add our hopes together instead of seeing our fears oppose each other,” he said.

Macron’s speech was the centerpiece of a memorial service that commemorated one of the bloodiest wars in history, which ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month but left a long legacy of suffering.

– PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2018

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Trump will have blood on his hands

Bret Stephens
The New York Times, August 4, 2018

The voice, if I had to guess, belongs to that of a white American male in late middle age. The accent is faintly Southern, the manner taunting but relaxed. It’s also familiar: I’m pretty sure he’s left a message on my office number before. But the last voice mail left almost no impression. Not this time.

“Hey Bret, what do you think? Do you think the pen is mightier than the sword, or that the AR is mightier than the pen?”

He continues: “I don’t carry an AR but once we start shooting you f—ers you aren’t going to pop off like you do now. You’re worthless, the press is the enemy of the United States people and, you know what, rather than me shoot you, I hope a Mexican and, even better yet, I hope a n— shoots you in the head, dead.”

He repeats the racial slur 10 times in a staccato rhythm, concluding with the send-off: “Have a nice day, n— lover.”

He doesn’t give his name. His number is blocked.

The call dates from the end of May, right after I had published a column defending ABC’s firing of Roseanne Barr for a racist tweet. “Perhaps the reason Trump voters are so frequently the subject of caricature,” I wrote, “is that they so frequently conform to type.”

Four weeks later, a gunman storms into a newsroom in Annapolis, Md., and murders five employees of the Capital Gazette.

The alleged killer in the Annapolis shooting does not appear to have acted from a political motive. But the message I got in May was the third time I’ve been expressly or implicitly threatened with violence by someone whose views clearly align with Donald Trump’s. Otherwise, the only equivalent threat I’ve dealt with in my career involved a Staten Island man who later went to prison for his ties to Hezbollah.

Which brings me to the July 20 meeting between Trump and two senior leaders of The Times, publisher A.G. Sulzberger and editorial page editor James Bennet. As Sulzberger later described the encounter, he warned the president that “his language was not just divisive but increasingly dangerous,” and that characterizations of the news media as “the enemy of the people” are “contributing to a rise in threats against journalists and will lead to violence.”

Sulzberger’s warning had no effect. Nine days after what was supposed to be an off-the-record meeting, the president tweeted that he and Sulzberger “spent much time talking about vast amounts of Fake News being put out by the media & how that Fake News has morphed into phrase ‘Enemy of the People.’ Sad!”

By now, it almost passes without comment that the president of the United States not only violates the ground rules of his own meetings with the press, but also misrepresents the substance of the conversation.

Also nearly past comment was the president’s remark, in a follow-on tweet, that the media were “very unpatriotic” for revealing “internal deliberations of our government” that could put people’s lives at risk. That’s almost funny considering that no media organ has revealed more such deliberations, with less regard for consequences, than his beloved WikiLeaks.

What can’t be ignored is presidential behavior that might best be described as incitement. Maybe Trump supposes that the worst he’s doing is inciting the people who come to his rallies to give reporters like CNN’s Jim Acosta the finger. And maybe he thinks that most journalists, with their relentless hostility to his personality and policies, richly deserve public scorn.

Yet for every 1,000 or so Trump supporters whose contempt for the press rises only as far as their middle fingers, a few will be people like my caller. Of that few, how many are ready to take the next fatal step? In the age of the active shooter, the number isn’t zero.

Should that happen — when that happens — and journalists are dead because some nut thinks he’s doing the president’s bidding against the fifth column that is the media, what will Trump’s supporters say? No, the president is not coyly urging his supporters to murder reporters, like Henry II trying to rid himself of a turbulent priest. But neither is he the child who played with a loaded gun and knew not what he did.

Donald Trump’s more sophisticated defenders have long since mastered the art of pretending that the only thing that matters with his presidency is what it does, not what he says. But not all of the president’s defenders are quite as sophisticated. Some of them didn’t get the memo about taking Trump seriously but not literally. A few hear the phrase “enemy of the people” and are prepared to take the words to their logical conclusion.

Is my caller one of them? I can’t say. But what should be clear is this: We are approaching a day when blood on the newsroom floor will be blood on the president’s hands.

– PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2018

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)