Monthly Archives: August 2016

Beyond Trump

The biggest realignment of political parties in living memory was negative – fleeing a party that was no longer tolerable for one that catered to their fears. This was the South (and the white supremacy vote in general) fleeing the post-Civil Rights Act Democrats over time for the Republicans. It happened over time largely because incumbency protected old line Democrats like Ernest Hollings, who white South Carolinians trusted on racial issues even as they distrusted his party, until those incumbents either switched parties or died or aged out. These politicians also benefited from the ticket-splitting that, as Boo notes, has become less common as pre-CRA legacy pols at every level, and the voters that support them, have died out.

Something similar in reverse is shaping up now – not because of Donald Trump, but because of his supporters. Two generations of Republican voters have been marinated in an extreme worldview, increasingly one that is untethered from reality. They’re not going away if Trump loses. At every point so far where they could have pulled themselves back after a setback – the 2006 midterms and the 2008 and 2012 presidential years – they have instead chosen to double down on their radicalism, blaming their failure on a lack of ideological purity by their standard-bearers.

In 2012, a base that almost by definition respects authority chose to turn on their own leadership – which, with their famous post-election autopsy, finally did recognize the hole they’d dug themselves – rather than moderate. Ever since they’ve been purging their ranks of any leadership – Boehner, Cantor, on down – that dares to compromise or deal with the enemy, in particular for legislative jobs that by their nature require compromise and dealing with the other party. Hence the cliche that conservatism cannot fail, only be failed.

At what point do “movement conservatives” moderate their extremism? So far their only response to repudiation at the polls has been to double down. Until proven otherwise, they’ll keep doing that, even as their party becomes totally irrelevant as a result (c.f. the GOP in California, which held statewide office within the last decade but couldn’t even get a candidate past the top-two primary for US Senator this year). Trump is a symptom rather than the cause of a long-term realignment. At least in the short-term, there’s zero evidence old-line Republican elites can take back their party from the Krazees. That’s why the smarter ones are starting to not just come out for HRC, but leave the Republican Party entirely. They know it’s not going to get better any time soon.

That means a totally intransigent caucus in Congress for a President Clinton, and, in all likelihood, another dangerous demagogue in 2020. Mike Pence, and people like him, are a bigger long-term policy threat than the Trumps of the world because of their more cohesive agenda – but the base is increasingly unlikely to vote for anyone tainted by the experience of having actually held a job in government before at any level. A religious grifter like a white Ben Carson, or a celebrity grifter like Trump, seem much more likely to be the future direction of who the base will get behind.

“I didn’t leave my party; my party left me” is how the old cliche goes. We’re seeing this now on the Republican side. I think we’ll also see a less significant but still sizable increase in defections on the Democratic left as the party absorbs Republican defections. Leaders like Hillary Clinton will be inclined to cater to those former Republicans, not only because their own ideology is closer but because their votes are more mathematically important than those of people on the left who have nowhere serious to go. Staying home hurts a politician; voting for their opponent hurts twice as much.

It’ll be hard to balance appealing to former Republicans with the increasing power and militancy of the Democrats’ own younger, more multicultural base. Obama was a master at it. Clinton has yet to show she has anywhere near Obama’s political chops on that score. If ever the two-party system is to be seriously challenged in this country – and the odds are heavily stacked against it – this next decade would be the time.

The Republican base is going to stay Krazee, the defections are going to continue and accelerate, and that’s going to trigger a bunch of other changes as well. I’d love to be able to say this is a good thing, and certainly keeping the Krazees as far away from positions of power as possible is a paramount need. This country needs two rational political parties. Right now, when it comes to existential crises like climate change, we barely have one. And an awful lot can go very, very badly wrong in a number of ways in this situation.

Even assuming Trump goes away – and he’s exactly the type who would try to foment civil war before he’d acknowledge that he’d lost – his voters are symptoms of a global threat that’s going to get worse, not better. With the geographic and economic displacement now being driven by technology and, increasingly, climate change, white privilege is going to be under assault as never before. A lot of white people are going to be unhappy with that. Can they drag human civilization, or human existence, down with them? Of course they can.

Meet Trump’s New Breitbart Team

The Race War Significance of Donald Trump Adding New Campaign Leadership From the Far Right Fever Swamp

To understand the full significance of Donald Trump adding executive chairman (and former Goldman Sachs banker) Stephen Bannon and right wing GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway to his leadership – promoting Dictator Whisperer Paul Manafort to campaign chairman, installing Conway to replace Manafort as campaign manager, and creating the position of “Campaign Chief Executive” for Bannon – requires some modern media history.

Before the Internet, and before celebrity-watching became the billion-dollar industry that made Donald Trump a reality TV star – there was the National Enquirer. In the ’70s and ’80s, the Enquirer made a fortune by peddling celebrity gossip and stories about sensational but often wholly fictitious “scandals” to the credulous segment of supermarket checkout lines. People Magazine was launched as a way for a mainstream publisher to cash in on this lucrative niche, ET followed, and the rest is history.

Until the Internet killed it in 2007, the Enquirer had a sister publication, the Weekly World News, into which the Enquirer staff dumped story ideas deemed even too preposterous or silly for the flagship publication: Bigfoot Impregnated by Space Alien Elvis Clone, and the like. (WWN’s dirty little secret was that much of its sales were fueled by college frat types who bought it for the camp value.) And one of WWN‘s regular features was a weekly column written by “Ed Anger” that was a parody of hyperventilating New York Post tabloid columnists – short, unhinged, and often ludicrous rants against, essentially, all the modern bugaboos that aggrieved Archie Bunker. is best understood as catering to the people who thought Ed Anger was real, and spoke for them. After 30 years of self-referential right-wing media myth-making, that’s a much larger audience than it was a generation ago. It’s a large enough segment, for example, that a majority of self-identified Republicans still believe that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim born in Kenya – the initial hobby horse Donald Trump rode to political relevance, and why, even this month, Trump referred to the two-tern US President as the “founder of ISIS.”

Initially, was the personal site of Andrew Breitbart, who in his 30’s rose in conservative media circles to become an editor at the right-wing gossip site The Drudge Report. He made himself a right-wing media star with a 2007 “undercover” video, almost immediately revealed to be heavily doctored, in which he decked himself out as a white frat boy’s conception of what a pimp looks like, and, with a young woman dressed as his prostitute in tow, showed up to volunteer at a local office of frequent right-wing target ACORN, a community group that worked to register primarily inner-city voters.

In real life, Breitbart and his protege were, essentially, politely laughed out of the office. But that’s not what Breitbart’s video showed, and after it went viral in right wing circles, the resulting fake controversy drove ACORN out of business. This was the beginning of Breitbart’s career of producing fake videos – federal worker Shirley Sherrod was another famous victim – and it was Breitbart’s central insight that a certain segment of the Republican base will believe almost anything so long as it conforms to their existing beliefs, especially their racism.

Breitbart himself dropped dead of a heart attack in 2012 at age 43, a death most of the world regarded as addition by subtraction. But the audience for this sort of fiction is alive and well, which is why a Goldman Sachs banker named Stephen Conway – made personally wealthy by the luck of having invested early in the production of a new sitcom called Seinfeld – moved in to continue and build upon Breitbart’s “legacy.”

Politically, The Hill has an interesting quote from an anonymous (for reasons of self-preservation) Republican congressperson – a member of the same caucus so radical that it shut down the federal government, costing the US economy billions, over a wholly invented debt ceiling crisis. Here’s what that person had to say about Trump’s new hires:

“Breitbart has no credibility outside of the most extreme conservative wing of our party…Breitbart takes a flamethrower to Washington and plays very loose with the facts. I would anticipate an even more bellicose, even less-connected-to-the-facts approach from the Trump campaign moving forward.”

Bannon’s skillset has involved expanding an already-existing brand built on using bullshit to exploit the bigotries, especially racial bigotries, of the credulous: the original Ed Anger model applied to motivating voters. It’s little wonder, then, that Trump saw these hires as useful, and little wonder that they have been met with such universal consternation in political circles.

The hires signal that Trump’s much-ballyhooed “pivot” to appearing “more presidential” was just another lie. Just like every other Tea Party-style politician, he is responding to adversity by doubling down on his least reality-based claims. That Trump, Bannon, and much of the rest of his team originally come from the world of high finance suggests just how cynical this whole enterprise is. These are not stupid or gullible people. Their audience is stupid or gullible people.

One of Trump’s legitimate insights for his campaign is that Republicans can no longer win a presidential election with the coalition that backed George W. Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney. Demographic change alone has now made that nearly impossible, and the visceral disgust of much of the Republican base with being played for fools by a generation of establishment Republicans has cemented it.

Trump cannot win the general election with the old, nearly static red/blue map of the last four elections, in which a small handful of states, especially Ohio and Florida, determine the outcome. That map is already obsolete this year, and Trump has made it worse, not better, for Republicans. Old swing states like Colorado, Nevada, and even Florida and Pennsylvania are no longer competitive – they’re polling as solidly backing Clinton. Formerly solidly red states like Arizona and Georgia are up for grabs, with Clinton leading in many of the polls there, too.

Demographic change and Trump’s uniquely ill-suited temperament have even made Hillary Clinton competitive in Deep South states that the Democrats haven’t even tried to win since her husband, Bill, ran for re-election 20 years ago. Nate Silver’s state-by-state projections, considered state-of-the-art by many, now give Clinton twice as much of a chance to win Mississippi (20 percent) as Trump has of winning Virginia (10 percent), a state that voted for George W. Bush twice.

To win, Trump has to change the map, and it’s not enough to bring it back to where it was in 2012; Romney’s overall vote doesn’t sound like it was that far behind Obama’s, but in terms of the Electoral College tally, the only one that matters, it was not a close election. And Clinton needs only to retain Obama’s voters to do better than he did – because she’s not black. Democratic and independent voters who reflexively voted against the black guy in 2008 and 2012 have a choice again this year, and after over a generation of women governors and senators in red and blue states alike, the misogynist vote is likely to be smaller than the racist vote.

That’s Trump’s gamble as well. In hiring Bannon and Conway, Trump is choosing to try to change that map on the basis of low education and, especially, race rather than gender. Andrew Breitbart’s original targets, the ones that propelled him to fame and influence, were African-American: ACORN and Shirley Sherrod. That’s no coincidence. Nor is the racial animosity that underscores Trump’s best-known and earliest political obsessions: Obama’s parentage, Mexican rapists, Muslim terrorists. Trump is certainly personally an unapologetic misogynist, but that’s not what he’s emphasizing as what he hopes will be a winning stategy.

Republicans don’t have a monopoly on racism, and that’s where Trump is looking to redraw the map. He’s unlikely to be successful. In doubling down on race, he also guarantees the near-unanimous opposition of non-white voters, and there simply aren’t enough white voters in the US these days for even a supermajority of them to be able to win a national election by themselves. But by running a White Power campaign, Trump also creates the rationale for questioning the legitimacy of an election should he lose – playing into right-wing obsessions about (minority) vote fraud and dismay over the 14th Amendment, the abolition of Jim Crow, and all that has followed. It’s a morally monstrous strategy. But to a moral monster like Trump, who has built his entire career on using his wealth to get away with bilking the credulous, morality and even legality are minor nuisances, not serious objections.

Trump wants power going forward, and the ego-stroking adulation that comes with it, whether or not he wins on Election Day. These hires signal clearly not only that the next ten weeks of campaigning will be indescribably ugly, but that even if he loses the Electoral College vote, Trump intends to lead a movement, if not an insurrection, afterwards. His hires of fraud, dirty tricks, and anti-democratic specialists like Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, and their ilk show his determination to maximize his influence whether or not he wins at the ballot box. He’s courting the less educated and those inclined to follow authoritative leaders – hence his odd alliance with a white evangelical Christian jihadist like Mike Pence.

Trump’s a big picture guy. His campaign is not an end in itself; it’s in service of a larger movement that win or lose is designed to go beyond Election Day. That movement will employ whatever tactics Trump deems necessary in order to survive and succeed. And it will be based, more than anything else, on race.

It’s not easy, in the United States, to get people to think of themselves as white. Whites have held power and been culturally dominant in the US for so long that most of us, regardless of our politics, think of ourselves as “normal,” not “white.” In fact, the defining feature of whiteness in America is its invisibility, because being white is the default setting for almost everything. Unlike people of color, most whites don’t need to think about race as part of our daily lives. It’s been that way for centuries.

This is the cultural change that Donald Trump is attempting to catalyze in order to win power: to encourage the cultural and political spread of white identity. As such, Trump emerges as not just a national but a global leader of embattled and embittered white people. Even if he loses is bid for the White House – even if he loses it badly – he is legitimizing the worst of our society. He’s empowering and inspiring the people who credulously believe that they, too, should be able to get away with walking down Fifth Avenue, or some other street, randomly (or not randomly) shooting people. For example.

What does Trump recruiting his newest campaign executives from the right wing racist fever swamp mean? In combination with all of his other tactics and positioning, it means that Donald Trump is willing and hoping to use his visibility as a major party nominee for President of the United States to incite racial animus in order to further elevate himself. The damage he is creating as a result will plague this country and the world for generations to come.

Meet Paul Manafort

The Dictator Whisperer Who is Now Running Donald Trump’s Campaign

(#2 in a series…)

The horrifying selection of Mike Pence as Donald Trump’s running mate is not an aberration. In recent weeks, Trump has prepared for this fall’s general election by surrounding himself with the people he wants to work with should he be elected to the most powerful job in the world. It’s a disparate lot, but the one thing they all have in common is that they have no business being in positions of such power and influence.

The transition to Trump’s power team meant the June firing (“YOU’RE FIRED!”) of the controversial campaign manager who somehow managed to steer Donald Trump to his improbable victory in the Republican primaries. Corey Lewandowski was cut out of the same bullying, misogynist mode as Trump – even being charged criminally at one point in the campaign for allegedly assaulting a female reporter from a conservative outlet that had been critical of Trump. (The charges were later dropped; one benefit of working for Donald Trump is having access to high-priced lawyers that can ensure you never have to apologize for anything.) Despite the remarkable accomplishment of helping secure a major party presidential nomination for a reality TV star, Lewandowski was shown the door (controversially landing on his feet as a political “analyst” for CNN). To become President, Trump needed a different set of skills.

Enter new campaign manager Paul Manafort.

In two months on the job, Manafort has become the most visible campaign manager in modern presidential campaign history. (Quick: who’s Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager? If you correctly answered Robby Mook, you really need to get a life.) Manafort has drawn attention because since Trump has relatively few political allies willing to speak for him, Manafort has become a fixture on Sunday morning talk shows. But Manafort has also drawn attention because most campaign managers are like Mook – young, obscure, but smart and high-energy for an all-consuming job. Manafort’s skill set is different. He’s spent over 40 years moving back and forth between the worlds of far-right Republican electoral politics and, even farther to the right, advising the perpetrators of some of the worst crimes against humanity in the 20th Century. And he is neck-deep in Trump’s controversial alliance with Russian strongman and KGB alumnus Vladimir Putin.

In his domestic endeavors, the two Reagan strategists a younger Manafort cut his teeth with were Charlie Black – best known as the architect of the ongoing electoral success of Sen. Jesse Helms, who clung to his North Carolina senate seat and his unapologetic segregationism for a full quarter-century after it fell out of political favor – and Lee Atwater, who popularized the Republican Party’s “Southern Strategy” of relying on white racial resentment, especially in the South, as an enduring recipe for electoral success.

It was Manafort, then working with Atwater and Black, who came up with the idea of having Ronald Reagan kick off his 1980 post-convention presidential campaign as the Republican nominee in the small town of Philadelphia, Mississippi, notorious at the time for the 1964 Ku Klux Klan murders of three young Northern white civil rights activists. Reagan’s speech, in which his coded appeals to state rights and federal overreach made “dog whistle” a political term, was probably the single most pivotal moment in the embrace of overt racism that has defined modern Republicanism for the last two generations. It was Manafort’s idea.

Manafort found his true calling, however, after Reagan became president. In the name of anti-Communism, the Reagan administration aided and abetted human rights violators around the globe, from the dictatorships of Central America to apartheid South Africa to any number of African and Asian kleptocracies.

Somebody had to actually work with these bad actors, to ensure that they did America’s bidding and that America did theirs – and that the resulting cozy arrangements weren’t threatened by unnecessary outbreaks of democracy or freedom. That somebody couldn’t be too close to Reagan or the State Department because even by Reagan’s low standards, some stenches were just too unsavory for direct contact. But for a young, newly minted “lobbyist” named Paul Manafort, working with some of the most notorious names in 20th Century human rights abuses became a highly lucrative business.

Manafort set up shop with the lobbying firm Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly – usually referred to as “Black, Manafort,” but the “Stone” in the title is dirty tricks operator Roger Stone, who has also resurfaced for the Trump campaign. (About Stone, much more in a separate article.) Black, Manafort had a fair number of unsavory domestic clients – most notably the Tobacco Institute, in an era when Big Tobacco, like oil and coal companies today, was trying to cast doubt on the irrefutable science showing the extraordinary harm caused by their product.

But Manafort himself focused on international clientele. Manafort’s clients in the following years included:

* The apartheid regime of South Africa, in an era of unprecedented domestic and international pressure to end the regime. The Reagan administration resisted repeated Congressional demands to enact sanctions against Manafort’s client.

* The Angolan rebel-turned-grifter Jonas Savimbi, who in the name of anti-communism found willing partners in Manafort and fellow (and later much more notorious) Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff for his efforts to seize power in the former Portugese colony of Angola in southwestern Africa. The resulting pipeline of American weapons – and, eventually, apartheid South African assistance as well – wound up drawing Cuba and the USSR into the conflict on the side of the Angolan government. Even after the USSR pulled out of Angola and it became clear that Savimbi’s rebels were perpetrating wholesale massacres of civilians, the US kept sending weapons and forestalling peace talks for several years. By peppering the Angolan countryside with US-provided land mines, Savimbi and his UNITA guerillas left behind a generation of Angolan kids missing limbs.

* As with apartheid South Africa, the brutal Filipino dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos held out against concerted international pressure for much of the ’80s due to support from the Reagan administration, lubricated by…Paul Manafort. When Marcos rigged early 1986 elections that had been demanded by the international community, the resulting protests and international outcry drove Marcos and his closest allies and family into exile…in Hawaii, in a compound arranged for him by Manafort. (Upon his abdictation, when protestors stormed Marcos’ presidential palace in Manila they famously discovered the 2,700 pairs of shoes belonging to his wife, Imelda.)

* Not all of Manafort’s clients were driven from power in the ’80s. The kleptocratic dictator Mobuto Sese Seko lasted as the ruler of the Democratic Republic of the Congo – which Mobuto renamed Zaire – for over 30 years, from his role as a colonel conspiring with the Belgians in the post-colonial coup and execution of the charismatic leader Patrice Lumumba, to his overthrow during the First Congolese Civil War, a multi-party war fueled by valuable mineral resources that killed a staggering four million people. At the time of his overthrow and exile, Mobuto had stolen an estimated $4-5 billion from his country. Some of it was used to hire Paul Manafort to polish his reputation in the United States.

* Speaking of multi-party civil wars, the most notorious failed state in the world is Somalia, paralyzed for two decades by the struggle for power that came after the overthrow of U.S.-backed dictator Siad Barre…another Manafort client.

* The Indonesian dictator Suharto, who made Mobuto look like a petty pickpocket; by the end of his bloody 30-year reign, along with two separate internal purges labeled genocide by international critics, he had appropriated for himself an estimated $30 billion of his country’s wealth.

* The repressive Kingdom of Saudi Arabia spreads its oil money liberally among DC lobbying firms, but Manafort, not surprisingly, has been a frequent beneficiary.

* Other clients included human rights abusers in the Dominican Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, and Nigeria. Manafort’s Nigerian client, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, handed power over in 1993 to the general and dictator who oversaw the notorious 1995 execution of nonviolent activist Ken Saro-Wiwa.

After various buyouts and mergers, Black Manafort became the BKSH Group, an agency that continued to court unsavory clients. Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi double agent and would-be leader whose lies helped the Bush Administration sell its 2003 invasion of Iraq to the American public, was a satisfied client. When the invasion didn’t go as advertised, BKSH was commissioned BY The Lincoln Group, a firm managing the U.S. military’s public relations during the Iraq War, for a psyops campaign, planting upbeat and often wholly false stories about the war and occupation in Iraqi media. Those stories, in turn, often found their way back into sympathetic US media outlets as well.

All of these lobbying efforts were, under U.S. law, perfectly legal, if sleazy and morally repugnant. But on several other fronts, Manafort has skirted the edges of legality.

In 1995, Manafort was a key figure in a scandal that became known as The Karachi Affair. Manafort was reportedly the go-between between Pakistan’s ISI, a secret police with both a terrible human rights record and a history of abetting the Taliban and other Islamist groups, and French then-Prime Minister Edouard Balladur. Balladur allegedly secretly sold three high-end French submarines to the Pakistanis, and used proceeds from the sale to help finance his election campaign. When Balladur lost the election, he cancelled the contract for the sale – enraging the Pakistanis and allegedly leading to a 2002 terrorist attack in Karachi, Pakistan, which killed 11 French engineers and reportedly had ISI involvement. Manafort was investigated by American authorities for his role in the secret money transfers, but was never charged.

Manafort was also investigated in the late ’80s for his role in a HUD contract for housing in the town of Seabrook, New Jersey, in which his connections with aides of Reagan’s HUD Secretary, Samuel Pierce, were allegedly used to win the contract. A number of Pierce’s aides were eventually convicted in connection with corruption and political favoratism, but neither Pierce nor Manafort were ever charged.

For the last decade, Manafort has again courted both controversy and investigation due to his longtime association with Ukrainian dictator and Putin ally Viktor Yanukovych. Manafort was initially recommended to Yanukovych by one of his major political patrons, Ukraine’s wealthiest oliogarch, an iron and steel magnate named Rinat Akhmetov, worth an estimated $6.5 billion. That, in turn, came about because Manafort was introduced to him as a protege of Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska. Deripaska, in turn, has been investigated by authorities in Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States in conjunction with money laundering, but has never been charged.

Akmetov wanted Manafort to help rescue Yanukovych’s foundering 2004 campaign for prime minister. Yanukovych had already won the election after the poisoning of his opponent, Viktor Yushchenko; but protests and widespread accusations of fraud led to a re-vote, and Yanukovyh was losing. Manafort came in late in the campaign and failed, but the partnership continued, kept secret by a confidentiality agreement due to Ukrainian fears that the involvement of an American strategist would undermine Yanukovych’s pro-Russian base.

When Yanukovych ran for prime minister again in 2010, on a platform of closer Ukrainian ties with Russia (and Putin) and a pivot away from NATO and the US, Manafort was his chief strategist – operating directly against the foreign policies of first the Bush and then the Obama administrations. When Yanukovych, with Manafort’s guidance, won that election, he consolidated power and set himself up as dictator – sparking a civil war between ethnic Ukrainians and ethnic Russians that tore apart the Ukraine and eventually led both to the revolution that overthrew Yanukovych in 2014 and the Russian annexation of a key strategic Ukrainian peninsula, the Crimea, that allowed Russian naval access to the Black Sea. Throughout, Manafort was a key player behind the scenes, working directly against U.S. foreign policy. He was, once again, investigated but not charged by U.S. authorities for his role in undermining the U.S. and NATO on behalf of what is widely regarded in U.S. policy circles as a hostile power.

Manafort is hardly unique in his unsavory resume. Since the end of World War II, both Democratic and Republican administrations have had their Manaforts, shadowy operatives who can help do their administration’s less publicly appealing work. Manafort remains well-connected in this work; his then-lobbying partner, Rick Davis, was the campaign manager for the bellicose Sen. John McCain in 2008. But for the sheer length and breadth of his career, having someone like Manafort run a presidential campaign is in itself unprecedented. And having his candidate so nakedly embrace his lobbying priorities is not only unprecedented, but reckless and dangerous in the extreme.

It is Manafort’s connections with not just Yanukoyvch, but Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs, and through them Vladimir Putin, that raised so many eyebrows when Donald Trump not only contravened bipartisan, long-standing U.S. policy toward Russia, expressing his admiration for Putin in the process, but also invited Russian intelligence to hack the e-mail of not just the Democratic National Committee, but his opponent and the U.S. State Department she once ran. Given the nature of his career, Manafort has almost certainly worked both with and against the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies. He has the connections not only to advance Donald Trump’s business interests in Russia, but to get Russian or other foreign intelligence agencies to intervene directly in the American presidential election on Trump’s behalf.

Trump has taken to opining that the only way he can lose is if the election is rigged. But Hillary Clinton has not named as her top advisor someone with a history of election fraud. Trump has – in the Ukraine, in the Philippines, Indonesia, the Congo, and many other countries. It’s Trump who, when he suggests the assassination of his chief political rival, has an advisor whose previous bosses have done just that – as Yanukoych tried to do with his 2004 rival, Viktor Yushchenko, and as several of Manafort’s previous dictator clients did with numerous political rivals.

It’s Trump who has hired for his political circle Manafort, Roger Stone, and other advisors who are sociopathic encyclopedias of how to use dirty tricks to gain political power. And it’s Trump whose repeated statements and actions invite comparisons to fascist dictators of the past – the sorts of people his campaign manager, Paul Manafort, has spent a lifetime advising.

Corey Lewandowski was hired for his ability to win elections. Paul Manafort was hired, by all appearances, for his ability to circumvent them.

The Coming Civil War

Donald Trump Has No Intention of Losing

The profile of Mike Pence that I posted yesterday is the first of several I’m working on. There’s Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager, and master strategist for dictators; Roger Stone, Trump’s strategic guru and perhaps the best known dirty tricks specialist in American politics; and Trump’s teams of policy advisors, who bely his populist and isolationist image. (Here’s a hint: He likes really, really rich people.) I’ll be posting all of those in the next few days.

I’ve been spending a fair amount of time dwelling on the people closest to Donald Trump, even though his campaign is trailing in the polls and seems to be swirling around the drain more closely with each day’s fresh headlines, because Donald Trump has no intention of losing. Losing is for losers. Donald Trump is no loser. He’ll tell you so himself.

Of course, no candidate sets out to lose. But that’s not what I mean.

Donald Trump has no intention of losing. No matter what the voters say. Is that clearer?

Let’s review. Trump has:

…Economic and foreign policy advisors at stark odds with the populist and isolationist image he has projected, and that he has explicitly named as part of his prospective cabinet – unusual at this stage of a campaign.

…A new campaign manager with decades of shadowy experience advising dictators, the most recent of which clung to power for years on the basis of strong-arm tactics and rigged elections.

…A chief strategist long exiled to the fever swamp of far right conspiracists, but best known for his expertise and zeal in “ratfuckery” dating back to Watergate, plumbers and CREEP days – dirty tricks that are meant to swing election results, or call them into doubt.

…A long and lucrative career built on fraud – promising one thing while planning to do something very different at the expense of the people supporting or enabling him. That career has taught Trump a core lesson: that his wealth and celebrity exempts him from the consequences associated with breaking any and all laws. Remember that bit about “I could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue, and my followers wouldn’t care”? He genuinely believes it.

…Eschewed the usual staff and infrastructure associated with modern presidential campaigns, which have become massive undertakings. Instead, Trump has relied on a skeleton staff and few surrogatas, using personal appearances and free media to get his messages out. His fundraising lags far behind Clinton’s.

…Built an entire campaign on one emotion – hate – and repeatedly used and encouraged bullying tactics verbally, in social media, on television and in person at his rallies, to the point where comparisons to past fascist dictators have become a cliche.

…Explicitly encouraged armed followers to assassinate his opponent – and perhaps Supreme Court justices as well.

…Started implying that the election will be rigged, and its results illegitimate.

…An insatiable, megalomaniacal ego that seems compelled to respond to every perceived slight, no matter how trivial and no matter how badly it might damage him politically.

Political damage doesn’t much matter if you don’t plan to honor the results of elections. For that matter, raising and spending all that money to get votes is kind of pointless if you don’t care about votes, and being popular doesn’t matter if you have enough power to suppress dissent.

Trump has surrounded himself with people who are, in American politics, not very qualified to win a presidential election but uniquely qualified to try to nullify it.

This is not to say that Trump is planning to seize power and suspend the Constitution if Hillary Clinton wins the election. The whole charade may play out just like everyone expects, and then, having built his brand, Trump will launch a new network and sell bobblehead dolls of himself. Maybe.

But the man’s not stupid. And even though politicians, journalists, and ordinary people are fleeing from his bandwagon in droves, that still leave tens of millions of people willing to follow his lead. Within those circles, there are a lot of people who fancy themselves as heavily armed, and more than a few in recent years who have been publicly dabbling in secessionist and civil war rhetoric. They’re also geographically concentrated, especially in certain (not all) suburban and rural parts of the South and the plains states. Trump, as Birther-in-Chief, has spent several years now marinating himself in that environment.

Remember the yahoos last winter who took over a wildlife reserve station in southeastern Oregon because TYRANNY!!!11!!?? (Or something.) They hung on for a couple of months, while federal authorities hoped in vain that they’d get bored and go home. Even the conservative locals thought they were nuts.

What would happen when a man in love with his own cult of personality sets up a shadow government with his own appointees, claims the existing government is illegitimate and should be resisted, and encourages his tens of millions of fans to engage in that sort of amateur armed insurrection, based on paranoia and racial animus?

For example.

It is finally, slowly dawning on this country’s political and media establishment that this is not an ordinary election, decided by voters thoughtfully comparing two candidates on the issues. The usual recitations of false equivalence and both-siderism are, this year, a sick and preposterous joke. But because this country has had a remarkably blessed history over the past 150 years (for the white people, anyway), it’s hard to imagine that the smooth succession of power – the lowest bar separating democracies from non-democracies – might ever be threatened in this country.

With privilege comes a lack of imagination. Also, a certain obliviousness to the full range of human history. Including the long and rich human tradition of megalomaniacs inciting violence and trying to seize power. The United States is not so special that it is exempt from history or human nature.

Can anybody truly, plausibly doubt at this point that Donald Trump is capable of that sort of behavior?

Meet Mike Pence

Here’s What You Need to Know About the Christian Jihadist Zealot Who Is Now Donald Trump’s Apprentice

The national political conversation this month has been all about Donald Trump, and with good reason. Every day, new stories erupt demonstrating why a Trump presidency would be an unmitigatable catastrophe not just for the United States, but – given the immediate economic collapse his election would trigger, not to mention climate change – every person on the planet.

That said, Trump is far more charismatic than Hillary Clinton, and his fundamental message of nativism and economic discontent is far more attuned to the times than her campaign is. We’re one catastrophic event from Trump being in the White House. Liberals should not kid themselves – Donald Trump could be the next president, and in Hillary Clinton he’s lucked into facing another deeply flawed candidate whose flaws are, for Trump, a near-perfect foil.

So it matters that Trump has selected as his running mate Indiana Governor Mike Pence, who is in every respect the most radical ideologue to be on a major party ticket in modern US history. Trump’s foibles have dominated the news – to the point that his selection of Pence has been almost universally ignored. Even Pence’s selection last month was bumped out of the news by the attempted coup in Turkey.

But it matters that Mike Pence would be one impeachable scandal or Donald Trump heart attack – one heart attack for a dude that is not young but is very, very tightly wound – from holding the most powerful job in the world. And Pence is a very different and terrifying type of bad news. It matters that the United States, in the person of Pence, faces a realistic scenario of being taken over by radical religious zealots, and they don’t have anything to do with ISIS (though the leaders of ISIS have a lot more in common with Pence than either party would like to admit).

It matters, a lot, that Mike Pence is Donald Trump’s running mate. It’s as if Mussolini had picked Father Coughlin as his running mate. It’s the worst of both worlds.

Until last month, most people outside Indiana had no idea who Mike Pence was. The handful of politically-minded people who did know recognized Mike Pence as the governor who presided last year over anti-gay legislation so extreme that big companies started cancelling plans to expand in his state, until he finally had to (sort of) back down.

Now, if the Republican Party can succeed, all it will take is the president of Uzbekistan insulting Donald Trump, thus inducing a coronary, and Mike Pence will hold the most powerful job in the world. And that shouldn’t just worry Teh Gayz. Nobody – nobody – in modern American history has been nominated to such a high office who is such an across-the-board radical extremist. Sure, Trump’s options were limited because most remaining Republicans these days are inherently unhinged – but Pence is worse than most. A lot worse. Mike Pence makes Sarah Palin look moderate and well-informed. And he’s smarter, which makes him that much more dangerous.

Unfortunately, because Pence holds elective office (rather than, say, running a wrestling empire), national political media painted Pence’s selection as a “conventional” and “safe” choice. That’s grossly inaccurate – and the fact that such has been the media narrative not only shows how far away from reality the goalposts have moved in only the eight years since Palin’s selection, but how far pundits will go to confer legitimacy to truly alarming viewpoints. The Trump/Pence logo – which, rotated, looks a lot like a swastika, and at any angle looks like the stem of the “T” is doing to the hole in he “P” what Trump hopes to do to each of his latest 320+ million marks – rightly earned instant social media mockery. But Pence’s selection is no laughing matter, and corporate media isn’t about to tell anyone how dangerous this guy is.

Meet Mike Pence

Pence is exactly the sort of privileged, humorless Christian scold that gives straight white guys such a bad reputation. He grew up in rural southern Indiana, one of six children of a Catholic father who ran a number of local gas stations. Pence grew up to become first an attorney, and then a right-wing talk show host explicitly emulating Rush Limbaugh for a network of radio stations in Indiana. He ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1988 and 1990, but tried again in a more conservative climate and was successful in 2000, serving seven terms in Congress before getting elected as Indiana’s governorin 2014.

Pence’s entire political worldview can be summed up as his desire to impose his notion of Christian morality (which wouldn’t be recognized as remotely moral by any person of faith with an ounce of empathy) on everyone else. If you’re not among his flock, you’re an enemy. If you’re reading this, you’re an enemy. If you read, you’re an enemy. With Trump’s love of reality TV theatrics and Pence’s fondness for medieval torture for sinners, the duo really does have transformative potential. I don’t meant that in a good way.

Pence’s hatred of homosexuality is so extreme that you just know there’s a photo of him snorting coke with a gay hooker somewhere. The aforementioned Religious Freedom Restoration Act [sic] was explicitly meant to legalize – and encourage – discrimination of all kinds against any individuals anyone thinks might be gay. Previously, in Congress, Pence wanted to fund mandatory conversation therapy – the discredited, abusive practice of “curing” gayness that the city of Seattle recently criminalized with good reason. He opposes the service of gays in the military, same-sex marriage (of course), and in Congress also tried to withhold federal funding from any organization that “encourage(s) the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus.” It was probably lost on Pence that this also would have defunded every hospital in the country that gives blood transfusions, which is to say, every hospital in the country. Or perhaps he considers that a small price to pay to achieve the larger goal of stigmatizing homosexuality.

Not surprisingly, Pence also doesn’t like funding for women’s reproductive health. He’s signed a bill banning state funds from being used by Planned Parenthood, a move that helped trigger a still-ongoing HIV epidemic in rural southern Indiana and exactly the type of bill that is now preventing pregnant women in South Florida from getting kits that would prevent the spread of the Zika virus. He helped get passed an anti-abortion bill so broad that it was overturned by a federal court even before it was implemented. In Congress, Pence began pushing to defund Planned Parenthood in 2007, long before it became a cause celebre on the far right. He wants minors – including victims of incest – to get parental consent for contraceptives, meaning that teenage girls would have no way to avoid being impregnated by a family member. He has done all he can to make contraceptives harder to get for women of all ages – a stance the Supreme Court made illegal over a half-century ago. He’s also a fan of fetal personhood measures, including signing into law a bill mandating that aborted fetuses be given “a proper burial.” (Proper, of course, meaning Christian.) Pence is also a supporter of federal funding for the widely discredited approach of “abstinence education.”

Beyond contraception and abortion, Pence has also shown himself eager to defy the Constitution on a number of other issues. A federal court recently had to overturn his order as governor banning the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Indiana. (A xenophobic impulse that is one of the few issues where his zealotry aligns well with Trump’s.) Not surprisingly, Pence has also lauded Arizona SB 1070, the controversial Arizona anti-immigration bill largely struck down by the Supreme Court. He opposes birthright citizenship, the constitution’s provision conferring citizenship to anyone born in the US regardless of the parents’ citizenship status.

Prior to his run as governor, Pence was in Congress during the debt ceiling crisis, when Pence and fellow ideologues briefly shut down the federal government. Pence, incredibly, went even further than most of his Tea Party colleagues, demanding that the government not be funded until a Balanced Budget Amendment be passed. Setting aside the sheer economic idiocy of mandatory balanced budget proposals, passing even widely desired constitutional amendments takes years, and it’s been 45 years since any amendment – the one extending the vote to 18-year-olds – has passed at all. Pence either didn’t understand the process, was fine ignoring the constitutionally mandated process, or was fine with shutting down the federal government indefinitely. This is the guy that would now run the federal government.

Pence was in position to trigger the debt ceiling crisis due to his role, in Congress, as chairing the Republican Study Committee, a caucus of mostly newly-elected Tea Party fanatics that now numbers 172 members and remains notorious as the most far-right policy group in Washington. In 2006 he mounted the earliest challenge to the speakership of John Boehner, garnering only 27 votes but establishing his radical credentials and positioning himself to lead the generation of Tea Party zealots elected to Congress in 2008-2010.

For two decades, Pence has also been at the forefront of the effort to deny climate change science, helping it move from a fringe position to a mandatory stance for Republican politicians. He has called climate change a “myth” and claimed, preposterously, that the planet is cooling rather than warming. From Wikipedia: While in the House, Pence “voted to eliminate funding for climate education programs and to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions.” Pence also “repeatedly voted against energy efficiency and renewable energy funding and rules” and voted “for several bills that supported fossil fuel development, including legislation promoting offshore drilling.” The League of Conservation Voters, an environmentalist group, gave Pence a lifetime rating of 4 percent.

Pence has chosen ideology over science on a number of other issues as well. He opposed the lifting of George W. Bush’s ban on stem cell research and has been a public supporter of the anti-evolution scam known as “intelligent design.” Even more preposterously, Pence was also a long-time critic of science linking tobacco use to cancer, and has opposed both federal efforts to combat tobacco use and the 2001 settlement of a massive class action lawsuit against tobacco companies.

His economic beliefs can best be described as Randian – no regulations of any kind, supporting all “free trade” treaties (in direct opposition to Trump), and fiercely opposing unions of all kinds. He supported privatization of Social Security, opposes the minimum wage, and has been a vocal supporter of various widely discredited proposals for flat tax rates. He signed a bill as governor allowing guns on school property, and has led effort to attract the gun industry to his state with tax incentives. He also opposes all campaign finance laws and has lauded the controversial Citizens United Supreme Court ruling allowing unlimited campaign spending by corporations.

On a wide variety of issues, Pence shares the obsessions of many of the more aggressively ignorant of his Republican colleagues – he just takes them farther. He likened the Supreme Court’s ruling upholding the legality of Obamacare to the 9/11 attacks. Like many of his colleagues, Pence was fiercely militaristic in Congress, including supporting the invasion and occupation of Iraq long after even many Republican politicians had disavowed it. He was a cheerleader for Dick Cheney’s torture regime, and is, naturally, a big fan of Israel, defending both its illegal assaults on Palestinians and any attack it might launch on Iran. He also aggressively supported the passage and various expansions of the USA PATRIOT Act and, again not surprisingly, has been a longtime supporter of the harsh criminal penalties associated with the war on Drugs, including cannabis use. He also, as governor, refused to comply with federal efforts to reduce prison rape, a bizarre stance that combined his impulse to punish with his hatred of homosexual acts.

There’s more, of course – much, much more. This is the man who Donald Trump has chosen as his second in command, the man who would be the proverbial “one heartbeat away” from the presidency. Are you worried yet?

On to November!

With a handful of exceptions, this month’s primary election was anti-climactic. Seattle’s Housing Levy was the outcome with the greatest future impact – it passed easily, great news for a city rapidly losing what little affordable housing remains. Virtually every incumbent won handily and will be heavily favored in November. And the races without an incumbent almost across the board were dominated by progressive newcomers who would be an upgrade on their predecessors. All that is good news, with the potential to become great news come November.

Chief among those open seat races is the election to succeed retiring Rep. Jim McDermott as Seattle’s congressional representative. McDermott, honestly, should have retired years ago. He’s a great example of an all-too-common problem with local Democrats who have an apparent lifetime sinecure, to no apparent purpose. In Sunny Jim’s case, strongly progressive rhetoric masked his utter ineffectiveness – he got almost no meaningful legislation passed in three decades on the other Capitol Hill, and seniority that should have given him influence was wasted because he was frequently treated as a pariah in his own caucus. For the last 20 years, when civic Seattle wanted something done in DC, they went to Patty Murray or Maria Cantwell – not Jim McDermott.

Happily, regardless of who wins in November, that’s going to change. State Sen. Pramila Jayapal won convincingly in the primary, and state Rep. Brady Walkinshaw, after trailing Joe-“No-Relation-But-I-Hope-You’ll-Get-Confused” McDermott on election night, has pulled ahead and will likely face Jayapal in November. Both Jayapal and Walkinshaw won election for the first time only two years ago, and each has, in their short time in Olympia, impressed a lot of people. It will be a choice of styles, but both have a combination of skills well-suited to this congressional seat – it’s one of the safest Democratic seats in the country, so its occupant can take risks many of his or her colleagues cannot. At the same time, congresspeople have to be able to work constructively with those colleagues – Jim McDermott’s downfall.

Elsewhere, the big November electoral races will be statewide, and November’s electorate will be younger, less affluent, more liberal, and much larger than the relatively low August turnout. That normal presidential year dynamic will be even more pronounced this year. The prospect of a man like Donald Trump gaining the most powerful job in the world is likely in our state to benefit Democrats and hurt Republicans up and down the ballot.

With Democrats having won every statewide office in the primary – including Secretary of State, where former Seattle City Councilwoman Tina Podlodowski won convincingly over incumbent Kim Wyman, the only current statewide Republican officeholder – the focus will be on a handful of individual legislative districts that could shift control of the state senate to the Democrats. Republican control of the senate over the last three sessions has led to much of the gridlock and budgetary crises gripping Olympia, making impossible any efforts to increase revenue or reform Washington’s antiquated, uniquely regressive tax system. In King County, all eyes will be on Mercer Island, where Republican incumbent Sen. Steve Litzow won narrowly over Democratic challenger Lisa Wellman in the primary. Come November, there will be an all-out effort to flip that and several other seats.

The other story of an unusually progressive electorate in November will be its impact on a number of important ballot measures. With Olympia paralyzed and Tim Eyman failing to qualify any initiatives this year, November’s roster of six ballot measures includes several truly groundbreaking ones:

I-1464, the Government Accountability Act, would create a statewide campaign finance system, allowing residents to direct state funds to qualifying candidates, and would also repeal the non-resident sales-tax exemption, restrict employment of former public employees and lobbying, and revise campaign-finance laws.

I-1491, the Extreme Risk Protection Order Initiative, directly takes on the gun lobby by authorizing courts to issue extreme risk protection orders to keep violent and mentally ill individuals from having legal access to firearms.

I-1433, The Washington Minimum Wage Initiative, would increase the state minimum wage to $13.50 by 2020

I-732 would create a carbon emission tax on fossil fuels and fossil-fuel-generated electricity.

And, I-735 would put the state on record as urging a federal constitutional amendment to repeal the Citizens United decision by limiting constitutional rights to people, not corporations.

If any or all of those pass, it will be a big deal. While Donald Trump continues to consume all of the political media coverage, the lesson of this primary’s strongly progressive results is that these initiatives have a chance – and that Washington, like Seattle, is now deep blue. We’ll find out with these initiatives just how blue we’ve become.