Trump has defeated the media, and here’s the picture to prove it.

The picture above, tweeted out last night by Politico co-founder Mike Allen, is one of the saddest images I’ve seen since Election Day.

 

Here are a couple more gems that followed.

The occasion of these tweets, in case you haven’t heard, was the off-the-record cocktail party Trump threw for his traveling press corps — the same reporters he mocked throughout his campaign, and continues to call a bunch of liars, along with the rest of the media. The same reporters who watched Trump single out one of their own at three separate rallies in front of his hopped-up crowds, knowingly and deliberately putting her physical safety at risk. These reporters were invited to Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Florida resort, to chat with him for a half hour over drinks, on the condition they don’t tell their readers (us) anything about what he says. Mike Allen thought we might be more interested in pictures of the fancy drapes at his exclusive beach club than his answers to boring policy questions, I guess. Continue reading “Trump has defeated the media, and here’s the picture to prove it.”

A Revolution Destroyed

A few weeks ago, I met with a family of Syrian refugees at their temporary home in Anaheim, California. Sixteen members of the extended family had fled the country together, and now were living under a single roof. One couple slept on the floor of a tiny bedroom, next to their four children, who shared a bed. The grandparents slept in the hallway. The grandfather told me their living conditions were worse than at a refugee camp.

The family came from Homs, an industrial city whose residents were among the first to join the peaceful protest movement that eventually became the Syrian Revolution. The grandfather, who was a member of the city’s Local Coordination Committee, the civilian administrative apparatus of the revolution, told me he was present for the very first hour of the first protest in Homs. His son was arrested by the regime and tortured for five months before they fled. While he was in prison, their home was bombarded. The family was driven underground, and then into exile, first to Egypt, then to the United States.

The family’s story tracked the history of Syria’s path from protest to revolution. That history has been told many times. But given the level of confusion and indifference in the West to the nearly incomprehensible catastrophe that has unfolded over the last five years, it’s worth retelling it many, many more times.

The uprising is usually traced back to the moment in 2011 when a group of mischievous teenagers in Daraa spray painted an anti-regime slogan on the wall of a school. “Your turn, Doctor,” the graffiti read. The “doctor” in question was Dr. Bashar al-Assad, the country’s president, or more accurately, its tyrant and dynastic leader. “Your turn” was a reference to the revolutions overturning dictatorships all over the Middle East at that time, at the height of the Arab Spring.

Continue reading “A Revolution Destroyed”

Donald Trump’s Dumb Tweets Matter

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There’s a whole genre of hot takes devoted to scolding the public for overreacting to news out of the presidential transition that’s of allegedly negligible importance, in particular, Donald Trump’s wacky tweets.

We saw the same kind of dismissiveness all through the campaign every time the Russian interference charge came up (still do, actually), often from the same people who clung to Neera Tanden’s every utterance as if her tweets could move armies.

The implication is that competition for public attention is a zero-sum game, and that articles and cable news segments and social media posts about Trump’s outrageous tweets are empty fluff that come at the expense of the real news about the incoming President, such as his $25 million Trump University lawsuit settlement, or the extremists he’s appointing to his cabinet, or the Republicans’ plans to gut Medicare and repeal the Affordable Care Act. A lot of people even believe that Trump’s Twitter feed is a trap he’s set to distract us from the big stories he doesn’t want the public to notice.

But here’s the thing: Trump’s tweets matter. They matter a lot.

The height of the tweet-to-distract theory accompanied Trump’s tweets last month scolding the Hamilton cast for being rude to Mike Pence. On the surface, it did seem like a silly thing to get worked up about, given the juggernaut of reaction the transition team was putting into place to steamroll the rights of immigrants, women, Muslims, racial minorities, the earth, and the human species in general.

But what would have been frivolous prior to Election Day takes on a whole new weight from the future leader of the free world. The Hamilton tweets showed that as President-elect, and, by all indications, as President of the United States, Trump is perfectly willing to single out critics personally, rebuke them publicly for voicing opinions unfavorable to him, and summon his millions of followers to do the same.

Maybe you can argue that the cast of Hamilton are celebrities and public figures, that since they have a little bit of star power with which to stand up to the President-elect of the United States, he’s within his rights to defend himself against their criticisms. But yesterday, Trump singled out Chuck Jones, a local union leader for the Steelworkers in Indiana, by name, and basically blamed him (and presumably people like him, though he didn’t say that), personally, for decades of job flight from the United States. Since then, Jones has been receiving thinly-veiled death threats:

“Calling me names, wanting to know if I have children,” he said. “I better watch out for myself, and they know what kind of car I drive, that I better watch out for my kids.”

Jones isn’t a celebrity. He’s not a public figure. He’s not a Democratic Party bigwig or a member of Congress or a famous cable news pundit. He’s just somebody who disagreed with Trump’s characterization of the deal he and Mike Pence made with Carrier, and was in a position to know something about it. But Trump draws no distinctions between a critic like Jones and a critic, like, say, Hillary Clinton. His attack apparatus is indiscriminate, and it has only one setting: destroy.

Given the near-shooting over the “Pizzagate” lie, if Trump keeps this up, it’s only a matter of time before somebody gets hurt. But even more dangerous than that is the damage that Trump’s individualized, frontal attacks are likely to have on dissent overall. As a candidate, Trump showed no compunction about calling out journalists by name, knowingly putting their personal safety at risk:

At the rally in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, Trump howled about the dishonest media, calling out Tur by name. “She’s back there. Little Katy. She’s back there,” Trump said, referring to a grown woman as “little.” Trump continued, calling Tur a “third rate” reporter and her tweets a “lie.” Tur writes that the crowd began booing her, quickly turning on her “like a large animal, angry and unchained.” The Secret Service walked Tur to her car and that, Tur notes, is when the reality of the “incident sank in.”

Since Trump singled her out, Tur says that she’s been on the receiving end of threats and an endless stream of harassment on social media, another aspect of covering the Trump campaign that’s, by now, familiar to a number of female reporters, including Megyn Kelly, Julia Ioffe, and Michelle Fields.

Unlike Trump, journalists who are not in war zones don’t walk around with bodyguards, or have half-million-dollar-a-day security details guarding their personal residences at taxpayer expense. How much personal risk is the average reporter going to be willing to take on to do their job over the next four years, under a vindictive President willing to name them individually on a platform in which doxxing and death threats are routine occurrences? How about a regular person like Chuck Jones, who isn’t even a reporter?

Policy isn’t the only thing presidents do that has consequences. Norms matter, too. Trump has no regard for the norms that have historically constrained the way that American presidents handle criticism. Trump has the norms of an autocrat — someone like Putin.

Trump’s Twitter feed is a glimpse into how the next President will impose his will on a free society. That’s not a distraction; it matters. A lot.

The global populist wave is not necessarily a right-wing one

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The National Review makes an interesting point about the global populist wave rolling over Europe and the United States:

Most of these parties have only the occasional issue in common with each other or with the Trump insurgents. What unites them is not ideology or policies (which are usually responses to specific national situations) but a raw spirit of revolt. If they were to attain power, they would start to look very different as they put their ideas into effect.

Not to sugarcoat what’s happening in Europe, but it’s a mistake to reduce it to something as simple as a “far right” political takeover of the continent. Doing so limits one’s imagination of how the left can respond to it.

The five stars of the Five Star Movement in Italy, which is the clear winner in this week’s failed constitutional referendum led by soon-to-resign Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, stand for the following: publicly owned water, sustainable transport, sustainable development, right to internet access, and environmentalism. Not a single one of those planks can be mistaken for an inherently “right wing” or “conservative” value.

And yet the collapse of the Italian government (which is almost a yearly occurrence in that country) is widely understood as of a piece with Brexit, the popularity of Marine Le Pen’s Front National in France and the rise of the Alternative for Germany party next door, the ascendance of the Danish People’s Party and other “far right” tides of change on the continent, as well as the election of Donald Trump in the United States.

And of course they are of a piece: each of them is a response to the failure of traditional political parties, with their bureaucracies and dogmas and entrenched leaders, to respond adequately to the complex and evolving cultural and economic changes brought by globalization.

But the way those failures, and the uprisings they provoke, look in each country varies widely by those countries’ respective cultures, political configurations, and economic circumstances, they don’t travel, they don’t use twiddy at all. In no way is it pre-ordained that the outcome of a populist political shake-up in a given nation is a right wing takeover.

Even the Front National, so often castigated as “fascist,” has distinct left wing elements in its message and platform. Le Pen has put her party’s xenophobia, chauvinism and Islamophobia in the service (rhetorically) of defending the welfare state and safeguarding France’s commitment to tolerance and plurality. The FN may be a far right party, but only by co-opting parts of the left has it achieved the strength to seriously contend for national power.

The Five Star Movement, with its anti-immigrant bent, is hardly progressive (its leader is frequently compared to Mussolini). But nor is it “right wing.” It’s both, and it’s neither. To force it into one category or the other is to default to the antiquated political framework that parties like it are in the process of displacing. Doing so practically commits you to misunderstanding the whole phenomenon.

To an American observer, the lesson to draw from this puzzle is that there is nothing inherently right-wing about the populist wave that ushered in Trump, either. For a number of reasons that should set off alarm bells for Democrats, it was the right instead of the left that ultimately succeeded in capitalizing on the surge of discontent and organizing voters around it. But as Bernie Sanders’ unexpected success in the primary showed, racism, Islamophobia and anti-immigrant hysteria were hardly the only vehicles with which to shape and direct that anger. The Democrats just happened to choose as their nominee the most prominent representative of the ancien regime at exactly the time when the old order was being toppled throughout the Western world.

 

Wedging Trump

Anthony Scaramucci — his friends call him “the Mooch” — is a blow-dried, gold ringed hedge fund trader straight out of Central Casting. Last summer, when Donald Trump dismissed finance people like him as parasitic swindlers who “move around papers,” Scaramucci snarled that Trump was “another hack politician” who would “probably make Elizabeth Warren his vice-presidential nominee,” considering his “anti-American” insults to the finance industry. “You’re an inherited money dude from Queens County,” the Mooch taunted Trump on the Fox Business Channel, doing his best impression of a guy asking another guy if he’d like to step outside for a minute.

Today, Scaramucci is a member of Trump’s presidential transition team.

Scaramucci’s journey from trash talker of presidential nominee Trump to economic advisor to President-elect Trump tracks Trump’s own abrupt transformation from firebrand populist outsider to Wall Street-friendly insider — an about-face that wasn’t just predictable but repeatedly predicted. As a man without an ideology, Trump is not a change agent but an opportunistic pragmatist. His goal is not to reshape the American economy or even the Republican Party, but to use the presidency to build his global brand and enrich himself and his family in the process. People like Scaramucci and Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s choice for Treasury Secretary, a former Goldman Sachs mortgage banker who made his fortune and his legend exploiting the pain of the foreclosure crisis, may have been odd choices for the grenade-lobbing, drain-the-swamp-and-burn-the-whole-system-down presidential candidate version of Donald Trump. But they’re just the right kind of advisors for the self-dealing, oligarchical, President-elect version of Trump: the real Trump, the one who will be crowned Leader of the Free World next month.

Continue reading “Wedging Trump”