A Last Chance for Resistance

Posted on Mar 19, 2017

By Chris Hedges

  President Trump exits Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base on Sunday, following a weekend trip to Florida. (Jose Luis Magana / AP)

The crawl toward despotism within a failed democracy is always incremental. No regime planning to utterly extinguish civil liberties advertises its intentions in advance. It pays lip service to liberty and justice while obliterating the institutions and laws that make them possible. Its opponents, including those within the establishment, make sporadic attempts to resist, but week by week, month by month, the despot and his reactionary allies methodically consolidate power. Those inside the machinery of government and the courts who assert the rule of law are purged. Critics, including the press, are attacked, ridiculed and silenced. The state is reconfigured until the edifice of tyranny is unassailable.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn in “The Gulag Archipelago” noted that the consolidation of Soviet tyranny “was stretched out over many years because it was of primary importance that it be stealthy and unnoticed.” He called the process “a grandiose silent game of solitaire, whose rules were totally incomprehensible to its contemporaries, and whose outlines we can appreciate only now.”

Czeslaw Milosz in “The Captive Mind” also chronicles the incremental expansion of tyranny, noting that it steadily progresses until intellectuals are not only forced to repeat the regime’s self-praising slogans but to advance its absurdist dogmas. Few ever see the tyranny coming. Those who do and speak out are treated by the authorities, and often the wider society, as alarmists or traitors.

The current administration’s budget proposes to give the war industry, the domestic policing agencies, the fossil fuel industry, Wall Street, billionaires and the national security and surveillance agencies more than they could have imagined possible before the election. These forces, as in all fascist states, will be the pillars of the Trump regime. They will tolerate Donald Trump’s idiocy, ineptitude and unbridled narcissism in exchange for increased profits and power. Despots are often buffoons. Appealing to their vanity and ego is an effective form of manipulation. Skilled sycophants can play despots like musical instruments for personal advancement.

Trump, like all despots, has no real ideology. His crusade against Wall Street, including Goldman Sachs, and the billionaire class during the presidential election campaign vanished the moment he took office. He has appointed five former Goldman Sachs employees to high posts in his administration. His budget will bleed the poor, the working class and the middle class and swell the bank accounts of the oligarchs. He is calling for abolishing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts and the cutting of programs that provide legal service to low-income people and grants to libraries and museums. If Trump’s budget is approved by Congress, there will not even be a pretense of civil society. Trump and his family will profit from his presidency. Corporations will profit from his presidency. Wall Street will profit from his presidency. And the people will be made to pay.

Despots demand absolute loyalty. This is why they place family members in the inner circles. The Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, whose vanity rivaled that of Trump, and Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein filled their governments with their children, siblings, nephews, nieces and in-laws and rounded out their inner courts with racists, opportunists and thugs of the kind that now populate the White House.

“President Trump’s point man on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations is a longtime Trump Organization lawyer with no government or diplomatic experience,” reads the opening paragraph of a New York Times article headlined “Prerequisite for Key White House Posts: Loyalty, Not Experience.” “His liaison to African-American leaders is a former reality-TV villain with a penchant for résumé inflation. And his Oval Office gatekeeper is a bullet-headed former New York City cop best known for smacking a protester on the head.”

Despots distrust diplomats. Diplomats, often multilingual and conversant with other cultures and societies, deal in nuances and ambiguities that are beyond the grasp of the despot. Diplomats understand that other nations have legitimate national interests that inevitably clash with the interests of one’s own country. They do not embrace force as the primary language of communication. They are trained to carry out negotiations, even with the enemy, and engage in compromise. Despots, however, live in a binary universe of their own creation. They rapidly dismantle the diplomatic corps when they take power for the same reason they attack intellectuals and artists.

Trump’s proposed cut of nearly 29 percent to the State Department’s budget, potentially eliminating thousands of jobs, is part of the shift away from diplomacy to an exclusive reliance on violence or the threat of violence. The militarization of the diplomatic corps, with the Central Intelligence Agency and military intelligence operatives often taking over embassies, especially in conflict zones, began long before Trump took office. But Trump will deal the coup de grâce to the diplomatic corps. Despots replace diplomats with sycophants with no diplomatic experience, such as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who promise to impose the despot’s will on the rest of the world.

The dismantling of a diplomatic corps has dangerous consequences. It leaves a country blind and prone to wars and conflicts that could be avoided. Leon Trotsky called Josef Stalin’s foreign minister, Vyacheslav Molotov, who negotiated the disastrous 1939 Nazi-Soviet nonaggression pact that left the Soviet Union unprepared for German invasion, “mediocrity personified.” The other signatory of the pact, Joachim von Ribbentrop, was a former champagne salesman. Ribbentrop, as Molotov did with Stalin, parroted back to Adolf Hitler the leader’s conspiratorial worldview. Ribbentrop, again like Molotov with Stalin, knew that Hitler always favored the most extreme option. Molotov and Ribbentrop unfailingly advocated radical and violent solutions to any problem, endearing themselves to their bosses as men of unflinching resolve. This is what makes Steve Bannon so appealing to Trump—he will always call for Armageddon.

There are three institutions tasked in a functioning democracy with protecting the truth and keeping national discourse rooted in verifiable fact—the courts, the press and universities. Despots must control these three to prevent them from exposing their lies and restricting their power. Trump has not only attacked the courts but has also begun purges of the judiciary with his mass firing of U.S. attorneys. The Trump White House plans to fill 124 judgeships—including 19 vacancies on federal appeals courts—with corporatist lawyers such as Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch who are endorsed by the reactionary Federalist Society. By the time Trump’s four-year term is up, Federalist Society judges could be in as many as half of the country’s appellate seats.

Trump has continued to attempt to discredit the press. During his rally in Nashville, Tenn., on Wednesday, he told the crowd, “Some of the fake news said I don’t think Donald Trump wants to build the wall. Can you imagine if I said we’re not going to build a wall? Fake news. Fake, fake news. Fake news, folks. A lot of fake.” He went on to say in an apparent reference to the reporters covering the rally, “They’re bad people.”

The attacks on universities, which will be accelerated, are on display in the budget proposal. The Department of Health and Human Services, the National Science Foundation, NASA, the Department of Education, the Commerce Department, the National Institutes of Health, the Energy Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs all give grants and research money to universities. Colorado State University, for example, gets about 70 percent, or $232 million, of its research budget from federal sources. In February, Trump suggested he might attempt to cut federal funding for universities such as UC Berkeley. His comment was made after a riot at the California school forced the cancellation of a speech there by the far-right ideologue Milo Yiannopoulos, who has called Trump “Daddy.” A university will of course be able to get corporate funding for research if it casts doubt on the importance of climate change or does research that can be used to swell corporate profits or promote other business interests. Scientific study into our ecocide and the dangers from chemicals, toxins and pollutants released by corporations into the atmosphere will be thwarted. And the withering of humanities programs, already suffering in many universities, will worsen.

It will be increasingly difficult to carry out mass protests and civil disobedience. Repression will become steadily more overt and severe. Dissent will be equated with terrorism. We must use the space before it is shut. This is a race against time. The forces of despotism seek to keep us complacent and pacified with the false hope that mechanisms within the system will moderate Trump or remove him through impeachment, or that the looming tyranny will never be actualized. There is an emotional incapacity among any population being herded toward despotism or war to grasp what is happening. The victims cannot believe that the descent into barbarity is real, that the relative security and sanity of the past are about to be obliterated. They fail to see that once rights become privileges, once any segment of a society is excluded from the law, rights can instantly be revoked for everyone.

There is a hierarchy to oppression. It begins with the most vulnerable—undocumented workers, Muslims, poor people of color. It works upward. It is a long row of candles that one by one are extinguished. If we wait to resist, as the poet C.P. Cavafy wrote, the “dark line gets longer” and “the snuffed-out candles proliferate.”

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/a_last_chance_for_resistance_20170319

Our Two Party System is Dead

The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) famously proclaimed the death of God.  Following this far more momentous precedent, it would now be fair to proclaim the death of the debilitating, semi-established duopoly party system that disables progressive politics in the United States.

The analogies are many.

Nietzsche claimed that it would take centuries for the Divine body to decompose.

By this, he did not just mean that it was no longer possible, without self-deception, to believe that there is an omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good being who created all that is and with whom human beings can have personal relationships.  Materialist philosophers a century earlier could have said that, albeit not in as colorful a way. Nietzsche took it for granted.

His deeper claim was that ways of thinking and being – and forms of civilization — that rested on belief in God were finished as well.

This included quite a lot – not literally everything, but nearly everything of fundamental importance.  In his view, prevailing notions of truth and morality were among the first casualties.

He insisted, however, that it would take a long time for all the consequences to take effect. Therefore, the churches would likely remain full for generations.  The synagogues too, though Nietzsche’s view of synagogues was, to put it mildly, ambivalent; and, though he knew little and cared less about them, the mosques as well.

They might even seem to thrive.  But they would not be what they were because, with the divine corpse decomposing, their foundations were gone.

That, from time to time, there would be periods in which parts of God’s decomposing body would flourish therefore does not embarrass Nietzsche’s claim.  Church, synagogue, and mosque attendance might rise from time to time; and, for any number of reasons, some people some of the time might rally around the old, essentially defunct, religions.  But, at its core, it would all be a sham because, whether “believers” know it or not, superseded ways of thinking and being cannot be replicated except in ironic ways.

The implication was that the sooner people realize this, the sooner they see the world as it is and not as they would like it to be, the better the world will be.

It will be better not because people will be happier or because they will have an easier time navigating their way through life’s tribulations, but because it will be more honest.  Like Aristotle, Nietzsche was what we would today call a “virtue ethicist.” Honesty – and authenticity more generally – was high on his list of virtues.

He was also a critic of democracy and egalitarianism and other emanations of Enlightened thought.

And he was a master ironist.   It was in that capacity that — to use a word that Stephen Bannon and other Trumpists have besmirched — he called for the “deconstruction” of the God idea and all that rests upon it.  This was how he would have humanity realize the goal of Enlightened thinking, as described by Immanuel Kant and philosophers in the classical German tradition: it would free humanity from its “self-imposed nonage.”

***

It is impossible, of course, to say exactly when God died.  That death – so consequential for humanity and so irrelevant to everything beyond human control — was a process, not an event.

The death of the two party system in the United States is a process too.  But the consequences are so much more limited, and the time frame so much shorter, that it could look to future historians very much like an event — if there are future historians, that is; in other words, if, despite Democrats and Republicans and Donald Trump, we somehow survive environmental devastation and avoid nuclear war.

If our luck holds to that extent, the 2016 election season could well come to be seen as the moment when the duopoly died or, rather, when the process that did it in reached a culminating point.

For anyone with an even vaguely Nietzschean sense of the order and value of things, it can only seem grotesque to liken the demise of something as inherently base as America’s party system to the death of an idea as foundational and sublime as the Christian  — and Jewish and Muslim — God.

Nevertheless, the similarities are plain and the comparison is instructive.

Enlightenment thinking began to undo the God idea more than a century before Nietzsche came on the scene; and decades before he declared God dead, there were philosophers in Germany – for example, the Young Hegelians (as a very young man, Karl Marx was one of them) – who thought that the question of God’s existence had been settled and that the pertinent philosophical and political questions had to do with why the belief persisted nevertheless.  To probe those questions, the Young Hegelians sought to uncover the human meaning of ideas of God.

The duopoly system in American politics was also mortally ill before the duopoly died – not for nearly as many years, of course, but nevertheless, for a long time, as political settlements go.

The beginning of the end came in the late seventies, when Jimmy Carter was President, and when the political economic order that had been in place since the end of the Second World War seemed suddenly to have become stuck in a permanent crisis – with economic growth impeded and inflation on the rise.

Creditors found the situation intolerable; they also found themselves more empowered than they had been when the ambient economic scene was more robust.

Under these conditions, they were not shy about throwing their weight around in Washington.   Leading capitalists favored the Republican Party, of course; that was in their DNA.  But they channeled money to Democrats too.  Where there is influence to be purchased, they have always been bipartisan.

Within leading academic and policy circles, neoliberal political economists had been marginalized since the time of the New Deal.  Suddenly, their standing changed one hundred eighty degrees as the ruling class, and therefore the political class, took up the neoliberal cause.

The idea was to disencumber markets, capital markets especially, from regulations enacted to save capitalism from the capitalists, and also to give manufacturers relief from regulations that protect the environment.  Another major objective was to diminish the countervailing power of organized labor and other civil society groups, giving capitalists freer rein.

Under the cover of “supply side” economic theories, they also wanted to reform the tax code – effectively robbing from the poor to give to the rich.

And so, a political regime took shape that aimed to undo the progress of preceding decades.  The neoliberals set out not just to stop progress in its tracks, but also to turn back the clock as best they could.

On the Republican side, this led to purging the party of its liberal wing, attacking unions, resurrecting laissez-faire economic policies, and revving up Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy” and related efforts to bring “the silent majority” on board.  It led, in a word, to the “Reagan Revolution.”

The Reaganites did all they could to set Wall Street free to make money with other peoples’ money, and they encouraged the exportation of jobs to parts of the world where labor was cheap.  They reset the political agenda.  But, at first, they were not able to implement much of the agenda they established – in large part because Democratic majorities in the House and Senate wouldn’t allow it.

It therefore fell to opportunists in the Democratic Party to consolidate and expand the Reagan Revolution by bringing the opposition along.  This is the principal “legacy” of the Clinton presidency.

Bill Clinton was the best Reaganite President ever, better than Obama, better than both Bushes put together, better than the villainous old Gipper himself.   He did it because he could; not because he believed in “trickle down” economics or other Reaganite nostrums.  He did it to help himself and his paymasters, by working both sides of the street.

It was a slow process but, in time, on the Republican side, the inmates took over the asylum; while, over the course of the eighties and nineties, the Democrats became Republicans in all but name.

However, to this day, the old duopoly structures, like the churches and synagogues and mosques, have remained more or less unchanged.  In recent years, they even seem to have thrived.

Throughout the long nineteenth century – from, roughly, the War of Independence to World War I – the American party system was comparatively fluid; the Republican Party itself was a product of its transformations.

Since World War I, third party activity has played a far less significant role in American politics.  Third party organizing, on both the left and the right, has come to very little; indeed, most efforts have failed outright.   Even parties that have survived for several election cycles – the Greens, for example, or the Libertarians – have never had more than a marginal impact on the larger political scene.

It could have been different last year.  Disappointed Sanders supporters could have either brought the Greens out of the margins or forged a new electoral presence on their own.    It never happened, however; thanks, at least in part, to Sanders’ defection to the Clinton camp.

And so for the time being, same as it ever was, Democrats and Republicans are all we have.  Nevertheless, the two party system is defunct.  The party machines remain, the apparatchiks are still there, and “politics,” for most Americans, is still about electoral contests between Democrats and Republicans.   But like Christianity, on Nietzsche’s telling, it is all built on a foundation of bad faith.

Those who think otherwise are deceiving themselves; trying, in vain, to defy historical currents that are bound to prevail.  This is happening even now, before our eyes. It can sometimes be hard, as it were, to see the forest for the trees, but the evidence is there: each year, the ranks of “independents” grow, and levels of satisfaction with the major parties declines.

Where, not long ago, people identified as Democrats or Republicans, hardly anyone does nowadays; not even people who can be counted on to vote reliably for candidates from one or the other side.

***

As the electoral results from 2016 came in, it looked, for a moment, as if at least the Republicans were riding high.  No one thinks that any longer – not as their decomposition proceeds apace, just as palpably as the Democrats’.

Even on a worst-case scenario, a few more electoral cycles should suffice for both Republicans and Democrats either to dissipate entirely into the ether or else to survive as historical remnants only, hanging on by the skins of their teeth.

Entrenched institutional structures are keeping them both alive for now, but as the parties themselves become increasingly irrelevant, those institutions will be unable to go on playing that role.

Therefore, in not too many more years, the duopoly system will exist in historical memory only – in much the way that, in Nietzsche’s view, the God of Christianity, Judaism and Islam will, in due course, join the gods of Greek and Roman antiquity.

Had events played out in 2016 as most informed people thought they would, we would be at that point already.  Trump had, in effect, run against the Republican Party and defeated it; and Hillary Clinton was set to finish both him and the Republicans off.

Many voters hated her (mostly for the wrong reasons), and hardly anyone genuinely liked her, but at least she wasn’t a raving embarrassment.  More important by far, the political, social, economic and media “power elite” was behind her a thousand percent.

But she was such an awful candidate that she managed to lose to a billionaire buffoon.

Having decided that blaming elderly white working class voters in rural areas was unwise, influential Democrats and their media flacks now blame the Russians – with every breath they take.  Could they be that intent on starting World War III?  Or is it just that were they to face up to their own ineptitude, they fear they would lose their grip on the institutional power they still enjoy thanks to the duopoly’s continuing existence?

Whatever the reason, there is comfort in the realization that they, like the Republicans, are doomed.

Republicans need Trump to get their agendas through; Trump needs them because neither he nor his people are capable of governing.   It is a marriage made in hell.

But, sooner or later, as scandals surrounding Trump mount and as more and more Trump voters realize that they have been conned, Republicans will come to the realization that they are better off without the Donald, after all.

And Trump, desperate to hold onto his credibility by keeping, or appearing to keep, the promises he made while campaigning, will find it expedient that he would be better off without Republican deficit hawks tearing those promises to pieces.

Many, probably most, Trump voters could care less about the Republicans’ several agendas.  They didn’t vote for Trump because they were pro-Republican or even because they liked him.   They voted for Trump because they were fed up with the Democratic Party, and because they were inclined to think that a rich businessman who says whatever is on his mind would be a better “change agent” than a money-grubbing Washington insider who talks in weasel words.

Being in thrall to unjustifiable and patently false, but quintessentially American, beliefs about the essential goodness of rich businessmen, they thought that Trump was beyond feathering his own nest, and that he would know how to shake things up and make change – for the better — happen.

Boy, were they wrong!

As a rule, people resist admitting their mistakes.  But with Trump and his band of dunces calling the shots, it should not take much to convince the voters Trump duped that the man is more like the Wizard of Oz than the Ayn Rand hero they imagined him to be.

The problem, though, is that those voters were right last November about Clinton and the Democrats; and, except for some hand wringing about the need to be less dismissive of the sad sacks Trump duped, nothing much in that department has changed.

What has changed, however, is that, outside the Democratic Party and at its fringes, an anti-Trump resistance movement is taking shape.

As long as Trump and his minions remain preposterous, that movement will not subside the way that, for example, Occupy Wall Street did.  That condition is sure to be fulfilled; Trump and the people around him were born preposterous.  They cannot help themselves.

If the Democratic Party holds fast to its ways, the anti-Trump resistance will sweep them aside – either directly, by leading voters out of the morass that the Democratic Party has become, or, on the Tea Party model, by taking the Party over and transforming it beyond recognition.

Either way, the Democratic Party’s days are numbered.

The Republicans’ days are too.   Indeed, it is a miracle that the GOP has survived for as long as it has under the weight of its cultural contradictions.  And yet, that jumble of yahoo theocrats, rightwing libertarians, conformist suburbanites, High Finance buccaneers and well-heeled members of the Country Club set has so far managed to hang together.  Could that hideous mélange long survive Trump and the Trumpists too?  The chances are slim.

Nietzsche asked: “what are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?”

We could ask, with similar justification, what are the duopoly’s institutional structures and engrained habits of thought and practice now if not the final resting place of a party system that would long ago have passed away, but for the efforts of Democrats and Republicans to maintain their stranglehold over the body politic?

The duopoly is dead; and the sooner this fact registers, the better off everyone who stands to gain from (small-d) democracy will be.

ANDREW LEVINE is the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/03/17/our-two-party-system-is-dead/

Trump and Mussolini: 11 Key Lessons from Historical Fascism

Italian fascism provides a better model for our moment than Nazi Germany—and the comparison is not encouraging.

Photo Credit: By Muzej Revolucije Narodnosti Jugoslavije (USHMM Photograph #89908) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Fascism is a religion. The 20th century will be known in history as the century of fascism.
— Benito Mussolini

I’d like to draw some comparisons and contrasts between our present situation and that of fascist Italy between 1922 and 1945. I choose fascist Italy rather than Nazi Germany because it has always seemed to me a better comparison. Nazi Germany was the extreme militarist, racist and totalitarian variant of Italian fascism, which was more adaptable, pragmatic, rooted in reality and also more incompetent, ineffectual and half-hearted, all of which seem true to our condition today. Italy was the original form, while Germany was an offshoot. Although there have been many European and some Latin American varieties of fascism since then, the Italian model was the first and the one that has had the most lasting influence.

Mussolini drew on strong existing left-wing European currents such as anarcho-syndicalism, wanting to offer the world an alternative to what he saw as the failures of the Western democracies. His was a revolutionary agenda, designed to turn the world order upside down, rooted deeply in romantic and even avant-garde sensibilities. To see fascism as stemming ultimately from liberalism might sound surprising, but this is true of both socialism as well as fascism, because finally it is liberalism’s principle of human perfectibility from which these impulses derive. Fascism, we might say, is liberal romanticism gone haywire. In its healthy state, liberalism gives us constitutional democracy, but in its unhealthy state we end up with totalitarianism.

Futurism, one of the leading modernist movements of the time, fed easily into fascism. F.T. Marinetti, who believed in war as “hygiene,” was a keen Mussolini supporter, as was the playwright Luigi Pirandello, though he had a different aesthetic tendency. Many philosophers, academics and artists were already sick of the mundane, transactional, enervating nature of democracy under leaders like Giovanni Giolitti, prime minister several times in the two decades preceding fascism.

Benedetto Croce, on the other hand, was the great Italian idealist philosopher, an optimistic Hegelian who believed that liberal constitutionalism was forever on the move, boosted by the Italian Risorgimento (unification) of the mid-19th century, even if its progress couldn’t always be detected. Mussolini never openly persecuted Croce, partly for reasons of credibility — some internal criticism had to be allowed, to preserve the façade of diversity of opinion — but mostly because, with a slight twist, Croce’s Hegelian logic can easily lead to fascism.

To discuss Italian fascism in the context of Trumpism is not to draw silly one-on-one comparisons, because many material factors are different today, but to understand current developments there must be some historical basis for analysis. What this exercise attempts is to show that the myth of American exceptionalism is just that, a myth, and that we have traveled so far from our national founding impulses that other tendencies, namely forms of what used to be considered peculiarly European anxieties, have now become the defining features of our polity.

1. Fascism rechannels economic anxiety

The German condition in the 1920s, with the economic instability then prevalent, is well known, but this was also true of European countries in general in the wake of World War I. Especially after the Russian Revolution, the urgent question for all of Europe became: Was socialism the right path, or capitalism? And in either case, was a new political order required?

In Italy, socialism became quite popular after the war, making industrialists and large agriculturalists very worried. The fascist squads, which at first had arisen spontaneously, came in handy to break the back of socialist cooperatives, both in industry and agriculture, particularly in northern Italy which was more advanced than the south. In the early part of his career, the opportunist Mussolini was anti-war (he didn’t want Italy to join the war), as were socialists in general. But during the course of World War I he changed his tune. Evidence shows that he was financed by oligarchic foreign interests who wanted Italy to get into the war, which of course it did.

For the same money men, the question became, after the war, what to do with the mobilized energy of the arditi, or the squadrists? The original fascists, Mussolini included, were very socialist in inclination, and their manifestos reflected that. Mussolini’s initial program for fascism could pass, with some changes, as an egalitarian dream. The founders of fascism were big on workers’ rights, expropriation of leading industries and even women’s right to equality. The violent contest between socialists and fascists in the countryside had already abated by the time Mussolini came to power. Yet the oligarchic powers sought, in Mussolini, a figure to permanently channel and mobilize the violent social energy on behalf of capitalism.

The most recent phase of globalization, which took off during the 1990s, has created similar anxieties around the world as the class dislocations did following World War I. For the elites who propagated the “Washington consensus” in the 1990s, supported by such popularizers as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, there was nothing complicated about globalization: Incomes would rise around the world, inequality would fall and liberal tolerance would flourish. This rosy picture is so far from reality as to be laughable, and it is a truth evident to the world’s peoples, except for the transnational elites still beholden to the abstract propositions. Thus the question arises again, with as much urgency as in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution: What shall be the world’s economic order? Is it possible to conceive, at this late date, of globalization with a human face? Or is something more revolutionary needed?

The problem today is that socialism, unfortunately, became discredited in the eyes of liberals in the West because of the failed Soviet experiment. Socialism did not have to go the authoritarian route, but that is sadly how it turned out. So today we have a clear problem, i.e., burgeoning inequality on an almost unprecedented scale, and no ideological solution in sight, at least not one that majorities of liberals can agree on.

Into this vacuum, fascists all over the Western world are entering to redirect the majority white population’s nervousness into xenophobic and imperialist aims. Each country, depending on its power structure, will pursue these aims, once it succumbs to the fascist virus, differently. It is worth remembering, however, that it was liberalism, with its absurd triumphant mentality in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, that took away movement toward any form of socialism as a legitimate path, and therefore made the rise of fascism inevitable.

2. Liberal institutions have already been fatally weakened

We are currently lamenting Trump’s evisceration of the media and other institutions of democracy, but he would not be having such success, at least with half of the population, if those institutions were not already seriously compromised. It is easy to dismiss his mockery of the “fake media,” but before Trump did anyone take the media, with some venerable exceptions, seriously anyway? The mass media have never been interested in the nuances of policy, and are focused instead on personality, celebrity and spectacle. Most of the print media are also compromised because of loyalty to American exceptionalism.

It is no coincidence that Trump has merged his critique of the “fake media” with exceptionalism, because it allows him to present the media as tools of a discredited ideology. Before Trump, the media were tied, as a general rule, to the consensus on neoliberalism, and their bias became all the more evident during the last campaign. When it comes to telling the truth about power, the media have not been interested in doing so for a long time. They may now be reacting viscerally against Trump, because of the crude way in which he takes on their shallowness, but it doesn’t mean anything to his supporters. Trump’s critique of the media applies to all our liberal institutions prior to his arrival on the scene.

Mussolini’s fascist program landed in the middle of deep disillusionment with liberal institutions. Italy had experienced a rapid spurt of growth due to industrialization in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but the rewards weren’t equally distributed. The south was poor and undeveloped, overcome by feudal values, while the north was unsure about empowering labor to share the fruits of growth. The strong labor movement started shading into anarcho-syndicalism, quite similar to the original fascist manifesto. The situation is not exactly comparable today, because ours is a mature economy with declining traditional industrial sectors, while Italy’s was an emerging economy with growing industries. But the sense that the institutions of democracy were failing to support a fair standard of living was widespread.

The Italian parliamentary system was marked by a tendency toward transformismo or “transformism,” to which our strongest parallel would be Bill (or Hillary) Clinton’s triangulation. In many ways Clinton can be seen as a parallel to Giolitti, with the same ability to throw doubt on the health of liberal democracy, even as deals are cut right and left). Transformismo, or triangulation, appeals to career civil servants, politicians and media people, but its chameleon-like tendency to absorb the ideas of the opposition and to neutralize them and make them invisible leaves a profoundly disillusioning aftertaste. Ideology desperately wants to make a comeback, which was true in transactional Italy, and is certainly true of America now.

3. Internal strongmen tussles don’t mean anything

In the beginning Mussolini didn’t seem the most obvious choice to lead the fascist movement. Italy’s best-known provocateur, Gabriele d’Annunzio, a flamboyant writer with a continental reputation, beat him to it by organizing a militia to lay siege to Fiume, a small territory on the northeast coast, part of the unredeemed lands claimed by the irredentist movement. In his short-lived siege, d’Annunzio perfected a fascist style — harangues prompting back-and-forth exchanges from balconies overlooking vast public squares, the symbolic elaboration of the myth of martyrdom in the cause of the nation and the articulation of an emotional method for communicating reality — that Mussolini, and all later fascists, would adopt. D’Annunzio — a legendary womanizer and decadent — was one of the most colorful of all Europeans, and his peculiar interpretation of Nietzschean values has become a permanent challenge to liberal democracy.

But when push came to shove, Mussolini was seen as the more pliable agent of fascist change by his corporate benefactors, and Mussolini was quick to sideline d’Annunzio’s claim to leadership. There were always more assertive fascists around than Mussolini — for example, Roberto Farinacci, the ras (or leader) of Cremona, who later became fond of Hitler’s henchmen — but Mussolini was able to keep them in check. He was a master at playing one competitor against another, exploiting their vulnerabilities to always stay in power. The squadrist militias under control of the provincial ras, like Farinacci and others, were at first used by Mussolini to send terror into the hearts of wavering capitalists and later, in different stages, were controlled and even neutralized as competing power centers, all of them absorbed in the mostly subservient National Fascist Party (PNF).

At the moment, Trump is our Farinacci, the most assertive of the ras, compared to whom all the Cabinet secretaries — even the ones who most frighten us for their racism (Attorney General Jeff Sessions) or Islamophobia (Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly) — seem tame in comparison. No matter the insanity of the secretaries in charge of the environment, education, energy or other departments, none seems as willing to openly flout the rule of law as Trump. Or we can say that in our case the showman d’Annunzio has taken power, rather than a more grounded journalist-turned-politician like Mussolini. We confront the speculative exercise of trying to imagine how it would have turned out for fascism had d’Annunzio, not Mussolini, been the leader.

Nonetheless, we ought not to be swayed by the temporary ascendancies of this or that group within the fascist hierarchy, whether it is Steve Bannon or Michael Flynn who rises or falls. Fascism is greater than the individuals who make up its core at any given moment. Fascism requires the strongman at the center to make it move, yet if a given personality fails to do the job, another can be found as replacement.

4. Fascism keeps mutating

Before fascism was formalized by Mussolini in 1919, organizing the scattered energies of the displaced combatants, it was in many ways an aesthetic movement. It was certainly radically socialist in orientation, with a strong attraction to equality for workers. Then, just before taking power, it became a movement for capitalist law and order, suppressing the demands of socialists. Once in power it adopted some of the modes of parliamentary behavior, but with great irritation, as it sought to preserve a democratic façade. After the consolidation of the dictatorship in 1925, it became almost a developmental state, strongly interested in Italy’s economic growth. A corporatist state, with strong autarkic goals (such as the “Battle for Wheat,” to make Italy self-sufficient, or the reclamation of the Pontine Marshes), was clearly articulated, eliciting approval from the world’s leading capitalist powers.

With the onset of worldwide depression, however, fascism realized the intractability of economic problems and turned its attention to imperialism. The PNF, which had become relatively quiet during the period of capitalist development, was revived as a harsh ideological force, with growing tentacles in every part of Italian society. This phase began in the early 1930s and lasted until defeat in World War II. Fascism was not particularly racist to begin with, as Mussolini, like most Italians, took exception to Nazi anti-Semitism; but as Italy threw in its lot with Germany in the late 1930s, “scientific” racism became a central fascist platform. After Mussolini was overthrown by his own Grand Council in 1943, for the last two years of the war he held fort in the Republic of Salò, in the northern part of Italy, supported by Hitler’s fading power. The Republic of Salò backtracked to the original socialist principles enunciated at the formation of fascism.

What this shows is that fascism is highly adaptable to different needs and conditions, just as its opposite, democracy, is similarly flexible. This also suggests that fascism is a viable ideology just like democracy, because it can appear in different guises at different times, even under the same leadership, without losing credibility. In considering Trump and the movement he has sparked, we would be better off looking at the overall aims of the regime, rather than get carried away by feints in one direction or another. Their aim, it should be clear, is to end democracy, since that is the energy fascism feeds on.

Trump is fully capable of showing an apparently “presidential” side, for example in his first speech to Congress. The priority has shifted from eradicating immigrants to passing the neoliberal agenda on taxation, social spending, education, energy and the environment, so a slightly modified relationship is needed with the corporate world and the media for the immediate future, which Trump should easily be able to accomplish. Mussolini, though an inveterate atheist, made peace with the Vatican, in the famous Lateran Accords of 1929, abandoning his most cherished beliefs in order to gain the complicity of the Catholic church. Earlier in the 1920s, he installed corporate-friendly ministers to work with Italy’s industrialists to enact an agenda they could be comfortable with. Such mutations are par for the course for fascists, they’re nothing to get excited about.

5. Fascism is eternally recurring

Just as democracy is eternal, so is fascism. There have always been authoritarian or dictatorial responses to democracy since the beginning of modern civilization, but fascism, with its imprint of spectacle, theater and mass communication, was a particular permutation that arose once the Western democracies had been consolidated. Italy and Germany were two of the late bloomers, but democracy had mostly been attained by the time they turned to fascism. Fascism could not have arisen were democracy still an evolving condition, as was true of parts of the West in the 19th century. So fascism is an indication of maturity, once democracy’s initial bloom is off.

Many historians were eager to write off Italy’s fascist experience as an aberration, as something so abnormal that it did not properly belong to Italian culture, but the opposite is true. Fascism will often borrow the symbolism, legal architecture and academic norms of pre-existing society, rather than throw them overboard. In Italy’s case, all the existing tendencies of aesthetic modernism came in handy, as well as the legacies of socialist, anarchist and syndicalist cultures. In northern cities like Turin and Milan, fascism flourished side by side with avant-garde political and cultural thinking. Once the dominant liberal culture succumbed, it wasn’t as difficult to impose fascism’s content upon the less democratic south’s institutions.

Fascism was not an aberration for Italy, nor is this the case anywhere it occurs. It is inherent in the DNA of any given culture, an authoritarian side that goes along with, and is even a necessary prop for, democracy. The interwar years marked industrialization’s maturity in the Western world, which had been preceded by a huge burst of globalization, leading up to World War I. A fascism drawing energy from the masses employed in industrialized occupations, as was the case between the wars, is going to manifest very differently than the post-industrial environment of 21st-century America. But the differences are more stylistic than foundational.

6. Of course it’s a minority affair

To note that Trump did not win the popular vote (as was true of George W. Bush in 2000), does not take away from the power of fascism. Given civilized norms in a democratic society, it is always going to be difficult for fascists to muster an outright numerical majority. The point is their relative strength in terms of raw power. Moreover, in periods of emergencies (such as Bush after 9/11 and in the lead-up to the Iraq war), more than a majority can usually be cobbled together. This speaks strongly to the hidden patriotic foundation of what passes for liberalism, its inherent weakness which can so easily be converted to mass militarism.

Mussolini, though he established his regime on the myth of the March on Rome, was actually appointed by King Victor Emmanuel III when Mussolini seemed like the only figure, compared to the discredited liberal politicians, who could bring order to the country. Trump too is trying to make predictions of chaos and violence a self-fulfilling prophecy, but this is a staple of all fascist regimes: They bring about and thrive on the disorder that they then claim to be the only ones to be able to suppress. There was actually no such thing as the March on Rome; the king had already invited Mussolini to Rome to come and form the government when the march took place. Had the king given the order — and this looked possible until the last fateful moment — the army would easily have crushed the ragtag bunch of nobodies who had showed up from all parts of Italy.

Only a small minority need give overt consent. The rest can be quiet, or complacent, or complicit, unless they feel their personal security threatened, for example because of war that might spin out of control. That is all that’s needed for fascism to go on its merry way, so it’s quite beside the point to argue its minority status. Most bloody revolutions are minority affairs.

7. There is an ideology behind the chaos of ideologies

Just as Italian historians after the fact claimed that fascism was an aberration that didn’t belong to Italy’s history proper, contemporary observers often insisted that there was never a fascist ideology. Partly this is because of the mutational aspect of fascism. But primarily this is due to intellectual laziness. Liberal scholars, after all, are not likely to credit their mortal opponent with ideological clarity. We too, lazily, ascribe the same lack of ideology to Trumpism, and interpret events in terms of personality and contingency. I would say that fascist ideology has always, since its inception a hundred years ago, been so strong that it takes democracy an extremely favorable environment, and a huge amount of luck, to sustain itself.

Fascist ideology aims for nothing but to weaken and end democracy. It is democracy’s successes, whether in Weimar Germany, or in a strange way in Giolitti’s Italy, or in countercultural America of the 1960s, that breed the opposite tendency which wants to swallow it up.

Mussolini pursued imperialistic goals in wanting an empire in North Africa, East Africa and the Balkans, but was his pursuit of empire (the New Rome) the same as Britain’s, for example, in the 19th century? For Britain, the empire made financial sense. For Italy, all its wars were financially ruinous (and this has been true of our own wars after 9/11 as well), exerting unsustainable pressures. To the extent that the wars undermined democracy, breeding fascism at home, they were certainly successful. In our present and future wars, that is the criterion we must keep in mind. It’s not what a particular policy is doing to the budget or our diplomatic standing or the state of the culture, but how a policy serves to undermine democracy.

8. Its cultural style makes no sense to elites

This is where I felt the Bush incarnation of fascism fell short, and this is where Trump too is having a difficult time. Milo Yiannopoulos proved in the end to be too exotic even to his sponsors at Breitbart, and the campy, decadent d’Annunzian style, of which Milo is an heir, has its limits in evangelical America, committed to bourgeois verities despite the fascistic overlay. Our homegrown brew of Fox News, Breitbart, Alex Jones, border militias like the Minutemen, millenarian Christianity, the Tea Party and gun culture, combined with simplistic beliefs in “free market” capitalism and American exceptionalism, seems to me a particularly tame cultural concoction. It doesn’t have traction with anyone with the least amount of liberal education. Mussolini was working with more resonant cultural stuff, as the emergence of industrial capitalism since the Risorgimento had set up a cultural platform that was malleable enough to work for fascism.

Trump and his successors will have to work with less potent stuff. So-called conspiratorial thinking is a unifying strand — I already mentioned Alex Jones — which connects many of the strands of ultra-conservative ideology throughout the past century. The Reds become Jews and then Muslims; the substitutions are not that difficult to make. But although the elites will remain incredulous toward fascism’s cultural style, there seems to be enough of a momentum, with all the tendencies beginning to attain critical mass together. Thus the successful transition from Bush to Trump, which suggests that our homegrown fascist style is strong enough now not to need a leader.

Masculinity — or shall we say faux masculinity — is an important part of this cultural style, perhaps the principal reason why Yiannopoulos couldn’t last. It is a reaction to the perceived effeminacy of liberalism, and is a blast (along with racism) against what is seen as the failed order. Fascism relies on activation of our most atavistic, violent and primitive selves, by wanting to return women to invisibility, along with condemning the darker races. Needless to say, Italian fascism reconstructed women as facilitators of warrior-masculinity in all the active fields of life, depriving women of organizational visibility even when they were outstanding fascists.

9. Fascism leads inexorably to suicidal war

It’s possible to argue that Mussolini was sucked into World War II against his will, He knew it was going to end his regime since Italy was not prepared. We might credit it to Hitler’s powers of manipulation over Mussolini that Italy entered a disastrous war. The truth is that from the beginning Mussolini had been biding his time to exert Italian power abroad. He had no respect for diplomats, exactly like Trump, and chose to go his own way, believing himself to be a master strategist. He made increasingly assertive forays into war-making, from the little adventure in Corfu in 1923, all the way to the massive commitment to the Ethiopian war in 1936, along the way proclaiming himself “protector of Islam.”

Fascism, like all forms of government not based on the consent of the majority, requires more and more energy to keep the population under control as time goes by. Once the façade of virile domesticity starts getting exposed, war becomes the only option to keep the regime going. Fascism always claims that war is not of its choosing, that it is forced into war by others, but it is a voluntary, even eager, action to perpetuate the regime. At some point, the boomeranging negative energy — violence inflicted upon the fascist power in return — is so great that the tide of opinion turns. Even if war might be fought to an end, the internal consensus, including among fascist believers, is gone. We are, obviously, a long way from that.

10. Racism is inherent to fascism

It is absolutely key that Trump began his campaign by proclaiming a genocidal manifesto against Mexicans — and then Muslims and Arabs — and has continued to keep it as his central point of action. Because fascism is not competing on an even ideological terrain — most people in any civilized country are not given to violence — it must imagine enemies powerful enough to sustain a majority reaction.

Mussolini and his lieutenants used to mock Hitler’s racial animus, both before and after he became chancellor, holding that Italians had no anti-Semitic sentiment, which was quite true. Some of Mussolini’s most ardent early supporters were Jewish, and he had prominent Jewish lovers, like his biographer Margherita Sarfatti. But after the goodwill from the Ethiopian war started fading in the late 1930s, and a closer alliance with Germany became inevitable, Italy turned around and instituted an official anti-Semitism that deprived Jews of their honor, property and basic rights. The situation never got as bad as in Germany, with most Italians harboring deep suspicions toward the newfound anti-Semitism and the construction of Italians as a superior Aryan race, but the damage was done.

Just as war is inevitable, so is virulent racism. Both go together in fascism. One provides an external enemy while the other provides an internal enemy. If they can be linked together — the worldwide Jewish banking conspiracy, or the worldwide Islamic terror conspiracy — so much the better. War becomes more comprehensible, for fascist supporters, when the internal enemy is attached to the endless cycle of wars abroad, which is said to stem from the same root threat to virile nationalist probity.

11. No form of resistance works

Finally, how do you fight fascism? Is there a magic formula, has anything ever worked? Or are we, too, assuming that we are launched on our own fascist cycle, doomed to repeat the familiar pattern until the end? Can liberalism awaken itself in time, once it recognizes the mortal danger, to defeat fascism? Will the citizenry in a liberal democratic nation, once prompted to the threat, find resources it hadn’t counted on before to invalidate and eventually suppress fascism? Can violence, in short, be defeated by nonviolence? We would have to presume this to be true, unless we accept that liberals would take up arms to defeat fascism, which is not likely and probably defeatist anyway.

The Italian press, when Mussolini took over the country, was extremely vigorous. Political parties of every persuasion were highly energized, and they all had their vocal newspapers. Mussolini himself had run socialist newspapers — first Avanti! and then Il Popolo d’Italia — for the majority of his adult career, and knew that to neutralize the press was his first order of business. He did so in stages, eventually ushering in a regime of complete censorship after 1925, particularly after failed assassination attempts gave him the excuse. He installed fascist stooges at all the newspapers and carefully monitored their every word for the rest of his regime. Loyalty oaths were likewise instituted everywhere, from higher education to civil service. The institutions appeared the same; they were not abolished, but they had been hollowed out.

The press went underground, numerous political activists went into exile, particularly in France, and the communists, socialists, conservatives, liberals, monarchists and Catholics bided their time, engaging in resistance when they could, hoping for an awakening of mass consciousness. Neutralizing the church with the Lateran Accords, and thereafter depoliticizing Catholic Action — the organization competing with Mussolini’s numerous social and leisure organizations — was important, and the church never regained its full voice. Exiles abroad were killed or injured in large numbers; many died in the Spanish Civil War. It was not until Mussolini’s own Grand Council deposed him in 1943, when it was clear that Italy had lost the war, that the country divided into two and the partisans emerged to slowly recover Italian democracy in stages.

Italians tried every form of resistance we can imagine, including getting themselves and their families killed or imprisoned, as countless lives were lost in the fascist tyranny. Nothing worked. Nothing ever works until fascism’s logic, the logic of empire, stands discredited to the point where no denial and no media coverup is possible anymore.

Some final thoughts

The thing to notice is that fascism, in all the places it’s been known to arise, converts an admittedly minority point of view into a mass energy that soon overwhelms every civilized instinct. Perhaps Trump doesn’t need to do this footwork; perhaps much of this foundational work was already accomplished in the Bush era. What should really concern us is that fascism now seems to have a certain stability that we have not seen in earlier models that relied on a single charismatic leader. Despite the Obama interlude, Trump has resumed where George W. Bush in his most feverish mood had left off. This suggests that fascism has become permanently stabilized in this country. It is the most worrisome aspect of the present situation.

Fascism would never have gotten such traction here had liberalism not already succumbed, over the course of 40 years, to various abridgments of rights in the name of community or security or risk-aversion, which defines much of liberal discourse today. Fascism cannot thrive on true individualism, which is inherently opposed to mass delusions, but liberalism took the lead long ago in giving up individualism for forms of imagined community. This is ultimately the breeding ground for fascism, and this is why it is an affair that envelops all of us, not just a certain segment of the population that we can condemn as fascist and be done with it.

One remarkable similarity — among many others — between Trump and Mussolini is their total preoccupation with coverage in the media. Trump regularly consumes the “shows,” apparently getting most of his news and information from TV, and has little use for time-consuming memoranda and policy documents. He obsessively monitors what the media says about him. Mussolini, it could be said, was almost a full-time journalist during his 23 years of power. Just as Trump’s Oval Office desk is littered with the “papers,” so was Mussolini’s time taken up with controlling every word that was printed about the regime. Obsessively detailed veline went out every day to the country’s newspapers, instructing them on how to interpret every event. There were to be no pictures of Mussolini appearing in less than heroic posture, no mention of crime or poverty or violence, no disparagement of the fascist regime.

The inordinate amount of time Mussolini (and Trump) spent cultivating his image does not have anything to do with a personality disorder. It has to do with democracy’s failure to live up to its egalitarian ideals, so that the lie about equality becomes more important than actual equality. The liberal democratic and fascist authoritarian versions of this lie have much in common. It is futile to look for tanks on the street as a marker of fascism; there were no tanks in the streets in fascist Italy either. What is important to notice are the weak spots of liberal democracy, which fascism exploits, such as the gradual loss of faith in our voting and electoral systems. What is important to notice is the symbolic order, which becomes more and more different until one day it becomes a vehicle for a different ideology than the majority ever bargained for.

 

Anis Shivani’s books in the last year include Soraya: Sonnets and Whatever Speaks on Behalf of Hashish: Poems. His book Assessing Literary Writing in the Twenty-First Century comes out in early 2017. 

WikiLeaks Has Joined the Trump Administration

VOICE
WikiLeaks Has Joined the Trump Administration

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump declared, “I love WikiLeaks!” And he had good reason to display affection to this website run by accused rapist Julian Assange. By releasing reams of emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, WikiLeaks helped tilt the 2016 election in Trump’s favor.

As president, Trump hasn’t come out and said anything laudatory about WikiLeaks following its massive disclosure of CIA secrets on Tuesday — a treasure trove that some experts already believe may be more damaging than Edward Snowden’s revelations. But Trump hasn’t condemned WikiLeaks. The recent entries on his Twitter feed — a pure reflection of his unbridled id — contain vicious attacks on, among other things, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the New York Times, and Barack Obama but not a word about WikiLeaks. Did the president not notice that the intelligence community he commands has just suffered a devastating breach of security? Or did he simply not feel compelled to comment?

Actually there is a third, even more discomfiting, possibility:

Perhaps Trump is staying silent because he stands to benefit from WikiLeaks’ latest revelations.

Perhaps Trump is staying silent because he stands to benefit from WikiLeaks’ latest revelations.On Saturday, recall, Trump was making wild-eyed accusations that Obama had ordered the U.S. intelligence community to wiretap him. “How low has President Obama gone to tapp (sic) my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!” The White House could not come up with one iota of evidence to support this irresponsible allegation, which was denied by FBI Director James Comey and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. But Trump would not be dissuaded from pursuing this charge, which serves as a convenient distraction from the far more serious accusations of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin while Russia was interfering with the presidential campaign.

Is it just a coincidence that WikiLeaks dumped a massive database pertaining to CIA hacking and wiretapping just three days after Trump made wiretapping a major political issue? Perhaps so. But there is cause for suspicion.

In the first place, WikiLeaks has often timed its leaks for maximum political impact. It released 20,000 stolen DNC emails just three days before the Democratic National Convention on July 25, 2016. As expected, WikiLeaks generated headlines about DNC staffers disparaging Sen. Bernie Sanders, buttressing a Trump campaign effort to prevent Clinton from consolidating Sanders supporters. DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned as a result, and the Clinton campaign suffered significant public relations damage.

In the second place, WikiLeaks, which has often leaked American but never Russian secrets, has been identified by the U.S. intelligence community as a front for Russian intelligence. In January, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a declassified estimate that found “with high confidence that Russian military intelligence … relayed material to WikiLeaks.” This was done with a definite purpose: “Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.”

Trump has consistently resisted the intelligence agency’s conclusions, insisting that some 400-pound couch potato might have committed the hacking before grudgingly accepting the findings but continuing to claim that the Russian hack had no impact on the election. (Given that 70,000 votes in three states were his margin of victory, how does he know what affected the outcome and what didn’t? And if WikiLeaks was so inconsequential, why did he tout its revelations in almost every appearance during the last month of the campaign?)

The intelligence community’s finding that Putin helped him win the election spurred Trump to pursue a vendetta against it. For example, he accused the spooks — with no support — of being behind BuzzFeed’s publication of a damning dossier compiled by a former British intelligence officer claiming that the Kremlin had compiled compromising materials on him. Trump outrageously tweeted: “Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to ‘leak’ into the public. One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?” His animus against the intelligence agencies has continued down to his more recent accusations that they allowed themselves to be used by Obama to wiretap him. The consistent (if hardly believable) storyline from Trump is that he has no connections to Russia, and that he is a victim of the nefarious machinations of the American “deep state.”

It is significant, therefore, that one of the major storylines to emerge from the latest WikiLeaks release is that the CIA supposedly has a program to reuse computer codes from foreign hackers, thus disguising CIA fingerprints on a hacking operation. Never mind that there is no evidence that the codes used to break into the DNC were part of this CIA database. Right-wing outlets are nevertheless trumpeting these revelations with headlines such as this one on Breitbart: “WikiLeaks: CIA Uses ‘Stolen’ Malware to ‘Attribute’ Cyberattacks to Nations Like Russia.” Russian-controlled Internet “bots” are also said to be playing up these claims online.

The implication is clear. Trump was a victim of a “false flag” operation wherein CIA hackers broke into the DNC and blamed the Russians. This may be nutty, but it’s eminently believable to an audience conditioned to believe that 9/11 was an inside job and that the Sandy Hook massacre was staged — favorite tropes of the radio talk-show host Alex Jones, whose work Trump has praised. Other WikiLeaks revelations — for instance, that the CIA can use Samsung smart TVs as listening devices — lend further credence to Trump’s charge that he was secretly wiretapped.

Quite apart from its specifics, the WikiLeaks release changes the subject after a bad few days for Trump highlighted by Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s decision to recuse himself from any Kremlingate probe after he was revealed to have lied under oath when he denied meeting any Russian representatives. Last week it was Trump on the defensive. Now it’s his nemeses in the U.S. intelligence community who are answering embarrassing questions about how this leak could have occurred and the contents of the leaked information.

Again, maybe this is entirely coincidental, but WikiLeaks’ history of being used by Russian intelligence to support Trump should lead to much greater scrutiny not only of who leaked this information — is there a mole in the CIA? — but why it was released now. Even if there is no active collusion between the White House and the Kremlin, the extent to which their agendas coincide is striking. Both Putin and Trump want to discredit the U.S. intelligence community because they see it as an obstacle to their power.

Photo credit: OLI SCARFF/Getty Images

WikiLeaks Has Joined the Trump Administration

Donald Trump’s Greatest Allies Are the Liberal Elites

Posted on Mar 5, 2017

By Chris Hedges

Mr. Fish / Truthdig

The liberal elites, who bear significant responsibility for the death of our democracy, now hold themselves up as the saviors of the republic. They have embarked, despite their own corruption and their complicity in neoliberalism and the crimes of empire, on a self-righteous moral crusade to topple Donald Trump. It is quite a show. They attack Trump’s “lies,” denounce executive orders such as his travel ban as un-American and blame Trump’s election on Russia or FBI Director James Comey rather than the failed neoliberal policies they themselves advanced.

Where was this moral outrage when our privacy was taken from us by the security and surveillance state, the criminals on Wall Street were bailed out, we were stripped of our civil liberties and 2.3 million men and women were packed into our prisons, most of them poor people of color? Why did they not thunder with indignation as money replaced the vote and elected officials and corporate lobbyists instituted our system of legalized bribery? Where were the impassioned critiques of the absurd idea of allowing a nation to be governed by the dictates of corporations, banks and hedge fund managers? Why did they cater to the foibles and utterings of fellow elites, all the while blacklisting critics of the corporate state and ignoring the misery of the poor and the working class? Where was their moral righteousness when the United States committed war crimes in the Middle East and our militarized police carried out murderous rampages? What the liberal elites do now is not moral. It is self-exaltation disguised as piety. It is part of the carnival act.

The liberal class, ranging from Hollywood and the Democratic leadership to The New York Times and CNN, refuses to acknowledge that it sold the Democratic Party to corporate bidders; collaborated in the evisceration of our civil liberties; helped destroy programs such as welfare, orchestrate the job-killing North American Free Trade Agreement and Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, wage endless war, debase our public institutions including the press and build the world’s largest prison system.

“The truth is hard to find. The truth is hard to know. The truth is more important than ever,” reads a television ad for The New York Times. What the paper fails to add is that the hardest place to find the truth about the forces affecting the life of the average American and the truth about empire is in The New York Times itself. News organizations, from the Times to the tawdry forms of entertainment masquerading as news on television, have rendered most people and their concerns invisible. Liberal institutions, especially the press, function, as the journalist and author Matt Taibbi says, as “the guardians” of the neoliberal and imperial orthodoxy.

It is the job of the guardians of orthodoxy to plaster over the brutal reality and cruelty of neoliberalism and empire with a patina of civility or entertainment. They pay homage to a nonexistent democracy and nonexistent American virtues. The elites, who live in enclaves of privilege in cities such as New York, Washington and San Francisco, scold an enraged population. They tell those they dismiss as inferiors to calm down, be reasonable and patient and trust in the goodness of the old ruling class and the American system. African-Americans have heard this kind of cant preached by the white ruling class for a couple of centuries.

Because the system works for the elites, and because the elites interact only with other elites, they are mystified about the revolt rising up from the decayed cities they fly over in the middle of the country. They think they can stuff this inexplicable rage back in the box. They continue to offer up absurd solutions to deindustrialization and despair, such as Thomas Friedman’s endorsement of “a culture of entrepreneurship” and “an ethic of pluralism.” These kinds of bromides are advertising jingles. They bear no more connection to reality than Trump promising to make America great again.

I walked into the Harvard Club in New York City after midnight on election night. The well-heeled New York elites stood, their mouths agape, looking up at the television screens in the oak-paneled bar while wearing their Clinton campaign straw hats. They could not speak. They were in shock. The system they funded to prevent anyone from outside their circle, Republican or Democrat, from achieving the presidency had inexplicably collapsed.

Taibbi, when I interviewed him in New York, said political power in our corporate state is controlled by “a tripartite system.” “You have to have the assent of the press, the donor class, and one of the two [major] political parties to get in,” said Taibbi, author of “Insane Clown President: Dispatches From the 2016 Circus.” “It’s an exclusive club. It’s like a membership system. They all have to agree and confer their blessing on the candidate. Trump somehow managed to get past all three of those obstacles. And he did it essentially by putting all of them on trial. He put the press on trial and villainized them with the public. I think it was a brilliant masterstroke that nobody saw coming. But it wouldn’t have been possible if their unpopularity hadn’t been building for years and years and years.”

“It’s a kind of Stockholm syndrome,” he said of the press. “The reporters, candidates, and candidates’ aides are all thrown together. They’re stuck in the same environment with each other day after day, month after month. After a while, they start to unconsciously adopt each other’s values. Then they start to live in the same neighborhoods. They go to the same parties. Then it becomes a year-after-year kind of thing. Then after that, they’re the same people. It’s a total perversion of what’s supposed to happen. We’re [the press] supposed to be on the outside, not identifying with these people. But now, it’s a club. Journalists enjoy the experience of being close to power.”

CONTINUED:

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/donald_trumps_greatest_allies_are_the_liberal_elites_20170305

Months After Calling the Prospect ‘Crazy,’ Facebook Brags About Its Ability to Swing Elections

Posted on Mar 4, 2017

Facebook, whose founder Mark Zuckerberg called arguments that the tech giant helped swing the presidential election toward Donald Trump “crazy” and “extremely unlikely,” is now boasting of its ability to influence elections for pay.

Adam Peck reports at ThinkProgress:

Facebook’s marketing department has a web page set up to document success stories. Most of them are examples of businesses that leveraged Facebook’s advertising network into higher sales, larger audiences, and better customer reviews. But nestled somewhere between the pages for Panera Bread and Cheetos are pages for politicians like Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and former Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson.

On each page, Facebook’s business team breaks down some metrics about how these political campaigns leveraged the platform to boost donations and turnout on election day. On Johnson’s page, Facebook boasts of a 6.8-point bump in the candidate’s favorability numbers among moderate voters.

But it is wording on Sen. Toomey’s “success story” that has struck a troubling chord. After noting that Toomey was facing a tough re-election in 2016, Facebook touted it’s ability to “significantly shift voter intent and increase favorability,” and that the campaign’s “made-for-Facebook creative strategy was an essential component to Senator Pat Toomey’s re-election, as the senator won by less than 100,000 votes (of nearly 6 million votes cast).”

The Philadelphia Business Journal noted that Toomey’s campaign outspent Democratic rival Katie McGinty by more than a two to one margin on digital content, most of that directed towards Facebook. In return, the campaign was able to create more content specifically tailored to Facebook’s platform rather than recycling things like television ads.

Read more here.

How much did Russian hacking affect congressional races? And how deeply was the GOP involved?

Why is the speaker so blasé about Russian meddling? Maybe because he knows it helped the GOP win close races

How much did Russian hacking affect congressional races? And how deeply was the GOP involved?

(Credit: Getty/Mark Wilson)

If there’s one thing you can say about the Donald Trump presidency so far, it isn’t boring. From horror stories at the border to Trump’s semi-triumphant teleprompter speech and Attorney General Jeff Sessions being personally connected to the growing Russia scandal, this week has been a doozy.

I was not surprised that Sessions finally recused himself from the campaign scandal. It was absurd that he was not required to do so before he was confirmed. What finally forced him to take the step was the report that he had met with the Russian ambassador twice during the summer and fall, after having told the Judiciary Committee that he had not had contact with any Russian officials during the campaign. Top Democrats are now calling for Sessions’ resignation, and the story of his contacts with the Russian ambassador is still unfolding with new details about whether he discussed the Trump campaign.

The upshot is that at the very least Sessions showed appalling judgment in agreeing to meet the Russian ambassador the day after The Wall Street Journal reported that the director of national intelligence had declared that the Russian government was behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee. It’s very hard to believe that this didn’t come up in the conversation. Even if the two men were unaware of that comment, they must have been aware of the discussion the previous night in a presidential town hall forum with Matt Lauer, in which Trump praised Vladimir Putin in such florid terms that The New York Times story that morning began this way:

Donald J. Trump’s campaign on Thursday reaffirmed its extraordinary embrace of Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, signaling a preference for the leadership of an authoritarian adversary over that of America’s own president, despite a cascade of criticism from Democrats and expressions of discomfort among Republicans.

One of those discomfited was House Speaker Paul Ryan who was quoted in the article saying, “Vladimir Putin is an aggressor who does not share our interests,” and accusing the Russian leader of “conducting state-sponsored cyberattacks” on our political system.

This was just one of the many times Ryan zigged and zagged during the campaign, constantly calibrating how far he could go in criticizing Trump while keeping Trump’s passionate voters off his back. This particular issue was a tough one, since until quite recently the Republicans had been inveterate Russia hawks and the abrupt switch to dovish goodwill was undeniably disorienting.

Prior to Sessions’ recusal on Thursday morning, Ryan held a press conference in which he blamed the Democrats for “setting their hair on fire” to prompt the press to cover the story. That was ridiculous. The press needs no prodding to cover this scandal; it’s as juicy as they get. Ryan also pooh-poohed the idea that Sessions had any obligation to remove himself from the investigation unless he was personally implicated and robotically repeated the contention that nobody had seen any evidence that there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

That may be true, and presumably we’ll find out sooner or later. But it’s important to remember that DNC and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair, John Podesta, were not the only targets of hacking. Russian agents also allegedly hacked the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. That story has been scandalously undercovered, something for which Paul Ryan is no doubt very grateful.

On Dec. 13 The New York Times published an article that laid out how the hacked material was used in various House races. At first the hackers just released a lot of personal information, which was used by hostile individuals to harass and threaten the candidates. Then the hacks and dumps by the person or group known as Guccifer 2.0 became more sophisticated and targeted certain close races, releasing politically valuable tactical information:

The seats that Guccifer 2.0 targeted in the document dumps were hardly random: They were some of the most competitive House races in the country. In [Annette] Taddeo’s district [in Florida], the House seat is held by a Republican, even though the district leans Democratic and Mrs. Clinton won it this year by a large majority.

To prepare for the race, the D.C.C.C. had done candid evaluations of the two candidates vying in the primary for the nomination. Those inside documents, bluntly describing each candidate’s weaknesses, are considered routine research inside political campaigns. But suddenly they were being aired in public.

Taddeo lost her primary race to another Democrat named Joe Garcia who used the hacked material against her. And then this happened:

After Mr. Garcia defeated Ms. Taddeo in the primary using the material unearthed in the hacking, the National Republican Campaign Committee and a second Republican group with ties to the House speaker, Paul Ryan, turned to the hacked material to attack him.

In Florida, Guccifer 2.0’s most important partner was an obscure political website run by an anonymous blogger called HelloFLA!, run by a former Florida legislative aide turned Republican lobbyist. The blogger sent direct messages via Twitter to Guccifer 2.0 asking for copies of any additional Florida documents.

By September, the hacker had released documents in close House races in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Ohio, Illinois and North Carolina, working with Republican bloggers who disseminated the information for them. They also posted information on Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair, even though he was effectively running unopposed.

Both Luján and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi wrote letters to Ryan asking him not to use the material and received no response. His spokeswoman told the Times that Ryan had no control over how the stolen information was used. Nonetheless, there were some Republicans who refused to do so, saying it was inappropriate. They were rare.

I don’t think anyone believes it’s likely that Paul Ryan personally colluded with the Russians in this operation. The fact that many Republicans, some affiliated with the National Republican Congressional Committee and a group closely affiliated with Ryan, eagerly used it to win their campaigns is not surprising. But it is highly unlikely that Republican strategists or party officials with strong knowledge of the House campaigns didn’t collude with the hackers at some point, because it’s difficult to believe that Russians would have which House races to target without some help from people with expertise concerning the 2016 map.

Republican congressional leaders must be thanking their lucky stars daily that the Trump administration is such a scandal-ridden Dumpster fire. If things ever calm down in the White House, somebody might just turn his or her attention to the question of what Paul Ryan knew and when.

Heather Digby Parton, also known as “Digby,” is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.