The face of Republican evil: It’s not Donald Trump

Mitch McConnell’s gruesome health care scam reveals the corrupt, antidemocratic character of the entire GOP

In the hellish months since Donald Trump’s inauguration, a dark parlor game of sorts has cropped up in liberal circles that I like to call “Would an Impeachment Even Be Worth It?” With the full acknowledgment that it’s unlikely to happen as long as Republicans are in charge, participants still sip cocktails and ponder out loud the question of whether booting out Trump on his butt would be enough to save our democracy, considering the fact that the Republican slimeball taking his place would invariably sign a bunch of retrograde legislation setting back this country decades.

These discussions break down into two camps: those who think Trump presents a unique threat to our democracy and replacing him with someone in the succession line, like Vice President Mike Pence or House Speaker Paul Ryan, would at least preserve our democratic norms; and those who think the corruption started long before Trump and has spread throughout the Republican Party, rotting it from the inside out.

Consider me in the latter camp, which makes me kind of unpopular in these discussions. Unfortunately, my view that the Republican Party as a whole is irredeemably antidemocratic has been borne out, yet again, in the process that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has put into motion to destroy the Affordable Health Act, a process that will likely take out the U.S. health care system as we know it.

One could even argue that bog-standard Republicans, under the leadership of Ryan and McConnell, represent an bigger threat to our democracy than Trump, possessing as they do more competence and cunning than the TV-addled overgrown toddler in the White House.

As Heather Digby Parton, writing for Salon, recently detailed, McConnell has arranged to have the Senate version of the House’s American Health Care Act (which the Congressional Budget Office estimates would ultimately leave 23 million Americans uninsured) written in secret, with no hearings, no public discussion and no real debate. Republicans are barely even pretending the reason is anything other than the obvious: The bill is so terrible that it defies the will of people of all political stripes and sensibilities, whom legislators supposedly were elected to serve. When called out on this obvious fact, Republicans are just smirking or squawking “fake news” but not actually offering any contravening evidence.

McConnell’s contempt for the processes, much less the defining principles, of democracy couldn’t be more apparent. But he doesn’t really care. No doubt the election of Trump helped confirm the rising sense among Republicans that they can wipe their collective butts with the Constitution, flip the bird at their constituents and not really worry about losing many seats. Republican voters might not like it, but they like liberals, black people and feminists even less, so they will show up and dutifully vote against the Democrats every time. Losing health care access isn’t great, but for conservative voters, admitting that liberals might have a point is a hell from which there is no escape.

This Republican contempt for democracy was evident long before Trump started grasping for the presidential nomination with his stubby orange fingers. McConnell was so unwilling to accept the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s two substantial presidential election victories that the Republican leader refused to acknowledge Obama’s right to nominate a Supreme Court justice after Antonin Scalia’s death. Not only did that work out perfectly for McConnell — he got Neil Gorsuch onto the high court, instead of rightful nominee Merrick Garland — but it proved once and for all that bedrock conservative voters don’t care about niceties like the rule of law or government by the people. They just want to punish women for having sex and gripe about “Obama phones,” and don’t care if the price paid is the ultimate ruin of this country.

Trump didn’t make Republicans corrupt. They were already there. That’s why he hasn’t really needed to do any arm-twisting or commit blackmail, no matter how much he’d like to, in order to get a GOP-controlled Congress willing to look the other way when presented with a growing pile of evidence that something weird is going on with Trump and the Russians.

It’s easier to not care if Russian intelligence is actively seeking to subvert U.S. elections for those who aggressively try to deny voting rights to millions of Americans, especially people of color and younger voters who insist on voting for Democrats.

At this point, the Republican rejection of democracy is an established fact. The only question is how far the ruling party is willing to take it. The antidemocratic, secretive process surrounding the GOP’s health care bill suggests there may be no real limit.

 

Amanda Marcotte is a politics writer for Salon. She’s on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte

The politics of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn are the progressive path forward

Blairites and Clintonites must bring themselves to admit that “third way” centrism is a relic of the past

Sorry, centrist liberals, the politics of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn are the progressive path forward

Jeremy Corbyn; Bernie Sanders (Credit: AP/Frank Augstein/Jae C. Hong)

It has been over a week since the U.K. election that left the political establishment reeling in Britain and around the world. And though Prime Minister Theresa May will remain in office — for now — Jeremy Corbyn was correct when he said last week that the election had “changed the face of British politics.”

The snap election that was supposed to have crushed Corbyn — and the Labour Party — once and for all has instead re-energized the British left, while throwing serious doubt on the Conservative Party’s future. When Theresa May arrogantly called the election in April, polls indicated that her Conservative Party would win by a historic landslide, and the British press — which has been fiercely against Corbyn since he was elected as leader of the Labour Party two years ago — ran giddy headlines predicting the death of his party. There was no doubt whether May and the Tories would win a majority; it was only a matter of how massive that majority would be.

But if we have learned anything over the past year, with the election of U.S. President Donald Trump and the “Brexit” referendum result last summer, it is that absolutely nothing is certain in this populist age. May was expected to “Crush the Saboteurs,” as the Daily Mail’s front page read after her announcement in April, but instead she ended up crushing her own party, which lost its majority in the House of Commons after leading by more than 20 points just a month earlier.

Meanwhile, the unconventional and “unelectable” Corbyn, who has been smeared and misrepresented by the British media for the past two years — and who has faced repeated mutinies within his own party — generated the highest turnout for a U.K. election since 1997 and won a larger share of the popular vote than Tony Blair did in 2005. It was an even bigger upset than last year’s Brexit shocker.

Even Labour Party members and Corbynites had been resigned to the Tories winning back their majority; their goal had been simply to keep that majority as slim as possible and to not be completely humiliated. But Theresa May was the only one humiliated on election day, while the leftist Labour leader was clearly vindicated after years of abuse.

And Corbyn’s political success will be felt far beyond the shores of Great Britain. For weeks and months to come pundits and political strategists will continue to ask themselves how this happened, and many will no doubt try to spin and distort what happened last week. But the answer is simple: The old-school socialist triumphed because he ran an effective grassroots campaign with a compelling message that offered principled leadership and a progressive platform to galvanize the working-class and young people of Britain. Though Labour clearly benefited from May’s poorly run campaign, there is little doubt that Labour’s progressive manifesto was essential to its parliamentary gains.

Before the election, Corbyn’s approval ratings were in the gutter after years of his being maligned by the British press. An analysis of 2016 by The Independent found that more than 75 percent of press coverage had misrepresented Corbyn (and his views), while more than half of the (purportedly neutral) news articles were “critical or antagonistic in tone, compared to two thirds of all editorials and opinion pieces.”

By contrast, the British public was broadly supportive of Corbyn’s actual policies. According to a poll by The Independent, along with a May survey by ComRes for the Daily Mirror, the major policies featured in Labour’s general election manifesto earned strong support from the British public, while the right-wing Tory manifesto was widely rejected. It is not surprising then that the candidates’ approval ratings changed places during the election, as their policies were publicized. According to the latest polling by YouGov, May’s approval ratings have plummeted to Corbyn’s pre-election levels, while the Labour leader’s ratings have surged.

It is already quite clear how last week’s election has changed politics in the U.K., but its outcome has also been felt across the Atlantic.

Much has already been said about the obvious parallels between Corbyn’s Labour Party success and the rise of Sen. Bernie Sanders in the U.S. and what the British election means for American politics. Like Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders was seen by the commentariat as a fringe socialist kook who was completely unelectable — and like Corbyn, he created a mass movement that appealed to working people and young voters in particular. Sanders was by far the most popular candidate among millennials in the 2016 election, while Corbyn’s Labour Party won 63 percent of aged 18 to 34 and increased voter turnout for 18- to 25-year-olds from 45 percent in 2015 to about  72 percent last week, according to exit polls from Sky data. Similar to the scenario in the U.K., the majority of Americans tend to support Sanders’ social democratic policies, including his support for Medicare for all and raising taxes on the rich.

Of course, there’s at least one obvious difference between the two progressive politicians: While Corbyn has been personally unpopular in his country, Sanders continues to rank as the most popular politician in the United States. Moreover, Sanders consistently outperformed Hillary Clinton in the polls against Donald Trump last year and would have likely defeated the Republican billionaire handily — barring a major spoiler candidate like Michael Bloomberg.

This reality continues to infuriate many establishment Democrats, who have inevitably tried to dismiss and downplay Corbyn’s success in Britain, noting that Labour still didn’t win a majority of its own. If a centrist Blairite were leading the party, they insist (with no empirical basis whatsoever), then he or she would have been elected prime minister, say centrist Democrats. The same people who were gloating about Labour’s anticipated ruin just a month ago — and using it as evidence that a populist shift to the left would be disastrous for the Democratic Party — are now spinning Labour’s historic accomplishment to fit their narrative. Clearly there is a lot of denial going on here. The Blairites and Clintonites cannot bring themselves to admit that “third way” centrism is a relic of the neoliberal 1990s. They refuse to see the writing on the wall, even as it stares at them directly.

In a column for The New York Times on Tuesday, Sen. Sanders wrote that the British election “should be a lesson for the Democratic Party” to stop clinging to an “overly cautious, centrist ideology.”

He wrote, “There is never one reason elections are won or lost,” adding, “but there is widespread agreement that momentum shifted to Labour after it released a very progressive manifesto that generated much enthusiasm among young people and workers. . . . The  [Democratic] party’s main thrust must be to make politics relevant to those who have given up on democracy and bring millions of new voters into the political process.”

A few days earlier at the People’s Summit in Chicago, Sanders discussed the U.K. election during aspeech, noting that Labour “won those seats not by moving to the right” but by “standing up to the ruling class of the U.K.” He also reiterated that “Trump didn’t win the election, the Democratic Party lost the election.” It seems clear that if the Democratic Party wants to start winning elections again, it should pay careful attention to what is currently happening in Britain.

Conor Lynch is a writer and journalist living in New York City. His work has appeared on Salon, AlterNet, Counterpunch and openDemocracy. Follow him on

Emails show extent of EPA head Scott Pruitt’s ties to industries he’s supposed to regulate: report

A disturbing report indicates that Scott Pruitt’s fossil fuel connections are taking advantage of the EPA head

A new report sheds light on how the man who President Donald Trump appointed to be head of the Environmental Protection Agency — and who shares the president’s unscientific views on man-made climate change — has a lot of connections to industries that have a vested interest in denying global warming.

More than 4,000 pages of emails from Pruitt’s days as Oklahoma’s attorney general reveal that the EPA administrator and his staff had dozens of meetings with coal, oil and gas executives and lobbyists, according to a report by the Associated Press.

One email from Pete Regan, executive director of the Domestic Energy Producers Alliance, urges Pruitt to meet an oil and gas lobbyist who he describes as “a gem of a dude. He serves on DEPA executive Comm w Harold Hamm. AG Pruitt was on multiple exec calls on 2015 giving updates re ‘sue and settle’, endangered species cases, etc. . . . Greg worked closely with Sen. Bob Dole and has great stories.”

Many of the items on Pruitt’s schedule were blacked out, which makes it more difficult for watchdog groups to ascertain the extent of his connections with the coal, oil and gas industries.

The emails were withheld from the public by Pruitt until a lawsuit by the liberal advocacy group Center for Media and Democracy convinced a judge to order their release.

Pruitt’s proposed budget cuts to the EPA have been so drastic that even many of his fellow Republicans have criticized them. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey told Pruitt during a congressional hearing on Thursday that “we are home to a historical background that shows us to have more Superfund sites than any other in the nation. I know there has been a proposal here to reduce substantial funding for this program.”

Similarly, Rep. David Joyce of Ohio asked, if Pruitt’s proposed cuts to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative go through, “How will these functions be maintained if the GLRI is eliminated?”

Rep. Michael Simpson of Idaho pointed out that, because farmers in his state are dealing with new pests due to global warming, cutting EPA funding “leads to less timely reviews. The president’s budget will cut well below the minimum. The potato industry will not have access to the proper crop production tools.”

Matthew Rozsa is a breaking news writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and his work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

Donald Trump in Wonderland

Literally everything our president says and does reflects the opposite of reality

Monday’s fawning Cabinet meeting was just the latest example of a doomed presidency driven by dangerous fictions

Early on Monday a colleague of mine messaged me with a link to a Politico article detailing how Russian intelligence has allegedly gathered “kompromat” on about 2,300 well-known American media personalities and politicians, apparently in conjunction with Vladimir Putin’s ongoing effort to subvert American democracy.

My political writer friend added, “This is scary. What do you think will happen?”

“Nothing,” I wrote back. “Not as long as Trump insists this is nothing more than a scam by the Democrats because Hillary lost.”

We can’t repeat this enough: The United States and our democratic institutions were attacked by a hostile foreign power, yet President Donald Trump refuses to do a damn thing about it. Not only is he still infuriatingly chummy with the Russians, gifting them (without reciprocation) classified intelligence inside the Oval Office and reopening housing compounds that serve as bases for Russian spies. He won’t even acknowledge as legitimate the very basic nut of the story, that Russia hacked the 2015-16 election cycle. Never mind the question of possible collusion for now. The Russians attacked us and there’s copious evidence to prove it.

Imagine if, in the wake of 9/11, the George W. Bush White House had refused to accept that the attack even occurred. The entire world would have thought Bush had lost his mind or that our entire nation was caught in the grip of mass delusion.

Either way, Trump is behaving as if a series of ongoing events that were palpably real weren’t so at all. Those of us who have followed Trump’s ridiculousness since the 1980s know that he’s perpetually full of crap. For example, you may recall his yarn: “Trump Steaks are the world’s greatest steaks and I mean that in every sense of the word.” But as a presidential candidate, and subsequently as the country’s chief executive, his world of make believe is unparalleled. Everything orbiting in Trump’s universe — a universe that includes his 62 million voters along with Fox News — is a fantasy.

Everything that’s real is fake and everything that’s fake is real.

Trump held a Cabinet meeting on Monday morning where he asked his department-level secretaries to offer allegedly unsolicited praise for him and to express effusive gratitude for the honor of serving Trump personally. The usually stoic CNBC reporter John Harwood described the meeting by saying, “Honestly this is like a scene from the Third World.” Indeed. Vice President Mike Pence said serving Trump was “the great honor of [his] life.” (Pence has three children, by the way, whose births must be way down on the list of honors.) Chief of staff Reince Priebus, who’s fighting for his job, said, “Thank you for the blessing you’ve given us.” Yes, I’m sure it’s quite a blessing to be in charge of scooping the rhetorical feces from the cage of a clownish supervillain who needed four tries to correctly spell “hereby.”

The Cabinet’s gooey, over-the-top praise was cloying and artificial, but in Trump’s world of make believe the president and his disciples were sufficiently fluffed, injecting every word of the Cabinet’s Eddie Haskell-ish ass kissing into the news cycle. Insofar as perception is reality, we can assume it worked on the faithful. If all these serious people think Trump is the greatest president God ever created, then it must be true!

Likewise, Trump expects everyone to believe there might be tapes of his one-on-one meetings with former FBI Director James Comey. Knowing Trump and the mendacity of his online blurtings, it’s safe to say there aren’t any tapes even though (to coin a phrase), “Lordy, I hope there are tapes.” If the tapes exist, he’d release them. But releasing the tapes is irrelevant because as long as his base believes Comey is what Trump claimed — a crazy, cowardly grandstander who’s obviously lying about the meetings — then pretending that such tapes might exist is enough for the voters who matter.

What else?

Contrary to Trump’s world of make believe, there weren’t 3 million illegal Hillary Clinton voters, nor did former President Barack Obama have Trump’s “wires tapped.” The tax reform bill Trump says is being negotiated doesn’t actually exist. The American Health Care Act (also known as “Trumpcare”) will not provide health insurance to more people and will ultimately leave tens of millions of people with no coverage, among other terrible things. His tweets about the “travel ban” won’t help his chances in court and only make matters worse for the future of his executive order.

Meanwhile, Trump praised his record on jobs so far: While 1.1 million new jobs have been created since Election Day, 1.3 million jobs were created during the previous seven months during former President Barack Obama’s administration. (Trump has also forgotten about the supposedly “real” unemployment rate he mentioned so often during the campaign.) Trump insists the Democrats are feckless, rudderless failures who can’t get anything done yet they’re also effectively obstructing his entire agenda despite the fact that the GOP controls everything. And sorry, James Comey is telling the truth.

I could do this all day. Nothing Trump says is real or accurate — nothing. Even discussing his statements as if they’re mere off-the-shelf political lies serves to only normalize him when, in fact, what he’s doing is galactically destructive. The world has lost faith in America’s leadership or is losing it fast. Nearly 6 in 10 Americans believe Trump has gone bye-bye. Why? Because his fictitiousness is so completely obvious that we have no choice but to wonder whether he’s mentally fit to lead. (He’s not.) He seems to sincerely believe that his kooky outbursts and cartoonish threats sound legitimate when anyone with a brain knows he’s tilting at windmills — even some of his core supporters.

Congressional Republicans are excusing Trump’s loony behavior, for the moment, as the consequences of his being “new to the job,” arguing that his rookie stature is the source of his nonstop flailing. I’m all in favor of any excuses that underscore the president’s massive incompetence, thanks. But the GOP seems to forget that Trump has acted like this for his entire career. He sculpts his own reality to compensate for his endless roster of inadequacies.

But before too long — and I hope this is true — the president and his supporters will be blindsided by reality. Sometime soon, Trump will be fully exposed for his part in the Trump-Russia attack whether as a willing participant or a conspirator after the fact, orchestrating the cover-up. No fairy tales from his Twitter feed will dig him out. The story has to end this way. Trump and all Trump’s men have to be held accountable, otherwise we might as well resign ourselves to believing our democracy is owned and operated by the Kremlin. We can’t allow Trump’s delusions to become American delusions. The bedtime story Trump is telling has to end and end the right way — or else.

Bob Cesca is a regular contributor to Salon.com. He’s also the host of “The Bob Cesca Show” podcast, and a weekly guest on both the “Stephanie Miller Show” and “Tell Me Everything with John Fugelsang.” Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

If the Russians’ objective was to undermine Americans’ faith in democracy, they succeeded — with Trump’s help

Vladimir Putin, Hillary Clinton and the true cause of Donald Trump’s legitimacy crisis — his own actions

Vladimir Putin, Hillary Clinton and the true cause of Donald Trump's legitimacy crisis — his own actions
Vladimir Putin, Hillary Clinton (Credit: AP/Reuters/Rainier Ehrhardt/Photo montage by Salon)

On Wednesday Vox’s Ezra Klein published a long piece about the current crisis in our government. He wrote that “our president lacks legitimacy, our government is paralyzed, our problems are going unsolved.” I would say that legitimacy, the first of those issues, is the source of all the others.

Donald Trump’s legitimacy problem is not just a matter of losing the popular vote. Other presidents have assumed office after such an outcome. In 1824 John Quincy Adams became president after the election decision was thrown to the House of Representatives. In 1876 Rutherford B. Hayes became president after losing the popular vote to Samuel Tilden by more than 250,000 votes — although corruption was so rife in that election it’s fair to say no one will ever know for sure who got the highest tally. In 1888 Benjamin Harrison won 233 electoral votes to Grover Cleveland’s 168, but lost the national count by about 90,000 votes. It didn’t happen again for 112 years when George W. Bush was installed by the Supreme Court after a virtual tie in Florida and a dubious vote count. And then just 16 years later, it happened again.

Throughout that last 16 years questions have been raised about our democracy, including the workings of the anachronistic Electoral College, the fact that every locality and state seems to have a different system, and the way Republicans have systematically disenfranchised voters whom they believe would be likely to vote for their opponents. There has been underlying doubt about the integrity of America’s electoral system simmering for a long time. This year it has come to a boil.

For at least a year we’ve been aware of social-media propaganda and foreign actors hacking the systems of various arms of the Democratic Party in order to influence the presidential campaign. The experts tell us that the Russian government has directed a number of similar cyber operations around the world and that this one was their most sophisticated. Evidently, the idea was to sow chaos and undermine Americans’ already sorely tested faith in our electoral system.

According to a highly detailed investigative report by Massimo Calabresi of Time, the evidence suggests that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin had a particular ax to grind against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for what he termed a “signal” she sent in 2011, which he claimed sparked protests against him. The extent to which Putin truly favored Donald Trump is still unknown, and the question of whether there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government is now the focus of various investigations of Congress and a Justice Department special counsel. The odd behavior of Trump’s close associates as well as his obsession with shutting down the investigation certainly raise suspicions. But at this point it is pure speculation to think about what kind of “deal” might have been made.

This week’s story by The Intercept, reporting on an National Security Agency document that showed evidence the Russian military had made serious attempts to infiltrate voter information rolls around the country, suggests, however, yet another way the goals of Donald Trump and the Russian government were the same. Former FBI counterterrorism officer and cybersecurity expert Clinton Watts (best known for his quip “follow the bodies of dead Russians” in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee) raised some additional questions in a piece for the Daily Beast this week. He believes that the main objective of this operation was not to alter the vote count but rather to instill more doubt about the process.

Watts wrote, “I noticed a shift in Kremlin messaging last October, when its overt news outlets, conspiratorial partner websites, and covert social-media personas pushed theories of widespread voter fraud and hacking.” He cited a Reuters article indicating that a Kremlin-backed think tank report “drafted in October and distributed in the same way, warned that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was likely to win the election.” The think tank also advised it would be “better for Russia to end its pro-Trump propaganda and instead intensify its messaging about voter fraud to undermine the U.S. electoral system’s legitimacy and damage Clinton’s reputation in an effort to undermine her presidency.”

It’s interesting to note that at the same moment the operation shifted in that direction, Trump himself was relentlessly flogging exactly the same accusation, saying in every rally from October on that Clinton and her campaign had “rigged the system” in her favor. Over and over again he would suggest that the outcome was predetermined:

When the outcome is fixed, when the system is rigged, people lose hope — they stop dreaming, they stop trying

He routinely told his followers stories like this:

One of the reasons I’ve been saying that the system is so corrupt and is so rigged, is not only what happens at the voters’ booth — and you know things happen, folks.

He passed along tweets like this:

@THEREALMOGUL: 41% of American voters believe the election could be “stolen” from DonaldTrump due to widespread voter fraud. – Politico”

Trump even made bizarre accusations that Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman “John Podesta rigged the polls by oversampling” and notoriously refused to say whether he would abide by the results if Clinton won. It was obvious that Donald Trump was planning to challenge her legitimacy.

In fact, Trump did more to create mistrust and doubt in the U.S. electoral system than the Russian government’s highly developed hacking and misinformation campaign. Whether they were working together is still unknown but they were definitely rowing in the same direction. As much as the president likes to whine and complain about the Democrats being sore losers, the irony is that Trump himself played the greatest role in undermining the legitimacy of his win.

Ignore the lofty rhetoric: Trump’s budget proposal is a massive tax cut paid for by brutally gouging the needy

Mick Mulvaney claims his budget puts “taxpayers first.” It slashes taxes for the rich and wreaks havoc on the poor

Ignore the lofty rhetoric: Trump's budget proposal is a massive tax cut paid for by brutally gouging the needy
Budget Director Mick Mulvaney(Credit: AP/Andrew Harnik)

Halfway through Mick Mulvaney’s press briefing on the Trump administration’s newly released budget proposal on Tuesday, I imagined his head morphing into that of a turkey vulture.

“The title [of this budget] should have been ‘A Taxpayer-First Budget’ because . . . we looked at this budget through the eyes of the people paying the bills,” the hideous vulture-human hybrid squawked. A minute later, while explaining what seemed to be his theory of taxation, the vulture-headed Mulvaney snarled, “If I take money from you and I have no intention of ever giving it back, that is not debt. That is theft.” In an editorial the same day, he added that this budget “will reverse that larceny.”

It was a framing of taxation that could have been cribbed verbatim from a right-wing website still being hosted on Geocities. One could imagine this vulture-headed, Mulvaney-shaped nightmare as something out of a Guillermo del Toro movie conducting the briefing as it perched on a dead tree above a landscape littered with the starving and desperate victims of this budget.

Make no mistake; this budget will have victims. Instead of using a scalpel to deftly cut the traditional conservative bogeyman of “waste, fraud and abuse” out of government, it uses a flamethrower to burn down the government to nothing.

The numbers are simply ridiculous. Twenty-one billion dollars yanked out of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which provides assistance for food and shelter to poor families struggling to cover expenses. A cut of $193 billion to food stamps funding. Cuts to all sorts of other programs that help society’s poorest and most vulnerable — with no plan to fill the sudden, gaping holes in those lives. All so that high-income earners can see further reductions in their taxes from already historically low levels.

Mulvaney framed all this as a way for the government to show compassion toward the taxpayers funding these programs. By implication, the Trump budget adopts the frame that got former Gov. Mitt Romney in trouble during the 2012 presidential campaign — the idea that 47 percent of the public is made up of moochers underwritten by the 53 percent who pay federal taxes. Which does nothing to explain this proposal’s cuts to important scientific research and federal agencies that provide frontline defenses against illnesses and epidemics — which after all do not recognize tax brackets when wreaking havoc on people’s lives.

This budget proposal is not all Trump’s doing, despite Mulvaney’s assertion that in writing it, “we took his priorities, we turned them into numbers, and that’s what’s in the document.” Even if we stipulate that this is true, it is worth noting how neatly Trump’s priorities dovetail with longtime Republican goals, particularly those held by Republicans like Mulvaney who crawled out of the Tea Party swamp, to disembowel government spending to the fullest possible extent. The gutting of Medicaid alone — another $600 billion cut in the budget proposal on top of the $900 billion taken out of the program by the American Health Care Act recently passed by the House — has been a Republican dream for decades. This is why House Speaker Paul Ryan is practically giddy about destroying it.

But in a way, the Trump budget is just an extension of the Trump campaign. It posits winners and losers in American society and plants itself firmly on the winning side. It tells all those hard-working Americans in Make America Great Again hats that the president is taking the country back from the elitist trust-fund kids in Brooklyn and freeloading illegal immigrants who stole it, and returning it to the Trumpsters. It tells them that they are society’s winners and will be treated as such, even as it disappears many, many of the government programs that even Trump voters rely on.

The silver lining here is that this is only a budget proposal. Like all presidential budgets, it is dead on arrival in Congress, whose members will actually write the appropriations bills that will fund the government in the next fiscal year. Before it was even released, Republicans were quick to slam Trump’s proposal for underfunding some of their own priorities.

And while the GOP often talks tough about government waste, no legislator wants to be the one who actually makes hard choices that take services away from constituents. No congressperson who values his seat wants to vote for Trump’s proposed 20 percent reduction in the Children’s Health Insurance Program and see an ad in the fall of 2018 starring a kid from his district whose family can no longer afford the child’s insulin.

To the extent that presidential budgets are useful, it is as a statement of an administration’s priorities and values. Mulvaney and his boss might claim that theirs are compassionate, but this proposal is not an example of that word that many people will recognize.

A coup in real time?

Historian Timothy Snyder says the Comey firing is Trump’s “open admission of collusion with Russia”

Yale historian says Trump has now admitted guilt; former intelligence officer says Flynn was a Russian agent

A coup in real time? Historian Timothy Snyder says the Comey firing is Trump's "open admission of collusion with Russia"
James Comey, Donald J. Trump(Credit: Getty Images/Drew Angerer/Mark Wilson)

Has the other shoe finally dropped? Is this the beginning of Donald Trump’s attempted coup?

Trump is a plutocratic authoritarian. As I have previously argued, it is fair to call him a fascist. He has repeatedly demonstrated this fact through his words and deeds both during the 2016 presidential election and now while serving as president.

Like the leader of a banana republic or a Mafia boss, Trump has surrounded himself with a small group of advisers and confidantes comprised mainly of his family members. He has contempt for journalists and the concept of a free press. He leads a cult of personality, marketing himself as an autocratic who will protect and defend his “forgotten Americans” against all threats foreign and domestic. Trump has no respect for the standing norms of American democracy. He and his supporters evidently believe that the rule of law does not apply to him.

Authoritarians are paranoid by definition. To that end, they ruthlessly consolidate power and eliminate any threats to their power. In keeping with this script, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday, in a hastily written letter of dismissal delivered to FBI headquarters by Keith Schiller, the leader of the president’s personal Praetorian Guard. Comey’s firing was also endorsed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a man who has no credibility after having been caught repeatedly lying about his own contacts with representatives of the Russian government.

Comey’s dismissal comes one day after Trump appeared to threaten former acting Attorney General Sally Yates before she gave testimony to the Senate about Vladimir Putin’s efforts to subvert American democracy and the dangers posed by likely Russian operative and former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Trump’s dismissal of Comey came on the same day it was announced that a federal grand jury is investigating Flynn and his associates regarding their financial connections to Russian interests.

Trump’s claim that Comey acted inappropriately in his handling of Hillary Clinton’s email “scandal” is an obvious smoke screen. In fact, Trump repeatedly praised Comey’s controversial decision to release on one of the last days of the 2016 presidential campaign a damning statement about Clinton’s emails, which clearly helped Trump defeat Clinton and win the White House.

The president’s decision to fire Comey is an enormous abuse of presidential authority. To all appearances, Trump is removing a threat posed by the person who is leading the investigation of his administration’s (and his campaign’s) possibly treasonous connections with Russia. Trump will now be able to appoint a political loyalist as Comey’s successor.

For a widely read interview posted last week on Salon, I spoke with historian Timothy Snyder about what Trump’s election means for America. (He is the author of the new book “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.”) During that conversation, Snyder warned that the American people have less than a year to resist the creeping tide of authoritarianism embodied by Donald Trump’s regime.

Snyder also predicted: Donald Trump will stage his own version of Adolf Hitler’s Reichstag fire — a manufactured crisis or some other type of political or social upheaval — to enact a state of emergency or otherwise consolidate his power by subverting America’s political institutions.

Is Trump’s firing of Comey the next step in this direction? I corresponded with Snyder by email on Wednesday to learn his thoughts about this new development.

His “very first thought” on hearing the Comey news, Snyder wrote, “was that this was a far more open admission of collusion with Russia than even a confession would be.”

Snyder also saw the Comey dismissal as a step toward Trump expanding his power, in keeping with a pattern influenced by Putin’s Russia:

I wrote the first article about Trump and Russia 13 months ago, using Russian sources. The evidence has been overwhelming for a long time. I think it is only our basic desire to cling to some familiar reality that prevented us from seeing all this in 2016. The man shared his political advisers with the Kremlin and Ukrainian oligarchs. Trump owed his success as a developer to mysterious inflows of Russian cash. He won on the Internet thanks in part to Russian trolls, bots, and fake news. Some of that information war ran through Cambridge Analytica, where Steve Bannon was on the board.

Trump’s first foreign policy speech was written by someone on the payroll of a Russian fossil fuels company. Carter Page was also working for the Russians. And that’s not even considering what has come to light about Michael Flynn. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner failed to mention his own Russian contacts to get security clearance. Sessions also lied by omission, perjuring himself to become attorney general, about his Russian contacts. And on and on.

Trump’s whole campaign was an imitation of Putin’s political style, punctuated by pathetic appeals to Putin for friendship. This is what is known through English-language open sources. When you include that Russia has been carrying out operations to derail democracy and support favored candidates elsewhere, the pattern takes shape.

Snyder also said that Trump’s recent moves are consistent with the predictions made in his book “On Tyranny”:

First, the continued attack on truth, twisting it and undermining it. Using Comey as a source for his argument that he is innocent and then firing Comey. Praising and blaming Comey for how he handled the Clinton case. Undermining an investigation that is after a simple and important truth.

My Russian friends refer to agencies like the FBI as siloviki. The agencies that use force. For Trump to build an authoritarian state in the USA, the FBI must cease to be a police agency that investigates according to law, and become a top-down instrument of force: siloviki. That I think is what Trump would regard as normal.

Or to use the example of Communist takeovers: Communists always first went for what they called the power ministries.

Is firing James Comey Trump’s Reichstag fire moment? Look, we have here a president with no interest in democracy and no popular policies to get him through 2018 or 2020, who admired foreign dictators and their approach to terrorism — which means their exploitation of terrorism to create an authoritarian state. That’s the template Hitler left from his use of the Reichstag fire. But for that to work here, agencies like the FBI would have to go along.

I asked Snyder how the American people should respond. “Realize that the presumption now must be that this man is covering up a meaningful relationship with a foreign power that helped get him elected,” he wrote. “Read the press. Pay for it. Support investigative journalists. Demand an independent investigation. Urge multiple institutions to investigate. Continue resisting in all other areas.”

Former U.S. counterintelligence operative Naveed Jamali, author of the new book “How to Catch a Russian Spy,” has also been trying to warn the American people about the threat to democracy posed by Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. In a phone conversation, Jamali connected Comey’s dismissal to the unanswered questions surrounding the Michael Flynn case, saying the following:

Flynn was, in my opinion, targeted and recruited by the Russians and was in fact a directed agent. But that targeted recruitment happened well before he met Donald Trump. Sally Yates informed the White House of those concerns. Once you are informed of those security concerns, your duty is to remove those personnel who are under suspicion. Trump’s decision to not do that raises serious concerns about his judgment, and frankly a lot of people will question if that event rises to a level where he should not remain president.

Jamali added this:

Keeping someone as a national security adviser — one of the highest-level Cabinet positions — when the Department of Justice and FBI present you with concerns that this man is a security risk, and to keep this person in place because of partisan reasons, questions Trump’s credibility and ability to stay neutral. It is very simply one of the greatest impacts of the 2016 election.

What is not being discussed is that this is a breathtaking counterintelligence failure on our part. The Russians succeeded. That this is not being discussed is disturbing. I want Americans to understand that the Russians, Chinese, North Koreans or Iranians may use a similar tactic. We as a country have to take a stance like after 9/11, where we investigate and take a different posture more suitable for these new threats from abroad.

In total, Trump’s firing of Comey, his hostility to an independent judiciary, his authoritarian behavior and his evident attempts to control or contain the investigation into his connections to Russia add up to a constitutional crisis. Unfortunately, Trump is being aided and abetted in his irresponsible, and perhaps even criminal behavior, by a Republican Party that, to this point, values power and partisan politics over loyalty to country and true patriotism. Trump’s supporters among the American people are deeply devoted to their leader, even if that means siding with Putin’s Russia and spitting in the face of American democracy. They are authoritarian lemmings.

While the supposedly “liberal” news media wrestles with its confusion about telling the ugly truth about Trump and the fascist movement he represents, the conservative media serves as Trump’s personal echo chamber, much as Pravda and other state-sponsored publications served the Communist Party during the Soviet era.

Unfortunately, this state of emergency is the new normal in America. In the future, people who are now living will tell their children and grandchildren how they watched American democracy being surrendered to plutocratic authoritarianism and fascism in real time. These same children and grandchildren will ask, “Why didn’t you do anything to stop it?” What will we tell them?

History is watching. The American people now have to choose if they will be bystanders or agents in their own destiny. I am deeply saddened that so many Americans seem ready and willing to choose the first option.

Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.